A young girl from a wealthy household sets out to illicitly enjoy a carnival while travelling, and ends up finding out more than she bargained for.
Set in late 19th century Turkey.
Near "Dersaadet", the door to happiness (now Istanbul), Turkey
Stray rays of sunlight draped Gwen's flesh like cloth of gold as she strolled aimlessly through the main concourse. Her keeper had vanished for the time being, last seen haggling with a vendor over the price of a shawl, back in the tented market area. She'd taken the opportunity to casually wander away, knowing full well that they'd eventually find her.
No one would worry, no one would think her lost or disappeared — she stood out like a sore thumb in a place such as this, and she realized it quite clearly.
Many-striped tents decorated with boisterous colours and trappings provided both shelter from the scorching sun, and from Greta. Her chaperone was both attentive and clever, so Gwen took full advantage of her lapse in judgment to enjoy her newfound surroundings to their fullest.
The sights, sounds and smells of the carnival were all-encompassing. Horses and perfumes, leather and flowers, all melding together into an exotic blend, perpetually permeating her senses. They were enthralling as nothing she had ever experienced before in her seventeen years.
Seventeen lonely years, spent moving from city to city, backwater to backwater, with her permanently unavailable diplomat father and sickly mother who rarely saw the light of day. Mother had spent two years with a phlegmy cough she couldn't seem to shake, and it had cost her. The weakened state she was left in, her breath a rattling wheeze at best, meant she was house-bound for most of their journeys. Gwen spent as much time as possible getting acquainted with each new locale, Greta hardly ever leaving her side. Her mother's nurse had become part of the family, and even to this day chided her as much or more than her own flesh and blood.
Coming to a crossroads amongst the draped tarps and cloth, Gwen glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder. No sign of her jailer — this was a rare occasion indeed. A rickety sign to her left prominently displayed a bear of some sort, dancing a jig. To her right, a woman with what could likely pass for a beard leaned heavily against a waterspout, puffing a cigarette dangling jauntily from two fingers. Her dewy facial hair would make a fifteen-year-old boy proud, thought Gwen, grinning. Misunderstanding the gesture, the woman smiled, winked, and flicked the rest of her fingers in greeting as if holding a hot cup of tea. Abashed by her thoughts, Gwen gracefully returned the courtesy, her gaze moving up the street as she wiped a bead of sweat from her brow.
Damn, is this corset uncomfortable in the heat... why they made her wear this ridiculous thing, she had no idea. A well broken-in set of riding leathers along with a linen shirt would have suited her much better in this climate. She missed the freedom of movement she had become accustomed to as a child. The ladylike manners they had imposed on her over the course of the last two years chafed at her as badly as this blasted contraption did around her ribs. Courtship and propriety be damned, she'd rather be comfortable than attractive to foreign men twice her age, any day of the week. Being able to breathe normally again would be an added bonus.
She waved the folding fan she carried at her rapidly deteriorating makeup, the minuscule breeze it created cooling the droplets of sweat on the bridge of her freckled and now slightly sunburned nose. Her eyes roved ahead, and the sun shining brightly in her eyes blinded her momentarily.
She saw it then, the tent entrance folded back invitingly, as if beckoning her inside. Mesmerized, she wandered into the opening, the light of a mismatched pair of gas lanterns illuminating the interior. A woman sat alone inside, astride a three-legged stool, arms resting on a thick wooden table that appeared to be the only significant piece of furniture in the tent.
The buzz of the carnival faded into the background and Gwen's vision seemed to narrow slightly, darkness creeping over the outer edges, as the woman's unearthly eyes moved up from the table to rest lightly on hers.
"Hello, dearest," said the woman in her own tongue. She was of indeterminate age, both twenty and forty seeming equally possible. A timeless quality graced her air, and her speech, distinguished and well-enunciated, was not that of a local commoner. Gwen, speaking nine languages fluently, placed her accent as northerly; definitely not indigenous to this region.
The woman cleared her throat, shaking Gwen from her observations. "Hello, ma'am."
A moment passed, and the woman replied. "Have you come for a reading?"
Gwen then noticed the small stack of cards at one end of the table. In the background, she heard her voice called, Greta finally having undertaken a search of the carnival.
She considered for a moment, then responded.