Chapter 37 – Cara Ita

When I entered the fortress town of Cara Ita, I gave the name ‘Tiana of the High Forest’. It was the name she’d been born with, and I had given her real birthplace, too. Mother returned to Relador and gave birth to Tiana there after killing Tiana’s father. She didn’t decide to relocate to Orestania until her baby daughter started exhibiting vampire traits. So technically, the identity I gave was not a lie.

But I still felt like I was being dishonest, because a genuine fairy knight was much more dangerous than me. I lacked their skill with magic combat, so in practical terms, I was just a strong knight. Well, a really strong knight. With wings. And fairy armor. And a mithril sword.

Nevertheless, to do what I needed in minimum time, I had decided on seeking minimum resistance. So I went as an existence most people didn’t dare oppose.

The town within the walls was cramped. That was my first and foremost impression of Cara Ita.

For a girl who grew up in Atius, a city of good public order and sanitation, it could only be described as horrifying. The villages Tiana had visited as a squire and while with the Hero’s Party had often been poor. Borderline Medieval, frankly. But those villagers had lived in paradise compared to this place.

Although, from my perspective now, I can say that when it came to the poorer parts of town, Tiana was a sheltered girl who had only flown above the poor areas of Atius or driven past them in a carriage. Even knight’s training had not brought her into contact with such places. So she had not truly been aware of how poor things could be even in her home town.

Robert Steward, my former self, had at least understood in theory that those places existed. Parts of this town put me in mind of places he knew of on Earth, where the poor parts were always dominated by a muddy brown color. What the pictures and videos never conveyed of those places, however, were the smells. Rather, the problem was the combinations of odors, such as the fragrance of meat roasting intermingled with the stink of filth.

One thing I was certain about; Cara Ita had yet to introduce a sewer system. The evidence was so strong that I couldn’t imagine willingly staying in this town. I became glad I had consumed Genette’s box lunch back at that hill where I had first observed this place. I would have had difficulty finding the appetite to eat it here.

Thanks to overcrowding, the houses and public buildings almost invariably had five floors or more, with the bottom floors of the public buildings always hosting shops, taverns, or other businesses. In the streets, more business thrived, in the form of individual peddlers with carts, portable tables or often just blankets on the ground.

The town had a circular layout, and a series of ring roads which might have been the foundations of former town walls, based upon their distinctive paving. The cobblestone-paved avenue that extended from the main gate inward to the plaza at the town center was well made, but only wide enough for two carts to pass. Additional paved avenues ran out in a radial pattern to the town walls, and likely existed to allow quick deployment of troops to those walls. But the ‘streets’ branching from those avenues, creating the web work that filled the town, were gravel or dirt, and sometimes so narrow only two people could pass.

I would head down one such path after the next, the stacks of balconies and windows on both sides of me making me feel as though I was at the bottom of a really narrow canyon, and people coming the other direction paled when they saw me, squeezing themselves against the wall to be out of my way.

Fairies often frequent mountainous country, and Cara Ita sits in the foothills of the northern reaches of the Dragonsbacks. From their reactions to me, it looked very much like everyone in this town had seen a fairy knight before. Just like the sergeant back at the gate, one look at me and they were ready to surrender.

It left me wondering exactly what my kindred had done around here.

Tracking down Arken was proving to be quite difficult in this maze. And as time wore on, it was becoming late afternoon. I had to consider not just where I would eat a meal, but where I would sleep. As I began considering this, I still only had the location narrowed down only to a neighborhood.

The skewers of meat at one vendor attracted my nose once my hunger grew greater than my revulsion of the background smell. A silver bought me two skewers of what I am at least somewhat confident was pork. By the time I felt the hunger abating a bit, the smell of the surroundings began winning again, and one of the skewers was still untouched.

I didn’t know who the pre-teen tailing me worked for, but if it was Arken’s enemies, I needed to start putting some fear into him. That meant playing the role of a fairy knight, through and through. Unpredictable. At times violent, at other times beneficial. A beautiful, terrifying enigma. One of those other fairies that Tiana had occasionally encountered that reminded her that her mother was abnormally sociable, as fairies go.

I held the remaining skewer for a half-block, wondering if I should force myself to eat it. That was when I heard a child’s voice shrieking “Ada!” and looked that direction. A girl of no more than four years old, as filthy as the street around her, was running toward me, with an older girl, ten or eleven and wearing equally poor attire, running after her. The little one stopped in front of me and held up her hands, palm up. The gesture of a beggar…

The older one caught her from behind, staring up at me in fear while babbling, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry we’ll leave right away, milady…”

She was backing away with the child as she spoke.

“Stop,” I ordered in my darkest voice, throwing some vampire charm into it for effect. The girl froze in place. Her little chest rose and fell rapidly as she stood there, shaking with terror.

I stared down at both of them with my coldest stare, holding them there for at least five seconds without moving, before I spoke.

“A brave heart is praiseworthy,” I declared.

The older child’s eyes showed uncertainty, dread, hope.

I stepped to the side of the two and handed off the skewer to the older child. “See that you share with the little one,” I ordered, staring down at her, then resumed walking.

Extra skewer disposed of, fairy knight image reinforced. Good job, me.

I had other encounters, mostly people bumping into me and then shying away. I had enough attention on me to make it difficult to check my pendant for Arken’s location. The confusing thing was, it seemed to be impossible to get to the area that the pendant indicated. There were no paths into it that I could find, just walls. The few times I headed down an alley that seemed to penetrate it, I would be unable to find a way headed the direction I needed, and find myself back out of that neighborhood.

Was it a prison? I couldn’t find any entrance, to see if there were guards.

Finally, nightfall began approaching, while I was still making my way around. I had to switch priorities over to looking for an inn that looked trustworthy.

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Robert Stewart’s experiences had been handy up to this point, but suddenly my former self had become a liability. He had forgotten one very key fact.

I wasn’t a guy anymore.

Fairy knight or not, I was an unescorted fifteen-year-old girl in a foreign land. And even a girl in armor can not see most of the lodgings of this world as secure. On my journey back to the capital,  I had camped in desolate locations, because the occasional wild animal or minor monster was no big deal. Here… I was surrounded by strangers, in a country notorious for its weak government and high bandit-to-civilian ratio.

Only allowed on

In the seaports of this country, abducted young people regularly wound up on slave ships bound for the demon-afflicted chaos that was once the Regaritan Empire. The risks here inland were different, but still…

My tail was still following me, and darkness had fallen completely. Without lighting, as more ground floor windows and doors were shuttered, the streets were becoming dangerously dark. Unwilling to spend any more time trying to figure out where the upscale inns were in this town– actually, beginning to suspect it had none– I followed the sound of a fiddle, a pipe and a tambourine playing dancing music to a tavern that was still open.

- my thoughts:

Welcome to reality, Tiana.

And welcome to Volume II, dear readers. Thanks for sticking with me this far. We'll be in Hero Tiana mode for a while, but I promise, Noble Girl Tiana will return eventually.

I hope you continue reading and enjoy!

Check out my other novel: Tales of the ESDF

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