A Necessary Risk

“Mom, this thing itches like crazy!”

It was nearly three years after Naomi had explained the villagers to Oriana. Although the curious child had pleaded and begged time and again to go see their village, it wasn’t until now, shortly after Oriana’s twelfth birthday, that the pair of them had made the trip through the woods. The reason for the trip wasn’t entirely the begging and pleading, though. In fact, Naomi would have very much liked to have avoided making the trip, but she needed some very essential supplies that she could neither make nor find for herself and she knew she couldn't keep Oriana tightly under her wing forever.

And of course, once Oriana had figured out that her mother planned on going to the village neither hell nor high water could have stopped her from tagging along.

“If you’d prefer a hole there instead of a patch, by all means, take it off.”

It was a testament to just how much the young girl wanted to see the village for herself that she put up with her right eye being covered by an ugly, itchy patch so that she wouldn’t raise as many suspicions in town. Her only consolation was that it was sheer enough to be see-through without this being obvious from the outside. Even her curiosity couldn’t have overridden her intense aversion to seeing through only her left eye.

“If it itches much more I’m going to scratch my eye out anyway!” Oriana countered, but she didn’t press the subject any further. She knew she was lucky to be here. Even if ‘here’ was only a less familiar part of the forest, so far.

“How much further? We’ve been walking for hours!”

“We have not. But don’t worry little one, it’s just ahead now.”

Oriana didn’t look worried. On the contrary; it was Naomi who looked ready to pass out. Oriana couldn’t possibly have looked more excited.

The pair of them stepped carefully out onto a well-trodden path and followed it for a while, quickly coming to the edge of the forest. And then, as they rounded a few last trees, Oriana could see the village poking through.

It was a rather drab village, full of squat little brown buildings that were slouching and depressed. And  it was impossible to see much more than the roofs of the buildings, as a large wall made of sharpened logs surrounded the whole village.

Regardless, Oriana was ecstatic, and seemed to be having difficulty containing her glee. She did a little hop and a high-pitched noise escaped her throat as she pulled ahead of her mother.

“Stay with me!” Naomi hissed, grabbing for the back of Oriana’s shirt. The gesture was unnecessary, though; Oriana seemed to understand how serious the situation was and stopped on her own, doing her best to get a handle on her excitement.

As they drew closer to the boundaries of the town, Naomi pulled off her hood and the bandages protecting her eye. This served the dual purpose of drawing attention to her dead left eye instead of the patch on her daughter’s right one, and also putting the guards that were staring at them from the gate at ease—Cynics (as the left-eyed people were called) didn’t trust anyone who covered their face.

“Stop there,” one of the guards ordered. Naomi and Oriana were still a good twenty paces away from the gate, barely within speaking range, but they obeyed regardless. “Identify yourselves.”

“Naomi and Oriana Gale,” Naomi declared in a loud, clear voice. The guards, though not very well armed, were not to be trifled with.

After consulting a thin book for a moment, the second guard looked at the first and shook his head.

“You’re not on our list,” the first guard said, but the second interrupted him before he could get any further, and pointed to an entry later in the book. “Naomi Gale? You’re listed here as a visitor. You may step forward. Please have your identification ready. The other one stays here.”

Oriana started to object, but Naomi cut her off. “This is my daughter. I need to take her to get a visitor’s pass and identification. She has never been to town before.”

“Very well. Step forward one at a time to be identified and searched.”

Naomi’s turn with the guards went relatively smoothly. They eyed her with suspicion the whole time, double and tripled-checked her identification, and patted her robes down, searching for weapons, but they found nothing other than her coin purse, a book, and a stamp, and eventually let her pass.

Oriana’s turn, on the other hand, was a fiasco. The lack of identification seemed to set them even more on edge than usual, and they poked and prodded her wool tunic and short hide pants as if they were sure there was a secret pocket somewhere that was hiding all manner of terrible weaponry. Finally satisfied with their search, they began grilling her verbally instead.

“Why are you wearing a patch?” one of them challenged. It stood out rather starkly against the scars the rest of the Cynics bore openly.

“I ran into a tree branch and cut myself,” she answered, just as she had been told to. “It’s recovering.”

“Why are you here?”

“To go shopping with my mother.”

“Your mother is incapable of shopping on her own?” the guard countered, suspicion peaking.

“Well, she’s blind…” Oriana muttered sarcastically, averting her gaze.

“What did you say?” the second guard demanded, raising his voice and putting his hand to the bare sword at his waist. Cynics hated muttering. Secrets were muttered.

“I help her carry things!” Oriana blurted, shifting away from the guard with alarm.

They seemed satisfied, though, and were just about to let her through when they noticed one last thing, and asked Oriana a question she didn’t have an answer for:

“Where are your seal and register?”

Oriana gave them a confused look and said nothing, turning to her mother for guidance.

Luckily, Naomi was more prepared than she was, although she seemed rather taken off guard by the question as well. “I… knocked it into the hearth by mistake when she was taking a bath,” she explained hastily. “We need to get her a new one while we’re here as well.”

The guards looked alarmed, but it was more of a genuine shock with a hint of pity than a suspicious realization, as if this sort of thing was unheard of. “But what of her contracts?”

“Most were destroyed,” Naomi answered grimly.

Both of the guards audibly gasped. It might have been comical if they didn’t look deadly serious. After conversing quietly for a moment, one of the guards turned back to them.

“We have enough information now. You’re free to go about your business. Make sure you leave before dark, and I hope you’re able to reclaim your contracts without too much trouble,” said the first guard.

“Welcome to Owvry Village,” the second chimed in, signalling for the gate to be opened.

And with that, Oriana officially entered the domain of the Cynics for the first time.

The End

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