Chapter Ten

Tali retreated far away from the castle, choosing instead to go to the market. She passed the shops with their pretty colors and fish. Aimlessly she wandered until she came to the section she'd first met Naeiri and her sons. That seemed like such a long time ago now. She remembered that shop that carried old oddities and swam until she found it.

Curious, she swam inside. The shopkeeper looked up, startled almost, that someone had entered his shop. He was quite a bit older, but he still had his full head of flaming red hair. The wrinkles in his skin and his thinner muscles that shown were the only signs of his age.

Tali smiled warmly at him. His jaw dropped in shock. "Your majesty!" He hurried to her side. "Whatever can I help you with? It's an honor to have you here. What would you like? Anything you'd like!" He spoke excitedly.

She laughed, instantly taking a liking to the old merman. "I'm honestly only looking around. I was curious about your establishment."

"I'm not so sure about establishment." He said the word with such a bashful countenance that Tali understood that the merman truly thought his shop was subpar compared to the others. "But you're more than welcome to anything you'd like."

Tali beamed at him gratefully before turning around to inspect the miscellaneous wares available. She picked through a few small trays, aware of the merman's aqua eyes on her. She turned back to him. "Please don't let me keep you from your tasks. I'm quite happy just looking."

He hesitated before nodding. "Please ask me if you have any questions."

She nodded, thanking him with a smile. He moved back to the large, stone counter in the middle of the shop, handling pieces before placing them in another tray.

She followed the perimeter of the shop. Like items were placed together. Worn pieces of leather, rusted daggers and swords sat precariously against the wall with other random bits of metal. Material and sail cloth lay next to it, all in varying conditions. She moved on past them to the strands of pearls and other jewelry. Unlike the rest of the shop, these seemed in fine condition. Tali knew she was no jeweler, but she thought them genuinely fine pieces.

A glint caught her eye and she peered closer. A single yellow stone was peeking out from under a red jewel. She reached out to touch it.

A flash erupted in her mind's eye. The images that had been fragmented in her mind slowly pieced together.

The smiling man and the laughing woman were together. Tali couldn't hear the words that they were saying. They weren't smiling or laughing anymore; they looked worried, scared. Something was happening. The woman opened her mouth to say something to the man, but he quickly, gently hushed her, covering her mouth with his dark hand. He said something to her, and she nodded.

He released his hold on her and turned away. Suddenly, the woman turned her eyes toward Tali, looking at her directly in the eyes. They eyes that mirrored her own.

Tali gasped, immediately thrown back to the present, her body still in the same position as before, slightly leaning forward, her arm extended, outstretched fingertips barely grazing the smooth stone. She blinked, trying to gain her bearings before grabbing the stone gingerly.

The shopkeeper was still at the counter and she presented the stone to him. "I'm sorry, I didn't ask your name."

"Weilen, your majesty."

"What can you tell me about this stone, Weilen?"

He picked up the stone. "We call it Tauren. A seer stone. I'm sorry, I don't know what the humans call it." He handed it back to her.

"Where did you find it?"

"The South Reef," he answered quickly. "I was an apprentice for a shop owner at the time. I went scavenging one day. That stone was one of the first things I ever found."

"Why not keep it then?"

"Can you imagine if I kept everything I ever found? I already have too much at my dwelling, Lira is always threatening to take it all back to where I found it." He laughed at Tali's shocked expression. "Oh, it's not quite as serious as all that. We've reached a compromise after our many years together."

"Well that is good then, made even better if she has her own collections. Then you can always check each other."

Weilen guffawed heartily at her words, throwing his head back. "More than you know, your majesty."

Tali smiled and turned her attention back to the stone in her hands, her dark brows furrowed as she ran her fingers over the smooth surface. "Have you ever found another like this?"

"No, your majesty."

She nodded. "What is the price of this stone? I'm afraid I have no currency on my person at this moment, but if you would please hold it for me, I shall return for it."

Weilen was shaking his head firmly before she even finished speaking. "Please consider it a gift, your majesty, from my Lira and myself."

"I can't-"

"For your coronation, and of course you can, and you will. I won't accept your money."

She saw the hard determination in the old merman's eyes, and knew it was futile. Reluctantly, she nodded. "Alright then. But you must accept my deepest thanks and any assistance I can provide."

He waved his hand. "I will most happily accept your gratitude, but I will be happy to provide my assistance should you require. If I may, your majesty, do you intend to wear the stone?"

She looked down at it again. "I'm afraid I haven't actually decided. I do think I'd like to."

"May I?" She handed him the stone and he quickly turned, working with his back to her so she couldn't see that he was doing.

