A/N: Inspired by yoyonaki's gorgeous doodle of Levy as a belly dancer
I legit froze when I first saw it it's so fripping gorgeous (and I'm sad I can't link to it laksjdhlakjsd but it's the cover art) I did belly dancing for years so I was obsessed with the idea and couldn't stop writing this. Plus, I'm obsessed with sassy Levy. Chapter one of many to come.
Prs to enjoy~
The sun sank in the horizon, a bright orange sliver disappearing behind the skyline of gently rolling sand dunes. The summer air was hot and thick, cut incidentally by an occasional cool breeze. Levy loved the feel of the wind in her bare hair. She stood with her back pressed to the wall as she'd done countless times before, staring out at the immense vastness of the desert that surrounded her, wondering what lay on the other side of those hills.
"Levy!" Wendy's muffled voice called from inside.
Levy's little sister trotted outside, her face lit with a beatific smile. "Levy," she said. "The master and the guests are waiting."
She took one last breath, savoring the fresh scent of the wind, and carefully draped her veil over her hair. Holding her sister's hand, she headed back inside to the party. The little dancing bells around her wrists and ankles tinkled softly. Her fingers and toes were adorned with tiny gold rings that pinched as she moved. Her saffron silk caftan swirled as she walked through the kitchen and pushed passed the curtain to the inner chamber where the master and his friends awaited her.
The room was dim, lit only by the light of a handful oil lamps. Master Goldmine and his friends lay sprawled on the divan, laughing boorishly and smelling of the master's good liquor. Droy, the master's son, sat up, sobered by her entrance. Levy smiled to herself and took her place in the middle of the empty dirt floor.
The drums began and Levy's heart began to beat hard in her chest, in time to the rhythm. She began to sing a slow, mournful song of unrequited love. Levy's voice was small but sweet. It carried and filled the room like a spell. She moved gracefully, her small hips swaying gently, her hands floated like curls of smoke as she gestured and pantomimed the story of star-crossed love. One by one, the drunken men sat up and watched her curiously. Levy closed her eyes and fell into a trance. Her body moved as the music willed it. Her voice grew stronger, bolder. She let the song carry her away and she lost herself within the story of a romantic world that existed only in fairy tales.
The song came to an end and Levy's trance dissipated like a haze. Her eyes fluttered open to the whole room bursting and hooting in applause. Silently, she bowed her head to them as they tossed coins at her feet. Immediately, the players struck up another song, a festal drinking song that the whole room joined in on. Forgotten for now, Levy took the opportunity to escape to her room.
She turned down the snaking hallways, lifting up the hem of her caftan to free her stride. Wendy followed, struggling to hold all her older sister's earnings in her skirt and keep up with her. Pushing past the curtain, Levy walked straight to the small wooden chest by her bed. She slipped off her dancing bells, bangles and gold rings, and lay them in the silk-lined chest. Wendy helped Levy out of her costume, folding it carefully and storing it in the chest along with her jewelry. Levy slipped on a coarse shirt and bound her wild blue hair for bed.
Wordlessly, Levy climbed into bed. Wendy followed after, crawling into her sister's open arms.
"That was really beautiful," Wendy whispered. "Did the lovers really never meet again?"
"No," Levy said, smiling at her sister's curiosity. She kissed the crown of her head. "But have I ever told you the story of Scheherazade?"
"Yes," the younger girl chirped happily. "But tell me again! I love your stories, Levy."
"Ok," Levy said, settling in. "Once upon a time, there was a girl named Scheherazade. She loved books of all sorts: poetry, fairy tales, history, philosophy. Some have said she owned a thousand and one books and memorized them all-"
"She sounds like you," Wendy murmured.
Levy smiled. "Maybe a little. I'm not nearly as clever."
"You're the most clever person i've ever met," Wendy replied, her voice heavy with sleep. "Even more clever than papa."
Levy's smiled dropped, remembering their father who had disappeared three years ago to make his fortune and left them in the care of his old friend, Master Goldmine. The master was kind enough: all the girls had to do was cook for him and his son, buy the groceries, clean the house. Occasionally, when the Master entertained guests, Levy was asked to sing for his company. Master Goldmine had been like a father to her, but she wondered how different her life would be if her father had stayed.
Levy shifted in place, trying to shake off the uncomfortable memory. Wendy lay limp in her arms, and she knew her sister was fast asleep.
"Scheherazade owned a thousand and one books and memorized them all …" Levy whispered, continuing the story for herself, now.
The afternoon sun hung low in the sky and Levy adjusted her veil to shield her face from the blinding rays. Holding Wendy's hand, they trudged through the sand, trying to keep pace with the caravan.
For the last five days, Master Goldmine and his guests lead a trek through the desert towards Master Makarov's tents at the lower oasis. Fifteen camels laden with treasures to give to him in tribute, and fifty servants carting tents and luggage made for a slow pace.
Droy rode up to them on a dark brown stallion. Levy looked up to see his cocksure smile and shyly looked away.
