Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nine-Letter Word for Shy

((Image chosen to represent character is a Canadian singer, Natasha St-Pier. This short short is meant as an introduction.))

. . . . . It was nearly six in the afternoon and, in the short days of deep winter, that meant it was quite dark outside. The broad windows which let in light for us to use during the day were merely glassy walls now, occasionally reflecting back to me the glimmer of candlelight. Only the archivists were trusted with flame among the royal collection - and even then only in carefully crafted, closed lanterns which extinguished themselves immediately upon leaving the vertical axis. It was some clever design from Siovale, certainly.
. . . . . I hardly cared that it was dark. Evenings were the only time I could really get much done, since no one cared to wander the Royal Archives in the pitch of night. I had claimed for myself a broad oaken table on the upper floor of the archives, my notes set neatly before me as I cross-referenced the sections of Shepherd of Knowledge: Shemhazai's Founding with the handwritten notes - some hundreds of years old - about the companions of Elua. Oh, alright, so Shepherd of Knowledge: Shemhazai's Founding was still a working title. I hadn't actually completed it yet. That's why I was here, alone, nose-deep in ancient dust.
. . . . . There was a thud behind me. I shrieked and rocked back in my chair, pushing away from the table as I tried to find the source of the sound. Of course, working in lantern light had left me night-blind and I could barely see the bookshelf behind me, much less anything else. "Hello?" I called out. "It is after hours..." Only silence in reply.
. . . . . Then another sound, a scuff like a boot toe against the tile floor. I turned towards the noise, still blinking night-blind eyes as I tried to make it out. "Hello?"
. . . . . A figure materialized out of the shadows, limned golden by my lantern's fire. He was fair, blond, and gawky of limb despite surely being near my own age. "Oh, thank goodness you have some light. I...uh..." The young man trailed off and smiled wryly at me. "I fell asleep in the stacks and I can't find my way out."
. . . . . Oh for Elua's sake, I thought, twisting my hands at my waist as I tried to smile through the interruption to my work. "You're upstairs. Here, I can lead you out." I turned back to the table and picked up my archivists' lantern. It would take me fifteen minutes to lead him all the way to a portion of the royal grounds which was well-lit at night, but the last thing I wanted was further interruption. "Sh-shall we?" I grimaced at my stammer and tried to gesture for him to walk before me in the circle of light cast by my lantern.
. . . . . I still had time to work on my thesis. Morning wasn't for eleven more hours.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Third Charm

((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."