((The character of Zera-Marie - I told you there'd be similarities - is represented by a Roma child captured on film by "maksid" on Flickr, mildly altered in Photoshop by me.))
. . . . . At least, I thought as I hiked my skirts up so I could fish beneath them and produce my right slipper, I had the foresight to run off at a nice time of year. Truth be told, I could not fault the warm spring nights or the sunny, flower-filled days. Terre D'Ange is a beautiful land to be lost in, even in its poor sections. Dusk painted the stones and daub and wood shop walls of the street in pomegranate and wine as I turned my little leather slipper over and shook a pebble out of it. The stone stoop upon which I sat was still sun-warm even through the three thin skirts layered atop each other I wore. I'll just...enjoy this...a moment... I thought drowsily, leaning my left shoulder against the door post.
. . . . . "Oy!" came a gruff call followed rapidly by a bristly whack between my shoulder-blades. "Out of the doorway, Tsingani brat!" The mistress of the shop shook her broom threateningly at me as I tumbled forward with my slipper in hand.
. . . . . "A thousand apologies, good woman. May Blessed Elua smile upon your kindness," I murmured in fluent D'Angeline, hopping on one foot until I had my slipper back on, then sketching a curtsey of, if not impeccable grace, at least genuine humor at the scowling woman. She muttered grumpily at me and took to her stoop with a vengeance, as if to remove some trace of my dark skin left on her lily-white D'Angeline masonry. I was confident she would not sweep away the small blue bead I'd dropped in the crack at the edge of the door where it met the street - a little charm to cause the gaze to slide off of one, useful for sneaks...devastating for businesses.
. . . . . Missing the slow, seeping warmth of the stone stoop, I pulled my shawl tighter against my shoulders and continued up the paved street. It was my first night in the City proper and I'd been quite used to the warm breeze of spring across the meadows, which all these close little buildings blocked, their shadows too long in dusk and chilling the air before it was properly full dark. A delicious smell drew me ever uphill, a scent built of warm air, puffed flour, hot butter, and a hint of some herb I could not yet identify. While I puzzled through it and walked up the street, the steady warning ring of shod hooves on paving alerted me to listen harder. It was coming from behind and to the left. I was on the right side of the street, and therefore it would pass without concern. Indeed, in short order, a chestnut roan of middling quality and high pride - if the lift of her head was any indication - and a well-dressed lady sitting sidesaddle trotted up the street. I kept at least fifteen yards from the demon in horseflesh, pausing my walk to allow it full berth.
. . . . . Pausing put me in the unfortunate way of several jostling, loud young men whose wine-and-strong-cheese scent momentarily overwhelmed the complex, yeasty scent I'd been following. One young man raked his dark eyes down my young body and broke from his group. Smiling unctuously, he sidled up and dropped an arm down atop my shoulders. "A little kiss, youngling? For a man off of to war on the morrow?"
. . . . . I wanted to rush from under his arm and straight into a cold bath at his touch, but it would be deeply rude of me to wish him true ill if he was off to defend his fair city. I could not find it in me to begrudge him drunken revels, slimy or no, and so I smiled brightly, rose up on the tips of my toes, and kissed his cheek. "For luck, brave soldier," I said, ducking free of his arm with a deft turn. His companions laughed at how easily I'd eluded him and a shadow passed across his eyes.
. . . . . "You call that a kiss? Come give me a proper send-off, Tsingani wench!"
. . . . . It's a shame I wished him genuine luck, I thought as I caught my skirts up in my hands and took off running at a full sprint up the street. There were hoots and shouts behind me, as well as more laughter, but no sound of pursuit. Still, I did not slow until that delicious smell intensified so much that the mystery herb in it became apparent. Tarragon, for courage... I stopped in a darkened doorway to catch my breath, my right hand pressed against my charms to silence their rattle and heave.
. . . . . "Well," came a deep, slightly scratchy voice behind me, "come in then, and have a roll."