Title: Moving on...
Author: arcady
Summary: When her lover leaves, a woman goes through the stages
of moving on. Lightly set to the backdrop of my Fahla fantasy
world.
Words: 2,928
Contact: arcady0 AT yahoo DOT com - Feedback highly desired.
Copyright: August 2004

"When do you sail," she asked him, clutching the broom in
one hand, his wrist in the other.

"You knew?" he said, looking away, out the tavern
window's shutters to the pier across the boardwalk.

"It's in your eyes. You always betray yourself..." she
said. They'd met with those eyes. She let him go to continue
sweeping the floor, resigning herself with a sigh and a
downcast look.

"Tomorrow," he moved to stand in the doorway, letting
his silken cloak fall into the wind. "I thought perhaps..."
he tried to begin.

"You thought what, one more night? Before you sneak
away with your new lord? Leave me, here... without a word?"
She swept a pile of dust and woodchips onto his feet, turned
to walk away, but stopped.

"That makes it sound so sordid," he said.

"And how would you have it? What tales will you tell
them of me, on the long nights at sea?" she asked. "I hear
sailors speak. If it isn't dragons, it's wenches in foreign
ports, or dock whores. Is that what you think of me?" She
pushed the broom down into the hardwood floor, breaking off
several bristles.

"That's not... I've no other choice, I have to go, I
need the commission," he said, gripping the pommel of his
sword, as if it would protect him from her common tongue.

"You never had any plan for me, did you?" she asked,
putting the broom aside to move the tables into place for
the afternoon crowds. "I was just..."

"Oh come now," he said, "that's not at all how I
thought of you." But his eyes betrayed him again - in them
the warmth was gone, he was already moving on.

"Leave me," she said.

"But," he started towards her.

"Just get out," she said, she would move on too; no
more of these ignoble noblemen.

When he was gone, Belina slumped deep into a stool and
wept. How dare he leave her! Someone entered the common
room, paused at the door, and left. She didn't see them, but
guessed another woman by the footfalls.

It was a timed honored ritual among her profession - to
fall in love with the wrong man, to hope this one was
different.

"But he is!" she'd said to Carlinya only the week
before, as they'd cleaned up the tavern after another busy
night. "He's not some foreign sailor; he's a Lord - only
five generations removed from the royal house."

"I'd rather a sailor that a sweet tongued lord,"
Carlinya'd replied. "Sailors have honest needs."

"You just don't understand," she'd said at the time.

"I just don't understand," she told herself now.

"You ok, kid?" Master Marceli came up from behind and
put a hand on her shoulder.

She stood up, brushing hands across her apron to
collect herself. "Yeah, it's nothing."

"Well," he began, looking around, "looks like you got
the place ready. Hit the market for me, I'll have Carlinya
open, Chaire's off today." Marceli'd been through this
ritual many times, but his formula for a crisis was rather
simple; talk a walk and shake it off.

Chaire silently passed them through the kitchen,
oblivious to the crisis as her tail swished out behind her
skirts. She yawned, showing feral teeth as she stretched and
looked at the two as if they were crazy for being up at the
ungodly hour of noon and then pounced out through the back
door.

"Now there's the way to live, that cat's not got a
trouble in the word," Marceli said. "You take a walk, you'll
be better." Belina thought better of saying what trouble's
he could cause with Chaire by calling her a cat to her face.
What she really wanted to say, was that it was so typical'
to think a walk would do any good - like that would bring
him back.

Belina put down the strange yellowed vegetable and
chose another. Ships were in from the east and the market
was full of farmers looking to offload their surplus
competing with merchants bearing the strange fruits of
foreign lands. "Maize," a wind weathered man with the crest
of House Escartu pinning up his tunic told her. One of the
merchant guildsmen, retired to a market stall.

"Maize?" she asked.

"From the dragon holds of Lengoli. You can steam it,
put it in a stew, or dry and grind it to make bread," he
said.

"Amazing," she said. "Like rice?" Trade was changing
the empire, and as she took another ear of maize Belina
considered if her lot would have been better without all of
this. Before the sea lanes opened up, in her great
grandmother's day, the dragons would have kept that bastard
home.

"Mistress?" Belinda looked up at the merchant's words.

"Oh! Can I have three of these?" She paid for the
imports and moved on; gathering supplies for the evening
meal. If the maize lived up to claims, she would buy more
for the tavern. Farmers called out to catch her eye, perhaps
more. She hired a porter to deliver the goods - a week's
worth all told.

Passing the auction block she paused to glance at a
group of slaves. Family debt sent her younger sister there
only two years ago, and the sight still chilled her palms.
She remembered drawing straws to see who would go, who the
judges would take. Lina sold high, to foreigners, but not
high enough to get her siblings apprenticeship or dowry.

