After the longish pause… Here you go. Enjoy.
Mynor behaved as if he felt quite at home in the city, which came as both a surprise and relief to Laiva. With every moment the streets grew wider and the houses more friendly. After a while they also started meeting people. Few at first, but the trickle quickly turned into a drizzle and before long there were whole streams of people, some shooting them strange looks, but most ignoring them.
Then, after a few handful of minutes the stream of people suddenly poured out into the open, into the large sea of people that was the bazaar. Laiva didn’t even notice until a market stand suddenly appeared in front of her and she was almost shoved into the display.
There were the reddest and most delicious looking tomatoes right in front of her, and she had to count every coin. Then again she could probably afford to spend an iron or two… She was just reaching for her purse when the owner of the stall turned towards her and bellowed:
‘Hands off, you dirty street-rat.’
Dirty? She had thoroughly cleaned herself in the river the evening before! And what kind of insult was street-rat? She shoved her purse back, deep into her pocket, gave the man a look of her own, raised her head, turned on her heels and strode off, leaving him standing dumbfounded.
Things went downhill from there. Most merchants suspiciously watched her every movement, others were outright hostile and shooed her away. This wasn’t how the bazaar was supposed to be. It should have been a place of wonder, with one strange object next to the other and each corner turned an adventure in its own right. With merchants giving her odd fruits and bits of colourful candy. That’s what she remembered the bazaar like. That’s what it had been like whenever daddy had taken her here. Not like this.
The wares were all here, of course, as was the multitude of scents that went along with them, but instead of the wonderland of her dreams it now was a cold place, full of unfriendly people. Somehow she felt betrayed. She also was starting to feel desperate. The plan – her plan – had been to go to the bazaar, find a merchant going to the capital and in need of an extra pair of hands, and hire herself out in exchange for food, a place to sleep and a handful of coins. That’s what the elder boys did, when they left the village to see the world – and even though she was still a few years younger than was traditional, she was tall for her age and could work hard.
But how was she going to find somebody to take her along when all the merchants just wanted to get rid of her? And how was she supposed to get to the capital on her own? Even if she lived on what she caught, her money wouldn’t last her much more than halfway to the capital. If she only knew what she had done to draw this scorn.
The call startled her and she raised her head ever so slightly – but then she realised that she couldn’t possibly have been meant. She scowled; nobody in the city had spared a single kind word for her, so why expect that to change now all of the sudden?
‘Now, now, you aren’t going to ignore old Niry, are you? That would be quite rude, you know.’
Laiva stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around. Someone bumped into her, but she hardly even noticed; her attention was focused on the man who had indeed meant her. On the man and his pair of beady eyes that seemed to see right through her. Behind her a stream of cussing ensued and was subsequently silenced by a low growl, but she still didn’t do as much as blink.
‘Everything all right, lass?’ the man finally asked.
‘I… I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you, sir.’ she stammered. She cast her gaze down and added, almost whispering:
‘I’m truly sorry, sir.’
Her Mummy would have been ashamed of her. First ignoring the man and then staring at him like that. As if she didn’t have any manners at all.
‘Look at me, lass.’
Obediently she lifted her head, somewhat, and nervously glanced at the man’s face. But he didn’t look angry at all. Not even unfriendly. In fact he sported a wide and warm smile, and even his eyes that only moments before had been piercing like cold steel were now warm and welcoming.
‘If I had known you’d take it to heart like that… And don’t call me no “sir”. It’s “Niry”. No “Master”, no “Sir”, just “Niry”. Not a drop of blue blood in this one, you can trust me on that.’ he said, and then chuckled in such a disarmingly honest way, that Laiva couldn’t help but smile.
‘Ah, who would have guessed that there is a smile hiding under all this gloom. And what a pretty one at that. A pretty smile on a pretty face.’
She basked in those words. It was a simple compliment, for sure, but she could tell it was heartfelt, and it felt so good to hear a few kind words. The first ones all day – or in days, actually. Which in turn made her a tad uneasy. Why now? Why him?
‘May I ask a question, si… Niry?’
‘Why do you treat me so…’ she started, and then stopped. What was she to say? ‘Normal’? She couldn’t say that. That’d sound completely awkward.
‘Well, the others around here are mean.’ she said accusingly.
‘Calling me names, chasing me away, giving me funny looks at best. It’s completely unfair. I… I haven’t done a thing to them. And I don’t steal!’
She had hurled the last few words out rather than said them, her voice having risen in pitch and volume while her tongue had been all tripping in the attempt to say everything at once, and…
And then there was silence. Not the silence of two people not talking in the middle of a busy bazaar, but the silence of many people stopping in their tracks at once and turning their burning gazes on her. All of the sudden she felt very hot and extremely uneasy.
Maybe she had overshot her target a bit. Some people were bound to take offence on what she had said – even tough she had every right to complain – and, considering that she had been talking about his colleagues and very likely his friends, Niry was no exception to this. She flinched at that thought.
Niry, however, just smiled bemusedly and aimed a
‘Move along, nothing to see.’ at the audience. Slowly the people slowly started moving again, even though Laiva was definite several of them were lurking nearby, just in case. Niry had to have noticed them as well; for he bowed down to her and said:
‘What about we go and find some place quieter and then you can tell me everything; eh, lass?’
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