Horis almost had to run to keep up with Grace as she took his hand and led him through the twisting backstreets of Aserol. The wheezing music of a steam organ grew louder, together with the excited shrieking of a crowd.
After a few minutes, Horis was completely disorientated when they entered a large square. All of one side was taken up by a building shaped like a Local, with white towers and chimneys. Tables were set outside, filled with people drinking and talking, whilst the windows were open and a noisy party could be heard inside. There were flashes of coloured lights and music from the organ and some stringed instruments, with off-key singing to accompany. The sign over the wide door, atop some steps, read “The Drogans Rest” in fancy lettering. He entered with Grace.
She was clearly well known inside, for everyone stopped her to say hello, or peck her cheek, and Horis found himself introduced to so many people that his head quickly filled with names and stories that he could never hope to remember. They ended up at the bar, a long wooden topped affair with many pumps and bottles displayed on it. Behind was a long mirror, and in its image Horis saw a large Drogan circling the room. A model, it was attached to some sort of clockwork, hanging on a wire it slowly traversed the room, and turning to view it directly, he saw that it was ridden by a scantily clad lady, who waved and smiled at all the patrons as she passed over their heads.
Whilst he had been looking, Grace had obtained two glasses of something, and led Horis over to a table, where her brother Divid sat, nursing a large glass of dark ale. His face lit up when he saw her and he rose from his seat to hug her. “Hello sis, it’s good to see you,” he said, in a warm voice as deep as the hue of his ale. “And who pray is this?”
“Divid, this is Horis Strongman, he’s from the Ministry of Coal in the city, and he’s come to see the mine.”
Horis bowed and Divid took his hand; he had a grip of iron as he shook it. “Glad to meet you, sir. You’ll have come to see old Obley then, no doubt he’s told you of all the goings on.”
Horis was stunned, no-one else was supposed to know of his visit, yet here he was discussing it with a girl he had met three hours previously and her brother. A hotel porter had also known, was everyone in on the secret but him?
“Well Divid, it’s Ministry business that has brought me here, and I’m not really at liberty to discuss it.”
“Oh don’t be a stuffed shirt, Horis,” urged Grace, holding his hand and gazing into his eyes. “We are all friends here, and Divid knows a lot about the mine and what goes on there. As an Exo driver he goes all over the mine and hears a lot of gossip.”
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