by Lyvidia A
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and florist Sakhira Umar knows this well.
|Elthia hummed as she snipped a rose from its bush, gently setting it into her nearly overflowing basket with the others she had picked. Sakhira had sent a messenger, asking for a large order of flowers to be delivered by noon. There was some sort of convention happening in Midlung and vendors were ordering last minute bouquets and arrangements to adorn their booths.
Elthia collected one more rose and fit it into her basket, its stem just barely sliding underneath the basket handle. She lifted the basket, putting it onto her hand wagon with the others she had filled. Sunflowers, roses, peonies, daisies, and hydrangeas filled the wagon, a sea of warm oranges and deep yellows. She covered her precious cargo with a cloth, securing it firmly.
Wormwood waddled over towards the cart, rubbing up against one of the wheels. Elthia loaded him into a cushioned basket hanging off the side of the wagon, waiting for him to get comfortable before taking the handle and pulling it, walking towards the treeline. She came upon Wuhdit soon enough, villagers greeting her as she walked past.
"Elthia! Where are you headed?" a man asked, pausing his gardening. Elthia recognized him as Axton Treow, one of many prominent woodcutters in the village.
"I have a delivery to make, there's a convention in the city and no event is complete without flowers."
"That's a bit of a way, would you like to borrow Kalmin?" Axton gestured towards a donkey who was munching on a misshapen carrot. "He can be a bit stubborn but he may help you along a bit faster."
Elthia smiled and shook her head. "I appreciate your offer, but I can make it just fine. Your tomatoes look gorgeous!"
"Would you like one for your journey?" Axton plucked a large ripe tomato from its plant and held it out to her.
Elthia took it, tilting her head in thanks. "This is beautiful, thank you."
"I learned from the best," he said with a wink.
She waved at him and continued on, tugging her wagon behind her.
The wagon was a new model, something Sakhira had gifted her last autumn. Its wheels were designed to help carry its momentum forward, making it easier to pull. This was also useful when she was traveling uphill, as it prevented the wagon from rolling backwards. She was especially thankful for that feature as she walked towards the city and the road began sloping upwards.
She didn't encounter anyone on the road but she could see several figures making their way towards the city far ahead of her. Elthia wondered what the convention Sakhira had mentioned was for and where it was being held. A small part of her even wished to go.
The last big event she had been to was a harvest festival several years ago, just before the persecution of the Dry had driven her away from the city altogether. It had been held outside of the city walls, in a nearby field. There had been games, vendors, and plenty of food stalls. She still remembered the flaky crust of the apple pie she had purchased that day, the spicy taste of cinnamon. There had been a pumpkin growing contest, and although the villagers of Wudiht had begged Elthia to enter, she had declined. She didn't feel like it would have been fair, considering her rather verdant thumb. Besides, it would have brought attention to herself, which she definitely didn't need.
She remembered the night of the festival, when a bonfire had been built and the finest bards in all of Sidland had regaled the crowd with tales of heroes and days gone by, performers from near and far entertained the festival goers. One performance in particular seemed to be ingrained more deeply than others. A soft spoken bard from Svaldr had taken the makeshift stage, looking nervous as he settled himself with his harp. He plucked the strings delicately, picking an enchanting, melancholy tune. Elthia could hear the song he sang, clear as day.
O'er land and through wood
Scarred into stone and tree
In the heart o' the Sidland
There ye shall find the Dry
Borne o' earth and sea and sky
Clothed in darkness and in light
Whispers and all seeing eye
Being of day, creature of night
Oaken bones and skin o' ore
Tongues o' silver, lips o' gold
All who see have seldom spoke
Of the Dry, their Craeft o' old
The crowd had been completely enraptured by the bard as he sang an ode to the Dry. When it was finished, the crowd was silent. The Svladran bard was soon replaced by an acrobatics troupe from Khabisa, the evening returning to its jovial mood. Elthia had tried to find the bard after his performance, but he seemed to have vanished.
The looming walls of Midlung soon came into view. Elthia always forgot how impressive they were. Elthia spotted Sakhira, seated on a large rock on the side of the road, waiting with a wagon of her own, her silk clothes shimmering in the late morning sun. Elthia called out to her, waving. Sakhira stood, quickly walking towards her.
"Elthia, you are a miracle worker," Sakhira exclaimed, holding her hand to her chest and bowing her head in greeting.
Elthia returned the gesture, a Khabisian custom of greeting and show of respect. "It's my pleasure to be of service." She pulled her wagon off to the side of the road and lifted the cloth cover. "How do these look?"
Sakhira smiled, clasping her hands together. "They look absolutely exquisite!" She handed Elthia a small pouch. "Here's what I owe you for the flowers." She held out a second pouch. "And this is extra for the last minute notice."
Elthia shook her head, only taking the first pouch. "No extra charge, these flowers would have wilted if you hadn't asked for them today."
Sakhira bowed her head. "Thank you. I know that the vendors will just love these ."
"Do you know what sort of event it is?"
Sakhira paused for a moment and then shook her head. "All I know is that it's taking place in the scholar's district. The city is even more crowded than usual." Sakhira smiled, raising an eyebrow "Did you want to go?"
Elthia shook her head fervently. "No, you know me and the city. I'll break out in a rash as soon as I set foot within those walls."
Sakhira laughed and bowed her head. "Thank you again and have a safe journey back."
Elthia returned the gesture and loaded Wormwood and his basket into the wagon Sakhira had brought. She sat on the rock Sakhira had been perched on, watching the florist leave with her flowers. Wormwood stood up from his basket, tilting his head.
Elthia nodded at him. "We'll return soon, I want to sit for a moment." She pulled out the tomato that Axton had given her and bit into the soft flesh, savoring the refreshing treat.
