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Weeds, Water, and Sugar
The tincture was bright green and smelled like rotting hay. It boiled in a cauldron above the fire while Dillin counted the coins at the adjacent table. The apartment smelled like moldy bread.
The scam made decent money. For the past three weeks, Dillin and Glennie built up their client network from the Scabbed and spread the word of their miracle cure. Slowly, the most desperate of them came forward, so disfigured that they’d try almost anything.
Dillin didn’t love ripping off sick people, but the Scabbing wasn’t deadly and the tincture was harmless. Some of their clients even reported feeling better after drinking the stuff, and anyway, they needed the money ever since their landlord raised rent by half. It was either scam or go homeless.
Glennie was ten years older than Dillin, thin and tall, built like willow reeds, with long curly hair and shabby clothes. She came in through the front in a hurry and slammed the door behind her as if an angry mob followed her up the stairs, which was entirely possible.
“I saw the lady,” Glennie said, out of breath.
Dillin laughed. “Is that a new euphemism?” he asked.
“No,” Glennie said. Her skin looked paler than normal and her breath came ragged “That rich Scabbed lady, the one with the pretty gloves.”
Dillin set the coins down. “What happened?” he asked. He’d never seen Glennie looking so scared and it set his teeth on edge. He met her years ago, back when he first came to Verash from the countryside. Glennie tried to pick his pocket, but Dillin caught her with her hand halfway down his trousers. Instead of calling the constables, he made her promise to teach him everything she knew about Verash. Dillin had nothing back then, no prospects, no skills, only a farmboy’s education and a deep ambition to be something more.
“I was collecting materials when she came up to me,” Glennie said, “Didn’t recognize her at first, but she had on those damned gloves.” She took a steadying breath. “Her face was almost clear.”
Dillin snorted. “Come on.”
“I’m serious, there were some scabs left, but they were almost gone. She thanked me, Dill.”
Dillin remembered that woman. She’d been far along in the disease, every inch of her face flaky and wrecked. “You saw the wrong person,” Dillin said.
“It was her,” Glennie insisted. “The tincture worked, Dill. It actually worked.”
Dillin looked over at the bubbling pot as a silence fell between them.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“What do we do?” Dillin asked.
Glennie sat down heavily at the table and stared at her hands. “Brew it in bigger batches,” she said softly, “and sell it all over the City.” She leaned forward, eyes stretching wider. “Imagine how many people we could help.”
Dillin could see it. The Scabbing was an ugly disease and they’d move every drop of the stuff if it worked.
“We don’t cook medicine,” Dillin said. “That stuff’s just boiled weeds, water, and sugar. It’s nothing.”
“It’s something,” Glennie insisted. She reached out for Dillin’s hands and squeezed them between her own. “You should’ve seen her, Dill. Face almost entirely clear.”
Dillin shook her hands off and stood up abruptly. “That’s not what we do,” he said.
Glennie’s face went blank as she stared at him.
This was their chance to do something good for once in their miserable lives. Instead of scamming, they could market a real cure. They could eradicate the Scabbing.
And he’d lose her. Glennie only stayed because he was useful, and because she had no other choices. They both knew it, both knew she was never going to stick around forever, only Dillin wanted forever for as long as he could have it.
The second batch sold fast. Dillin was flooded with new customers. He’d barely finish with one Scabbed before two more would appear.
He sat counting coins while Glennie crouched down in front of the fire. “I met a chemist today,” she said.
Dillin went very still. He didn’t know Glennie was out looking for a new partner already. He thought she’d been too busy tending to the medicine.
“Which one?” he asked, trying to keep his anxiety under control.
If Glennie noticed, she didn’t seem to care. “He works on Safehaven Street next to Oldtown,” she said. “Can you imagine? Our tincture in an actual chemist shop?”
“I really can’t imagine it,” he said.
She didn’t look back at him. “This is how we get big. We partner with a chemist—“
“And he takes a cut off the top,” Dillin said suddenly, standing up. “How much do you even know about this man?”
“Enough,” Glennie said. “This is how we grow, Dill.”
“I might not want to grow then,” Dillin said, pacing across the apartment. His jaw clenched down tight enough to crush teeth. “Have you stopped to think about what this cure means?”
Glennie moved away from the fire. She reached back and took down her dark hair and ran her fingers through the tight curls. Her face was pale and gaunt and Dillin wondered how much of herself she wagered on making this work.
“You still don’t think its real,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said and faced her, hands tugging at the mismatched buttons on his jacket. His life with Glennie perched on the edge of this moment, teetering to one side.
“Aren’t you tired of living like this?” she asked. “Aren’t you sick of fighting every day?”
“Of course,” Dillin said.
“We’ll never get another chance like this.” She came closer to him, and he caught her smell, boiled grass and burning copper. “I’m selling this stock with or without you.”
Dillin didn’t want to be alone. The City was vast and Glennie was his only connection to anything decent so far away from the fields and streams and clean air he grew up with. He didn’t want to face all that without her.
