Big City Lanterns

Big City Lanterns: Journey – Act Two

The local village bank conducted all its business from a single counter from within the ‘King’s Royal Post Office’. Although, the tiny postal office was only a minute attachment to the side of the inn. And at night, the office was given back over to the inn for illegal card games. Which no one in the village cared about. As the village’s only guardsman was also the person who organised the snacks. And although all this implied, the rural village was a small nowhere place. It was larger than somewhere in the middle of nowhere should’ve been.

Ramston, as the villagers called it, was two main roads with around three hundred people spread out amongst the thatch roofed houses and the local surrounding farms. Still, even with so many residents, all that could be said for Ramming Stone (as it was called on the maps) was that its two taverns, a few shops and a tall red bricked inn, was a stop on the main highway for all the dwarven mountain towns. That moved their non-perishables to the big city.

As Deri wandered through the inn to reach the backroom, he ignored the deer’s heads on the walls. Whilst noticing his younger brother drinking away his inheritance. Margie, the half elf, stood behind the bar table, which served as the counter for all the village’s banking needs. And as Deri approached her, she smiled at him politely, before saying,

‘Hello Deri. And what can I do for you today?’ He smiled politely in return as he removed his account booklet plus the letter from his tunic, and replied,

‘I wish to add this into my account, please.’ Margie checked over both as she took them. Opening the letter first, she stared at the stamp. After she checked its authenticity, she began to fill out some forms. As his friend did so, Deri resisted the urge to tap his foot, and after five minutes, the half-elf was finished. After she stamped a new page in his booklet, she handed it over with a smile,

‘That is now twenty-five gold, ninety-seven silver, and thirty-eight tuppences in your depositary account. Is there anything else I can help you with today?’

Deri smiled as he took the booklet and asked,

‘Where does Goldthread Banking Group have branches?’

Margie smiled. As he smiled in return, her cheeks began to blush slightly. Whilst she answered him with two questions of her own,

‘Why? Are you leaving the village?’ Deri nodded,

‘I haven’t got anywhere to live.’ It looked like she was about to ask him a question-

-the sound of dice as they bounced across a cold, hard marble surface ringed out across the cosmos. A second in time jumped forwards on Caradesance. And suddenly-

-Deri’s lips were moving, although he couldn’t remember what he’d been saying before that very moment,

‘-well, Marx got the butcher’s shop in my father’s last testimonial. And I need to go somewhere that has a job to offer me.’

Margie looked kind of hurt, but nodded and said,

‘Well, I, I mean we’re going to miss you, I mean your singing on open-stage night.’ She blushed again whilst still looking hurt,

‘I’ll write I promise.’

‘Is that so. Well, as I said, the Group has fourteen branch offices in small settlements along the main highway. And of course, there is the main banking branch at Nippa-kanta. While I have to say the big city is the only place you’re going to find an actual job, they do say the streets of the big city are paved with tuppence. Maybe you can come back rich.’ Deri laughed. He nodded and said thank you and goodbye, before he then walked out of the inn. Although he didn’t understand her anger, but as with most thoughts linked to the human mind, his own mind quickly moved forward. And were helped along by turning the corner at the tailor shop.

As he saw outside his father’s butcher’s shop. Deri found Marx already putting his belongings on the doorstep. Taking only a bag of clothes from the pile, neither of them spoke. Deri hooked up the waiting horse to the cart in less than a minute. As he took one final glance at the butcher’s shop, a tear rolled down his cheek, and as it faded away, Deri began to leave Ramston behind.

The sun began to drop below the horizon as Deri’s cart began to draw closer to the last farm on the outskirts of the village. Whilst the cart rolled forwards, the warm summer afternoon turned into a breezeless chilly evening.

Red, who was pacing around his domain, surveyed his wives. He didn’t notice the horse, or the human, as the cart rolled closer to his land. His mind was elsewhere, as it’d been for days.

Red stretched his wings and then began to wander into his harem. Halfway up the ramp, he experienced the same feeling that he’d experienced three days ago. But, what with Red being nothing more than a simple rooster. He couldn’t figure out what caused this strange feeling. Before the rooster went inside his building though, something compelled him to watch a cart that rolled past. Whilst his wives wandered over to the fence to get a closer look. Consequently, a shiver rolled down the rooster’s spine, which caused his rear feathers to shake uncontrollably.

