In answer to the daily post weekly challenge The Setting’s the Thing:
Same as my previous entry; this one could go into one of the stories I’m working on. And yes if you do wonder I have three novels in the process of being written. The one to which this piece would belong has been in the making since 2002… I do sweat the details and it’s killing me. So I’m not sure I’ll integrate that one to the final draft but it was a good exercise.
She stands by her mount caressing its neck; the chestnut stallion – according to its previous owner a difficult beast with strangers – is obviously quite taken with her. Or maybe she has a way with the animal. It’s quite a magnificent horse and even now as it rests its face against hers in something that could almost be taken for a comforting caress it belies the terrible reputation it had with its former master. She buries her hands into its mane and smiles; she has kept the gentleness and smiles for the animal. To him so far she’s only offered a cold formality. It probably is good for her to find comfort in the animal; she is probably scared and she still doesn’t know where they are.
She looks really small than she is next to the stallion and garbed in the long light beige tunic and trousers she is wearing. She has braided her long hair: a good thing. Better yet, she should cover it, the colour is just too rare in these regions for people not to wonder. And women’s head are covered here. Most people in the Southern Deserts have hair of any shades of blond, from almost white to ash blond, with eyes and skin matching the sands of the dunes they live in. His companion’s luxurious red curls will attract attention although in truth – for the ones who know – her eyes will give her away first. Even where she comes from, the purple hue can only be found in one family and all its members are dead; she is the last.
He’s brought her here that she might survive but anonymity and discretion will be crucial. And a woman with such pale complexion and such an exotic hair colour will definitely not be discrete. His gaze wanders his surroundings: the market place is almost empty. It’s too late in the morning and the scorching sun has chased most of the villagers away from it. He and his travelling companions are two of maybe a dozen people trying to negotiate with the leaders of the caravan that will take them through the desert. Still in the shades of a marquee a group of women are whispering: they are discreet but they are observing the foreigner with her skin so pale she might yet burn under the desert sun and her unseeing violet eyes. Despite their obvious curiosity they haven’t approached her: in the desert, the blind cannot survive without others’ help and yet they are believed to be the voices of Chaos for they usually know before anyone when his sand storms are coming. They are said to have this aura of power that most are in awe of. Mostly they feel the changes in temperature and the shift in winds more acutely than others to compensate for their lack of vision.
Still when he waves one of the women seems curious enough to come to him. She seems to know he travels with the pale skinned beauty: for that much he has heard. Despite being completely different from them, they have declared her beautiful. He addresses the woman in the tongue of the desert.
“Do you have cloth for a taguelmoust?”
She looks at him surprised: in many ways he is as much a stranger here as the woman he accompanies. Only he is also born of the desert: the Forsaken Lands where the sun burns everything down to the skin of its inhabitants. The desert dwellers in his country are dark skinned, not that golden tan they have here. And they most often have black hair and eyes. His are so dark people sometimes say they are the colour of a starless midnight sky. Ironic knowing who he is. Most people don’t though.
“It’s not proper wear for a woman,” the desert dweller answers.
“She’s not a woman…” He pauses. “She’s not married.”
The woman frowns.
“She is with child. How is she not someone’s wife?”
That surprises him. How does this woman know his companion is pregnant? He raises an eyebrow questioningly.
“Women know. She has a pale skin but there’s a flush to it that has nothing to do with the desert sun. And soon she’ll show; that will be dangerous. Travelling on horse won’t be good Master.”
“We have no choice. Will you find some cloth to protect her head?”
“Hide it, yes.” She chuckles. “Yes. We’ll teach her to wrap it. She’s important, yes?” He hesitates: not really. She’s piece in a chess game albeit an important one. “We’ll keep the secret. She Sees.” Ah, that’s what it’s about. Yes they will keep the secret.
“We help.” The woman joins with her friends. They all look similar if you don’t pay attention. They all wear the traditional thobes in a light blue colour. The dresses cover their entire bodies and are adorned on the sleeves with beautiful embroideries of a darker shade of blue. They all have their hair covered with a veil in the same darker blue cloth with silver coins sewn to it as if it were a crown around the women’s head. From the piece concealing their forehead a thinner length of fabric covers their nose and widens to hide their lower cheeks. Some have coins seamed in that part too as the silver falls on either side of their nose others, the less wealthy, do not. But for all their similarities he knows each of them individually. The red head lady isn’t the only one who sees: though his is a different kind of vision. When the female comes back, two others accompany her. They hold a length of textile the same colour as the one the seer is wearing but they also carry two more objects: one is a small box wrought in copper – a metal so rare the box itself must cost more than the chestnut stallion standing a few meters away from him – that they open for him. Within it there are a pile of small translucent pearls: or at least that is what it looks like.
“Drop one in her water or soup every evening. It will help protect the child. There is enough for three moons. If you haven’t reached your destination by then…” They would have died in the desert he guesses she will say; but no. “… you’ll have to protect her.”
He nods; he knows. The children’s lives are almost as important as hers. She then takes a small vial from her companion’s hand. She unscrews the top and empties some of its content on her thumb. She knows what she’s about to do. He forces himself not to move as she presses her finger onto his forehead.
“That you do not forget why you protect her.”
“I know why I do.” He replies.
“Today yes… when she becomes contrary or when the pregnancy disturbs her so, you must remember.”
So they foresee trouble. Of course: she thinks he’s kidnapped her, turned her into a slave. She believes she has gone from bad to worse. The fact that he saved her from those who would kill her is secondary. He can’t blame her but he could come to resend it and he knows he is quick to anger. That’s his nature. The woman smiles.
“Good you know yourself.” His turn to smile.
“I do, Daughter of Plavilis.” Her smile widens. It could have been surprising to find a daughter of air and water in the desert but he knows better than most that Chaos touches whoever he wishes with power. The rest is up to the chosen: not all are called to the gods and goddesses.
“Oh and we have arrange for another horse for her. The one you have is a gorgeous beast but he will not do well in your trip. We will take care of him until you come back and claim him or in twelve moons he will belong to our tribe.”
“That is fair. My thanks.” She waves his gratitude away as she and her attendants go meet his travelling companion: the key to many things. Maybe.
He observes as the woman take the violet eyed seer’s hands and guide them in the process of putting the head garb. After it’s on she almost looks like a man: no it’s untrue. She is dressed as a man but everything about her screams she is a woman. From the delicate features and the petite frame to the long thing fingers and even the way she holds her arms as she unwraps the head dress before putting it back on without help, there’s no denying she is a woman. He hears the giggle of one of the veiled girls: the blind seer hasn’t done a great job of it but she tries again. Stubborn: he has noticed that before. Fragile yet determined. Blind yet not incapacitated. It takes three more tries for her to do it properly: almost. She thanks the women who bow deeply… she may not see it or know it but the three women just paid homage. Her answer he doesn’t hear but as they retreat the women all have a smile on their faces.
He approaches her. She hears him. He sees it in her back straightening, in the smile that leaves her lips and the mask of cold cordiality that replaces it.
“Are we leaving?” She asks. Uncanny how her blind gaze finds his eyes without fail.
“Soon. I’ll help you on your horse when we do.”
“No.” She turns to ride the stallion as the animal – apparently understanding – lowers itself.
“Not that one.” The animal snorts angrily and flicks its tail slapping his face. “I’m sorry Courage. Where we go you cannot. They will take care of you here until I can come back. All is arranged.”
She looks a little angry… maybe a little scared. She feels he is taking away the one source of comfort she has found. Except this time it is not on purpose.
“Where are we going?”
“Better you don’t know yet.”