The tooled leather was a beautiful piece of work. Cut straight. Molded into just enough of an arc to make it easy to wrap around a wrist. The twin fish stamped into the center, swirled around each other in dark, greased lines. The lines of their bodies were thick, their fins thin. Every curve managed a certain grace and bluntness, hinting at the preciousness of the object, and the repetition of having created thousands of them in a lifetime. The maker’s mark on the back was simple in comparison: three hash-marks wrapped in a ring with a line slashed through it all.
Marus flipped it over to examine the fish again. Somewhere in the lines of their fins was a mistake, an error registered with the local lord. Matched against the mark, it verified the authenticity of the wristband, though he couldn’t see it. It looked exactly the same as every wristband he had ever worn in his life.
As far as he could tell, a perfect forgery.
Kleira looked amused when he met her eye again. He tried not to be offended by the twist on her lips, or the way she raised an eyebrow to ask, “Satisfied?”
“Yes,” he told her.
“So, do you want me to sew it on, or…”
She let the rest of her question hang between them. The open boathouse creaked around them. The water hushed and sighed around the supports under their feet, rolling up through the bay as the tide came in. And Marus narrowed his eyes, blinking at her.
“Are you joking?”
She tilted her head, still smiling, but inviting him to explain.
“Do you have any idea how far I’ll have to get away from this island before I can use this?” he demanded, keeping his voice low. She started laughing, silently, and turned to face the bay, tracing the lines of the waves. He leaned forward, keeping his eyes on hers. “If I put this on now… Are you trying to get me killed?”
She had the grace to shake her head. “If you had said yes, I would have taken it back. And broken your nose. And left.” Looking back to him, she gave an apologetic shrug, which seemed less than sincere under the light in her eyes. “I don’t like to leave my goods in idiots’ hands. It’s not like I’d even heard of you before this whole mess began.”
Letting out a long breath rather than respond, he twisted his new, blank wristband. Mess, didn’t seem to cover it.
“Are we done then?” she asked.
Marus fished the second half of her payment out of his purse and dropped it into her waiting hand. Then he hid the new wristband in an inner pocket he had ripped open that morning, so that he could drop it deep into the lining of his jacket.
He thought she would just let him leave, but she stopped him just before he reached the door in the shadowy back of the boathouse.
“Marus,” she said.
He didn’t respond, but he stopped. He supposed she figured that out when the door didn’t creak open and clack shut.
“However far you’re planning on going…” she said. “Double it.”
“I already di–”
“Trust me,” she said. “You’ll thank me when you die of old age.”
He blinked at the back of her head. Then he left in two quick strides. The door clacked shut.