Chapter 11

“You will enjoy it.”

“The festival only happens once a year.”

“The Moon goddess will get offended if you do not go.’

At this, everyone turned around to glare at Aniko. “ She is considered an important figure in my family,” she firmly defended herself.

Aniko, Lanvin, the red-haired Meden who was named Adria, and I were standing in the Hospitium’s hallway. It was the day of the Moonsong Festival, and it seemed as if the entire town was in Master Kono’s neighbourhood. My companions were in the middle of convincing me to attend the festival with them, but I was adamant on not leaving Romanoff’s side. How could I enjoy myself when he was in a state of despair?

What will he want you to do?

I scrunched my face. That voice was in my head, once more. I knew it did not come from my own thinking. But did it sound so foreign only because it was at odds with my own stubbornness? But where did it come from? Why was it in my mind, torturing me ever so much? Was the supernatural a reality after all? I felt as if I was at war with myself, but I could not understand why.

“Monsieur Robin, I can stay here with Monsieur Romanoff if you want while you go,” Lanvin interrupted my thought process.

“No, no!” I said. “Don’t.. I don’t want to impose that on you. I can stay-”

“Nobody needs to do anything,” the Meden who had been quiet for a while, interrupted, in a firm voice. “I think everybody has forgotten this is a Hospitium with well-trained, on-duty staff. Now, Robin, this is the day of the Moonsong festival and I do not want to see you mopping around my floor for the day. If you do not go to the festival, I will not hesitate to have you forbidden from the premises for the day,” She glared.

“I-” I started.

“Effective immediately,” Adria’s look was fierce and relentless. Maybe I have to pick my battles.

“Fine,” I muttered.

The streets were empty as we stepped out of the Hospitium. Aniko and Lanvin were walking fast in excitement to reach the festival and I followed behind them. We rounded the corner to enter the Square- the earliest planners had ensured that the Hospitium was in a prime location- and we almost toppled Hades’s cart of baked goods. If he wasn’t so surprised at the almost-crash, and if Aniko hadn’t kept walking, I would have probably have had to turn around and come face to face with one of his most dangerous scowls.

“Sorry!” Aniko said, without stopping or looking back.

Aniko and Lanvin led the way to the East part of town where Master Kono’s house was. While the eastern part of Gratia was occupied by the oldest and richest neighbourhood, including Romanoff’s, the north-eastern was housed by middle and low-income families, including Lanvin. Kono’s house stood somewhere in the middle, serving to show that he was rich enough to not have to live in impecunious conditions, but also humble enough to not feel the need to occupy a house larger than he needed.

Alleys after alleys, all the houses passed by in a rush. There was hardly any traffic in the Square even though it was the middle of the day. There were fewer vendors and we passed by the Square in a matter of minutes. Suddenly they took a sharp left and I stumbled upon a maze of alleys once again.

“I have never seen the Square so empty,” I remarked out loud, as we left it behind.

Where were you in the past Moonsong Festivals?

“I don’t know,” I replied, out loud again.

“You don’t know what?” Aniko looked back at me.

I frowned.

“Nothing,” I shook my head, definitely. What was that? I scowled. Was I talking to myself now? Was it that alien voice again?

“You know sometimes it seems like you are talking to yourself,” Aniko laughed.

“Yes, I feel that way too sometimes,” I replied, softly, more to myself than to her. Was I going mad?

The alleys became narrower and downward sloping once again. We passed few people and, often, sinister looking ones. I remembered Leonardt’s comment about my clothing after the knife-attack. The dust on the edge of the pathways built up as we went deeper into the city.

“Have you ever wondered why the dust never goes away?” I attempted, again, to make conversation. “Every night they dust the alleys, but it is always back the next morning,” Don’t reply, please, I pleaded to that alien voice. I am not mad. I am not hearing voices.

Instead, Lanvin’s distinct, clear voice answered. “There are many stories about it, most about Gratia’s ancient history.”

“Myths?” Aniko’s eyes lit up. “Certainly adds to this city’s charm. With its alleys and gothic buildings, one wonders what more is needed,”

“You talk almost as if you are a foreigner!” I laughed.

