“There was a story I heard one time,” Bess began, “about a grey-haloed woman who should’ve but shan’t.”
Bess’s favorite story. Again. Bess had some favorite sayings and creative stories, but none as strange and nonsensical as the story of the ‘Doorway Witch.’ She recounted it a lot, and always took the performance very seriously.
“She shat where she shouldn’t, and she ate and she stank. And she pittered and pattered and crook’ed and cranked. She belted and bungled, she jambled and jangled, she shambled and tangled and strangled and sank.” Bess was sing-song with the random tale, and she touched the stone walls and weaver’s goods, and held her hand out to any windchimes on strings as she passed them.
“That grey-haloed woman met the old-dark man, with nothing about him but silence began. They roamed and they wandered, and somewhere strange traveled, across the Medovian land. They wove and they whistled, they picked and they thistled, across the people they met. And the grey-haloed woman would tap each bristle, singing a song until set.”
“Yeah. Set.” Bess glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Like, created? Formed? I think that’s your closest word for it. Ssthet.” She said it slower, fully emphasizing her slight lisp. The story of the grey-haloed woman was a Medoin story, and in the Medov language, so Bess was recounting the translated version.
“Z, it’s too bad you don’t know Medov, you would love it. Isphair fye, Eihler lye,” she smiled back at him. They were descending down the stone staircase to the main fishing port, where they were sure to find some fish monger breakfast.
Whatever it was she had just said, she was probably poking fun at him. “I told you before, I tried years ago,” Zerian shot back. “It’s too ‘jambled.’ It didn’t stick.” He smirked at her, as she glanced behind her.
“Because there’s more meaning to it than you’re used to. The double meaning. It gets lost quite a bit when translated. I bet you would get the tongue if you tried harder. Your name comes from Medov – I would think that counts for something!” Bess took the stairs two at a time. Zerian followed as best he could, trying to keep up. Bess was an infuriatingly energetic morning person.
Then he finally caught and processed the last part of what she said.
“Wait – Bess, what do you mean my name is Medov? Hold up!” He panted a little when they landed at the bottom of the stairs. It was a good distance down to the port from the main city walls. In some areas it was vertical ladders built into the cliffs. Luckily, this stairway didn’t have any. “Bess, you never told me that before!”
“Yeah. ‘Zerian’ – Zeriphyn. Means prophet. Or wait, maybe it’s shitface…” She looked into the sky thinking hard.
Zerian glowered and made to punch her shoulder a bit too hard, but she turned away in time to dodge it and kept walking.
“Yup, definitely shitface,” she said, bouncing ahead.
Zerian exhaled and kept after her. She was too quick for him at this time of day. In the back of his mind, he wondered how he ended up here with her, of all people. Someone so enigmatic and… erratic for him to fully grasp. So unlike anyone else he had known. The wonders of life.
She was pulling a few rings off her belt in payment for some fish in a steamy broth, with something green slopped over the side of the bowl and a poached egg on top.
“So glad you agreed on getting fish, Z. And what a beautiful morning.” She handed him a bowl to sip, and they leaned against the ropes on the pier. The sun was just over the horizon, gleaming on the sea and sparkling on the small waves. Bright orange against the blue. It was heart medicine to be sure. Zerian decided to forget she had just called him shitface.
He mumbled agreement under his breath. The sea was so beautiful at this time of day, and he breathed in the calming salty air. They rarely had time to come down here. Zerian thanked his difficult sleep for the early sun rise view. He remembered vaguely something about falling in his dream. Or being yanked in the dark… Whatever it was, he didn’t feel like he slept at all.
“Mmmm, yes,” he agreed, the warm broth hitting his stomach like a torch. “Good call on the fish. Wish I had slept as well as you.”
“You’re still sleep stumbling?” Bess asked, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, ignoring the linen cloth that was wrapped around the bowl.
“Yeah. Stumbling. I guess you can call it that. I just can’t stay rested lately. I keep getting yanked around.”
Bess frowned. “Hmm.” She looked out at the horizon and took a loud slurp of her broth.
“What, no wise saying or prescription of toad-sticks that I should be taking?” Zerian was joking, but he instantly regretted the bit about the toad-sticks.
“Sorry Z. Not this time. But it worries me.” She suddenly turned off her playful demeanor and put on her wiser-than-thou hat. “You should see a Reader.” She paused, and they listened to the hustle of the pier. The sea birds crying out above. The thrash of the waves against the jutting rocks.
“Maybe a Reader will give you the toad-sticks you need.” She slurped up the rest of her eggs and brought her bowl back to the merchant, bowing in thanks.
“Sorry about the toad-sticks Bess,” Zerian followed her, trying to finish his bowl while walking. “But do you really think I should seek a Body Reader? That serious?”
“Maybe. It’s been what, a few months now? Or maybe you just need a punch to the face. I can do that if you want.”
She flashed her smile again.
“No thanks,” he shook his head. “So, maybe after we close up today. Or maybe I could take an hour – would it be OK if stepped out midday? I think I know who I can see about it.” Zerian handed his bowl back to the kindly fish merchant, who was now icing some silvery, gigantic fillets while his fish broth bubbled around behind him.
“Sure, that should be fine,” Bess shrugged. They started up the steps back to the city walls. The air was cold and clear, and as he looked back up at the city the sky was still sparked by a few stars. Specks of glitter winking through the dome of blue.
“But I’m telling you Z, you might like the punch to the face better. A little taste of blood is good for you.”
He laughed, but she was probably serious.
Keep going to Part 4