Lydia nervously sat on a large log by herself with her head supported by her hands as she listened to all the sounds that came with a gathering around a bonfire. In light of her recent rise to the position of Oracle, Lydia had been chosen by the civilians of the Mercurial City around the lighthouse to be the guest of honor for the week-long Autumn festival that occurred during the week of the fall equinox; a three day celebration prior, a particularly large feast on the night of, and two more days of celebration after the matter.
Tonight marked the opening of the festivities on the edge of town near the tree orchard. Though the sun was still setting, the civilians were already busy with preemptive drinking and merry-making fun. The flames from the fire burned hot, and children danced about as they skirmished with sticks.
“Hey lady,” Lydia heard a young female voice that followed eager little footsteps through the grass. The child didn’t sound much older than seven or eight years of age.
“Hello,” Lydia looked up from her slumped position and smiled. She’d come to love the curiosity and energy that younger kids carried despite the fact that she herself hadn’t quite hit adult-hood.
“What happened to your eyes? They look weird,” the little girl comment without realizing how rude she was being.
“Oh. I uh,” Lydia scratched her head as she felt her face turn beet red. Mortified, she found herself at a loss for anything to say and unable to come up with an answer for the child. Without another word, Lydia stood and walked off as the beginnings of tears welled up in her eyes.
“Hey! What’s wrong,” the girl called out. Uncertain of what had happened, the young girl shrugged and skipped off to play with her friends. Lydia blindly wandered off as quickly as she could without tripping on the small inconsistencies of the dirt. She didn’t know where she was going, nor did she care. The girl she knew could find her way back so long as she didn’t wander so far off that the sounds of the festival disappeared.
It was then that Lydia rammed into a solid obstacle. She hadn’t been hit hard, but it had startled her badly enough that she fell backward onto her butt.
“Hey! Would watch where you’re-” the young male voice that had spoke so harshly paused before lightening up, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t realize. Let me help you up Oracle Lydia,”
“I’m fine,” Lydia stated bitterly as she wiped the tears from her eyes and simply sat cross-legged to try to preserve her now twice wounded pride.
“Are you alright Oracle?”
“Please, stop calling me that. It’s just Lydia. And no, you didn’t hurt me.”
“It’s just I wasn’t expecting someone to come marching out here while I was making a shot at a pheasant. So I guess I got a little upset when your impeccable timing caused me to miss the mark.” The young man paused as he realized Lydia was uninterested in his explanation. “Uh, my name is Markus. Good to meet you.” Lydia remained silent with her head turned away in hopes that Markus would miss her sniffling. “So, is something wrong? I mean I’m not mad at you or anything.”
“I know, I just need to be left alone right now. I don’t want to talk to anyone,” Lydia managed to keep a respectful tone despite the maelstrom of anger and embarrassment that flooded her mind.
“It sounds to me like you should talk to someone then,” Markus chuckled. Lydia could hear the young man sit down next to her before laying his arm across her shoulder. “If it’ll make you feel better I’m all ears.” Lydia shrank when met with the unexpected physical contact. She didn’t know him, but his flesh was warm and admirably firm.
“It’s really stupid, I just need time,” Lydia replied. Markus remained silent to prompt the girl to continue speaking. When the girl realized he wasn’t going to back down, she decided it was impossible to make more a fool of herself than she already had. “My father and I were very close when I was younger. That was before… well it was before a lot of stuff I’d rather not talk about. We always went to the docks to work. I could only help for a while before I got tired or bored and went off to play,” Lydia leaned toward Markus almost subconsciously as she began to grow more comfortable. She couldn’t explain why she’d decided to display such affection toward someone she’d only just met under such humiliating circumstances. “At the end of the long twelve hour days I was always exhausted. He’d carry me home in his arms, stare into my eyes and tell me how much I looked like my mother. How I had the same beautiful deep brown eyes that he fell in love with.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Markus commented after Lydia had gone quiet. “So what’s wrong then?”
“It was just some dumb kid telling me how ugly my eyes look now, after I was shrouded. I know its silly, I shouldn’t have taken a thoughtless comment from a child so personally. It just hurt to have one of my fondest memories assaulted,”
“I understand,” Markus assured her. Lydia took a deep breath while her new companion waited to see if she had anything else to say on the matter.
“I’m going to go back to the festival. It was rude of me to run off in the first place being the guest of honor and all. I guess if you want you can go after that pheasant.”
“I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind. It’ll be long gone by now anyway.” Markus stood and assisted Lydia to her feet.
“Thanks. I don’t make a habit of spilling my issues all over the place, I’m sorry,” Lydia apologized as she followed Markus toward the sound of the per-festivities.
“I asked, and you spoke. Don’t worry about it.” Markus sat Lydia down on the same log she’d been sitting on only a while back.
“Are we friends now? I don’t meet new people very often. I mean, I see new people all the time, but I don’t really meet them. Well obviously I don’t really see them because I’m blind. And you knew that,” Lydia rambled nervously.
“Yes, we’re friends,” Markus chuckled. “It’s okay to relax. We’re here to have fun, remember, not make public impressions.”
“Yeah,” she forced a laugh as her face once again grew warm with embarrassment. “So what do you do,” Lydia asked to force the subject matter away from her own idiocy.
