"Don't tell me I'm lost at sea, good man! Don't tell me I'm lost at sea! For the water's my wife, my home and my life…"
A dramatic pause in which all the singers closed their eyes, their stringed instruments still in their hands. The small crowd of people, tightly packed into the bar, cat-called and cheered. Hadrian whistled loudly amongst them.
The performers looked up and raised their hands. The audience sang the last line with them, loud and mirthful.
"I'm right where I'm meant to be!"
They strummed out a final tune and everyone applauded. The performers bowed graciously.
"Thank you!" the lead singer called, holding his lyre above his head. "Thank you, lovely citizens of Latria! There's a reason you're our favorite city!"
Everyone cheered more emphatically at that. "But don't tell those arrogant Ostinites we've said as much!" another musician called, and the crowd laughed.
Hadrian laughed loudest of them all, as he technically was an Ostinite—but he'd left Ostium behind for many reasons, and he didn't exactly tell people where he was from.
He hated the capital. He despised the suffocating stone structures which absorbed the heat of the sun, the ridiculous amounts of people, and, most of all, the politics. If Hadrian could go the rest of his life without hearing about another scandal of some lewd patrician slandering his opponent, then he might just die happy.
Latria was the antithesis of Ostium. The city on the water was cool and open, a place where music, culture, and art thrived…
Hadrian had only lived in Latria for two years, but he knew at once that he belonged in the city dedicated to the water Goddess. Unlike in Ostium, where Hadrian had been ridiculed as a child by his elitist peers for his… peculiarities, here, such uniqueness was celebrated. Latria was progressive where the rest of the country was conservative, tolerant rather than oppressive.
Hadrian had joined an artist's guild upon arrival. He had learned how to paint with pigments made of oil on wood, and he had even dabbled in poetry and music, with singing being his favorite art form by far. His painting was progressing decently enough, but he had nowhere near the skills of the musicians who had been playing their entire lives.
One of those skilled musicians called to him now, pushing past the crowd and offering him a ceramic mug. He was a member of the band which had just performed—a cithara player, and one of Hadrian's good friends. "Another ale, since you bought the last round."
Hadrian smiled and accepted it. He probably didn't need another beer—he felt unsteady as it was—but then again, such knowledge had never stopped him before. "To your fine future."
"To your fine future," Simon parroted back, clinking his cup to Hadrian's before they both drank. Hadrian was amazed at how much he'd grown to like the taste of ale—in Ostium, the elites considered it a barbaric beverage, only for the common people. Wine was the drink of choice, there. Hadrian would admit that he didn't care for it at first. Now, however, the ale tasted almost sweet on his tongue. Refreshing.
"One of these days, we shall have to get you to sing on the stage," Simon said cheerfully.
Hadrian grinned but shook his head. "There's not enough ale in the world to give me the confidence to do that."
"Sounds suspiciously like a challenge."
The two were nearly shoved into each other then, the crowd suddenly rowdy and clamoring for the bar now that the music had stopped. Hadrian adored it all. The ale, his eccentric and artistic friends, the atmosphere of this public place where the middle class gathered—a place which any of the elite in the capital would cringe at the mere notion of.
Especially if they knew he, Hadrian Horatius, was partaking. He could sense his parents' displeased eyes and resigned sighs even now. Hadrian's father had given him his blessing to travel once he'd turned sixteen, on the assumption that Hadrian would come back home quite quickly on his own.
'Some traveling shall do you well. You shall realize how great the splendor of the capital really is, once you no longer have it.'
This had not been the case.
Hadrian laughed as Simon began belting out another well-known song, corralling the rest of the merry drunks into singing back to him as though the performance had not yet ended. "She is the fairest maiden of the land!" he called, and the crowd, as well as Hadrian, responded at once:
"But she's not of the land, you brute!"
"Aye, too true, she's of the sea!" Simon answered, and they all finished together:
"My Goddess, the fair Mystute!"
Everyone clapped again. Hadrian took another drink of his ale, feeling cheerful and wondering if he should buy another round soon. He probably shouldn't. He probably would.
Someone from the far side of the bar was shouting for him. Hadrian frowned, wondering if, perhaps he had misheard the shrill cry of his name from the entryway.
He hadn't. "Hadrian! Hadrian Horatius!"
Hadrian dropped his cup. Simon looked at him questionably, but Hadrian ignored both him and the broken porcelain, quickly moving towards the source of stranger shouting his name—his full name!—in this place. He swore under his breath as he forced his way through the crowd, eager to prevent whoever it was from shouting it to the world again.
He found him easily enough. A man in a grey tunic, the garments of a messenger. He blinked at Hadrian for a second before saying, "Are you—?"
"Yes," Hadrian hissed, grabbing the man by the shoulder and dragging him outside, away from the people. "What is it?"
The man paused, taking a long moment to examine Hadrian's face and look into his eyes as though for confirmation—first one, then the other. Hadrian had to resist the urge to close one eye out of spite. He hated when people did that.
Though he supposed it was a simple way to identify him. "I have a letter for you," the messenger finally answered, looking appeased. He withdrew a small, sealed scroll. The Horatius family's insignia of a serpent was engraved into the wax, long and undulating.
"It's from your mother."
Hadrian's first reaction was annoyance. His mother wrote him all the time, long messages informing him of every little thing that was happening in the capital, and, with increasing tones of concern, beseeching him to come home. Hadrian took the letter and shoved it in his pocket. "Thanks," he muttered. "I'll read it later. Now, if you don't mind—"
"Sir, she instructed me to make sure you read this letter right away, and that I leave with a response."
The glower slid from Hadrian's face. It only just now occurred to him how odd of an incidence this was: a letter delivered to him by an individual who must have hunted him down to this precise location, rather than by regular delivery.
And to require a direct response? Right away?
Hadrian's mouth went dry. The sounds of laughter and raucous shouting from within the bar seemed to fade away. Hadrian pulled the scroll back out and broke the wax seal, anxiety pooling in his stomach.
The letter was short.
Your father has died.
Please come home at once.
Hadrian stared at the second line in complete shock. He felt like his mind was floating somewhere outside of his body, suspended in a state of disbelief.
The messenger's voice startled him so badly that Hadrian dropped the scroll. He fumbled when he bent to pick it up, lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous.
"Your response?" he prompted, looking expectant. "A verbal answer will suffice, I'm to return straight to her…"
Hadrian answered with a sense of surreal detachment. There was only one answer.
"Tell her I'm coming," he said with a voice that sounded like someone else's. Hadrian placed the creased letter back in his pocket.
"Tell her I'm coming home."