Authors Note: I have taken liberties with this prompt as certain characters from my Rromani storyline have been waiting patiently to be allowed their space, but have now demanded to be heard. The prompt is held with my story in essence.
For stories which link before these events
A Lost Name
The last Safe Gathering
These characters will collide on a few occasions with those from Captain Juan.
Tired legs trudged over the rock strewn road. The horses smelt it before they saw it. Over the crest of the hill, the travelers stopped momentarily to gaze at the sprawling town in front of them. The river they had been following, snaked around the walls, widened, allowing for the port and jetties finally plunging into the sea.
“Seems so much bigger than I remember.” Victor grunted, wiping his brow and leaning on the cart.
Nelu threw a waterskin down to him. “Always is when you’ve been away as long as you have.”
“We’ll not do anyone good by standing here gawking. Lets find the others and let the games begin.”
Newly hewn stone guard gates stood in place protecting the entrance into the markets. Bored guards lounged on their spears. One picked his teeth with a dagger whilst another leered at the women as they struggled hauling their goods through the gates.
Gitano kept his eyes to the ground ahead of him and followed the cart. Although they had stripped their caravans of all insignia and donned their plainest clothes, the troope still looked Rromani. However, with the Spanish court legislation ordering the expulsion of all travelers, cities along the main routes were populated with those in hiding; so theirs was not the only strange caravan to pass through the gates in the last month. One of the guards shifted his weight, the clinking of his weapons sending a shot of adrenaline through Gitanos system. He felt the pressure of his throwing knives against his calves and readied his tingling hands to engage them; if only to allow confusion and time for the younger ones to escape.
The guard hawked and spat at the ground in front of Gitanos foot, the mucusy glob coagulating with the dust on the cobbles. Gitano looked up through his eyelashes at the guard. A tidy beard and stylized moustache atop the sneering lip. Defiantly Spanish. He could take him with a single dagger and the other guard wouldn’t even see it.
“Keep your eyes down and keep walking lad. Don’t rise to it. We don’t want trouble.”
Victors stubbly chin brushed Gitanos cheek as he whispered his advice and kept walking.
After Margarinas prophesy at the Lovers Gathering in February, fear had gripped each tribe. No-one had lingered at the closing of the ceremonies. Although not illegal in Italy, yet, they feared even a small gathering of Rromani may bring unwanted inspection to the tribe. Perhaps it had been foolish to travel to this gathering, so close to the main travel routes and to a city populated by the arrogant Spanish.
A barefooted lass who moments ago had been playing with friends, ran up to Victor and handed him a smooth rock. He bent down and plucked a leather necklet from behind her ear and presented it to her, grinning at her astonishment.
Victor motioned to the caravan and tribe walking. “We’ll make our way to the Torre pendente di Pisa. We are one of the last ones to arrive. Others will already be assembled witin the Piazza del Duomo. Despite our unwelcome status in Spain, the Doge has long welcomed our “entertainment”. There is space within the Church grounds to set camp before the competitions and exchange of knowldge begin.”
They all grinned at the irony of a large contingent of the followers of the Goddess setting up residence in Christian grounds.
“We’ll need to make our way past the markets, the Torre pendente di Pisa is beyond it. You can’t miss it.”
“Victor there are towers all over the place here – how will we know which is the right one?”
Victor roared with laughter. “Lets just say the tower in question is not as upright as the others.”
The cobbles within the township were worn smooth from the high traffic it experienced; allowing the horses to rest from their constant battle over the previous rough paths and tracks. Nelus steady hands on the rains calmed the steeds fear as they snorted and stamped at the multitude of smells and noise from the bustling marketplace.
They passed merchants displaying their wares from the back of carts and on makeshift tables. Poultry sellers rattled wooden cages; the inmates squawking and quaking in protest. Women sat on small wooden stools surrounded by fruit and vegetables. Gitano stared openly at one of the vegetable sellers. The lacing on her bodice edges were a long way apart, falling almost from the shoulder edge, with her underdress shown clearly through it. She caught his gaze and smiling, shifted a marrow, exposing a glimpse of her calf. He blushed at her brazenness and studied the pumpkins in front of her before moving on.
