In the city, there’s a woman. She’s quite young but not so young that your adult mind could catalog her into the rubric of a child. She has her own stature and poise, her own vector through the crowds; she has places to go.During the day, with the warm, warm wind subtly holding her cheeks in a supple embrace, she runs from stall to stall. She has the day’s goals tied to her shoulders, containers that hold all that must still be done. Be it for her own, humble aspirations or for those of men and women of longer mustaches and larger ambitions, she pours her sweat into the cobblestones. Anointed with her spring step, with the fluid embodiment of her time and effort, the stones disappear under foot as she hops from place to place in the Orange Markets (so named, of course, for the distinct hue which makes up the walls and the air and the people).
Afternoon. There is a hint of respite, both from the heat and from the sharp gazes of those that hire her, as the sun begins to fade. There are plenty more hours of light remaining but, soon, as the harsh yellows of noon fade into the soft embers of early evening, lemon water will wait on a windowsill. She lives, our woman, a few blocks away from the market. Somehow, contrary to what you might imagine (I’m on to you, you sneaky imaginer), she doesn’t live in a hovel. Her house is spacious and embracing, existent without flaring into grandeur. Most of all, it is cool; shadows dominate its interiors, providing an imperfect mirror to those casts by stall coverings in the Markets, tarpaulins which suffocate the air rather than free it from the heat. Here, in her home, close to the Markets, there are soft edges and softer people, murmurings of water and whispers of shade. It is a good place.
The house is called Matner. It means “flowing dark” but in what language, only one person knows and others wonder. You see, it is well into evening now and our woman is, like the moon which now celebrates a triumph through the Rome of the sky, celebratory in her other skills. After the day’s hopping is done, after a scorching return across anointed cobblestones, after the lemon water has been drunk and the shade sojourned in, our heroine names. In her own, soft language, syllables woven from intentions and intuition, she names everything around her. The stories are street corners and treetops, shadow and light splayed between the streets that run underneath her veins. Walking them with a sure, calm stride, she lets her eye roam. Naming, to the chagrin of the learned Stolae in their University Towers, is a skill more akin to art than to science (not that such a divide means anything, whether in scorching noon or cool evening). So, her eyes roams free and whatever it lands on, whatever her heart calls out, whatever her supple, weary hands come to rest on, she names.
The denizens of the city, often bejeweled merchants or stocky up-and-comers that live like squires around the knighthood of the Orange Markets, react according to their own temperament. Those whose eyes are still wet, whose blood still runs fast and free through the capillary caverns in the underworld of their bodies, they lean slightly forward. Like the poor clutching at carpet-ends after a king’s coronation, they slightly bend towards the sacred moment, knowing that it doesn’t exist by sheer probability but hoping that, perhaps this time, a name shall be bestowed on them or their things or their loved ones or their places. Those who already stand bowed, their shoulders hunched over with something quite different to the fever that possesses the aforementioned semi-believers, they move slightly back. Their calcified fingernails and manicured bones move before the ripples of the naming, the ontological premonitions that herald the coming of verbal genesis. Like a sleeper who wakes too slowly or your skin when it transitions from extreme heat to cold, this initial bestirring hurts them. Muscle memory long repressed suddenly comes back and that which was once dead (or, at least, storied to be dead) now jolts back to life with a painful pinch.
For names are, in this broken world, the closest there is to magic and our heroine is, in this broken world, the closest there is to a magus. “Matsel” she whispered once at the opening to her house, where light flowed in (which explains the name) and mixed with the dark within and so it was, the light dancing ever so slightly faster, almost giggling underneath the touch of the syllables undulating from her tongue. She smiled then and went to her favorite cafe, where upon she consumed oily vine leaves, her favorite dish. Naming left her ravenous, as if something rode back on the vibrations of her craft and knocked at the doors of her cellular structure and demanded a balancing of the price. This evening, which could be any evening, really, her stomach is yet full; no flagpole or tree or window has yet caught the sparkling hook of her eye. She’s not frustrated exactly, our heroine, but perhaps her step is a bit quicker, as the sun begins its slow descent into the ocean. Perhaps her teeth are slightly set, soft pressure permeating her cheekbones as words and names dip and dive behind their white, calcium-constructed bars. Perhaps her poise is somewhat missing, muscle-awareness and balance lost in a growing desire that sweeps before it the pretensions of the self at control.
All that is meaningless for she turns a corner and suddenly, she knows where is she is going for she has already arrived. The corners of her lips, far from delicate after years of working in the orange dust, crack slightly as the faintest smile pushes them upwards. She is in a square she knows well, not far from Matner, her home. In fact, she can see its cool windows or one of their corners, at the very least, just up the street. Above the square though, her eyes now returned to survey the scene for a place to rest, lies a very different house than her abode but perhaps one which is also somehow the same? Regardless, she knows it well; everyone knows it, and its blue-wearing denizen well. Perhaps she even spies his face on one of the balconies, moving one of the silken drapes quickly across to avoid her gaze. Yes, this is definitely where she had been heading. For, you must by now understand, nearly nothing of the square and even less of the house and surely nothing of the blue-clad man had been named. Not exactly a fear but an apprehension, an instinct written deep into her cells, had up until now guided her away from this place. Even though it was so close to where she lived (or perhaps exactly because of that, sensing some domicile danger) she had only once or twice entered this square and let her eye snag and her heart leap and her tongue speak.
But now that biological tug was gone and with the ease of olfactory oils she slid across the square and closer towards the small garden in front of the house, naming left and right. Her eye snagged and her heart leaped and her tongue spook, all imagery of bursting dams irrelevant in the face of the flood of song and language that flowed from her. “Sinbak” (Little Friend) she spoke to the curve which made the square a square. “Selnir” (Light Shadow) she told the flicker of shade that hugged the lamp as the sun fled the coming night. “Baket” (Friend Maker) she sang to the gate that opened into the little garden. “Filop” (Sister Stone) she intoned to the first step, one of three, that led to the door of the house, the door that opened only once or twice a year. “Elhar” she whispered to the man in blue as he opened the door from within, tears carving deep tunnels into his cheek as years of isolation came crashing down in front of her shoulders, in front of her callouses, in front of the practical, human, living, breathed, lived in beauty that was her body, in front of the radiating vitality she exuded, the Orange Market smeared on her knees, the musk of spices that she carried lilting on her long, dexterous fingers. “Elhar” she breathed to the main in blue as he offered her his hand, his eye snagging and his heart leaping and his tongue craving the contours of her neck. “Elhar” she murmured into his shoulder as she gathered herself to him, tension breaking between them, the city humming inside them, the names flooding before them, the drapes snapping above them, the house resplendent around them.
“Elhar” he recited, finally breaking his age old silence, as the door closes behind them, finally naming her, finally giving her back what she had given so freely to everyone, merchants and urchins and citizens and strangers and crooks and priests all, simply taking and taking more. “Elhar” he assures her, his voice muffled as they stand in his flowing, deep hall, giving reality to her name, anchoring it to her body, to her self, to her dreams, to his hand on her shoulder and her calcified fingernails coming to life as they brush his tears from his eyes, as they eat at his sorrow with their soft hunger, as they trace the valleys of each and every line on his cheeks.
Elhar. Starnamer he names her and in doing so she dies and he dies and the lights die and the night comes and the stars live and they smile.