“Leafe, Shiny, come look!” Abeline’s face flushed with hope as she stood at the top of the great green hovel in front of us. We had just cleared the forest, soaked to the knee in mud and so threaded with stickers and thorns from shrubbery that a stranger might mistake us for a pack of Treant Saplings.
I noticed Ashe pretending not to respond to “shiny.”
We climbed the hill behind her. So much endurance. It bewildered me how she was still so full of life after yesterday’s long silent march. We didn’t intend to camp last night but somehow silence added weight to the hike. I sensed that Ashe was beginning to feel the weight of his soul. You know it’s bad when the paladin needs a break.
We climbed the grassy hill to find that we were actually standing on a cliff. The grassy cliff came to an abrupt, rocky drop; it didn’t look natural. Miners? Below us, the morning fog was just starting to fade back into mystery, and the sun reached out over a great expanse of grey stone, white rock, and red brick buildings spanning our horizon. Behind them we could see a great river, and from our distance, could not make out the other side.
“My word.” I was completely awestruck. “I never imagined.”
Abeline nodded “Draumerheim, ‘as old as man’ some say. This city has expanded, collapsed, rebuilt, burnt down, erected again, and again, until it became this. Buildings so tall, they make the great pines of the north tremble.”
Ashe stood silently, looking at the city below without showing great change in his expression. His brows lifted a bit, and perhaps his cheek muscles relaxed, but he held his demeanor steadfast. He grunted. “No time like the present then?” And started down to the left of our cliff, where the cliff-side gave way into hills and the passage downward was safer. We followed pursuit.
As we grew closer to the city, I began to notice just how varied it was. Buildings were not at all uniform, and it seemed that some were much newer than others. Many where built in varying style. It was all sort of an architectural culture mash—Powerful Nord archways attached to artistic Southern walls—several different temples had their trademarked spires erected. I could see what my master meant; this place is a haven for masons; the only end to a mason’s career here would be his death—judging from those towers however…
We followed a stream all the way up to the city’s sewer gates. The closer our proximity, the greater the stench. I didn’t mind so much. When I was younger I took refuge under bridges, forgotten alleyways, and other nooks that might surprise you, to escape the bullying of bigger street urchins. Human street children had little cause and therefore little to unite over. However, they did have me to share their disgust in. It always started with curiosity over my physique. “Youre so lanky! When was the last time you’ve eaten? Are those your real ears.” And it always ended with the dripping arch ways of streets above me, the chirping of rats—I didn’t mind the rats though, they never brought me any harm. I never had to run from a rat, only from people.
At some point in the long final stretch, Ashe allowed himself to slip behind Abeline and I. He insisted he was fine, although his face looked troubled. No doubt burdened with the weight of his mind.
Abeline pulled out a small, folded parchment, and rubbed her thumb across it.
“Abeline, I never asked, what’s your business in Draumerheim?”
“This.” She held up the note. “This is my new business.” She looked proud, and her eyes were alert and lit with passion.
“And this is?”
“My new tavern! Auntie Kylie left me her business when she died last season, just at the summer’s start actually. I would have sprinted straight off to Draumerheim if the delivery of this letter had been left with swifter hands.”
“You seem very eager.”
I jumped up on a little rock protruding like a lance from the ground and playfully tested my balance on a single foot. I watched my footing carefully for a moment. When my eyes returned front, Abeline’s intensity nearly projected me on my backside.
“You have no idea.” She said. “I left the moment this letter came to me, and would have gladly vanished earlier.”
We continued on while she talked more about how she had been dying to leave home for some years now, but she was careful to never say why.
Behind us, I heard stumbling armour and a muddled curse. Ashe tripped over the spired rock but quickly recovered his composure, as if he was embarrassed. No one cared; at this point in the journey we were all dreary of travel and dreamt of beds.
Abeline gagged on the growing stench and held a deep-purple satin handkerchief to her mouth. “Gods.” In contrast to our misfortunate path upon the ground, the sky was now well lit by the early-autumn sun, and a flock of red and brown birds flew over head. The tree leaves on either side of the vast rolling landscape reflected light off their glossy green; they had not yet begun to turn. The air still resembled summer; night however, made it more obvious that the season was receding.
We approached the sewage duct, a great massive stone archway, loosely barred and leading into some unwanted darkness, and then proceeded to move to higher ground so that we were on level with the city, if that were possible; the city took many levels. We saw roads and gates, many of them from this one side. Merchants and travelers were spilling out and coming in, in equal abundance. The city walls where high, and in some places merged with protruding buildings that stuck out. Atop every other guard tower, a banner was erected: sandstone red and tan, a golden lion took the center of each; the lower corners were marked with a triumphant blade, and at the top, each had a goblet.
Abeline sighed “Finally home.” And grinned ear to ear.
We walked a few yards behind a cart and pony and beneath us the road slowly turned from dirt to white brick, which lead us to a powerful gatehouse. Only two guards stood nearby, one looking particularly relaxed, bowed and smirked at Abeline. The other raised his brows at his companion. “Anything we can assist you with my lady and fellow? Our city can confuse the unfamiliar, but all who do not disturb the peace are welcome.”
Abeline still grinning said “Yes actually. One moment.” She unfolded her note while Ashe walked in behind us. The two men saluted him as he walked past.
“Hey Ashe!” I called out.
He turned. I mimicked a soldier, held up my shield and pounded a fist against it. He chuckled accidently and shook his head at me. “Leafe, you’ll do well here with that spirit. And I mean to check up on the two of you soon. But first there is something I need to look into.” I gave him an understanding nod.
Abeline turned and waved. “Oh yes, ta-ta lovvie, best wishes and all that.” He waved, nodded and headed down a bustling street. She turned back to the guard who had slipped a little closer to her. She pushed him back gently with one finger. “Ah ah ah… easy there slick.” She pointed back at the note. “Now, how do I get to The Prancing Witch?”