A delicate woman paused as she walked through the market in Dargon, her skin was golden. She had very black hair and her eyes were almond shaped and tilted up at the corners. Though she was tiny, she carried a large pack on her back. She carried a staff taller than she was but did not use it to help her walk. Alert, she observed everything around her.
Used to the smells of the road, the forest flowers and wildlife, she found the smells of humanity to be a very poor substitute. The odors of effluents and sweaty bodies seemed to fill her head. She knew she would adjust the longer she was in the city.
She did enjoy watching people though. She stopped again and watched a pert young woman with a basket on her arm walking slowly along the market street with a young man following her. The young man did not realize how deeply he had been hooked. She would wager the couple would be wed within a sennight; well perhaps it would be a fortnight if the girl was being very careful.
As she continued walking, a delicious aroma elicited a growl of hunger from her stomach. Reaching into her sleeve, she felt her small store of coins. She sighed and walked on though the cooking food tried to drag her back. She could smell fresh herbs and fresh vegetables. She hoped her money would get her a room and a meal; if not, at least a room so she could rest comfortably. It had been a long trip. She was so happy to have her task almost complete.
A long ship ride had brought her to Sharks’ Cove. From there, she and her three companions — Lo-Pho, Osyito, and his wife Sweet Lee — had purchased a large wagon pulled by two oxen and loaded it with her personal items, tents, and supplies. Leagues ago an ox had broken its leg, so she had traded the wagon for a smaller wagon. Over time, after other mishaps, she had to settle for the cart and donkey.
Sadly, she had lost her companions. Lo-Pho had succumbed to lung fever. Sweet Lee, her personal maid, had followed shortly with the same ailment. After the donkey had died, she and Osyito pulled and pushed the cart. Three days ago Osyito died. He had seemed to just wither away after Sweet Lee’s death. She had buried him under a willow tree as he asked her to. She could not push the cart by herself so she had packed a bag with what she needed and managed to push the cart under some trees and piled brush over it hopefully hiding these precious bits of her life so that she would be able to retrieve them in the future. Then she completed her walk to Dargon on foot.
Every few feet different sights, sounds and scents wafted by her. A tavern door opened and let out the odors of sawdust and ale along with the sounds of people singing. A few steps along and a bakery brought the flavorful scent of fresh bread as a mother walked by with a loaf in her basket and a laughing young child in her arms. She decided the more abrasive smells and sounds could be tolerated as long as she had such pictures and the music of children’s laughter to delight her.
The sound of the small child’s giggles as he rode on his mother’s hip brought forth memories of her own children’s laughter from the distant past. As she stood remembering, people passed on either side of her unnoticed.
She could feel the heat. As the sun approached mid sky, the temperature rose. There was no available shade. She noticed the booths in the area she was traveling through now were built of wood and encircled the seller and his or her wares. They were very different from the earlier vendors selling from push carts, the backs of farm wagons or from blankets spread on the ground. Looking around, the woman saw a man who looked like a warrior. She approached him and quietly spoke to him. “Sir, are you a guard?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I am a guard. How may I help you?” The guard was tall and looked down at the tiny woman.
“I thought so. You do look like a warrior.” Smiling at him, she retreated into memories of her husband when he was a young warrior and of her sons as they became such proud young warriors.
“Ma’am, are you all right? What can I do for you?” He appeared to be worried about the little woman in front of him.
“I beg your pardon, young man; memories sometimes creep up on us and take over our minds. I was told of a good inn. I forget its name. The owner though, I remember her name. It is May. She is said to have a good and quiet inn. Would you know of this inn?”
“Yes Ma’am, I know of it. Let me walk you to May’s inn.”
So the tall young guard walked with little steps as he escorted the tiny old woman to the inn. After the guard left her at the inn, the woman went in and found the person who appeared to be in charge standing behind a counter.
She introduced herself. “Hello, my name would be Sue-Linn in your language. I need a room.” Taking an assortment of coins from her sleeve, she asked, “Will this be enough?”
The woman counted the coins and nodded her head saying, “You will get some money back.”
