Wagon rides were easiest. Shadow was more than three quarters of the way to her destination now and the more she was able to ride in the back of a wagon, the easier it was on her shoes. HarCourt seemed like a distant dream – a nightmare – to her now, and Port Stanton a hazy one.
She felt as if she’d been walking forever. But she had no money to take a ship around to the Coastal Countries, and so – walking was the only way. She replenished her stores when she could – in Padron, she had lifted a new dress that she hadn’t worn until she was out of the town limits. She stole a whole loaf of bread, several eggs, an assortment of vegetables, and a wheel of cheese for her rucksack, which she rationed carefully, for there wasn’t hadn’t been another port until Southend and she was tired of fish. But she either fished or lived off of wild fruit and vegetables.
Now she had left Southend and Thrushport behind and arrived in Port Merrinor, thanks to a farmer on his way between the two towns. She jumped off but before she left, the farmer cleared his throat and called out,
“Iffn’ I was you, I’d ah, go to The Beachcomber. And avoid the other places.” He cleared his throat again and then snapped the reins of the mules he was driving. “Yah, mules, yah!”
Shadow thanked him as he drove by.
The Beachcomber Inn turned out to be two more coppers than she could pay. Five coppers for one night and a meal! Shadow scoffed. She’d rather steal a loaf of a bread and sleep in a barn!
The people she passed in the street would not meet her eyes – they almost seemed nervous, thought Shadow. Shifty-eyed. Nervous and suspicious were not a good combination for a town population. What would an entire group of people, from the merchants to the passersby, have to be concerned about? Even the Crown soldiers, the Navy, acted odd….
Just as she tired of walking the town, she found another inn. The Drift Inn. Shadow scoffed again at the title and saw the décor on the outside of the building consisted mainly of net with elaborately arranged driftwood. It seemed a bit of a ramshackle building, but she decided to enter anyway.
“Three coppers gives ya a room an’ a meal, take it or leave it,” called a mustached innkeeper from behind the counter.
Shadow hadn’t slept in an inn since Padron, at the Silver Sea Gull. A blanket that didn’t have sand in it, a pillow, a bed, bathwater, and a steaming serving of food all sounded wonderful to her. Shadow laid down her coppers and the innkeeper swiped them off the countertop.
“Room 4,” said the barkeep in a disinterested tone, but Shadow felt his eyes on her back as she left with the key. She would be glad to leave Port Merrinor. The next sea port was Kallicove and from there, Shadow would finally turn north and away from the coast. She would follow the Singing River north and cross it where it became the Rosh River, once the land was no longer the WetLands but the RiverLands, and habitable by people. She wondered what it would be like to finally be out of Hardewold and in Tortoreen, the next leg of her journey.
But first, she had to get to out of Port Merrinor.