She became very quiet, then.

“Were you not born here?” I asked.

“No” she replied, cautiously.

Lanvin stopped walking. “But everybody who lives in Gratia was born here… in the city,” I nodded, affirming I held the same knowledge. Lanvin and I stared at Aniko, who stared blankly at us.

“I wasn’t born here,” she repeated, dryly.

“Where were you born then?”

“It does not matter,”

    “Are you from…. beyond?” Lanvin’s eyes widened, in shock. If this news wasn’t so surprising to my, I might then have laughed out at his almost-comical expression. But Aniko turned back on her heels and continued walking, now with an urgency in her steps. Something had changed in her expression, after Lanvin had asked if she was from outside of the city.

As Lanvin and I followed her, I whispered to him in a faint voice. “Maybe we should not persuade her further,”

“I can still hear you,” Aniko affirmed, annoyance clear in her voice.

     We walked on in silence. A few minutes later, Aniko took a sharp right and our paths immediately opened onto a black metal door, a grotesque of a dog bearing sharp teeth. Aniko pressed against the already-open door leading us into a large courtyard. It was filled with large crowds of people and food stalls. I had never been in this neighbourhood before because I had always thought the Square to be the largest open space area I had seen in this eerie city. Kono’s courtyard was smaller, definitely, but unusually large for a city which consisted of mazes of alleys.

“Aniko!” a female voice laughed behind us. A girl, with dark hair ran towards us. “I cannot believe how late you are! Mother has not stopped asking about you!” She jumped into the grinning Aniko’s arms.

“Amara! So lovely to see you!” Her earlier annoyance had now dissipated away.

As their warm embrace broke, Amara turned to face Lanvin and myself. “And who are your friends?” she smiled, good-naturedly.

“This is Lanvin and Robin. Lanvin, you may know, is Ms. Monet’s son.”

“The town healer! Of course! Lanvin, I am so glad you could come to my father’s festival. Will your mother be joining us as well?” Realisation dawned on me. She was Master Kono’s daughter. It was then that I noticed the almost-trained grace that she spoke with. Her father had obviously geared her to be a kind and hospitable host.

“No, she is unwell,” Lanvin replied, somberly. I turned to look at him. Why did you not tell me, Lanvin? I communicated to him, through my eyes, but he would not look at me. His mother was unwell yet his concern for my godfather had been so unfailing.

“Well, I hope she gets better soon. Please do see my mother before you leave tonight, I know she would want to talk to you about her, see if there’s anything she can do,”

“Certainly, thank you,”

      Amara fixed her glance on me now. She had a fair complexion, and her black eyes sparkled darkly against her black hair. She wore a simple dark green gown that trailed behind her when she walked. She was just slightly shorter than Aniko and myself, but with her elegance she commandeered more notice.

“Robin, of… ?” she pressed.

“He is Monsieur Romanoff’s god-son” Aniko jumped in quickly, with more urgency than required.

Amara’s eyebrow went up in surprise, but she quickly retained her original composure. “Your grand father was the great writer.”

“Among other things” I smiled, simply.

“Yes, among other things,” Amara slowly repeated, as if swallowing every word, a faint, indefinable smile on her lips. “Well then, enjoy the festival. I am afraid I must steal Aniko from you both for a short while,” With that, the girls left arm in arm.

      We walked towards the crowd of people. The happy laughter of young children filled the air, there were hardly any children in my building so this was pleasant to hear.

“Would you like some hot, butter buns?” Lanvin asked.

       “Why not,” I replied. I loitered around nearby as Lanvin joined a moderately busy food stall. There were many food stalls hot baked goods, cold vegetables with spices, spicy meats, and chocolate. Above all, chocolate stalls- chocolate in bread, without bread, with biscuits, and even in a strange new concoction in a hot drink. I had never seen so much chocolate as I did at the festival. At a far corner, a group of children gathered around to play a game. I neared towards them.

A blond boy, of about ten, commandeered a group of five other children.