Augusto's family had been judges, but he'd been poorer
than her, living in the ghost of his family estate. She
wished it wasn't only commoners who went to the block; she
wished she could send all the faithless noblemen of the
world to auction. She hated him for leaving her for the
Imperial Navy.

There were many naval men about today, and on a whim
she followed them with her gaze down to the docks. Three
frigates were loading up to follow the merchant fleet.

She saw him.

Augusto stood on the deck speaking with a fellow
officer, he turned -looking straight across the market to
the small hill she held- and spotted her watching him.

Her heart sped up, would he come over? Would he run to
her? She stepped up to wave, but then he shook his head and
turned away.

She ran all the way back to the tavern without pause,
dropping the maize on the steps to the attic and burying
herself into her bunk. She heard someone collect the maize
and drop it at her bunk, probably unsure what to do with it.
She heard the porter calling up from out back, and Marceli
receive the order.

It wasn't until evening though that she left her bed.
She had to work, and she didn't want to tax Master Marceli's
patience. He'd tell her she was a silly headed girl, that
only silly girls with big dreams fell in love, and that she
needed to grow up and accept her lot.

She changed, washed her hair and pinned it up - no need
to tempt the unwanted, took the maize, and made her way
down. The common room was full. With ships in port business
was strong. Maybe she could play this game back, get herself
a sailor for the night. Maybe balance it out a little.

The eyes were willing. As she walked through the room
to the kitchen, hungry eyes followed her along. If this was
what he wanted, what they wanted, the so be it. She gave the
maize to Marceli. "Steam one of them, they're from Lengoli."

"Well, you're up. Back with us?" he said.

"Looks busy out there," she said with a false smile. I
can manage this she told herself, I'll just replace him.
"Have anything for me?" She took a spicy tomato on rice dish
out to a group of merchants then made the rounds with
Carlinya - talking to all the regulars.

Marceli shook his head as she left the kitchen,
muttering something about women...'

Being midsummer with the ships in port a fair number of
merchant princes filled the docks, and several had made
their way in to the tavern to mix with the usual burgher's
and tradesmen. But Belina was through with men who sailed
away; she left them to Carlinya and spent her time floating
between the tables of the wealthier burghers.

"That's a dangerous game girl," Carlinya told her on a
pass through the kitchen.

"I've as much right as he does," Belina had said back.

"Right to what?" Marceli asked, rolling a wine barrel
in the through the back door.

The common room was full of song and dance - most of it
the sort that would have made Belina blush on any other day.
She spent an hour at a mixed table, talking on things she'd
regret about people she didn't know. She made arrangements,
dates and times, false promises mostly - with a hint of
more.

As she rose to leave Master Giovani, sitting at the
table, called out to his apprentice, "now there's a fine
wench for you lad. You'd better catch that before she's off
market again." The bodily references that followed had the
sort of tone that on any other day might earn a slap, but
she just looked around with a hand on hip while shaking a
finger at him. Then with a wink she turned and left for the
kitchen. At least the poor blushing apprentice was cute.

What am I doing?' she thought as she entered the
kitchen. The maize was done, and Marceli had cut it into
three sections for him and the two girls on staff. "Trying
something different I guess," she said aloud.

"What?" Marceli looked up. "It's not bad, try a little
butter."

"It's a change," she said, not talking about just the
maize. "I think the Lengolians use it on everything - like
rice."

"Get some more of this, this'll really change the menu
around here," he said.

"It won't last," she said. Nothing lasts. The maize was
an import; they must've used sorcery to keep it fresh over
the ocean.

Back on the floor, she became the butt of a song - the
satyr and country wench' - joining in to play the part
she'd always refused in past. Carlinya watched her and shook
her head, having always sung that part before to keep the
men off the younger girl. The men tried to get Giovani's
apprentice to dance the satyr's role, but he blushed and hid
behind his wine, leaving the old man to take the floor.

"She's a saucy little wench lad, enjoy her while you
can," the guild master had said. Belina put on a false
smile. If Augusto could play this game, she could too. If
men were going to treat her that way, she'd be the one
dealing the cards.

She wouldn't let it hurt her anymore.

When the night wore down, Master Giovani made her an
offer. Belina paused; even the rowdiest sailor had never
presumed she was -that- sort of wench before. Carlinya gave
her the out, "girl, it's your turn to sweep up in there,"
she said, pointing to the kitchen.

"We can wait here," Master Giovani grinned, watching
Belina turn her back and hurry away.

"It's pretty foul in there, you masters had better be
gett'n on now," Carlinya said. She heard the woman usher
them out with the last of the regulars as she set to work in
the nearly crystal clean kitchen, Marceli had already
retired to his suite.

A minute later Carlinya popped in. "You watch yourself
girl. Don't ruin yourself over a man. specially not the
gentry."

"Why, why didn't he just tell me?" Belina asked.

"Come on, let's talk." Carlinya held up a flagon of
wine.

