13th of Octobra, 750AP
The streets had been cobbled, ripped apart, cobbled again, and so forth. Buildings rose and homes fell. Walls are built, towers are raised and the city breathes in the new day. Out with the old and in with the improved. Underneath Aelin’s Arch a crowd gathered, clogging tight the already narrow street in celebration. Celebration and mourning.
Vendors came and went, selling out of their stock faster than any other day of the year. An oddity during the winter months. Street urchins thrived on the pockets of the rich. Duree’s Harper Tavern saw a constant influx of customers, forming two lines, as they had reduced prices by half. The first going out the door, as patrons awaited their mugs of ale. The second went down the street, after a specialty brew was barreled and stationed outside by the window.
Snow dropped silently, floating aimlessly, but it didn’t stick. It melted rather, becoming a slush underneath the many booted feet. Par’Tean Kol exited the tavern, turning back to make sure the employees didn’t take note of his early departure. It was simple to blend in, but in truth he didn’t have to. Everyone wore simple brown cloaks with blue trims. Well. Not everyone. The guards wore their typical plate and leather. But some wore more… opulent brown and blue.
Navigating the crowd, Par’Tean Kol saw Lord Brite take the platform, along with his wife, and Sir Miggon. Jary Miggon, former editor and writer of the Velundane Periodical, wore his cloak with impeccable modesty. The blue trimming was obviously a new addition to the old item, but the spirit of the occasion wasn’t lost on him. Ashayr Brite on the other hand showed off his wealth, a brown leather tunic with silver buckles, blue belts holding it from falling, and in place of a full-bodied cloak he wore a flashy silk cape. But the greatest show of his wealth was undoubtedly his wife beside him. For her part, she did dress appropriately – her fine wool cloak being nothing extravagant. That said, she was definitely a Rowalli, inarguably bought for a small fortune.
Rowalli, an island off the coast of the East Bend, was best known for the eugenics programs they had been conducting for over a century, slowly and selectively breeding desirable hereditary traits into their subjects; both men and women, but the women sold for leagues more than the men did. After much schooling in penmanship, math, language, and exercise, along with training the girls from a young age to cook, clean, and upkeep like none other, the women would be sold into a binding marital contract. Not the kind of contract one would wish to break. And as the prices for such contracts were so steep, it was rare that they were ever seen other than by the sides of wealthy nobleman or pirates. But even as rare as Rowalli women were, they were instantly identifiable, if not by their unmatched beauty, their spotless tanned skin, the exaggerated curves on their toned frames, than by their frost white hair.
Even now, the woman on the platform had hair that seemed to produce its own glow. Her eyes were a mystical steeled-blue. And that smile. That smile could wake a Monolith. Par’Tean had difficulty taking his eyes off the woman. The way the snow just disappears on her hair. The way the cloak hangs on her figure. What I wouldn’t give for a Rowalli wife. He found he was intensely jealous of the Lord, wishing they could trade places. Well, now’s not the best time to be trading places with him, I guess.
He was nudged back to his senses as the crowd gathered closer to the raised area, where the three stood. Par’Tean peeled his eyes away from the woman and made his way through the crowd, shoving and squeezing his way through to the other side of the street. He found his way to a fruit stand, wedged uncomfortably tight between a wall and the massing people. As he turned his back to it, Par’Tean outstretched his arm behind him and shifted an apple. Reaching into the fold of his cloak he produced a parchment, which he placed underneath the apple.
Shifting his gaze back to the beautiful Rowalli woman, he decided he’d grab a more opportune vantage point. He strode into the crowd, blending in just as well as anyone else could have.
– – –
Jaspona sighed in relief as she found a moment to breathe amongst the chaos of the event. The crowd was at long last dispersing, heading towards the platform in the center of the street. She cherished these fleeting moments as they allowed her to stop and take stock of what she had sold in the last few hours of this ridiculous event. It also let her remove some of the accumulating slush from atop the tarp that covered the stand, not having to worry about complaining customers.
