She slipped out almost an hour before sunrise, when nobody was yet awake. She’d grabbed some provisions the night before; breakfast she could eat on the way. She’d done that before. She held her bag close; she wasn’t too familiar with the city but she’d learned in the past that you never knew where or when thieves – kids or animals – would grab your bag and leave you stranded with nothing.
She’d not been there long enough to know precisely where the temple was; but it was visible from her room so it must be due East, as was supposed. It couldn’t be difficult. Ezariah pulled her cloak closer; it was cool in the hour before dawn. The city was still mostly asleep although some people could be seen wandering about.
As in most cities, the individuals you met in the streets weren’t the sort you would ask directions from: party revellers, drunk and incapable of recognizing left from right, hooded people – much like herself – who had illegal business in the night, and women whose work was best achieved under the shade of the stars.
From the moment she passed under the arches of the merchant district, the temple disappeared from view. But it was a straight line… except the streets didn’t cooperate; and unlike the city she knew, which arguably wasn’t as big as Gerome, the paths didn’t draw a square. The streets winded this way and that so that within moments, she wasn’t sure whether she was going East or North. She’d taken the first street right and then one left but she thought she might have turned back. The arches of the merchant district were in front of her: they should have been behind. Or were they the exiting gates? Ezariah paused contemplating her options.
She could go back: it wasn’t as if she’d walked that far. But if she did, she’d have to explain herself and she wasn’t ready to do that yet. And she truly wanted to go to the temple; she hadn’t done so since her arrival and it felt wrong.
The neighbourhood didn’t seem bad per se, but she wasn’t familiar with the traditions, ways of this place. At least she spoke the language, but who knows what type of slang or dialect they used in the capital? Deciding that maybe she’d gone the right way, she pushed forward for another few moments. But when she arrived at a dead-end, she had to admit it: she was lost.
She took a bite of the dried fruit she’d brought; the only thing she’d eat before her visit to the temple. She reviewed the path she’d walked: right, left, straight, left, right… and decided to trace it back. But she must have remembered wrongly for she didn’t reach the place she was at before.
She startled when a door opened on her left: a man was opening his stall, preparing for the day. She’d meandered too long already. She looked up: the sun was rising. She took a deep breath.
“Excuse me Sir,” She asked.
The man threw her a dark look.
“I don’t want issues. Go away lady. I won’t be paying penalties for sheltering a prostitute or a criminal.”
“Oh no… I…”
But the man didn’t listen: he went back inside.
“You seem lost.”
She gasped, preventing a scream. A man stood right behind her, well towered really. He wore a cloak much like herself with a hood that he’d pulled down over his face. She hesitated. But she had to find the temple.
“Yes… I was heading to the temple.”
“You’ve missed the sunrise prayers.”
She couldn’t hide the disappointment in her voice.
“I’m going there myself; shall I guide you?”
“That would be really kind of you. Thank you.”
He offered her his arm, which was kind. When he placed his hand over hers, she shivered. This man carried magic. She could feel it. Hers was shielded but not his. Was he one of the hiding magicians? Why would he be here?
“You haven’t been long here?”
“No… Only a few days.”
He spoke to her at length as they strolled across the streets: here was the jewelry district, where a woman could purchase diamonds and other gems. The white marble building was the headquarters of the jewellers’ guild.
In a matter of half a turn of an hourglass, they had arrived at the temple.
“Thank you Sir, you’ve been most kind.”
“It’s always my privilege to assist a beautiful lady.”
As Ezariah stepped away, she noticed several men who entered the square. The man lifted his hand. She didn’t hesitate and curtsied deeply.
“Your Highness. I apologize for my rudeness. I hadn’t imagined… recognized…”
She should have though: magic so powerful. It had to be him. He didn’t pull his hood; and he spoke low.
“Do not. I enjoy coming here unnoticed. I shall enjoy your company at the palace. Pray tell where are you lodging that my men can move your possessions forthwith.”
One didn’t refuse the King; she told him. And like that, without even really trying Ezariah gained access to the place she’d imagined stealing into.
In response to Mindlovemisery Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt Lost in a Foreign Land