So the whole of Chapter 1 is Here on my abomination of a website. :)
not I need to keep on keeping on and finish chapter 2. :D
NaNo#1.0.3 – the blood artist - ch. 1
The City sits upon nine hills,surrounded by a thick stone wall. At the center of the City is aTemple, ancient and spreading upon and beneath the fifth hill,secretive in it's practices yetpublicly demanding it's tithes and offerings as suchinstitutions will.
The courtyards of the Temple areplaces of peace and tranquility, for the right price of course. Theyare maintained by a Temple staff of hundreds, every one of thegardeners raised in the temple from childhood, gifts and sacrificesfrom ailing parents with too many childrenand not enough bread to go around. The gardens are meticulously keptand occasionally, the gardeners will take on an outside apprentice totrain in the little ways of maintaining a house garden and producinga better crop for the household kitchens of the City's inhabitants,and in the process, show the Temple's good favor and an appearance oftithes well spent.
Bria was one of these outsideapprentices. She began as a supplicant to the Sisterhood in themountains. Her parents wished for her to make something out ofherself and possibly gain a place in the judicial court or the commonmarket, but the training was far too warlike for her taste, or shewas far too suited for it for an outsider, the story differs in thetelling, and Bria was referred to theapprenticemaster in the Gardens.
She did well in her training anddiscovered a love for the work, eventually gaining a small footholdin the servicing of local kitchen gardens and teaching her youngersiblings how to maintain the gardens she set up. The family thrivedfor a little space and Bria saved enough of her earnings to start herown small household deeper into the City and closer to the areas morefrequently visited by travelers andoutsiders.
In time she had students andapprentices of her own. Her business thrived and she was contentwith her lot in life. Her household was highly esteemed int hecommunity, her healer's skills were much in demand in the Visitor'ssectors and her students were almost through with the training shecould give them and ready to journey ontheir own and serve where they could.
And the gods know they certainlywere needed now. Strange things and uncommon illnesses were more andmore common lately. The City folk blamed thetravelers and visitors to the City and those same visitorswere avoiding the inner precincts for the same reason. The priestsand healers were racing against time and prejudice to avoid anotherplague. Bria did what she could and determinedly trained the nextgeneration. If the plague was returning, her household at leastwould be prepared.
"Mallew grows well this timeof year. It's easy to take what you need for salves and have plentyleft over in the fall for winter sweets." Bria took a largehandful of the plant and cut it cleanly with her harvesting knife,making sure that all of the tiny leaves were tightly bound into abundle and placed it in the basket she had ready for it. The stemsweeped a sticky white liquid onto the piece of linen that lined thebasket. "Mallew salve is good to keep around the kitchens Itsmells sweet, rubs in quickly and dulls the pain and preventsinfection in minor cuts and burns. Most kitchens keep a large pot ofit in the coolers."
"And the winter sweets itmakes keeps away the coughs and chills during the year, too." Mara, hernewest and most precocious apprenticetouched her fingertip to the sticky liquid and tasted it. "Whydoes it make my tongue numb in this form?"
"Chewing this weed to curemouth sores has long been a practice among the herders on themountains. It's ability to numb the skin for a little while is theprinciple reason we make it a salve, and it's healing properties arenothing to disregard. Although you mustremember, as a household's mistress, too much mallew will make for asick stomach. Try not to hand out the winter sweets too generously.Keep them locked away until the midwinter when they are needed. Now,if you all would follow me into the kitchens, we can start preparingthe salve."
Mara quickly finished theharvesting of her own herbs and neatly covered her basket beforeheading towards the kitchens with the other apprentices. She smiledat Bria as she walked by and thanked her for the lessons.
She was a sturdy girl, not plainyet there was a seriousness that crept in often enough to darken herprettiness. She was strong and quick to learn. Bria considered hera welcome addition to the handful of new apprentices this season. TheSisters seemed to be more discerning in the choice of studentsthey sent to her lately. Although that seemed to be a welcometelling of their favor, sometimes the Sister's gifts were bestaccepted with care and watched carefully for any unwantedrestrictions.
Bria's household had prosperedwell beyond her original expectations, and she was quite certain thatsooner or later as the seasons changed, that she would make her finalpilgrimage to the Sister's Citadel in themountains with a light heart and the knowledge that her family waswell and thrived without her guidance. She anticipated rejoiningthose women who had denied her their training in her youth with bothexcitement and a peculiar type of dread saved for those moments ofinevitable change. Bria liked her life the way it was, and yet thechanging of the world left her with an ache to leave this City andexperience more of the world than the petty squabbles and dailyroutines of her life.
