Wolf Neighbours – Chapter 8

The sun was high in the sky as they reached the river’s floodplain, but down by the water, things were hazy with something that almost looked like fog. It gave the market town an ethereal quality as they approached.

Gove had passed through the town on her way to buy her peccaries; it was unlike anywhere else she had seen on her trip north. All the buildings were up on stilts; this was because the town was built over the water, or over the floodplain the river would fill in the wetter months. There were homes, small with steep roofs, connected by a maze of footbridges; and there were larger platforms tucked between them, some with roofs but no walls, others open to the sky. Boats bumped against rope and wooden ladders, tied to the stilts themselves.

The floodplain underneath the houses nearest the escarpment was heavily planted; as Gove and Miter climbed up onto the wooden bridges, townsfolk bustled beneath harvesting a wealth of vegetables. The cool mist on her face was rich with the scent of humus and late summer flowers.

The river was huge; Gove had sailed up it with traders in the early spring, and had watched it transform from its wide, meandering southern self into a deeper, faster, colder northern thing. At this late summer stage she could tell it was lower than when she’d arrived, but it still seemed frighteningly powerful as it rushed around the stilts, rumbling and hissing and sparkling in the fog.

Miter navigated the wooden bridge paths without concern; as they passed houses with open doors he called out casual greetings to the occupants. Inside the wooden homes, Gove saw people bent over all variety of crafts. She noticed tanners scraping hides; old women sieving and grinding flour, scarves over their faces in the dusty interior air; in one, a circle of children were weaving a huge rug together from dyed reeds.

Miter quickly apologized as he ducked in a doorway to talk to an older weaver, leaving Gove leaning against the wall of the house and watching other locals carrying baskets and pulling hand carts along the bridges, hopefully also planning to trade. No one paid her much attention.

Two people passed by, one using one hand to pull a three wheeled cart and the other to fan themself with a wide brimmed hat, while their companion scowled over the top of a huge basket held in his arms. He grunted as they passed Gove;

“First the heat, now the fog again!”

Behind them a group of women younger than Gove were carrying baskets in pairs, each with a grip on one handle, the baskets themselves full of other straw and reed—woven goods — baskets and hats and what looked like protective plaited plating. One called ahead to the scowling man:

“Are you still on about all these omens?” The other young women giggled with her. Her partner on the other side of her basket added: “We’ve had our feet in the river all summer and it’s the same as it’s always been!”

Gove could see the scowling man turn and grunt something, but she didn’t catch it; Miter had stepped back out of the house, walking staff drumming on the wooden platform. His pack was noticeably lighter.

“Trading already?” Gove tried to peek in his baskets as he stepped ahead of her onto a smaller, quieter bridge.

“Of course.”

“Get much for your trouble?”

They both stepped to one side to let a woman leading half—grown turkeys pass. Miter shot Gove a confused look.

“I will in a few weeks. He can’t turn wool into clothing quite that fast.”

“Oh; I see.”

As they wove around houses, Miter explained:

“This isn’t a town with hundreds of craftspeople. If you want something complex, you should be prepared to wait.”

“Are axes complex?” Gove wasn’t sure how often she wanted to show up to market; her instincts told her not to be too memorable.

“You’ll have to ask Empul; they always have a few knives at least.”

He led her around another tall, bustling house and suddenly they were on the edge of a huge wooden platform, open to the sky except in the very middle, bustling with people, livestock, noise. Gove froze.

Miter turned and gave her an exasperated stare. “What are you doing? This is what we came here for.”

“It’s just .. wide open.” She saw people turning and looking at her, and she had to steel herself not to turn and run back to her tiny home in the woods. Miter had stepped back and put a hand on her shoulder.

“People here are friendly, Gove. You’re not going to get robbed or harrassed.” He had that tone to his voice again, like she was being a silly child; it made her angry, and anger made her unfreeze.

“I’m not worried about people being mean.” She shook his hand off. “I’m just checking to make sure you weren’t lying about local guards.” But despite the haze of the fog moving in, she couldn’t see any tell—tale red sleeves or tall hats.

Miter huffed, clearly insulted.

“Why not ask someone else, then. Empul, maybe.” He gestured with his walking staff to the far corner. “They supply the north circuit; they’ll know their schedule as well as I do.”

Then he turned and wove into the crowd, leaving her at the edge of the square.

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