House of Shadows

by Vanzetti

Lyons. 10th day of Ramadan, 962 A.H.

The buildings and passages block the direct light of the sun and create some respite from the heat, but they cannot make it set more quickly. Marthe hurries past a corner tavern, trying not to notice the smell of roasting meat and fresh bread; she has already had to refuse a meal with a dealer from Bruges. Now another has come out of his shop to speak with her, a wine merchant, hoping for business: Jerrott, she thinks, certainly drinks enough to keep him and his family for the year. She puts him off as well, says she will send her husband to see him. If he's sober rests unsaid, acid on her tongue. She swallows.

August is too hot, the days too long; she hopes against her own knowledge that September will bring some ease. She barely knows why she is fasting, a white woman in a French city: she does not pray, does not avoid wine herself, has returned in every other way to the culture of her birth. And yet even now, as she turns a corner into shadow and smells the smoke of apple-wood, she is transported back, nearly ten years, to early winter in the hills above Izmir: wood on the braziers through quiet days spent in prayer and sleep, then darkness lit by torches, the food prepared to break the fast, chatter and relief and welcome, foreign as she was. At the end of the alley, the sun glares on copper vessels; if she closes her eyes she will see the fire, the shadows of dancing figures. She will smell incense and roses and hear music and the cries of the worshipers. She will feel welcome; she will feel home.

Marthe keeps her eyes open. She will remain in this alien city, where the people look like her. She will stay with the man who loves not her, but what she resembles. She will return to the tall, dark house she was raised in, the house which is not hers, and await the sunset there.


Written for the Eid Fic challenge on Livejournal. In 1555 C.E., the first day of Ramadan fell on August 18th. Izmir is the Greek Smyrna, on the west coast of Anatolia.  Marthe Crawford and her situation are the invention of Dorothy Dunnett, and appear in the novels of her Lymond Chronicles.  Many thanks to Cofax for looking it over prior to posting.

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