Gabriella left the Wandering Soldier Inn chewing her lip thoughtfully.
“What’s wrong?” Dar asked, leaning against the wall of the inn.
“No vacancies,” she replied.
Evidently The Wandering Soldier was Gabriella’s favorite inn; she had taken them there immediately, once within the city proper. “To be expected at this time of season, however,” she said.
Rick saw a pretty girl with long brown hair about his age crossing the street with a basket on her arm, obviously headed back toward the market they’d passed on their way here. “I’ve got an idea,” he said, digging out a sterling from the purse of money that Gabriella had given them once they entered the city gates.
As he approached the street where the young girl was walking, he heard Dar say, “What the….”
“What is that boy doing,” Gabriella mused behind him, a tone of amusement in her voice.
“Excuse me, lovely tevnera,” Rick bowed deeply to the girl when she looked at him with surprise. As he came up from his bow, he saw a light flush staining her cheeks but she was smiling.
"I was wondering if, for a small token, yendra,” Rick smiled at the girl, “you might tell me where the best inn in town is? The inn my comrades and I usually frequent has no vacancies and we’re not familiar with the area enough to know of another.” That probably wasn’t true; Gabriella had been coming to Terruth City for years, but the girl didn’t know that.
She smiled back at him. “You want the best inn?” she asked doubtfully.
“Tell me the one you think is the best,” he answered respectfully, gesturing at her.
“Well, I’d have to say the Sword and the Stag,” the girl replied. “It’s down there,” she pointed from the direction she’d come, “about two corners down.”
The Sword and the Stag. Rick committed that to memory and took the girl’s free hand in his, folding the sterling into it. Looking into her eyes, Rick said, “Lovely tevnera, I greatly appreciate your help. Many thanks.”
The girl blushed again and looked down at the sterling in her hand. “Tevner,” she called as he started to turn away. She grinned and tossed his sterling back at him. “I don’t want your money. Just think of me when you’re drinking your mead tonight.”
Rick grinned back as he caught the silver coin and watched her as she walked away. “That I will!” he called after her. He turned back to his comrades.
Dar snorted at him. “Show off.”
Rick took a bow. “I got us an inn, didn’t I?” he grinned.
Gabriella shook her head with a smile, greatly amused. “And a pricey one it is, if it has vacancies. Be glad you got your sterling back.”
The Sword and the Stag turned out to be two corners down, just as the girl on the street told him. It was at least as nice as The Red Fox, but much bigger and much busier. Gabriella got three rooms, one for herself, one for the girls, and one for the guys. She had most of their things taken up to their rooms, but cast an Illusion over their chest of gold and jewels. Gabriella had wisely left over half of the loot at home, but didn’t want to risk having what they had here stolen. As it was, they were extremely wealthy now, but she took no chances. She had given each of them five gold pieces and a few sterlings, which Ander estimated to be about three hundred dollars, and warned them to keep their purses well-guarded; pickpockets made comfortable livings in this city, especially at this time of year.
First, they made their way up Market Street to the northern end of the city where the Spring Market was being held. Leagues and leagues of tents stretched out before them, with merchants selling every kind of ware imaginable, some of which Rick didn’t even recognize. And the smells were wonderful, sausages, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, cider, mead, wine, bread, making his stomach growl. People of every kind bustled past them, women with baskets on their arms, men whom he assumed to be normal peasants, since they carried no sword at their side. Noblemen and women were easy to distinguish by their haughty air and entourage shouting “Make way for Ker or Kelestra so-and-so!” What intrigued Rick were the groups of people, mostly men, wearing color-coded cloaks and jerkins or robes almost of a uniform type. Some were green, some were purple, some were blue, and some were red. Most of them wore arms at their sides. Rick wondered if they were part of a clergy or military order of some type.
After a while, the smell of leather became prevalent as they walked past tanners’ wares. Shoes, boots, saddles, tack, armor, scabbards, belts, cloaks, and men yelling at them to take a look, customers and clients haggling with merchants…. Rick was amazed.
Mixed in with the nearly overpowering smell of leather was the smell of horses and iros. Gabriella strode past the tanners until they came to the lines of horses, neighing behind their peddlers’ make shift counters.
Dar grasped his arm. “Look to the right.” Rick glanced to the right. A tall, lanky person, presumably the merchant, was patting one of the horses down. Satisfied, the merchant turned around. Rick tried not to stare. The peddler’s ears were pointed, sticking through his flaxen hair. Otherwise, he looked completely normal. His face was thin, delicate looking almost, yet he was decidedly male. A Keltoi!