"You must be tired," he observed, not so perceptively. "Don't worry, we should be there by nightfall tonight."
He tossed her a waterskin. "Take it, and share it between the two of you," he proclaimed, full of his own gallantry. With a swift kick, he spurred his steed and dashed off, back to his father's side at the head of the company.
Levy handed the skin off to her sister. "Drink," she insisted.
"Why is he so nice to you?" Wendy wondered aloud.
Levy smiled to herself. Droy was in love with her. She knew it. From the moment she began living in his father's house, he'd always pursued her. At first she'd caught him staring a little too long when she'd serve him meals or his afternoon tea. Then he'd found a way to spend time in the kitchen with the pretense of helping out. Then he'd begun following her out to run errands at the market. Soon, he was slipping her trinkets and other tiny gifts. In her daydreams, she dared to imagine that he'd ask her to marry him and she could escape this social limbo. That he'd be a kind husband who would take care of her and Wendy and she'd live a simple, pleasant life with him in a house at the edge of the city.
"Be careful of him," Wendy warned, breaking Levy's reverie.
Levy clicked her tongue and ignored her.
True to Droy's prediction, they arrived at Master Makarov's tents at sundown. At once, Levy and Wendy hurried to unload the treasures and prepare the tents with the other servants, while Master Goldmine and Droy went to supper with the other guests.
"I wish we were invited as well," Wendy said, wistfully. She held her growling stomach and continued to work dutifully.
Levy smiled. "Do you want me to grab you something to eat?"
"Maybe just a little something," Wendy replied.
Levy went around to the back of the tent to look for the makeshift kitchen, when she felt a hand catch her wrist and another close over her eyes. Before she could make a sound, Droy's voice hushed her in the darkness.
"It's me," he whispered, releasing her.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed, surprised.
"Close your eyes," he said. Sensing her hesitation, he smiled. "Please?"
She did so. He waved a hand in her face to make sure she wasn't peeking, then pressed a tiny ball of Turkish ice cream to her lips. Realizing what it was, she devoured it quickly, licking the cream from his fingertips.
She chewed the cold, sticky confection and looked at him, wide eyed. "Dondurma?" she asked, her mouth still full. "I've never had this before!"
Droy laughed boyishly. "Do you like it?"
Levy giggled. "It's delicious."
He picked up her hands and stroked her tiny fingers. "Father wants you to dance tonight. He wants to impress the master. "
"Yes," Levy said, trying to be cheerful. She was so tired. "As he wishes."
"I hate it when you dance," he said quietly, his face darkening. "I don't want all those men staring at you. Like you're some common dancing girl."
"Your father wouldn't let anything happen to me," Levy assured him, gently. "I'm his ward, after all."
"If you were my wife, you'd never have to dance. Not for anyone else but me for the rest of your life."
Levy's heart skipped a beat.
"I mean it, Levy," he said, placing her small hand on his heart. "I'll ask my father. I don't care that you don't have a dowry. I love you."
"I would dance all night for the master if he would let us marry," Levy said, laughing.
"It would probably help," he joked.
"Then I'm going to go get ready," she declared, laughing. She kissed his cheek and turned to run back to her tent.
Wendy sat waiting for her in the servant's tent.
"I'm sorry, I forgot food!" Levy cried, remembering her reason for leaving in the first place.
"It's all right, Master Makarov's servants brought us some bread," Wendy replied, smiling.
"Help me get ready," Levy pleaded, tossing off her veil. "The master wants me to dance tonight."
Wendy pulled up the small wooden chest. "You've never looked so excited to perform before."
Levy slipped into the saffron dress and dancing bells, pulled on her veil and gold rings. "He's going to marry me, Wendy," she said, breathlessly.
"Who?" Wendy asked dispassionately.
"Droy!" Levy replied, laughing. "Don't you understand what that means for us? We don't have to wonder who the master would marry us off to. We don't have to live like second class citizens anymore."
"The master would never marry us off anyways," Wendy said. "He'd never pay our dowry out of his own pocket."
"That's why this is so perfect," Levy gushed. "This way, nothing at all has to change, except our status. I could send you to school, Wendy. You could become a scholar just like father. You could marry one of Makarov's sons if you wanted to. I've already saved money for a good dowry for you. You could do anything you wanted, Wendy."
A purple-haired girl pushed open the tent flap. "I was sent to retrieve Levy," she said simply.
"Yes!" Levy practically jumped up in excitement. She and Wendy followed the girl to the giant tent, lit brightly with hundreds of candles and oil lamps.
She took a breath to compose herself and walked up to the musicians. "Can you play something upbeat? A happy little beledi, maybe?"
The guitar player strummed a melody with an iron plectrum. "Something like this?" he asked gruffly.
"Yes, perfect!" Levy clapped her hands in excitement. She trotted out to the center of the floor, unaware of Droy amongst the throng of people. He was seated next to his father by the lilliputian Master Makarov, his eyes lit at the sight of her. Levy cracked a surreptitious smile as the company fell silent, waiting for her to start.
