The road widened and grew crowded. The early morning calm was quickly extinguished, and a ruckus was billowing out as the way was flooded with pilgrims to the city. It was obviously making Philomere even more nervous, as every new face that passed was another person who could try and derail their endeavor, another person who might have casually overturned a cart or somehow turned sour all that Philomere had worked for. Of course, Lorelei knew that Philomere had been nervous long before this trek. Even when she saw the light leave his eyes when he saw a golden wine had turned bubbling and orange like some witch's brew, he was long since overcome with horror. The moment the bubbling stuff touched his lips she figured he'd collapse from the burden.
He'd asked, on this last stretch, for the men at arms to wield their polearms and to have bows visible, as a further deterrent to those avaricious souls whose greed proves fleeting under threat of violence. Those too lazy to be properly greedy.
He was so talented at holding it back. He looked sickly at worst, nervous at best. Where was the complexity he knew him for? She traced her fingers against the window a few times. She didn't like looking out the window. What if a passing girl, one of rare beauty and prestige, were to look inside and see a plain woman staring back at her? Power and beauty were for some reason entwined. It was a matter of possession, ruthless possession. Lorelei felt faint. There was a trembling beneath her skin as her face went numb.
She flexed her back a bit. Philomere had a rib out, a constant pain, a perpetual gadfly at his side that was caused by a scuffle in his youth with a local boy. How could the past fade away unremembered if a wrong move could start a sword into your side?
She wanted a distraction, she'd learned long ago that there was no reason to really think so much about her husband. She knew the deal they'd made all those years ago, she knew her place, and there was no reason to try to overreach her place.
Suddenly it struck her, she still had Aya's poetry. She pulled out the delicate strip of paper from her small purse, examining the small flowers on the vines of the page's elaborate trim. This had been torn, neatly, but ruthlessly, from a page of one of the Order of the Austere's old stories. It read, in delicate, clean miniscule:
"One born into power has all the fierceness and history of his ancestry and past to contend with, and all the wealth as well. One claiming power must fight obscurity, to which all things must fade. But one must st-"
She remembered how it ended, she had such a keen memory.
"But one must start up from obscurity like an acorn grows to oak, so let no man say obscurity bested all men" Admittedly, it was only a minor page of the thing, but it was rude of Aya to tear it out.
She turned over the page, and reread its chilling contents.
Our lamb, escaped
Fiercest of his kind.
The wolf, abandoned
Calmest of his pack.
If only they should find each other!
Kindred Souls. They could be lost
Where is the kinship
of broken bird
and hungering cat?
Who both lack so much.
One a friend, the other food
They have each other.
and so with man?
Markham had hit a stride somewhere past the last street performer. Perhaps it was the delirium that followed each step, or limp, rather. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but Markham figured it was but a lull in that glorious inebriation of youth... but with each sharp pain after each awkward step, a real brew felt like a sweet relief, and Lurick was in no hurry to see him.
From the Great Fountain he'd wandered almost aimlessly. He'd no desire to show up so beaten up and not drunk. It simply wasn't a proper story. The smell of salt and a few more sharp steps found him before a perfectly respectable place to get drunk so early in the morning.
Markham limped through the door. The place was quiet, but noticeably more populated than he'd ever expect a bar in Bora at this time. He half sat, half collapsed at the bar, before saying, through a sort of grimace of pain and to no one in particular,
"Can I get something... strong, fortified?" He brushed the disheveled blond locks out of his face, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
The woman behind the bar, with her back turned to him, replied with, "You wait just one minute, I've got the thing for you."
Markham smiled, it sort of hurt to smile, but no use putting healthy teeth to waste, that was what his maid always said, though she was a violent one, too fond of teeth. He leaned against the bar, feigning a debonair attitude despite being quite grimy and disheveled.
"How's business been with the festival? I imagine a woman skilled in the ways of wine and spirits does well with the sailors who come in to get their fix?" He tried to remember that he was in a place where his position meant something, not in Bora where everyone saw him as "the Bastard." Admittedly, he was acting ridiculous for someone covered in dirt and scrapes.
With a moment of pause Rafiki answered, "It's been surprisingly wonderful. Plenty of customers from the sea ships and not too many problems from 'em. We even have a larger amount of wine provided by the generous House of Bora in anticipation of the Festival." She poured his wine with a flourish demonstrating a skill for dexterity and slide the mug across the counter.
Markham lifted an eyebrow. Did he come this far to drink wines he'd been living and loving with his entire life? He slept near Boran wines, they were delightful, complex, fragrant. They were made to enhance and round off a night. They granted an ethereally loveliness to the air.
