The Half Light

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[2.0] - The City


~ The City ~


The year 2034 post bellum
Thirteen weeks till Moonset Equinox


The music of the market moved of its own accord, weaving between the bustling crowds of wealthy shoppers and slick-fingered thieves.

Aryial came upon a small square where the music rang out loudest, a whirling circle of skirts and dancers twirled to the vigorous playing of a fiddler and his companion on the boar-skinned hand drums.

She laughed as she linked arms with a water nymph, kicking her feet out as the jig picked up speed and she was swept into the dancing.

When the piece ended, everyone burst out in applause and laughter as coins dropped into the fiddler’s basket.

He started a new piece as new market-goers joined in.

Aryial left the dancing, watching the revelry with a smile.

How wonderful it was here, so full of life and laughter. She hadn’t been able to come to the market since she arrived.

The market was always open and there were merchants from all over the realm, selling everything from soul crystals to mechanical birds.

Aryial chose one of the branching roads to wander down, vendors and their merchandise occupying the sides, some sitting on blankets and cushions with their stock laid out on the floor while others had proper stalls that displayed their goods in eye-catching ways.

Faded cloths were strung above the road between the two buildings on either side of the street to keep out most of the sun.

Aryial peered at the blue skies between the makeshift canopies.

Based on the sun’s relative position, she figured she still had around two tolls before she had to return to the manor.

“Buy the luxurious pelt of a whisperer’s leopard! It is softer and more supple than any ordinary leopard pelt!” A vendor was seated on blankets lain on the cobblestone roads, his wares laid out proudly for inspection.

Aryial was intrigued and came to gaze at the majestic pelts, furs and feathers that were on display.

There was a cloak of black fabric with the most beautiful, dark blue feathers adorning the top.

The vendor, aware that he had captured Aryial’s interest, starting talking about his wares and the animals he collected them from.

Aryial interrupted, asking what a whisperer was. The vendor grinned, leaning forward in enthusiasm.

“In the East, lies the kingdom of Lusia, one of the kingdoms in the Eoerian coalition,” the vendor spoke with the same practised charm that lured shoppers into buying his exotic and outlandish merchandise. “There are these bizarre people called whisperers, who each have an animal bound to their very soul. Rumours say that both the whisperer and their Janan can communicate wordlessly.”

Aryial was enraptured, her gaze flitting to the black leopard pelt that the vendor claimed shone like the black sands of Dalerc’ha.

How magnificent the beast must have been to have such a pelt!

As enthralled as she was by the vendor’s stories, Aryial was bothered by one thought. “What is it like for a whisperer to lose their Janan?”

Eager to sell something, the vendor replied quickly that it was like having half your soul ripped from you.

However, realising that his statement now caused Aryial to cringe away from his goods, the vendor tried to retract his words and enchant her with more stories of the Eastern kingdoms instead.

But the damage was done. Aryial grimaced at the thought of how much pain that the many pelts, feathers and furs would have cost the people of the East.

She tried not to think of how they were obtained.

Shaking her head politely, Aryial turned away from the vendor, who grumbled about spending that much time with a customer who didn’t buy anything.

Ithivia was right in the middle of summer, the heat smothering the air with such warmth that Aryial wondered if even the trees wanted shade.

It wasn’t the trademark waves of burning heat that she read about from some of the Eastern kingdoms, but it wasn’t comfortable.

The cloth around her neck itched, she tugged at it a couple of times before giving up, heading towards a stall draped with the most fabulous cloths.

Aryial admired the vibrant dye and the softness of the fabrics.

The lady that tended to the stall had a similar silk cloth flung around her, loosely pinned up by gold brooches.

Aryial debated buying some silk just so she could dress in such a foreign ensemble. She gazed at the vendor with a mix of curiosity and awe.

As a child, Aryial had poured over pictures of cities and the people that she wanted to see in books she snuck out from the library.

The photos of the people near the Golden Guild were beautiful, but not as wonderous as seeing one of them in person, the bright silks on the vendor in front of her complimenting the vendor’s gorgeously tanned skin.

Aryial studied everything about the woman, the black kohl that lined her eyes, the patterns on the back of her hand and the complex gold earrings that hung from her pointed ears.

The woman seemed suspicious at Aryial’s admiration but nonetheless offered her services.

She graciously taught Aryial how to tie the silk into a dress, which the lady referred to as an anuri.

The woman was rather soft-spoken for a vendor, and her words posed none of the usual misleading tricks of the Fae.

Was she Fae? Or was the vendor one of the hundreds of other faerie species? Aryial once again wondered what those other kingdoms were like.

She left the stall half a toll later, a few new bolts of vibrant fabric and some brooches in hand but a bag of gold lighter.

*

Blood. By the Mother, there’s blood­ on the white fabric!

Aryial sucked on her wounded finger, more concerned about the dot of red on her newly bought fabrics than the inconsequential injury caused by careless needlework.

She had been trying to make a shirt out of the silvery silk she bought from the Arzulian vendor, it was almost finished too! If only she hadn’t gotten excited and rushed the last few stitches.

The small red bloom of blood stood out from the sheer, silvery material. It was just on the top left side of the shirt, above where Ivan’s heart would be. Perhaps she could stitch a flower over the stain.

Aryial looked over at the box of threads, selecting a shade of red that matched the splotch and substituting her silver thread for the red one. This time, she was more careful with her stitches.

The thread formed the shape of a crimson laceflower, the petals round and overlapping each other.

“What did that flower signify again?” Aryial murmured to herself. “Loyalty, wait no, it was trust.”

She couldn’t help but feel proud of her work as she held the shirt up, it would fit Ivan nicely.

Draping the shirt over the crook of her elbow, Aryial picked up a basket of clothes as if she was going to do the laundry, and head off to find Ivan, as excited as a baby dragon who just stumbled upon a room of gold.

None of the guards or other servants questioned her as she made her way to Ivan’s room, not the one he was in when they first arrived since he had gifted it to her, but a different room one hallway over.

She spotted Ivan pacing around in his study, a piece of parchment clenched tightly in his hand.

The bright sunlight made his hair seem whiter than usual, reminding Aryial with a pang that although he laughs and talks with her, he was still a High Lord’s son while she was only a maid.

“Well?” Ivan demanded as Aryial walked in, mistaking her for a messenger he had obviously been waiting for.

As soon as he saw her, however, he gave her a thin smile and apologised.

“I went to the market yesterday,” Aryial started, but Ivan had returned to his pacing.

He nodded absentmindedly. She brushed her hand along the shirt.

“I bought some fabrics,” Aryial tried again. She couldn’t see Ivan’s face as he turned his back to her.

“That’s nice,” was all he offered.

“I thought maybe you could wear it,” she said, holding the shirt up for Ivan to see.

“Maybe later, Aryial.” He was still pacing, waiting for the messenger.

She was about to insist once more but the sudden arrival of a page boy cut her off swiftly.

Ivan held out a hand. “Any news?”

The page boy shook his head.

Aryial found herself actually pausing, debating whether she could help Ivan in some way.

He needed to let loose, to take a break from all this political nonsense he had dived into. Aryial gave a wry grin as she left his room.

He needed a drink.


Author’s Note:

It would make my day if you left a comment or two somewhere. You can even like the book if you'd like!!

xx Cindy

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