“I’m a hunter by trade. I helped catch the boar for the Autumn Festival this year. I’m still learning from the veterans who’ve been at it for twenty years, but I like to think I’m a fair shot,” Markus explained. “What about you? I mean, what do you even do as an Oracle?”
“A lot. But mostly I sit on the base level and try to offer wisdom to those who seek it.”
“That sounds difficult.”
“It is. A lot of people don’t realize how much weight they’re putting on my shoulders. I don’t have all the answers.” Lydia paused for a moment as she thought on her words. “I don’t have any answers. I can’t actually help most people who come to me. I’m still not sure what to do about that.”
“You are the eyes and ears of the temple, aren’t you?”
“So they say.” She wasn’t entirely sure where Markus was taking the conversation.
“So go out and live. Get into trouble and get your hands dirty.”
“I don’t know, I would have loved that idea when I was younger. I’d be too scared to ever leave the city now,” Lydia admitted.
“Well, you won’t learn anything from staying cooped up in one spot. If you want to give advice on how to live, you need to live first.” The girl nodded as she realized there was truth to his words.
“Maybe you’re right.” Before she could continue any further, she was interrupted by the voice of the Mayor as he took command of everyone’s attention in front of the bonfire.
“Ladies and gentlemen! This year has been good to all of us. The fields have thrived and the cattle are fat. I did not do this alone but it is you, the citizens of the Mercurial City, that have allowed us to thrive and reap what we’ve all worked so hard to sow. But enough of this. I won’t bore you all with a long speech,” the mayor smiled and the crowd gave a hushed chuckle. “Tonight, let us start by formally introducing our Guest of Honor, Oracle Lydia!” As the citizens cheered and applauded, Markus pulled her up by the hand. “Lydia, front and center, if you would,” the mayor managed to say over the crowd.
Lydia followed Markus as he guided her to the mayor in front of the blazing fire. The older man took her hand and kissed it softly to signify he was honored by her presence.
“Do you have anything to say to the citizens of the Mercurial City?” The people went quiet at the mayor’s signal to allow her to speak.
“Um, thank you,” she managed to say under the unexpected spotlight. “Oracle Jannice was an amazing woman. It was hard to see her go only five short weeks ago. But I hope that I can follow in her steps despite her early departure from this life.” Lydia gave a quick bow and the citizens cheered once more as the sound of mugs colliding rang from every direction.
“So, Lydia, are you ready to start the Autumn Festival,” the Mayor asked. Lydia nodded quickly. She had already had more than her share of publicity for the week. “As our Guest of Honor, you have the privilege of delivering the killing blow to the biggest boar that our hunters caught over the course of the day.”
“What?” Lydia was startled. She had no desire to deliver a killing blow to anything. She felt the mayor hand her a wooden bow with one arrow. “I’ve never fired a bow before, shouldn’t we let someone else do it?”
“Nonsense,” Markus piped up. She hadn’t realized he was still standing at her side. “I’ll help you make the shot.”
“O-okay,” she hesitantly agreed after her only real excuse had been shot down. The mayor and Markus both guided Lydia to her position as several men carried a sedated boar that had been tied down to a custom made wooden table before setting it in front of her approximately 10 meters away. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“It’ll be fantastic,” Markus assured as he guided her bow arm toward the boar and helped her nock the arrow on the bow-string. The taller young man pressed his chest against Lydia’s back and rested his head next to hers. The excited crowd fell to a low chatter as everyone waited for the big moment. “Now pull it back,” he instructed with a whisper in her ear. Lydia pulled on the arrow as her arm trembled under the tension of the bow. After he realized she was straining, he held onto her wrist firmly to take hold of some of the pressure. “Now aim right there,” he adjusted the aim of the bow toward the heart of the boar, “and hold it steady.”
“I can’t concentrate with you breathing in my ear like that,” Lydia hissed quietly. The young man briefly massaged her shoulder before bringing his hand down Lydia’s side and onto her abdomen as he gently embraced her.
“Take the shot,” Markus smiled as he whispered heavily into her ear. Lydia blinked rapidly to focus on the shot and avoid melting in Markus’ arms.
The arrow flew straight as Lydia released her grip and the metal tip buried itself into the flesh of the boar. The pig gave a grunt, still alive, but it’s mind was too clouded with magic to care or respond to the damage done.
Meanwhile, Lydia felt a cold sensation in her side while her legs buckled and caused her to fall weakly to her knees. Quickly the numbing cold transitioned into searing hot pain that made it impossible to breathe, Lydia felt her side to discover an uncomfortable abundance of blood flowing from a wound that seemed to come from no where.
“What’s wrong,” Markus asked, suspecting the girl had become nauseous at the thought of killing the boar.
“I’m bleeding,” she strained between labored breaths. “Help me, I can’t breathe!” Lydia coughed violently and the unpleasant taste of iron filled her mouth as blood dripped onto her chest and on the grass beneath her. Panic ensued in the crowd, but the cries of the citizens quickly grew distant.
“Lydia,” Markus called to her urgently. The young man’s voice was only barely audible, and it was the last thing Lydia heard before slipping into unconsciousness.
TO BE CONTINUED-/-WIP