Cage of Glass – Chapter 3

Eteri had never felt much at home in Velathri. It was the largest and most ancient of the Twelve Cities, and as such, the traditional seat of power for the Zalethi and the council of governors. As a result, ever since they had moved towards the centre looking for better profits, she had missed the feeling of being part of a community.

The district she used to live in was a group of houses leaning over one of  the channels leading out to the open fields, and as such quite isolated. Enough to meet the same faces every day, and to go back home follows by smiles and greetings.

The area they lived in now felt completely different. She put on a pair of sandals and a thin wool jacket Tatia had gifted her two years before, which she likely would appreciate her wearing more often, and stepped out of their home and downstairs. She glanced at the thick door leading to the workshop, which would usually be at full regimen by now. She’d be working with apa on a new vase, a bowl or an amphora and marvel at the glistening skin of baked ceramic.

The workshop was the only part of her old life that she could say stayed more or less the same and she cherished it. But today most of Velathri would be waiting for the celebration and especially the parade where the Zalethi would appear. Eteri’s lips curled at the thought of meeting her and her heart beat a bit faster.

She was getting closer. Just a few more hours!

Her elation felt contagious. She walked away from her home and the workshop through the streets of Velathri, where the tall houses rose from the pavement looking like sleepless guardians. When she met someone she would greet him with a grin and a wave of her hand, and she received many greetings in return. The atmosphere began to sparkle with sounds, chattering, music, and the smell of cooked lamb and vegetables – stands of street food popping up like mushrooms.

And of course, people. The Festival would bring together Rasena from every path of life, and for once, mostly due to the presence of the Zalethi, they would rub elbows with Nobles, priests of the Twelve, and even dignitaries from the Apua and Sabja people.

As the streets carried her closer to the Whitepath, she met with faces she did not recognize and features and fashions that made her feel a little lonely and scared.

She had already seen tall men from the northern stretches of the Dominion, she had met with Tatia’s future husband after all, but seeing so many of them at once sent a bit of trepidation down her spine. They were much taller than the Rasena, sprouting from the fields of faces like golden poppies. Unlike the usual Rasena clothing choices of a robe and sandals, they wore thick boots and vests of leather and natural wool that made them look like they had just come down from their mountains.

And what was more – these would be the most civilized of them, those who has decided to turn away from their barbaric ways and embrace the light of the Twelve and the order that the Zalethi would bring to their world. Who knew how savage those who stayed behind could be.

Eteri had a vision of blonde and pale giants with eyes like ice and hands like strangling snakes, standing between the trees and sheer walls of frozen marble, looking down at the rich fields and mercantile cities of the Rasena, their eyes filled with jealousy and desire.

But this was not what would happen today. They were all going to celebrate the turning weather and the coming of nine further months of Spring. There would be little to worry from them, as long as the Zalethi was there.

She also spotted small groups of Sabja people, who were usually shorter and stockier than Rasena. They came from the wide fields of the open south – and they might be just as treacherous as any Apua, but they surely did not seem to have physical strength to back it up. Their black curly locks and brown eyes made them look so much similar, but Eteri could clearly single them out by the way they kept chattering with each other, always sharing words in their angry-sounding language.

Ati used to say they were known to make up plots and schemes, and that they would not to be trusted, that they would buy all kind of businesses in Velathri, but as they began to do just that, and the richest among them moved to the big city, they also started to buy their wares, which mellowed ati quickly enough.

And yet Eteri couldn’t shake the impression that the strange people wearing red and brown robes, talking together in small groups, were there answering to who knows what kind of plot.

She shook her head as if to wake up from a dream. She shouldn’t be entertaining this kind of thoughts, not on a celebration day.

Eteri tried to relax and take in the sight of the people-filled roads as they shopped, talked, laughed and carried their olive branches to burn in the pyre that evening. That would be the most important moment of the day. The Zalethi would be there, standing tall and reassuring, speaking words of wisdom whispered to her ears by the Twelve themselves – and everyone would forget the weary cares they carried from the long winter. They would have something to celebrate and to look forward to, as one.

This was not a day for suspicion and it would not be a day for tragedy.

Rather than focusing on her mother’s prejudices and her own fears, she tried to take in the smells, the chattering, the songs and the music. Everyone here was looking forward to the renewal that spring would bring, that the Zalethi would carry. No time for bad thoughts. She began to walk once again at a brisk pace, passing through the crowd now was getting even harder as she had to sneak through them, which did not help make her feel more at ease… but she balled her fists and proceeded anyway.

At last, she passed through the thickest part of the throng to reach the closest quarters to the Whitepath. Here the stands covered almost every stone, and they extended seemingly for miles as they followed the large road that connected the Twelve Cities – disappearing into the looming glass spire of the Zalethi’s castle.

Eteri was supposed to look for apa’s stand, but she stopped for a moment to contemplate the sheer magnitude of that tower. It rose from the centre of Velathri, looking harsh in its shape, the main structure of black glass interrupted from time to time by a dash of white marble and, at least in the lower parts, by plants and hanging gardens.

But as the spire shot upwards, past the outline of Velathri’s temples and belltowers, it speared towards the sky, shedding any pretence to be a place fit for mortals to live – until its bitter and pride tip stuck shimmering white in the light of the day.

In its terrifying presence, the spire was also reassuring.

The Zalethi was there. No matter how far she remained. Forever untouchable.

In the end, Eteri smiled and went to look for her father, going back to her ordinary problems of her ordinary life.

She would never set foot there, after all.

Author’s Notes: Surely hope nothing ruins Eteri’s special day.

Thanks for reading.

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