In the attic as they sat across from each other on
their bunks, passing wine Belina said; "I thought... I
thought, if he can just... if they're all gonna treat me
like some cheap whore, then maybe I should just..."

"You're better than that girl. You're too good for that
boy anyway," Carlinya took the flagon and drank.

"He said he was going to marry me. He was going to defy
his mother. Why would he say that?" Belina said. She drank,
spilling wine in place of tears.

"Would you have slept with him otherwise?" Carlinya
asked.

"But I..." Belina began.

"Don't deny it Belina, I saw you two in the bathhouse."
Carlinya pointed the flagon forth in accusation.

Belina blushed, remembering the day, when she thought
she'd finally become a woman. "No..." she started, "no...
Today's the day I became a woman isn't it?"

"Yeah, you've been dumped, you've been had." Carlinya
held up the flagon as if giving a cheer and announced,
"Welcome to sisterhood."

"Whatever, you're drunk Carli," Belina said. "I just
feel so stupid."

"We've all been there Bel, even Chaire. Where is she
anyway?" Carlinya asked.

"Making a fool of herself, like me... She's nocturnal
anyway isn't she?" Belina took the flagon and set it down.

An hour of conversation later they blew out the lantern
and went to sleep. Later in the dark Chaire stumbled in, the
third girl at the tavern, back from her day off. She tried
sneaking past the other two but Belina hadn't ever managed
to sleep and caught her. "Your fur smells like sex girl."

"Sorry, it was raining," the young woman said, her tail
swishing reflexively. "Oh Bel! He was so... too bad he's
human though."

"Yeah well, I'd agree to that," she said. "Men..."

"He's so full of promises, it's so silly... like he has
to catch me," Chaire purred.

"Yeah well, trust me; he's no different than your own
kind. Just less honest," Belina said.

"Oh no," Chaire purred. "I've got this human game
figured. He's mine, he's different. He's not like the other
males."

"Fur or not, it's all the same with men," Belina said.
She was in no mood to be understanding.

"I've got instincts girl, trust me," Chaire said. "He's
special. Like your Augusto."

"Go to sleep Chaire..." Belina said, before rolling
over to ignore the cat.

"What?" Chaire said. She looked out the shutters of the
attic, "we need more mice around here." Belina didn't pay
her any more mind and finally managed to sleep.

With morning and a new day, the tavern got to work.
Time moves on, and people have no choice but to follow.
Belina went about her morning chores in peace, taking a
steady even pace mopping up the floor of the common room,
changing beds in the second floor guest rooms, making sure
the patrons were up and ready for breakfast. All four rooms
had been filled, and ten men slept in the common room. She
told them how to find the bathhouse, where to get a shirt
mended, where to find the chapter house for the Importer's
Guild, and finally even one man who wished to see the
gladiators - hoping to catch site of the legendary drakes,
the serpent men.

Business as usual, she resigned herself to acceptance.
Augusto was gone, she was still a maid.

In the market she bought vegetables, ordered as much of
the maize as she thought would keep, and even discovered a
stash that had been dried. We'll have to rename the place,
perhaps a pun, like the Maiden's Maize'. She distracted a
merchant by giggling to herself over the idea. But that sort
of silliness would only encourage Marceli to hire additional
women, and of the wrong sort of character.

On turning to leave the market she saw the ships raise
their sails, casting off from port. She stopped to look;
Augusto was on one of those.

Soldiers left the dock with a few men freed from a
pressgang. As she covered her eyes to see better someone
bumped her from the side. "Excuse me mistress," a young,
slightly familiar male voice said.

She turned to look, it took a moment to place him but
finally she got it, "the apprentice... Master Giovani's
apprentice right?"

"Yes. We...?" he blushed and cast his eyes down. "I'm
so sorry about last night. The master gets carried away
sometimes."

"Well, I'm not that sort of..." she began.

"Yes I know, I've seen you around," he swept a hand
over the view of the market. She didn't recall ever seeing
him before last night. "Weren't you with...?"

"Not anymore..." she said, looking at the ships begin
their journey out of port, past the gates of the seawall.
"No, I suppose I never was."

"Well then, allow me a proper introduction. I don't
believe Master Giovani ever gave you such. I'm Tomasi,
freeman of House Austil -if you could call us such." He put
forth a hand and continued, "Can I ask your pleasure for a
walk?"

She looked into his eyes; there was a hopeful look
there, the sort she thought to say, I wonder what mother
will think of her?' She turned to the merchant with the
maize and said "Goodman, please deliver my order to
Marceli's tavern - he's expecting." Back to the young man
she offered him her arm and said "I'd be delighted, we can
stroll through the park." He was about her age, and she
wondered what Master Marceli would think of him.

As they left she looked back one last time, seeing the
ships sail beyond the horizon, taking her past with them,
never to return.