The comment appalled Jana; she started to speak but realized that Mariel wasn’t reacting. Her face was blank as the women passed by, but her fingers curled into a fist.
“I am sure it was a biased opinion,” Jana said.
“Pretty to think so,” Mariel replied.
“Here we go!” Roy said, reappearing with his hands full. “Best fabric in all the Anubia kingdom!”
Mariel smiled, taking the stack of various colors to the cart. “Thanks, Roy, Mom will be happy.”
“Oh, and take this too!” He handed her a large sack. “Alboda will like these.”
Mariel opened the bag to the smell of fresh red apples. “Thank you, he’ll appreciate it.”
“I thought an offering was in order after that Finley kid caused trouble.”
“Word has already gotten out about that?”
“Oh yes, lucky you were there or that boar would have speared that brat for sure.”
Mariel shrugged and thanked Roy again, who promised to stop by to get a full helping of Amon’s cooking before he left. Jana spoke little as the pair of Paladins made their way through the market, studying the surrounding people. Some were hesitant, even fearful of Mariel’s approach, while others smiled politely in her presence and sneered as soon as Mariel turned away from them. To Jana’s surprise and relief, Mariel ignored all of it, but the tension in her body was apparent, the sour expression on her face becoming harder to hide. The cart was full by the time they finished the list, and the afternoon sun hung orange in the sky.
“Hungry?” Mariel asked.
“Come on, there’s an amazing waffle stand a little further down.”
The expectation of food seemed to lift Mariel’s mood a bit, despite the continued looks thrown her way. They reached the stand when there was a loud shout, followed by a crash. The Paladins walked towards the commotion, villagers scattering away from the yelling.
“Look at what you’ve done you, oaf!”
A spindly man with a what looked like a magnifying glass strapped to his head waved his arms and a stout, bushy bearded man before stooping down to collect several jewels scattered on the ground.
“What I’ve done? You’re the idiot who wasn’t paying attention. Look at all the pottery you broke,” the stout said, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
“Who cares about your crummy pots? Look at the damage to my stall,” said the jeweler.
Mariel sighed as they approached. “These two again,” she muttered. “Hey, what’s going on?”
The question stopped the fighting, but now the jeweler and the potter were staring at her. “Great, now Mariel is here,” the jeweler said, his rat-like nose twitching at her.
“If you weren’t such a buffoon, she wouldn’t be here,” the potter added with a huff.
“Both of you shut up,” Mariel said.
Jana stepped forward, sensing that the situation could quickly escalate. “What seems to be the problem, gentleman?”
“Don’t encourage them. These two are always trying to sabotage each other.” Mariel placed a hand on her hip. “I told you guys last time to stop setting up near each other.”
“I have as much right to be here as him!” The potter exclaimed.
The jeweler made a rude sound. “Well, I’ve been here longer!”
Mariel rubbed her eyes. “Look, I already offered to move one of your stalls to another location in the market. Greg, You could move down with the other jewelers, and you two would never see each other. I’ll even repair the damage to your stall.”
The jeweler scoffed. “I refuse to sit alongside those scoundrels. They have no pride in their work. The potter should move.”
“You should move! Those trinkets can hardly be called art!” Greg yelled.
“Why does it matter? Isn’t it more important to run your business efficiently?” Mariel asked.
Goodness. Jana cringed. While Mariel tried to handle the situation diplomatically, she was falling short.
“You can’t even handle being a Paladin. Who are you to give us advice on our business?”
“Yeah!” Frank added.
Mariel pressed her lips into a thin line. “Alright, if you two don’t want to compromise, then I’ll destroy your stalls, and that will be the end of it.”
“Mariel! You cannot be serious!” Jana exclaimed. “That is not the solution to this ordeal.”
“If they won’t bother to try, why should I?” Mariel asked, walking towards the stalls. She raised her fist above the jeweler’s counter, whose face was pale with terror. Several pieces of glimmering necklaces and rings sat defenseless under the Paladin’s hand. The villagers gathered, none daring to speak out against Mariel. Jana reached for her shield that was strapped to her back.
“Mariel, please stop this, let these men cool their heads and then we can fix this.”
“What would you know? You haven’t lived with these people. You haven’t dealt with the bullshit they spew when they think I don’t hear them. You haven’t had them come running to you for every minor inconvenience, demanding that I do something about it or the cursing me when I don’t come running right away. Just for them to bitch about how I’m not good enough. How it’s never good enough.”
Mariel raised her fist, throwing it full force towards the wooden stall. Jana threw her shield, stopping Mariel’s attack. It spun mid-air, whistling like a songbird. Mariel’s blue eyes turned into a raging sea, her breath becoming staggered. Suddenly, something sped towards Mariel’s face, catching it easily in her hand. It was a large rock. Her eyes scanned the crowd for the assailant.
“Who threw this?!” she yelled, igniting gasps and whispers in the crowd. The angry Paladin held the rock out in her hand, crushing it into pebbles. “You’ll need a lot more than a rock, you fucking cowards.”
No one moved as Mariel walked to the cart, grabbing the sack of apples. The people parted as she approached, eyes darted to the ground. Jana watched her walk away, her heart heavy with the understanding of why her fellow Paladin was so sullen.
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