The Grey City II

Monday May 03, 2004 @ 04:09 PM (UTC)

The Grey City I

The two girls clunked slowly down the gangway, sniffing like cautious animals at the eddying fog. Carys held a venerable old suitcase built along the lines of a small trunk, and Eirian clung to a carpetbag, almost free for the moment of anxiety and fear in the pride of being trusted with half their worldly goods. The stream of grown-up people drummed down the pier and onto the dimly seen streets of the city. After a hurried glance at the docks and the dark shapes looming among the crates, Carys squeezed the elbow her sister held tight against her, and set off in the midst of the crowd.

To Carys, long-used to green hills and views that stretched off into the sea, dotted with slate slopes and coppices, the shrouded city was a wilderness of sound, impressing itself upon her ears rather than her eyes, dizzying her with the shape of its echoes, hawkers’ calls, wheels and footsteps, satiric songs, arguments, business deals, fights between strays. The sound of a great bell ricocheted through the alleyways, arriving at the pair distorted and broken, no longer one note. Lights shone out from the shops and houses as if night were already come, but the streets were still full of folk. Pulling Eirian along by the squeezed hand – to occasional shrill protests – Carys found a nook between two abutting houses, and dug in Eirian’s carpet-bag.

“What’re you looking for,” Eirian scowled, “I can find it!”

“I’m sure you could dear, but – here it is.” She drew out a creased envelope and studied the direction with no more success than she had had at home, or on the ship. Looking up, she saw a young woman walking at a leisurely pace, her eyes sliding from shop sign to shop sign. “Excuse me!” Carys bleated, starting out into the rain, “excuse me, ma’am! Might you have a moment to help me to find out this address? It’s just that I can’t read joined writing….”

The woman’s eyes fell on Carys, then trickled down to the envelope. “It’s in the Southdowns,” she sniffed. “Over yonder,” she waved dismissively.

“Thank you kindly, ma’am. But may I trouble you to read me the – "

The young woman’s dark brows drew together, and she spat, “I’ve humored you enough, little vagabond. Be on your way or I’ll have the Runners on you.”

Not knowing what a Runner was, but unwilling to find out, Carys retreated to the eaves with a gulp, and met Eirian’s entreaties with more confidence than she felt. “It’s quite nearby!” she lied, “We’ll find them in no time, I’m sure.” She stared at the sky and wondered whether it was morning or afternoon. With an effort, she hoisted the suitcase again, and frowned Eirian’s hand back onto her arm. At Eirian’s frank, honest face, which admitted silently, I am tired, frightened, cold, but I will be quiet because I love you, she dropped her stern frown and sighed. “I don’t know if we’ll find them today. But we will find them. We’ll have a family again.” And she kissed the little one’s clammy forehead, and led her off into the misty din of the city.

The Grey City III


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