Among the memories of the last Harvest Festival in Velathri, one of the dearest to Eteri was when her father came back home. Their old house was far from the centre of the city, so the poor man had to carry with him the heavy bag filled to the brim with coins, but when he finally entered their old kitchen and poured its contents on the table, covering it with a tinkling waterfall of silver coins.
Eteri’s heart still danced at the sight, even if it only played in her mind. That was the year they had moved from the backwater district to their new home – and this year she wanted to help apa doing even better than before.
Perhaps it wasn’t by chance that Tatia and Barnabas would get wed the following summer.
With these thoughts in her head and a spring to her step, she went to meet her father, spotting his stand amidst the crowd. They had fought with tooth and nail to make sure they got a stand as close as possible to the Whitepath, and in fact the cobblestones rested just a few steps away from the stand.
In retrospect, Eteri would often wonder how things could have changed if they had been less greedy and they had accepted a spot further behind, one from which her Eternal Grace wouldn’t spot Tatia so easily.
But that morning she was full of hope – and the idea that she could interact with the Zalethi in any way the ghost of a dream.
She found apa at the stand, their wares already full on display, glistening under the sun: months of work displayed there. Plates, cups and amphoras, decorated by their own hands. They had spent week after week of the long winter huddled together in the workshop, cooking their ceramic until they were nothing less than perfect, and then decorating them with the patterns her father had learned from his father, and so on since the beginning of time. Or at least that’s what seemed to be to Eteri.
Each of the pieces displayed lines of colour in complex geometric arches, filled with letters and numbers, forming mottos, poetry and formulas to hold back the evil eye. They would sell like hotcakes, if only because, as her father said, people with a lot of money were superstitious.
“Apa!” she greeted him, waving her arm.
“You’re early! Did you get your mother her breakfast?” He asked scratching his old scar. A memento from the last time the Apua dared to march against the Rasena, it crossed over his face like the ghost of a crack through a repaired plate.
“I stayed and get everything ready for her,” Eteri replied with a smile, “but you know how she is. She wanted me to leave and in the end I did as she told me.”
Her father clicked his tongue.
“That woman. She thinks she can behave as if the chalk-illness did not bite her ankles even now. I will have words with her, but later… now, what do you think? I dare say I made a neat job.”
“It’s incredible! They will eat right from our hand! Did you sell anything already?”
“A couple things, just a few plates, nothing much.”
“Hmmm,” she agreed, reaching him behind the stand. She noticed her own wares, the ones she made all by herself, stood untouched in the middle of the table.
“Don’t worry,” he said setting a hand over her shoulder. “They will appreciate your talent.”
“If so pleases the Twelve,” she replied in a whisper. She felt a little embarrassed. Was she so transparent? And wasn’t her desire to be recognized a bit misplaced after all? She did not have her father’s experience.
“If they were displeased, they wouldn’t have gifted me such a talented daughter,” he chuckled.
“Apa!” She flushed. “Thanks… I really hope this day goes well.”
“How can it go any different?” He chuckled. Her father might not have been what you call a handsome man, with his bald head, too-wide nose and double-chin, but there was something in him, a brightness in his gaze, his eager smile, that made her understand why ati fell for him all those years before.
And thankfully, she and her sister got their looks from their mother.
“Now let’s put you to work… try to find Nobles in the crowd, Eteri. They are going to love your creations, I know!”
Far and away from the stand where Eteri and her father were trying to gather as many customers as they could, the Zalethi tried to relax, falling against the soft cushions that littered the top level of her carriage.
On the level beneath her, the eleven Loukomon of the other cities stood on their seats, gravely looking about and receiving the flowers and the chatter from the already-growing crowd. The parade was proceeding at a snail’s pace, and it would be hours before they arrived at the castle – a time that would pass before she even perceived it.
And yet she wanted to savour it as much as she could.
The company of her slavegirls, covered only by a few lines of beads that his just crotch and nipples, would have usually been enough to entertain her. She had picked up a few beautiful specimens, and she was looking forward to that night, when she could drink from their beauty one by one.
Perhaps their youth would be enough to stave off the shadow of time from her mind.
Next to her, Thesanthei coughed. The ancient governor smiled weakly, raising one of his hands to wave at the crowd beneath.
“You are troubled,” he stated, turning his gaze back to her.
“I just wonder if you know how to beg time for time,” she replied in a velvet sigh. She entwined her dark hand with his chalky fingers. “You are so much closer to the other end than I am, my old friend.” The Zalethi’s smile grew sad. “Can’t you ask them for a few more days with me?”
“I never knew how. I am afraid I will not learn just now… especially with this kind of company around me. I may be old, but my desire did not wither as fast as my legs!” He moved his hand to encompass the eleven girls serving her.
The Zalethi laughed.
“I am going to miss you so much.”
“You will such a long time to mourn! Can’t we talk about something else while the day still endures?”
“I never knew how,” she echoed his own words. “But perhaps I can learn, thanks to you.”
Author’s Notes: If you find the name Thesanthei here once again, as I have used it in Those Who Wander, is because this civilization is based on Etruscan names and culture.
Thanks for reading.