This is a first excerpt from The Invisible Hands – Part 2: Castling.
I chose a lighthearted scene from Chapter 14, The Other One, featuring Rullio and Merw.
I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Some time ago Rullio has promised to buy Merw a silver flute. Now they are visiting the cultured city of Mezyrna…They were basking in the sun, drinking a light cider from thick earthenware beakers that kept the drinks surprisingly cool. The front of the tavern was completely open which offered them shade without separating them from the hustle and bustle of the little square.
“Mezyrna has no city walls. Isn’t that strange?” Merw popped a peeled grape lightly drenched in a sweet alcoholic concoction in his mouth. “Seems fucking negligent,” he added, grimacing at the unexpected zest of the fruit.
“Mezyrna has no enemies, kitten. It is respected as a center of learning, culture and sports. And also of history. Did you know a lot of other cities, and even important families, keep a copy of their records here? There’s a tacit understanding to not burn down the library, nor the theater. And then there are the sports events. Did you know there is a long distance running competition every three years? They run around the city ten times.”
“Ooh, I’d like to try that, next time. I’m fucking fast, Rullio, when I put my mind to it.”
“In the nude,” Rullio said in a sober tone, looking sideways at his companion as he nipped from his beaker.
“What in the fucking nude, Rullio?”
“The race. The competing athletes have to run in the nude. It’s an ancient tradition. Something to do with pleasing Varendana, Goddess of Fertility. It, eh, attracts her attention. Did you know she is the sister of Murandana, Goddess of Hopeless Cases and Lost Causes?”
“I don’t give a fucking hoot whose sister she is. She’s a randy tart for all she is a Goddess. And you’re not competing in that race either, Rullio. Forget it.” Merw crossed his arms.
“I thought you—”
“That was before I knew this so-called competition was an orgy on legs, wasn’t it?” He gave Rullio a disapproving look. “Sometimes I wonder if naked men are all you think about, Rullio. I really do.”
“In my defense, kitten, I didn’t invent the race. The tradition is centuries old.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Ah. Our teacher explained it to us. It’s all part of being educated together with a prince, you see? You have to know about other countries and customs. They call Mezyrna the luckiest city on earth.”
“I bet they do with all those men running around in the fucking nude all the time.”
Rullio laughed out loud.
“No, kitten. There was a time all Aranquoran nations were united in the kingdom of Zyntrea. Then, one by one, major cities declared themselves independent. Zyntrea would have none of it and there was much fighting, for over two hundred years. But not here in Mezyrna.”
“All the cities between Mezyrna and Zyntrea fought for their freedom, often helping each other. Mezyrna did nothing, but in the end it was separated from Zyntrea by several newly independent cities lying in between. They just stopped paying taxes and there was nothing the kings of Zyntrea could do about it. Mezyrna had sort of drifted away out of their grasp.”
“By doing exactly fuck all? That’s awesome.” Merw grinned. “And you learned all that at the Royal Palace?”
“Our teacher brought it up because at the time there was a trade delegation visiting Ormidon. They showed us all kinds of artifacts. Fine fabrics, silver objects, leather—”
“My flute. My fucking silver flute,” Merw erupted. “You thought I had forgotten all about my silver flute, didn’t you?” He wagged a finger at the count. “Well, I haven’t. Right after we’ve finished our drinks you’re going to buy me my fucking silver flute.”
“I can’t get anything past you, can I?”
Merw noticed with satisfaction that Rullio was having a great time. Maybe it would all work out after all.
“I see the young gentleman knows his silverware,” the vendor behind the stall said. To Rullio’s dismay he took away a tray, put it somewhere under the counter and replaced it with another one with far costlier seeming flutes.
The little square was called the Silver Market, and silver was all they sold in the many stalls under the open gallery. Rare coins, goblets, bracelets, rings… in short everything that could be made out of the precious metal, including flutes.
“Now, these are of first rate quality. Forget the others. They’re cheap toys for children,” the stallholder said with a broad smile. He had immediately noticed that whatever the relationship between the two might be, it was clear one was a softhearted rich guy, and the other a spoiled brat.
“Can I try one?” Merw asked, looking at Rullio.
“Please do,” the man behind the stall replied. “Why don’t you try that one?” He pointed to what looked the most expensive of the lot.
Rullio winced, but Merw had already put the instrument to his lips and played a wistful tune.
“The sound is really beautiful,” he said as he gave the count an expectant look. He clutched the flute in his fist as if he was afraid someone would take it away from him.
“Then we’ll buy that one. You’re sure you don’t want to try some of the others?”
Merw shook his head.
“It’s a fine instrument, as well as a magnificent piece of craftsmanship,” the vendor said. He was a businessman and now being sure he had appraised the situation correctly, he was going to make the most of it. He produced another tray, this time with pouches made from fine leather, with silver clasps. “One of these will prevent this precious work of art getting scratched.”
Merw tentatively stroked one of the pouches.
“Very soft,” he approved.
“This one has an inner lining of dark blue velvet. The ultimate in protection. It’s a little bit more expensive, but worth every last sarth.”
Merw again looked at Rullio, who nodded in a resigned way. The count suspected his young friend expressly played the flute so as not to have to hear the exorbitant price the man behind the stall was asking. But it was only money, and the stallholder was right. It was worth every last sarth to see Merw happy.
“Let’s go to our lodging to rest for a while,” Merw proposed.
“You want to try out the flute, kitten?”
“Yes, I do. But I wasn’t thinking about the silver one.”