“Don’t stare,” Emanuella hissed behind him, pushing him onward.
Rick strode forward in wonder. He’d never seen another humanoid race before, why wouldn’t he stare!
Looking ahead, he found Gabriella looking over horses in a stall ahead of them.
“Ah, Ander. Come here. Tell me what you see,” Gabriella fixed a strange look on Ander, who stared back at her blankly for a moment before suddenly stepping forward. Gabriella patted a fine-looking chestnut gelding in front of them. The peddler hovered suspiciously nearby, seeming concerned. Ander ran his hands over the horse.
Since when did Ander know anything about horses? He’d had to learn how to ride right alongside Rick. Ander whispered something to Gabriella. Pleased, she nodded. Suddenly, the gelding no longer looked like a good purchase, even to Rick’s untrained eye. Nor did he look so chestnut, either. In fact, he looked downright old and tired.
“Hey, what are you trying to pull!” roared the peddler.
“Enchanted goods is against the Terruth Fair Commerce Act and an offense punishable by dismissal from the Market for five Cycles,” she said lightly to the enraged peddler.
The peddler suddenly changed his tone of voice and stance. “Ah, quite right, tevnera, quite right, so it is. I’ll be sure to report my er – supplier.”
Gabriella smiled smugly and motioned Rick and his comrades onward.
“Hey, Red, what did you do?” Rick whispered with a hand on Ander’s shoulder.
“A very useful spell,” Ander replied, quite pleased with himself. “It exposes any Illusions or Enchantments.”
“No kidding,” Dar said. “So what was wrong with the horse?”
Ander tossed a look over his shoulder. “It was about twelve Cycles old and missing about half as many teeth.”
“Is that bad?” Rick asked. How long did horses live, anyway?
“When it’s being sold as a horse that’s two Cycles old, yes.”
Dar grinned and clapped him on the shoulder, nearly knocking Ander over.
Gabriella, ahead of them again, cleared her throat expectantly, tossing a handful of long, coppery hair over her shoulder. She really was beautiful, Rick thought. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone so amazing.
“Now that you know the dangers of the Market place, I will introduce you to one of its pleasures,” she said, a genuine smile crossing her face.
Rick raised an eyebrow, curious as she turned into another peddler’s booth. The horses lined up were several hands high, some nearly as tall at the shoulder as Rick himself was. Nearly every type of horse was there, he saw. Emanuella pushed past him and walked up to a huge stallion carefully and held her hand out for him to nose. In seconds, she was petting the stallion and crooning to it. Rick supposed that for someone who had tamed a zary’andu, a stallion was nothing.
Just then, the peddler emerged from between two horses.
Gabriella cleared her throat. “Javversten!” she called. What was that supposed to mean? Rick knew he was bad with the language, but he didn’t even recognize the word.
A head poked out from between two horses. The peddler stepped out and stared, wiping his long, narrow hands on his trousers.
Dar dug Rick in the ribs again with his elbow. Wincing with pain, Rick decided he would have to have a talk with Dar about learning the magnitude of his own strength. Then he saw what Dar was pointing out. The peddler was Keltoi.
Suddenly the Keltoi grinned from ear to ear and enveloped Gabriella in a hug. Rick’s mouth dropped open.
“Ah, kelendra, kelendra, it’s been too long!” He stepped back and took in the sight of Gabriella. “Looking lovely as always. What hole did you hide yourself away in, kelendra? I’ve not seen you in what, four Cycles now?”
Why was he calling her kelendra? Rick was pretty sure that kelendra was the title you gave to an unmarried noblewoman. Gabriella had never said anything about being of noble birth. In fact, now that he thought about it, she’d never said anything about where she was from or her family.
“Javversten, I’d like you to meet my five young companions,” Gabriella turned toward them.
The jolly, welcoming smile on Javversten’s face suddenly froze. He took Gabriella’s arm. “You said five.”
She nodded, saying nothing.
Javversten’s brow furrowed. “The five?” he asked Gabriella lowly.
Gabriella nodded again slowly. Javversten’s expression became sad and pitying all at once. He squeezed her arm. “Ah, child….” They exchanged a long look.
Rick glanced at Dar. Dar was looking just as puzzled. Why were they “the five?”
Javversten finally turned around, his jolly smile returning. Rick decided he liked the Keltoi despite the ambiguity. “And who is this lovely child who’s enchanted my best and strongest stallion?” he called, stepping toward Emanuella.
