Up the River Red
Taking the boys into the marketplace of the city had proved to be less like giving the boys a quick field trip before their departure and more like herding two incredibly curious cats. Every little thing seemed to catch their eye: a flock of birds roosting on a railing that let them approach and stroke their brightly colored feathers; a giant orchid mantis eating its meal on the side of a branch; the intricate decorative carvings in the branches of the tree; and all sorts of other distractions.
When at last they’d left the upper canopy and made their way to the city center where the market was, there was a whole new world of distraction for them. The vendors had small tents set up with brightly dyed fabric tops. There were merchants selling all sorts of things. They had come to stock up on food for their river ride to Salem’s capital. Knowing Gregorim well enough, this was his biggest weakness. The boy loved food. He was now bouncing from vendor to vendor, asking about the fruits and nuts they all had for sale with Tauren at his heels. Seida shook her head as she followed in their wake, sneaking them a treat from a merchant selling candied fruits after they’d been drawn away to investigate a vendor selling fresh fruit nectar.
“They sure are excited,” Sadra remarked. She had her hand tucked into the crook of Seida’s arm as they walked, looking around with a nostalgic gaze. “I remember this place. Well, sort of, anyway. I remember coming here with Papa the day you came to take me to Ist’Heom. He bought me so many sweets that day.”
“I remember that too. You made yourself sick off of them while we waited to get you checked in at the Overseer’s office,” Seida chuckled. “I shouldn't have let you eat them all in one go.”
They stopped at a vendor selling dried meats. He happily accepted the money, giving them a bit extra when he spotted the Order’s sigil on the coins. “Not every day the Order comes through. I take it those mortal boys are with you?”
“Aye, they’re mine,” Seida nodded. “My apologies if they’ve caused any trouble.”
“Not at all. Children are always a delight.” The man smiled as he handed her the bag he’d finished filling. “Good luck, Seida. And you too, Sadra.”
They thanked him and followed the sound of Gregorim and Tauren’s chattering through the morning crowd. Seida spotted them by the central fountain near the waypoint. They were sitting on the edge, sipping on cups full of fresh fruit juice. They were laughing between drinks, looking around them still. They waved when they spotted them coming.
“We’re not leaving yet, are we?” Tauren asked.
“We have a few more things to get. I need a new blade before we go,” Seida said.
“Does that mean I get a sword too?” Gregorim asked.
“I don’t think a fairy blade would work all that well for you,” Seida laughed. “We’ll get you boys armed before we leave Salem.”
Gregorim huffed out a sigh and stood up as she led the way around the fountain to the other side of the market. This section was full of all sorts of crafts: jewelry, hand-woven blankets, clothes, weapons, and other trinkets. Tauren lingered beside Seida and Sadra now, still sipping at his drink while Gregorim toured the tents by himself. It seemed this was much less interesting to Tauren than him. Above the rabble, they could hear someone above them playing a lute and pipes. A few people here and there sang.
“It is so relaxed here for a city. I like this much better than Varaelia and Khasta,” Tauren said. “It smells like the forest, not a cesspool.”
“All of Ganam is like this. It’s the smallest kingdom of the Fae, but one of the oldest. There’s a lot of history here, dating back to before the mortal world was ever created,” Sadra said.
They paused at one of the merchants selling blades. Seida examined a few longswords she recognized as Cerisian steel—some of the best steel in the Fae. But, they were all just a tad too long in the hilt and blade for her comfort. The merchant scratched her chin when Seida asked if she had any shortswords of Cerisian make. She ducked below the counter and opened a chest. After a few moments of digging through the sheathed blades inside, she produced two blades and laid them out.
“Not Cerisian make, but Novalian steel is almost as good. Sharp, lighter and not made for the hand of a giant,” the merchant laughed. “Not easy finding good steel from Ceris that fits most fae hands without commissioning one to be custom made.” She unsheathed the blade with the black hilt first. The dark blade had been polished to a glint like obsidian. The crossguard had the head of a bear on either side of it, and a large ruby was embedded in the pommel.
Seida took the blade in her hand feeling the weight and the grip. It was certainly the right weight, but the grip didn’t feel quite as comfortable as her old blade. The colors weren’t exactly her style, either. She handed the blade back. The merchant grabbed the blade in the white sheath next. This one had a sapphire in the pommel. The crossguard was simpler, more traditional and plain. The blade was a lighter colored steel, with an intricate pattern of vines and leaves down the fuller. The dark leat...