Bellflowers and Booze
Bree stood on another crowded, merchant lined road surrounded by shouts and arguments. She had been wandering around since midday looking desperately for the Dawn Gate with no luck. To her, each street looked the same. The merchants and their wares blended into one another and even the buildings quickly became a repetitive blur. To make matters worse, every person she asked for directions replied with a sales pitch.
The sun was beginning to set. She was running out of time. She sighed.
“The Dawn Gate?” she asked the nearest person. “Where is it?”
“Oh, very far indeed. This camel will get you there in the blink of an eye.”
Bree shook her head. “No. I don’t-“
“I can guide you there for a fair sum!” cut in a dirty, young boy.
“Maps of the city for sale! They’ll help you find your way, miss!”
“Froth and foam!” These people were driving her crazy! Bree shook her head. “I just need-“
A finger tapped her on the side.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am. But the Dawn Gate lies to the North.”
The merchants and peddlers frowned and ceased their arguing.
Bree turned to find a halfling – a small, child-like race known for their stealth – standing behind her. He wore the same light linen and cotton robes as the locals, but was much paler than them – though his skin was rather red from the sun. A messy mop of black hair sat upon his head and a small, blue bellflower was pinned to the the collar of his robe. Bree’s brow creased in confusion. It was a flower local to much cooler climates. She hadn’t seen one since leaving home.
“North?” she asked. “Truly?”
The halfling smiled and nodded. “Truly.”
“My thanks!” Bree said as she turned to leave. “May Cayden’s favour find you!”
“A word of advice?”
Bree paused, but turned back to him. “I’m in a rush.”
“Aren’t we all.” the halfling chuckled. “You’re not from around here. I’d be careful with that tankard at your hip.”
Bree raised an eyebrow in confusion. The tankard looped onto her belt was a holy symbol of her god. “I thought all of the gods were permitted here.”
“Oh, it’s permitted, all right. But when certain… lively merchandise goes missing around these parts it’s often folks such as yourself who take the most heat for it. And, I expect you’ll have enough trouble handling the heat as it is.”
Bree blanched. Somehow this halfling saw right through her. He knew what she was here for and he knew that she intended to cause trouble. If he shared his suspicions she would be brought straight to the authorities with or without proof. And yet, he offered her a warning instead. He could be punished now as easily as she.
The halfling flashed her a smile and winked a sparkling blue eye. “You can call me Tiller. If you find the heat turns out to be too much for you or find yourself in the flames, ask for a bellflower. It should help.”
“My thanks, Tiller.”
“Best be on your way now, lass.” he chided as he waved his hand in farewell. In between his fingers she spotted a small eagle charm and then, with a subtle flick of his wrist, it was gone. He smiled, turned and walked away.
Bree stood frozen in place. People milled all around her. Some bumped into her, others brushed past and a few even yelled at her to move. She paid them less attention than a merchant does a beggar.
The golden eagle consumed her. It was the symbol of the Eagle Knights of Andoran and meant that Tiller was a freedom fighter from her home.
Perhaps she should follow him. She could be of help here, surely. Maybe with his guidance she could…
She looked at the crumpled paper in her hands. The sign from her god. Bree laid a hand upon the copper tankard at her hip. She smiled as Tiller became lost among the unfamiliar faces swirling about her. “Cayden’s will be done.”
She turned north and ran through the crowded, twisting streets as fast as she could. She arrived at the Dawn Gate just as the sun finished drifting below the horizon. She was too late.
“Garavel?” she shouted to the people around her. “Garavel?”
The Dawn Gate was packed. Water peddlers and camel merchants dominated the entryway, alongside dirty street urchins, beggars and guides. A few large tents were set up nearby. Some were red, some blue, but most were brown.
A whistle sounded from her left. She turned to find a group of six people sitting around a water keg.
“Looking to join us, gorgeous?” one of the people called in a deep, gravelly voice. A few of the others laughed in response.
