The sun shone off the glittering of the water that filled the harbour of the port city of Cyranal. The city was a sprawling metropolis that filled the island that held it from coast to coast. It sat in the centre of the Windshear strait that lead up to the heart of the continent.
The Temmar river poured into the straight and lead across the rolling hills to the great lake of Belas and the floating cities that drifted upon it. People from a dozen kingdoms flocked to the rich capital, hoping to seek their fortune. Rich merchant princes rode along the cobbled streets in gilded litters, surrounded by guards in shining armour and surcoats decorated with house colours.
The wealthy and even the middle class dressed in vivid gem coloured silks that billowed about their frames. Wide sleeves edged in intricate embroidery and trousers tucked into elaborately decorated boots and shoes made of exotic leathers or silks. Scarves wound around the heads of ladies and gold decorated ears and noses of those who could afford it. Music punctuated by cymbals and trilling pipes underscored with drones filled the air. Wild drumbeats accompanied troops of dancers in diaphanous, shear silks as they bent, twisted, leapt and twirled to the urgent tattoo.
Voices speaking over a dozen tongues spoke to each other, filling the air with the sounds of commerce and trade. But at the fringes of this glittering city of gleaming marble and fluttering silk sulked the lowest. The poor, the destitute and the desperate. Children with hollow eyes and sunken cheeks, women and men thin limbed and provocatively posed to entice for a handful of coins.
Young men and women with hungry eyes and slim fingers, ready to dip into pockets and slit purses of silk. One child stood out form her starving brethren. Her eyes a shining silver that to the amber eyed natives would be deemed exotic. Her hair was a pale, sun bleached auburn that gleamed in chaotic waves, tangled from lack of brushing and an active lifestyle.
Dirt smeared her fair skin gilded gold from the bright sun, far from the darker, teak coloured skin of the other children. But like the others she was clad in the dirty, frayed rags that dressed many of them. Her silver eyes watched those around her with a fierce, predatorial instinct. One could see at a glance that her soul was far, far wilder than those she called friend and enemy.
Unlike those around her she was not Elasi. No, her mother had been a Vaneeshi woman, tied to prostitution through events that had rent at her soul, tying the woman of a people who valued freedom above all else in a cage with cruel iron bars. Her mother had told her that her father was a Naruman rune warrior, visiting the city for a chance to prove his mettle as a warrior like the others of the western mountain tribes.
The only thing she had inherited from her mountainous, tattooed father was her height, she towered over the others, even though she was barely six, unlike her mother’s people who were slim and slight. Her mother had not cared, and loved her unconditionally, caring for her child despite the extra hardship it had placed on her to make ends meet. She had escaped the horrors of her situation through her love for her daughter and the tales of her people that she had whispered into her daughter’s ear in the dark of the night.
She told of the wind father and the star mother. Of the grass that grew taller than her head and the mighty star hinds and fierce fire cats that were their brothers. The girl had gone to sleep dreaming of deer with silver fur and antlers, and hunting cats with thick manes of gold and sharp claws. Of the sky soaring overhead like an untouchable azure dome during the day and the trillions of stars that made the star river at night.
Sadly they were only dreams, and so, though her soul cried for freedom she remained trapped in this city, where the sky was but a thin ribbon of azure, staring down through the dimly lit alleyways that she called home and the stars were relegated to only a few of the brightest that shone valiantly through the light of the palaces of the merchants that littered the city.
Her mother had died when she was young and though the other prostitutes had cared for her, they could barely afford to look after themselves, let alone a young child who could not benefit them in any way, they had shown her how to pick pockets and climb to escape, but they could do little more for her. So she had left, little more than a year after her mother’s death, using the skills they had taught her to feed and clothe herself.
She glared at a rat faced boy who attempted to muscle in on her target and he shrank away from the mark he had been stalking, recognizing that he couldn’t win against the taller girl. She bared her teeth at him and he ducked his head, averting his eyes in a gesture of submission. The intruder now dealt with, she took his place, slinking through the crowd with an innocent gait, already tears were welling in her eyes. She had long ago learned to cry on command.
She passed the richer merchant, her fingers dipping delicately into the silk purse on his belt, retrieving the golden, silver and copper spoils within in a slick, practiced gesture. The richly clad man sneered at her and struck her. Meaty fist smashing into her delicate cheek, no doubt leaving a nasty bruise that she could use later.
She fell with a practiced whimper and looked up with pitiful, tear filled eyes. The man glared at her and gave her a casual kick in the ribs before spitting on her and walking away. She swallowed her smile and carefully picked herself up from the ground, aware and careful of her now bruised ribs and carefully sliding her hard won spoils into an inner pocket that sat close to her skin.
“Are you all right child?” a kindly voice asked her. She turned quickly, hiding the wince of pain with practiced ease. An elderly gentleman in sweeping amber and crimson hooded robes stood before her, looking at her in concern. He was a priest of the Weavers. The main religion of most of the civilized world.
She wiped her tears and looked down, remembering not to make eye contact with the adult, they tended to see that as a challenge. “I am well lord priest” she mumbled, gazing at her dirty bare feet, calloused and bruised from the unforgiving cobbles of the city. A clean, strong hand reached out and touched her chin, pushing her up to meet his kindly amber eyes.
“You were struck to the ground little one and kicked, you surely must have bruises?” he queried, meeting her silver gave unflinchingly. “You are far from your home little star rider, how did you come to this. Where are your parents?” he asked kindly.
She felt a spark of anger, she new she was different from everyone, she knew from the years of teasing, of jeers thrown by cruel children and uncaring adults. How dare this man remind her of what could have been. “I was born here” she snapped, tugging her chin from the priest’s grip, glaring at him fiercely.
The priest smiled sadly at her and withdrew his hand, tucking it with the other into his voluminous sleeves. “I see, and the coin in your pocket was taken from the man who abused you” he nodded sadly, his eyes filled with pity.
She stiffened, ready to flee but the priest merely shook his head. “I do not condemn you child. You need the coins far more than he ever will.” He told her, before inclining his head to her “may the weavers see fit to gift you with better threads child” he blessed before turning and walking away. As his robes made the wide sweep she heard a soft jingle, and dropped her eyes to the ground. A small leather purse was where he had been standing. The leather was pressed in the shape of the wheel, a symbol of the Weavers.
She looked at the pouch in shock even as she darted forward, scooping the finely made leather up and into her own pocket. The move was quick and instinctive. She paused and looked up at the priest’s retreating back, uncertain of what to make of his act. She knew from the weight of the coin in her pocket that the bag was heavy, enough to feed her for a long time and perhaps to even get some less tattered clothes. She was also very sure that it hadn’t been an accident.
Though she had her pride and hated his pity, she also knew that she could not afford to be picky. She hurriedly darted off the street, out of the way of a passing litter carrying some lady swathed in fine silks and dripping with gems lest she get kicked off the street by one of the guards who proceeded it.
She watched the glittering procession pass her from the dark of her alley, knowing it would be beyond fool hardy to try and go after the attendants or guards who accompanied the lady. She glared at the litter in hatred before fading back into the shadows, returning to her hunting.
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