Aziz gazed into the horizon from the forest, watching the small flicker of fires that blazed in their lanterns above the cobbled bridge. He would not enter. Not yet.
There was no rush.
He had spent the night sleeping outside the city limits of Gerstund among the fallen leaves. The next day he woke late, drifting in and out of sleep as the sun rose among the trees. Broken sunlight shifted across his body during the morning, gradually nudging him awake. Aziz continued to lay on the leaves and earth, hearing the heart of things all around him.
It would be different, he told himself. The cities of the Southern Aurians were far, far different than the northern tribes of the Kahnaan, and even among his own people he did not enjoy their company. Nevertheless, Kahnaan was his home. Although the forest offered him peace of mind, the city was foreign, despite being so close.
He rose from the leaves, as crushed portions clung to his tanned skin and wolf mantle. His eyes wandered towards the direction of the bridge, but he looked away to the west. Making his way deeper into the forest, he plucked at wild blackberries. He had his fill from the day before by catching wild fowl.
Aziz thumbed the blackberries in his hand, eating them one at a time as his eyes wandered between the west and the small span between himself and the bridge. The blackberries stained his fingers, and he was sure his lips were stained as well. He decided to wash himself first before venturing into the city.
He walked further to the west and to the south, where the river separated the northern forest from the main city. Standing at its bank, he reached into the river noting his reflection: A young man of twenty-six compared to his elder, his sturdy face was partly covered by the wolf mantle over his head, but his dark brown eyes watched the ebb and flow of the stream. He removed the hood, allowing his long black hair to fall onto his shoulders. For the longest time, he could not recall how long it had been since he lived among other people. Whenever he would go to speak with his Elder, Arif, the women of his village would berate him for his hair. He wondered if the Aurian women would do the same.
Aziz’s tribesmen had called him the Wise Wolf of Kahnaan for his esoteric knowledge and lonely wanderings. He had dwelt in the forests of Kahnaan, living off the lands like the monastic monks of the Asciran Tundra lived in their snow-filled deserts.
Now he was called to teach at this Aurian city by his Chieftain in a land overrun by man, where the heart of things could only be heard as whispers.
Aziz scooped up water in his hands, splashing it onto his rugged, lean face. There was no rush, he told himself. He removed his wolf mantle and his garments to wash the rest of his body in the river. The water rose halfway up his thigh, brushing against his leg as it flowed to the west. He pondered on the things these waters had coursed through. The distant lands of the Vanerii to the east, corn fields, cities, forests, small lakes, women and children bathing in it, animals drinking from it, eventually stemming from the great Atta ocean.
Gerstund would be quieter than the river and far less knowledgeable. He leaned down into the river, laying into it. The flow brushed against his body, entangling itself among his hair. The city could wait. It would not go anywhere. He agreed to go in place of others, if only due to the coercion of Arif. As long as he went, he would not break his promise to Arif. It did not matter when.
Aziz closed his eyes, listening to the heart of things once more. Animals and children fall asleep to the sound of a heart beating beside them, just as Aziz drifted into his own sleep listening to the heart of things.
The sun drifted into the west as Aziz’s body floated and drifted near the banks of the river. The stars would soon appear, telling their own stories in the night sky: The Great Storm Crow that foretold danger; the Young Mother who doted upon the the Phoenix; and the summer Triad–the Arrow, Archer, and Mark–would drift out of view as winter would come.
Aziz roused himself in a panic. The earth was dark and cool, and he was shivering. He looked down the river, noticing he had drifted some ways. Shaking the water off his body, he moved quickly east along the river to find his garments, then he headed along the embankment towards the bridge.
Two men were stationed at its entrance, watching down the road and into the forests. Possible savants of fire, Aziz mused. He would not appear on the road, for fear of startling them, but also so he would not need to interact with them.
Aziz placed his hand along the wet earth near the river, summoning small pillars of tightened gravel along the river. He jumped on to each of these, crossing the river without alerting the two savants. The pillars dissolved into the river as it flowed once he crossed.
He reached into his mantle, looking for the letter of introductions his Chieftain had written. He was to find and speak with Archseer Wilhelm, whom Aziz had a brief acquaintance with some years ago. He would find Wilhelm, figure out what he needed to do, then go about finding somewhere to live–possibly outside the city limits in the forest.
Aziz wandered through the city streets, noticing the outward spiraling of shops and buildings from the main academy. Once a town with the academy at its center, it grew into a larger city as more distinguished savants were known for their studies there.
He lurked in the shadows, making his way further inward. Lanterns hung around the corners of streets and some shops that were still open at the time. Men, young and old, wandered the streets at times–some who had finished drinking and others who were about to start. Aziz placed his hand along a stone-brick wall, willing several bricks to push outward. He climbed them and ran along the rooftops.
Along the rooftops he noticed various gargoyles perched in corners. Some stared down into the streets, whereas others stared into the sky or into the horizon. He thought he noticed one of them watching him as he raced along the roofs, but paid it no mind. He was near the high walls of the academy.
Aziz heard a crash nearby and the sound of a woman cursing. He leaned over the rooftop. A small, frail creature was struggling in a bush. Above her was a window with a tied bed sheet in knots.
“”Woman. Are you hurt?” He peered down to her, noticing that she became more entangled in the bush.
“What– Who!” The young lady scrambled within the bush, trying to escape from its grasp. “Who’s there!” She tried looking in every direction but could not see where the voice had come from.
Aziz broke off a piece of tile from the rooftop, and threw it in her direction. “Here. I am Aziz.”
Startled, she looked up, noticing a wolf looking down at her. “What are you doing up there!”
“What are you doing down there?” He said, imitating her dialect.
“Look, look. It’s nothing.” She continued struggling, as the sharpened portions of the bush began to pierce her dress.
“Hmm. Nothing. You say.” Aziz jumped down from the rooftop, landing quietly on the earth. “Do you. Need help?” He moved closer to her, noticing her soft, blonde hair in the in the moonlight.
“Help? From you? I don’t even know you. Look, just mind your own business.”
“Mind my own business,” imitating her dialect again. “Okay.” He turned around, looking for a way back up to the rooftop. He placed his hand beside the building the lady had fallen from, willing for more stones to push outward.
“No, no! Wait!” She tried to set herself free. “Please help.”
He turned back towards her and stretched out his hand. “Take it.”
She gripped his hand as he firmly pulled her up out of the bush. He had moved his other arm inside it beneath her legs to lift her up. The thorns of the bush clung to her dress, slightly ripping it near her breast. She firmly grasped him from behind his neck as he lifted her, feeling the fur of the mantle bristle against her forearm. She gripped his shoulder, holding onto the contours of his lean muscles.
“Thanks, um, Aziz was it?”
He nodded, placing her onto the ground. The torn portion of her dress revealed a portion of her body. He blushed, eyes widening, but the young lady continued speaking.
“My name is Sylvie Leblanc–” She curtsied. The portion of her torn dress draped downward. She rose from the curtsy, holding the torn portion against herself, embarrassed.
“I should. Go.” Aziz climbed up the wall to the rooftop while Sylvie stood speechless.