Ceamath hummed, leaning on the windowsill of her personal chambers. The streets were busy as ever; wagons and horses and people forming a living stream. The mid-morning sun had risen above.
Sometimes, when she sat up here, she made up stories about the lives of her neighbors. She was certain the tailor was cheating on her husband; maybe with the man who delivered cloth to her twice a week. The baker, meanwhile, must be hiding some terrible secret. His daughter was. As for the passersby; well, any story could be made for them. Some disagreed, but honestly; life in the city was exciting.
Least exciting of all days of the year was always that of her wedding anniversary; her Renewal. She turned around as the door opened. “Eloa.” She sighed. “Has Derac returned at last?”
Eloa nodded. “He has. He wanted me to check that you were ready to go.”
“Mm.” Ceamath rolled her shoulders, walking to the vanity table. Strands of strawberry blonde hair fell out of its updo, an orange pendant hung from her neck, and a hardly-faded infinity symbol decorated the pale skin over her heart. “Tell him I’ll be down in a moment. I trust that when your chores are finished, you’ll take the day to yourself?”
“I’ll tell him. And of course, mistress.” Eloa paused. Inhaling deeply, she added, “Is it too much trouble to ask that you pay me now, instead of tomorrow?”
Ceamath waved a hand, looking at the messy table top. She grabbed the velvety pouch in the corner and tugged it open. She shook a few coins into her hand, counting them out. A few extra pennies sat in her palm, but she didn’t feel like putting them away. Anyway, Eloa did good work; not to mention, she had a family to support.
Ceamath pulled the string tight on the pouch and tossed it back on the table, smiling warmly at Eloa. “Here you are, darling.” She held out her hand, and when Eloa had done the same, she dropped the coins into the woman’s hand. “G’day, Eloa.”
Eloa nodded, closing her hand over the change. “G’day, miss.” She turned and exited, the door swinging almost shut behind her.
Ceamath exhaled heavily, turning back to herself in the mirror. She tied the pouch to her belt next to the fan and threw a blue shawl over her shoulders, letting it cover the red symbol. Now her mask. What should she wear today?
She shrugged. Nothing else she wore today was carefully picked. She grabbed the plain white half mask, the one that covered her forehead, eyes, nose, and cheekbones, tying it on her face before going downstairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, she stepped into her clogs. She ought to give them a cleaning, maybe. “Derac!” she called, holding the doorknob in one hand. “I’m ready when you are.”
There was no immediate response. A few seconds passed before she heard a chair scrape against the ground in the other room. Another second; Derac stood in the doorway next to her. It was clear that he had just returned home from work: he wore the green uniform of the guard and his curly hair was tied back from his face. Dark bags had formed under his eyes.
“Ready?” Derac asked, brows rising slightly.
“Ready,” Ceamath said, pushing the door open. She took the steps down with ease, listening to his footsteps behind her.
As she walked beside the thoroughfare in the direction of the one Likren abbey Wakegloom had to offer, Derac fell into stride beside her.
“I take it you want to do lunch today?” he said.
“You take it correctly.” Ceamath clasped her hands in front of her. Tradition existed to be followed.
They walked in silence for a period. Derac broke it: “Would you mind if we stop somewhere before we reach the abbey?”
Ceamath shrugged. “Depends where you want to go, darling.”
Derac rubbed his temple. “There’s a Rykun temple down by the market. I need to stop in and check on something.”
“Ooh.” A Rykun temple, hm? What did he want with those snobs? “If you take me inside with you, I don’t see why we can’t stop by.”
Derac paused, then nodded. “Very well.”
“If you’re worried, I won’t play an Adaellae when we go in.”
Derac raised a brow. “I should hope not.”
Ceamath smiled slyly at him. “As long as you’re not sleeping with the head, anyway.”
Derac huffed. “Ceamath, I am not in the mood for this!”
“Oh, please. You know I’m teasing.” She rolled her eyes.
Derac gave her a look.
Ceamath smiled warmly at him. She didn’t have a clue why he was agitated lately, and she didn’t care enough to ask. Besides, it was somewhat amusing, breaking that cool composure of his. Ah; he really shouldn’t be so serious all the time.
They walked in that regular chilly silence, taking a turn left they wouldn’t normally take to head towards the main market instead. There was increased traffic on this road; ruts formed where the carts rolled. Before decades of toil took their toll, the road must have looked beautiful.
