Leyan was stood about five miles east of the largest settlement she had seen in many years. To her left, was the raging river she had been following north for some time, banked by such thick forest and dense shrubbery that for the last day or so she had been forced to travel higher up along a crest of hills. Good thing too, or Leyan would not have noticed its change in course as it turned suddenly west around a range of mountains and into the city, a huge and ugly blot on the countryside that sprawled for what looked like miles along each side of the river. The only roads leading in and out of the city went north, it seemed, Leyan reasoned, that no communication took place between this settlement and the kingdoms south and west from here. She was intrigued, this could be a whole new kingdom, separate from those of the Camdrian and Elpiric empires.
Leyan leaned her back up against a large oak with her satchel bag and violin case at her feet and slid down the trunk to the hard ground. It was about mid-day and it was hot, too hot to walk. Instead, she reached for her bag with the mind of having a handful of nuts or some cheese for her mid-day meal. She grimaced as she lifted the bag, depressingly light, and reached inside; pulling out the large square of cloth she usually wrapped her food in. It was all but empty save for five shrivelled almonds, a sliver of salted meat and a bunch of nondescript herbs. She sighed, and looked out at the huge settlement. As luck would have it, it had appeared on her horizon just in time. She snorted and rubbed the fresh scars around her eyes.
'Luck,' she huffed, it was about time.
She tossed the shrivelled almonds into her mouth and grimaced; they tasted like dirt. After studying the strip of greenish meat she decided to cut her losses, tossing it off to the side and took a swig of water from her leather bottle instead. Stuffing the herbs into her mouth she chewed the bitter leaves and closed her eyes, letting the warm breeze of the afternoon send her of into a light doze. It was too hot to walk anyway, she did not want to be the unlucky winner of sun-madness this close to civilisation. She had been walking for weeks, she could afford to wait an hour or so.
She roused herself with about five hours before sundown and set off, following the river. The evening was still warm and flies busied themselves with flowers and dead things and her beading sweat, filling the air with a soft relaxed hum. As she neared the city she realised that it was surrounded by a hefty wall she had not noticed from the hill. It was made up of houses built very close together and joined at the corners by rough stone. She stared for a second at the rushing river, bottlenecking at a large grate at the base of the wall and forcing its way in with a constant roar of noise, then directed her gaze back up.
The wall itself was too steep and well made to climb and since that probably wasn't allowed anyway she followed it around, away from the river and came upon the entrance. It was swarming with people going in and out of the city, despite the late hour; bustling, shouting, and shoving into one another, as you would expect in any large settlement. But Leyan stood and stared, sure her eyes were playing tricks on her; everyone looked the same. All blonde-haired, tall, thin and tanned, all the same height, though the men were taller than the woman by about six inches.
As she wove her way into the throng, she began to see slight variations in the shades of blond hair; platinum, sandy, bright yellow... there where even tinges of ginger here and there. Her own appearance began to draw the stares of this odd people, and she was able to pick out all of the varying shades of their blue eyes, from pale grey to dark navy. She smiled to herself. They had every right to stare; with her brown hair, green eyes and a stature nearly a whole foot shorter than the average woman, she was near enough the polar opposite of this strange people. She laughed at the attention and continued towards the gate, hoping her odd appearance would not cost her entry. Otherwise, she would have to steal her next meal from the surrounding farms and groves, and she did not approve of thievery.
She came upon the gate with a gaggle of unnerved followers who stared and pointed at her, whispering. She could not quite catch the words and hoped this city used a language with which she was familiar enough with to buy food and a place to stay, if not she would have to rely on universal gesturing, and she had ample experience of how badly that tended to go.
A soldier, tall and well-muscled, wearing a helmet, breastplate and boots made of gold and bright coloured cloth, (which looked to her eyes rather flimsy and not in the least bit useful) stepped forward with mild trepidation and stopped her. He glanced back at his colleagues who shrugged and gestured for him to continue. He looked down at her with sky blue eyes shining between the gaps of his helmet,
'State your name and business.' He coughed, and glanced sheepishly about.
Leyan sighed with relief; they spoke English, a language in which she was fairly proficient, and smiled,
'My name is Leyan, just passing through.'
The young soldier glanced back at his counterparts at the gate made a face. An older looking soldier huffed and made his way over to them,
'What's the problem?'
The first soldier made a short series of hand signs to the first, so fast that Leyan almost missed it; by the time she realised they might be communicating he had stopped and the second, likely his superior, was speaking to her,
'I'm sorry?' She started, unsure what he had said.
'I need to check your bags before you can come through.'
'Oh I see, of course.' She proffered her satchel, which he took, and pulled her violin case off her shoulder ready. The superior soldier didn't have his work cut out. Her bag, after weeks of travelling, was near empty and contained only a writing book, a rather battered quill and a near empty ink bottle, and the large square of cloth which had contained her food. She also had a spare set of under clothes and shirt, her water bottle and some loose-leaf paper with writing, lines and intricate diagrams on. He showed it to her,
'What is this? What is the writing?' She guessed that he did not recognise her written tongue; the letters used where very different to those of English. She explained,
'It's a map, the writing is my own, you might not recognise the letters since its written in Camdrian.'
'I see.' He stuffed it back into her bag with a heavy frown and pulled out her hunting knife, studied it, and decided that it was perfectly normal for a traveler to have one and put it back. Lastly, he pulled from her satchel a small drawstring pouch, which he shook, smirking at the satisfactory clink of money. He opened it, extracted three large silver coins, and pocketed them. She made to protest but was silenced with a glare,
'Entry fee.' he sneered, even as she stared around at the scores of people entering without being stopped. He put the drawstring pouch back into her bag and handed it back to her, gesturing for her violin case which she handed over with only the slightest of pauses.
'Be careful, its fragile' He nodded without looking at her and undid the string that held the top flap of leather closed, extracting several sheaves of paper bound into soft leather and cloth. He opened one and frowned,
'What language is this'?
Leyan looked and had to force herself not to laugh. Though to be fair the lines and dots on the page did form a sort of language,
'The language of the soul, sir.' She grinned at him and he huffed and put the pages back, evidently losing patience with all the strange objects he was finding in this odd girl's possession. His hand brushed against something else in the top flap and he pulled out a cylindrical block of a clear, hard substance wrapped in a fine silk square which, when touched, left a white sticky residue on his hands,
'What's this?' He showed it to her, she smiled, her incredulity obvious on her face,
'It's rosin, it goes on my bow.' He glanced at her back and then at the thing in his hands, and seem to decide that this small, dark haired young woman was not worth his time. He tossed the rosin back into top flap of the case, pushed it into her arms and waved her on,
'But you didn't look in my case!' She shouted as he retreated to his post at the gate while the first soldier followed meekly behind. He waved a dismissive hand and joined the rest, immediately indistinguishable from the others at this distance, leaving her standing in the throng of bustling people, blond hair and blue eyes, pushing past her on their way in and out of the enormous city. She shrugged and made her way in unhindered.