“Will that amount pay for a meal?”
“That amount will pay for a supper and a breakfast. I am called May, let me show you to your room.”
Following May, Sue-Linn asked, “Will it possible for me to get a tub and hot water early in the morning?”
“Yes, that can be arranged.” May said as she opened the door to a room close to the dining room.
May yawned and shook her head. She had gotten up early because of the tiny little woman the guard had brought to her. The woman had come out into the dining room to eat her supper. Thanking May for the good food, she had retired.
This morning May had brought the tub to the door of the room then returned for the two buckets of hot water. The woman had opened the door and moved the tub in and let May in to put the buckets down.
The cook was up now and cooking while May sat behind her desk. She heard a door open and close then a click-clack noise. Standing, she saw the old woman wrapped in a sheet with her hair in an elaborate style with jewels dangling from crossed enameled sticks stuck through the hair. Her face had makeup unlike any May had ever seen before. May’s mouth must have dropped open because the old woman covered her mouth and actually giggled.
“I apologize for staring. You are so different from the woman who came in yesterday,” May blurted out.
“I, also, apologize for laughing. You had your mouth open and it just seemed funny to me. Is it too early to get a small bite for breakfast as you call it?” Sue-Linn walked closer and May saw what was making the click-clack noise. Sue-Linn’s shoes were on wood platforms. They made her taller and changed how she walked.
“No, it is not too early. There should be porridge and bread and cheese along with milk or ale. What would you prefer?”
“A small porridge, cheese and bread would be good, please.”Sue-Linn wrinkled her nose and said “No ale, perhaps water please.”
May served her and returned with a mug and said, “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Please do, May.”
“You are definitely not what you seemed to be yesterday,” May stated with her head to one side.
“No, I am not.” Sue-Linn gave May a tiny smile.
“I do not wish to pry. Well, perhaps I do. But, I also want to help you in any way I can. I have a feeling that you will need my help in some way or another.” May sat up. “You seem to be preparing as if for a state visit. Are you going to the keep?” Leaning slightly forward, Mae waited for an answer.
“You are a bright young woman. You would have to be to take care of such a business as you have here though. Yes, I am going to the keep. I must deliver something to a man from my country, news and things.” With this said, the old woman looked down with a sad look enveloping her.
Though curious, May did not wish to intrude on this old woman’s sadness.
Making a quick decision, May spoke up. “Well, in those shoes it would take you all day to walk to the ferry and up the hill. I will have my groom hitch up my wagon. I will drive you up to the keep.” May stated this firmly as if she would take no argument over what she offered.
“You are so kind; I have nothing to pay you for your kindness.” The old woman rose and bowed deeply.
“I am kind, perhaps, but nosey for true. I may learn the story of why you are really in Dargon and that will be worth much more than driving you to the keep. Now sit and finish your food. When do you wish to go?” May and Sue-Linn talked for a short while then separated to prepare for the trip to the keep.
May came into the inn from checking that the small wagon had been made ready for the short trip to the keep and walked into the dining room only to be met with the sight of Sue-Linn sitting by a window in full formal regalia. She was stunned by the beauty of the clothes the old woman wore. Sue-Linn was dressed in what must have been silk. She was all in white from the jewels in her hair to the platform shoes on her feet. She wore a wide sleeved robe that went from her neck to her feet and was covered in white on white embroidery of fantastical mythical creatures like dragons and many May did not recognize. There was a wide sash around Sue-Linn’s middle with an arrangement that was folded in the middle of her back. Sue-Linn was fanning herself with a beautiful white fan.
May softly let out a sigh and said, “Oh my!”
Sue-Linn closed her fan and rose to turn around one time. Facing May and bowing, she asked, “Do you like how I am dressed, May?”
May grinned and responded, “Oh, yes! That is the most beautiful clothing I have ever seen! I now know you must be a great lady in the country you come from” After saying this, May gave in to an impulse and bowed from the waist.
Sue-Linn tapped her fan to her hand and laughed. “May, you have shown me that your people truly have good manners. That was a beautiful bow. You need not bow to me though. I am not a great lady. In my country, you might say I was highly placed. I am not in my country here.”
