Success! We believe.
A gold bird tells us "Not so!"
Hope led us astray.
~ Miyara Miwa
As soon as we pushed away from shore, the current swept us along. Mongo picked up a paddle and tried to direct us towards the far shore, but he made little progress. Kyosuke smartly suggested trying for the near bank, as it was closer and he would not have to fight the current as much. Mongo complied with the translated directive, and pointed out that there were other paddles, and others were welcome to help move the boat. Of course, most were badly injured. As I was relatively unscathed, I picked up a paddle, and Kyosuke followed my lead.
Our combined but unskilled efforts made little headway against the current, and we continued to sweep downstream with no real control. Kyosuke quickly gave up with his paddle and opened the sail, hoping that would help us control the boat. The wind was blowing towards the far shore, but at that point we did not care: any shore was a good shore, if we could only reach it. Kyosuke has no experience with boats, and could not get the sail to catch the wind. I put down my paddle, which was not accomplishing much anyway, and tried to help him with the sail, but I do not know any more about such things than Kyosuke, so we had no luck. While we struggled futilely with the sail, others picked up paddles, and eventually got themselves coordinated. We finally got the boat under some amount of control, and did reach the near shore again, considerably downstream from where we started, probably despite our efforts with the sail.
By the time we pulled in to a dock, the rosy glow of dawn was in the sky. Sutoiko, skilled in the arts of first aid, quickly helped the wounded, but we were not in good health, with many bites both from rats and blades. The councilor told us the box to contain the gem safely would only be effective for 6 hours, yet we needed to get to the druidess, which would take far more than 6 hours. We were in town and needed to get as far away as possible before it became obvious that we were in breach of our contract. Nothing looked familiar in this part of town, and we were unsure of which direction to try. These westerners like to argue: everyone has at least two opinions, and they all must be aired before any decision can be made.
At last, we simply picked a direction and walked through the town as quickly as we could. We eventually came to an open gate, through which we walked without hassle. Once outside and a little way down the road, I took a few deep breaths. At last, I was away from the filthy barbarian city and in the clean countryside. Their cities seem so much more crowded than those back home. I made that observation to Godanji once, and he kept questioning me, until I came to the conclusion that it truly is not so. Our own cities are equally full of people and peasants. But the strangeness of these cities and people so very foreign to me make me notice them more than I notice them at home.
While we walked along the much-used road, Ash noticed someone pointedly not staring at us. This was noticeable simply because everyone stares at us. Ash knew which way to follow the river, and at lunchtime, we paused long enough to cleanse ourselves in the river. The simple civilized act of washing off their city and sewers made me feel so much better. I was sure the barbarians did not care much, but I felt much more myself. I looked sadly at my wardrobe, which was much the worse for wear after the past few days. I would have to make some repairs the first chance I could find. I realized that I had not left a paper figure back at the boat we left behind. The notion niggled at me, so I left a small paper frog at the river's edge on a rock where I bathed, away from the men in this group. I feel so lost sometimes, like a drop of dye in a barrel of water. I feel I must stamp myself on the world here, or erode into nothingness.
When I rejoined the group, Ash was missing. Mongo said he had gone to be sure we were not being followed. Within a few minutes, he returned, with some unhappy news: While he was returning to us, a small gold bird spoke to him and told him he had the wrong package. Upon his asking how to find the right package, the gold bird spoke the name of the town in which I came across the dead body.
On the good side, we could complete our contract and hand the gem to the councilor. On the bad side, we had to go back into town and give the gem to the councilor. And we still had the "right package" to somehow find and identify and take to the druidess.
As we returned, trudging along the dusty road, I realized Kyosuke had no idea what we were doing. I forget he understands nothing of western speech. I quickly told him that we had the wrong item and had to give this one to the man in the town after all. When I get some time, I will have to sit down with him and have a long conversation. Why is he here? What does he think he is doing? What am I supposed to do with him? What does he know of what I am doing, and of what these others are doing?
In a hurry, we reached the gate quickly. Although we had left with no one caring, re-entering was another story. Mongo stepped forward and spoke for us. He said, "We are on business for Councilman Oluden Holeru". The guard gave us a queer look, but let us pass, and pointed us to the main square. We hurried in that direction. Once we found "our" market, we easily found the councilor's mansion. We walked straight up to the door, and Mongo knocked. The doorman opened the door at once and immediately ushered us to the study.
The councilman arrived only a few minutes later. We pushed over the box immediately, and he asked if we would be staying in the area. Mongo replied for us, "No". He handed us a stack of paper and said "I sincerely hope that you will create and maintain much distance between yourselves and mine." Mongo asked for a boat reference that could take us in the direction we wished to travel. He told us the Wave was headed south in an hour or so. I asked what all that paper was, and he said they were bank notes on the bank of Nulun. I asked him, "So it is only useful here in Nulun?" He assured us that it could be spent in any largish city in the Empire, but we all looked rather doubtfully at the paper. He then asked us if we would prefer hard currency, which we agreed to at once. So he took the paper back and gave us 450 gold crowns (which each weigh an ounce!). We placed it into a crate, which the very strong White Faerie carried for us.
As we left, I gave the councilor a small piece of my own paper: a small origami bird with wings that flap. He seemed intrigued by the construction.
We left immediately for the wharf where we could find the Wave. We did pause in the market long enough to buy about 5 crowns worth of food and herbs to eat along the way. We had no trouble purchasing passage for the seven of us: two rooms that sleep 4 each. We paid for 8 so we would not have to share the space with a stranger (another 40 crowns). This included food, but we knew from experience that food on the boat is limited in quality and taste, so we will likely at least supplement with the food we purchased. We paid him another 5 crowns so we could get adjacent rooms. He had to move some other people, but was willing to do so for those 5 extra crowns.
As expected, the food that comes with the price of the room was just barely acceptable. If we wanted good food, we would have to pay extra. And they seem to use meat in everything, which I will not eat. However, Mongo cooked for us, and he ensured that I could properly.