We followed the practitioners down a wide dusty path, away from the castle. The moment we ─ or beautiful I ─ agreed to accompany them, the tension had utterly disappeared. Smiling as they led along the way, the man said, “I am happy we did not have to use force! By the way, my name is Sorrel! And my lovely twin sister is Acacia!” He pointed at the woman next to him. She had the same soft brown eyes and gentle smile as her brother.
These two seemed as if they had never faced any hardships in their life. I began to wonder why an old deity such as Geb would send out these meek creatures to ‘fetch’ us. Did he foresee we would not resist? I felt as if I had just accepted an unpaid task of escorting two royals on a long journey.
While they did their best to be friendly towards us, Violet and I remained silent. The fluffy atmosphere these twins gave off was very awkward. I needed to resist the urge to cut them into pieces just because they seemed so unhealthily happy about everything. The only thing that held me back was knowing they knew the way to Capilla. Many years had passed since the Pilgrimage. I wondered whether my parents were still there. Would mother be proud of me that I had survived? Would I stumble into father first, as he checked the traps he laid out in the fields? Was the old man Hawthorne still alive? What if the Vice Representative was there again? Then again, didn’t these two guarantee we’d be free if their God sensed no hostility?
These questions whirled all through my head as we marched along for the rest of the day. I sensed Violet’s presence in my mind, yet, she chose to remain in the background. The few emotions I felt were warm and supportive. They even transcended into actions, as the goddess of war gently patted my head, wearing a smile as gentle as that of the twins. It was the first time I had seen her smile this way, and it confused me. Not like I was already confused by the thought that she had supposedly nearly wiped out the world, yet here she was helping the people. Had history been always teaching us something wrong?
By the end of the rather uneventful day, we had reached a little town surrounded by soy fields. It strangely reminded me of my hometown. Even at this time of the day, the streets were bustling with people. Violet nor I was used to this, as we had usually avoided commotion. Interestingly, I could see a glint of fascination in the goddess’ eyes as her gaze wandered from one corner to the next.
“Oh, the night market has just opened!” Sorrel took a closer look at the food stalls that were palely lit by small lanterns. At a vendor selling filled steamed buns, he paused and purchased four pieces. “Here”, he handed out one to each of us while taking a bite off his bun. “Mhm! So good! The town of Nussud really has the best buns!”
“Nussud?” I asked with my mouth full of that steamed goodness. My diet plan usually consisted out of raw berries and grilled meat ─ whatever nature had to offer. Bread and sweets were a luxury we rarely were able to afford.
“This place is the only merchant hub that connects with the largest mountain pass leading to Ha’s Embrace,” Acacia diligently explained. “You will find a lot of different types of people here.” Her gentle demeanor slightly froze upon the sight of a group of practitioners in dark green robes. Without losing another word, both of them ushered us into a dark alley, away from the night market. After a few turns, we wound up on the main road again, not far from an inn. “Let us stay here for the night,” Acacia said, heading straight towards it.
“Uhm, we don’t have many coins on us right now,” I admitted. Looking at the expensive wooden sign, I was convinced that this inn was way out of our league.
“Don’t worry. Enjoy the benefits of paid travel expenses!” With his left arm wrapped around me and his right arm around Violet, Sorrel pushed us towards the entrance. By the time we both realized what he had done, we were already inside, with the innkeeper showing us our room.
“Oh, gentle followers of Geb, this will be your resting room.” The old man with a long beard bowed down deeply as he opened the door. The room had a small table with seating pillows around it. A wooden screen with paintings of dragons and lions hid away the four mattresses that were laid out on the ground. Sensing he could extract more coins from the twins, he added, “since today is night market, our tavern is open all night.”
“Thank you. We will surely take up your offer”, Acacia responded with a smile.
“Well then, if you excuse me.” The innkeeper bowed down once more and left the room walking backward as if he was afraid to face his back to them. Ignoring his weird behavior, I strolled around the room, marveling at the excellent craftsmanship that had been put into it.
“Hoho, your first time sleeping at an inn like this?” Sorrel was trying to strike up a conversation again. Out of spite, I kept my childish fascination to myself, shrugging in response.
“Let’s see how great their wine and liquor is.” Acacia pointed out the door. Violet seemed to look forward to some drinking, sending out emotions of joy and satisfaction. “Euh, what is she trying to say?” Acacia looked at me.
“She likes to drink. So let’s go.” Sighing, I marched ahead of the group. One of the reasons we rarely spent coins on expensive inns or great food was because Violet enjoyed drinking liquor. A lot.
Once downstairs, I took the time to take a closer look at the tavern and entrance area of the inn. The floor was merely gravel with wooden pillars embedded deep into the ground. The wooden tables were full of people dressed in all kinds of clothes – from humble linen garbs to expensive silk robes. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. Our group found a little table outside the tavern. This area stood slightly raised by using wooden boards sitting on low stilts. We had a nice view of the streets, though, and the cool breeze was not stuffy like inside.
“Aah! Moments like these are really great!” Sorrel exclaimed, after sipping a cup of liquor. “You need to enjoy them while they last.” The liquor was distilled from malted barley and had a golden color. The one Sorrel chose to drink was very viscous, with an earthy aroma. I loved the taste, but since it was too strong for me, Acacia ordered watered-down wine. I guess it was better than nothing.
We sat there for a while, listening to one story after another. It would have been a pleasant evening among people if a group of practitioners in green robes hadn’t suddenly surrounded us ─ the very same ones we had seen at the night market.
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