Chapter Two: Golden Light

Chapter Two: Golden Light

A Chapter by kalier

She didn't belong there. He knew the the instant he saw her frilly pink dress and tussel of golden curls. Curious, he followed her for a while through the market. Where are her parents? He wondered, watching her stumble over a woven basket beside one of the stalls.
    She quickly regained her composure, and proceeded down the cobbled street. She skipped as she walked, almost as if she were having fun amongst the poor people around her. They didn't bother her, as they would some nobles. For surely she was some nobleman's child, who had wandered away from whoever should have been watching her.
    He would be missed soon himself, as he was supposed to be waiting for his father to come back from the sea. But he couldn't tear his eyes away from this little girl who was so far away from her own world.
    The docks were a dangerous place for outsiders. Poor people feared and loathed respectability as much as they postured themselves whenever some noble was around. The only reason they did so, as his father had told him, was to gain a bit of copper. Nobles didn't like beggars either, his mother had told him before she'd died in childbirth. Nobles merely gave them coin to make them go away before they soiled their lily white hands.
    His father never begged, and he was determined that he never would either.
    As he followed her, he became more and more alarmed with where she was heading. This was a very bad place. Not only were there beggars here, but muggers too. Dressed the way she was, and so young, she would be a prime target. She wouldn't have many coins on her, but she would have jewelry. Or maybe those pretty pins that tried unsuccessfully to tame her wild curls.
    He picked up his pace. He didn't want to be here himself, and he had to lead her in another direction. "Wait!" He called out to her.
    She turned to him, frowning. She was younger than he'd first thought. Maybe eight; four years his junior. She was tall for her age, and very pretty. She came nearly to his shoulder. "You don't want to go there." He said quickly. "That's a bad place."
    "What?" She inquired, tilting her head at him. "Who are you anyway?"
    "Eushen." He replied. "You?"
    "Ana." She told him. "Why have you been following me?"
    "I don't know." He admitted. "But don't go that way. You should go back to your guardian, where it's safe."
    "You don't talk like everyone else." This was almost an accusation.
    "No. Thanks to my mother, I'm somewhat educated."
    "We don't have places like this where I'm from." She told me. "I want to see everything."
    He shook his head. "I can't let you go in there. I won't go down those streets either, and I'm used to this town. You'll be mugged, raped, or killed. Maybe all three."
    "What's raped?"
    He grimaced. "I don't know either, but I know it hurts a woman and makes her scream. Mama told me it's the worst thing that could happen to a girl, so I don't want that to happen to you."
    "Why should you care? You don't know me."
    "Doesn't matter if I know you or not. You're a female, and much younger than me, so I have to protect you."
    "No, you don't."
    He smiled. "You don't know many men, do you?"
    "Only my Papa." She grinned back.
    "Where is your Papa, Ana? I should take you back to him before you get into trouble."
    She shrugged carelessly. "I don't wanna go back yet. Then I'll be trapped again."
    "Caged. Like a little bird. I'm tired of being caged. I wanna see the rest of the world. I wanna make friends, and laugh. I want to ride on one of those wooden boats, and go swimming in the ocean."
    He laughed. "My father is using our wooden boat right now. Otherwise, I'd ask him if I could borrow it for you. I'd row you out so you can see the ocean, and all the beautiful fish that dwell within it."
    "You really would?" Her green eyes lit up at the thought.
    "Yep. But I would really have to ask your Papa first, I guess."
    She shook her head quickly. "No! He'd never let me!"
    His smiled died with her sudden outburst. "I don't know if I should take you then." He said regretfully. "If something happened while we were away from shore, I'd be held responsible."
    "But I really want to go. I wanna be free, Eushen. If for only one day. Will you take me when your father comes back? Then I promise that I'll return to Papa without any more trouble."
    "Don't think I can do that, Ana." He said.
    She stomped her foot. "Fine! Then I'll find someone who will!"
