Belladonna tapped the tip of her spoon against her chin, her eyes looking upwards in thought. She had been silent for several minutes. Her fingernails kept catching Noshli’s eye as they glinted in the light from the fireplace. They were painted in a multitude of colors, with curly cue flower designs on every other finger. Noshli couldn’t take her eyes off of them.
“I just don’t know,” Bella said at last. “It’s possible that there have been elves in the city, but if they were, they were very well disguised.”
“I thought you knew everyone in town,” Althea said.
“That I do, youngling,” Bella said. “But these elves you’re looking for wouldn’t live here, now woud they. They’d be outsiders, just like you, and probably trying just as hard to stay hidden.” She dropped the spoon on the table and stretched her arms up over her head. “We get a lot of travelers that come through here. Aerindan is a major thoroughfare for those heading to the mountains or to the coast. The Great East Road goes right through the center of town.”
“So now what do we do?” Noshli said. The faint stirring of hope she had when Bella had first sat down slowly drained out of her. At least now they might be able to get rid of the woman quickly. There was something about Bella that made Noshli nervous. She was already regretting asking for the woman’s help. Bella seemed like someone who you didn’t want to owe a favor.
“Even if I haven’t seen any of them, it doesn’t mean that I don’t know someone who has.” Bella smiled, her eyes twinkling. “I think you should come with me.”
Noshli glanced at Althea, who shrugged. “Fine,” Noshli said. “Let’s go.”
Bella winked and rose from the table. Althea stood up and rushed to Noshli’s side. “Are you sure about this?” she asked. “Do you know who she is? What she is?”
“She’s someone who is willing to try and help us,” Noshli whispered back. “What else are we going to do?”
“Are you coming or not?” Bella called from the door.
“Yes,” Noshli said. “We’re coming.” She pulled Althea towards the door. Fritz nodded to them from behind the counter, his eyes following them.
Shadows streaked across the streets, the sun dipping behind the buildings. Noshli barely registered anything other than a fountain shaped like a giant boar and a large building surrounded by a thick metal gate. Bella ducked down another street and walked up a set of narrow stone steps. She knocked on the door at the top, then opened it and walked in.
Noshli stepped through the door. The foyer was lit with an bronze candelabra sitting on a wooden desk. Behind the desk was another woman, her silvery gray hair drawn into a bun with whisps framing her face. After a few brief whispers between the two of them, the woman rose and approached.
“Bella said that you were looking for someone,” the woman said. She stared at Noshli so hard that Noshli involuntarily took a step backwards. “I’m Nadine,” she continued. “This is my house and my establishment. I must say.” She took a step towards Noshli, her fingers outstretched. Noshli flinched as her fingers gently grazed her face. “You are quite lovely,” she said. “Those elvish eyes. Quite extraordinary.” She looked past Noshli at Althea. “My word,” she breathed. “Your hair. It’s breathtaking! I could charge double for a girl with hair like yours.”
“Not interested. Ma’am,” Althea said.
“Come on now,” Bella said. “You act as though you’ve never been in a brothel before.”
“I haven’t,” Althea mumbled, her eyes focused on the floor.
“Bella mentioned that you were looking for someone,” Nadine said again. “Another elf. I don’t believe we’ve had any male elf clients, but there is someone I think you should meet. Where are you staying?”
“The Painted Dragon,” Noshli said. “Room eight.”
“Very well,” Nadine said. She smiled at the girls, but her smile didn’t meet her eyes. “I will sent them along in the morning.”