The horse as it dragged the cart didn’t notice the rooster either. Although admittedly she was thinking about food. Which for Horse was also nothing new.

Somewhere, just past the last farm leaving the village, Horse began realising that her new master still wasn’t stopping. She then began to wonder, how long this journey was going to take. The fields of grass were getting longer the further they travelled. Which she wasn’t going to complain about. Although, as the horse followed the stone road that ran through the meadows, she came to a sudden realisation that the cart was empty. And after some consideration, the animal then came to another realisation that told her that its luck must have been changing.

Although later that night, she would have disagreed with the earlier version of herself. As all there was to eat was grass. Whilst Horse pondered the prospects of only grass, she yearned for the young girl that would feed her carrots before bed.

The first two days on the road were lonely, bitter, and a walking nightmare for the animal. She missed her stables. She also missed the young girl, who she’d once surmised to be her master. She missed hay, which she never imagined she would think. And she wanted to stop pulling an empty cart. But at the first village, they came to the horse’s mood lifted.

The inn she knew housed people, whilst the attaching shed was loaded with hay for her to eat. A stick of honey was also hung in the corner. Which she attempted to devour in one. And the shed was a palace to the animal, who’d been kept in a small wooden structure, she hadn’t been able to move about in. The wooden shed was warm as well, and as she didn’t have to stand up to sleep whilst being attached to the horrid cart for another night, Horse was ecstatic.

However, Deri didn’t like the village. Or to be precise. He didn’t like the villagers. They were friendly enough to his face, but he heard them making jokes about him behind his back as he brought provisions.

So the next morning, after handing the inn keeper five tuppence coins for a breakfast, Deri wanted to leave. Whilst Horse needed to be dragged from the stables. As she kept trying to grab a honey coated stick in her mouth. Deri quickly caught on to the fact that she didn’t want to leave it behind. So in the end, as no one was around, Deri stole the sticky treat. And Horse soon followed him outside.

Although once they were both back on the road, her attitude further lifted as her master began to sing. And as he did so, Deri, unlike the only musicians he’d heard before (bards) composed his songs about what he saw. So as they left the village behind, the made-up song he sung was about the vast rose bushes in the meadows. Which for Horse sounded like a new food source.

That evening, when she ate them, she decided she quite liked the taste of roses. And her stomach agreed with her. Her own thoughts went more along the lines of,

‘So, I’m on a tour of the lands foodstuffs. Two down. I wonder how many more there can be left?’

The following village along the road wasn’t that much better. They were pleasant enough folk. It was even a little larger than the last. But they were like most this far into the sticks. Two-faced to the individuals who passed through and kept their own local council. Which was why Deri didn’t stay long.

Village after village rolled by as the cart began to cost Deri in wear and tear. A wheel replacement here. The reins and leather attachment straps for the cart also snapped more than once. And then, as the summer air began to get warmer, Deri crossed out of the ‘Britstana Uplands’ where he was born, and crossed over into ‘The Dales’. As he did so, the people got friendlier. Although he still wasn’t sure about them-

-a hand covered in jungle vines removed a well drawn picture card that held words unreadable to mere mortal men-

-Deri’s cart pulled up outside the first town that his eyes ever laid sight on before, not remembering having turned off the main highway-

-two dice echoed across time and space, three cards were picked up by a female hand, and a miniature was pushed across the marble surface-

{It appeared to any observer watching from outside the situation. Like myself. That time just jumped forwards by a few seconds.}

-Deri entered through the gates of Grof. As the gates were already open, it appeared as if that was the easy part completed. But he couldn’t figure out why he even considered that. Then, as his cart rolled onwards, he studied the nomads hanging around the entranceway. And marvelled at the small farming plots stuck between the two walls. Although the inner walls held no towers, whilst archers sauntered along the ramparts as they looked menacing.

Grof, was once an ancient vampire stronghold in the age of conflict. Which was captured during the prolonged one-thousand-year long war by some almost forgotten Lord. Whose family still ruled the whole county to this day. And Deri was impressed. So impressed, that at first he thought the place was Nippa-kanta. The tall outside walls, with its ramparts, nine towers and two enormous gates, were a marvel to the simple butcher’s son. Although once the guards let him past the inner locked section of walls. Deri was further amazed by the lack of the familiar looking round cottages. As every building was constructed using the newish red bricks which the dwarfs sold.

