The city hadn’t woken yet.
The streets of Mariposa were bare, the morning condensation still pooling on the cobblestone roads vining down into the lower market districts, shutters still closed against the night’s chill. The treaded boots of the blacksmith made a low “thuft, thuft.”
He liked the city like this. Sure, it had a certain charm when the streets were filled with commerce, but the quiet allowed him room for thought. Plus, he didn’t have to talk to anyone. He wasn’t much of a talker.
As he reached the eastern gates, he looked up to the watchtower window. He waited, listening. He could hear the sounds of the mass of merchants and tradesmen just on the other side of the gate, waiting for sunrise when the large doors would open to them. Doc glanced up again, watching the horizon of dusk-light lower past the top of the window’s frame. He brushed at the back of his ears where the morning fog had made his fur begin to drip, and huffed into his mustache.
He waited patiently, and fiddled with the latches on his merchant’s pack. The left one was clasped at an odd angle. He bent it back into place with a furrowed brow. Squinting upwards at the tower, he could see light was now falling past the lower sill. He picked a rock up off the mortar of the cassay, just about the size of a chestnut, and winged it up into the open window overhead. A ricochet off the wood ceiling was followed with a startled expletive.
“Who threw that up here? Who goes there?!” the guard shouted, leaning out of the window pulling his conical helmet on and rubbing the reddening spot where the stone had struck him. “Keratin! Gods’ sake. Couldn’t give me just a few minutes, could you? I was having the best dream.”
“I’ve got a long hike today, Mirchell. I want to make Jhethra by nightfall.”
“There was this elf girl in it, golden hair, and her body!” he bit his lip and stared off. “She was a mage from Whedonola Academy.”
“We’re still talking about a dream, right?”
“Well, now that you’re awake, what do you say about opening the city gates so I can be on my way?”
“You don’t want to hear about what she did with her ghost hand?”
“Not even in the slightest.”
“Suit yourself.” Mirchell said, disappearing back into the tower. The portcullis began to raise. “Safe travels, blacksmith.”
“See you in a week.”
The large doors opened to a queue of wagons and carriages. Doc made his way out past them as the merchants began to clammer, getting their belongings together after their nights spent awaiting entrance to Mariposa’s trade district. It was nearly a mile before the carriages thinned, the line ending with a small Bullywug wagon being pulled by a giant salamander who stuck out his tongue as Doc walked by.
Doc set a brisk pace as he left the city. It would be a long trip and he had ground to cover before the sun went down. He hiked his pack up and lowered his head as he trudged, passing through wooded areas, over bridged streams, and down into the flats of the lowlands. Occasionally he would pass another traveler on the road, but with a polite excuse he was able to avoid long conversations that would delay his travel.
- +++ -
It was only yesterday the refugees had come seeking shelter in Mariposa. He had been whittling a small bird out of a piece of pine at his stand near the gates when they walked past- hundreds of injured and weary. Those in better health pulled gurneys and walked while the less fortunate were all but stacked on top of each other on small wagons.
“What happened to your lot?” he asked, rising from his stool. He noted the bright colors of the land of Nisei. “War in the east?”
An aged gnome with a splinted arm moved out of the procession and leaned against a tree, “May as well be, dogger. There’s not much left, o’ her.”
“Well what caused it? Looks like half of Nisei is here,” Doc said, walking over to the gnome. “Give it here.”
The gnome lifted his arm up, “Not half. This is it.” He continued as silver light began to form an intricate lattice around his shattered forearm. “Whole town pack’ up, those still left witta breath.” He grimaced as muscle knitted itself together. “Feck, careful there!”
Doc raised an eyebrow as the healing magics continued reconstruct the limb.
“A juggernaut. We couldn’t stop it, neither. Went through city walls lik’a paper. An don’ think we dinnit try none neither! After the five mages wenna down, though, we ‘ad nottin.” The light faded and the gnome held up his arm to the sun, looking at the healer’s work. “Sorry ta say, dogger, but I cannit pay ya none.”
“It’s on me,” Doc said, walking back to his stand. “The mages fell?” He started putting the relics inside that stand and closed the doors.
“Fasser than a wingless roc… Lil early to be shuddindown shop, innit?” the gnome said, confused.
“Not at all my friend. I forgot I have some vacation days left, and I haven’t seen the Dawnbreak Mountains in years…”
- +++ -