Earlier that day, Eteri used to have an average life filled with average things. Until she lost them, she would not really care about them, and that was the reason why she still found getting breakfast ready a bit of a chore.
Maybe, if she knew she would never get back to the moment when her hands would slice the dried meat and curate it with oil and spices, she could have given it more thought. But her mind was wandering already.
It was the day of the Harvest Festival, and on that year, the Zalethi would be passing through her city – that meant that in a scant few hours, Eteri would have the chance to look at her, if only from afar.
“Huff,” she sighed as she ran out of meat to slice, looking for more ingredients. Maybe a bit of raisins. She rummaged beneath the marble cupboard – a gift from Barnabas – and found a half-empty bag that rustled with seeds. These were the last ones. They had just come out of a very long winter.
For the past nine moons Eteri had watched the silent cover of snow blanket every tree and field, the same that now shone verdant and full of promise for the first harvest of the new year.
And with the Harvest Festival taking place in her own city, with the Zalethi herself to bless it, they would be assured a rich harvest. No more raising and dried meat: pears, apples, eggplants and sweet peppers.
But that was in the future, that was outside, and she still had to prepare breakfast for her mother… even if the emerald fields seemed to call her in the golden light of morning.
“Why don’t you go meet your father at the Festival,” her ati said, appearing in the kitchen door? “I can still get a bowl of rise ready by myself.”
“Ati,” Eteri exclaimed, turning to greet her mother. The Rasena people were known for their tanned skin and black hair, but it was starting to become more and more common to meet those who like her mother were falling to the chalk-illness. Her skin was bleached and ragged, wrinkly at her elbows and around her neck, where it seemed to fall like a sail without wind.
Her hair hung grey and frail, some spots already going bald. These days, Eteri was used to seeing her mother wear a shawl to cover her head. She had said it was due to the winter’s cold, and she had pretended to believe it.
Just like how she pretended she could still do everything on her own.
“Don’t tell me you are so nervous I scared you,” ati said with a grin. As she came closer, the staccato of her walking cane growing stronger, she set a kiss on Eteri’s brow. “Not on this day, at least. You should celebrate, I can do this on my own.”
Eteri was tempted. What if the Zalethi would come sooner than expected, what if she decided to visit earlier? The image of herself shut in her home cutting dried meat stark in her mind.
“Ati, no. I don’t want to leave you alone without breakfast at the very least.”
“I will have to get used to it, may the Twelve have patience with us,” she chuckled as she left Eteri and seated herself at the table, using her cane to balance herself. A quick sated breath signalled her back could get some rest. “I still hope your sister will come to visit us from time to time, when she’s not too busy with her new and shiny husband.”
“She will!” Eteri chuckled, putting a handful of seeds, no, two handfuls, it was a day worth celebrating and they would revel in spring’s abundance soon. “You are not going to be lonely just because she’s getting married, that does not even make sense.”
“And what about you?” She replied, tilting her head to the side with the way all mothers do when they know so much better than their daughters? “Are you going to live upstairs forever? Don’t you want to get out?”
“I…” her hands stopped. “Of course I do. Travel the Dominion, see all the Twelve Cities, and carry my wares everywhere, keep apa’s craft and legacy. That is what I should do. It’s different from Tatia’s dreams, but hers come so much easier to her.”
“Raising a family will not be easy even for her. You just wait, she will come back crying and weeping.”
“But we will be together. Like I told you.” And as if to underline that statement, she finished preparing her breakfast. Meat was good for ati’s bones, and it helped to slow down the chalk-illness. It was where most of their expenses went these days. Eteri sat at the table and put ati’s bowl before her.
“Even when I am not here anymore,” ati said with a knowing smile. Eteri’s heart ached at those words. “But we will cross that bridge when it is time.”
“No. You leave your mother to her meal,” she said starting to pick up the strips of cured meat, “and you go out and enjoy this day. You want to meet the Zalethi, don’t you?”
She had only caught a glimpse of the immortal ruler of the Dominion during the last time the Harvest Festival had been held in Velathri. She was a little girl of just seven and sitting on her father’s shoulders – and the image of that woman atop her glass chariot, her black arm like a slice of the night sky, had stuck with her forever.
The first ceramic statue she had baked, a few years later, had been of the Zalethi, standing with her blessing gesture.
It wouldn’t be the right thing to abandon her mother like that, but this was a really special day…
“I know that look,” ati chuckled. “Pick up your stuff and go meet your father at the festival.”
“Really? You don’t mind?”
“I do mind seeing my younger daughter as happy as the elder! Now go… we have all the time.”
Author’s Notes: I’m laying down the first few chapters and preseting the characters again. It’s an interesting phase.
Thanks for reading.