I went to the market to shop, the riot of colors and magical displays almost exactly like the summer. The only difference was that since it was getting colder, a large number of people had broken out colorful scarves, perfect since they could be constantly worn and re-worn. The blur of teal, green, and orange of summer were moving into more crimsons and blues, with the occasional flash of purple. More could be invested into a scarf than a tunic, since there was less material to dye, and the re-wearability improved dramatically.
Wait, shit. My tunic! I had completely forgotten it with Septima in my haste to see Artemis. Scatter-brain strikes again. Blah, I should drop all of this off at home, go down to the river, and apologize to Septima. Or go to her place and pick it up there. Argh. At least I had “Tracking down lost objects” down pat. That was even how I had gotten a skill related to it – [Lost and Found], and was deeply embarrassed at how high it was. Was probably going to get a few more levels at this rate finding my tunic. Stop leveling, damnit!
Well, if I had a bunch of running around to do, I might as well drop my shopping off at home. Why could this world not have spatial rings or something similar? No shopping carts, no rings, worst of both worlds. No fridges or anything meant that we were constantly visiting the market for the day’s food, but such was life. It was nice to get out and about, and see people.
I was on my way home, bag full, when I bumped into my favorite mango vendor.
“Hey! How are you? Health all good?” Pleasantries to start. Always be polite. I was finally tall enough to get a good view over the edge of the stall. I wasn’t seeing mangos on display, worrying.
The vendor smiled at me. “Elaine! My favorite mango-mouse! I’m doing fine, and yourself?”
I looked at him expectantly. This was our exchange; this was our ritual. Pleasant greetings. Mangos for money. Words didn’t need to be said after the initial exchange. My money was already out and on his stand.
He was looking uncomfortable for some reason though.
“Ah, bad news Elaine… no mangos today.” My face fell. “There’s some sort of plague in Perinthus, no traders are leaving. And I sold the last of my stock earlier.” He informed me, pushing the coins back to me.
What! This was awful! This was terrible! No mangos! Crestfallen, I left to continue home.
I got home, and yay, dad was around! He was sitting in the main room, maintaining his leather armor. I could talk with him about Octavia, and sick the guards on her husband.
“Hey dad” I called out as I dumped the groceries into the kitchen. I still felt guilty every time I saw him and his fierce-looking eyepatch, no matter how much I was reassured that it wasn’t my fault. I might be able to fix it soon though!
“Hey kiddo.” Dad called back from the living room. Talking through an open door, meh, but it worked. I bustled around the kitchen getting things together.
“Did you forget something today?” Shoot. How did he know?
“Maaaaaybe why do you ask?” My poker face was terrible, glad he couldn’t see mine.
“Because Septima swung by, dropping off a pair of tunics she said were yours. Something about you vanishing mid-laundry.” I swore to myself. Caught red-handed.
“Eh he, I gotta thank Septima….” I tried to deflect. “Artemis is back! Yummy dinner!” I started cooking, mostly as an excuse to trade direct verbal roasting for the more literal roasting of the kitchen. Fish soup for dinner tonight! A rich special meal, celebrating Artemis being back.
Dad was having none of that though. “You need to be more thoughtful Elaine. You can’t just be gallivanting about. You’re an adult now. You’re of a marriageable age. You need to focus.”
Yeah yeah, standard losing stuff lecture #3 – wait WHAT marriageable age!?
I popped my head out of the kitchen, beloved knife still in hand from slicing up the fish. I pointed it at dad.
“What do you mean, marriageable age? I’m nowhere near old enough to be married.”
“Elaine, a knife is not a toy, or a pointing tool. Put it down.” Ehhh, I was annoyed at him, but he had a point. Probably had a few too many knives pointed at him in day-to-day life to be ok with it happening at home. Knife lowered.
“You turned 14 a few months ago. You’re old enough to be married off. Julia and I married when she was 14. You should start getting used to the idea.”
“What, no! 14’s way too young to be married! Even 18 is pretty young!”
Dad sighed. “I’m not sure where you get these ideas. We’re not having this conversation at this time; I’m just letting you know to get the idea in your head.” Softly, under his breath but not too quietly. “Everyone told me that their children rejected the idea at first.”
I popped back into the kitchen, temporary truce with dad established. He didn’t want to argue about marriage, I didn’t want to get lectured about losing things. I wasn’t getting married at 14, and there was no way I was going to be “Married off.” I was choosing who to marry if anyone.
“Even if it was Euterpe?” A quiet part of me whispered.
Ok, that gave me a moment’s pause. A second moment of stirring the pot.
