Walking behind him were two concubines, who cast a nonchalant smirk at the Merchant’s Wife.
The Red Temple and its priestesses were never heard of again.
Realising Jeyah had left, Fruimuah held Gurgini’s hands and said:
“Did you see scars on their faces?”
‘Yes, as if they have had cuts on their faces before,” said Gurgini.
Standing by the door and overhearing their curiosity, Jeyah could only sigh quietly.
Being a carpenter, who did not possess matured skills like that of his late father, Khrumakwe experienced a decline in his business.
Also with the curse troubling the heart, he could not pull himself together out from divided attention.
“Broken again,” said a woman who brought the stool over to his workshop while he was working outside the cottage.
Khrumakwe tilted his head to look at the woman. The lady was in her late forties but age did not leave a mark on her face.
He shied away from her eyes and studied the stool.
“Forgive me, I will fix this,” Khrumakwe said.
“You have seemed troubled since the day your father passed away, Khrumakwe. How can I help you?” the kind Froyalean woman who sympathised with him bent down slightly and asked.
Khrumakwe shook his head and kept his mouth mummed.
She then left a basket of homemade buns beside him and stood up again.
“I will be back. For the stool,” she tapped on his shoulder and walked away.
Though a little tap on the shoulder was insufficient to lift his spirit, Khrumakwe was still grateful to the woman, one of the only few nice persons who did not despise his family and the Khebite heritage.
“Basket again! Look what we have here,” a voice coming from the other end.
It was Khrumakwe's friend. His only friend, perhaps. Unlike Krumakwe, Bashut was a cheerful lad welcomed by the villagers.
People wondered how these two individuals entirely opposite of each other’s characters could become friends.
Or rather, why would he befriend a Khebite.
Whenever someone asked him that question, he would grin at them and ask “why not” instead.
As usual, Bashut made fun of them by nudging his elbow gently on Khrumakwe's shoulder and let out a mischievous laugh, of which Khrumakwe ignored as he continued fixing the stool.
“Buns!” he picked up one from the baskets and started chewing on it. After a while, he stopped.
“Isn’t that woman the merchant’s wife?” Bashut asked seriously and started laughing after a pause. Khrumakwe chose to ignore him again.
“It’s delicious though,” he had another bite. “Want some?”
Khrumakwe cleaned his hands, took out a piece of cloth and wrapped few buns on it. He then bundled up, tied a knot and threw it at Bashut.
Bashut caught the package thrown towards him.
“For your mother and sister. I cannot finish them myself,” Khrumakwe said.
Bashut was reminded that his sisters Gurgini and Fruimuah had left to seek shelter under the Fush-urah temple.
To Bashut, Gurgini was a very special girl. He loved to recall how she often got into fights with the Froyaleans.
One of the incidents the cheerful and bubbly young man remembered clearly was how Gurgini defended herself from being discriminated by others at the market.
At the beginning of the incident, Gurgini came to his stall to buy some fishes.
“Not fresh, Bashut,” Gurgini expressed dismay.
“There was a storm in the sea,” said Bashut. He knew what Gurgini’s plot was but just played along with her.
“My father can only return a few days later. So lady, could you spare me some mercy?”
“Another Bashut’s story?” Gurgini mumbled while looking for the freshest fish at his stall.
“No,” he said. “It’s my mother’s,” his mother came right up and walloped his head from the back.
“Don’t listen to this boy,” she shouted. Gurgini looked at both mother and son and shook her head while Bashut shuddered his shoulders with an innocent smile.
“Bye, Bashut. I am going to the next stall,” it did not take long for Gurgini to walk to the next stall, which was just two steps away.
Just few seconds later, she turned around and made Bashut another proposal.
“Unless… you can give me a cheaper price?”
“Ha! Same old tactic, Gurgini. I am not impressed,” Bashut mocked.
“I can’t give you fish anymore,” he spoke softly.
“Or else I am going to get it from her again!” he pointed at his mother, who was busy brushing off fish scales at the other corner of the stall.
“Bye, Bashut,” Gurgini gave up and walked away with disappointment. Bashut looked at her from the back.
He knew he had feelings for her but he thought it was not the right time to confess his love to her.
Minutes later, Bashut heard yelling coming from the fishmonger stall next to theirs. He ran out and saw Gurgini was in the midst of arguing with the fishmonger.
Gurgini was obviously not a weak lamb that could be easily intimidated by the big tough man.
“You are a dishonest businessman, give me back my money!” Gurgini confronted him.
“I have given you the changes!” the fishmonger defended.
“Liar! I want my money!”
“This girl is crazy! Crazy Khebite!” fishmonger shouted at her, trying to draw attention and support from the crowd.
Gurgini threw fishes on the display desk and reached out her hands.
“I don’t want your fish anymore. I want my money!”
In the Froyalean trading system, consumers were at the upper hand whereby goods sold were returnable. Sellers would be at fault if they refused the abide by the law.
“You are not my only customer!” the man threw the money onto the ground. Gurgini picked up to money quickly and counted them one by one. It was the correct amount.
“May the god of Ruk-keh bless your rotting business!” Gurgini said loudly and walked off.
The way she cursed had raised brows of people watching the dispute. Of course, it gave them another opportunity to condemn her action by generalising her upbringing as a Khebite and her uncivilised culture.
But in the eyes of Bashut, that was the special part of her he admired the most.
Later in the evening, Gurgini found a basket of few small fishes left at the backdoor of their kitchen.
It must be him, again.
She wiped off her tears, looked into a sky and gave thank to Bhima, the god of Providence for Bashut’s kindness.
(to be continued...)