Derac put his arm in front of her, stopping her in his tracks.
Ceamath startled. “Wha--?”
Derac only nodded at a woman tossing the contents of a pail out the window.
Ceamath stared at the woman. She looked tired. She’d probably been up early to start her day for a family that didn’t know how much she did for them. Ceamath looked at her husband. “Thank you.”
He continued walking.
When they reached the Rykun abbey, despite the traffic on the street, there was no one else in the sanctuary. The room was dim and smoky, the hearth at the center of the room little more than embers.
A priest greeted them first. “Hast thou work gone well this day?” he asked politely.
“Yes, thank you,” Derac replied. “Is Priestess Esther available?”
“I’ll go and check. May I ask who’s inquiring after her?” the priest asked.
“Captain Derac is.”
“And his wife,” Ceamath added chipperly.
Derac glanced at her sidelong, then added, “And my wife. Ceamath.”
“Captain Derac?” the priest repeated. He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again, words coming out now. “Are you aware that Captain Arial has already stopped by this morning?”
Derac let out a little breath. “No. Perhaps had the time, after all.” He rubbed his forehead. “I take it she took care of all the business?”
The priest nodded. “Yes. Can I assist you with anything else?”
Derac shook his head. “No, thank you.” He bowed slightly, turning around and nodding for Ceamath to follow him.
As the door of the temple closed behind them, Ceamath said, “What’re you two working on?”
“Huh?” Derac looked at her. “Oh. Nothing. A man went missing.”
Ceamath quirked a brow. “You ought to communicate better. You’ll waste less time, that way.”
“Indeed,” he murmured.
The Renewal went normally. The priestess traced fresh ink over the wedding tattoo, the red ink brightening up until the symbols looked good as new.
As afternoon turned to evening, Ceamath’s chest continued to sting mildly. She applied a bit of the healing salve over her freshened tattoo and donned her shawl again.
She stepped into the warm evening air. Traffic had slowed substantially as the sun set and the stars came out to shine. According to everyone that had ever existed, going to a tavern the day one got a fresh tattoo was a… well, not a great idea. At the same time, there wasn’t anything better to do with her night. If she caught an illness; well, that was what happened when you were a living, breathing human being.
She stepped into The Timid Lion Inn, scanning the bar, firstly, for William. Just as on the previous nights this week, he was nowhere to be seen. It was quite tragic; they always ended up talking about the most random of things. Or, if she could get him a bit drunk, betting on strange things. She had to admit, she missed it, a bit.
Ceamath sat at the bar, waiting for Falcon to come around and get her a drink. He appeared mildly disappointed by her order of an emerald beer, muttering under his breath. She accepted the sparkling drink with a quiet thanks, resting her arms on the bar and breathing in the scent of chocolate. It didn’t taste like chocolate, as unfortunate as that was, but it shared the bitterness.
“What a surprise, see you here tonight.”
Ceamath sat up, raising her brows as Arial came to stand next to her. “Do I sense sarcasm?”
Arial shrugged, leaning on the counter between Ceamath and another seat. She wore-- she always wore-- the plain green garb of the city guard. She sighed, sitting on the barstool next to Ceamath. She studied the woman with furrowed brows.
Ceamath looked down at herself. It registered slowly that she rarely dressed so… modestly. She met Arial’s eye again and smirked. “I had an experimental procedure and had a tattoo removed.”
Understanding crossed Arial’s face and she nodded. “Ah. Your anniversary already?” She grabbed Ceamath’s drink and brought it close to her face, only to wrinkle her nose.
Ceamath pulled the drink out of her hand before she could take a sip, careful not to let any of the beer splash out. “Unfortunately. I can’t say it wasn’t worthwhile, at least.” She shrugged. “He let me in on your very secret work.”
Arial frowned. “What work?”
Ceamath waved a hand. “Whatever the pair of you are doing for that missing man.” She sipped her drink.
“Sadly,” Ceamath said dramatically before Arial could say anything, nodding at her chest, “it means I can no longer dress to impress.” She crossed her arms and started to lean on the bar when a sliver of color on Arial’s arm caught her eye. She sat straight. “What’s that?”
“Hm?” Arial asked, continuing to brush crumbs from her spot.
“I thought you were off living with naked skin.” Ceamath pushed Arial’s sleeve up slightly to reveal more color.