Toward the end of the market region, three figures stood on blocks of stone, their hands locked inside a wooden box which had been chained to the wall behind them.
Two women stood quietly wearing head gear made from leather and wood which covered their features. Crude carvings of oak leaves sprouted from the top of one and both had long red tongues protruding from the bottom of the mask. The male figures mask sported a long snout and real bone tusks.
“Shame Masks. We want to be careful not to let you sing anywhere. You’d be a prime candidate for one.”
“It’s a punishment, the mask showing everyone what the crime was. These people have to stand there for hours on end as public displays of their shame. Anything from gossiping to bad musicianship. And they call us barbarians.”
To the side, as if to utilize the masked people as a source of constant entertainment, a gathering of stools and overturned barrels served as an open air bar. Farmers and merchants gathered about each nursing their ales; exchanging news and gossip. The low conversation stopped momentarily as they eyed the travelers suspiciously as they passed.
“I’ll catch up with you at camp. The tower is straight ahead. I’ve just seen someone I need to speak with.”
Victor slid away from the group and leant his back on one of the brick walls near the bar. He watched the small group of farmers amazed faces as the tall man in their midst pulled coins from armpits and mice out of their beer. His handwoven, brightly coloured shirt set him apart from the dreary washed out colours being worn about him. His long curled locks were held from his forehead with a silken scarf and swayed along his back as he moved.. They cheered loudly as a potato was retrieved from someone’s behind. Silently dropping coins into the open hand of one of the barmaid as she handed him a warm frothy mug of ale, Victor breathed in its yeasty redolence eager to taste the contents. From that momentary lapse of concentration, he lost sight of the figure he’d been watching.
“How much do you want to win this?” The detached voice came from beside him.
Victor allowed a slow grin to spread across his face as he took a sip of his drink.
“You are as slippery as Beng and bring as much bibaxt as he would to any gathering you go to.”
“And yet here you are, about to ask me to join you. Beng doesn’t bring bad luck, he brings opportunities.”
“Jordan, my friend; its been too long.”
They clasped arms and slapped one another on the shoulder.
“I’m impressed at your little flame trick. I see we will need to exchange ideas.”
“Victor, you know the laws. You need to be taught by your master or work it out yourself.”
“Given Emilian has passed and he had taught both of us everything he knew, I assume that trick is your own discovery?”
Jordan smiled, his eyes glittered with secrets. “This gathering, how much do you want to win?”
Victor took a long swig of his drink and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Not a matter of winning or losing – not this time. The winners are being hired to entertain at the week long celebrations on the Castle grounds of the Marquis De Lume in La Speza.”
Jordan spat and made a protection symbol in the air about him. “Rromani, the last free people; being hired as entertainment. What low depths we have sunk to.”
“Lower than pulling a pototo out a farmer arse?”
“Have you seen the others?”
Victor drained his mug. “Hoping to see them at Piazza del Duomo”
“You’re sure they’ll come?”
“Separate tribes we may be. But no-one refuses the summoning of the Mistress Drabardi. They’ll be here.”
“You never answered my question. How much do you want to win?”
“Our lives depend on it. If we are chosen to attend the festivities, we carry legitimate paperwork for travel for up to a year. It will buy us time.”
“To look for them? The brothers? The enemy of the father? Victor, as much as I revere your Drabardi and her prophesies; surely one sighting shouldn’t send ripples through all the tribes. No-one else has had a sighting like this. You don’t even know who the brothers are, nor who this enemy is. Needle in a haystack my friend.”
“Margarina is not our Drabardi – she is her own person – as you are Jordan. She will be here to give witness and The Mistress Drabardi will govern our next moves as a people. You think Spain will be the only place we will be hunted? We have been given an insight into the future and opportunity to avoid the inevitable. For the sake of my tribe, for the Rromani, I am pursuing it.”
“Well my friend – it would seem you need the luck of Beng on your side.” Jordan clasped Victors hand tightly. “You won’t win this competition without me”