This was a fairly pleasant little town, Lysandra decided, strolling along the street with an empty basket braced against one hip. The sounds of the market, where she could get the last few supplies they wanted, echoed along the streets from somewhere ahead, but there was no great hurry. The travelling show had left that morning, heading towards a more northerly market fair; since the Garden lay to the southwest, and apparently not much farther, they’d parted ways amicably. Not having a show to rush back to prepare for was something of a relief: she loved dancing for an audience, any audience, but at times that ran to several performances a day when with a travelling show, and it was hard to sustain the level of passion and energy under those conditions, even with Meyar’s support.
On the other hand, it meant that they made money and had a somewhat more civilized journey than most of the family were accustomed to, rather than sleeping outside and living off whatever they could find or hunt or barter for. The latter wasn’t a way of life she felt particularly eager to embrace.
The buildings here were mostly stone, a much more yellowish and grainy sort than the pale marble of Enodia, and the structures had very different lines. Many upper-floor windows had boxes outside them with green plants, a few of them flowering brightly. The streets themselves were cobbled, and less clean than she’d have liked, but better than a few places they’d been. Of course, with so many people and animals about all the time, trying to control the amount of litter and organic waste would probably have been a hopeless task. There was a surprising amount of glass around here, she noted, not for the first time. Most windows were glazed, and sometimes had odd little decorative glass things catching the sun. Glass was known in many areas, but was usually expensive.
The most direct route to the market meant leaving the wider streets for the narrower ones that were probably older. Much of the ground floor consisted of small businesses with signs swinging over the doors, many of them faded and flaking. Even here, windows were usually glazed—though more often with many tiny tiles sealed together. Crowded between buildings, here and there, external wooden flights of stairs led up to the floor above, which was probably living space for shop owners and others. For some, a cart pushed by hand or drawn by a goat or a scrawny donkey offered a more mobile sort of business.
For all the differences between this and Enodia, she had to admit that she felt far more at home in an urban environment. Some things were the same anywhere large numbers of human beings gathered to live and work, no matter the precise local details.
“Hey, pretty girl. Saw you dance.”
Lysandra glanced towards the source of the voice. A trio of men lounged against the wall of a shop with a sickle and knife crossed on the sign; she guessed them to be in their thirties, in well-worn sturdy clothes. Since the local population was generally rather dark-skinned, it was impossible to tell whether they usually worked outside under the sun, but they certainly hadn’t developed muscles like that in a clerical job. Curious to find out where this was going, she paused, and said neutrally, “I hope you enjoyed it.”
“Oh yeah. A whole lot,” said the one in the middle, the tallest. “And enjoyed it even more once I was home by myself.”
His friends snickered.
Well, that happened if you deliberately played with the sensual. It was going to give people fuel for fantasies afterwards. Announcing that publicly was rather crude, though.
She shrugged and smiled. “I’m glad I could help you and your hand have a special night.”
She only made it a few steps farther before the trio blocked her path. The tallest one moved closer still, in what she thought was an attempt to loom over her; he looked briefly disconcerted by the realization that she was as tall as he was, and even more so that she met his eyes steadily.
“Yes?” she said, pitching her tone to mild inquiry.
“With what you do on a stage, I bet you do even more in private.” He looked her over measuringly.
She didn’t recognize the verb in the invitation that followed, but the general gist was clear enough.
She sighed and regarded him wearily. “Seriously? That’s the best you can do? What’s in it for me? Being groped a bit and then bending over for you?” Deliberately mirroring him, she ran her gaze appraisingly up and down the length of his body. “You’re a handsome man. If you’d put a bit more effort into it, I would’ve been willing to get a drink somewhere and talk and maybe see what comes of that. And why are you trying to intimidate me? Are you expecting me to suddenly realize how manly you are and fall into your arms? Unlikely, but better than the alternative, that you’d want to scare a woman into unwilling sex.”
With every word, she watched his expression progress from blankness to confusion to anger. He had a mental script for this whole encounter, and as usual, refusal to follow it registered as a hostile act.
As though everything he’s done and said haven’t been offensive in every sense.
“Think you’re too good for me, whore?” he spat. “Or are you too busy,” there was that word again, “with anyone who’ll pay you? You figure you’re good-looking enough to be choosy instead of flattered, do you?”
She didn’t consider herself a great beauty, although with a little effort on clothes and makeup she could create something that passed for it; the miraculous gift Meyar had given her, bringing body and self into alignment, had left her skeletal structure the same as before, while altering things like fat locations and skin texture and that one great change between her legs. The face that looked back to her from mirrors was essentially the same one that always had. On the other hand, she felt absolutely at home within her own body, and dancing gave her flexibility and strength, grace and control, and she didn’t have much trouble finding appreciative company when she wanted it. Thus, the intended insult was notable only for its complete lack of originality.
“Here’s a hint for the future,” she said. “If what you want is to get your friends here in bed, then say something that will impress them with how tough and dominant you are. If what you want is for a woman to be receptive, try saying something that will give her a reason to think you have something to offer that’s worth her time. Insulting her and expecting her to be flattered will get you farther with your friends than it will with her. I hope you and your hand have a healthy relationship, because you’ll be spending a lot of time alone together if this is your idea of courtship. This conversation is over.”
She more or less expected that the tall one, in particular, would escalate this in an effort to regain face and minimize the damage done to his ego. She had no sympathy: he’d started this nonsense, and if he didn’t like her response to it, that was his problem.
“You’re probably all show anyway,” he said, and spat on the ground at her feet. “Who the,” another unfamiliar term, “do you think you are, getting all insulting just because a man thinks you’re worth,” that earlier verb again.
Oh, that was such a compliment, when he’d probably seize any opportunity, and any woman, available.
(chapter continued next post!)