Arial pulled the sleeve up all the way to reveal her upper arm. The tattoo sleeve, a lovely depiction of nature, was red and angry around the edges. “Paid a priest heavy for it,” she said, admiring her tattoo. “But the man had talent. Anyway, my skin’s not naked.”
Ceamath laughed. “Practically is, darling.” Three visible tattoos-- before this sleeve, anyway-- didn’t exactly cover the skin. She frowned at the sharp edges of… runes, perhaps? drawn along the riverside of Arial’s new tattoo. They were prominent against the soft edges of nature. Her fingers hovered over the symbols. “What runes are these?”
“Writing, from a country in the far west,” Arial corrected. “But that’s the Pojess.” She gestured at the river, then lowered her sleeve.
Ceamath sat back, considering the tattoo. “I’ve never seen a tattoo like this, but it’s very nice,” she said at last, nodding approvingly. “Who drew the concept for the priest? Did he do it himself?”
Ceamath’s eyebrows shot up. “Darling! You never told me you were an artist!”
Arial shrugged, her eyes darting away. She shook her head. “It was only a rough sketch. The priest did most of the work.”
“Well,” Ceamath said, “it seems to me you’re a winning team. Do you have the sketch still?”
Arial nodded, opening her pouch. “It’s a bit crumpled, but I haven’t taken it out yet, no.” She handed a crumpled, folded paper to Ceamath.
Ceamath opened the creased paper, careful not to tear the worn edges. The drawing had clean lines, a larger, greyscale version of what was on Arial’s arm. There was a sun in the image that wasn’t in the tattoo, as well as the mountains the Pojess sprang from in the distance. The shadows were depicted according to the position of the sun, and the shading of the tattoo resembled the drawing.
Ceamath smiled at Arial. “Oh, it’s lovely. He did a very good job of keeping the image, didn’t he?”
Arial nodded. “Yeah, he did.”
“Oh!” Ceamath grinned, folding the drawing more neatly than she had found it and offering it back to Arial. “Have you ever been to a rodeo?”
Arial frowned, accepting the paper and haphazardly returning it to her pouch. “No.”
Ceamath gasped. She’d meant for the question to be rhetorical, but clearly she wasn’t allowed to have nice things. “No!”
Arial snorted. “Ceamath, you should count yourself lucky I’ve even heard of it.”
Ceamath couldn’t help how large her eyes became. “Clear your schedule on a day next week. I’m taking you to the rodeo.”
Arial’s brows shot up. “I don’t think so.”
“Darling, I won’t allow you to continue living until you’ve been to one. Honestly, I’m not even sure if you are living.” Ceamath shook her head, taking a swig of beer.
Arial shrugged. “What do they do?”
Ceamath threw her hands in the air. Didn’t this woman know anything? “All sorts of things. Most of the events are dangerous. Let’s see.” Ceamath nodded to herself. “For example, there’s an event in which one jumps from a horse onto a steer and attempts to wrestle it to the ground.” When she was twelve, she watched someone get gored, doing that. “One of the events is tying up a steer or calf. There’s one event where you stay on a thrashing horse for as long as you can.” Ceamath chuckled. Bronc riding was her personal specialty, back in the day.
Arial frowned. “Very cow oriented, isn’t it?”
Ceamath shrugged. “I suppose. There’s a lot of cow herding where I’m from.”
“Huh.” Arial seemed thoughtful. Then she shook her head. “If I wasn’t already working all week, I might tag along with you. As it stands now, though, I don’t think I’ll be able to.”
Ceamath waved a hand. “Make Willim do it.” Or someone, anyway. An actual, qualified guard was probably the better route, but anyone would do. Which reminded her-- “Is he alive, by the way? He wasn’t here on Daris and he owes me money.”
“Yeah, he’s alive.” Arial’s brows knitted together. “What makes you think I’d know, anyway?”
“You just said he is.” Ceamath paused. “Well, and you two hang out outside of here.”
Arial made a choking sound, then coughed normally. “We most certainly do not.”
Ceamath raised her brows. “I’m sure you don’t.” She inhaled deeply, resting her chin on her hand. “That’s good, though. I’d started to think the beetles ate him.”
Arial raised a brow. “I think the beetles prefer something a little meatier.”
Ceamath shrugged. “Monsters take what they get.”
“Maybe.” Arial sighed through her nose, grabbing Ceamath’s cup off the bar and holding it up, as though debating actually taking a sip or not. “Question. You can read?”
