Two travelling sisters emigrate to a large Western city in hopes of gaining money. They are accompanied by their new friend and find out more about the mysterious city and its Gatekeeper, the secluded Tristan. Both sisters learn things about themselves and about others which cause them to question their peoples' simple beliefs and practices.
Bright lanterns were strung up everywhere there was a tree. The tables were lined up with food, ranging from desserts to hefty meals. The smell of a bonfire and spices enriched the air. Loud music was playing from the musicians—a flute player and drummer. All of the travellers were in a circle, watching a young girl dance in the middle.
I was mesmerized. As I watched the many bright colours of the girl’s skirts fly up whenever she spun, I thought of how much I vied to move the way my sister did. Her dark wavy hair was pinned up into a beautiful bun and she wore a red rose stuck into it, making her look like a grown woman instead of a young girl. Her face was practically glowing by the fire as she leapt and bowed to all of the other children watching. I just thought of how absolutely beautiful, she was so graceful and lithe; it was just unbelievable to see the best dancer of the troupe perform. No matter how many times I’ve watched Anastasija practice, I still marvelled over the way she seemed to dance with such an entrancing power, it was so lovely.
“Her dancing is improving,” Rafael exclaimed over the loud fanfare.
I spun around, startled by his sudden presence. I thought he wouldn’t have anytime to even speak to me, since this whole celebration was dedicated to all of the Healers and other Mystics that were being honoured tonight. My quick motion had managed to make me spill some of my drink onto him.
He offered a strained smile as he glanced down at his arm, now drenched in sweet nectarine beverage. I cupped my mouth and tried not to yelp. I immediately took my napkin and held his arm, wiping off the mess. I was blushing; I always had to manage to make a fool of myself in front of him. I was fortunate that I didn’t ruin his costume, or else some of the elders would have been giving me worse stares.
Rafael took hold of my hand; I gasped and glanced up at him. He was laughing. “Karlena, its all right, I’ve got it.” He took hold of the napkin from my hand; I tried to stay composed when his hand brushed mine lightly.
I spied a look at Anastasija throwing the crowd roses while she spun. My graceful sister surely wouldn’t have done such a thing to Rafael—or any fine looking boy of the troupe. “Rafa...I...Your chemise, is it okay?” I bit down on my tongue too late; I had let the stupid question slip out. I wished to disappear.
“Don’t worry Karlena, everything is fine,” he reassured. Then he asked, “Has Anastasija been practising?”
Our conversations always floated to Ana somehow. It was always Ana. As a matter in fact, whenever boys were too afraid to approach the statuesque Anastasija, they always went to me and asked about her. I kept looking at my sister and told Rafael, “Yes, she has been since the past month, she wanted to impress the troupe before the Leave.”
The Leave was going to happen soon, when everyone was going to split off and earn money in some townships and big cities. We Oramanians always did this, we performed to earn money then we’d all return back to this place to assemble our earnings.
“Ah,” Rafael mused with a nod of his head. He kept his eyes on the circle then asked, “How are you improving?”
My cheeks flushed. I wasn’t a good dancer. “I...I’m improving somewhat...I’m not as good as Anastasija though.”
“No one is,” Rafael whispered in an almost wistful tone. Then he glanced at me and said, “What I meant was how your healing abilities are now?” His small smile hinted that he was finding my past phrases quite humorous—I wanted to die.
I held up my hand, “I can cool things down now—look.” I decided to place my hand onto my flushed cheeks and concentrated on the cold seeping into my skin. My eyes were shut as I mumbled some of the phrases that the elders taught us, to help strengthen the effect.
That was when Rafael took hold of my hand and placed it on his face. I gasped then opened my eyes, staring straight into his grey ones. He didn’t seem to notice anything, since he was only concentrated on the cold stillness that was emanating from my hand. My heart pace quickened a bit and Rafael lifted his eyes to mine, and then he asked, “Nervous?”
I shook my head so fast that my braid whipped my face. I grimaced then replied, “Sorry, no...”