This was not a Boran wine. All the better, really. The wines Markham had sampled from the cellars were all famed for their flavor, their body, their bouquet. This wine before him had a considerably higher alcohol content. In Bora, wine was not a means to a happy, drunken end, but something to be savored. He didn't want to savor, he was done savoring, and he wanted something bracing. Admittedly, it was for less than philosophical reasons, he needed to be numb, he admired the lofty, heavy pour and took the lips to his nose.
Try as he might, he could not resist his upbringing to twirl and sniff the wine before sipping it. It was too refined a process. The wine was good, a little piquant, but good. It was not, however, Boran.
"So does your supplier tell you this wine is from Bora, or do you just market it that way?" He said, with the playful bite he liked to season his words with, lest they taste or sound bitter. He tapped his fingers on the glass before taking a great gulp of it, scanning the barmaid for a moment.
She leaned over the counter wiping at one of her mugs, "Keep your voice low, and I'll not restrict you tonight. A riot would not be easily forgiven." Sweeping her eyes across the bar without hardly moving her head, Rafiki continued in a soft, luring voice, "Normally I'd balk at anyone challenging my integrity and claiming my wine is false, but I can tell you know wines rather well just by watching you. Besides you happen to be right. My usual supplier has a lack of the extra barrels that he finds he has too many of, and I find I need at a slightly lower price. Lord Bora is apparently bringing piles of his to the event and its effecting all the taverns. So, I improvised. Most folk that come here don't care who made the wine as long as they pass out on the floor after a few drinks. So they are happy, my wallet is happy, and so is my reputation." She took a once over of Markham, noticing his disheveled appearance, and became defensive. "Where did someone like you learn about wines?" Her grip on the mug tightened. "A list of taverns, drunken parents, or are you trying to put on a show and ruin me? Are you working for Peirce?" She glared at him trying to judge his intentions.
Markham raised his obviously over-active eyebrow and smirked. "I don't know anyone named Pierce, and... really, 'someone like me' I never..." Markham paused a moment, and started to laugh. He didn't exactly look high born at the moment, did he? It's not like anyone would know him.
He leaned forward, and said, with a voice fluttering with sarcasm, "I'm actually a member of the royal guard, scoping out false wine merchants, had you persisted I would have had to arrest you."
With a wink Markham swirled the rest of the wine into his mouth, letting the flavor linger a moment before putting it back down to be refilled.
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." he said, with the same pained laugh he couldn't seem to stop.
"Ahh, yes, you better keep that trap shut." With a short pause Rafiki smiled as an after thought. "You get too rowdy though and I might start the riot myself." She picked up the bottle and twirled it from hand to hand, swiftly she pulled the cork and poured a full glass then set the bottle, with a slam, on the counter. "Here, pour the rest of your drinks for yourself Mister Guard Sir, and make sure to pay your tab by morning." She stalked away as though she was upset.
Perhaps the wine was working already, for there Markham was, laughing against the pain.
From the rigidity and soreness of early morning Hayden had been beating his cleverest wit against nothing and nothing and nothing. These people were ruled by nothing. Nothing but money, he supposed. He'd been selling and selling and selling every bit of wine every scrap of cheese, and it was exhausting. He hardly remembered sleeping, he'd been up so early. Now, nearing noon, he meandered back from his last satisfied count to manage the bright stall Lurick had set up just before the warehouse that would be the Inn for House Dunn and their servants. It had three awnings fanned out from the wall of the building, shading the stall and its crates like a tabernacle to wine.
Racks were laid out with the corks displayed, marked with colorful wax. The table was set with scraps of stale bread sweetened and softened with richer wines. Small bowls were set out to sip the aerated alcohol, already three men were standing in attendance, Lurick sat quietly in the window above keeping a watchful eye, and as Hayden approached, his golden eyes met Luricks and the disdain flowed freely.
He dropped the chest of gold he'd acquired, as well as the slips detailing orders of future wines and (as Hayden had been careful to emphasize) the other foods that Lady Lorelei had meticulously planned out. He remembered that, shortly after the session with her husband, she gave him a list of how the wineland that would be transformed. Apparently the farmers had died or been hurt in the war, and their lands would be put to better use. A little what, plenty of grazing land, peas and roots. It was a vast list, and, although Hayden did not necessarily have the goods to hawk, he found sponsors for the programs however, through much effort. He had no idea why, after such consistently successful work, he was being forced to sell to commoners.
Admittedly, this being near the heart of the city, there were knights and ladies in waiting to pass, both of whom Hayden was not against dealing with. But Lord Philomere had promised him he was... of such... something or other, that he'd not know the company of commoners for much longer.
It was strange to have such a fuss made over him so frequently. Who knew that a boy from a farm in Bora could live like a Prince in Olympus? If only Lurick would let him rest a moment.