Constantinople, 866 AD
Anna braced herself to face the icy wind outside, pulled her robes tighter around her, and stepped out into the streets of Constantinople. Her shopping list was long and her time was short. She carefully stepped around the litter in the streets and tried not to step in anything that would leave an unwelcome stench on her shoes. The market was several blocks from her new home, and the journey was never a pleasant one.
Home. She pondered the word for the countless time as she pushed her hair back from her face. Would she ever call a place “home” again? She took a deep breath and refused to cry. Tears would only chap her face on a morning like this.
She sidestepped a discarded piece of rotting melon and breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted the market up ahead. Mentally, she rehearsed her shopping list: fresh bread and cheese, figs and fruit, grilled duck and the sharp-smelling gakos sauce that went with it.
She shivered as the wind cut through her. All she wanted to do was finish her task and return home.
There was that word again. In her sixteen years, Anna had lived many places, but only a few deserved to be called “home.” Home had been the quaint house in Kiev where she was born and lived until her parents died in the epidemic. Home had also been the manor she had lived in after her sister had married a nobleman. But when her brother-in-law decided to take a new assignment hundreds of miles from Kiev, he informed Anna and her sister that he had no intention of taking Anna along with them.
The months that had followed were filled with more residences than Anna could remember, until she found herself sold to Psellos, a silk merchant from Constantinople. He brought her here as a gift to his wife, someone to tend to the household chores.
Over and over again she had tried to console herself with the truth that many servants and slaves met with far worse futures. The slave market in the city was not called the “valley of weeping” in vain.
She shivered as another icy blast hit her. With numb fingers, she selected the fruits, bread, and other items on her list. The variety of exotic merchandise in the marketplace continued to astonish her even after her many weeks here. Fruits, spices, cloth, perfumes, and seemingly every other item from one corner of the empire to the other was represented here in this place. She wondered if anything for sale was truly native to Constantinople, or if the people here had become so accustomed to the foreign they had forgotten what was native to their land.
There was no rhythm to the market, no unifying theme or purpose, only the never-ending variety of things that were passing through, whether people or goods or—
Two barking dogs appeared out of nowhere. As she tried to step out of their way, she fell to the ground. She could not stop the tears that came to her eyes. She didn’t belong here—she didn’t belong anywhere.
Suddenly, she felt a tug on her arm. She looked up to see a little girl about seven. She was wrapped in a thin cloak, certainly freezing in the icy wind. The little girl tugged again on her arm, and Anna let the little girl help her up. As she inspected her clothes and merchandise she saw that neither was as soiled as they could have been.
The little girl smiled and hurried to huddle with several other small children under the portico of a church, protected from some of the wind that blew.
Anna tried to smile in return and then resumed her journey, but she could not get the little girl’s smile off of her mind. It was exotic in its own way. A smile did not belong on the face of a freezing child. Neither did the children belong outside in the wind.
Nor did she belong in the home of Psellos.
But for today, this was where she must be. Perhaps she could learn a lesson from the tiny helper who had left her friends to help her up. If she could find a reason to smile, so could Anna. After all, didn’t she serve the God who specialized in building homes for those who did not belong, the God who specialized in the exotic and out of place?
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