He laughed, “Then why is your hand stark red now?”
“Huh?” I asked as I glanced at my hand, finally realizing that it wasn’t cold anymore. I shut my eyes and almost slapped my forehead, “Oh...I didn’t notice.”
Rafael grinned and let go of my hand. He scratched his dark, dark curls and said, “Don’t worry; at least the transition was all right. You know you can heal quite well with a Transition.”
“Mmhmm,” I only mused through tight lips, I was too embarrassed to say anything else to him, fearing that I’ll further make a fool of myself.
We didn’t say anything after that. We just watched my sister dancing with the children now, they all gave her looks of astonishment and awe—I remembered always looking up to her like that, Anastasija was such a wondrous character. That was when I started to think. My heart raced as I thought of when Rafael took hold of my hand, did he ever have the same feelings did I have whenever he took my hand or whenever he shared a secret smile with me?
There were so many different young men chasing after Anastasija’s heels, fighting for her attention, they were always watching, wistfully, from a distance whenever they looked at Ana. I never got any looks or vies from them, they never looked upon Ana’s little sister. They never looked upon the Healer’s female apprentice. They never looked upon Rafael’s small friend. They just never looked upon me. Oh how I wished for someone to notice me—I wished so badly for the boy right next to me to notice me. I glanced up at Rafael; he had a distant look in his wise eyes. I wondered if he could have been thinking about me... I bit down on my lip and looked away.
“You’re getting stronger,” Rafael finally said after a moment of silence between us. It was only the fanfare’s smooth tempo that spoke for us in those moments.
My shoulders sagged, I thought he could have even considered me, it’s always my abilities he’s impressed by. I kept my eyes on the ground, “Really?”
He nodded, “Yes, I can feel the energy coming out of your hand.”
“Right,” I sounded. Oh how I wished for everyone to stop taking into account for my strength and power... It became irritating.
We turned back to the celebration, Anastasija was finishing her ceremonial round and was now going to hand the rose that was stuck into her hair to the Healer’s First Apprentice—who was Rafael. In graceful turns, Anastasija approached us. The crowd instinctively broke apart and threw glances over at Rafael, who straightened up and gave a smile to my sister. He bowed and took her offering.
That was when I felt the eager eyes. Some of the young girls in our troupe were whispering, wondering if they would be picked. Surely Rafael was going to pick Anastasija—everyone did. That always resulted in Anastasija being tired after the end of the celebration.
Rafael twirled the rose stem in his hand. He walked forward after Anastasija left and then he turned around, looking directly at me. I was taken aback, was he going to ask me to take his rose?
He smiled at me in a sheepish way, “Karlena?”
Some of the girls in the troupe gasped. The whole crowd hushed, even the musicians stopped playing their music. Everyone just stared at us. My cheeks flushed as I fixed the skirts of my dress, I wasn’t as elaborately clothed as all of the other girls were, I didn’t look as exotic or as beautiful as most of the Oramanian girls, and I certainly couldn’t dance like them. What made him want a traditional dance with me?
I accepted the rose and placed it in my braid, and then I took hold of his hand. I didn’t know any of the steps of this dance...Oh if only I knew he was going to choose me, I would have asked Ana for help.
The music recommenced and was now a slow beat tune instead of a fast tempo fanfare that Anastasija would usually dance to.
Rafael spun me around, while I was next to him, I asked, “Why did you choose me?”
We moved in a circle that he led, “I chose you because I know that you wouldn’t think it romantic.” He rolled his eyes and whispered, “I cannot be thinking about things like that—having a girl fall for me...It’s too much...”
I tried not to grimace as I mumbled, “Oh, right...” I gave a dry laugh as I nearly fell out of step, “I am glad to hear that.”
After so long, those were the last words that I heard Rafael say to me before Anastasija and I left for Roumijin. I thought I was going to hear romantic words the last time I saw Rafael, I thought he was finally going to notice me as more than just Anastasija’s sister, or an exit from all the flirtatious Oramanian girls.