Emanuella smiled self-consciously. “Emanuella, sir.” And she dropped a perfect curtsy.
Rick beamed with pride, nudging Dar, whose mouth had dropped open. “Shut your trap before you catch a fly,” Rick whispered.
“Why isn’t she that nice at home?” Dar whispered back.
Ander snickered behind him as Javversten began exchanging small talk with Fiorra and Emanuella. “She is. You just have to be good with girls,” Ander said nonchalantly, elbowing Rick conspiratorially.
“Good with –” Dar spluttered.
Rick and Ander grinned at the irony of the statement. Dar had been with more girls than Rick and Ander combined.
Gabriella was glaring at them. “And this, Javversten, is Dar, the shepherd of the flock,” she said as she gestured to Dar.
Javversten bowed deeply to Fiorra and Emanuella and walked up to Dar, looking him up and down. “The shepherd, you say?”
Rick wondered what that was supposed to mean as Gabriella and Javversten shared another of those long looks. Dar certainly was nothing like a shepherd.
Javversten bowed slightly to Dar, the equivalent of shaking hands here in this Land. Dar bowed back, looking just as puzzled as Rick felt.
“For a colt, you’re easily the biggest Human I’ve ever laid eyes upon,” Javversten clapped Dar on the arm. “Trying to find a horse for you will be my biggest challenge yet,” the tall Keltoi grinned. Dar smiled back a little self-consciously.
“And you are?” Javversten turned to Rick.
Rick grinned. “Just another colt in the pasture, sir,” he said as he bowed.
Javversten laughed. “I like this one. He speaks my language,” he said to Gabriella.
“This is Rick. He’s been working on applying his charms today,” Gabriella said dryly.
“Ah, and a charming smile can sometimes get you where a sword can’t,” Javversten said pleasantly.
“This is Ander, my young kyor’shiba,” Gabriella gestured to Ander, who, turning red, bowed to Javversten. The title was a source of never-ending embarrassment for Ander; Rick teased him about it fairly often, though he would have to forgo this opportunity. Rick couldn’t help it, he knew it meant something important, like student of magic, but it sounded something more like “teddy bear.” He suddenly realized that Ander and Javversten weren’t speaking but were still looking and acting as if they were. Rick realized they were speaking with kyor’rishtan. He wished he had some of that….
“Stars, that’s annoying,” muttered Dar.
“You’re just jealous,” snickered Emanuella.
By the time Javversten had found a suitable horse for each of them, Rick was famished. That he now owned a lovely brown mare with white socks no longer impressed him as much as the remembrance of the sausages and cheeses they’d passed earlier that day. Dar had been assigned the big black stallion that Emanuella had made friends with, to her chagrin. Javversten apologized profusely, saying that the stallion was the biggest horse he had. Rick had to admit, as small as Emanuella was, she would look rather out of place atop the big stallion. Javversten made Dar promise to allow Emanuella to visit the stallion as much as she liked, a promise given with great reluctance by Dar.
Emanuella got a stormy gray mare with a black mane, gentle with a hint of spirit, while Fiorra was given a quiet gelding who suited her nature quite well. Ander was presented with a lovely mare much like Rick’s, both gentle but strong. Javversten insisted on keeping the horses until they left Terruth City, not trusting the stable hands at The Sword and the Stag with his beloved horses.
Gabriella allowed them to sit at the eatery in the center of the Market to eat their dinner. Ander and Rick both got sausages and cheese, while Dar and the girls bought the smoked meat instead, sharing the fragrant loaf of bread and fruit that she bought for them. While Gabriella savored some wine, Emanuella and Fiorra shared a jug of cider, declaring it to be the best cider they’d ever had. Rick, however, had tried the mead, thinking of the girl on the street that morning as he’d promised. It was much sweeter than he’d anticipated, and he rather wished he’d gotten the beer that Ander and Dar had, though Dar said it vastly different than the beer they had drank in their old world.
After his stomach was tolerably appeased and he had ogled enough of the passersby to satisfy his curiosity, something that had been bothering Rick for most of the afternoon surfaced in his mind.
“Gabriella….” He trailed off, losing steam.
She looked at him placidly, her chin cradled in her laced hands, her green eyes seeming expectant.
Well, why not? “Why are you buying us armor and horses? What are we going to do with horses back in the Illyth? We don’t even use the iros much.”
Four pairs of eyes swung to meet Gabriella’s.
“It’s taken you this long to inquire? I thought you’d never ask,” she replied with a smile.