She touched the tiny scar at herthroat. It was a small physical reminder of her oath. She might nothave been trained as one who protected the City with physicalstrength, but her skills as a healer and midwife served the City in amore common manner. Her daily lessons withthe apprentices and her stand at the Common Market selling salves andtinctures and medicines was greatly needed in this time after theGreat Plague. The City was still recovering centuries after theravaging of it's population. She was determined to trainothers in ways to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
This was the reason for the dreamden next door. Although Bria had no monetary interest in it'scontinued business, she had assisted in it's creation as a clean andtrustworthy place to visit. Many of the dream dens in the Visitor'sPlace were dirty and unsavory places, fit only for addicts, predatorsand the diseases that fed on them. The origins of the dream denswere ancient and steeped in long histories and temple practices. Theywere places of magic and obsession, of beauty and introspectionand release. She could see that most travelers thatentered the doors of the City's dream dens for thefirsttime would not leave those same doors with the perspective they hadwhen they arrived.
It seemed to her that her skillswere much appreciated within those walls, but she limited her timethere to prevent herself from becoming absorbedinto that culture of pain and the people who found themselves in it.Not every reason for visiting the dream dens was right. In fact,most were more hurtful than not. She tried to do what she could tobring the process closer to it's roots, but there was only so muchshe could do.
There are two reasonstravelers visit the City. The first is the Temple at it'sheart. It's imposing walls and fortress gates, high above thecrowded streets lined with shops and villas is visible for acresoutside of the City, give many a sense of comfort and some a thrillof fear. For those few who welcome death, it is a place of peace anddesire. For others it is a place of penance and those who seekabsolution through the gift of a child's blessing or a sacrifice oftithes will find what they seek. The Temple turns few souls away anddid great business in mediation and judicial justice. The HighPriest of the City was known as a just, although pragmatic, man andhis counsel was sought out by many of those in authority.
The second place most frequentedby travelers were the dream dens. Althoughthere were quite a few of the dens with an exclusive clientel,most of them were set up near the Visitor's Market and sold theirwatered down wares for exorbitant prices. Bria's household borderedone of these, and between the students sent to her from the Templeand the visitors to the dream dens, there were very few people leftwho surprised her.
The kitchens were warm and thecooks for the season were just starting the evenings preparationswhen Bria and her students entered. Dried fruits and drying herbswere hanging from the rafters and lent a spicy scent to the air. Overby the ovens, Fina, Bria's closest housemate, preparedvegetables from the kitchen gardens and gossiped cheerfully with Renaand Tess, the elders of the household.
"Well, I don't know for sure,but I think he's about to go too far. I know it's not a bad thingfor a boy to test his limits like that, but if he goes and getshimself killed before his first rites, he'lldefinitely be missing out on all the 'adventure' he's beencomplaining of missing out of." Rena chortled. The sound wasgravelly and familiar. "I've told his mam to keep a watch onthat boy, but she's too caught up in her own plays for that newshopkeeper down on the Main to pay him any heed. "Let theteachers watch out for him,' she says. "That's their job, isn'tit?' But I tell you he's a rapscallion, that one and there's notgonna be much of him left if she keeps up that attitude."
"I say send him to theSisters. They'll give him some 'adventure,'" Tess, her partnerin crime winked at Fina. "So, what do you think we should dowith young Ever? At least he has the common sense to stay away fromthe Temple in his wild schemes. We don'tneed the priests coming around asking questions about us keeping wildchildren in the attics, now." They whole table laughedgood heartedly and Fina stuck her tongue out at Tess.
"I told him not to be messingaround in the Gardens. There's really nothing there except tress andflowers and a few benches. They're pretty, but it's not the beautythat people really pay to see. It's the right to be seen. Hedoesn't quite grasp the concept." She sighed and picked upanother root to peel. "In all seriousness, I really don't knowwhat to do with him. No matter what I say, I know he only hears whathe wants to."
"You got that right, hon, butI think that boy might go on and surprise us all some day." Rena pickedup her scraps and deftly threw them into a slop bucket inthe corner. She scraped her portion of the soup vegetables from thecutting board she'd been using into a large pot on the stove. "Butboys will be boys. There's no use in nagging him. Just keep him outof trouble now, and he'll come around on his own. He's really not achild anymore. Pretty soon he'll be responsible for himself andthat's when his real lessons begin."