Elthia looked up at the sky, watching the clouds float by at their slow pace. Several people passed her as she enjoyed her tomato, all of them chattering about the convention in the city.
"...dug it up somewhere in Khabisa, I'm excited to see it," one man said.
"I heard there will be a demonstration, some new technology as part of a collaboration with Midlung and Svaldr," his companion replied. "I wonder what it will be."
The man shrugged. "No matter what it is, we will be seeing history in the making." The two of them laughed and continued on.
Elthia finished her tomato and sat a few moments longer, wiping her hands clean on her apron as the road became empty again. A sudden clanging caused her and Wormwood to jump, a booming noise coming from the city. She realized that it was the giant clock that sat in the heart of Midlung signaling the hour. Eleven steady, cacophonous tones rang out. Elthia grabbed the handle of the wagon and began pulling it back down the road, walking briskly.
• • •
Sakhira Umar unlocked the door to her shop, greeting a few customers who were waiting for her. She wheeled her cart of flowers inside, weaving between tables of vases and bouquets. She pulled the wagon behind the counter, placing it behind her stool and workbench. Spools of colorful ribbons hung on the side of the counter, sheets of glossy wrapping paper stacked underneath them. She heard the bell hanging over her door jingle and put on her apron. She pulled the cover off of the cart, bringing baskets of flowers closer to her counter and setting to work.
Vendors and regular customers came and went, some placing new orders, some picking up their arrangements, and a few buying the premade bouquets. Sakhira only paused to write down an order or process a payment, bundling flowers and wrapping them in bright ribbons before placing them in glimmering vases. She hummed as she worked, her counter becoming a sea of orange and yellow.
The clock tower chimed, ringing in the midday hour. Sakhira could hear many people outside of her shop, fewer customers coming in as vendors began moving their merchandise and booths towards the convention's location. She handed off her last event order and took a moment to tidy up her shop, refilling vases with water and rearranging a few bouquets.
She began to feel uneasy, but shook off the feeling. The rush of the morning must have gotten to her, she just needed some time to decompress. Settling back down behind her counter, she continued making bouquets for her display tables.
She could sense him coming before he had even gotten to the door. The dull thud of his boots on the cobblestone was audible. Sakhira sighed, continuing with her work, not bothering to look up as the bell jangled above the door, signaling his arrival. The damp, cold smell that seemed to stick to him slithered into the room, just barely covered by the sweet scent of flowers. His boots shuffled along the wooden floor.
"Not now, I'm busy," she snapped, bundling a few sunflowers together and slipping them into a vase.
The boots paused. "This is urgent. I need this order for tomorrow morning," came the familiar croaky, muffled voice. She wondered why the man felt the need to wear a mask all the time, but she supposed it was useful in his line of work.
Sakhira shook her head, "Then come when I open and place it tomorrow, I am busy today."
"You don't open early enough." The boots approached her counter, the sound of a coin purse being tossed on her counter top following shortly after. "He knows you're busy with the convention. He wants to pay you extra since this is last minute."
Sakhira paused her work, silent for a moment. "What is the message?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Man made a joke about the master's missus. He had a contract with us that is now void." The man pushed the coin purse closer to her. "Shouldn't be a problem for you."
Sakhira put some daisies in a vase, adding a few roses. She took the coin purse, setting it next to her. "Another broken contract? That's the second one this month." She sighed, wiping her hands on her apron and looking up at the man. "Is there anything else?"
He shook his head, drumming his fingers on the counter top. She noticed he was wearing a large ring with some sort of insignia. She assumed it was for the guild he worked for, whose name always seemed to escape her. "The master trusts your judgement. I'll be back in the morning to pick it up. Leave it outside like usual." He turned to leave, but stopped just before he reached the door.
Sakhira looked at the man as he gazed at one of the premade bouquets on a table. This was the first time she had ever taken the time to really look at him. He was clad in all black and had a belt with a sheathed dagger on either side. A hood was pulled over his head, obscuring his face. His glossy leather boots with thick soles were well creased. "Is something wrong?"
The man pointed at a bouquet of burgundy roses. "How much for these?"
"For you, 7 dinor."
The man nodded, seemingly satisfied with the price. He took a handful of coins out of his pocket and set them next to the bouquet, taking it from its vase and leaving the shop. The damp smell left with him, the thud of his boots drifting off.
Sakhira stared at the door for a moment. The man had never purchased flowers before, he only ever came in to place orders for his master. She shook her head, checking over her inventory, preparing to make the order.
Even though she had been fulfilling these strange floral arrangement requests for a few years now, she had never met the man's superior. She wondered what he was like, why he preferred to communicate threats through flowers instead of through a more direct manner. What sort of things was he capable of and did he follow through with any of his bouquet's veiled messages?
Most of them were harmless, usually severing a contract or withdrawing protection for seemingly innocuous reasons. Humor at the expense of his wife seemed to be a common reason for the bouquets. Sakhira doubted that the recipients even understood what the bouquets they received signified.
She hummed as she worked, looking through her flower baskets. "Almond, for indiscretion," she muttered, retrieving a few pale pink blossoms and setting them in her work space. "Pomegranate, for foolishness." Sakhira fetched a some vibrant red flowers. "Broken straw, for a ruptured contract." She placed a couple of strands of straw into the bouquet, bending them so that they cracked and hung loosely. "Basil, for hatred." Sakhira made two small bundles of basil leaves, sliding them under the ribbon. Satisfied, she wrapped the bouquet in glossy paper and placed it in a vase.
The bell jingled and she looked up to see a few customers entering her shop. She smiled and greeted them. Today was going to be even busier than she had thought.