Andrus remained still and didn't resist as the rough-calloused hand gripped his wrist. Another hand drew back the sleeve of his robe, revealing the mark on his hand. Old Melissa had already extended her arm, showing the same mark -- the glyph that showed they were loyal citizens and worshipers of the Great Beast that had come from the sea. The guards bore their marks on their foreheads, but then the guards were expected to display a devotion well beyond that of humble citizens.
"Citizen," said the trade inspector, standing behind the guard and looking down at the marks.
"Trade inspector," acknowledged Andrus. "Everything is in order, I hope."
"It seems so," said the trade inspector. He wore a blank leather mask that showed only his eyes, as all the inspectors did, but his voice was young and male, and his build was tall and sturdy beneath his robes. "You might give some thought to shortening your sleeves."
"I'll speak with my wife about it, honored." Andrus kept his face blank and his voice level. As the guard released his arm, he extended it and dropped the silver coin into old Melissa's palm.
She poured the sage and saffron into a small cloth bag, then tied it closed and handed it back to Andrus. "A pleasure selling to you," she said.
"A pleasure buying from you," he returned automatically.
The trade inspector had moved on, his guards moving in a miniature swarm with him at the center. Andrus stood, looked after them for a moment, and then offered old Melissa a smile. "Until the coming," he said quietly.
"Let it be soon," she answered, and returned to tucking her meager wares back into a woven basket. "Be safe."
"And you as well." Andrus glanced at Avilius, but the boy's expression had gone blank with the arrival of the trade inspector. He touched the boy's shoulder, tugging it in the direction of old Melissa, and Avilius managed a smile. "It was good to see you."
"Come and see me again," she answered him. "Such handsome company is its own reward, even if you need no trade."