Some people cope with the ridiculous summer heat in Tassato better than others.

What you leave behind

The days have been hot, as summer settles into Tassato: too hot, reminiscently hot in ways that I am not yet ready to cope with. During the day, I keep close to the pools in the courtyard, dipping my feet in the cool waters, splashing some on my neck. It’s the only time I can sleep, when it finally comes to me; leaning back into the shade of the apple tree, my feet still in the waters.

–She feels like someone is watching her, as she slinks away, with beads of sweat dotting her brow, and eyes that glow like coals, determined to burn on despite the lack of flame.–

And it pains me, how when my skin starts beading with sweat and I can feel it trickling down, that the memories are coming more frequently, unbidden, and I cannot stop them.

It’s only as evening sets in that I can get anything done, return to my rooms and prepare for the night’s activities. Venture out in the cooling air to find family, visit the Church and check in on business to be done, visit Samantha at the Armouries to see how my new chain is progressing. The small daily tasks that help remind me that I am back in Tassato, back home, safe; that for at least some hours of the day I can leave behind the oppressive heat.

–business done in the evening hours, when she manages to slip away. Trading in false coin, bribes and secrecy, and always with a pit of fear in her stomach. She used to enjoy the thrill of outwitting others, but she’s lived this life for so long–one year, or was it two?– that thrill has turned to terror; she was gambling with her freedom now, and she’s only got one hand to play. The business would end, the deck stacked a little more for the draw, and she would grind her teeth, bite her lips ’til they bled, to force herself to return before she was missed, because it wasn’t yet time to draw her hand and play. Everything she was, distilled down to business in the evening, and returning before dark.–

The nights keep me busy, entertained and jostled amongst family members that revel in the mischief that they cause. One night, an evening’s drinking that ends in Mondragone being fully swept up by his muse. On another night, gambling that ends in only ‘Drigo leaving the den with his shoes, and Civetta ‘explaining’ to Anguila why one does not double-down one’s bets. Under the night sky, each evening, I can watch and wait, and see how the family embraces the night, and step in where needed. And last night turned this morning, I’m running home, casting my eyes around for I feel I’m being watched again. Heading home with an arm that’s broken for my troubles, but that bravo will think twice before he grabs me again.

–She’s adamant in her refusal, prying Alesso’s hands from her forearms as she fights him off while he tries to explain that the only thing she cannot do herself, she needs him for; and the price he asks isn’t so much, is it? His grip is stronger and he shakes her, hard. She’s not fighting him so much as fighting the knowledge that she does need his help, that she is responsible for his soul, and that for the price of freeing, of stealing back her Barossa war-face, her most beloved mask, she is willing to risk her life and his. He asks for freedom, and she’s not sure she’s strong enough to refuse…–

Early morning comes, before the heat of the day sets in over the city. It’s only at this time that my feet will lead me back home, to shuffle painfully out of heavy brocades and into light summery chemises, to wash away the night before I return to the garden and the pool and the oppressive heat of summer.

–“…A reward has been offered for the return of a slave woman, stolen — or absconded– from the house of…” She had waited all the night and well into morning, as the city awoke, for Alesso to arrive with her mask. Whatever had happened, he had failed to get away, which meant he was caught, which meant they knew she had escaped. Disguised, she went along with the market crowds to watch the display they made of him, strung up as an example to others. They might play at being civilized, beyond such things, but when faced with disobedience, there was no looking away from the sight meant to strike fear into the rest of the population. This was a lesson they made sure you would never forget, made sure you would never flirt with breaking tradition. She had never seen a worse death, when it finally came, when the screams and sobs finally faded and one couldn’t be sure what was left could still be called a body. She dared to pray that in the next life he might be born elsewhere. Anywhere but here.–

I dip my legs into the waters and lean back, the grass tickling my ears and neck, and shut my eyes against the sight of

–Alesso suspended above her, his tortured and shredded body hanging, lifeless. And upon his face is her mask, her beloved fox warface, blood soaked. A message of things to come should they find her, if she does not flee right now, and leave her mask behind–

against the sight of all the things I cannot unsee, against all the things left behind. Against the feeling that someone is still watching, and against the dull, glowing coals in my eyes that might burst into flame in the summer heat.


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