Chapter  9 - The World We Live In

Chapter 9 - The World We Live In

A Chapter by VassD
"

The ground we stand on is on always shifting. Take nothing at face value.

"

“Yes, my mother sent me to get supplies while she does business. We’re just passing through.” The lie still felt oily on her tongue, even though it was the twentieth time she’d said it today. Ania plastered a smile onto her face as the stall vender nodded and handed her the bundle of goods. She turned away and melted back into the crowd. She let her mind wander down the mental list she’d made of what to buy. Extra bandages, dried meat, bread, an extra water skin… That was just about everything.

As Ania wandered through the streets of Kopor, she thought about how strange it felt to be among people, even after just a few days on the road. The lonely feeling that that had pervaded her cave campsite that first night had followed her, but she hadn’t realized just how much she’d been craving human contact until she’d spotted the outskirts of the smallest forest village. She’d spurred Jimande to a gallop before stopping to consider how odd it might seem for a young girl, covered in white bandages, to come tearing into town without a single adult to her name.

She had pulled Jimande off the road and set about covering what bandages were still visible. The bandage around her neck and collarbone were easily obscured by a high-necked coat form her pack. She hadn’t been sure what to do with the bandage wrapped around her forehead. It was about as visible as anything. She’d almost given up hope when her fingers touched the undershirt that she had worn that first night. It was dark, and the heavy rain from the past few days had washed the blood from it, but it had taken a beating along with her. She didn’t feel to bad about cutting it into strips and tying it over her hair like a cap. A few people still commented on her limp, but it hadn’t been too hard to convince them she’d fallen off her horse.

Absentmindedly, Ania reach up and started massaging her healing collar bone. The sharp pains had long since faded, but there was still a deep ache that numbed her shoulder. She let the lying smile slide from her face to be replaced by a look of complete and absolute exhaustion. She’d never been on the road so long without someone with her, and she’d never been alone for more than a few hours at a time. But now, even though she was surrounded by so many people, she still felt like she was cut off from the rest of the world. She knew it was probably just a trick but she was having a hard time focusing on individual people, as if there were actually a film surrounding her. She shivered, her wounds drilling deep into the marrow of her bones.

I miss home.

Ania made her way over to the edges of the street to where a low stone bench sat. All of her limbs felt weak, as if she were getting over some terrible sickness. She sat there staring at the ground beneath her feet. She could hear the people on the street moving around. She could hear the gravel underneath their feet.

But she still felt so alone.

She brought a hand up and wrapped her fingers around the hawk’s head necklace. She held it tight, and tried to remember what it felt like to be embraced, or what it felt like to be touched at all. She could bring to mind what it looked like, but she couldn’t remember the emotions that came with knowing someone was there to keep her safe. She moved her arms, and hugged herself until her finger tips turned white. She tried to squeeze some of the life back into her muscles, but she was almost certain she could feel them atrophying under her skin.

“Cold, dearie?”

Ania jumped. She looked around, and searched for the source of the unexpected voice. Her eyes settled on a stall vender a few feet away from her. She was a young woman, probably less than ten years older than Ania. She was pushing one of those temporary stalls that folded up out of a cart. From where she sat, Ania wasn’t sure what were in the stalls little baskets, but whatever they were, they clinked together like coins or tiny pebbles. She looked up into the stall-woman’s eyes and plastered the lying smile back onto her face. “No, not cold, ma’am. Just a little �"”

“Ma’am?” The young woman laughed like that had been the funniest thing she’d heard all day. “Dearie, I’m not that old yet. My name’s Abagael, sweet.”

Abagael’s easy laugh made Ania want to smile �" for real this time. “Oh, alright then, ma- I mean, Abagael. I’m not cold, no. I’m just a little tired.” She glanced down at her hands for a moment. “And a little homesick.”

The older girl pulled her cart to the edge of the road and sat down next to Ania on the bench. “Homesick? Dearie, what are you doing away from home so close to the Feast of Turning? That’s a time to be with family.” Abagael reached an arm around Ania’s shoulders and gave them a quick squeeze.

Ehmita used to hug me like that.

