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Chapter 3 - At the Gates

Wherein Rose and Bosra gain entry to the biggest city in the World and find that it is a different type of jungle.


It took two more days of travel over the King’s Road to approach the towering walls of Splendor. Bosra told Rose that, as they approached from the west, they'd missed the slums built against the outside of the outer wall on the Eastern side. Now they stood in a strange limbo of crossroads, a periphery of King’s Roads going in and out of Splendor.


There were plentiful guards here in white and blue garb, their rank made known through golden stripes on crisp epaulets.


Rose found herself gawking at the strange sights. It amused Bosra, for she heard a low chuckle.


"Come pupper, we pay our fees and gain entry to the capital of the World. No other city is as grand as this one." Nor as confusing as it would turn out.


Rose was quite literally tugged along by her collar. She didn't care. Bosra's gruff ways were caring and she was feeling like an untrained dog most of the time.


The towering city walls equaled the overly steep entry fees asked at the King's Gate in height. Not many could pay the toll for use of the bespelled highways into the city. The King’s Road ensured travelers arrived safely - more or less, as the incident with Rose had taught them both - but they sure paid for that privilege.


"Where do you hail from, grey-skin?" demanded the guard of Bosra with authority that didn’t match his stature. Rose thought him daring for that, but Bosra didn't show any hints of annoyance.


"Skin says Highlands. Tattoo says so too." Bosra fished a pouch from her pocket.


"And you, girl?"


Rose was taken aback by the man's accusatory tone. "You're hardly any older than I am," she fibbed.


Bosra's arm wrapped around her shoulders and the rough gray palm closed over her mouth. "She's from Fair Fields. Ain't never seen nothing like yerself. 'Scuse her talking."


Rose felt herself growing hotter and angrier. She may be a Fair Fields girl, she wasn't an idiot, and this man was... He was...


She bit Bosra's hand in an attempt at freedom, but found the other woman unresponsive to such a gesture.


"Triple crowns for you both," the man demanded. Opening a book with a pocket for cash in the cover.


Rose's eyes widened. Triple crowns? Was the man mad? That was more than a quarterly income for her entire family of six!


Bosra however didn't seem to mind. The taller woman simply plucked the necessary amount of coins from her pouch and handed them over.


"Pleasant day to you both," the guard smiled without any joy, gesturing for his colleague to have the heavily reinforced gates opened.


Rose found herself dragged along, lest she object again. And she certainly was going to do so. This was utterly ridiculous. They weren't criminals, to get such scrutiny, and being a city guard must be a very lucrative job.

As soon as they passed through the heavy iron gates, operated by two hulking behemoths of ogres, Bosra couldn't help herself from gawking right along with little Rose. Sure, she'd been to the city before, twice.


It was an ever changing current of kaleidoscopic patterns and colors to her untrained eye.


People were used to strangers here, or simply didn't have the time to care that she was half again as tall as any of them. Right now, she missed Buddy. A big blue drake would've kept the crowd at a distance.


Elbowing her way forward, she made it to the other side of the square, with the pupper in her wake.


"A map. Need a map."


"We could ask for directions?" Rose shouted to make herself be heard over the irregular din of activities.


"Pssh." Directions were subjective. Bosra dealt better with absolutes. "Map."


"Where do we want to go?" Rose piped up again.


"Alehouse. Somewhere cheap, but reputable."


Rose looked around at all the fancy colors, the fancy dress and the magical machines fighting for space on or around the square. "I eh... I don't think they have that here."


"Sure they do. Rich folk have servants. Servants have to eat." Such was a place Bosra wanted to find.


Rose could not disagree with that logic. She followed Bosra around, trying to pin down who was servant and who was master. It was a difficult game to be certain, for everyone looked different from what she was used to, as well as different from one another and thus little details were lost in the overwhelming sight of it all.


They wandered through the city for what felt like hours. At some point Bosra had bought a day-journal from a street vendor and promptly given it over to Rose. Rose had then attempted to make sense of all the short-sentenced stories, and the lettered advertisements. At some point, as Bosra was loudly proclaiming they'd passed a certain round-way thrice before, Rose managed to fish up an address from one of the lettered squares.


"Brine Str 495b. Fresh roasted brew tasting, 6-8pm." She squinted at the text again, making sure she read it correctly. "This is nonsensible."


"That ain't a word."


Rose thought she was allowed to make up words if other people were allowed to print the garbage she held in her hand. "Brine Str," she repeated. "Str?"


"Street!" someone unknown near shouted in her ear. "Move over, you're in the way."


"Is that far from...?" Here. Rose had wanted to ask, but the shouter had already continued. She looked at Bosra, who saved them from being bowled over by a very round sort of carriage, drawn by a pair of mechanical bulls. "At least now we have directions to ask for."


Bosra still didn't like it. She was however tired and annoyed. So she shrugged. "Sure. Why not."


It still took a few tries.


Brine Street turned out to be an alley that saw plenty of traffic. In the lee of an opened door, they stood to appraise their surroundings once more. It was Bosra's turn to squint at the curious cypher that was the day-journal, Rose overheard a group of passers-by mention a tasting. Taking that as her cue, she decided to follow them and was led astray. Quickly she returned to Bosra.


"Other way." She nodded deeper into the alley. "How did you navigate the city before?"


"Had a friend who was from here. Seemed to always know where to go." That's how Bosra knew people had servants, and servants needed to eat.


~

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Three of Cups series cover
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Three of Cups

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Seashell Bear
What if life was an adventure? Rose has always wanted to be a bard. A musician who inspires emotions by infusing her song with just a thread of magic. The course seems clear. Attend Bardic College in Splendor, the biggest city in the Realm, and graduate their four-year course. It seems easy enough. Along the way to Splendor, Rose meets Bosra, a grey-skinned giant-kin woman who is leaving her adventuring days behind her. Most adventurers don't retire. They either die as heroes or become villains. She intends to enjoy the fortune she's made in the most luxurious place she knows, the city of Splendor. Valentina, princess, contemplates whether there is more to life than what she is accustomed to, when Bosra and Rose find respite to the coffee shop she spends her free afternoons at. One conversation leads to another, and before she knows it, she's encouraged to step out of her gilded cage. Until those who built the cage come to drag her back. A cozy fantasy story.
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