The Levour Exhibition, Chapter Three–The Fairgrounds, continued

Anna found her tent hard to leave. It was all soft green and lavender cloth, and vases of lilies, and a wonderful writing desk stocked with paper, pens, ink, and pencils of every lead softness. There were shelves of books on Levour, a Levour and Trade Common dictionary, a book of poems by the bard Tehvan, and an art history text. Her sleeping room was curtained with old tapestries in lush greens and soft blues, her bed was piled with more blankets and pillows than she’d ever slept in, and her wardrobe housed a new work apron with touches of delicate embroidery, and drafting and measuring tools already in the pockets.

Before she was done hanging up her sopping cloak and escaping her sodden boots, there was a clap at the door. It was not Teresthan or the workmen. A middle-aged woman with her long braid wrapped several times round her head stood there with a little cart that held a steaming copper bathtub of hot water. Anna could have hugged her. Instead, she helped pull the cart in to the rush-floored dressing room and tug the tub onto the block set there for it.

The woman pointed out the soaps and towels and smiled warmly. “Don’t you worry about coming out again until this here’s as cold as what’s falling out there,” she said. “I’ll have tea laid out in your sitting area by the time you’re dressed.”

“Thank you,” said Anna. “You are wonderful, and kind.”

“I’m Hildre, and I dare say I’m happy to have you here to keep the lads at work.”

That sounded ominous, but all was forgotten once Anna was happily submerged in hot water. She washed away spattered mud, stress, and annoyance. After her bath, swathed in a big soft robe and slippers, she drank tea and heard the rain diminishing on the canvas above. She found a pretty but practical frock in her luggage that matched her new work apron, dressed once again for the day, and spread her papers out over her desk, formulating a list of questions she had about the where, how, and why of a number of points in the plans.

At last she emerged from the tent, resolute, with dry boots inside big wood clogs, rolled plans and notes in a waterproof case, and her own umbrella hung sword-fashion at her side, through one of the loops on her work apron.

Teresthan sat outside on a folding camp stool, in the newly emerged sunlight, fiddling about with a flute. Crystals of water dropped from the branches behind him, along with petals from a blossoming tree. A few petals had caught in his shining black curls.

Anna cleared her throat. “Do you really have nothing better to do than wait for me? Or were you planning a serenade?”

“Oh, I’m always planning one serenade or other,” Teresthan admitted. “It’s something I’m rather good at, music. That’s a good thing for me, too. You’ve seen one of my drawings. I’d be an awful artist.”

He tucked the flute into one of his long south-style sleeves, revealing for a moment an embroidered silk band on his arm where K’shay tanna warriors wore theirs.

Anna decided not to ask. To business at once and permanently was probably the best course with this one.

“And at present, I am waiting to escort the director of the exhibition on a tour of the grounds,” he continued, with a low bow. “I am your lowly assistant.”

Anna consulted her map. “Let’s start with the tower, here.”

Teresthan winced. “We haven’t started that bit in earnest yet. There was an engineering problem with the supports on the south end, the soil being different entirely from the gravel on the north. As I understand, it would have tipped right off the cliff if we’d gone ahead. Don’t worry, though! I have a cousin who’s an engineer, and is working on the problem right now. He’s a genius.”

“Mmm,” said Anna. “And the large tent here?”

“We started it, but the ring supports turned out not to be quite strong enough to hold the full weight of all that canvas in the winds we get up here. But not to worry, I have a cousin who is a metal smith working on reinforcing those right now.”

“Of course,” said Anna. “And the planting in the gardens? Do you have a cousin there too?”

“No, just two of the best growers in all Shandor, Nanny Greenfingers and Selva Mott. We can go visit them. They’ll probably be back at work now they have that soil they wanted.”

“They haven’t been able to plant yet?”

“It’s the dirt up here. Everything good’s been washed downslope, and Nanny doesn’t like the Levour earth, and insists good Shandorian Land is needed to make the plants glad and listening.”

A sharp surge of panic and annoyance rose above all the rest that had been building inside Anna for days, and it sloshed everything up and over into helpless laughter. Teresthan looked surprised by the laugh, or its tone. “Why haven’t you torn your hair out?” Anna asked him, bemused now. There was a point when enough things had gone mad that you could only laugh at them.

“Because it,” he ruffled his hair with his fingers, loosing stray petals, “and my singing voice are all I have left to cajole people with.” He smiled brightly. “It’s the world’s way to throw up barricades and my way to find secret passages through.”

“You seem also to be fortunate in cousins.”

“You’ve no idea. I’m related to everybody, even the famous dead ones.”

“I imagine that helps you slide through barricades.”

“It does,” he said, a bit shamefacedly. “I’m ridiculously privileged, unfairly talented, connected, and educated, and also improbably handsome. It’s a bit embarrassing. Try to ignore it. I do.”

“Do you?”

“Not very well. You seem better at it. I’ll try and be useful anyway.” He offered her his arm.

She took it. “Where are we going?”

“If I may be so bold as to offer a destination, there is a delightful little place with Levour pastries that hasn’t raised its prices for the incoming tourists yet. It’s where everyone goes to weep over their troubles with their exhibits into glasses of the best wines and coffees in the city. We can get our lunch and catharsis at the same time, and perhaps even witness an altercation between the artists vying for space in the promenade gallery. They’ve been near blows for days.”

“But we are going to work.” She tapped her plans.

“Of course we are. We’re going to work ourselves into utter exhaustion making the best exhibition this fair never could have imagined. We will work like the Ancients, growing towers from the stones, but not until we’ve remembered that we’re in Levour, and that it is beautiful. We’re performing what we love, the harp strings are still dry, and work is made joy with just enough fine food and a bottle of Levour wine.”

“We are not going to go get drunk.”

“Of course not. We’re going to watch the Maribellans get drunk and argue with the Firausvau.”

“We’re going to be back here in—“

“Two hours or less, and we’ll bring back some pastries to cheer on our sodden friends,” he said.

Anna took his arm, and let herself be waltzed away through the rising camp. Later, she promised herself–and soon–they would get everything, somehow, in proper order.

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