Day 2 - Mindless (1,199 Words)
The city smelled terrible. That was the first thing she noticed. She wasn’t expecting a flowerbed or anything, but this? This was too much. Why would anyone ever live here?
“Wipe that grimace off your face before you get stuck like that,” said Bastian. The two of them sat together on the front of their wagon, now full to the brim with goods they were bringing over from the Pridelands. Bastian sat lazily on the bench, holding the reins loosely in his hands, wearing a long trenchcoat, which suited his wiry frame, and a wide-brimmed straw hat a little too far back on his head, revealing his bald scalp. “And stop holding your breath, you’re just going to have to take a bigger one when you run out of air.”
As if on cue, Sabel gasped - inhaling a mouthful of the city smells, its densely packed, unwashed crowds, poorly tended pack animals, and sewers. Forests suited her far better. Suddenly the wagon jostled, threatening to throw Sabel to the ground as she caught her breath.
Lurching, she managed to grab the back of the bench and stop her descent.
“Close call,” her dad said, the mischief evident in his voice and the grin he wore, now a little longer.
“You did that on purpose!” Sabel said.
Feigning offense, Bastian placed a hand on his heart in supplication. “Me? Your dearest father would never dream of putting you in danger. Even if it might have taught you a good lesson about staying on your toes.” He winked at her and then leaned forward, over the edge of the wagon. “Now, as for Lynx, I can’t say. He’s a crafty one,” he finished as he patted their steed’s back.
The kimer looked back towards them and stuck its head out proudly, uncaring. It was a large creature, full of muscle, not quite as tall as a horse, but as strong as an ox. Reddish scales covered its body, except for down its spine where a mane of golden hair led up, over its stout neck, and to the creature’s head, a wide, draconic snout with long whiskers and a single, proud ivory horn sharpened to a point, that only added to its egotistical appearance. It’s tail was two-pronged and each of its low, sturdy legs, ended in hooves.
The beast was protected by light leather armor so as not to impede in movement, in the traditional style the Tribes had taken to dressing their chosen steeds and beasts of burden.
“Next!” said a guard, standing by the open gates to the city, dressed in light leathers, and staring at them with boredom evident on their face.
With a quick tug of the reins, Bastian urged Lynx forward and their wagon trudged toward the guard. “Papers,” he droned when they got near.
As Bastian handed over their travel papers, Sabel’s attention turned through the gates - into the city proper. She hadn’t ever been to the city. Bastian had never brought her along before. But ever since her clash with Celador, he had started treating her differently recently. Taking her out with him on more excursions. As the guard waved them through the gates and the dirt beneath them gave way to paved stone, she found she didn’t mind the smell as much.
“What do you see?” asked Bastian.
Another test. Her mind quieted and she scanned the scene around her. There were a lot of people around. Some were on wagons, like hers - though they didn’t have a kimer pulling them. Most were on foot. There were guards, like the ones at the gate. A few were chatting to each other, while others were scanning the people passing by. Their gazes seemed to linger longer on the foot traffic. And especially on the people lingering. They weren’t moving forward with the crowd, deeper in the city. Those people had stopped here. Their clothes cheaper, shredded. They wandered into buildings off the main road, or down side streets, passing others who were seated on the ground, hats set on the ground in front of them, filled with coin. Beggars? They sat and waited, but the other folk paid no attention to them. One, further up the street, caught her eye, he was an older man, his arm hung in a sling and his skin wrinkled and dry. He tried to approach one of the richer looking groups that was making their way down towards the city center, but they just pretended not to notice him.
“Why are they doing that, papa?” she asked, turning back to him. He still looked relax, but she could tell that he had tightened a little. His teeth clenched ever so slightly and the look in his eyes sharper, the way it got sometimes when he was deep in thought.
“What’s the first law of the Tribes?”
“One family,” she answered.
“And the second?”
He nodded, pleased. “Many outsiders think we are family because we travel together. But the Tribes have been family from long before we took to our wagons. However, they’re not entirely wrong. Our journeys have made our bonds stronger.”
As their wagon continued down the main road, he grabbed a coin from his pocket and caught the attention of the beggar from earlier, flipping the crown piece to the man, who bowed gratefully.
“But our mission makes the Tribes strong. Our desire to protect our family. The path we walk along the meridians.”
She continued to listen as her eyes followed the street ahead, the shorter buildings giving ways to larger ones, and the roads growing busier, bustling with more activity.
“Here, in the cities, the people have no mission. They spend their days working to accomplish things they don’t believe in, for the profit of people they don’t know, in the hopes that someday they won’t need to. They are trapped. Caged birds who have forgotten how to fly. Or chosen to ignore the open gate because they have convinced themselves the world outside their cage is more dangerous than never spreading their wings.”
“But,” he said, pausing to catch her eye. “That does not mean they are bad people. Not all of them. They are free to make their choice. It is not our way to make it for them. The caged birds are never the problem, Sabel. What matters to us, are the cages. And the people who build them.”
Sabel’s eyes widened, as she realized what he was getting to, and Bastian smiled as his daughter caught on. They were even deeper into the city now. The buildings around them ornately decorated, and stacked on multiple levels, some even three stories high. The people here were largely rich and well to do. Their chins pointed up high enough to make Lynx look humble and their words uttered at such a volume you could just tell they relished the sound of their own voices. “So, young raven,” he said, opening his arms as if to present their surroundings who should we bring bad luck to today?”