Rone pulled at the top of his jacket, feeling constricted by its high collar and tight fit. It was a piece of style unique to the Green Isle, a doublet meant to look like a padded jack, but with colorful blue stripes stitched over the quilted linen and a row of buttons up the front. Rone knew from experience that whatever its looks it was not a jack or a gambeson, and wouldn’t stop so much as a pocket knife in a real fight. His pleated pants, baggy enough for him to keep his spare pistol concealed in the small of his back, waved in the stiff sea breeze.
“How is the straight jacket treating you?” he said quietly to Charlotte as they walked.
“I’ll admit I had forgotten how uncomfortable a corset can be when it isn’t properly made,” she said back. She was wearing a fairly modest blue dress, the skirts of which fell down in neat folds to the earth. The top had a built-in ribbed corset and bright white laces over gold ruffles trimmed her bust. She twirled a light blue paper parasol above her. “If you had let me buy the green one-”
“It was too expensive. We need to preserve our coin.”
“You mean my coin.”
Rone glared at her.
“I thought you wanted us to look like a rich married couple,” Charlotte said, not turning away from the glare.
“I do. And we do.”
“I look like a middle-class woman trying to sneak into a salon concert.”
“All the better.”
“And you look like a businessman nearing middle age, absconding with a poor woman that’s much too young for him.”
“That’s what I am.”
“We don’t look like a young married couple.”
“We’re certainly starting to argue like we’re married.” Rone glanced behind them and caught sight of an old grizzled man flanked by two pike-wielding men. They wore hammered steel chest-plates, far from finely made or well-cared for, with leather bindings in various states of rot. Their green pants, however, pegged them as part of the town’s guard.
“Always ready to dismiss me. If I-”
Rone gripped Charlotte’s arm, silencing her. She instinctively tried to pull away. “Quiet now,” he whispered, “It’s the man from the gate, and he’s got the guard with him.”
Without breaking stride, Charlotte turned her head and glanced backward. “What’s he doing down here?” she whispered.
“I doubt he’s doing anything out of the ordinary,” Rone said, and, tightening his grip on her arm, led her to the left side of the street. The uneven gate of the old man could be heard to their right and slightly behind him, as his hard-soled boots clacked loudly on the pavement. Underneath the rhythm of boot falls was the jingling armor worn by the guards. Ahead there was a break in the tightly-packed buildings and the familiar triple steeple that indicated a cathedral dedicated to the Tranquil Sisters.
“You think he’s the church type?” Charlotte said nodding slightly toward the immense church building. Rone nodded back.
As the trio closed in behind them, they could make out bits of a conversation happening between the old man and one of the guards.
“I’m telling you, he cheats,” the old man said.
“Yeah?” one of the guards said back. “How’d he do that, eh?”
“He keeps an ace up his sleeve, and the spade, no less,” the old man said. “Just play a few hands and you’ll notice. Only one ace of spades in the deck, and he’s always got it.” The old man spit something onto the ground.
“The captain’s sneaky, but he ain’t into cheating with the men. You was probably just drunk,” the other guard said. His voice was gravelly, speaking to a night life of more than just beer and cards.
“Of course I was,” the old man said. “It was Tuesday, after all.” They all broke into a laugh. “But that don’t mean I’m wrong. I can still shoot strait as an arrow when I’m drunk.”
“No you can’t,” the other guard said.
“Sure as snow in Materia,” the old man snorted.
“Maybe we should put it to the test,” the first guard said. “We’ll stand up Colby with an apple on his head and you can shoot it off.” They all laughed some more
“A winning hand for the whole table,” the second guard said.
The conversation was drowned out by the tolling of bells in the triple belfries of the cathedral, ringing in a trio of harmonious pitches that made a chord.
“Those are Notsra’s bells,” Charlotte said, not bothering to whisper under the din.
“Will that be an open service.?” Rone asked. Charlotte nodded. He grabbed her hand and pulled her across the paved courtyard, ringed with grass. They glanced back to see the trio of men pausing at the intersection. Their lips were moving, but nothing was audible above the tolling bells.
Rone dragged her past three immense statues on the outer edge of a circular courtyard, each facing toward a fountain at the center. As they walked into the center of the stone circle it seemed the marble sculptures, carved in the likeness of the gods usually referred to as the Tranquil Sisters, seemed posed to look down on her. Years of weather below an open sky had tarnished their virginal white, and everywhere they were streaked with grey. It gave them a life-like quality, adding to the three dimensions of stone a small piece of color. Each of the statues, though they were carved with the delicate smiles, seemed to, with the grey streaks running down their faces, be crying.
Their walk slowed. Other people, young and old, ambled about the courtyard, all seeming to move slowly toward the entrance to the church. Charlotte stopped in her tracks.
“What is it?” Rone said. He noticed Charlotte looking up at one of the statues. The sound of the bells began to fade.
“My parents always wanted me to be a disciple of Artifia,” she said. The statue that held her gaze had long hair carved so that it hung about its shoulders, and in its arms there was the likeness of a harp. “They thought I had such a lovely voice.”
She turned to see Rone nodding. “I’m sure you do.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever heard me sing.”
“All the same,” he said. Rone’s eyes narrowed as they focused past her, back toward the street where the three men still stood. She turned her head to look again, and saw another man joining them, who was taller and broader of stature. He wore something close to a uniform of blue and green, complete with an officer’s jacket an chord and her heart leapt as she recognized the colors.
“Cataling,” she said.
Rone swallowed. “They’re probably in every port on the Isle.” He looked back toward the church, and nodded toward it.
“You recognize him, don’t you? Did you know him when you were in the guard?”
“I can’t see his face.”
“If you didn’t recognize him, you wouldn’t be staring.”
“Let’s go,” he said, pulling her toward the ancient house of worship.
She looked back up at the statue of Artifia, her tears falling upon her stone harp, nodded at it, and then walked with Rone toward the wide double doors of the cathedral. The faint sound of the three men laughing, a deeper voice adding to them, caught her ear amidst the fading bell tones.