Zerian slipped out the back alley and into the throngs of mercantile shoppers and shopkeeps, many of whom were milling about during midday meals. He was nervous, but it didn’t deter him. It needed to be done, no matter what his mother had warned him.
Stay away from the Body Readers. They will not help you, only confuse you. They discarded the old ways in favor of the new. They will misdirect and mislead, and plant ideas that will not bear fruit. This is my only wish. Promise me, Zerian? Please?
Zerian kept walking, playing their conversation over and over again in his mind. With a determined frown he justified himself to her.
“Mom, don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. They can’t pull the lights out of my eyes. I will be vigilant – please trust me. I need help, I need second opinions…. and you’re not here.”
He shook off the last phrase. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t here. He was here in Atuva-tera of his own accord.
She was the one who didn’t want him to leave.
“I need to do this, Mom, I know this is right.” They were on the side terrace of the small farm house where they lived. Zerian had been apprenticing with Sol for almost five years and had mastered everything he needed to know about the terrain, soil conditions, horticultural varieties and breeding the fruit varietals that enjoyed the sloping hills of Verasco. He needed another challenge – and Sol had presented him with a job opportunity.
It was sunset, and late summer. The air was thick and jeweled, and the sunlight held a deeper resonance than it did in springtime. A weightier glow.
A presence of possibility.
“Sol wants me to open a shop in Atuva-tera.” His smile and enthusiasm were not returned, and her eyes had widened.
He would continue on: “He knows someone who excels at sales, who has worked with him before. We can run it ourselves and stock with Sol’s goods. Isn’t this amazing?! This is just what I was talking to you about the other night! A new challenge – taking things up a notch. This isn’t what I was thinking it would be – but I’m going to do it.”
His mother had worn no expression. She had looked shocked and belied, for whatever reason. He remembers feeling disbelief. What mother would not want her son to be an enterprising business owner? To make a name for himself in a great city-state like Atuva-tera? Was it fear of his wellbeing? Fear of loneliness if he went away?
Sure, they lived alone on the small farm, but she wouldn’t be lonely – she had Peri and Dorvi nearby, and not to mention Lufan from the neighboring farm. Oh, how he would miss Lufan.
The minutes had marched by. She wasn’t responding. She had sat down at the garden knee wall, staring at the distant tree line. He remembered the sunlight haloing her shoulders, her green and gold aura swirling and catching its glimmer.
He remembers coming up behind her and giving her a warm embrace, and how she sobbed into his arms as soon as he did.
“I’m not dying Mom – please don’t act like I am.” She sighed and laughed lightly, and set her hand on the side of his face.
“Right you are, dear Zerian. I’m just surprised. The day has come. I always knew you would never be happy staying here. I think I had convinced myself that this decision was not expedient.” She sniffled and laughed, hugged him tightly, and sobbed quietly into his arm again.
“Just promise me one thing. Please?”
“Anything Mom, anything.”
The canal and adjacent thoroughfares leading to the city center were bright and bustling with activity. He smelled the sting of salt water and sweat in the air as he walked. His shop was in the main shopping veranda – the market place proper, with the most competitive prices and best products from around the known world. A very desirable site, indeed – Sol had an excellent relationship with the city proprietor.
Out of the main business district, here by the sunny canal and green grasses full of horses grazing, there were smaller carts and merchants; restaurant stands were numerous, and offered soups and terrines and skewers of meat and greens galore. All of them competing for the mid-day shopper’s attention, kicking up a lot of noise and selling as hard as they could.
Zerian slipped by them without making eye contact. He walked along the canal for a bit before turning into an older and tighter part of the city, closer to the city center and closer to the temple and citadel. Here were the richer residents of the city, many of them a part of the governing body overseeing day to day operations of the city-state, and many of them also disciples, initiates, and students of the temple on high, the Temple of the Graces.
Zerian wasn’t in the mood to ruminate or sightsee in this part of the city that he had rarely ventured. He turned down a smaller alley, only wide enough for pedestrian traffic, and looked for the small gallery with red marble pillars and the distinctive banner on the outside. He had seen it once before, when delivering goods to one of Sol’s smaller subsidiaries.
The noonday sun was hot and heavy, and tugged his eyelids down. He was growing weary when he caught a glimpse of it: a white cloth with a sun, superimposed on the four cardinal directions and surrounded with an aura. The sign and banner symbol of the Readers.
His heart quickened as he started up the steps, drew a sharp breath, and silenced the promise to his mother.
Continue to Part 6
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