Thorn of the Rose
By A. Broadhead
The moonlight lit the paths leading away from the village square, silvering the hair and hoods of the wuyon’mari streaming into it. Its light was overpowered by the lanterns in the square itself however, shining blue and violet, green and gold, from the branches of the white-barked trees. Keelath took a sniff of the air, scented with herbs and exotic perfumes and all kinds of food.
The Long Dark holiday was in full swing.
He had been to the midwinter celebration a few times since their family had moved to Thalas’talah, but his younger brother, Tyrric, had not. Keelath grinned to himself as Tyrric dashed from one vendor to the next, giddy as a boy half his age, and the young wuyon’mar didn’t seem to know what to pay the most attention to first: the food, the girls, the drink, the crafts, or all of them at once. It was a haphazard version of the latter he chose, as far as Keelath could tell. He glided along behind his brother, making sure Tyrric didn’t get into any trouble.
A train of wagons was pulled into the center of the square, though they looked like cheery little houses on wheels more than wagons, painted in reds and greens and yellows. Four of them were pulled into a half-square — two on either side and two forming the back — with their awnings stretched out to create a sheltered space between them. A crowd was forming outside it, waiting with a tense air like they were forming lines for tickets to see an exotic beast. Then someone began to sing, clear and piercingly beautiful.
Tyrric paused in his sampling of a wine older than he was, but Keelath walked around the wagons, craning his neck. On this side, under the awnings, someone had draped curtains, painted and sewn in fanciful colors: a backdrop to a stage. A silver-haired woman stood on a hastily constructed deck, singing older hymns of Suorr’Lun interspersed with newer songs celebrating the sun and the wuyon’mari’s journey across the icy Glass Sea. This singer was better than many of the priestesses Keelath had heard, though she struggled with some of the pronunciations: not a true believer, or so Keelath took it to mean. She was singing instead for the benefit of her audience, as the dwellers of Thalas’talah were known to be especially devout. Keelath folded his arms and listened appreciatively.
“You know, they’d get more attention if they hired someone younger to take the role,” said Tyrric, suddenly appearing at Keelath’s side with half a pastry in his mouth.
“You’re spitting crumbs all over me,” said Keelath.
“It’s an improvement,” said Tyrric, then seemed to make his best attempt of choking himself by shoving the rest of the pastry in his mouth at once.
Keelath smiled, putting a hand on Tyrric’s back in readiness for having to knock his throat clear, then turned his attention back to the stage. The woman had ended her performance and was taking her bows, and other ‘mari were filing out on stage, preparing it and themselves for a play. It seemed they had taken Tyrric’s advice, as one of them was a young woman, taking the center in a gown that showed off her slenderness without quite being inappropriate.
Then the new woman began to sing, and it was Keelath who needed the help to keep from choking, as his breath caught in his throat.