The other women nodded inagreement and sat thinking quietly for a moment. Briasat down and started chopping herbs for the seasoningpaste to serve with the roast they would be eating that evening. Therewas quite a lovely smell coming from the ovens and she wasanticipating quite a turnout for the community dinner they werehosting that night. Most of the tappers and artist living at the dennext door were invited and were expected to arrive soon. Thestudents weren't usually encouraged to associate with students ofother crafts, but the two professions were so interconnected in herhousehold, that the other establishment seemed more like family thancompetition.
She looked over to the largewooden table in the corner. Mara sat quietly and plucked the petalsfrom her harvest with exaggerated care. She placed each one in asmall bowl and stripped the stems of leaves and placed those in apaper bag. She finished with the bunch she had just brought in andjust as quietly stood up to store the containers in the large pantry.
The pantry was cool after theheatof the kitchen and Mara brushed her long dark hair back from her faceand secured it with a clip. She finished storing her herbs andpulled out a list of the ingredients she would need for her salve. Awas for healing quickly, B was for the pain, C would cause the scarto heal in such a way that it would give a reddish hue to any designit was rubbed into. This was a lucky sign to those who followed theart of tapping and was in great demand by the artists who worked withthe more experienced supplicants of the dream dens. D warded off anyinfection that might set in and distort a design. All of these wouldbe added to E oil and infused for a while before adding a touch ofbeeswax, a few drops of fine massage oil and fragrances. Bria hadtold her that she made a decent salve and was ready to show her someof the finer points of their creation.
The pantry felt cold the fartherbackshe ventured. Too cold for that time of year. Mara felt a slightpricking at the back of her neck, but refused to turn around. Closedin spaces made her feel this way and she refused to give in tot heurge to see if someone was watching her from the corner near thedoorway. She heard the door fall shut and the dim light near theceiling flickered for a second. She took the two steps up the ladderand gently picked a jar from the upper shelf and placed it in herbasket. One by one she added bags and jars of herbs and oils to thebasket until it was almost too heavy for her to handle. The airseemed colder still and nd she thought shesaw a wisp of her own breath in front of her. The kitchen noise wastoo faint and the warmth that had surrounded her only a few minutesbefore felt far away. Slowly, she made the steps down and turnedaround to face the doorway, keeping her eyes on the floor.
Was that a whisper from thecorner? Someone called her name. It was soft and slow. Mara felt as ifwater were filling her ears, she was dizzy and faint. The door mustbe locked. She had heard it shut. Was that a brush of cloth againstthe stone wall? She could almost make out a figure from the cornerof her eye. The basket was heavy and hit her leg as she moved tooquickly towards the door. She gasped and looked up at the figure inthe corner. She could almost imagine the dark hair and thin arms,the bruises under her eyes and the ragged dress worn by the girl inher dreams.
There was nothing there. Sheresistedlooking further into the corners and rushed out with her basket. Thedoor only gave her a slight resistance and she burst out into thewarmth and light of the kitchen. She placed her basket on the tablewhere she had been before and ran outside. Her heart raced and shefound a bench near the fish pond to sit and catch her breath. Shecould smell the dampness and almost feel the clammy touch of thegirl's fingers reaching out for her. The dreams were following herand she didn't know what to do.
The moon shone pale in the skyandreflected faintly off the little fish pond at the garden's center.There was a path made of small white stones that made an easy maze tothe center if one chose to meditate, Mara had run across all of itin her rush out of the kitchen and she could see small whiteglimpses of stone that had been kicked up in her passing. Bria wouldnot be happy with that in the morning. Marapulled her knees up on the bench and hid her face in herhands. Now that the panic was over and she was in open space, thewhole thing seemed silly and slightly embarrassing. She was alwaysdoing things to make the others think that she was strange. It irkedher. She did not want to be known as an irrational person! This wasunexceptable.
She frowned and brushed the hairoutof her eyes. Her dress was a little ruffled, but not badly. Itwould do for an evening stroll. She didn't get out much into theCity. There were usually too many things holding her attention, buttonight she needed some air and a walk to take her mind off of thesevisions. The Night Market would be open now and she could looseherself for a while in it's bustle and entertainments. The airout here in the garden was warm, almost hot to her and shedidn't think she would need a sweater for such a short walk. Marastood up and made sure to avoid the paths as she walked to the outergate.