Thank you so much for your reviews Shani8, Thas, Destiny and mrsbubugig! I hope you like this chapter.
Notturno, by Corah
Chapter 2 - Serenata
The moon was high in the sky when they arrived at the strange, old little tavern. They toured half the city searching for places where they could get a bed and a decent meal with no success. The fact that people from the surrounding villages came to attend a festival celebrating the harvest made the simple task an expedition to find an affordable place without a "no vacancy" sign on it's door, and the shabby building seemed to meet the requirements. They gave Aksh's reigns to a stable boy and were on the verge of entering when Tamina holds Dastan's arm to stop him:
"We need a story. We're arriving with no trunks, no servants, sharing the same horse and at the middle of the evening. It'll arise suspicion." She looks around fearing that someone listens their conversation.
"Princess, you worry too much. I have all the story we need here." he points to his head.
"Oh, that's comforting!" she answers with disdain.
The tavern is crowded and noisy when they finally enter. An old, wrinkled little woman is behind the counter shouting at a disheveled girl who rushes across the room. They move through the sea of people gathered at the main hall.
"What can I do for you?" asked the aged lady with a tired voice and a bored look on her face.
Dastan leans on the counter. "We are heading to Balkh, but a sandstorm came and our caravan parted, leaving us behind. My sister and I need two rooms for tonight."
"Two rooms? Boy, I don't think you'll find two empty rooms even at the governor's palace!" the woman slapped her hand at the counter, laughing hard at him, exposing a mouth lacking several teeth. Apparently, he said something very stupid."It's our first harvest after two years of drought! Not even the king's death could stop the people from celebrating!"
The mention of his father's death was like a sharp knife in his stomach. Tamina saw his face losing it's colour and decided to deal with the woman herself.
"But I'm certain you have vacant rooms. There's no sign at the main door and the boy outside took our horse without a word."
"You're lucky today. A peddler left some hours ago, he was sleeping in one of the attic's rooms. I think you can spend the night there, Nousha already cleaned it." the woman yells as she enters a little storage room behind the counter. She returns with two pillows and a battered razai.
"There's only one quilt..." Tamina says confused. Dastan seems to wake from his stupor as the conversation becomes more interesting.
"Because there's only one bed" the woman replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"What!? You can't be serious!" Tamina's voice is high pitched and outraged. Dastan pokes her with his elbow and glares as saying "Stop yelling! People will notice us!".
"Until I got married I had to share a bed with my brother and sister. It's very commom." The old tavern woman frowned and pointed a chubby finger at them. "Are you two really siblings? Although poor this is a respectable, honest house! If you two are thinking that this is a place for immoralities-"
"Of course we're siblings!" Dastan interrupts. "She's tired and hungry and just wanted a bed all to herself, right, dear sister?" He glares at her again while putting his arm around her hip, hugging her. He then smiles at the older lady.
A shiver runs across Tamina's spine when she feels the weight of his hand on her body, the warmth of his skin passing through the fabric of her clothing. She takes a deep breath. "Yes, I'm just tired and hungry." she nods.
"I hope you're telling the truth or I'll throw you both out on the street." The woman warns them. The disheveled young girl crosses the room with two heavy jars and stops when the tavern owner shouts at her. "Nousha! Leave the wine and take these two to the attic!".
Dastan releases Tamina and grabs the sac with their belongings from the floor. Nousha take the pillows and the razai and starts climbing the stairs. Dastan follows. Tamina sighs and goes after them, feeling suddenly cold.
-x - x - x - x-
"The food won't run away from your plate!" Dastan said as he observed Tamina eating her portion of lamb stew with desperation. "You'll get yourself ill eating so fast! As a princess you should have better manners at the table."
"It's been days since I ate something warm. Stop worrying about etiquette and eat." was her dry reply.
They are in a room filled with commom tables and people come and go, animated as they prepare for the procession to the city's main temple. The food is not good, the wine is washy, but those are the best things they had since they fled from Alamut.
"By the way you're eating seems like you are the one who came from the streets" he says nonchalantly and digs a piece of bread in the stew's sauce on his plate.
Tamina reminds what he told about his childhood. It sounds like an epic tale: a poor orphan boy, rescued from the streets, becoming a prince. Quite extraordinary. But she was someone used to impressive stories, being the guardian of a magical device herself. If the gods took him from rags to riches in such a drastic way it means that he is touched by the hands of destiny.
