Chapter 10: Aberyst and the Night Train
Chapter 10: The town and the Night Train
"Hm, so this is Aberyst? How quiet." Mary stated with mild surprise.
This is the very first statement Mary had made since they arrived. And indeed, Aberyst appeared idle for a settlement its size. The streets, winding and built for festive spirits and activities, saw few passers-by. The rows of shops abreast of the main streets were opened. But although they looked elegant both in and outside, businesses of all kinds were ostensibly stagnant.
Above all, however, this great sombre mood blanketing the entirety of the town and its dwellers was something that could not possibly be dismissed, and it was most evident on their faces. In a town where one would usually find different paces in the streets, the Aberyst populace was moving in the same sluggish speed with the same toneless complexion.
"Is it normal for a town to be this...inert?" Mary asked.
"Not the way I remember it." Jack frowned deeply as he looked around, clearly troubled but didn't say anything else.
Mary wanted to know what Jack meant, but seeing how he was deep in thought, chose not to disturb him.
Perhaps this was Mary's first experience with an urban settlement of another world and hence did not know what to expect, she had no basis wherefrom to compare with. As a result, she was not so concerned as her companion.
Instead, she kept her own surveying. She took notice that every single person in town she'd seen was wearing at least one item of clothing made from peculiar green fabric with golden veins spread out all over, like leaves. They also wore captivating ornaments resembling flowers and color-rich berries. They were tall, but not all of them lean. Their hair were the color of boughs or different shades of natural, leaf-like brown. But, the most striking of all, was the fact that each person had a silver star between their brows – a most handsome feature.
Are they fairy folk? - Mary wondered.
This was a fascinating place, she decided. Now she simply couldn't wait for the first opportunity to further explore everything about Aberyst, the first faery town she'd ever seen.
Mary quickly found them an inn to their liking. The Beaver's Inn was ancient, traditional-looking. But inside it was dry and warm and comfortable enough if you ignore glum feeling that followed them even here. A kindly lady – Mrs. Erskine, owned the place.
Mary acquired them a room for them, and they went to receive it immediately. The room was moderate and possessed a small, muslin-curtained glass window. There was a bunk bed, neatly lined with duvet and with a petite pillow sitting on top each. Mary looked around and smiled rather triumphantly.
"This looks great! I think our company can love it here, wouldn't you agree?" she said enthusiastically.
"Sure." Jack flopped onto the nearest settee.
"It even has this lovely carpet and a private bathroom. Also, guests are allowed to use the inn kitchen, so long as they keep clean. Why, this is luxury for the traveller!" Mary let out a sigh of content. "But above all, I still can not believe that it is so keenly priced. We must have come at a time of recession, or the end of the visiting season." she wondered thoughtfully. "Of course, this isn't a first-class lodging, but we have no need of that. This is more than enough at the agreed upon price."
"Don't tell me that in a time of 'recession', my dear companion decides to haggle an old inn-keeping lady into giving us a room at a cheap and cheerful price." He crossed his arms behind his head, smiling teasingly.
"Of course not. I know when to bargain and when to not." Mary said indignantly. "The lodging price was low to begin with, which for such a nice place, surprised me. But I did not rip off the inn keeper."
"Alright, alright. Chill." Jack's grin widened. Satisfied, the spirit of winter closed his eyes.
"Are you going to take a nap?" Mary lowered her voice, as to be considerate.
"Yeah, we've been walking for hours since morning, right? And not to mention all of yesterday as well."
"Oh? What happened to Guardians are supposed to be 'tough and strong? And that a day's walk is nothing compared to the work you do everyday...'" Mary amusedly recited Jack's words from before.
"Well, not today, okay? I'd like a nap, please." Jack said.
"Suit yourself." Mary picked up her bags. "I'm going to the local market, to see if there are any fresh ingredients I can buy for supper and if there are any useful things we can add to our supply." she glanced up. "Would you like to come, Baby Tooth?"
The little fairy squealed delightfully and flew towards the door, hovering excitedly around Mary's shoulders.
"We're off, then."
When Jack woke up from his nap, Mary and Baby Tooth had already returned. Mary was in fact asleep on the lower bunk of the bed – she looked as if she'd just passed out from tiredness. Baby Tooth was sitting dreamily by the window box, looking rather serene amongst the fragrant flowers.
The sky outside had turned golden, telling him that it was already the end of daylight hours. The sun had vanished behind the close-packed rooftops, but its rays remained.
Jack gently shook Mary's shoulder, thinking unhealthy for her to sleep well into the evening. Mary stirred and came around at once.
"How long did I pass out?" she sat up and glanced at Jack.
"It's only near sundown." he replied.
"I see." Mary stood up and smoothed out the rumpled bed. "Thank you for waking me. I would have missed the proper time to cook supper."
After she'd finished tying up her hair into a smart bun, she clapped her hands together.
"Right, let us go right away!"
"Could you help me prepare some raw ingredients?"
"Sure thing. But you're going to have to tell me how to do it, though." Jack took a look around the inn's communal kitchen.
"That's fine. Could you peel the carrots and dice some herbs?"
Jack had little cause in the past to roll up his sleeves and into a kitchen before. Eating was a luxury for spirits, but not quintessential. When Mary learnt of this, she was surprised. She inquisitively asked if it was possible for spirits and Guardians to live without nourishment whatsoever; to which Jack coolly explained the concept of spirit particles that can be inhaled by most spirits to sustain life.
So their early evening was spent talking pleasantly though a variety of topics. Jack was not very knowledgeable in the affairs of cooking, but Mary was patient. And she explained to him what he could easily do with diligence and, most of the time, composure.