    He grabbed her arm without thinking so she couldn't storm away. "Okay." He said, dropping her arm as he realized that he had touched her. He shouldn't have done that. She could tell her father that he had molested her, and he could be tossed in prison.
    But she smiled, and took his hand. "It's okay." She said, tossing her hair. "I don't care if your hands aren't completely clean. You'll really take me?"
    "I'd rather do it myself than you go find someone else. You don't know the trash that live on these docks."
    He didn't know what to do with her while he waited for his father to come home, so he took her to their house. She sat at the old, tarnished table, glancing around curiously. "You're really poor, aren't you?" She asked quietly.
    He shrugged. "I guess so."
    "Does it bother you that you have money while us nobles have so much?"
    "Not really. I'd rather be free and poor than rich and caged."
    "I wish I could stay here." She told him. "I wouldn't care either. You can come and go as you please, can't you?"
    "Pretty much." He agreed, placing a cup of tea before her. "My mother brought this tea with her when she married my father. One of the few things that she took from her home when she ran away. She was a caged bird too."
    "Oh. She was noble? I guess that's why you speak so well."
    "Lesser noble. Her father wanted her to marry higher up, so she ran away to be with the man she truly loved. I asked her once if she regretted her choice, and she claimed that she did not."
    "I see." She murmured, and sipped the tea. "Oh! It's spiced gargila! I love this tea! But Papa rarely gets it, as he says that it's not a proper tea for a lady to drink."
    "Maybe not here." Eushen admitted. "It's from the islands of Irsaba. That's why I have such dark hair and eyes. My skin is also a lot darker than yours. Some of it's from the sun, but most of it is natural."
    "Your mother was from there?"
    "Yeah. She met my father when she traveled here with her entourage. She was going to meet the man her father had betrothed her to, and my father was their guide. He wasn't just a fisherman back then. He was a guide and a warrior, and known in these parts for his swordsmanship. He's been teaching me too, and is talking about going back to his old business now that my mother is gone. He wants me to join him."
    "But wouldn't that be dangerous?"
    "Yeah. That's why mother asked him to be a fisherman instead. She couldn't bear the thought of him being away for so long, never knowing if he were safe or not. But he was also worried about leaving her by herself. The docks aren't safe for women. Especially educated ones."    
    He went over to the cupboard, and pulled down a small glass container. He walked back over to her, and took her hand. "My father would not mind if I gave you some. There's a lot more in the cellar, as mother only brewed this tea on special occassions."
    "Really? For me?" She clutched the container to her chest, and gave him a dazzling smile. "You're so nice, Eushen. Will you be my friend?"
    He laughed. "I thought I already was."
    The door opened suddenly, and she jumped guiltily. A tall, thin man with graying brown hair walked inside, tossing a net full of fresh fish on the table. Then he noticed their guest. "Oh. Boy, I wondered why you weren't waiting for me." He said with a smile. He took the net of fish off the table, and walked into the small room adjacent to the kitchen. "Sorry, my dear. I didn't see you at first."
    "It's okay." She assured him. "Can I watch?"
    "Huh?" He glanced at his son. "Eushen, what's going on anyway?"
    "I found her wandering in the market. I want to take her for a boat ride."
    "Wait a moment." He muttered. He disappeared into the other room for a moment, and there was the sound of running water. When he returned, his hands were scrubbed clean.
    He stared down at the little girl. "Bright as your mother was dark." He said softly. "Okay, boy. Take her for a ride on the boat, but only a short distance. Then take her back home, for her father must be worried sick."
    "My name is Ana." She told Eushen's father.
    "Talach." He told her. "I'm sorry that I can't stay and chat, but I have a lot of fish to clean before they begin to rot. Maybe when you come next time we can sit down to a nice supper."
    "I would like that." She said with a smile, meaning it with all her heart.
    He flashed her a smile, and retreated back to the room where he'd left his fish. "Have her back home before dark." He called to his son.
    "Okay, Father." Eushen agreed.