Ceamath nodded. What kind of question was this? “Yeah.”
Arial sighed deeply. “You want to read something for me?”
Ceamath shrugged, holding out her hand for Arial to give the cup back. Didn’t she know how to read? “Probably.”
Arial sipped the beer. Face scrunching up, she handed the cup to Ceamath. “Got a letter I need you to read.”
“Of course, darling.” Ceamath took a swallow of the bitter drink and set it down again. Arial couldn’t read?
Arial handed Ceamath an envelope. “So you’ll read this, then?”
Ceamath accepted the envelope graciously. The backside was blank, and there was a wax seal with the image of Ryku as the sun. She opened the seal and unfolded the letter. Inside, pieces of parchment had been carefully folded; the page itself was only half filled with runes. Ceamath cleared her throat. “Captain Arial, as you requested, we investigated the room Mr. Danick stayed in. There’s no reason for you to return to view it, as these pages are all he left. They appear to be a summoning spell of some form. I hope they will help you. As well, a woman who follows Maim stopped by, as you expected. She called herself Id’en and asked a few questions before leaving. She seemed to think Mr. Danick had an interest in ancient magics. Priestess Esther Palsin.”
Arial frowned at the bar as she listened.
Ceamath opened the pages of parchment. The pages appeared to have been torn out of a book, one edge rougher than the others. There was an illustration of a mage doing mage things; the runes themselves were barely comprehensible. It started with a list of ingredients and transitioned into instructions. She folded the pages down and folded the envelope before handing the package back to Arial. Part of her wanted to know if this Esther Palsin was the duchess Palsin, but she refrained from asking.
Arial put it back in her pouch, smiling politely at Ceamath. “Thank you.”
Was Arial really illiterate? An ex-commander of the military, of the Royal Guard, and she couldn’t read? “My pleasure, darling. I take it it’s to do with the missing man you’re searching for?”
Arial nodded. “Yes.” She frowned at Ceamath. “Don’t tell Derac of this, please.”
If they were working together, then it shouldn’t make a difference, but she nodded. “Alright. I doubt he’ll ask, but alright.”
“True enough.” Arial paused, her brows furrowing a second. They straightened and she said, “You wouldn’t mind if I ever need to bring you anything else to read?”
Despite everything, she really was illiterate. Ceamath nodded. “Of course, darling.”
Arial nodded and stood up. “Good evening, Ceamath.”
Ceamath smiled warmly at her, rubbing her fingers against the pendant of her necklace. “Good evening, darling.”
Eric looked up from the crackling flames of the fireplace as the door creaked open. He raised his brows at the thin man that entered. “You ought to oil your hinges.”
The man waved a hand dismissively. “I ought to do a lot of things. You’re Eric of Noic?”
Eric bowed with a flourish. “So I am.” He rose to his full height. It was nothing imposing, but there was no mistaking the confidence with which he held himself. “I owe the pleasure to the Margrave of the Nippears, I assume?”
“You assume correctly,” said the man, stopping a few feet from Eric. “I hear you’re very good at your job.”
“I hear you pay very well.”
He nodded. “When a job is done well.” The margrave sighed. “What I am about to ask of you is blasphemous, I admit, and if you choose to reject this job, then I only ask that you keep the offer between us.”
Eric shrugged, leaning on the wall beside the fire. “I’ve done things to damn me for several lifetimes.” Not since he was a boy did he think he might get a ticket.
“Have you ever killed a high priestess?”
Eric couldn’t stop his eyes from widening and his brows from raising. “You don’t--" he stopped. "You want me to kill the High Priestess of Wakegloom Mere?”
The margrave breathed in deeply, then nodded. “The very one.” He paused, then added: “I would pay handsomely.”
The major thing I'm looking for is how you feel about the relationships presented in this and what you gathered about them.
A less major thing I'm wondering is how you feel about the transition from the first scene to the second scene, as well as if you feel that more time should've been spent on the Renewal aspect than actually was?
The last thing isn't something that necessarily needs to be answered right away but I'm curious about it, particularly as the story goes on: How do you feel the story treats each person's POV?
Those are the only specific questions I have. If you have something else you want to say, do share! :D
Next chapter is Id'en's POV. I know that'll excite some of you. On the downside, it'll probably be well over a month before it comes out bc I haven't even started writing it yet. >.>