Bree ignored the remark and stalked up to them. There were six of them, three men and three women. Each wore dirty clothes and had greasy, messy hair. They dressed differently, but wore the same brown coat with black trim. It was cut in the style of her homelands, although these six were all obviously locals. How strange.
“For you, I could be.” the same man responded. He wore loose beige pants with a dark brown sash at his hip. From it, hung two sabers resting in their scabbards. Their handles appeared well worn, but cared for. His coat hung open, revealing his naked, sweaty chest. He appeared fit, but far more rugged than refined. He had wild, black, shoulder length hair with a band wrapped around his forehead and wrists. His beard and moustache were trimmed short. He and his allies were likely a band of mercenaries hired to protect the caravan. Bree smiled. She had dealt with men like him back home. They came into Norn’s bar to boast and drink their wages away, but were often more vulgar than dangerous.
Bree leaned forward as if she were about to reveal a secret to him. Her chain mail shirt dipped forward, revealing a hint of cleavage beneath. “I’m looking to join his caravan but find myself a little short on time. If you could point him out to me, I’d be mighty grateful. Besides, I’m sure we can get to know each other much better afterwards.”
The man smiled and a few of his friends clapped him on the back. One of the women – young and rather pretty – shook her head and rolled her eyes, causing her braided hair to dance around her.
“He’s in the red tent, precious.” the man answered.
Bree winked at him and stood up before running off to the red tent.
Behind her, the man boasted loudly to his comrades, while one of the women – the pretty one, no doubt – pouted.
“The Northerner is just using you, Trevvis.” Her accent was slightly different than the others. It was still throaty, but thicker. Almost phlegmy. She was definitely from further east than Katapesh. Qadira, perhaps?
“She can use me all she wants.” he responded with a deep laugh.
Four guards dressed in strange, red, plate armor created from the body of some kind of massive bug, stood outside of the entrance to Garavel’s tent. Each wore a sash over the lower part of their faces and was bald, except for a trimmed line or two of hair running from their foreheads to their necks. They each wore a scimitar sheathed at their side, and held a glaive – a single-edged blade mounted on a pole – in their hands.
“I wish to see Garavel.” Bree proclaimed. “I’ve come to join his caravan.”
Two of the guards crossed their glaives over the entrance of the tent while the other two stepped forward. “The sun has set. Garavel is no longer taking visitors.”
“I had trouble finding the place.”
“Your excuses make no difference. The sun has set. He is no longer accepting visitors.”
“Please. I need to join the caravan to Kelmarane.”
The guards neither moved nor responded.
The guards ignored her.
Bree frowned. They wouldn’t stop her. They couldn’t stop her. She had been sent here on the behalf of her god. She would get in.
“Let me in.” she ordered.
The guards didn’t move.
“Garavel!” Bree shouted. “I have come to join your caravan!” She waited for a moment. “You will not ignore me!”
A rustling sounded from inside the tent and a thin, middle-aged man dressed in traveling robes stepped out. “What is the commotion?” he asked.
“I have come to join your caravan. Your guards would not give me audience.”
“They do as they were bid to. The sun has set. Oathday is over. You are too late. Return to your home.” He spoke in a calm, monotonous voice.
“I came to join this caravan at my god’s bidding. I have journeyed too far to be turned away now.”
Garavel did not react. It was as if he were made of stone. “The sun has set.” he repeated as emotionlessly as before. “Oathday is over. You are too late. Return to your home.”
“I will not! You will not deny me!”
“The sun has set,” Garavel began again. “Oathday is over.”
“Let her in,” a silken voice called from within the tent.
Garavel fell silent and the guards moved their glaives out of the way.
“The Merchant Princess Almah Roveshki will see you.” Garavel said with a bow of his head. He turned, and led the way into the large red tent. Bree followed in triumph.