Supper came and went rather nicely. There were many dishes on the table: sweet and sour chicken eaten with white rice, creamy garlic mushroom, stir-fired vegetable (a kind that Jack could not identify) and baked tofu. Each one of them were steaming and inviting.
"Oh wow, this looks...amazing!" Jack declared, in awe.
"Thank you. It's not anything extravagant at all, but I hope the meal is to your taste." Mary replied politely.
Jack set his staff aside and sat down at the table. Oh the glory of homemade food! As he'd stated before, food was a luxury for a spirit, even more so if you're a busy lively Guardian. Even so, there is nothing quite like careful homemade dishes - in it is a quality that is hard to describe but always tasted readily by the tongue.
As they ate, he noticed a bowl of food had also been set aside for Luna, and Baby Tooth had her own cup of flower nectar to drink from. Mary's delicate meal arrangement was to be marveled at!
Their own food was also very pleasant.
Halfway through their supper, Mary carefully asked.
"Jack, may I discuss something with you?"
"Sure." Jack said after swallowing a morsel of rice.
Mary laid down her bowl and knitted her fingers on the table before she spoke.
"I went to Snowhill Station this afternoon, after I'd finished buying at the local market." she started.
Jack nearly choked. "WHAT? You did? But isn't that two hours away?"
"On foot, yes." Mary said as-a-matter-of-factly.
"How did you get back so early!?...if it takes you 4 hours for a round trip." Jack cried out, perplexed. He remembered she'd gone only some time after noon.
"There was time to spare."
Jack sat back dubiously. "More like your insane walking pace..." He mumbled.
"In any event, the fact is I did arrive at the station. I checked the most recent train schedules and copied them down." she paused hesitating slightly. "Jack, the next Night Train to the Snow Mountains is 4 days away."
"Well, that's normal. There's only a Night Train once very often. There isn't one everyday, you know." Jack leaned against his chair. Baby Tooth was listening intently.
"Is that so? The date bothers me a little, but if that is the norm, then I suppose there is no cause no worry." Mary said ponderously. "However, what concerns me most, Jack, is the ticket price. It is insanely costly, simply over the odds at 1700 jewels (a currency) per ticket per person. Did you know this?" she enquired.
"1-1700?" Jack very nearly dropped his eating utensil. Mary sent him a nod.
"Who could they sell a ticket to at that price?" Jack slammed a fist against the dining table.
"So it wasn't always so exorbitant?" Mary raised an intrigued eyebrow.
"I've always known the Wraxall Express charges you an arm and a leg, but this…this… I can't even. Arghhh!" Jack threw his hands behind his head in frustration. "We'll have to spend nearly all of our money just for two."
"I believe we ought to think about finding a job and a means to make money when we get to the next town. That is undoubtedly our best solution." Mary said.
"You mean you still plan on taking the Night Train?" Jack asked.
She firmly nodded, not breaking their eye contact. "I fully intend to do so. To span our journey in the shortest amount of time possible is one of our foremost priorities. Thus, it is inevitable that we shall have to take the train."
"Mary, you're making a gamble here. What if we run out of money before we could find paid work? I know I'll be fine, but what about you?" Jack asked harshly.
"I'll also be fine. Don't you worry too much. You should leave it to me to take care of myself." Jack was about to protest some more, but Mary interrupted by saying "I believe it will be to our benefit, since considerable distance will be borne by the vehicle - distance that will be very difficult to traverse otherwise."
When Jack still did not look completely convinced, Mary sighed.
"Jack, I only want to save my sister as soon as can be allowed. It does not matter much what happens to me, though I'll take care of myself until the mission is over."
Once again, Jack allowed himself to be persuaded, albeit not entirely assured. There was an unspoken press on time, as the longer Lily's soul is in gem form, the realer the likelihood that she'll forget the time she'd spent as a human and will be unable to return to her form before. No wonder her sister was so motivated to cut down time.
"Okay," Jack raised his hands in surrender "Okay. I get it. We'll take the train. But it doesn't mean I'm as sure as you are about this."
Mary breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Jack."
He grunted, still somewhat unsettled. "You're very reckless for buying the tickets straightaway. And here I thought you were the calm and rational type."
Mary raised her brow in surprise. "Whoever said I already bought them? I haven't yet. I thought since the price weighs so high upon us, I should consult you first before any decision can be made."
Jack tried not to gawk at her too much. Mary didn't seem to mind and casually said.
"So, is the matter settled?"
"Whatever." Jack said irritably.
Mary beamed and began clearing the table since they have finished supper during their talk.
"You may go and have more rest, now. I'll clean the dishes." she told him.
"Nah, I already napped while you were out. Let me do it. You go." he waved it off and took the pile of dish from her.
"That's very kind of you, Jack." Mary smiled. "But no, while you do, I'll be clearing the table - to be fair." As she wiped the dining table clean with a cloth, she paused slightly and glanced back to a scene where Jack battled against spitting soap. He was half grunting, but was managing well.
She could not help but chuckle as she came back to her finish her polish work.
This chapter is so much, much more pleasant to write than the previous one. There hasn't been much action so far, but I think we'll get it in a couple more
Happy New Year, everyone! Thank you for reading my story and I look forward to hearing from you again in 2015.
For folks who are interested in cooking or curious to see what Mary and Jack's supper had turned out to look, just say foodie in the comments or in your review ;)
Fun fact: Beaver's Inn is actually based off a real inn called The Old Weaver's inn, built around the 16th cent in the city of Canterbury, England.
Reviewers won't ever have to do the dishes again. So don't lie to me now, you know you want to review (insert evil laugh)