If you need to catch up, you can find the previous chapters here.
“I’m sure we’ll find Ziliena at the weaver’s,” Taura said as they joined the crowd moving along the rows of vendors. “She mentioned something about a new pattern she wanted to have woven. She’s probably standing over the loom.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me,” Aria smiled. She didn’t know Ziliena well, but she knew enough to know Taura was right. “Let’s stop by the tanner’s first.”
Taura quickened her pace to keep up. “You aren’t serious, are you?”
“Of course I am. I came here with you on the promise I’d get to hunt.”
“You can hunt without becoming the prey for being out doing it!” Taura protested.
When hunting Malorians, the hunter is always prey.
"I'm serious, Aria. We've been here, what, an hour? and you've already been warned off."
"By a silly Keeper boy who's probably never actually killed anything before." Aria rationalized It was a pathetic scare tactic, nothing more.
“I still don’t like it,” Taura persisted.
“E'sareona! It's going to take a lot more than, 'women don't enter' to frighten me off, Sis. You know me better than that.”
Aria followed the scent of boiling dyes and leather to the tanner’s tent, which was almost empty. Finding the tanner himself was a simple task, he was toward the back of the tent, lightening a black Malorian hide to be dyed another color.
“Pardon me, sir. Can you tell me where I might sign up for The Malorian Hunt?” Aria inquired.
Without looking up, he asked, “Are you signing up for your brother?”
“No. Don't have one.” She folded her arms. "I'm the hunter."
This time he looked, for a long moment before the corners of his mouth began to twitch upward.
“Sure, darlin’, sheet’s tacked over there on the post,” he waved his arm in the general direction. He didn’t know Aria could hear him think, I can’t wait to see this.
“Thank you.” She strode confidently over, took the quill from the inkwell, and signed her name. Number sixty-four.
As Aria read over the rules, Tauria asked, “How many do you expect to enter?”
“Oh as many as two hundred, maybe two fifty will sign up,” the tanner answered. “They have to get through the qualification round first, though. Next week's Faire, the first night they'll cut about half of them - weed out any with no kills, and the bottom scores. The next night will be added to the first night and the top thirty-two will participate in the main hunt the following week.”
Tauria asked, “The top number of skins?”
“Yes. Well, top points,” he said.
“Points are based on size and difficulty of the kill," he clarified. "A bear is worth four, wolf three, deer two, rabbit one, you get the idea.”
Aria turned her attention back to the conversation. “It says each hunter is allowed one dog, a longbow and knives. It doesn’t say how many knives?”
“As many knives as you like, but they may be no longer than a hand.” With a nod to her small stature, he added, “That’d be one of my hands, not yours.” Aria nodded in response. He continued, “No cross-bow or sword. It starts the night before the first day of the Faire, and the winner is announced on the third day. Half will be eliminated the first night. After the second night, only six will remain. The winner will have the top total points at the end of the third night. “
“Sounds fair enough,” Aria mused. To Taura, she thought, I’ll have to send for Hunter.
“Oh, the scoring is as fair as can be. It’s the other entrants you’ll have to be on the watch for,” he warned.
Hearing this for the second time, Taura grew even more concerned. “What do you mean?”
He leaned over his work on the table, and whispered, “The last several years, there have been injuries, and sometimes deaths, that weren’t the work of the Mal-”
“Tauriiii!” Ziliena’s squeal cut through the tanner’s booth. “You actually came! And you dragged Aria out too. Finally!”
Aria turned back to the tanner. “Thank you for your help, sir.”
He nodded and raised a hand. “Good luck to you, darlin’. I’ll be looking for those hides.” Even if she has all the luck there is, it still mightn't be enough.
Aria pushed his thoughts from her mind, and turned her attention to Ziliena, who babbled on as they left the tent. “I’m so glad I found you!” She embraced both of the sisters emphatically, then linked each of her arms through one of theirs, “Come with me girls, I’ll make sure you feel right at home.”
Outside the tent, Ziliena paused to whisper to Aria, “I haven’t been able to tell you yet how sorry I am….”
“Oh, Zili, you don’t have to,… it’s-”
“I know. But, I am sorry.” She leaned over to hug Aria again. “And, I wanted you to know.”
“Thank you.” Aria forced the lump back down her throat and willed herself to smile. “Are you ready to get us out of here? We’ve got to find a place for the horses, and ourselves.”
Ziliena guided them through the nearest exit from the Market Faire grounds, and into Iselos. Taura looked up and noticed they were nearing Ithitane’s uncle’s boarding house, The Iselos Inn. “Is this the only house with rooms available?”
“Gah! No!” Ziliena spat. “I’d put you up to sleep in a stable before I’d send you into that sty!”
“Do I hear a hint of disdain for your fair Ithitane, Taura?” Aria taunted.
“What?” Ziliena’s horrified expression was almost comical. “Do yourselves a favor, and stay away from that swine.”
“Why?” Taura asked.
Ziliena shook her head. “His whole family, they call themselves Terressan. But, I - and others, too afraid to speak - believe the spirit of Malough speaks to them.”
They quickly moved across the road, and passed the Inn before Aria commented, “I didn’t realize the dark spirit had grown so powerful.”
“Oh yes.” Ziliena whispered. “The elders are saying the time is nearing.”
Taura shuddered. “But to be that strong already?”
I told you he was no good. Aria told Taura. We can’t trust anyone here.
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