The drums began and Levy's arms snaked delicately. She spun around, her saffron skirt blooming around her, and flicked her hips flirtatiously. She glided and pirouetted around the room, a kittenish smile on her lips as she sang about two swans who fell in love. This was the last time she would dance. She felt triumphant and new. All her fatigue from the day's journey melted away and her whole body radiated happiness. Levy twirled and twisted, her voice was jubilant and sweet. Every gesture, every teasing look, every smile was alluring and playful. The whole room was captivated with her brilliance, hooting and clapping and calling for more.
When her song ended, she stood in her final pose, breathless with excitement as the whole room tossed coins at her feet. Wendy rushed forward to retrieve the money, and Levy could not suppress an exultant smile. He clapped for her eagerly, and Levy bowed to the four corners of the room before dashing back out with with her sister.
"That was incredible!" Levy laughed, cupping her flushed cheeks.
"You looked like you were having so much fun, Levy!" Wendy giggled. Her sister's happiness was infectious.
"Levy!" Droy called, running after them.
Levy turned to see her beau and ran to meet him. Droy caught her hands and kissed her gilded fingertips.
"You were brilliant," he gushed.
Wendy slinked away to give the two some space, a knowing smile on her lips.
"Did you ask your father?" Levy asked, her voice hopeful. "I don't want to waste another second if we don't have to."
"Not yet," he admitted. "He's half drunk, talking about nonsense with Master Makarov. Tomorrow, though."
"Do you promise?" she pleaded, sweetly.
Droy looked down at her, his eyes full of doe-eyed admiration. Levy lowered her eyes shyly, knowing what came next. She wondered if her first kiss would ever be as lovely and romantic as in her stories. He leaned in and Levy turned her face up to his.
"Oi," a deep voice growled. "Do you mind?"
Levy and Droy looked over to see a man emerging from the shadows walking towards them. He was tall, with long, wild black hair. Levy could see that he was frowning, the expression made all the more intimidating by the iron studs that framed his brow. As he slipped a wide iron plectrum into his belt, Levy recognized him as the guitar player from the party.
"S-sorry," Droy stuttered. His face dropped, his shoulders sank as he backed away from Levy. "I should go."
Levy watched incredulously as Droy slinked back to the tent, leaving her alone with this man. Frustrated at this rude man's timing, she gave a curt little bow to excuse herself and began to walk back to the servants' tent.
"I liked your little song," he called after her. "You dance real nice, girl."
Levy whirled around and glared at him, offended by his familiar tone. "I know," she replied haughtily, eying him disdainfully.
"You should come dance for me again, girl," he said, an arrogant, rakish grin on his face.
Levy scoffed at his audacity. "You couldn't afford me. Not a beggar like you."
"So you're for sale, then?" he joked, walking up to her. "How much did that little hairless shit pay you for your favors? I'll double it."
"Nothing at all," she said, acidly. "I love him. Maybe if you recognized two people in love you wouldn't be so quick to interrupt them like a boor."
"Maybe your lover should find a better place to woo you than by the piss pots," he replied, leaning down to have a better look at her face.
Levy backed away, and looked over and recognized a quartet of large brass chamber pots a few yards away. She was thankful for the cover of shadows as her face immediately colored. She turned with a huff and trudged back to her tent.
"What happened?" Wendy asked. "You look upset."
"It's nothing, darling," she assured her, smiling genially at her sister. "Help me out of these clothes and let's go to bed."
When Levy finally lay her head to sleep, she dreamed of Droy and her sister, and what the new day might bring for them all.
"What took you so long?" Master Makarov asked, his words thick with inebriation. "I thought you fell in."
Gajeel pushed past the heavy tent flap and walked over to the low table where Master Makarov, Master Goldmine, Droy and other guests sat playing a game of cards.
"Sorry," he mumbled, not so sorry. "I ran into your little dancing girl, Master Goldmine."
Master Goldmine burst out in drunken laughter. "Isn't she incredible? Sings like a lark and dances like a goddess. Where do you find a treasure like that? She's one in a million."
Everyone murmured in agreement.
"Are we gambling again?" Gajeel asked, surveying the table.
"Of course!" Master Goldmine cried, a little too enthusiastically. "What fun is it if I can't fleece your father out of a couple thousand jewels every year or so, or whenever it is we that we do this?"
"If I recall correctly," Gajeel said slowly. "You owe me a couple hundred thousand jewels."
Master Goldmine swallowed hard. "What's a few jewels between you and your father's old friend?"
"Gajeel," Master Makarov entreated his son, clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
"Forgiving debts is not how I made my fortune," Gajeel said dispassionately, picking up a gold coin from the table and rubbing it between his fingers.
"I-I don't have that with me ... " Master Goldmine stuttered.
"It's been over a year," Gajeel continued. "I'm sure there's interest to be paid, as well."
Master Goldmine broke into a cold sweat. Gajeel could sense the old man's embarrassment.
"We could call it even," Gajeel decided, at last. "Just give me your dancing girl."