Velathri did have a proper arena, but it was too far from the Whitepath, and it was not really suited to gather so many people. It was more or less a remnant of the time when the city was still a small regional capital, before the Zalethi elected it as her seat and elevated it to heart of her Dominion.
For that year’s Festival, they had built one in wood and cloth, much closer to the road – and just like a huge creature was soon infested with flies and other insects, the arena itself was covered by small stands, selling everything from food to trinkets to weapons.
Ati scoffed as she saw a group of girl archers give out a demonstration. They pulled back their arms and shot arrows at straw dummies standing just a few paces away.
“What a travesty,” she murmured in her usual dismissive tone. Eteri remembered the last time she had seen her train with her bow. It had been seven years ago. She had lost her grip on the string and the wood hit her in the face.
That was the moment the chalk-illness definitely took its victory on her.
“Space is precious,” Eteri interjected, trying to sweeten the morsel. “I am sure they would give a better show with more room, but with the Festival…”
“You’re so practical. I feel like I’m listening to your father,” she shook her head. “Ah, but it’s my fault. Let’s go meet your sister, the fight in starting.” She pointed at the arena where the trumpets and the rising echoes of cries reached a new level. They bought a ticket (overpriced as they arrived right at the last moment, but Eteri had the money for it anyway) and they found a nice place where to look at the encounter.
It was between a wide and scarred Sabja fighter, his tanned skin covered with scars and old wounds, and a tall and lean Apua fighter, his gorgeous face already open in a smile.
The two met in the middle of the arena, shared a hug and a kiss on the cheek as proof of sportsmanship, and then the struggle began.
“I can’t comment on my daughter’s future husband, but between you and I, that Sabja is not half bad,” ati chuckled, leaning forward on her cane to take a better look.
“Maybe it’s a good idea apa is not here with us,” she replied with a smile.
“Oh, cut me some slack! He’s my husband and I love him more than anything else in the world, but I will allow my eye to wnader on this blessed day.”
Eteri did as well. She did not look at the arena, though, but on the stands she spotted more than a cute boy her age, or even a mature man who seemed to enjoy the two guys fighting it out on the sand.
She imagined herself standing up and waving her hand at them, or perhaps one of those imaginary suitors reaching up to her and offering her a flower. It would feel good, she supposed.
If someone saw anything in her.
But then she focused on the weight of her bag of coins, and she rpeated herself what she had told her parents: she would be better suited, in every sense of the word, as a rich woman.
And on that thought, Barnabas threw his opponent out of the ring, and he raised his hands up in the air, heaving and panting as the crowd exploded, chanting his name.
As it turns out, meeting Tatia was not easy, especially because she had to fend off the line of women fighting tooth and nail to “speak” with the champion. She made sure to more or less wrap herself around her husband, while Barnabas chuckled at her affection, and gestured at the guards to let the two of them come forth.
“That’s better,” ati groaned. “Wouldn’t want to break another cane on one of those knucle-heads!”
“Another?” Eteri asked. There was a story here.
“Ati!” Tatia shouted, letting go of her man and dashing to hug her.
“There there dear, go easy on me, I’d like to see today’s procession.”
“And look who came out of her workshop,” she said pulling Eteri in another bear hug.
“N-Nice to see you as well, sister,” Eteri groaned. Tatia pulled her down and her bright eyes immediately noticed her bag.
“Oooh, what’s this? Apa is breaking bank today, isn’t he?”
“Actually, I earned these,” she said with a blush. “Some noblewoman bought my decorative plate at a very good price. Well, very good for us anyway.”
“Beloved, look at her!” She shouted, calling Barnabas forward. “We have the new princess of merchants here! Gold flows everywhere she walks!”
“Aren’t you teasing your little sister too a bit much, beloved?” Barnabas chuckled, coming closer and bowing down to ati. “Always a pleasure is to see you every very day, promised-mother,” he stated. His grip on the Rasena language was improving, but he still hit a rough spot here and there. Tatia found it charming.
“I am thankful for every day the Twelve gift me,” she replied. “As for Eteri, at least she is proving useful to the family, unlike a certain other daughter I’d rather not name.”
Tatia huffed, and crossed her arms over her chest as if offended.
“It seems you have already forgotten the name of said daughter, then.”
Eteri, chuckling at their exchange but mindful that Tatia had immediately noticed her purse, hid it beneath her clothing.
“A good amount of silver, that is,” Barnabas praised her. “Proud of you is you. Sorry. You are proud of you. Right?”
“Right,” she nodded, thankful for the support. She had known Barnabas for the past four years, ever since her sister asked for her help by covering their night escapades, and she did like him, as a man. It was hard not to, with his jovial disposition. “And also I have great news! The parade is going to start shortly. We have just the perfect spot where to watch it!”
“Nice and close to the Whitepath,” her mother interjected. “So that Eteri will be able to get a look at the Zalethi up close.”
“She’s not that entertaining,” Tatia said shrugging.
“Sister! That’s blasphemy!”
“The Twelve will forgive me, on this blessed day. Besides, you are not going to miss out on anything special. She is just going to wave her hand and bless the olive branches, you are going to get a look at our city’s old-as-dirt Loukomon and maybe get a glimpse of the new slavegirls she has picked up along the way.” She shook her beautiful head. “It’s nothing to get really excited about.”
Thanks for reading.