Early fall made the island of Bay’s Lake glow in the center of the lake close to the Derm border. The trees were beginning to turn orange, yellow, and red. The mornings were cold and afternoons were hot. It was the point between seasons when the weather couldn’t decide which way it wanted to go.
The people in the crowded trading ground readied for the fall harvest. The market bustled with overstuffed carts of vegetables and fruits. Other vendors sold preserves for the coming winter and warm clothing.
The people of the island were taller than those in the distant villages farther west. Bay’s Lake showed the obvious signs of being a Dermite occupied village with their armored guards dressed in silver and their sky-coloured banners with the silver gryphon. Their voices, booming like thunder, carried across the island with ease.
Caldor hadn’t missed that. The sage liked the quiet of the outlying villages. Derm was too loud and busy for his taste.
As they strolled through the market, Caldor kept his eyes open for the place that carried the medicine for the prince. Two bookstores were built in the same row of houses with a draper separating them. A blacksmith and barracks were set up across the way on the other side of the market near the stables where Foe had boarded his bird-lion. There were several taverns with inebriated patrons and three inns.
Unlike the other villages the two had visited, Bay’s Lake lived off of the bounty of the lake, rather than the surrounding fields. They harvested the kelp, lake trout, and sturgeon common to the fresh waters.
This was middle ground. Any road or path from the south and west met in Bay’s Lake. The girl had to have come through this place, even if only briefly.
Ignoring the merchants’ calls for his attention, Caldor scanned the crowd around him. Everyone was busy minding their own business. If only they cared about others instead of themselves, maybe things in the world would have been different.
Greed was the killer of men. It was greed that had led the South to begin their attacks on the North centuries ago, and that was later followed by pride. Sydrin had gained their land, taking several fortresses and villages that belonged to the neutral land. There was no need to continue the conflict. It changed from wanting the land to wanting to prove a point. At least, that’s what Caldor had gathered during all the years he had been standing on the sidelines watching the charades between the North and South.
The sage had no issues with either. They both had good people and they both had bad. They made contributions to education and research. They strived to be leaders of the world. That was the problem. Instead of working together, the two nations wanted to rule the other, which led to this ridiculous conflict that wasn’t going to be resolved in his lifetime.
“The light was strong in the sky for a reason, my people,” a chaos singer sang near the fountain in the center of the market.
Caldor rolled his eyes. Even in a place like Bay’s Lake, those pests had wormed their way in.
“The tear in the sky is the first of the signs. The Six are coming and it begins with the light,” this singer wasn’t as eloquent as the one back in Downrow. This man was paraphrasing much of what he was supposed to be reading.
“Bloody hell,” Foe grumbled.
“Just ignore him,” Caldor muttered, hurrying past.
“The light, my people, was a sign to us that we should be watching,” the chaos singer was waving around his book.
Caldor continued through the market to the end, where the small, permanent shops were. The singer faded with the noise of the crowd, leaving only the muffling choir of voices resonating around him.
At the end of the small strip of shops, a sign with a mortar and leaf swung. An unusual sign, but those symbols did make sense if they were to represent a herbalist.
The door to the shop flew open.
“Don’ yah kick me out yah lil imp!” a wild haired man dressed in furs belted, while a Chijin dressed in green silk robes was pushing him out the door. “I’ve got business ‘ere. Thin’s ta get an’ sell. Yah got no rights.”
“I have all the rights, you prim. This is my shop. My noble establishment. I can buy and sell what I wish. Newt tails and troll pellets are not welcome in my shop,” the Chijin shouted. “Now good day!”
The door slammed shut, leaving the wild man seething in the road. Caldor kept his distance, watching the wild man pace. He paced and screamed before hurrying off across the market and out of sight. The fellow reminded Caldor of the small primates that dangled from the fruit trees in La’reen with how he had flailed his arms.
Foe scratched the back of his head, still staring in the direction the wild man had gone.
“Yah don’ see those every day, eh?” Foe chuckled, spying his wee friend smirking.
“No, but prims live in the forests around here, so the locals are used to them,” Caldor explained.
People had believed the Morzi were primitive. At least they had established communities and proper clothing, unlike those that lived off the trees and dirt of the forests.
The sage had met a small pack of prims on his way to Calin once. He had traded one of his water bladders for food, and heard stories about their hunts in the wild lands. They were fascinating people, although unpredictable, and had terrible hygiene.
“Shall we go in?” Caldor asked.
The two moved towards the door to the shop; a small silver bell above the door rung when opened. The smell of sandalwood and sage filled the air. The shop was dim from the little light coming through the windows. An oil lamp rested on a small table by one of the shelves giving the room a warm yellow glow, although the dark wooden panels kept the room from being too bright. A Chijin man sat cross-legged on a table, his legs wrapped around a marble mortar bigger than he was.
