The way to call on Hualla is to send a message; she is not noble or particuarly important. However, she has been known to take a few hours to reply, when she is already busy… Mellia escapes the seamstresses and hurries off to Hualla.
She is in her comfortable room, long and thin, with her weaving at one end and her pigments and needles at another. The loom has a pattern of bright blue and green diamonds, almost certainly a shawl for Hualla to wear to an important wedding. The woman greets Mellia with a deep bow, and asks, “How may I serve?”
“I need a Lightbringer tattoo,” Mellia answers. “I should have done this the last time I was here.”
There is only a slight pause before she says, “Of course. A solid fill, or a colour cloud?” That is, how much ink does Mellia want used as a filling of the lines.
“A color cloud,” Mellia says. “It’s got to be in blue. I was thinking of a bright blue.”
“Internal lines and patterns?” Hualla looks hopeful.
“By all means, but blue is the only color we can use.”
Hualla looks intrigued, in the way she does when her mind is working. “Where? How large?”
“I am thinking about the middle of my forehead, not too large.”
“It will have to be half a finger high,” she says dubiously. “The centre could be between your eyes, to make it large enough to see obviously. It is not a simple set of lines.”
Mellia nods. “I want to leave room for a fox above one eyebrow. Should we move this tattoo?”
Hualla goes to fetch a plaster board which has old scratching in it, and a sharp scraper, and with a few practiced motions draws a face with a Lightbringers Rune on it, the top spiral about an inch across and the three descending lines framing half of the nose. There is room over the eyebrows still, although she says, “It depends of course on how large the fox is, and the position and pose.”
Mellia says, “That looks good. Will it distort my smile?”
“No, not at all. It will not reach down nearly that far, although it will wrinkle with a frown, but it would in that position anyway.”
“It’s good. Let’s do it.”
“Have you had not too much to drink lately?” She politely checks if Mellia needs to empty her bladder first.
“Let me go take care of that. I was getting measured and fitted again.” Mellia hurries off and hurries back.
Meantime, Hualla feeds her fire, and warms a pot of water by heating an ornate twist of bronze and dropping it into the water on a chain. With that, she makes a tea from bark and herbs, to ward off the very edge of the repeated pricks, and to give Mellia a bitter taste to concentrate on. “You are not pregnant, are you?” she checks before putting in the last ingredients.
“Not yet,” Mellia replies. “Mother is so disappointed.”
The pinch of yellow-green fibre goes in. “Please drink, and then sit,” Hualla says. “We will be a few hours.”
Mellia drinks, then sits down. She tries to get comfortable.
Hualla’s seat tilts back a little under weight, and has a back to lean against. She waits until Mellia is comfortable and then takes her own packet of herbs, in her case to sweeten the breath, and sits on a stool to get to the right height. “You have done this before,” she says, “And will do it again. Think of the meaning this mark has, as I make it.”
Mellia relaxes in the chair. She calls to mind her memories of the Lightbringers’ Quest. Mellia also tries to be absolutely still.
Hualla has a board with several bright blues, subtly different, set against plaster painted the colour of skin. “Half thinking, now, touch a finger to the one you like the most.”
Mellia picks a shade of blue that resembles a bright sky.
Hualla takes out several pins, then, all made of bronze with tiny bone spikes, and she checks each against the light, and then she puts them aside, satisfied. She picks up the pot of blue marked in the colour that Mellia has selected. She dips her left thumb in that, and with her right hand picks up a pin, and begins making tiny pricks on Mellia’s forehead, letting the blue rub in and be carried by the needle. As Mellia knows already, tattoos over bone hurt most, and this is largely over bone. Slowly, a blueish blur grows at the inner edges of her vision. Hualla talks about the city, and the weather, and her plans, and gets Mellia to concentrate on wiggling her toes, on finger counting games, and on what it will be like to be married.
Mellia comments, “I will be so happy when I am finally wed. The seamstresses are driving me crazy. I keep telling myself that Venlar will love my dress.”
“Your smile is creasing your forehead…” Hualla moves onto the nose for a while. “In my experience a wedding dress should be slow to take off, and that makes them love you all the more.”
Mellia smiles even more. “Venlar might rip off the dress if it’s too hard to get off. He is very impatient to be wed. The negotiations took longer than we wanted.”
The prickled area on her forehead reminds Mellia a little of light sunburn, as the skin stretches. “Oh, make sure you let your dressmakers know if you want the seams to give way, then. I am sure it could be arranged, and then you don’t waste as much cloth. You are allowed to ask him for very slow help, too.” Hualla moves her stool around to the other side. “Would you like another sip of tea?”
Mellia answers,”Yes, please. I think I will ask him for slow help. I hope a daughter of mine will wear the dress one day.”
“He is very tall, I heard, as well as handsome. You might have to have the dress extended for children you bear him. Do you think you will take another husband?” The pricking begins again, tiny punctures under blue that is smeared over the skin again and again, picked up by the needle to be pushed in.
Mellia tries to hold her face still. “I don’t think so. Venlar keeps me quite busy.”
“We will be just a moment on this line,” Hualla adds, “And then more tea.” A moment later Mellia is released. “The outer part is mostly done, but I need to return to the forehead.” There are no mirrors in here, no reflective surfaces or polished metal in sight. The tea is cold by now, and Hualla allows her only a small helping. The taste has changed as it brewed, and now it spreads on her tongue like something to think about, almost but not quite familiar.
Mellia drinks her small helping of tea. “I wonder why this tastes familiar? It reminds me of lumiviiva and that reminds me of Varanis.”
“Because it recalls each time it has been drunk,” Hualla says, “But the reason is a mystery that we do not tell, and we will discard what you do not drink. Sit back again, please. Now you must keep your forehead still. Wriggle your toes. Try to get each one moving alone.” In other words, concentrate on something that is not a needle over bone.
Mellia obediently tries to wriggle her toes. “That’s interesting. I won’t ask for secrets. Varanis is somewhere or other anyway.”
Hualla should be keeping Mellia’s attention on meditation, and indeed she says, “Those feet have walked through hell. Arch them. Flex them. They walked on the ground of hell.” Meantime, her left hand moves pigment over skin, so that sometimes the needle catches a lot, and sometimes it catches only a touch of blue.
Mellia flexes her feet. “They ran through Hell at several points. Amazing how much running was required.”
“Shhhhh….. No talking now. Think of what this means, and where you went. All of the Lightbringers with you, and you with all of them.” Hualla goes on, and Mellia’s eyes water a little. The tea might not be helping – being tattooed on the forehead and down the nose really hurts.
Mellia reminds herself that Comfort Song would be a waste. She closes her eyes and thinks of the quest.
Time passes, painfully, with strange sensations on her tongue and her memories following on another in bright recall, better than she would have thought she could remember. Gentleness, healing, despair, hope… and then waking. “It is done,” Hualla says. “You are marked.” She has said that before, but each time it seemed weighty. It is a reminder to remember what it means.
Mellia formally says, “Thank you, Hualla. I will remember.”
“Wash it with water from the Mirrorsea, and drink turmeric and black pepper,” Hualla tells her, taking a salted sponge to wipe away the blue. “Apply no make-up to the area, but you may let your hair hang over it, although it will itch, I warn you.” The pain rests above her eyebrows and down her nose, pinched in at the centre.