“Yes, even if it was Euterpe. Nobody chooses for me.” A bit of taste-testing of the food, a bit of seasoning, and it was time to just let things simmer for a bit. I popped back out into the living room.
“Hey dad, I heard about a problem when I was down by the river that I think you should know about.” I started. I got him looking at me.
“Guard-related.” I confirmed.
“Never a moment off-duty.” he complained “Ok, go on.”
“Octavia came down to the river, she was assaulted, and badly beaten.”
Dad paused mid-stitch, looking up at me.
“Why on earth didn’t she come to the guards!?” He asked, jumping up. “Does she know who did it? What about her husband?”
“Well, it was her husband, she said.” Dad got an awkward look on his face and settled back down. Hang on, wrong direction! Up and at em! He coughed awkwardly a few times as he settled back down. My eyes narrowed. Knife was pointing again.
“Talk fast.” I threatened.
“Don’t you threaten me.” Dad snapped back. I held my ground. I got a deep, weary sigh of someone who had bad news to deliver, who hated the news, but was delivering it anyways and hoping the messenger wouldn’t get killed. That did seem to be a thing here interestingly enough.
He spent some more time thinking, before coming out with an answer. “You’ve been told this, but you don’t seem to really understand. The patriarch of the family – in this family, me, in Octavia’s case, her husband – has literal power of life and death over the rest of the family. I’m pretty sure Artemis showed that to you at one point, although she never confirmed. When I say ‘life and death’ it’s quite literal, and encompasses that and all the more. We can’t do anything about it. What happens in a family, stays in a family. I just don’t exercise most of that power, and you seem completely unaware of it as a result.” He paused to collect himself.
I was shaking in fury. Or fear. The two were getting fairly mixed up. I took a moment to sheath my knife, my [Knives] skill helping me not nick myself from the shakes.
“Of course, the head of the family can’t ever go too far, otherwise the entire town could stop doing business with them. That’s the only real check though, and from the sound of it, I doubt anyone would stop doing business with Octavia’s husband.”
Rage flowed through me, hot and angry. Flames were burning me up inside. I had no good way of expressing it, at the unfairness of it all. I let out a snarl-scream, stormed back into the kitchen, and slammed the door shut.
No way I was going to cool off here. Too hot. I slammed out of the door, and into the bedroom instead. “Stop slamming doors!” Dad yelled at me. I slammed it extra-hard. Hurmph. It wasn’t my bedroom anymore – I slept on a cot in the living room. Which was quite a luxury, as most families stayed in one giant huddle. My excuse was ‘so I could help someone that came in the night’, but that didn’t seem to hold much water. Either way, I got a cot, and everything worked out.
Mom still healed, but I was starting to outshine her, to her great delight. We had almost as many people asking for me as for her, and since she was firm on her prices, I got some of her more desperate patients. By and large though, being older, with more experience and higher levels, got her to continue to command the majority of patients.
Either way, life was harmonious, and I had cooled off a bit when I heard mom coming back home. I was vaguely thankful for dad letting me blow off some steam, and not insisting that I “properly work it out” or some nonsense like that.
I left the bedroom – carefully NOT slamming the door this time, I knew that mom had a spoon-related skill, even if she had never told me it, and caught a start of a conversation between mom and dad.
“… went well, but they’re still not – “Mom’s information was cut off by a sharp slashing motion across dad’s neck. Interesting. Where had mom been? Who could dad possibly not want listening in? Why was fastidious mom’s tunic dusty?
The gears in my head crunched for a bit, and a lightbulb went off. Me. There was some secret involving me going on here. I narrowed my eyes, and put on my best Holmes hat.
Start softly, let’s see if we can get an open confession.
“Hey mom!” Way too cheery, I should dial it back. “Welcome back. Where have you been?” Perfect! Time to find out everything! Confess villain!
“Oh, here and there, taking a walk around town, just saying hi to some of my friends, picking some stuff up at the apothecary.”
Rats, a perfect deflection. Let me try pushing a bit more.
“Like who?” That got me a Look.
“Elaine, contrary to popular belief, I do have friends you know. You know what I was getting at the apothecary.” Mom chastised me, hands on her hips. “It’s none of your business. I believe Artemis is coming for dinner?”
Right, Artemis! Dinner! Shit the soup! I sprinted over to the kitchen, only to find the precious ambrosia moved off the stove, onto the side.
My Holmes hat was still on. Only one person had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to save the soup. “Thanks dad!”
The sun was starting to set, and a cool breeze drifted through town as Artemis showed up at our door.