by Kris Kramer
Emra didn’t even wait for the ferry to stop moving. She hopped onto the rickety dock as the edge of the ferry slid by and hurried to shore, her boots clomping on the worn wooden planks under her feet. The dock ended a few yards past the riverbank, replaced with wood slats pressed into the mud in a wavy, haphazard line that led to the riverside walkway separating Harbortown from the Mirken River. Hastily constructed shops, taverns, smiths, and boathouses sat side by side, stacked next to each other like misshapen boxes, facing the wide, slow-moving river. Several dozen people, none of whom were Trohman, Emra noticed, wandered along the walkway or lingered in front of the shops or taverns, looking either busy or bored. Two men stood in front of a boathouse to her right, leering at her, or perhaps wondering why a Trohman dared come to Anzarin lands. She ignored them, moving swiftly down the road to her left, which led directly to the massive city beyond.
Being Trohman made her stand out significantly in most places, for reasons both physical and political. Her combination of deep brown skin, black hair and onyx eyes wasn’t to be found outside the kingdom of Trohm, and especially not here amongst the faded browns of the Anzarin people. Her long, braided hair hung over her right shoulder, and her deep red clothing, covered by the dirt and dust of the steppes, hung loosely on her thin, weary frame. A blue sash, a sign of womanhood in her land, hung over one shoulder, a rumpled, leather pack over the other. A well-crafted and very intricately designed wooden bow was strapped to her pack, along with a small quiver of arrows, and she kept a large knife in her boot and a smaller one hidden in her sash. She was of average height for her people, which made her slightly taller than most Anzarin women. Trohmans rarely ventured past the coastal cities anymore, which made her a bit of a spectacle here, but she figured the sheer number of people in this city would help her to blend in.
The packed-dirt path, bracketed between warehouses and inns, and worn into the ground by countless footsteps and wagon wheels, veered around a guard tower and then ran in a straight line right to the gates of Tyr, a place of legend in her country. A place she’d spared no moment of rest to reach. She’d seen the first signs of the city, whose walls loomed impressively over her here in Harbortown, well before midday, and the sight even then had been breathtaking. Now that she was upon it, though, she had to fight the urge to slow down and gape.
She’d heard all her people could tell her of Tyr and of the Lore Valley, having grown up listening to the countless stories of the time when Trohmans lived here, and ruled these people, but nothing could prepare her for what she saw this day. Tyr was larger than a hundred of her villages put together, maybe even two hundred, and she could see more people on the road ahead of her than she had ever seen in one spot before. The walls themselves would tower over most of the hills in her land, and seemed impossible to breach by any army she had ever heard of, even the new army of horsemen everyone spoke of in hushed tones. She felt as if she stood at the doorway to a palace of the gods. She hoped it would provide her the gods’ protection, as well.
She walked through the massive wooden gates, letting a sigh of relief escape her lips, but she still examined everyone who passed by or gave her a glance, looking for any ill intent. Brightly garbed Anzarins, men, women and children, passed before her along the bustling city streets, some of them glancing at her strangely, but most just ignoring her, intent on their own business. Dozens upon dozens of people weaved through and around each other, all moving along the paths from one place to another, like ants scurrying about after their mound had been kicked open. One Anzarin stared at her, a man wearing a faded brown cloak, with the hood pulled up over his head. She quickly looked away, though, not wanting her eyes to linger on anyone for too long. She was here not to be noticed.
Emra reached the first main intersection and stopped, unsure where to go. She needed a place to stay but she had no idea what part of the city would be safest. The inns in Harbortown had been inviting, but they were out in the open, away from walls and guards. She needed something deep in the city, full of people to call on when she needed help. She needed to find some respite from the unstoppable madman who had tormented her for three months. A man who continued to find her no matter how far and how fast she ran. A man she hadn’t known until he appeared one day, determined to kill her.
Emra looked longingly down all of the roads before her, considering each for a moment, wondering which direction would be her fate. She chose the main road, which led towards the center of Tyr, and to the Clerics who ruled this land. Hopefully they could provide the safety she longed for. Because if they couldn’t help her, she had nowhere left to run.