Thursday 26 May 2016

Of Ash And Dew - Eight

   Mítrei felt silly. She understood that 'civilised' folk liked their excessive decency, but she saw no purpose at all in the skirts that she and the women around her in Dumas's market were wearing. She couldn't break into a sprint if she needed to - she could barely even hurry anywhere - and if she had to climb over something she would be quite stuck.
   The men all wore seamed legs, and she couldn't work out where the decision to divide such clothing between genders had come from.
   But she had no right to complain. It was either a skirt or damp skins, and she didn't want to stand out any further than her white hair already allowed, so she wore what Edwin had given her.
   But despite her discomfort, she couldn't help being overwhelmed by the bustle of the market. It was incredibly busy to the point of being unable to move, regardless of ridiculous long skirts that tried to trip her every step, and as she looked around at the nameless, faceless mass of people, she wondered just how she had any chance of recovering the amulet - if it was even here.
   She decided after a deep breath to check the stalls first and see if she could spot it amongst merchants' wares, but that proved quite hopeless. She turned her focus then onto voices, trying to pick out any useful words during haggling conversations and louder peddling cries, but there was too much to make any sense of.
   She had no choice but to ask around.
   People looked at her warily as she stopped at stalls or tried for the attention of merchants, and all seemed anxious for what she might do. But rather than ignore her or shoo her away as she feared, they answered her questions readily, either none too concerned she would truly cause any trouble by herself, or perhaps too frightened to risk it. But none were able to help, and a few seemed more than a little regretful at that fact.
   After an hour of searching around the market three times and receiving eventually suspicious looks, she began to realise with a heavy heart that the amulet simply wasn't there. She'd genuinely - foolishly - believed she would find it, but Dumas was only a suggestion made by someone who couldn't possibly know for certain. It had still been her best lead - without it she wouldn't have known where to turn at all - but that only made the matter worse. It had been her best lead, and it had turned up nothing.
   She felt hopelessness begin to creep up into her heart, but she pushed it aside. There were other markets, and it was also possible that the thief hadn't arrived there yet, perhaps he'd hit other places first to build up some kind of stock. She was ashamed at her hope for that. He'd killed her family for one trinket. He would kill others for theirs.
   Anger began to replace her hopelessness and propelled her through the market for a fourth time. Her mind turned inwards to dwell on it, even fuel it, to avoid feeling the shame and despair that would otherwise stand in its place, and so she didn't notice the man until she'd already walked quite aggressively into him.
   "Stupid cow," the man growled, "watch where you're going."
   "Sorry..." Mítrei mumbled, but her eyes were wide and glued onto what was clasped in the man's hand.
   He frowned at her and suddenly began to try to hide the silver, but she only needed one glance to know what it was she was looking at.
   Her heart jumped and her hand moved on its own, lashing out to snatch the amulet away from him as her mind turned white with impulse.
   He recoiled, of course, and growled at her, calling her a thief, and only then did her eyes rise to his. But this was no man who had purchased what he thought were honest goods. There was a darkness to his eyes and an aggression to the snarl on his lips that suggested he would fight harder than most to keep his possessions, perhaps because he had done so to obtain them in the first place.
   The market, she realised, had gone quiet, and though all eyes were on the two of them, her hand still switched towards her dagger. 'I'm sorry, Edwin.' She had no choice.
   And yet even as she gripped the hilt of her dagger, she didn't act. There was a voice of doubt in her mind - a very small voice - but they weren't words against action that stayed her hand, but of self-preservation.
   He stared at her as she weighed her options, but his dark snarl turned to a smirk, and he laughed.
   Her eyes flashed and a roar ripped free from her throat before she could stop it, and she found herself lunging towards him as fury overrode all of her senses. No one else moved - perhaps they believed it to be a tribal issue, or maybe this detachment was normal, or her presence alone had upset things. It didn't matter. Had she noticed, she'd have been pleased that no one sought to interfere.
   But despite her effort, he easily dodged and avoided her careless attack and all those that followed.
   Her mind was empty but for a fire of rage. She'd forgotten all that Tarui had taught her, but she was certain she would hit him. She couldn't miss. She couldn't. Just look at him, smiling in amusement. Did he smile like that when he butchered her family? Did he call them weaklings and vermin like he was doing to her as he side stepped and parried her clumsy blows with his own surely bloodied dagger? Did he laugh at them?
   The sickening sound set her hairs on end, her skin crawling, her blood steaming.
   There were voices shouting around her. She barely registered them beyond their impact against her eardrums. They didn't matter. Nothing mattered. She saw nothing and heard nothing but the mocking smile and laughter of the man in front of her.
   Her blade finally struck.
   She cursed.
   It had hit, but it bit deep into his leather vambrace instead.
   She growled. A burning light grew in the distance behind his head, a manifestation of her fury. But, she belatedly realised, his expression had dropped. He was unconcerned by the strike, or by her. It fueled the fire within her when she realised his attention was on the sky rather than on her and his defence.
   But then she heard the shouts, the ones that had been surrounding her throughout her chaotic attack.

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