The Lupine Saga 96

“What’s that?” Va’il asked.

“Gates to Trin. We’re about to enter mostly avian territory,” Derlik said.

“Both Farrow and Rising are far behind us, then,” Ruby said. Va’il nodded and then looked back at the road behind them.

“Get ready,” Derlik said. “They aren’t too keen on visitors. Be quiet and stay in the back. And don’t look down. Smile and talk quietly amongst yourselves.”

“Quiet but talk?” Va’il asked.

“Just pretend you’re just traveling happily. Guys ahead might not stop us if they don’t think anything is out of order. We’re too close now, I’m getting off,” Derlik said. The cart stopped and Derlik got up and met the approaching avian guards.

“He’s a lot bigger than them,” Va’il said.

“Don’t say it too loud. I don’t exactly want all this, but if we’re going, we should make sure nothing stops us. Especially not if we’re just passing through,” Ruby said.

“Are the three of us together now?” Va’il asked, the meaning clear for Ruby to see.

“We’ve gone too far to not be. Getting stopped and asking for help here could be the right move. Or it could be far worse than continuing on. At least we have an idea with the bearan. Maybe if it we were still further west, nearer to home. But with avian territory, I don’t think we can risk it.”

Va’il knew Ruby would go back if she thought it was the right move, but the area presented unknown risks to the young and unprepared girl and lupus boy. He dropped the idea of escape in the current situation, and continued conversing quietly, pretending to be a happy traveller.

“Avians. Interesting. So most of the people we will see for a while are going to be avian, right?” Va’il asked.

“Mostly. I’d expect a lot of felis traders around this area too, because this area is just south of felis territory. But after this, we should see mostly avians. I haven’t been here before, so I’m guessing. I’ve once seen the water kingdom before, but otherwise I’ve always been in Rising,” Ruby said.

“Ens, the water kingdom? What’s it like?” Va’il asked.

“It was when I was a lot younger. I can’t remember it well. A lot of water, of course. There are cities that seem to float, but it’s really just canals. The people are a little different. Blue hair, so they even kind of look like the sea. Very, very nice, that’s what I remember about them. The cities themselves are colorful. They call their cities coral towns, but their simplicity hides what amazing creations go on inside them. They harvest food differently, and have a lot of remedies and other creations. But that’s all I remember. It’s different than here. Just another town. Just like many others. Derlik is coming back.”

“We’re in luck,” Derlik said. “They are fine with us coming, and quickly going. We’ll stay in the city tonight, and leave tomorrow morning. We’ll exchange our tired horses with some fresh ones, and should be able to continue at a fast clip.”

#

The city was quaint, but uneventful. They rested that night, comfortable in a local inn. The next day they were off, Va’il and Ruby now used to the constraints of their situation. They passed by a few more avian towns and cities over the next week, where the same events repeated. Their path dipped south, so they ended up in mixed avian and lionel territory, but not long enough to be a problem for the territorial inhabitants.

They crossed into swine territory, a large area called Sounderthound. It was a long leg of the journey that took them quite a while and many viewings of Sendes to get through, but it was mostly uneventful. Each day that passed they’d further run out of books or schooling to recall and games two children could play on the road, and they couldn’t talk of serious or personal matters with another person around. Although the area was beautiful, they travelled through the southern areas of Sounderthound too quickly to appreciate the surroundings. Their stops in local villages or cities of swine were brief and seemingly without trouble, as long as they mostly kept to themselves and didn’t bother the inhabitants during their stays. Until their passage into hare lands was hindered by a certain event.

“Who wishes to pass?” asked the swine guard at the last major city they’d be passing through in Sounderthound.

“Just a group of weary travelers, visiting my esteemed home in Grizz. We seek passage only, nothing more,” Derlik said. The swine stepped back and conferred with his associate. He came back, his face just as stoic as it ever was.

“You may enter and see the magistrate. He will decide,” the swine said.

“I thank you,” Derlik said.

“You shouldn’t, not before leaving. Go on!”

The kids, feeling weary, didn’t pay much attention to their surroundings. The sound of children playing perked Va’il’s ears, but the smell of the world around him kept him from investigating further. The other cities had been neat and clean, perhaps due to being closer to the central areas or by being trading towns. But a single glance around told Va’il that no trade was happening here. It was poor and ragged.

“You two all right?” Derlik asked.

“Doing fine,” Va’il said.

“The sooner out of here, the better,” Ruby said. She was dressed in newer clothes, purchased from the last major town they were in. They were fitting rewards for the only warm bath Ruby had in the last couple weeks. She dressed in grey wool, wearing a simple shirt and loose pants, and her hair in a ponytail. It wasn’t her usual fashion, but they fit her well. She still radiated nobility and dignity, no matter what she wore. Derlik never did ask her where she hid her money or how much she had, but it didn’t bother or even surprise him that the noble girl had it.

“Certainly,” Derlik said. He drove the cart around, and stopped it in front of the magistrate’s office. He tied the horses and walked inside the building.

It was in the center of the city, a large and elaborate creation in the midst of poverty. It was two stories and had a marble entryway. Va’il looked at it for a while, but it wasn’t interesting to him.

Time passed, but Derlik didn’t return. They waited for the shadow of the sun to move a meter, but no amount of waiting changed the problem. Derlik had spent a couple hours in the magistrate’s office without coming out to tell Va’il and Ruby of what was going on.

“Is it supposed to take this long?” Va’il asked.

“It’s political, probably. He’s being questioned,” Ruby said.

“For this long? None of the other places took this long.”

“Maybe it’s because this is a border place. They might have to make sure of everything before letting us into hare lands. I’m not sure if their relations are good or not, but when it comes to territories or nations, you never know who dislikes who in truth.”

“Is there really that much distrust between them?”

“Yes, Va’il. Everyone has an objective, and their own ideas of how to get there.”

“But why can’t they all get along?”

“That’s pretty naive. Each region is different.”

“Why are they different?”

“Well, one might be governed a certain way, another might use their own method. Besides, really, almost all regions but ours are homogeneous. I mean, they are usually all one species, with some foreign traders here and there. Rising is mixed with lupus like you, human like me, and so on. The rest are all mostly different. Swine territory, bovine, bearan, and so on. So different, okay?”

“But they are all full of people, so they are all the same, right?”

“Well, if you say it like that, it makes sense. But I don’t think that’s important to figure out. Everyone’s different. And none of this helps us find out what’s taking Derlik.”

“I’m going to go in,” Va’il said.

“Should I come too?” Ruby asked.

“I don’t know. Stay here. Come in if you think you should.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll wait. Hurry up, Va’il.”

Va’il jumped out of the cart and entered the magistrate’s building. He sped past the decorations littering the place, and ended up in the main hall.

About James Ashman

I write books of the fantasy, heroic, and adventure types. So far. I'm an author who loves fantastic stories.
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