NaNoWriMo 2010 Character Building Exercise 1. Set in the world of Stained and intended as a snapshot of Shayla’s youth.
Market day, market day! Was there anything as wonderful as market day?
Shayla paused, eye caught by a bolt of vivid red wool. It was so pretty. She wondered if it was as soft as it looked.
Her big sister’s hand in hers tugged. “Shayshay, come on. I want a sticky roll!” Shayla followed, her thumb finding its way into her mouth. “And don’t suck your thumb, baby.”
Shayla pulled her hand back to her side and poked out her lower lip. “I’m not a baby!”
“Oh yeah? Stop sucking your thumb, then.”
The sweet scent of yeasty bread wafted through the crowd and her sister sped up. Stumbling, Shayla followed, feeling mutinous. She wasn’t a baby. Poppa had given her three whole coins all for herself and said she could buy whatever she wanted because she’d been so good helping Momma with the chores and fetching during lambing season. Babies didn’t have money, so she wasn’t a baby.
Her sister stopped abruptly and Shayla walked into her back, earning herself a frustrated growl. “You’re hopeless, I’ll never make it to the pastry cart in time. I can’t believe Momma made me watch you this time. You’re too young. You should stay with her.”
Shayla’s lip poked out again. Her sister pulled them out of the flow of foot traffic, between two carts selling bags of grain and a few expensive apples. “You’re a big girl, huh?” she asked.
Shayla nodded. “Am!” Her thumb found its way back to her mouth.
“Right.” Her sister stood up, looking around before crouching back down and looking Shayla in the eyes. “Look, big girl. You stay here. I won’t be more than five minutes. If you can stay here and be quiet and show me you’re a good big girl, I’ll bring you back your very own fried pasty, how does that sound?”
Shayla’s eyes grew wide and her hand immediately dropped to her side. Vigorously, she nodded.
Her sister moved away, then glanced back. “Don’t move, okay? If I find out you went anywhere, I’ll eat that pasty right in front of you, don’t think I won’t!”
Shayla nodded again, grinning. A whole pasty, all to herself? And she wouldn’t have to spend any of her coins on it? She could stand here all day!
Her sister bit her lip before shaking her head and moving quickly through the crowd.
Days passed. Years even, she was sure of it. More time than Shayla could count on the fingers of both hands. She counted twice, just to be sure. How long was five minutes? The sweet smell of the apples tickled her nose and her tummy rumbled, but she stood without moving, hands clasped tightly in front of her.
Behind her, on the other side of the row of carts, she heard the faint thread of a deep voice. “I offer a story, told me by my mother, told her by her mother, and told her by mother before that.”
Shayla’s eyes widened. A lorespinner! A real one, not just Momma telling stories by candlelight while her fingers poked at mending. She bent all her attention to hearing the lorespinner’s tale, but now that she sought it, she couldn’t find the voice among the din of vendors bawling their wares. She turned to face the direction she’d heard the voice before and caught a snippet of sound, “…Though he was a wealthy fisherman with a beautiful daughter, still he was not happy and sought a mother for his beloved Mareila…” and she gasped. Mareila’s Tale! The lorespinner was weaving her favorite story!
She lost the lorespinner’s voice as a nearby fishmonger barked out the catch of the day. Shayla pushed her way through the line of stalls, following snippets of story like a hound puppy chasing the scent of a sausage. She paid little heed to her surroundings, weaving through crowds and passing colorful stalls without so much as a glance. She found the lorespinner’s carpet as he reached the midpoint of the story, Mareila held captive by a jealous stepmother with only a talking fish for an ally.
Eagerly, Shayla seated herself on the edge of the carpet, staring up at the lorespinner with hungry eyes, drinking in his story with all the fervor of a drowning man clutching at a life raft. Through his storytelling, Mareila’s tale wove its way through her heart and soul in a way that her mother’s tired retellings never could. When Mareila clutched the discarded bones of her fishy friend to her chest, Shayla felt tears prick at her eyes and spill down her cheeks. When Mareila caught the eye of the passing king, helped by the fish’s magic, Shayla felt a thrill of joy such as she’d never felt before.
The lorespinner finished his story with the traditional end, “And that is Mareila’s Tale, bidding you a generous heart and loyal friendships.”
He fell silent, eyes closing. Shayla saw one or two people bend forward and drop a coin into the slotted mouth of the box near his feet. With each chink of coin hitting wood, the lorespinner’s head nodded and he hummed briefly.
Shayla fingered the three coins in her pocket. Some of the coins falling into his box were silver or even gold. Her own tiny copper pennies seemed so little in comparison, but they were all she had. She crawled forward and carefully fitted each coin into the slot atop the box, until all three were gone. As she scurried back to her seat, she noticed that the lorespinner’s eyes weren’t really closed. He watched her, his eyes opening completely as she folded her legs under her and slipped her thumb into her mouth.
“Would you like another?” he asked.
Her eyes widened and she nodded, even more emphatically than she had for the now-forgotten pasty.
He smiled, then began. “I offer a story, told me by my mother, told me by her mother, and told her by mother before that….”