The tent was richly furnished with an array of pillows and blankets. Amid the sea of silks and cottons sat a few elaborate serving trays loaded with fruit and wine. Sitting reclined amidst the pillows was a beautiful young woman wrapped in white and blue veils. She had bronze, soft looking skin and long, black, elaborately braided hair intertwined with glittering gems. Her wrists and arms were covered with golden bracelets and bangles. Her eyes were lined with kohl and she smelt of jasmine.
Bree, filthy from days in the heat without a bath, blushed. She glanced down at her dusty leather boots and frowned. She hadn’t been in such opulence since her childhood in Taldor and already she had managed to wreck it.
“What causes you to disturb me so late?” the woman, Princess Roveshki, asked.
Bree looked at the dirt she had tracked into the tent and strewn about the rich, carpet-lined floor. The cost of the carpets alone could feed the poor she had seen outside for a month. She frowned and glanced around the tent. She didn’t see any slaves or servants, but a woman of such wealth was bound to have them somewhere. After a moment Bree raised her eyes in defiance. “I have been sent by my god to join your caravan. The greedy, unhelpful nature of the citizens of Katapesh is to blame for my delayed arrival and disturbing you so late.”
Princess Roveshki raised a trimmed eyebrow at her words. “And you think I would hire you with such and introduction?”
Bree frowned. She had had enough. “I came here to ask for a job in your caravan, Almah.” She used the Princess’ first name to insult her. Back home it would have implied that they were equals. She hoped it would mean the same thing here. “I have since changed my mind. I bring you an offer instead.” She paused for emphasis but the woman made no reaction. “I am going to Kelmarane,” she continued. “However, since I don’t know where that is, I’m going to follow your caravan. Also, I got robbed this morning, so I’m going to eat your food as well. If any trouble comes, I will defend those around me. You can pay me for it, or not. Either way, I am destined to be here, so you will not get rid of me. My god will not let you.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed above her veils. She was definitely not used to being told what to do.
“And what god is that?”
“I am a devotee of Cayden Cailean.”
“Followers of the drunken god are often unreliable and reckless. Are you?”
“Yes.” Bree responded with a nod. “And honourable and true.”
The woman laughed. “You are not from around here.” Her eyes sparkled. “Here, lies are as common as sand, and honesty is as rare as a pool in the desert. Many would not hire you for your audacity alone. Many more would not hire you for your choice in patrons. I, however, am not like most.”
“You’re a good deal richer, by the looks of it.”
“And forgiving. You may join my caravan as a guard.”
Bree nodded. “My thanks.”
“Katapesh is not like whatever northern country you hail from. Here, everyone hides behind a veil. If you do not learn to see beyond them, to lift the layers, you will turn friends into enemies and gather only enemies as your friends.”
Bree stood in silence, barely listening. Nobles were fond of giving orders and Bree had long since learned to ignore them.
“Best learn to read others before you judge them,” Princess Roveshki continued. “Many are not as understanding as I. Now leave my quarters.”
The air outside, despite it’s heat, was refreshing. Bree sighed and took a deep breath. She hated nobles. Spoiled, stuck-up pigs, the lot of them! They were less useful than a leaky keg! Bree caught the scent of roast meat on the wind and her stomach grumbled in response. She felt for her coin purse and frowned. This would be a long night.
A heavy hand fell upon her shoulder.
“Join me for a drink, jasmine?” Trevvis’ deep voice asked. His hot breath raised the hairs on the back of her neck.
Bree smiled and placed a hand on the copper tankard at her hip. “I’m always up for a drink.”
Trevvis laughed and she turned to face him. His brown eyes sparkled in the moonlight. “I thought so.” he said.
“Got any food?” Bree asked. “I’m starving.”
Trevvis moved his hand along her back to encase her shoulders in his arm. He raised his other hand and pointed to a nearby bar. “Why don’t I treat you tonight, Northerner?”
“You’re going to regret that offer.”
“I doubt it.”
Bree raised her thoughts in prayer.
My thanks, Lord Cailean. I’ll dedicate the first drink to you.
No. He deserved more than that. He had, after all, paid rather close attention to her this past day.
Best make it the first ten.