Alleys and allies (Chapter 49)
I struggle against him. Kicking, squirming, I try to strike him with my restrained arms, but only manage a pathetic light swat on his hip. I push back and lift my leg, aiming to stomp on his foot, but miss when he moves and only catch the tip of his shoe.
His arms around me tighten and he leans into my ear, “Be still, I’m not going to hurt you”
Sure the fuck he isn’t. I continue to struggle, feeling the panic rise within me as he continues to drag me backwards.
Finally with my squirming, my hand connects with something. I grab his balls and twist hard.
I hear a sharp groan of surprise in my ear. The man pushes me away and I fall to the ground in front of him. The thin fabric of my dress doing little to protect my knees from the hard fall on the pointed stone.
I don’t look back; I push my hands off of the ground and stumble, tripping in my skirts in my rush. I push off the ground again and begin to run-
Against my better judgement, I pause.
My attacker knows my name- what the hell?
I turn to see a man in a black cape with hood, hunched over with a hand on his groin. I can’t see any of his features. The bottom of the cape which puddles limply on the cobblestone is stained with mud and his boots look well worn. He is an imposing figure, of normal height but with broad shoulders. And I do not recognize him.
I turn to run down the alley towards the square. Towards the noise and away from my assailant.
“Not that way!” He shouts after me.
I glance back.
I stop running and turn back in shock. The man’s hood is pushed back and I can now see him. It’s the uncle. The uncle of the man I ran into in the streets what feels like so long ago now. I see his shocking green eyes with the faint wrinkles of a tired life, his old scar across his cheek which speaks of past battles, and lips in a stern expression.
“Are you okay?” he says, eyebrows raised at my blood and mud crusted dress.
I look down and smooth my hands over my dress, reminding myself of earlier events, “yeah, I’m fine”
He looks at me for a moment, a question in his eyes.
He nods, “You are going the wrong way”
“No I’m going to take a peek at the festival”
He gives a little snort, “I realize and you are going the wrong way”
I shake my head and point towards the end of the alley. “No, this is-“
“Come, I’ll show you”
I tilt my head examining him. I don’t really know him.
Of course if he wanted to hurt me he could just grab me again. No one would hear.
I look back down the alley to the market square; I can see something going on down there. Maybe he is right and there is a better place to get a look?
“Lead the way”
He begins walking back to the street perpendicular to the square. I stay a few steps behind him. Cautious, watching, still a little shaken by him grabbing me. And now I am willingly following my would-be kidnapper. It’s not a great day for me and decision-making.
I follow him down the street saying nothing.
We reach another alley not 300 meters from the first. He pauses just before entering and looks back at me.
“Do you know anything about the festival?”
I shrug, “not really, I guess, I just wanted to get a peek”
He nods before leading me down the alley.
This one is worse than the first. Situated between two stately stone buildings, the alley seems to serve as a trash dump for the buildings. There are bags of things that I refuse to investigate further. I feel gross, as though the smell is slowly seeping through my pores and into my skin.
I fail to see what is so much better about this alley and decide to express it.
“Ugh the smell…”
He turns back to look at me with a raised eyebrow and gives a light laugh. “By the time the day is over you won’t even remember it smelled.”
“I doubt it”
I think he hums in agreement, but I can’t hear it over the music which is growing louder as we get closer to the end of the alley. It consists of male chanting with loud drums. A flute might also be contributing, but its soft and I can’t quite tell.
“Don’t do anything stupid” he warns me as we reach the edge.
I peer out. From where I stand, not two buildings down from the café I visited with Linda, I can see almost the whole square. Wooden pillars encircle the square with red draping. A faint aroma of fragrant smoke combines with the trash from the alley. The square is filled with men kneeling on small pillows or cloth, facing the goddess’ temple. The men are crying, some are singing, some are pounding on the ground, some are wailing.
Some are…. masturbating?
From what I can see of their backs, near the front kneel men of some status wearing their fine suits. Behind them men of different classes and sometimes stages of dress litter the square. Most wearing gray or black, although those near the back seem to have a few more dull colors mixed in.
On the large staircase leading up to the temple, they have built a large platform with red cloth draping it. A group of men wearing delicate layers of black robes floating in the wind, standing close together are chanting, making an ominous choir. On either end of the platform are men simultaneously raising their drumsticks and beating the large drums. The drums rest of the platform, almost larger than then men themselves, their deep sound resonating through the square.
In the center of the platform, stands an older man dressed in a white robe with long sleeves that drag on the ground. From what I can see from this distance, his white hair matches his white robes. He silently waits, surveying the crowd. Behind him are two upright wooden polls.
The drums beat faster and faster, leading up a crescendo.
My heart beats along with them and I begin to feel nervous. My breath catches in my chest.
The beat is faster and faster. The chanting grows louder and louder with the choir shouting in unison.
The crowd reacts to it. They move faster, their movements becoming jerky and unpredictable.
Faster and faster until there is a constant roll of the drums, every drummer banging his drum as fast as he can.
The man in white throws his arms up in the air.
And then, it all stops.