Sweaty, dirty men worked ceaselessly, unloading and loading in the hot sun while the turquoise Mediterranean shimmered beyond them. I got directions from a short, bald man who leered up at me when he finished.
"You're a tall girl," he observed. "Bet that might bother some men, but not me. You're just the right height as far as I'm concerned."
He laughed, and some of his companions laughed too. The man's face came up right to the height of my chest. I hurried past them with lowered eyes, honing in on the indicated ship. Relief flooded me when I found Kyriakos checking lines and talking to some of the workers. I'd never spoken to him, but I knew who his father was and knew he was trustworthy. He looked up at my approach and smiled.
"You're Marthanes, daughter, right? Letha?"
I nodded. "I'm supposed to tell your father that the shipment can be ready this evening if he wants it early."
"I'll let him know. He's not here."
"All right." We stood there awkwardly for a moment. I could sense him studying me out of the corner of his eye while pretending to study the workers. He looked like he wanted to say something, but when nothing came, I made motions to go. "Well, thanks. I should get back."
"Wait, Letha." He reached out a hand to stop me from turning, then shyly pulled back before actually touching me. "You...didn't walk here by yourself, did you?"
"My father said it wasn't that far. And that I wasn't in much danger of attracting interest. "
Kyriakos made a harsh sound in his throat. "Your father's a fool. Let me walk you back." He hesitated. "But don't tell your father I called him a fool."
He exchanged a few curt words with one of his men and then set out back to town with me. He was older than me, his face tanned from sun and sea. His hair was black and messy, about chin-length, and he stood almost - but not quite - as tall as I did.
"I saw you at that wedding a few days ago," he said after a long stretch of silence. "You were dancing with some other girls. You know...you're really good."
The compliment surprised me. "I think the wine helped."
"No. The wine helped the other girls - or hindered, maybe. I'm not sure." He glanced over at me, and I nearly stumbled at the intensity in his dark eyes. "But you...dancing lives inside of you. The music spoke to you, and you understood it."
"You were playing a flute," I recalled, trying not to blush at the regard in his voice.
"Yes." He sounded happy that I remembered. Silence fell again. We were almost to the market; the sounds of people and commerce drifted down to us. Kyriakos clearly wanted us to keep talking. "So...I heard your sister got married last spring."
"What about you?"
I eyed him. "I didn't get married last spring."
A smile turned up the edges of his lips. "What about next spring?"
"Are you offering?"
"Just checking. I heard my father say..."
I stopped walking near the edge of the market, so I could look him in the eye again. People and animals moved around us, and across a walkway I could see my father talking to a fruit vendor.
"Look," I said brusquely, "I heard my father say it too - how they're thinking about making a marriage between our families. It'd create good trade deals. But if you're trolling for that, you should talk to your father about one of my sisters, not me."
"What? Don't you want to get married?" His smile faltered. "Or is someone else lined up for you?"
I stared incredulously. "No, of course not. You just don't want to marry me, that's all."
"No. You want one of my sisters."
"Yes. They're shorter, prettier, nicer - and softer spoken."
"Can they dance?"
I considered. "No. They're terrible."
His shy smile returned. "Then I want you."
"You're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about. You don't know anything about me. " Of course, in those days, most people knew little about their betrothed. What I found remarkable was his conviction that we were compatible.
"It doesn't matter. I can just tell that you're the one. Can't you feel it?"
I met his eyes and felt a shiver go through me, like I'd stumbled into something bigger and more powerful than both of us. For just a moment, I allowed myself to consider that this man from a highly respected family might legitimately be interested in me. It was a heady feeling, and not just from the honor involved. It was from the way he looked at me and spoke to me, like I was both worthy and an equal. Something built between us, drawing me to him, and it confused me.
"You don't know anything about me," I repeated quietly, my mouth feeling dry.
His tentative smile grew bolder. "I know plenty. I know that you dance and that you're smart - too smart, according to my father. And I know that your family is banned from Lais, bakery because you called her daughter a - "
"That wasn't my fault," I interjected quickly. Across the way, my father caught sight of us. I held up a hand of greeting, and he impatiently gestured me over. "My father wants me."
Kyriakos cast an uncertain look over there and hastily turned back. If I was known for a sharp tongue, my father was reputed to be worse, and however love struck and brazen, Kyriakos apparently wasn't quite up to facing him yet. "I'll have my father talk to yours."
The earlier joking was gone; Kyriakos was all seriousness now. But there was more than just that. His eyes were looking at me in a way I'd never been looked at before. I felt hot, then cold, and then hot again. A tingle played along my flesh. I couldn't take my eyes away from his.
"This isn't about trade deals," I whispered.
"No. This is about you and me. You're the one."
I stared, uncharacteristically short on words. My shock now came more from that crazy feeling swirling inside of me, not from the preposterous nature of his proposal - one he shouldn't have even brought up without the involvement of our families. Later I'd learn what a leap this whole conversation had been for him. He was not given to long speeches or bold behavior. He said little, as a general rule, more content to express himself through his eyes and his music, and later...after we were married, his lovemaking.
"Look," he said, suddenly growing nervous as he misinterpreted my silence and expression, "I've saved. We can get a nice house. You won't have to live with so many people anymore. I'll be gone a lot, but you can probably run things and make deals better than me anyway. Not being able to buy bread will be problematic, but we might be able to afford a servant, or you can learn to - "
"Shut up," I said.
He stared. "What?"
"Just shut up. You're wasting time. Go tell your father to talk to mine. And," I added wryly, "I know how to make bread."
He caught his breath. "You're sure?"
"About the bread? Yes, I'm sure."
A slow smile bloomed across his face, spreading up into his eyes, making them smolder. I felt my pulse quicken and smiled back. Nothing else needed to be said. My father yelled again, and I ran off to join him.
Pondering this memory and what was now happening with Seth, I stared dazedly out the front window and caught sight of Jody checking the mail.
"Hey," I told Bastien. "I want to go say hi to her."
I ran outside and waved, making her break out into one of her big, beautiful smiles. To my surprise, she even hugged me.
"Ooh! I'm so glad to see you. How have you been?"
We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then she grabbed my arm excitedly. "Are you busy today? You want to go to the mall?"
To my surprise, that actually sounded like fun. More fun than listening to Bastien bitch and moan. "Sure."
"Great. I'll go tell Dana."
When I went inside to relay this to Bastien a few minutes later, he took Dana's presence on the proposed shopping trip much better than I had.
"That's fantastic! More time for - "
"So help me, if you say 'reconnaissance,' I'm going to smack you. I'm only in this for the clothes."
"Fair enough. But this is a golden opportunity, and you know it. You can feel her out. Put in a good word for me, maybe. Something. Anything. I need this. But," he added, "don't do it at the cost of being...detrimental."