Ania sniffed. Her eyes stung, but she kept her vision from blurring through sheer force of will. I’m sick of crying. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m not going to cry. “I’m, um…” She cleared her throat. I had to go on a trip to meet somebody by the feast, so I had to leave home for a while.” She looked down �" maybe if she didn’t make eye contact, Abagael wouldn’t notice how much her chin was trembling. “I’m doing all right. I can take care of myself. I’ve just… I’ve never been on the road so long. And I have a big family, so being all by myself is…”

“It’s lonely,” Abagael finished for her when she trailed off. When Ania nodded, Abagael said, “I know the feeling. I’ve been all over the continent pushing this cart of mine. I’ve even been across the channel to Syven Dask. Even though my entire family travels, we all have different carts, so we have to separate sometimes. From the looks of it, you’re not much younger than me, but I’ve had to be by myself more often than not, is what it feels like.”

Ania looked up at her. How does she do it? How can she stand to be alone?

Ania opened her mouth to ask as much, but Abagael stopped her. “I know what you’re going to ask. I can see it in your eyes. The answer is, I did my best to keep them with me, even when I couldn’t see or feel them by my side.” Abagael pulled up her sleeve to show a bracelet with little beads strung along it. “As we travelled, I asked each of my family members to find a stone or a bead or something that they liked, and then I wrote their names on each one and strung them along the bracelet. My family and my travels are two vast parts of who I am, and so to keep those two things together helped me keep my sense of home inside my heart.” Abagael turned to face Ania straight on. “So tell me, dearie �" where’s home for you?”

Ania bit her lip. Should I tell her that I’m from Avionne? What if she recognizes me? Will she not like me? Will others find out? I’m supposed to keep safe on the way to Magani, so doesn’t that mean keep secret? She met Abagael’s gaze. She really, really wanted to trust this girl. She’s brave like Ehmita, kind like Xanya… Ania could see each of her many sisters somewhere in this young woman. Even her petite figure was just like twins.

Ania thought about all the pain that had filled her since she had left home. Since she’d left Ehmita in the forest, she’d been so consumed with what she had left behind that she hadn’t given a second’s thought to what path she was following. This was no way to start a life. She knew it. The hole had to be filled with something, because remorse wasn’t really cutting it.

“I’m from Avionne.”

Abagael nodded as if Ania had paused before telling her. “Lovely, dearie.” She winked. “I think I’ve got just the thing for you.”

“It was only a few steps to Abagael’s cart. The mystery of the clinking contents was solved �" the cart was filled with finely carved jewelry. Long beaded necklaces and tiny rings covered the wood surfaces. Abagael dug through one of the baskets on the cart top, and gave a satisfied, “Ha!” and straightened up with a white circle in her hand.

Abagael turned back to Ania and handed a smooth ivory bracelet to her. There was a break in the circle just big enough for her to slip her wrist through. She turned it around in her hand, examining the wide band of ivory.

She stopped when she saw the front of the band. Set into the ivory, a polished opaque purple stone as big as the pad of her thumb was offset with strips of pure amber. She ran a finger our top of it �" everything was flush with the carved ivory.

“That amber was made from trees in the Eastern Forest around Avionne. It’s a little piece of home for you to carry around with you.” Abagael’s smile was bright and infectious.

Without looking away from the bracelet Ania whispered, “My da… my da planted lilac trees all around our house for Mama when they were married. Every summer, the grounds would look just like this.” She drew a finger lightly along the purple stone. “And sometimes, when the sun would go down, the whole sky would turn purple.” And it’s the color Mama would always wear for feast days. Her eyes started to water, and she finally looked back up at Abagael. “Thank you,” she said, ever so quietly.

Abagael’s smile softened, no more merry, but kind. “Never you worry, dearie. Home is an important part of us, and I’d hate to see someone so young lose something so precious. “When she was Ania’s hand reaching for the purse of coins at her belt, Abagael lightly touched her wrist. “This was a gift, dearie. They reap their own rewards, so I wouldn’t dare ask one form you. “

Ania astonished by such kindness on the part of a total stranger, stuttered, “T-thank you, Miss Abagael, but… why?”

“Why, dearie?” Abagael looked a little startled at the question, but it wasn’t the bad kind of startled. She looked down for a moment, then answered, “I suppose it’s the mothering instinct in me. My own mother would never have left a little one like you alone on the side of the road to cry, so I couldn’t either. Besides, it’s a part of all of us women to want to help and nurture - it’s what this nation was built on. A bunch of husbandless wives and fatherless daughters… Our country was built by mothers. I might as well have tried to deny the sun.”

