Orb - Empire of Salos' capital
She pulled the shawl of patched faded colours over her frail shoulders, trying to bring some warmth to her old bones, and keep the chill of the evening away. Her bent figure marked a lonesome silhouette against the quickly fading light that shimmered in hues of orange and gold across the waters, as she stood on uneasy legs in one of the oldest piers of Orb.
Hardly anyone came here anymore. She could still recall when the pier was full of life, bustling with activity with piscators landing their silvery catches in their hundreds to be sold by kin of fishwives. Swashbuckling maritime traders arriving from Garrah and Torja, with their tar sealed caravels laden with exotic goods, so full, that their bows hardly kept above the waterline. Goods and produce destined to the markets and bazaars of the city, that stood at the centre of the world. The pier and the industries around it meant money and money meant a better life in city that was as unforgiving and it was grandiose.
She had been born here and grown up here and most likely would die here. She had lived through its heyday as the main artery into the city, one of Orb's most celebrated and famous quarters, and watched its decline, at the same pace that her once fair skin became more and more wrinkled and her once lustrous long black hair grew grey and white and lacklustre. As the light in her eyes grew dimmer, as life piles more and more of its indignations into the soul of men and women, it slowly dulls them with the poison of simply existing.
As she grew older so did the quarter around her, in ways that at times it seemed as if her lifeforce was tied to this place in ways her mind could never understand or even put into words. All she knew was that she saw her old age everywhere. Weathered by the passage of time, her face bore the lines and creases of countless stories, etched into her skin like a map of her journey through life. Her bones bent and brittle, just like the rotten wood under her feet. Like the broken and rundown façades of the abandoned houses and warehouses that once had harboured laughter, joy and life and now were simply awaiting for decay to take them. Her connection to the city, the eternal companion of her existence, was palpable, as if the ebb and flow of its streets and people, resonate with the rhythms of her very being.
Life had not been easy. It never was. She could no longer recall how old she was. Well over three hundred seasons, she reckoned. She had seen Orb change immensely but her mind did not register the passage of time through those events. No, most people never did. The passage of time for them was not how a society advanced or deteriorated, but was measured in events closer to home. And for those they loved.
She was the youngest of eleven children, six of which she never met, only heard stories about, none of which had lived to see their first Natalday. Infancy deaths were a scourge in Salos for many, many decades. Her father had been a mason, and a very good one at that, who weeks before becoming a Master at the Guild took his life. She never knew why and it was a subject not broached often at home. The Gods did not look kindly on those who extinguished the flame of Being without proper sacrifice.
Her mother, married again soon after and moved away, leaving her and her surviving siblings to be raised by an aunt. Her eldest brother and sister did not outlive this event for long. He passed of a weak heart and the sister was taken by winter's disease, when a wave of the lung influenza flared quickly through Salos in part due to the army’s manoeuvres in one of its many wars in the Trident and in part due to the seasonal workers’ migration. Late summer fairs and religious festivities had also helped spread the disease. Too late was it made clear that this was a most deadly epidemic in the Kingdom. Her sister was simply one more victim...
She became a seamstress under the tutelage of her aunt, saw her mute sister marry and die while giving birth to a 'blue baby' and before she turned eighteen her only surviving sister finally succumbed to the many ailments that had plagued her whole life.
Her mind did not seek explanations and reasons why she was the only one left. Such was life. She saw death all around her hand in hand with life. Her story was far from unique. But it was hers. She would have very little else across the decades. She had her story. She existed. And while she existed she would remember. Until one day she would too travel to Zin's Garden and eventually her story would pass away from memory. No one would write any stories about her humble passing through the world...
As the day faded into a tapestry of dusky hues, the woman's presence exuded a serene strength. She stands with a subtle grace, grounded in the knowledge of her own mortality and the ceaseless cycles of life. The rhythmic crashing of the waves below the pier serve as a symphony, harmonizing with the whispers of her memories, lost in the vastness of the boundless sea. The weight of her years, are only a burden to her body, not her mind and it has become a source of solace and serenity.
She casts her mind now to her marriage, and the two sons she bore. Her mind eye drifts to those years long ago, when her babes and her husband shared a simple hut not far from the pier. The house she still lives in, for how much longer she does not know. Her legs can't carry her as they used to and any vestige of strengthen and vigour have long left her arms. One day she will fall or simply not rise and no one will find her and she will likely die, alone, in a place that once housed so much joy, love and the sound of laughter and now is filled only with the sound of her scuffling feet and painful groans.
A tear falls from her eye. She thinks of her eldest. A slim, tall boy with a quick smile, who made her rejoice and laugh, the apple of her eye, who turned to a life of crime and ended his days in the city's gallows. This too she tries not to dwell much on. Somethings simply were. And one could go mad trying to understand the twists and turn of one's fate. Her husband did, the Gods know. Blamed himself until the day he died for the boy's decisions, until a stroke of Zin's hand took him. Apoplexy the apothecary had said, bleeding of the brain. He had always been a worrier.
Her youngest, a follower of Vastad, joined the armu. Always away in some campaign or another. Going to do battle against other men, in wars she understood little of, killing other sons, fathers, and brothers. Every year she would burn a candle in his name to the God of War for his safe return. Until one day he did not. Never found his body, they did, but in her heart she knew he was dead. At least that was easier to digest than to consider the alternative. That one day he had simply decided not to return home and start afresh somewhere else, leaving his mother and family behind. No, he was dead, she was sure...
She looked down at the potted plant at her feet. Every year she carried it here, as her mother had done before her, and her mother's mother before. An old woman watering a dying plant. It was an old tradition. The kind of tradition one would find here and there, that had survived hidden but in plain sight, under the watchful eye of the Inquisition. Like how fisherman tossed the first catch of the season back into the sea. Or the farmer hid a freshly baked loaf of bread among a freshly seeded wheat field, or how the first bottle of cider was poured over the roots of the apple tree.
It was simple plant that abounded everywhere in Salos, of green and purple leaves, known by many names. The plant would be watered in the first day of summer and not watered again until after the Fall Festival. It would wither and dry obviously, turn shades of brown and almost die, it would cling to life stubbornly. But if one single sprout remained, when it was finally watered, it would regrow. Stronger and its hues more vibrant than before. The plant would have been rooted when a newborn baby came into the world, and legend had it that while it survived its tribulations and cycle of thirst and rebirth, the person it was planted for would survive anything at least once, at which point this simple plant would die in its stead. Traditions and superstitions of the old world.
As nightfall enveloped the pier in an inky embrace, the old woman remained, a sentinel of memories and the silent witness to the mysteries of life. She casts her eyes across the Sea of Storms, imagining that faraway land the last surviving member of her line now lived in. The son of a son. The end of her line.
There she stood, a gentle reminder of the beauty in aging and the enduring spirit that can be found in the simplest of moments, as the world around her slips into the arms of the night.