The market is an ocean of activity, stalls spread across it like boats, their brightly coloured awnings stretch like sails in the sun. Hawkers call out their wares and prices, touts accost passerby promising exotic and exclusive finds not seen in this part of the realm. Delphine breathes in the scents of the market, the pungent spices and woody aromas of cindering charcoal, the delicate perfume of cut flowers, the nose-wrinkling stench of butchers’ scraps left to rot in the sun. In her hands she clutches a small purse greedily, though it holds only a few small coins pinched from her lady’s change after the last errand.
She is pious, not perfect, and the honesty to her human condition stirs a smile in your being.
“Miss, lavender from the East!” One vendor shouts. “Come, smell!”
Delphine smiles and shakes her head No, continuing her aimless ambling unhurried. Other men and women call out to her, most trying to make a sale, though some let fly a greeting when they recognize her. She replies politely, but stops at none.
She cannot feel your hand, though its guidance is strong in its subtlety. Her wandering is in fact predestined; her path is set out before her as if you had planted signs in the cobblestones.
She slows at the sound of the voice, her reply hesitant. “Hullo, Cervus.” A few short steps bring her before him, his own long strides closing the distance between them quickly. Looking upon his dark eyes and heavy features she sees his brow furrow, his nose wrinkle, and his lips purse.
“You have the stench of foul smokes upon you, Delphine,” Cervus says. “Is that old woman still forcing you into the Kuriakon?”
“I am an acolyte of the temple, so she must. I must,” she states. A rosy flush tinges her cheeks, more from embarrassment than anger at his frank words.
His gaze descends to the laid stones of the square, shamed with his quick speech. “Wait here a moment. I’ll return shortly.” He calls the last words over his shoulder as he trots off.
“Men,” Delphine sighs. Truthfully, she’s saddened at his sudden departure, left alone in the market.
Foolish girl, you were alone already, she thinks to herself.
A second smile blossoms within you, you know that she is rarely alone. You are her constant companion, in waking and in sleeping.
As promised, Cervus returns after only a few anxious moments, hands clasped behind his back.
“Here, this is for you.”
He drops a thin wreath of strung flowers over Delphine’s head and onto her shoulders.
“Their scent is more fitting, I think.”
Delphine blushes anew and whispers her thanks.
“Are you here on an errand?” Cervus asks, eager to break the uneasy silence.
The young woman shakes her head, “No, I’m just taking time away from my studies. I should probably go back soon, in truth.”
“Let me walk with you, I need to visit a butcher anyway.”
Delphine nods. The butchers congregate their stalls close to the Kuriakon, promising forgiveness and favours with each ceremonial offering they sell.
The pair walks leisurely through the market, Delphine in no hurry to return, Cervus in no hurry to leave her. Idle chatter passes between them, more to stave off silence than to carry an actual conversation.
With your guidance they will grow close.
When they reach the foot of the temple stairs, Cervus’ words become more serious. “Delphine, you don’t have to do what the oracles say.”
“They are what I am training to become,” she answers.
“Don’t become them,” Cervus interjects. “Surpass them. You can see more of the world with your eyes open than closed or clouded with smoke.”
Before Delphine can reply he turns to go, leaving her with only his words and gift of fragrant flowers. She breathes in their scent deeply, and then ascends the steep stairs to the Kuriakon.