Ania smiled, the first genuinely happy expression that she’d worn since speaking with her mother. This is what I’m fighting for. This emotion, this love �" this is what I want to help others find. Maybe this journey isn’t going to be so bad. She pushed the bracelet onto her wrist and wrapped her arms around Abagael’s waist. “Thank you, Miss Abagael!”

***

Ania wandered through the streets, one hand absentmindedly twisting the bracelet around her wrist. The town around her seemed a little brighter, a little more lively. The smile on her face didn’t take nearly as much effort, although the stories she made up for the stall vendors still felt vile on her tongue. The saddlebags draped over her unhurt shoulder were now decidedly heavier, and the sun was changing hues in the western sky, so Ania turned her feet towards where Jimande stood tethered on the edge of town.

Just when she reached the edge of the crowd, one last stall caught her eye. On a stout oak counter space underneath a wax canvas tarp, there sat dozens of books of every size and color. Ania had ever cared to imagine. She walked up to the stall and set her bags on the ground. Over top of the books, the stall vendor, a wizened old woman with a back bent from untold years of leaning over low shelves smiled at Ania and gestured at the volumes crowding her display, inviting her to take a closer look.

Ania ran her fingers along the spines of the books. The different textures intrigued her. Some of the books were bound by stiff leather, like the ones on her bookshelves at home, but others were held together by thin slats of wood wrapped in dyed fabric, or bound by thick canvas. Others were stitched to soft, time worn leather that felt almost like silk when Ania touched the embossed cover. She’d never even dreamed of so many different kinds of books, or so many different titles. Her family had a massive library, and so some of the titles were familiar, but there were others that she’d never even heard of.

She had just barely picked up a book from the stack for a better look when she heard a heavy grunt and several thuds as multiple somethings fell to the ground behind her. Ania turned around, curious to see what had made the noise. A few strides away, a young boy about her own age was down on his hands and knees on the packed dirt road. Next to one of his booted feet, a rock lay partially upended from the street �" that must have been what made him fall �" and scattered on the ground around him laid an arm’s load of packages.

Ania took a step towards him, intending to help him up. I wonder why he hasn’t gotten up yet. His arms are shaking �" I hope he didn’t hurt himself. Before she’d gone more than a few steps, a grown woman strode up to the boy and yanked him to his feet hard enough that Ania thought she heard the boy’s shoulder pop.

“You idiot boy! Can’t you even walk right? Look at the mess you made, you little dog. You are useless. By the gods, I hope we get to the capitol soon and I can be rid of you. Maybe if I’m lucky for a change, you’ll die in training.” The woman shoved the young boy away roughly. “Now pick up those things and meet me by the carriage. Useless brat.” The last two words were spat as she stalked away.

Ania’s jaw was slack as she watched the woman walk away. Her mind buzzed �" who on earth would say something like that? She looked around at the crowd of people not ten strides off. Surely she couldn’t have been the only person who was still pushing her way through the crowd, but no one even spared her a second glance. Ania caught a few pedestrians looking at the young boy and shaking their heads in what she could only describe as contempt. What was going on here?

The boy had just begun to pick up the myriad of packages that lay in the dust around him when a set of hands joined him in his task. He flinch back, his head jerking up wildly to see who it was that had approached him. When he met Ania’s gaze, he yelped and skittered away from her on all fours. He ducked his head and covered it with his arms, and started talking as quickly as he possibly could. “I’m sorry, m’lady, please forgive me, I didn’t mean to, it’s my fault, I didn’t mean to get n her your way, I’m sorry, please forgive me�"”

The young boy kept talking, repeating over and over how sorry he was. Ania felt like her eyes were going to pop out of her skull. This was beyond odd. Something was definitely wrong here.

She walked over to him and put a hand that she hoped was calming on his shoulder. He stopped talking immediately and froze. He held as still as he could, but Ania could feel him shake. “I’m not going to hurt you, my friend.”

He looked up at her, a single, momentary glance that never quite made it up to her eyes. The shaking went down a notch or two, but his breathing was still very audible.

She pulled him up to a sitting position. He was smaller than her, so she had to duck her head a little to meet his eyes. “I just wanted to give you a hand, friend. What’s your name?”

His answer was so quiet that she almost asked him to repeat it. “E-Elyys Faye, m’lady.”

