“I wanna see what’s this way!” Oboe said, hurrying through the streets. The city was livelier on the day of rest, with humans of all shapes and sizes. There were the fancy breeds dressed in their flouncy gowns and suits, and the scrappy mutts who were plain and threadbare. The air was a mix of tastes both bitter and savory, from the smog of the factories washed by the sea breeze, the scent of spiced meat roasting over wood fires and the faint stink wafting from the sewers. It was different every time she came.
“You act like you’ve never seen the city before,” Theo said as he ambled after her.
“I never get to enjoy it!” She said. “We’re always running around and doing things. Oh! Wow!” She pointed at a big pointy building in the distance. It stood out like a palace, with a great dome and well-tended gardens. “What’s that??”
“That?” He was surprised. “It’s just the First Cathedral of Laien.”
Oboe admired all its colored windows. “It’s pretty.” It wasn’t as big as where grandmother lived, but it was beautiful in its own way. “Can we go inside?”
He hummed. “Well, it’s the day of rest, so I think they’ll only let us in to worship.”
“Oh.” Her heart sank. “I don’t think I’m allowed to anymore.”
Theo raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Realizing what she’d said, Oboe looked for anything she could use to change the subject. “Hey! Look at all this stuff!” She ran over to a little open-air storefront on the end of the street, with pots and pans piled up on wagons. She looked back to see Theo join her. “Wow! Pans!” She said.
The shopkeeper welcomed them, leering while Theo scrutinized the skillets.
“No,” he said as he put one back. “Uneven metal work. It’ll just warp after real use.”
Oboe picked up a pair of tea kettles, weighing one in each hand. One was etched with a gold illustration of a kitten and the other had a marbled swirl of blues.
Theo came over. He was done browsing. “Can’t decide what you want?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want either of them! I haven’t got a kitchen to use them in!”
“You don’t have to buy anything,” he said.
“But I have all this money!” She said, frustrated. “You said I should do something with it.”
“There’s no rush!” He said. “Take your time to think of something you actually want.”
He blinked, unprepared for the question. “Well, you don’t wear clothes, but there’s all sorts of food. Like the restaurants, or the exotic goods the caravan trains bring in. At the very least, you could set up a bank account. That way, you’re at least drawing interest from what you have.”
“No!” The idea of having even more money was too stressful. It had been so many years since she even had the opportunity to buy anything that she had gotten comfortable doing without.
“Alright,” he said. “How about this: You’re living in a tree, aren’t you? If you want, you could pay to have a proper home built, like mine.”
Her mouth hung open. “Really?” She liked Theo’s cottage, and it amazed her to think she could have one just like it. “That’s a great idea! Can we do that now??”
A bell tolled in the distance. Theo checked his pocket watch and snapped it shut. “Actually, we should get moving. I’m expected at the university and we’ll miss our trolley if we dawdle much longer.”
“Do we have to?” She said.
He gave her a stern look. “The governor would not have sent that letter today if it weren’t important. If you want to pay to have a house built, you’re welcome to do it without me.”
“No, wait for me!” Oboe dumped the kettles, rattling the table and perturbing the shop owner. “Sorry!”
They excused themselves from the store and hurried toward the station several blocks away. Oboe tried to stay close as he made a beeline through the streets.
“Halt!” A city knight in a bright checkered tabard held out an arm and blocked Oboe’s path. “Stop right there. You aren’t allowed here, fairy!”
Oboe stumbled. “Huh? What’d I do wrong now?”
Theo doubled back and waved for the man’s attention. “Pardon me, there has to be a mistake. She’s fully certified. Show him your visa, Oboe.”
She fished it out of her pouch. It took a little bit of effort to get all the wrinkles and crinkles out so it could be read. “Yeah, here it is!”
The knight didn’t bother looking at it. “Doesn’t matter. There’s a fey ban in this district of the city.”
“That’s absurd,” Theo said. “That document proves she’s a citizen and cleared for travel in the capital.”
The knight grimaced. “I don’t make the rules, just enforce them. If the silk shirts say no fairies, that’s how it is. No exceptions.”
“…I see.” Theo looked skeptical. “First I’ve heard of this. How far does this ban extend?”
“Through to Redwand avenue.”
Theo seemed startled. “That far?” It took him a minute to work out another way to go. He gestured for Oboe to follow and led her across four blocks, cutting through alleyways and side streets.
“Come on!” Theo said.
She tried to keep up, but he kept changing directions. The clocktower chimed again and Theo moved even faster. They pushed their way through a big crowd pouring out of the station, just in time to watch their trolley leave without them.
“Damn it,” he said, trying to catch his breath.
“I guess we’ll have to wait for the next one,” Oboe said.
“No, we won’t,” Theo said, studying the schedule posted to the wall. “This is the day of rest. There’s not going to be another trolley running through here for three hours.”
“…Oh.” She felt a knot in her stomach. All she wanted was to spend the day helping Theo. Instead she’d ruined everything.