The people of the town even smiled and nodded at him as they went about their business. Whilst inside the inn, the keeper even struck up a conversation with him as he asked Deri about what he could do in the way of work. After Deri answered him, the man’s eyes lit up and said,

‘Well, if you’re looking to settle down here, we have three butchers in town, and two of them are hiring. We also have a boarding lodge if you can stand to be around trolls. Or you can stay here, locals get a discount, that is, if you plan to stay local.’ Deri sounded a little taken aback as he replied,

‘I was heading to Nippa-kanta.’ The inn keeper nodded in an understanding manner,

‘So is everyone these days. One room for one night, then, is it?’ Deri almost said two. But paid for one before he went off to explore the town.

At first everything seemed charming, welcoming, almost inviting-

-the dice rolled-

-but as he reached the Lord’s Manor House, everything changed. Outside the manor house were four criminals in stocks as a crowd gathered around them. Every person in the crowd was also throwing fruit, and not the soft variety. Carved into wooden signposts hanging under each of the criminals were their names and their crimes. Which to the travelling butcher seemed barbaric. And illegal by order of the king, no criminals should be shamed and should be treated with respect.

[This Lord must not have got the memo.]

Deri read their crimes in his head. As he stared at them in horror,

‘Jie Cobbler refusing to pay local tax. Alley Cat Sarin refusing to lay with the local lord for free. Bosin Thatcher sexual relations with an elf. Twiein Colegate sexual relations with a human.’ Deri quickly left the crowd and returned to the Inn. That night, as he slept, he dreamt about being locked into the stocks for kissing Margie. And in the morning, he left as swiftly as he could.

Other towns along the way were worse in some respects. In other respects, they were better, or all the speciesism was entirely hidden. Whatever the reason, Deri didn’t understand what he’d seen in Grof. And he was pleased about that. But simultaneously, he couldn’t help but conclude that where he came from was the only place that didn’t have hatred for others. Which for the butcher’s son came as a surprise.

As he proceeded through the land, his savings began to slip through his fingers. Whilst the summer breeze began to get colder as the days got shorter. But as the journey so far had taken five cycles of the moons. The leafs were beginning to fall off the trees as the cart rolled up to the last town before the capital. There were no walls here, like the other towns. And there was no need to build them. Although this was down to the fact that the land wasn’t owned by a lord, but by the King. And no one was going to go to war with the King. On top of that, all the land beasts created by the gods were killed in the age of heroes. Which was long before the age of conflict had even begun.

{Although Lords are known to war between each other all the time. Seizing land, losing land. Killing each other for no good reason whatsoever.}

The town named Friemium was practically a ghost town though. As the cart stopped outside the Inn Deri thought about the name. He knew in Elfen the word translated into sunshine village. But this place wasn’t close to the true meaning of the word. Especially, as the word meant the happiness place. Although all the new buildings that replaced the cottages of the earlier age appeared to be in need of repair. And they also seemed downright miserable, as did the locals, who kept their heads down low and avoided his glances.

The inn keeper eyed at him up as he entered,

‘Off to the city?’ Deri nodded and replied with,

‘I am. I need use of the stables and a room for the night.’ The inn keeper made a noise in response. But said,

‘Stables, well they’re free to use they are. But I’d tie your horse up around ‘ere. The room is five tuppences a night, and food in the morning is an extra five.’ Deri paid for it and asked the inn keeper,

‘Anywhere I can get some food?’,

‘Here, or you can buy some food from the farms for travel, if that’s what you mean.’

‘No butchers or groceries?’

‘Nah, not round here lad. Local goods get brought from the farms, or we send a joint three-week expedition to the capital. It’s so close, see that we don’t have the need for shops.’ Deri began to think about opening a butcher’s,

‘What happened to the local butchers?’

‘He went bankrupt, then moved to the big city. Or that’s what I heard. I could be wrong. Businesses around these parts don’t survive long. Like I said, the city is so close we can get it cheaper by going there. And the farms around ‘ere sell at cost.’ And just like that, the idea of staying in this miserable place died. The innkeeper looked at him and said,

‘Why are you asking?’ Deri shrugged in reply and said,

‘Merely wondering is all. Is it possible to get an all-day breakfast? Please.’

After he ate in the empty bar, Deri went to bed, and as he slept, he dreamt of working in one of the theatres his mother used to tell him about. Surrounded in his dream, by tall walls and regiments marching through the streets with the red, white and blue striped flags of the Royal Kingdom.