       “Ok, we will play Lucio now. You know the rules. Adelaide will close her eyes and sing. Everybody will dance. And when she opens her eyes and who ever is still moving, that person will lose. Okay?” He looked around to see everybody nodding their heads.

     I folded my arms. Wouldn’t the singer’s eyes be subjective? I rolled my eyes. Who ever came up with this game, anyway? Regardless, because of my curiosity I walked closer. Lanvin was not back yet. Then, I noticed another audience, a smaller group of children, watching on quite enviously.

Attendre!” I called out to the first group. The blond boy turned around to look at me, a self-assured, matter-of-fact expression on his face.

“Yes, Monsieur?”

     “Why don’t you invite those children to play with you too?” I suggested, “Vas-y, children, join in!” I gestured to the other group, who looked on with anxious faces now. One girl, perhaps the youngest in the group, took a step forward but was stopped by another boy who grabbed her hand. None of the others moved from their places.

“They can’t play,”

“Why not? Can’t you have more people?” I asked, confused.

“They’re not invited,”

I sighed. “Well, they look like they might enjoy the game too. Would you not have fun in a larger group?” I smiled, motioning towards them.

“Monsieur, this game is only for the Albens rosa…Now, if you would please excuse us,” Before I could protest further, he had returned to this group and the girl, Adelaide had started singing in a rhythmic tune.

I sing in the woods

I shout in the mountains

The raven stops to listen to me

The raven stops to listen to me

Oh raven, will you go and feed on your colour now? 

Will you not go and take away their light?

And throw them away, asunder

I retreated. Where had I heard the word, Albens rosa, before? It was Latin, I knew that much. I am certain I had come across it in my primary education.

“Rosa.. as in, of the rose?” I murmured to myself. A boy with strikingly shiny blond hair, and blue eyes had just been eliminated. I continued watching the game.

I sing in the woods

I shout in the mountains

The raven stops to listen to me

The raven stops to listen to me

Oh raven, your mind is bent on black murder

And when the spiders come for the remains,

You, throw them away, asunder

“Albens rosa… albens rosa…” I murmured.

         Adelaide stopped singing. A girl with long, blonde hair, wearing a shiny blue dress was eliminated. The dress trailed behind her, like Amara’s did, as she walked towards where the earlier boy stood. She burst into tears and he patted her on her head. Perhaps they were siblings because both children had blond hair and blue eyes. I looked at the remaining contenders. And it was then that realisation slowly dawned on me. No, they weren’t necessarily siblings… All the children shared a striking similarity- pale blond hair. I looked at the alienated group. Black hair, warmer skin tone.

      Albens rosa. A pale gray color in Latin. But more than simply being a colour, it was an ancient concept- of pure-bloodedness, kingly and queenly-ness, of being a wellborn.

      I stared onwards in horror as I realised the ghastly casteism playing out in front of me. This was a children’s game! Imbued with concepts of racism at such a young age, and in such an innocent manner… What sort of adults would they grow up to be?

I shook my head, still in shock. A dirty concept engrained in a dusty city’s history.

Slowly, I forced myself to leave them be, and walked back towards Lanvin, who was now walking towards me, struggling to balance the buns in his hands with a chocolate bun already in his mouth.

“I… wav… varving” He grinned. I laughed, weakly. As I reached to take a butter bun from him, somebody bumped into me.

“Oops, sorry!” A rusty voice said, hurriedly.

      “It’s okay,” I replied, without looking back. I was starving. I reached into the paper bag, and looked up as I took a bite. I then glanced out of curiosity at the owner of the voice as they passed me by. She was about my height, her messy dark brown hair fell over her face, and she wore a plain, long black dress. She instinctually glanced back at me, both of us looking at each other looking simultaneously. As her striking amber eyes came to rest on mine, something in my memory flickered. A puzzle piece moved. It was her. My attacker.

       I opened my mouth to say something, nothing came out, I moved too slowly, I did not move. As I picked my hand to point, recognition ran through her eyes and she was faster than I was. She disappeared in the crowd as quickly as she had appeared. She had realised, I know it, now. She knew who she had just encountered. I know it.

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