Veles' player

Chapter 1 | December 29, 2019.

Entering through the high gates of Carevgrad was a special experience for young Zharkozel. The streets were crowded with people who didn’t notice the red-haired man and his father. So far he hasn’t had the opportunity to come to the capital city of Orloslavia. Father told him that he was old enough to join the journey. 

“We need to find the street that leads to Vivid Square,” father said.

“Let’s ask someone,” suggested Zharkozel.

“No, I came here once. It should be right there.”

Zharkozel clutched the reins of his donkey loaded with soft wool. They planned to sell wool in a huge city that was growing daily. Surrounded by high walls, people were building upstairs houses so everyone could live there. Craftsmen and traders from all over the world came here to sell everything they could. They didn’t care about expensive rentals and small apartments with then people inside. Their only goal was to earn as much as they could and be protected by the mighty Eagle Army.

Moving through a narrow street covered by the shadow of tall buildings, Zharkozel and his father finally find a Vivid Square. He stared at the emperor’s distant palace, built of brilliant yellow stone with a dark blue roof. It was equally wide and tall, surrounded by eight thick towers, for each of the eight kingdoms that Vukan the Mighty conquered when he founded the Orloslavian empire. It was different than everything that existed in the empire. For its construction, emperor Vukan hired builders from the ancient Moon Valley, a land far beyond the Storm Sea. Mathematicians, as the people call them, were skilled construction workers and artisans who are known all around the world for their craft and science, but also for a high price. But the emperor didn’t care to pay as much as they were asked to build the most beautiful and largest palace in the world.

Zharkozel’s father cares for a square full of people.

“We have to find a tailor among this crowd,” he said.

“I see woolen sweaters out there at the counter,” Zharkozel pointed.

The smooth man smiled at the women who were looking at the goods on the table. They turned clothes from hand to hand. The merchant did his best to convince them to buy his products.

“It’s too expensive, let’s get out of here!” The women grunted and then continued to the next counter.

“You don’t know nothing,” the angry salesman murmured, then smiled when he saw Zharkozel and his father. “Please, gentlemen, do you want to buy these warm sweaters from Lagon’s wool?”

“We’re here to show you our wool,” father smiled.

The merchant frowned when he saw the loaded donkeys. He stared at Zharkozel and his green eyes, then turned attention to the messy young man’s hair. The milky white face, pointed by freckles, stared stiffly at the tailor, who seemed to be gasped by his rare red mustache.

“Ah disgusting shepherds,” the tailor murmured to himself, but Zharkozel heard it well. He looked at his father, who seemed as if those words had not reached his ears. He tried to present his wool to a grumpy tailor. However, he waited and bumped, trying to look disinterested.

Zhakozel was attracted by the musicians on the square. Crowds watched them cheerfully when they played bagpipes and guitars. Stunned by their performance, the young man moves away from his father and comes closer to watch their performance.

Among these musicians was a strange boy. He had brown curly hair and weird yellow eyes, like a cat’s. A silver serpent-shaped necklace hugged him around his neck, and he wore a bear fur coat over a small body wrapped in a leather suit. He had brown pants on his legs, with dirty bare feet peeking out. He was holding a strange instrument that Zharkozel had never seen. Thin strings stretched along the wooden body that extended towards the top.

With his little fingers, the boy touched the strings that breathed in a simple but strong melody. Fully focused on them, Zharkozel felt the melody move him. It swirled in his head for a moment, as if he lost consciousness. He noticed that he saw somehow different, that colors were spilling before his eyes. 

On the purple sky, strange green stars began to appear. A dark red sun slid across the zenith with black rings around. He looked deeper at it and saw a crowd of strange bright spots coming in and out the rings. He looked around and realized he was no longer in the square. There were no palace or townhouses, but tall blue towers that scattered the sky. There were other people around Zharkozel, dressed in strange leather suits. They were much taller than him with long thin arms. He couldn’t see their faces because they wear helmets with black glass. But the boy was still performing in front of them. It seemed that strange people were listening to his song as well.

And just as the young man has immersed himself into a strange world, the boy stopped the song, and like a curtain, the whole scene fell and disappeared. Again he saw a square with a crowd of people giving applause to the boy. It seemed as if no one had seen anything of what Zharkozel was.

He looked around to see where his father was and realized that he still tries to convince a tailor. This could take time, he thought and approached the boy.

“What kind of instrument is that?” He asked.

“This is volyopred,” the boy replied.

With a confused look on his face, he observed the instrument. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Would you like to play something on it?” He asked kindly.

“Uh, I don’t know how to play stringed instruments, I wouldn’t ruin it,” Zharkozel argued.

The boy looked at him curiously. “Too bad, what do you know to play?”

“Flute,” he said proudly and forgot what he wanted to ask. He pulled out a wooden flute under the red sweater. Zharkozel loved to play music. Sheep-keeping was especially boring for him, so during that time, he practiced playing shepherd songs on flute.

“Would you like to play a song with me?” the boy asked.

Zhakozel flinched. “Here? In front of people? ”

“Why not?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” he refused.

“There is nothing to be afraid of. Try it,” the boy assured.

Playing in front of a crowd seemed like a climb to the top of a huge mountain. All those eyes and faces that looked at him were tensing in his muscles.

The boy first starts playing a fast rhythm on his instrument. The audience was smiling and clapping their hands. “Come on, come on,” the boy called out to him. The atmosphere was so exciting. I might try, he thought.

The young man stepped forward boldly and began playing his flute. There were loud and screaming sounds coming from it. His fingers trembled over the holes in the flute. The boy noticed that, so he whispered to him.

“Take a deep breath and close your eyes.”

He followed him and closed his eyes so he couldn’t look at the people. He focused only on music and what he played. All he could feel now was a strong heartbeat that slowly met the rhythm of the boy’s gig. He swiftly ran his fingers over the strings and jumped from place to place. The crowd followed him in this. Soon everyone was playing in the square. The women lifted their long skirts to wrap their arms around the men that held them. The children clapped their hands shyly as the elders watched the dance of youth. Zharkozel felt as if the stream of the river had carried him.

The crowd applauded enthusiastically as soon as the boy and Zharkozel finished their show.

“You see, you can,” the boy smiled at him. “You play beautifully.”

Zharkozel blushed. “Thanks, and you can enhance the atmosphere.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” he smiled.

“Son, what are you doing there? Come here!” Suddenly Zharkozel’s father called. He wriggled like he was dreaming and saw a familiar red face and a balding head.

“I have to go,” he said quickly to the boy and ran toward his father.

“You found yourself having fun with these people,” he scolded. “I need your help to unpack the wool. I convinced the tailor to buy it, let’s go to his shop.”

The young man looked back and saw that the boy was no longer in the square.

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