“If you are ready we can leave.” May suggested. A broken cart is causing a backup in traffic on the road to the main gate of the keep. We will take the ferry at Murson and Dock streets then after we leave the ferry; we will take a turn off to the south gate. We will go through some of the Old City then up a steep hill to the keep.
“Oh my, if you were not helping me, I might have had trouble getting to the keep. I am so very thankful you are helping me.”
Picking up a small white pillow with a cylinder laying across it Sue-Linn asked May, “Perhaps when we get to the keep you could carry this for me?”
Taking the objects from Sue-Linn, May said, “I would be honored to be of assistance.”
They walked slowly out of the inn to begin their trip to the keep.
As May drove the cart off the ferry she saw that the road to the main gate had not been cleared yet so she drove on to the south gate of the Old City. She had to pull up because there were some cows in the road just before the south gate into the city. She noticed a young girl with bruises on her trying to herd the cows off the road. A guard and his son helped her. Once the cows were off the road May drove on through the gate and soon made a turn up a steep hill to the gate of the keep.
One of the guards spoke to May. “Good morning Mistress May. What brings you up to the keep so early this morning?”
“I have the honor of escorting the Lady Xie-Linn Michiya who is here to meet with her son, Lord Ittosai Michiya, bringing news of great import.”
I haven’t seen him recently. I will see if I can find someone who will know how to contact him. If you will drive into the keep, I will follow and show her where she may wait.”
The guard helped Lady Michiya down from the wagon. May handed her the staff she walked with and her fan. May walked behind the Sue-Linn as they made their way up the stairs and down a hallway. May carried a tube on a white silk pillow which was embroidered in white thread in the same shapes as on the robe.
As they entered the keep, the guard who had walked faster than the two women was returning with a woman, possibly a housekeeper. “Ladies, this is Venishe Vrute. She will help you. I will see that the wagon and donkey are taken to the barn and cared for until you are ready for them.”
Venishe escorted them to a small sitting room and offered them some refreshments. “Ittosai Michiya is in the duke’s meeting with the knights. A message has been taken to the meeting and will be given to him at the first opportunity.”
Sue-Linn thanked her as the housekeeper left the room. The housekeeper replied, “You are welcome. If you have any desires or needs, you may pull the cord next to the door and someone will come and help you.” May and Sue-Linn waited in the sitting room. Venishe brought another pitcher of juice and tray of snack food mid way through the morning.
Sue-Linn smiled, “I often told my children that patience is a virtue and patience is always rewarded. My sons took the lesson better than my daughters did.”
Just after the mid day bell rang, Ittosai Michiya entered the room in a rush. The Lady Michiya knelt down and put her head on the floor in front of him. He tried to get her to rise. Speaking in Baranurian, so May would understand, she told him to stop. “Son, I must kneel because of the news I bring you. Listen to me! Your brothers and father have died in the defense of our Emperor and country. They destroyed the enemy but not before the last one, your father, was cut down. His men brought your brothers and father home. The Emperor even came to the funeral. He gave me a boon. Since there are no more of our name left in our country, he allowed me to bring your inheritance to you. Also, knowing you would not return even if he summoned you, the Emperor paid for the estate and included that with your inheritance.”
Putting her hands up, she spoke to May. “Now, May, the tube.”
“My son, please accept your inheritance in the name of your father and the Emperor.” She sternly added, when he hesitated, “Well, take it.”
“Before I do my Mother, will you put yourself in exile with me? I would be thankful and honored if you would allow me to keep you near.”
“Ah. Now you understand why I came.” Sitting up she said, “I did miss you, of course. My greedy daughters would put me in a small room and ignore me.” She smiled at him, and continued, “But you, I can bully and boss about.” She laughed and said, “Now help an old woman up. Letting your mother kneel on this hard floor, you should be ashamed of yourself.” After she was standing, she put her hand on Ittosai’s arm, pointed her fan at May and said, “Son. I have the honor of introducing you to my friend Darla Thystler who is called May.”
May had the story and a new friend.