Maybe. It wasn’t really worth thinking about these questions. The past was the past and there was no changing it. Maybe it would have changed things but it couldn’t anymore so it wasn’t worth wasting my energy over it.
When I did finally get to sleep it was bitty and full of my parents’ last days. Eventually I gave it up as a lost cause, already even more tired than the night before. If my mind ever did settle down I’d end up oversleeping and that wasn’t an option at the moment. Sleeping in meant hours lost working, when the Regent was coming to town you didn’t want to be caught shirking.
Getting dressed I realised there wasn’t any noise coming from downstairs. Elswick was always an early riser, I’m not sure he knew what a lay in was. The stairs creaked as I made my way down, the door to his room was open. This wasn’t unusual, he had a thing about closing himself off. I peered in and noted his steady breathing, a strangely comforting sight. He might only have been here for a week but if I thought of him leaving there was a pang in my gut.
I hadn’t realised how lonely I was.
“Goodbye then,” I whispered into the silence.
There was a chill in the air, pretty unnatural for this time of the year and it was darker than I expected for the time. Blackness pressed in on my eyes making it difficult to see where I was going. Thankfully there were lanterns placed at irregular intervals, the flames were low, flickering sluggishly but they still gave out enough light to offer a path to follow..
As I came onto the top of his street I knew Warren was awake. Candles lit up his window and his shadow moved around as he prepared yet more bread. Even this had to be too early for him but we had to be prepared. With the Regent coming to the Hearthsquare we’d been given permission to sell food to the gathering. Anyone in the Quadrant who sold food was rounded up, the entire city would be there at lunchtime, many more would gather much earlier. Obviously people from the First and Second Quadrants would be there too and the city had to look after them. A little part of me raged against my wares being sold to the wealthy and kept away from my every day customers, yet at the same time I was looking forward to the extra money coming in. We wanted to buy the store back and if we made enough here we could start saving.
There was no more light between the top of the street and Warren’s house, so I took particular care picking my way across the cobbled streets.
The morning went quickly, we worked hard and baked what felt like enough bread to feed a small army. I added a couple more scars to my arms when I took the bread out of the oven. The burns stung but I was used to them, it was nothing too distracting. For the first time in a long time Warren actually came with me to the square, by now it would be open for people to come in but the guards were only letting stall masters through. Warren followed me, both our arms hugging stacked crates.
People had already gathered, at the moment it was only a handful but it’d be more in ten minutes. No one in the city would want to be late, plus with such a rare appearance it was a unique opportunity to get close to our leader.
They stared at us as we were allowed in, their eyes on our back burning with curiosity or perhaps a silent animosity. it was hard to tell, the wealthy citizens always made me feel uncomfortable. Like they were judging me, or perhaps somehow accusing me of something.
An odd feeling had followed me from home. Really, it’d been with me since the night before and it was building up, especially around all these people. One man says he’s coming out of his house and all these people flock to see him, the excitement so obvious. Normally, someone who spent so long cooped up would be called crazy but we turned a blind eye when it was him. Why?
I saw the posters, not really having the time to stand there and properly take them in, my usual routine, I glanced across and kept them in view for as long as I could hoping that it would calm me. They had the opposite effect. Instead of being soothing it made the uneasiness worse, I didn’t see comforting words from my government this time. They were black words on white, bleak and not exactly special. For the first time I wondered who wrote them. We all thought it was the Regent, we all thought he had these nuggets of wisdom and they were printed out to be shared across his country with all his people. Yet, how could he have time if he was running a country and fighting the Continent in the political background? Someone else must be writing them on his behalf. And if that was true he was lying to us all. Yeah, it was something small but what was the point in the lie? If he didn’t worry about the pointless ones then maybe he didn’t care about big ones either.
Come on now Asha, today is not the day to have these thoughts. He’s coming here, you’ll be in the same place as him, breathing the same air. Don’t start doubting him because some ruddy Heben said a few words.
As pep talks went it wasn’t a particularly good one; my heart just wasn’t in it. So we went about our business, setting everything up, but I fumbled a few things, almost dropping some precious bread on the floor. The smell was amazing and my belly growled, reminding me it hadn’t got anything this morning. Warren went around tidying up my mistakes with a cocked eyebrow, probably wondering how we sold anything if this was how I set our business up. I kept mumbling apologies but he didn’t seem to care. It wasn’t until I tripped over one of our discarded crates and narrowly avoided knocking a whole load of bread to the ground that I got a reaction.
Hands wrapped round my arms to stop me from falling and dragged me back onto two feet. thankfully the stall was unscathed but I picked up a scrape from the edge of it.
“What is wrong with you today?” His deep voice reverberated the question.
“I dunno,” I shrugged him off, “I didn’t get much sleep last night I guess.”
If he’d spoken he obviously thought it was an important question to ask. Was I really that bad this morning?