Jaspona was surprised her wares were selling as well as they did, and was a gladder woman for it. Had she thought ahead though, she would have tried to import fruits that wouldn’t bruise as easily as these did in this temperature. But her options were limited, traveling up from Bramble. How she missed that warmth. This damned joke of a festival is nearly a slap in the face.
The music, which had been equal parts raucous and tasteful in different intervals, abruptly winded down, as a short fanfare of trumpets and drums took its place. Jaspona recognized why the crowd had abandoned the stand. Three individuals were gathering on the small platform near the arch. Of the three, she only truly noticed Sir Miggon.
Sir Miggon. The fool man has been knighted! The simple thought of Jary Miggon had become a poison to her being, a slow rotting in her depths, the taste of spew in the back of her throat. The man, the one who had almost single-handedly ruined her life, made her utterly sick. And now here he was, not 50 yards away. He looked uncomfortable, miserable amongst the growing crowd. “I have no issue putting him out of his misery.” She said this last aloud, and then, realizing she was still in a public setting, looked about to see if anyone had overheard her. But of course, no one had, over the bustle, chatter and the now-dying trumpet blares.
Lord Brite looked as pomp and lavish as ever. I guess he missed the memo, she thought, looking at his attire. Aelin’s Rest had begun as a means of paying tribute to Aelin Butcherfem, who had been murdered on Octobra 13. A mourning, which started out as nothing more than the yearly parades the peasantry would put on to show that even a lowly butcher’s girl could make a difference. But the event quickly evolved into the revelday we see today.
Brite lifted a conical piece to his lips, an instrument Jaspona was well familiar with. In her days with A Journey of Storms, they would often use them to carry their voices, especially when stirring up an audience. He cleared his throat.
“Welcome! Welcome friends.” Ashayr Brite let the cheering and applause die down before speaking again. “Ten years ago I made an egregious error in my efforts to build the Aqueduct you see before you now.” It had been an egregious error to use that phrase, as a smattering of “huh’s” and “wha’s that mean” could be heard from the people surrounding the stage. “I mean to say,” he reiterated, “the choice I originally made to remove some of the homes of you unfortunate few, to make way for the aqueduct, was a poor choice. It pains me to remember a time where the consequences you would feel for such a travesty meant so little to me. It also pains me to realize this is why our young Aelin Butcherfem is no longer with us, as she took a stand against me, a Lord, when she discovered my plans.” He received a round of boo’s at this, which he took quite gracefully, nodding and looking distraught.
It was then that Jaspona noticed the parchment underneath one of the apples. Had that been there previously? Certainly not. She pulled it out and turned it over, her face going pale. It was time. But so soon? On the opposite side, a symbol had been stamped onto it which showed a misshapen square crossed out by a bolt of lightning. She threw the hood of her cloak atop her head, tucked her hair away, and abandoned the stand, joining the throngs of onlookers.
Lord Brite continued after the booing and shushing had ended. “I truly am sorry. Which is why we are here today, on the tenth anniversary of her unceremonious passing.” He raised his arm, showcasing the large aqueduct system. “After discovering how she had paid the ultimate sacrifice for her city, for her neighbors, friends, and family, I had the plans scrapped and redone entirely, so her death would not be in vain and your homes would stay untouched. Aelin’s Arch is a testament to that sacrifice, the largest of the 89 arches. I can think of no better way to celebrate the life of someone lost so young, than by honoring her with such a monument.” The crowd erupted in cheers, and a smile coated Brite’s face. His wife leaned in to land a peck on his cheek.
Jaspona could hardly stand to look at them. Brite was a show off, saving face and garnering appreciation from the public. His wife on the other hand; Jaspona felt sorry for the girl. Brainwashed and bred for perfect and loyal submission. The cloak she wore was buttoned closed from the cold and tailor fitted to appear almost dress like. Jaspona couldn’t deny the attraction the Rowalli exuded though. Jaspona had never quite seen anyone with dimensions as both curvaceous and thin as the woman on stage had.