A moment later, he went to the tray she'd pulled the stone from and began rummaging through it, then returned to the stone bench. Another moment later, and he held the completed piece to her.

The stone now had a small circle at the tip, a thin chain pulled through the center in a loop, brought together by a single, iridescent pearl that mirrored the soft hues of the stone.

It's perfect, she thought. The design so simple yet complete. She instantly loved it, and told Weilen as much. He blushed, a ruddy tinge darkening his skin. He helped put it on her. She turned to him. "Weilen, what was it that you originally were an apprentice of?"

"I would have been a jeweler."

She nodded, not surprised at all. "And why did you not continue?"

"I have a love for many things, not only jewels. I like to take pieces that are not always desirable on their own and create something new from them." He gestured to a separate room that she'd not noticed upon her initial perusal. She moved to peek inside and was awed at what she saw inside.

"Weilen, they're amazing." Tali spoke honestly, wonder coloring her voice,

Against the walls were several large pieces. They took up the majority of the space. Torn bits of sail cloth, scraps of metal and crushed shells were all brought together to create a reef scape. The sail cloth waved in the gentle current, perfectly mimicking the movement of the fish's tail it was made to emulate. The metal added the base texture and structure, while the crushed shells created even more texture, adding color to the piece.

"How long did this take you?"

"A while. Some of it didn't look how I had pictured it in my mind, so I had to correct it until it did."

"It's incredible. Truly."

"It's the South Reef."

Tali remembered that was where he found the seer's stone. "Would you take me there?"

"I would be honored to."

They set out then, headed toward the South Reef. It was a ways out of the city, but not so much so that it was a great journey. They traveled for almost an hour before she said, "It is tradition for the the queen to chose a creator for her jewelry pieces upon her coronation. I didn't have the pleasure of your acquaintance then, but now that I do, would you like to be my designer?"

Weilen looked to be in complete shock. His eyes widened and his mouth hung open. "Your majesty, I- I would be completely honored-"

"It's settled then. And now you can just call me Tali. No need to be formal, Weilen."

The poor merman looked as if he wanted to argue with her about such familiarity, but he didn't speak if it, instead asking, "Why would you choose me when there are other, more capable jewelers than myself?"

"Why should I not choose you, Weilen? Your work has more than proved your skill and workmanship to me. You made one piece for me and captured my taste perfectly without even knowing my preferences. No doubt those other jewelers would be honored as well, but their designs wouldn't reflect me as an individual, only my status."

He nodded, understanding.

"I'd like to commission two headpieces for my attendants. And perhaps something for my friend, Naeiri. All of these would be paid for, of course." Tali could feel Weilen's eyes on her, and she only smiled at him.

They reached the reef shortly thereafter and she looked around wondrously. There were no signs of the city this far out, only the plants and animals that inhabited this colorful place. She hadn't left the city since she'd first come the night of the Gathering. This almost seemed like a completely different world. There were no partially dilapidated rock walls or dwellings carved from stone. Here, there was only space broken up by the growing plants, coral and colorful fish as they swam, alternating between lazily drifting and frantically darting through the clear water.

Tali smiled at the serene picture in front of her. She moved slowly through the water, trying her best not to disturb the animals that called this reef their hime.

"I found that stone right over here, in the sand."

Tali followed Weilen to where he pointed at the coarse particles, it was clear now, nothing laying innocently, hiding in the sand. She figured there wouldn't be, but she'd still wanted to see where it had come from.

They looked around the surroundings for anything they deemed interesting.

Finally they realized that time had passed, and the two of them mad their way back to Weilen's store.

"Do you ever take a regular or odd shaped stone that's just a regular gray and polish it?"

Weilen smiled. "You think that gray, 'regular' stones are boring? Every stone has it's own history, a part and purpose. The trick is to find it and bring that out. Make the others who see only a regular stone, see something spectacular." His passion for his craft was openly reflected in Weilen's eyes.

"So I imagine that nothing is considered boring in your eyes."

"You're correct," he answered, his smile lighting his eyes.

No Rune in the chapter, Tali got a break from him and even made a new friend, it looks like.

Responses to Reviews on Chapter Nine:

shinju asuka:Because he (seemed) tried to reach her out, i gave him half point now haha. Probably after what Zorhan has said to him, now he tried to pay attention to her. Of course after what he had done and how Tali was, it was unnerving for her instead. I am glad she was that angry and was able to convey what she truly felt. If only she could bring up the topic about him and Illia... Let's see what Rune would do after listening to Tali's burst.
Yeah, Rune's not doing so hot right now...But has he ever? I way too hard on him, I know...But he makes it so easy.

I'm pretty sure you all know the drill by now. Let me know! Happy reading!