Travelers

Part 9. The rest are here.


The mortar and pestle were still in her hands, the contents half-ground. She blinked. The sun was deep in the sky, red rays filtering in through the kitchen window. She smiled. Her fingers gripped the smooth stone, finishing the work she’d been doing before — what had just happened? Dani shook off the feeling. There was still a list of things that needed to be finished, and it would soon be time for supper.

Dani made quick work of the remaining tasks, and returned to the stew pot hanging in the stove. She added some last-minute herbs for flavor, stirred the contents, and was soon sitting near the window. She drank in the glitterinng night sky, contemplating a bizarre memory of some unpleasant meal served in a bizarre, shadowy chamber. Perhaps a dream she’d had — better, a nightmare.

Dani followed supper with a flurry of cleaning, putting away the utensils of the day’s work and returning her simple home to its natural state. There wasn’t much reason for it other than her own prefence, but she liked things to be tidy when she awoke in the morning. Leaving things out simply meant leaving bed before she’d like to get it done in the morning, when sleep still made her arms heavy. This was much better.

She fell into bed, and was soon asleep. In what seemed like a moment’s passage, the dawn’s light began to intrude. Rested yet groggy, DaniĀ surrendered to the day’s beckoning and rose from her slumber. After a few bites of bread to break her fast, she gathered a collection of bottles into a wheeled cart, and headed to the shop. A day off tending to chores had been nice, but keeping the coins coming in was just as important as knowing what to use them for.

The town was still bustling; Dani guessed that some traveling group of performers was in the area, as these always drew crowds. Crowds, though, were good for business, and whether the faces coming through the door were familiar or not, their money spoke the same. Business had been steady recently, but a particularly good day always had its own special appeal. It wasn’t all about the profits, either; Dani loved to see the new customers, to guess to herself what each tincture and potable was purchased for. Some made it easy, but many of her clients pretended at discretion. She considered herself adept at seeing through it.

So the day passed by, a steady stream of bodies winding in and out of her small wooden home-away-from-home. Not everyone made a purchase, of course; an alchemist is only worth their stock at any given moment, so not every would-be buyer finds what they’re looking for. Enough, though, that by the time the sun had tilted toward the forest, she had more than sufficient funds to account for her recent relaxation.

With the parade of people came the rumors and talk of the town. She’d been close with her guess at a performing troupe; there was a well-renowned knight passing through not far from here, and his entourage was spread across the neighboring communities, spreading the wealth of the realm and securing their provisions for the journey ahead. She heard as many guesses at his destination or purpose as there were voices to speak them. She remembered a childhood fancy that she might one day travel the land as a hero to her people, but she’d had no knack for the great feats attributed to the adventurous.

With or without this spark of heroism, though, Dani was sure of many things about herself. She was more than adequate at her trade, she was an important piece in the village’s economy, and she was tired from a long day of serving the masses. The sun hung low over the green-flecked horizon of jagged treetops, and she returned home to rest again and gather her strength for tomorrow. The knight’s men would be around for another day or two, from the sounds of the village gossip, and that meant plenty more hands clutching coinpurses and dreaming of playing their role in whatever fantasy they’d indulged in.

As she lay in the dark stillness of night, the faintest of echoes called out, and Dani could scarce tell if it was a distant cry or a fading memory. It sounded as though someone was in trouble, but surely the brave visitors were of better aid than she could offer. Unsettled by the noise but unconcerned, she drifted off to sleep.

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