Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Dice Games and Other Pursuits

3rd Day Winter Festival YT330,  Aeyep Encampment nr Khorzow
' The following morning ‘Ektor arrived promptly seeming eager to see her. Helena, enthused at the prospect of visiting an actual Aeyep camp, needed only a little persuasion to accompany him – nonetheless she was a little concerned about venturing so far only a day after her bleeding had stopped. And she sighed when she realised that it was their intention to walk to the site. Surely there was an opportunity in this city for an enterprising individual with a comfortably small wagon and team ! The party left the city via the Opolla Gate, crossed the bridge and proceeded southward for about a mile before the camp came into view. Never happy to walk even Helena had to concede that the stroll had been pleasant enough, the weather was crisp and clear and the ground frozen hard enough to ensure sound footing.

The camp itself was a busy affair, open to any who ventured that way, with caravans, wagons, tents, stalls, horses and a great many people all milling about in a seemingly random arrangement though Helena sensed a certain functionality to the apparent disorder. The people themselves were swarthy in complexion and almost universally dark of hair. Many were dressed much as any Tjlar she had seen while others, particularly the women, wore what she took to be more traditional garb.

As they approached the Aeyep men began to gather around Helena admiring her good looks and blonde hair – strutting, preening and making off colour comments. Some of the woman cast jealous looks in her direction. This macho posturing swiftly grew more physical as several of the men engaged in what she had to presume was ‘play wrestling’. All this dramatic posturing was probably innocuous but Helena wasn’t used to such overt attention finding it both embarrassing and rather intimidating. She made sure she stood good and close by ‘Ektor’s comforting masculine bulk. One of these Aeyep stepped right up to her and asked whether she had ‘the sight’. Not quite sure what they meant Helena shrank back even closer to ‘Ektor and replied that she might read their auras if one of them had a particular need ? She narrowed her eyes and glanced around again. Perhaps there was some form of ‘taint’ that might explain their lascivious behaviour ? Tempted, despite the sunlight, she quickly cast the effect and looked about her with veiled interest. But there was nothing overtly suspicious about the Aeyep. Other than revoltingly robust health they seemed much as other men to her magical inspection. Then, she spotted another man skulking surreptitiously around the camp’s perimeter, watching but not engaging. To her sight it was clear that he was hiding something. She pointed him out to the wrestlers but they shrugged off her comment, remarking that ‘he was just new’.

The group mingled further – Tolarr and ‘Ektor at the beer tent, Gorran looking around for Aeyep he might know (for he claimed to have worked closely with one of the clans the previous year) and Hamec keeping an eye over Helena. ‘Ektor drank with some of the Aeyep men determined to find out whether they had suffered similar depredations to Tjlar merchants when on the roads. “No”, they responded. “Why should anyone target us ? We aren’t careless Tjlar merchants. And we have our symbols, herbs and others secrets that keep us safe.”

Helena was far too distracted by all the attention conferred upon her, and by the fascinating surrounds, to pursue any enquiry. She noticed a stall of herbs under a canopy off to one side. With some considerable excitement she grabbed Hamec by the arm and led her escort in that direction. In Byzantion Glykeria had told her the Aeyep were often a source of rare and unusual ingredients but here there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary on display. Helena was a little disappointed but then she spotted a group of old men sat a little out of the way, focused on a game of yacta. Stepping closer she could see that their dice were of the very best quality – professional gamblers she thought, equipped with the best tools of their trade, rather than rich men at play. With a frisson of excitement, she considered testing her skill against theirs, but then she noted ‘Ektor’s disapproving stare in her direction. She decided not to push the issue. The visit had been entertaining but a short time later, when it came time to walk back to Khorzow, Helena was relieved to leave all the blatant attention behind. The men’s flagrant sexual interest was both embarrassing and unseemly, and had quickly become rather tiresome. Their ribald banter struck her as both banal and puerile, like to become tedious in very short order. '

From the journal of Helena Basileiou