“Hello. Good day. Come in and stay!” the herbalist chimed. “How may I help you two today?”
The man was overly cheery for Caldor’s taste, but by the look of the shop, he knew his plants. Jars and jars of various specimens lined the shelves. Some had been preserved in oil or alcohol. Others were drying from a rack tied to the ceiling.
“I am looking for a pain medication,” Caldor said, leaning to take a closer look at a preserved daffodil in a glass jar. The bright yellow petals looked fresh, as if the plant was suspended in time.
“Back pain, foot pain, head pain?” the herbalist asked, making a thump when hopping onto the floor.
“A pain that would make a young boy unable to stop screaming for hours on end,” Caldor replied, glancing at the herbalist. “I was told you sold a rare flower that could nullify pain. Do you?”
“Well, yes… but not without knowing what it will be used for,” the herbalist answered, crossing his arms.
“At the moment, I am unsure what it is that has a hold of my patient, but I assure you that I am no armature. The extract from the poppy will be used carefully,” Caldor hoped he sounded reassuring. The kratom wasn’t going to last for long, and the other medicines were likely useless in tending to the prince’s level of pain.
“You have to understand, friend, I ask these questions to make sure these medicines don’t get in the wrong hands,” the herbalist chimed, hurrying towards a shelf before he began organizing the jars. “Poppy milk is deadly if used wrong, and can be addictive. It can cause more harm than good.”
“I know that, boy. Do you know to whom you speak?” Caldor scoffed, noticing the Chijin turn around to look at him. The herbalist had a collection, that was true, but the collection only showed this man had done nothing but live safely in his shop. “Does Master Healer Caldor Lefwid of Fish Bank ring any bells? Get me the damn extract.”
“Master…” the Chijin bowed with wide eyes, “I beg your pardon, Master Caldor. I’ll get that right away for you.”
The herbalist bolted to the back room, as Caldor smirked. He didn’t like to throw his title around, but it did come in handy every-so-often. His name may not have been important to the political rings, but medical professionals across Gaitan knew of his work.
“Master Healer… yah really used it, eh?” Foe shook his head.
“What? Anything for the prince, right?” Caldor snipped, taking a deep breath. “We shall wait outside.”
Caldor stood by the front door of the shop while Foe stood on the other side. It had been a long trip from Downrow to Bay’s Lake since they had been keeping to the ground. It would have been quicker to fly, but Foe had insisted it safer to stay low.
Taking out his ivory pipe, Caldor rested it between his teeth before taking a deep breath. He didn’t light it. He would do that later when he had time to enjoy the taste and relax at the inn.
The streets smelled of fish and smoke. Smells from his childhood. Maybe that was why he felt so comfortable in the busy merchant hub. That was what Fish Bank had been when he was a child. That and the glistening of the water he could see through the trees.
The sage’s ears caught part of a conversation between a small group of women across the way. They had been discussing their husbands, or lack of husbands, since they had been drafted by the Dermite military. One woman was consoling the other, but it wasn’t that which surprised him. It was what the woman was suggesting that bothered him.
Seer. Caldor rolled his eyes. The loonies were popping up all across the northwest. If it wasn’t the chaos singers it was these so-called fortune tellers. How could he be the only one to see how ridiculous such an idea was?
“They are like rats,” Caldor hissed, chewing on his pipe.
“Who are?” Foe inquired.
“These seers,” Caldor spat, “those women are talking about one that is the real thing, if that is actually true. It is like saying nightshade and alyssum are the same.”
A blank expression moved across his friend’s face. If he had been with his associates back in La’reen they would have been laughing, but this man was not of the intellectual standards he was used to.
“They are not the same,” Caldor stated.
“Oh ’ight,” Foe nodded.
The herbalist scurried out from the shop, a small glass bottle holding a yellow liquid was in his hand.
“Took long enough, how much?” Caldor grumbled, looking at the small bottle.
“One gold, sir,” the herbalist meekly replied. The old sage lifted his brow. “I mean… four silver.”
“Never change your quote,” Caldor instructed, handing the man a gold coin, “even if the customer looks unpleased at the price. Come, Foe.”
Caldor tucked the bottle into his robe before sauntering back up the road. His large companion lumbered behind.
Now that he was listening, the word seer was scattered about in the various conversations going on around him. Simple minds attract simple minds continued to run through his head.
After a night of drink and rest, maybe then he would be in a better mood to deal with the moronic crowds that surrounded him. And just maybe, find out what this sudden obsession with so-called fortune tellers was all about.