She tried to smile reassuringly, even though her head was spinning almost to the point of nausea. “I’m not a lady, Elyys. I’m just Ania. Now why don’t we get your things out of the dust? It will be so much quicker if you don’t have to do it all yourself.” She added that last part in a rush before Elyys could start up his protests again. She could tell he was trying to find an excuse to do it himself, but at the same time she didn’t think that he would be physically able to blatantly speak out against her like that. He’s actually scared of me. The thought startled here. She’d never considered herself a frightening person, but here this boy was absolutely terrified. She couldn’t take all the blame �" that woman was obviously part of the problem �" but not matter what she did, nothing seemed to calm him down.

After a few moments where Ania proved she was serious about helping him, Elyys made his way back to the scattered bunch of packages. She helped him to right a few of them, and gathered up the contents of one bag that had split down the side when it hit the ground. She tried to work in silence �" she could tell that when she talked, it only made him more nervous �" but eventually, she couldn’t stop herself.

“Elyys, when I came up to you the first time, why did you start apologizing? You hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Elyys’s hands stopped moving, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if he was going to answer or not. Eventually he did open his mouth, and the noise that came out was more tremor than actual sound. “I made a mistake, and I got in your way. I had to apologize.”

“Where on earth did you get that idea?” Ania was having an enormously difficult time keeping calm. Elyys’s words felt like oil on her skin, and they painted a picture that Ania was wholly unprepared to look at.

“I’m a boy.”

So?” Ania spoke before thinking. Her voice was raised with indignation, and it was a tad louder than she’d anticipated.

Elyy’s head jerked up, and the look on his face was one of pure terror. “Please, m’lady Ania, don’t say such things! My mother might hear you!”

“Wait…” Ania dropped her voice, but her frustration was as high as ever. “That woman, the one who yelled at you just now �" that was your mother?”

Elyys nodded, as if that shouldn’t have been any great surprise.

Ania contrasted the image of the woman in the street, face purple with rage, with the image of her own mother, with her calm demeanor and intelligent gaze. The comparison didn’t last long �" her chest felt like it was about to collapse from the weight of the memory �" but even the pain that filled her heart couldn’t overwhelm the fire that had started in the pit of her stomach. “Elyys… Those things she said about you… You don’t believe them, do you?”

His hands stopped their nervous jittering and moved to his shirtsleeves, where they gripped the loose, grey fabric with white-knuckled fists. He hugged himself and never once did his eyes look up from the ground. For the first time, Ania noticed a yellowed bruise on the boy’s cheekbone, about the same size and shape as one of the rings on his mother’s hand. “It doesn’t really matter what I believe, m’lady. I’m just a boy. She said it. That’s all that really counts.”

Ania’s mouth was dry. “Elyys… She said… She said she wished you would… die.” The sound of it made her sick. “Elyys, where are you going?”

“She… she tried to apprentice me to some of the tradeswomen at home, so I’d be worth something, but I wasn’t any good, so… she’s taking me to the capitol. She said the only people that would take worthless things like me” �" He didn’t even hesitate. Does he really believe that? �" “were the blood soldiers.”

“The what?”

“The Knights.” Elyys’s eyes jerked up once to look at the pendant around Ania’s neck. In a sudden flurry of movement, he grabbed all the packages that were sitting in the dust and lurched to his feet. “I’m sorry, m’lady, but I have to get back to my mother. Good bye.”

Ania sat there in the dust as she watched him run off. Her mind was buzzing with the words she had just heard. Everything he had said… was it true?

Over the din of her thoughts and a town market closing for the night, Ania heard one last cry that implanted itself into her brain.

“You worthless brat!”

 



© 2013 VassD


Author's Note

VassD
This is really where the melodrama danger kicks in. It took me forever to write this chapter. Ugh. Also, I wasn't one hundred percent certain how well I did Elyys' mother. It was a bit of a trick.

Anyway, I would really appreciate feedback for this. Specifically, I want to know how engaging the story is. I have a lot of plans for this story, and I want it to fly. So, with this in mind:

►What did you like?
►What didn't you like?
►What was your favorite line?
►What do you want to see in the future chapters?

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Added on May 1, 2013
Last Updated on May 1, 2013
Tags: black horizons, draft two, edit, fantasy, knights of the covenant, ania kyatei, randen derris, alliania, vassternichdrauka, vassternich, drauka, novel, chapters


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VassD
VassD

A tiny random town-city-dimension, ID



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I'm a fledgling author with dreams about as big as one of Robert Jordan's books. Maybe more than one on top of each other. I love writing fantasy and science fiction stories (No matter how long a piec.. more..

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A Chapter by VassD