"How did you manage to survive alone, without family?" she asks, careful to not look too interested. He already has an inflated ego, she doesn't want he thinking that she cares for him.
"When I was seven there was an epidemy of fever at Nasaf's slums. My father was the first to go... My mother followed him a week later, along with a baby sister. I outlived the sickness and there was no one left to take care of me." he said with distant eyes, his voice low. "The neighbor, my friend Bis' mother, also lost her husband and had four chidren to raise. She did what she could for me: sometimes a meal, a piece of clothing, but they were poorer than my original family. I aided sellers at the market, went to the country to help with the harvest, cleaned stables, anything that could get me some coins, food or a roof."
"I can only imagine how hard it must have been." Tamina says to break the uncomfortable silence that fell between them. She shouldn't have prolongued this conversation, his features were dark and grievous.
"It was. But so was fitting into royal life. I felt like I had to prove myself worthy everyday. I still have, for my brothers think that I am a murderer". He gives her a sad smile while contemplating his plate.
Before Tamina could think, her right hand rested above his left one, squeezing it. His eyes drop to their joined hands and then focus on her face.
"The gods will be merciful. You'll prove your innocence and I'll take the dagger to the guardian temple. We must have faith and pray for their guidance." Her voice is clear and reassuring.
They stare at each other for a moment and Dastan wonders how can she be positive and have such a blind reliance on the benignity of gods that once wished to destroy the world.
Tamina withdraws her hand and resumes her dinner. This time is Dastan who feels the air chilly without her touch.
-x - x - x - x-
His legs climb the dark, narrow stairs as he goes to the room in the attic. Tamina went up first, saying she needed to clean herself after so many days at the desert. He stayed behind, talking with people to gather information about the troops that are searching for the fugitive Persian prince and the Alamutian princess. They must leave tomorrow, in a day or two his brother's soldiers will arrive.
The room's furniture consists of a simple bed for two, a table with a broken chair, a washed-out carpet, a trunk (where they put their belongings) and a small brazier. Even tough everything is obviously wornout, it's a clean room and so he's satisfied. As Dastan enters, Tamina is distracted by the window, watching the procession that fills the street with people laughing and dancing. She is wearing a too short nightshirt, exposing part of her legs and her wet hair is falling past her shoulders. The vision makes him forget how to breath. She was lovely at the first time he saw her, in all her finery with fancy attire, jewelry and eyes dark with kohl, a princess in every detail. But now she seemed so relaxed and peaceful. At this moment she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She caughts him staring at her and he must say something before she teases him.
"I see that you've got knew chothes." Damn it, the first thing that goes out of his mouth is a statment that he is paying attention at her! Stupid, he says to himself.
"The servant girl, Nousha, lent it to me. She will have someone to wash my clothes, so I can have them clean by tomorrow."
They fell into an uncomfortable silence. In the desert they spent the nights alone, but the closed room and the dim light of the brazier give an air of intimacy to the scenario. The ostrich girl garments and the ones she wore as a servant girl in their way to Avrat were revealing, but Tamina somehow felt more exposed in this simple short nightshirt with long sleeves than with the said clothes. He joins her at the window and she wishes she pretended to be asleep when he arrived, distressed by the posibility of him seeing her discomfort.
"They look happy. Good for them to have something to celebrate." Dastan says hoping to make the atmosphere less tense. The people on the street laugh, sing and chatter as they walk to the temple with flowers in their hairs, holding torches and lamps, making the night brigh with light and contentment.
"We where preparing for the harvest festivities at Alamut as well. It's my favorite time of the year." She says with a little smile and then turns to him, angry: "If you Persians had not invaded my city I would be giving blessings to the crops too. But now my people are at the mercy of your brother... And I'm not there to give the strenght they need." she feels guilty, but her duty to the dagger comes first, as the oath she made when she became a pristess demands.
"That's the first thing you actually tell me about yourself." he says quietly, too tired to fight with her and glad that she opened herself to him a little. "You always talk about the dagger, the obligation you have to it, but never about you: your routine, what you like, those kind of things".
