The young chap at the tavern — a bar hand, she believed — had yellow hair. Not blonde, but yellow, like straw. She liked to imagine that he was more of a stable hand by day: she’d always had a fantasy about stable hands. His sheets were rough, just as she’d expected, and after they were done she didn’t tarry too long in his bed. While he may have been handsome while standing, he was certainly not while asleep. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she could move silently.
“Honestly, Penelope, where have you been?”
“Sorry, Uncle Walter, I was at the market in town.”
“At the market?”
“Yes, Uncle Walter.”
“That’s not what Armand tells us, Penelope.”
“Oh really, Uncle Walter, what does my darling cousin tell you?”
The local lord’s daughter was quite the sight: the sort of face that takes a lifetime to perfect, and the sort of hair that you have to wake up an hour earlier to prepare. Of course, his lordship forbade his family from partnering up with the Cargans, but that just made it more exciting. Turned out the girl had energy, but also didn’t know how to shut her mouth. The lord burst into the room with only moments spared, ranting about intruders. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she could hold her breath.
“Your respected cousin, Penelope, tells us that you’ve not been taking care of that which we’ve been giving you.”
“You’ve been giving me?”
“Our money, Penelope, our money. Apparently you’ve been squandering it, or so Armand says.”
“Squandering it? Uncle Walter, I assure you I’ve been doing no such thing.”
“Drinks all around!” she shouted, and the bar went up in cheers and the card players became drunker. This third round of drinks passed, then the fourth, until her money was running dry. Well, of course, when the money runs out there’s only one thing for it. Next thing in the morning, she awoke in a pile of snoring bodies and the sound of an angry landlord coming to throw them out. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she could climb out windows.
“Really? Well then, Penelope, where is the money I give you each week going?”
“I’m investing it, Uncle Walter.” “Investing it. I see, I see, and what are you investing it in?”
The farmer’s daughter didn’t just grow wheat, it transpired, she also knew where to get some pretty potent potions. She didn’t remember much about her, but she remembered through the smoke the feeling of the girl’s rough fingers on her skin. She left her more money for more alchemy, but never recalled seeing the girl again. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she shouldn’t trust.
“Well, you see, it’s a bit of a secret, Uncle Walter.”
“A secret, Penelope?”
“Yes, Uncle Walter. I can’t possibly tell you.”
Armand seemed to treat the butler with some degree of respect. Obviously as staff to the family, there was never any friendship, but there was clearly some degree of kindness. She wasn’t so kind to him beneath the sheets, and had him fired the next day for good measure. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she was vindictive.
“Yes, Penelope, because Armand tells me you’ve been taking my money into the town and spending it on drinks, recreational alchemy and finding a way to get into the undergarments of anyone and everyone you take a shining to!”
“Uncle Walter, you really shouldn’t listen to Armand.”
“I did like that red-haired man,” the woman said, “So much nicer than the blonde girl.” She didn’t even know who the woman was, but she had a husband. She made sure it was clear what had happened in their bedroom by the time she returned. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she was petty.
“Oh shouldn’t I? I went and I asked the local lords whether they’d had any interactions with you, and do you know what I found out?”
Armand’s sparring partner. She sparred with him as well then called for the guards to have the “intruder” removed from her room when she was done. That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she didn’t care.
“You damn well know what I found out, Penelope, I’ve had enough of your lying and wasting our riches!”
“But Uncle Walter!”
“No buts! You’re bringing nothing to this family and you’re a drain and a disgrace. I’m cutting you off and you are leaving this house.”
“I’m not hearing it! Penelope Cargan, be gone!”
Her Uncle glowered at her, and guards entered the room. The red-haired man surveyed her as she left the estate, and she shot a look of daggers back. He smiled. And then she was out on the streets, alone, with only the money she still had in her bag and the clothes on her back to support her. She tried the many places she’d met people in the town, but the disowning and disgrace had already followed her there. There was nothing else to do but find a boat… and leave.
That’s how Penelope Cargan learned she would have to only rely on herself.