Servants rushed around the house until I retreated to the library to get away, to focus and write a list, or at least stare at the paper and the words swirling around on the page. When I saw ‘death’ ‘ending’ and ‘nothing’ I crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it onto the rug, a rich amber and maroon pattern that would have meant something to me at another time. Or would it?
I retreated to my chambers to find something to wear. I came out dressed in clothing that made several servants giggle. Well I was glad someone was amused. I wore a combination of my long departed great Aunt Mathilda’s formerly white gown, long sleeved with billowing layers, and uncle Oldwell’s bee tending hat. It was the best I could do at short notice. It wouldn’t have been short notice, it had been weeks since Head Precinct had delivered his ‘honor’, but I’d been too busy trying not to think about it.
My house, the formerly glorious house of Perr was one of the crumbling manses along the river, but outfitted with so many servants for this important occasion it was attaining an honorable visage, instead of simply a decrepit one. That should have made me happy, to see the old ruined garden pruned into order, the tattered drapes carefully cleaned and mended, but all I could do is wish I belonged to any other family.
“Lady Perr,” the melodic voice of the now gardener interrupted my musings. I glared at him, but the irritation got lost beneath the billows of net. “Your gloves, left in the garden.”
I took them, quickly putting them on; one more layer couldn’t possibly hurt. The teal with brown trim wasn’t exactly a match for the rest of my yellowed white ensemble. What did it matter? Fashion was something young girls cared about. My duty to act the part of host to the barbarian warred with my instincts. If I had to host the viceroy, he'd get as little of me as possible.
I heard the trumpets blowing from the dock, only a few miles up the river, and wandered out to the patio that overlooked the water. I stepped carefully towards the edge although the stone balustrade looked quite sturdy after the masons had finished with it. As I leaned on my elbows, it felt almost like an apology the High Precept had offered. It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.
I leaned over, relaxing against the sun warmed stone, idly watching the boat upriver tying at the dock, unloading its cargo. It felt like a world ago when I’d boarded a vessel so much like it, eager to find my fate in a new world. It was supposed to be an adventure like the stories my uncles would tell me after they’d returned from new lands. Of course one by one they hadn’t returned, but I had, stripped of the hopes and innocence I'd had when I'd left.
I’d been the finest linguist High City had ever seen. I’d mastered more than basics in most fields, so smart, so clever and passably beautiful. I’d been nearly as beautiful as the other noble daughters, none of whom ever bothered with tedium such as school. They were busy preparing their dowries and learning the small mystics.
I couldn’t help but smile as I leaned against the stone and Called to the world below. The water felt cool as it slipped around me, the world growing darker as I sank. A fish slipped against me, a silver finned trout. It followed me and the song I sang as I rose towards the light, and burst into the sun as I opened my eyes and looked down at the beautiful fish where it danced on the surface of the water. One last spinning jump and it was gone. My smile faded as I glanced back to the boat and adjusted the still-dry gauze around my face. No more small mystics for as long as I hosted. The mystics appeared an illusion to the Barbarians. I hadn't actually been in the water with my skin, therefore to them, it hadn't happened. They did not understand the world that lay beyond the skin. The servants would not perform mystics either. No tricks, no games, for as long as a Barabas was under the roof. It had been years since any Barabas had been invited to the High City, considering how sincerely the Emperor wished us decimated. No mystics, large or small. Rules were rules. Most people were better at following rules than I was, but not even I would break or even bend this one, and not only because I couldn’t.
I rubbed my chest absently as I listened to the wind, trying to lose myself, distract from the sound of the procession as the viceroy approached. It did no good. The wind, usually more than willing to transport me away from memories was adamant about bringing the sound of shouts as they neared. It had been years since a Barbaras had walked through the streets of High City. He certainly caused a stir in a city that preferred to remain motionless, barely breathing as it passed through time.
I could almost see the ladies leaning out of windows, leaning far over to catch a glimpse of the stranger walking over the pale path below. Tan skinned, brown eyes and hair as well as the way he moved would make him different. Barbaric. Exciting, dangerous, and something they might not see again for another hundred years.
“One can hope,” I muttered, and shook my head. I’d spoken Arrabas out loud instead of the smooth cadences of High tongue. I shrugged and itched my neck where the lace came up tight under my chin. I may as well get used to it. I would have to serve as translator to the barbarian. The lace on my sleeves and neck got itchier as I heard the barbarian approach. I forced my hands to still and walked inside, down the hall to the top of the steps where I could watch his approach and look somewhat dignified as I welcomed him. It would force him to wait for me to welcome him instead of him doing all the moving.
Barbarians disliked waiting.
More to come! Read anything good lately? Tell me about it in the comments.