“I’ve brought with me two very important people today, for the tenth anniversary. My lovely wife, Baleria.” She bowed low and several men whistled. “And of course, the man who made this all possible. The man who tracked, found, and brought to justice the one who felled poor Aelin, all those years ago. Sir Jary Miggon!” Ashayr reached past his wife and lifted one of Jary’s arms towards the sky, and the crowd roared.
A pit of hatred and rage churned within Jaspona. Miggon was being celebrated. Miggon! She pushed past a couple dozen individuals who took little notice of her, going around the platform. The slush beneath her had dampened through her boots to her feet, which stung. She tried to wiggle her toes as she walked, fighting feeling back into them, but it was a fruitless endeavor. She reached the other side of the small stage and waited, poking about, trying not to get caught up in how sick she felt that this man was being pushed as a hero. When Stann… Her Stann. It had been a mistake, hadn’t it? He hadn’t tried to kill the fool girl?
A hand reached for her shoulder, startling her out of her pitiful emotions. A figure was hidden under the brown hood. His eyes were severe and gray, a scar running through the brow of each. She recognized him instantly as Xab. Jaspona handed him the parchment, which he quickly crumpled and threw into his pocket and left.
– – –
Xab Xebedee was ready. He was always ready, but never more so than he was at that moment. Still, his nerves might get the better of him. He brushed aside several bystanders as he moved about the crowd. Eventually, he pulled up to the barrel of ale perched outside of the tavern. The woman manning it wasn’t paying attention. He grabbed one of the empty mugs on the table, which were facing upside down due to the oncoming snow, and poured himself a helping. Pumpkin and dracor’jin seeds. Thick. Dark. Not too bitter. Sweet aftertaste. He downed the ale and poured himself another, all while the woman remained fixated on the stage and the speeches at hand.
It was strange how swiftly Aelin’s Rest became a popular revelday. From what Xab understood, they had even begun celebrating the event all the way in Kersol. He refused to listen to the filth they spoke onstage. He waited for the right moment.
“… had my wife Lyla not alerted me, I may never have learned who had been behind the attack, or more importantly why,” Jary Miggon was saying into the cone. His voice was shaky, practiced but still uncertain. “Tracking the man who did this wasn’t easy. Stann was a skinmasker – a rare condition sometimes possessed by those who’s parents expose themselves to too much paradox magic – and this allowed Stann to randomly change his form to just about anyone, clothing and all. I lost many good friends along the way in his pursuit.” He looked down, more at his feet and the platform, than the people crowded around it.
Xab sought out the feathers. He looked back to where Jaspona had handed the parchment over to him. She held a stick with feathers at the end, just high enough for him to see. Scanning the opposite end of the stage, he saw Par’Tean by the wall, also carrying his feathers. Xab took a deep breath.
– – –
“Many may know that Aelin was training to become a musician, a minstrel of …” Jary Miggon stopped speaking as he was pushed back roughly, his feet scuttling beneath him to keep his balance. Something blew past him in a swift gust of wind, pushing his hair with it.
The crowd let out a sudden gasp, and then a woman let out a heart-wrenching “NO!” She climbed up the stage, curly blonde hair falling out of her cloak. Jary Miggon looked down and realized that he’d been struck by an arrow in his sternum. He touched its length, it’s girth roughly the size of his thumb. His wife reached him, holding him by the shoulders, the cone finally clamoring on the platform below them. Jary Miggon lost his ability to stand and she eased him to the floor, tears falling down eyes that refused to even blink. All was silent now. But he still felt the snow on his cheeks, numbing him, one pitying speck at a time. Jary had no air left in him to speak. And there was still so much he needed to say to her. She understood of course. Their eyes had been locked the whole time, and she shook her head, not wishing to understand. But he needed her to know… He needed…
Lyla Miggon wailed the passing of her husband. Alongside her, Baleria Brite cradled the limp body of Ashayr Brite, her late husband, who’d been struck in the heart.
– – – – –
Prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.
Writing Prompt: Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.
Sorry about this one being a whole week late. Been very busy lately.