    Ana was nervous at first, clenching the bench with both hands as Eushen rowed her out away from the docks. She had her eyes closed, her long lashes resting gently against her rounded cheeks. "You okay, Ana?" He inquired gently. "I can take you back if you're scared."
    She shook her head, forcing her eyes open. "No. No, I'm okay." She assured him. "Your father seems nice."
    "Not always." Eushen snorted. "It depends upon the person. A lot of people still come to ask him to guide them. A lot of self-important nobles who look their noses down at him. Those people won't take 'no' for an answer, and so he gets mean with them. If he misses even one day of work, his boss will fire him. Then we won't have enough money to survive. So he's been saving what he could of his earnings until he's ready to start guiding again."
    "Why is his boss so strict?"
    "Because two years ago, my mother died. He missed a lot of work then. The child she carried was stillborn, and it broke his heart to lose both of them. He couldn't work. Wouldn't eat. It almost destroyed him. So I worked hard at that time, earning money where I could."
    "It must have been really bad." She was beginning to relax as he talked, so he kept talking.
    "Yeah. It was very bad. I ran errands, shoveled stables, cleaned boats on the docks. I did everything I could so we could keep our house. Father finally noticed, and began to help again. But it was slow. He could only work a few hours at a time, and would often break down weeping. His boss began to get angry, and threatened that if he missed any more work that he would never have a job on these docks again."
    "What a heartless man!" She said angrily.
    "No." Eushen told her. "Here, you have to work hard for what little you get. If you can't work, then you're useless. You might as well just crawl into a hole and die. Or become a bum and beg for scraps from nobles.
    "But my father never begged. Not once in his life. And neither will I. My mother didn't care for money while she had my father, so she never begged either."
    She stared at him for a long moment, barely blinking. "I really admire you and your father, Eushen." She said finally. "Even if I never see you again, I'll never forget what you've showed me."
    "There's better things yet to see." He told her.
    "Really?" She asked.
    He stopped rowing, and stood up. She gasped in dismay. "Sit down!" She commanded, scared that he'd rock the boat and toss her into the sea.
    He ignored her, and walked over to her without rocking the boat once. "I've been near the sea my entire life. You have nothing to fear, Ana." He sat beside her on the bench. "Look over the edge of the boat. Don't worry. I'm here. I won't let you fall in."
    Hesitantly, she glanced into the water. Her eyes widened as she saw a school of small, gold-colored fish swimming through some leafy weeds. "They are the same color as your hair." He told her. "They're called sesmosline. It means 'golden light', because when the sun hits them just right they look like they're glowing."
    "They're beautiful!" She exclaimed. She leaned close to the edge for a closer look. The boat began to tilt, and Eushen pulled her back. The pretty fish, startled by the sudden waves, took off so quickly that they seemed to vanish. "Oh." She said in disappointment, hardly noticing that she'd almost fallen into the cool water.
    "Careful, Princess." He laughed.
    "Why'd you call me that?" She asked, a troubled frown on her brow.
    "Because you look like one of those fairy tale princesses who are always getting into trouble." He grinned.
    "Oh!" She said, and cupped her hand in the water to fling it at him. He ducked, and she missed. But she was laughing in delight. "This is so much fun. I wanna do it again some time."
    "Whenever you like, Princess." He told her. "I'll be glad to take you." He looked up at the sky, sunset fast approaching. The blue was rapidly turning red and gold. "Time to take you home, Ana." He said reluctantly. "I promised my father you'd be home before dark."
    "That's sad." She pouted. "Can't we stay out a bit longer?"
    He shook his head. "Sorry. As much as I'd like to, it's been too long already." He rowed the boat back to the docks, and helped her to climb out of the boat.
    She was pouting, and trying hard not to cry. "I'm coming back tomorrow." She told him. "You'll take me out again?"
    "Not tomorrow." He told her. "I have to work."
    "Oh." She said, disappointed. "What do you do?"
    "Lately I've been running errands between the Tavern and the Grocer." He told her. "But I help clean at the Tavern too. I don't have to work the following day though. If you can, you could come then for that supper."
    "Okay." She agreed.
    "Now, where do you live so I can see you home?"
    "We're staying at a boarding house, but I don't know its name."
    "Vanya's?" He asked.
    She nodded. "That's the one."
    "Okay. I know where it is. Sometimes I bring Vanya goods from the grocer. It's a decent place, so you'll be okay from there." He was a little worried about encountering her father. Surely the man would be angry that his daughter had been missing for a full day and hold him to blame.
    But when Eushen brought her to the boarding house, a group of men were standing outside that he didn't trust. They had shifty eyes, and stared at Ana as if she were a lamb. Eushen set his jaw and stayed close to her as they walked up the steps together.
    Vanya opened the door at his knock. A petite woman with large blue eyes and chestnut hair, she didn't seem intimidating to Eushen. But the men outside the door took off the instant they saw her. "Eu." She said, a confused look on her pretty face. "What are you doing here? I didn't order anything today."
    "I found a lady wandering the market." He said lamely, and moved aside to reveal Ana.
    "Oh, Ana!" Vanya exclaimed. "They've been looking everywhere for you! Hurry up inside, child!" Ana slipped around her, and glanced back at Eushen.
    "Thank you, Eushen." She said warmly. She disappeared inside.
    "Eu." Vanya said. "You'd better get out of here. Those men are angry that they let her out of their sight, and if they know she's been with you all this time, I'm worried they'll take their frustration out on you."
    "Okay." He agreed. "I was worried about that too, but then those men out here--"
    "Yeah. I know. They've been hanging around here lately, after the pretty young lady that Ana's father had assigned to be her maid. The girl is as virtuous as she is lovely, so I don't understand it. Anyway, be off with you. Go home to your own father, and don't come to see Ana again."
    "Why can't I see her?"
    "Eu, just go home. This has nothing to do with you."
    "I'm serious. Don't make me mad, Eu. I'm just trying to keep you out of trouble. You're a good lad, and I like you."
    "Okay, Vanya." He sighed. He stuck his hands in his pocket, and walked away from her door. He heard her door close, and kicked a pebble along the street.
    He wouldn't try to see Ana again, but if she came to see him, he couldn't stop that. Now could he?