It's true, she thinks. He told her about his life, the love he has for his father. He always lets his guard down around her and she doesn't know why. She doesn't trust many people, her duty to the dagger makes everyone a potencial enemy. But he seemed continuously open and aprochable, despite the hardships he endured. She envied that.
"It's difficult to trust in strangers." she tries to scape his gaze, but he holds her arm gently, making her look at him.
"I think we've been through a lot together lately, Tamina. Am I still a stranger?"
The blue eyes on her face feel as a physical thing, a caress. And the want to be engulfed by them, take what they seem to promise - tenderness, affection, desire - is a warm river through her veins. She says nothing, fearing her voice would tremble.
He wants to let his fingers travel on the sea of black hair falling over her shoulders. She smells of soap and honey and it is intoxicating.
The moment is interrupted by the knock on the door. Dastan sighs and releases Tamina's arm. "Enter!" he shouts.
The head of the servant girl appears inside the room "I brought the water you've asked, sir". She brings a bucket full of water inside and then leaves, taking the one Tamina used with her.
"I´ll be at the corridor while you wash yourself." Tamina runs to leave, feeling relieved when she closes the door behind her, leaning her back against it. This, this "thing" between them, all the emotions that she experiences when he talks to her in a low voice or looks at her with softned eyes, makes her forget what is trully important, the destiny the gods gave her: the dagger and her duty to it.
When she returns to the room Dastan is making his bed on the floor with the razai.
"I hope you don't mind that I keep the quilt since you'll have the warm bed you so desired." he explains his action with a note of frustration ringing in his voice. Everytime he thinks that she is beggining to trust him something happens and they return to the starting point.
"I don't. Good night..." she mutters as she retrives the blanket he gave her from the trunk and then lies on the matress.
"Good night." he replies, turning the fire of the brazier off with a lid.
Although on a warm bed, sleep don't come as easily as she thought, for she has to fight the memory of his blue eyes on her face and the warmth of his hand on her hip.
-x - x - x - x-
At morning they eat quickly and Tamina leaves the tavern after that, telling him she will go to the temple to pray for their journey. The old tavern lady wants to gain more coins than what is fair and he leaves the shabby building in a bad mood after an ugly argument with the woman.
He stops at the marketplace to get provisions for the traveling and then heads to the temple crowded with people making their ultimate offerings and prayers before going back home. Tamina approaches him as she leaves the sacred place. The city's religion was one of the hundreds that existed under the toleration of the Persian flag and was rather different from her own. But being among gods, praising them, was always easier for her then dealing with people of flesh and bone.
"I assume we have everything ready?" she demands as she pats Aksh's head.
"Yes, we can go now."
Dastan is about to climb on the horse's back when she gives him a bundle wrapped in a cloth. He looks at her suspiciously and undoes the knot, revealing a small dagger with a bronze blade and an intricated pattern carved on the handle. It doesn't look expensive, her gesture is what astonishes him.
"I'm not a barbaric Persian, but the Mehrgan festival is near. I'm grateful for the blanket you gave me and I know that trading gifts is a tradition. Since you are so fond of knifes I think that it suits you." her voice is serious, but her eyes are mirthful.
He laughs at her joke, his bad humour evaporating. Yes, she is beautiful, but her wit is what he really admires in her. Not even Garsiv makes the clever, sarcastic remarks that she does.
"How did you get the money for it?"
"I know a few tricks as well. Some girls at the marketplace were buying love amulets... So I told that I could see if they would find love reading their palms. Now we are even, Prince." she says as they climb on Aksh's back. He shakes his head, smiling.
"How many days until we get to your secret temple, Princess?" he asks her.
"Two if we go fast, I think. There's an oasis in the way, we can stop there and refill the canteens."
"Bossy." He looks at her with a smile and presses his feet into the horse's sides.
Aksh gallops as they pass through the city's gate, the desert stretching itself endlessly in front of them.
This is finished! It's my first multichapter story and I think it turned out ok. Fiction is something that I've always struggled with.
I have another multichapter story inside my head, six chapters or so. I even begun to scratch the first one. And I also have started thinking about an one-shot companion piece to the said story. But only God knows if I will have time or energy to write and publish them. I see that a lot of people read the story, but so few leave a review. It's important for a writer to have the reaction from the public, to know if what he/she writes is good or crap.
Anyway, thanks for reading!