“Alright,” he said. “We’ll do it your way.”
Her face softened. “I know it’s hard,” she said. “It’s a change. But it’s a good change, I promise.”
In the fire, the brew continued its slow simmer.
Chemist Morris lived in a narrow town house that smelled like berries and candlewax. He led Dillin and Glennie into a simple sitting room and offered them glasses of sherry. Morris was a small man, glasses perched on his nose, constantly rummaging through his jacket pockets as if he might find something there.
“I am very excited for this cure,” Morris said. “It’s simply marvelous. You must tell me how you discovered it.’
“By accident,” Glennie said, smiling, flattered. Dillin loved the way she blushed and seemed so overwhelmed by the relative luxury of the Chemist’s house compared to their own shabby apartment.
“All the credit goes to Gennie,” Dillin added. “She cooked it up herself.”
Morris laughed, delighted, and raised his drink. “To curing the disease,” he said.
Dillin drank and looked at Glennie. She glowed in the firelight and she seemed boundless then, like the months of working the streets, the uncertainty of getting thrown into jail or beaten for scamming the wrong man, it was as if none of that ever happened.
The door to the sitting room opened and a woman stepped inside. Morris got to his feet quickly and went to her. “Ah, Amelia, darling,” Morris said. “Come in here, these are the people I mentioned.”
Amelia wore a long dress down to her ankles with sleeves that ended in simple gloves and a scarf wrapped around her face. Scabs covered what little skin was visible near her eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Glennie said.
“And very nice to meet you.” Her voice was husky and melodic. She looked over toward Dillin then down at the small box at his feet. “Is that it?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” Morris said, waving a hand toward the samples. “Please, would you mind letting my wife have a dose? To start off our partnership, of course.”
“Of course,” Dillin said and carefully removed a vial. He brought the green liquid to Amelia and she took it gingerly between gloved fingers. “Down in one,” Dillin said.
She removed her scarf and her skin was a cracked and bloody mess, one of the most advanced cases Dillin had ever seen. It looked painful even to open her mouth enough to pour the liquid down her throat, but she did it, and made a disgusted face as it went down.
“Is that all?” Morris asked.
Glennie flitted around Amelia. “How do you feel?” she asked.
Dillin took a step back toward the chairs. He placed his brandy down and watched the Scabbed woman. Amelia touched her cheek with one gloved finger and smeared a streak of blood and pus before shaking her head.
“No different,” she said. “A little warm, actually, like I’ve drunk too much.”
Glennie glanced at Dillin. “That’s normal,” she said.
“Why don’t you sit down for a moment,” Morris asked, taking his wife by the elbow. He led her toward the fire, but she stopped suddenly and pressed a hand against her guts.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh, that doesn’t feel right.”
“Darling?” Morris said, then looked at Glennie. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” Glennie said. “This must be normal. I brewed it exactly—“
Amelia pitched forward and caught herself on the back of a chair. “My stomach,” she said. “Oh gods, I feel horrible. Like something’s ripping me to pieces.”
Dillin took another step back. Glennie moved around Amelia, hands waving as if she might somehow fix whatever had gone wrong.
There was nothing to fix, though. Amelia opened her mouth to speak, gagged once, then fell to her hands and knees and vomited on the floor in a vast spew. It was greenish brown and mixed with red streaks of blood. Morris shouted something and Glennie screamed back, and it was chaos as the housekeeper came in with rags, and Glennie helped Amelia to a chair and Morris fetched a water for her, and the poor woman vomited again, and Glennie screamed at Dillin to do something, but he only stood back and waited.
It was so easy. A little pinch of blackroot, a common emetic. The woman would be fine after she finished puking up the cure.
“Get out you frauds,” Morris shouted as he supported his wife while she heaved. “Oh gods, I’ll send for a real doctor, you’ll be okay darling, you’ll be okay.”
Glennie took a few steps away then turned. She held her dress up with both hands as she hurried from the room. Dillin followed, unbuttoning his jacket with relief, and the pair of them stepped out into the cool evening air
They didn’t speak as they began back home, down the hill and into Lowside. Buildings grew taller and denser, and more folks hung in the streets, their clothes tattered, pipes at their lips, laughter down their throats. The smell of the woman’s sick was trapped in Dillin’s mouth.
He reached for Glennie’s hand and she slipped her fingers between his.
“I was thinking we could try selling a cure down near the docks,” Glennie said. “Lots of disease there.”
“Might be good,” Dillin said, nodding. “I can be the front man again, if you’d like.”
“You’re good to me,” she said, and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Sailors might get violent, you know.”
“I can handle it,” Dillin said, and they continued on together hand in hand, and began their scheming.
ps, Prompt for this was “lovable rogues” but I’m not sure how lovable they are. Anyway, share this if you liked it, and hit that heart button for me if you read all the way to the bottom! See you next week. - DC