Piece VI - A

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“What is that?” a bearded guard bobbed his head at direction of the object emanating soft blue light. His clean shaved companion held the tent flaps above his head. The tip of his matchlock musket poked behind his right shoulder, and his flamboyant yellow feather headpiece lightly swayed with the breeze.

        “A blood lamp.” Gwendolyn bit her thumb hard and let blood drop into a round flask, making the liquid radiate a more intense shade of blue. The item intrigued the bearded guard. Nodding to his companion, they hauled up the tent canvas and tossed it aside. The scene attracted audiences from nearby tents. Several other guards also came into the scene.

     Moments earlier, Gwendolyn noticed shadows forming on the tent’s flaps. She nimbly set Clover's ball light off, scooped the lamp from her bag and lit it up as the tent flaps lifted. 

      “That was amazing!” the clean shaved guard said as he tapped his companion’s shoulder. “Where did you get that?” He wielded the same weapon and wore the same clothing as his companion except for the black feather headpiece.

          “I forgot the name of the kingdom but I got this beyond Sahara,” Gwendolyn said. 

         “You’re a trader?” the guard with yellow headpiece examined Gwendolyn’s face.

          “Yes.” 

         “You could pass as an eighteen year old to me,” his clean shaved companion said. Meanwhile, the higher ranking guard laid his eyes on the teapot sitting beside the blood lamp.

        “The exotic kingdom beyond Sahara…” the clean shaved guard said. “Isn’t it where the bronze colored women with hypnotic eyes live?”  

        Leon and Clover fell silent since the guards barged in. The former watched the guards’ actions discreetly, while the latter locked her eyes on her clenched fists. Clover’s hands became colder and her lips disappeared into a thin line when the bearded guard moved towards her direction.

         “Traders sure get their hands on pretty stuff,” he sat beside Clover, hanging his musket on his left shoulder instead. He picked up the lamp and got a better look at it. 

            “Did you also get those glassware from that kingdom?” He pointed at the tea set.

          “No! Umm, I got them from… Lalune.” Gwendolyn almost let panic consume her. She did not get those items from her travels.

            “Lalune? I see. Would you mind if I take a look on the tea pot?” Gwendolyn handed the glassware. 

            He examined the embossed leaves on the tea pot’s base and handle. Its craftsmanship made it fit for palace – it would not be normally sold in markets.  He signaled to his subordinates, the guards among the crowd, to form a barricade around them. Clover’s posture stiffened, but the cousins remained calm.

     “Hey! Don’t forget about my question!” the clean shaved guard inched towards Gwendolyn to ask. “Is it true that women beyond Sahara have hypnotic eyes? I heard they have better figures than women from this land,” he said as he drew curves in the air.

       “It’s their big dark eyes that make it hypnotic... Would you like some candy from their land?” Gwendolyn handed out delis to the two guards to distract their attention. The cube treats were smothered with white tasteless powder that balanced its sweetness and stickiness.

        The clean-shaved guard, who seemed to be fond of women beyond Sahara, picked a piece of deli. “They’re too sweet! Though, I’m sure my daughter would want some.” He was about to ask for some for his child when he heard a glass break, and some gasps. 

          The teapot lay in pieces a few feet beyond the bearded guard. “A teapot of such craftsmanship, even nobles would find it hard to acquire,” he looked at Gwendolyn sternly for a moment before turning his gaze to the broken glassware. He seemed to be waiting for something to happen.

          “Trader, what’s your name?” the guard who broke the glassware asked. 

          “Gwendolyn.”

        “Miss Gwendolyn, may I see your medallion?” Instead of a medallion, she handed a small parchment.  “So you’re at lower rank than a common trader,” the bearded guard passed the parchment to his companion, and stood up. 

          “I am a trader!” Gwendolyn said.

          “Why don’t you have a medallion then?” the bearded guard said.

          “Eh? You could have changed craft after the final challenge,” the clean-shaved guard said after skimming the parchment. According to the legal document, Gwendolyn could be considered a basic-level trader based from her experience, skill, and craft. He wondered why ‘skill’ and ‘craft’ referred to different abilities. 

          “Shifting crafts is not allowed in The Land, they’re still in the old world.” The bearded guard enlightened his companion.

        In Soleil, a native fledgling is allowed to shift craft when he or she failed his or her final challenge at twenty-one. Skill pertains to the abilities one uses in his or her craft; hence, skill and craft refer to the same set of abilities. When a fledgling changes his or her craft, the skills he or she obtained from his former would be of no worth. This policy made it possible for every Soleil folk to possess a medallion.

        In the rest of the world, failure to pass the final challenge would mean confiscation of the fledgling's medallion, and he or she could only hold menial job positions. To give chance to those who failed, they were allowed to take informal training on trading or archiving, and would be awarded a legal document which would entitle them to somehow partake in either craft's business. 

            “That paper is a petty excuse to grant her trading capabilities,” the bearded guy said. “It’s just consolation,” he added as his companion returned the document to Gwendolyn.

             At that time, almost all refugees in the community had gathered around the scene. The crowd parted as Lord Petrarch’s wife stepped forward and asked, “I am Lord Petrarch’s wife. What is the meaning of this ruckus?”

          Another guard with black feather headpiece approached her, “We’re sorry to bother your peaceful evening My Lady but Soleil justice must be served.”

              “You have already ruined my evening” Lord Petrarch’s wife whispered.

              “My Lady?”

            “Drop your honorifics. That woman is nothing more but a mere commoner now that their town is in ashes,” another guard approached the Lady. Taken aback when she heard that Greendale was no more, the Lady took some time to respond. “I am not sure what have become of my town but my townspeople are here, alive.”

               “Hence, Greendale is still alive. We are Greendale!” she added. Their conversation had now attracted listeners.

           Earning several nods from the Greendale natives, the Lady regained her composure. “Now, what Soleil justice must be served tonight?”

           “A woman claiming to be a trader is in possession with suspicious goods.”  Gasps and screams from the crowd shifted their attention back to the prime cause of disturbance.

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