Mira revealed herself from behind the stall and Eldion stood behind her. "Rentha! Why am I not surprised? And you have your back-up dancers with you," Mira said.
"Thunka told us to follow you if we see you leaving the palace. It seems she could smell a deserter," said Rentha."
"I saw you following us a long distance. Perhaps you need to practice your covert tailing skills some more," said Mira.
"Enough of this!" said Rentha, clicking her heels and revealing pointed nails attached to her shoes. "You will come with us and return to Thunka."
"Or what?" asked Mira, taking a defensive stance. Casser, upon seeing Mira's pose, decided to follow her and stepped a foot forward while lifting his fists awkwardly. Eldion planted his feet firmly on the ground and waited.
"Maresha! Do it!" said Rentha and Maresha started swinging her ball of yarn.
"Watch out for her ball!" cried Mira, but was too late. Maresha released her ball and it hurtled through the
"This is hopeless!" remarked Wen, expressing her impatience as the carabao plodded on slowly. "We're never going to reach the north gate in time.""Don't speak that way at Noha. You'll hurt her feelings," said Casser, his own feelings hurt over Wen's nervous remark."We would have made it to the north gate already had we walked." Wen heard Mira's voice and Wen could only agree."Patience, Wen," said Eldion. "Noha's pulling a heavy load. She walks slow, but she's steady and dependable."Noha bawled as if in protest at Wen's impatient remarks. The carabao turned her head sideways as if to look at Wen and flicked her ears to drive off the flies.After what seemed to be an interminable wait for Wen, the north gate came into view. Like the south gate, it was heavily guarded and people who were on the way out of the city had lined up as the guards interviewed each person and examined their belongings. It was unusual that the queue of people and carts goi
Soon, Wen saw that it was their turn to be interviewed at the gate and she quickly covered her head and the lower half of her face, as was the custom for some women travellers. Noha stopped obediently when Casser clicked his tongue and pulled the reins."Casser, my friend!" said the guard, recognizing Casser. "Where are you off to? The caravan had passed by early this morning.""I woke up late. We'll just catch up with the caravan on the next stop," said Casser coolly."Who do you have here?" The guard asked as he looked at Wen and Eldion while another guard lifted the cover off the cart to examine Casser's goods."You're not bringing out any magical artifacts with you, are you?" said the guard looking at the cart."No magical artifacts on board. Those are illegal. I know." Casser chuckled. "This is Wen, by the way and her brother." Casser pointed a thumb at Eldion.The guard peered at Wen and instructed her to uncover her face. He also look
Two servants carefully lifted the covered platter and transferred it from the cart to the table in front of Enzir. Enzir wondered what his feisty cook had cooked for him for his lunch and imagined a goose or even a turkey. When the servant finally lifted the silver cover off the platter, Enzir was surprised to see a giant boiled egg the size of a full-grown turkey. Every member of his household gasped when they saw the giant egg and clapped their hands enthusiastically. Enzir did not quite know how to react upon seeing such an odd thing in front of him. At the corner of his eye, he saw his feisty cook peer from the kitchen with a smug on her face. She withdrew inside with an arrogant air after seeing Enzir's expression when the giant boiled egg was uncovered.Enzir was handed a carving knife by his servant and he realized that he was expected to cut the boiled egg in front of everyone. He stood from his chair with the help of his servant and was about to cut into the white su
Lankko did not know where to start, but started grabbing his vials of elixir. It was not long before Lankko and Enzir were interrupted by the arrival of several men in black uniform bearing the Emperor's insignia. They were holding Enzir's soldier who led them to the laboratory."Jal Dalik!" cried Enzir and bowed low with his right hand over his chest. "You're here! I wasn't informed that your ship has docked. I would have welcomed you myself.""Had I wanted you to know of my arrival, I would have told you beforehand. I opted to travel by land to see for myself what you are doing in this remote city of the Empire.""You are most welcome to visit and tour the city, of course, Jal Dalik," said Enzir as he made another bow. Seeing Lankko with his mouth open, he signaled for him to do the same. Lankko obeyed and bowed low. Realizing that his hand should be on his chest, he quickly pocketed the dancer's shawl and his precious bottles of magic elixir before placing hi
After travelling some distance from Alnoc's north gate, Casser flicked Noha's reins and the carabao turned left from the main road. They followed a dirt road leading downwards until they reached a pond under the canopy of trees. Casser got off the cart and removed Noha's yoke. He then led Noha down to the pond where she could cool off and eat the reeds that grew plentifully in the water.Eldion watched as Noha flicked her ears, enjoying the water, "Carabaos really like the water, don't they?" asked Eldion."Noha needs to cool off every now and then or she might collapse from the heat and the exertion," Wen explained. "I guess there are no carabaos where you're from," she commented."No carabaos? Where did you come from?" asked Casser, overhearing Wen and Eldion's conversation.Eldion did not know what to say and looked at Wen for help."Dagos," said Wen abruptly.Casser whistled. "Whew! That's quite a long way from here. I can't imagine why
Lankko washed his muddied face in the shallows and wondered if it was true what the old women of Alnoc said about the mud's beneficial properties. He rubbed his face, concentrating in the areas under his eyes and the corners of his mouth and asked himself, 'Can mud really lift your mood in the direst of situations?' Seeing his reflection on the water, he shrugged and proceeded to wash his body.As Lankko washed himself calmly, Enzir peeled off his clothes that had all been covered with mud when he climbed up the banks of the river. He dipped his clothes repeatedly in the water and waited until the currents of the river washed off the mud. He then hung his clothes to dry and proceeded to wash off the mud off his hair and face.When the two men had finished and their clothes had sufficiently dried under the sun, they sat under the shade and rested. Enzir's sword lay on the grass with his sash while Lankko's small bott
Noha plodded on the road after being refreshed by her dip in the pond and her lunch of reeds and water plants. She made satisfied grunts and flicked her ears happily. Casser chewed on some peanuts to pass the time while making sure that Noha did not pull the cart over potholes or large rocks.Wen was satisfied with their progress and hoped that they would reach the travelers' inn soon so that they could rest early. She kept watch behind them to make sure that no one was following. She had always been cautious and would listen for any sound of galloping horses or carriage wheels. Fortunately, they only passed a few farmers and merchants on the road who, like them, were already late in coming out of Alnoc.Wen looked at Casser who had just finished snacking on his peanuts and was whistling softly. It was a particularly jolly tune that was always well received at Thunka's. Casser had played along with Mira's request to get out of Alnoc and avoid the soldiers, but Wen did not know how long
Bed assignments settled, the three went back downstairs to have their dinner. Roma approached them and served hot chicken broth.After a while, Roma led a man and a woman to the next table. They had just arrived at the inn and Roma likewise served them their dinner.The man had a thin beard and wore a brown leather coat over his white shirt. The woman who sat at the table with him wore similar attire and had large earrings that glistened with the lamps on the table. Her hair was tied into a tight bun. Both wore snakeskin belts which at once caught Casser's attention."Going to Alnoc?" The man asked Casser."No, just left Alnoc this morning," replied Casser."I'm Neto, by the way, and this is my wife, Leita." Leita bowed her head when she was introduced."I'm Casser and these are Wen and Eldion." Casser replied while his companions smiled at the couple."You came from Alnoc? We were supposed to get in the city earlier, but the gates we