    Talach looked up from the book he was reading as his son entered the house. "Why so forlorn?" Talach asked. "She didn't like the boat ride?"
    "It's not that." Eushen told him. "Vanya told me not to try seeing her again, and I don't know why."
    Talach closed the book thoughtfully. "Well, she's just trying to protect you, son. Vanya is a fine woman, and would make a good mother if she ever decided upon a man."
    "I know that already."
    "But I know as well as anyone that when a man decides upon something, no one can tell him what he should or should not do. If you want to see that cute little girl again, you will. But be careful. Vanya has her reasons for saying that to you. You just don't know what they are. Nobles are a tricky breed, and they can make your life miserable. The color of your skin won't help you much there either."
    "Skin color?"
    "Your mother was island-born, and the nobility is even more different here than there. Where your skin is tan, theirs is white. Even if you stayed out of the sun for years, you would always be different from them. I suppose that is something that I never thought about until now. Your mother and I did you no favors there." He said sadly.
    "It's okay, Father. It's not like it's all that important. I don't intend to get close to the nobles."
    "No. But you may want to be close to her, and they may come close to the same thing."
    "What do you mean?"
    His father opened the book once more. "You'll figure it out sooner or later. Now, hurry and wash up. You have a long day tomorrow. So do I for that matter, but I want to read some more of this book before I go to bed. I never imagined that your mother had such fascinating novels."
    "I didn't even know you could read, Father." Eushen admitted. "I never saw you do so until now."
    "I used to read all the time before you were born. Your mother taught me on our journey to her betrothed. It's just that afterwards life became so busy."
    "What made you go through her books now?"
    "I got bored waiting for you to return." He laughed. "I was hoping you had a good time."
    "I did, Father. But it ended too soon."
    "Time always does, Eushen. Go wash up now, and go to bed. We can talk more tomorrow after work."
    "Good night, Father."
    "Night, son."
    Eushen crawled into bed after washing thoroughly and combing out his long black hair. He thought back on what his father had said, and smiled. His old man had pretty much given him permission to ignore what Vanya had said.
    Eushen awoke around dawn to find his father standing over him. "There's been an accident at the wharf." His father told him. "We'll be on clean up duty today. A ship ran into the docks and destroyed half the market."
    "Oh." Eushen muttered, pushing back the blankets. "Anyone hurt?"
    "I'm not sure. But those nobles at Vanya's place have been up there yelling at everyone. I guess that ship was supposed to be their ride out of here. They'll be stuck here a few weeks now, until another ship arrives."
    "I hadn't thought about her leaving." Eushen admitted.
    Talach smiled. "It's bound to happen sooner or later, boy. Just enjoy the time you have now. But hurry up, will you. The boss will come pounding on our door soon."
    "Guess there's no breakfast this morning."
    "Sorry, son. I guess not. We'll have a big meal later to make up for missing breakfast."
    Eushen and Talach spent the entire day cleaning up the wreckage at the docks. Eushen saw Ana's nobles shouting angrily at the workers to hurry up, but he didn't see Ana or anyone who could have been her father.
    He hoped that she hadn't gotten into trouble for her adventure the day before.
    Finally, it was the boss told them they could return home for the day, but they were going to have to return tomorrow. He had promised Ana that she could see him then, but this couldn't be helped. He hadn't known there'd be such a large accident.
    "Father--" He said miserably as they washed up after the day's hard labor.
    "The little princess, I know." Talach said. "You promised her you'd meet her tomorrow, right?"
    "Write her a message, and I'll take it to Vanya's. If I go myself, the nobles won't think anything of it. But I'm sure that your little Ana told them that a boy rescued her on the docks."
    "Thanks, Father."
    "Besides--" His father's eyes twinkled. "I kind of want to see Vanya anyway. She really is a fine woman."
    "Father!" Eushen protested, laughing.
    "What?" Talach splashed him with some water. "Can't a man eye a lovely woman, even if she is beyond his reach?"

© 2010 kalier

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Added on January 16, 2010
Last Updated on January 16, 2010



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