As a child, my mother often expressed surprise at my aptitude for letters and numbers.
It seemed I took after my father, of whose presence in my life I could count on the fingers of my right hand. His work as a diplomat kept him busy, so in similar fashion, I - or at least my mother - endeavoured to keep myself preoccupied with the gifts of vellum and ink that arrived on our doorstep, their origins from everywhich corner of the land my father happened to be in. Fond days they were, for the family home sat atop a hill on the outskirts of the city, affording a limitless view from its rooftop veranda on all four sides. Mother had the luxury of several servants at her disposal, so I had few obligations except to answer the call for mealtimes. In the hours between, it was simply myself and the world, that stood quite literally at my feet. I took a child's innocent pleasure in studying all that scurried below; Mother had forbidden me to step outside our gates unescorted, so it was in this way that I found myself the ringmaster of my own show, with passers-by as miniature puppets enacting tales of my personal design.
When I turned sixteen, Mother bade me enter her room, where she sat me down and pressed a bolt of fine scarlet cloth in my arms. I remember how it gleamed like the ruby necklace I once saw her wear. "You must wear this tomorrow, sweet fig," she said with a smile that did not quite reach her hazel eyes. "Rise early, for we will go to the temple, and then there will be a feast."
I only learned later at dinner that the well-dressed, young stranger beside me was now my husband. Judging from the approving smiles on the faces around the table, it seemed a fortuitous union. He looked decent, had clean fingernails, and I found his loud, generous laugh quite infectious. When he leaned over and pressed his lips to my cheek as the servants came to take away the dishes, he smelled of myrrh and musk - enchanting, intriguing, a little exciting to my virgin senses.
The years that passed after that day have been lost to time, or so my memory would have it. Perhaps I choose to forget, or perhaps age has finally caught up to me, who can say?
The incense has burned low, its perfume lingers heavily in the confines of this room like the way the cloud hung in the sky that night like a velvet curtain.
The season had been unusually hot, unsurprisingly I suppose I found myself drenched from head to toe as I walked through the market hoping desperately to find the antidote to my empty despair. When it seemed like I had taken one turn too many through the maze that was the city, I felt a kind hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a man who called himself a wanderer, and away from the city walls he led me to where he made camp under the shelter of a blanket of stars.
Over a simple meal of vegetable soup, he waited patiently till my tears ran no more. Then he set our bowls aside and took my hands into his own, and with our heads bowed he whispered a promise that tomorrow my troubles would fade away. His words were foreign, so he bade me show him what letters I knew in my native tongue. I spelled out our alphabet, and laughed when he confused the phonetics for 'Tz' and 'Xc'. When I asked him in turn to show me the reason why he was here, he fetched his walking stick and drew a circling stroke in the sand. I did not recognize it despite all that I had studied in my youth, but to my thirsting mind and dying heart, it would be a symbol burned in my memory.
Then, he bade me repeat the promise earlier, and at that moment the evening sky lit up in a burst of flame over the place I had since then called home. We sat and watched through the night, till the glow of sunrise came to meet the fading embers of that inferno.
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