Ruili Windwolf smiled at Y’lanna’s expression of gratitude.
“Dear Lady of Lavender and Violets,” he said, “if there is anyone equipped to aid you in these Isles, it is us. We are, after all, the rulers. To the extent that this is our home, it is no burden to care for a guest in it.”
“Besides,” he continued as they walked through the series of courtyards back to the main gate, “we are merely doing our job, as plain as any laborer. The lands of Aeldreth belong properly to the gods. The rulers of the nations are but caretakers. It is our duty to care for both the land and the people who walk upon it, and since the gods of the realms themselves decreed that all who come here through the vortices shall be treated the same as those who come here through their mothers’ wombs, well then, it’s only right, isn’t it, that you should be given the same treatment as other immigrants. Why even dread Caillech gave her blessing to that, with caveats. The only unusual aspect is that the problem of your legal status, which to be honest I don’t understand at all, means we must keep an eye on you until it’s all sorted out. I hope you won’t mind too much.”
That last remark was accompanied by one of Lord Windwolf’s most winning smiles as they arrived at the gate and the selkie called for another goat-drawn carriage to carry them across the Shimmering City.
Y’lanna could not have known it then, but if she was a Zoneloger inclined to fun and high living, she could not have been put in better company than that of the third son of the Dukedom, Ruili Windwolf, Lord of the Seas and the Silken Quarter. If she desired peace and quiet, Plesz could give her many a view and garden to contemplate and many a book to read, but with Ruili as her guardian, she would never be far from the entertainments of music, sport, gaming and pleasure houses, and above all, the theater, for as long as he was in port.
This time they bypassed the wind-driven lift down to the docks. Instead, the comfortable white carriage pulled by five goats and driven by a pert young military cadet, followed the zigzagging lanes down the steep slope into and across the heart of the city. When one says “down,” it should be understood that there were seemingly few directions in Plesz other than “up” and “down.” One could go “down” a good ways along the terraced cliff sides into which the city was built without hitting the bottom, i.e. the sea itself. By that token, one could climb “up” a long way before one reached the plateau that stretched to the side of the volcano Petinofoa on one side and sloped down to the wooded countryside of Ilaroc on the other.
So the whole way they traveled, they had the buildings on their right side, and above their heads and below their carriage wheels, and the open sky and vast blue sea on their left. The view was broken only occasionally by buildings which had doors on the street, but which were in fact the tops of buildings standing on the terrace below.
Ruili happily pointed out landmarks as they went along, and told Y’lanna about the holiday that had forced her to wait for a house or flat to be assigned to her.
“The Feast of the Triumvirate,” he said, “the triple gods of trade and craft. The festival comes but once in five years, and what a feast it is. Here in the Navigators, the fun is all in wagering on the markets. ‘Tis high drama in the trading plazas, fortunes made and lost, and in every lane, merchants with gold to spend.”
As he chatted to her, people now and then in the bustling streets called out “Windwolf!” and either bowed or waved or pantomimed gestures meaning such things as “I shall write to you” or “May I call on you?” answered by gestures of Ruili’s. The more people noticed Ruili had returned, the more noticed Y’lanna sitting next to him, and soon as many looks and bows and waves were being directed to her as to him.
“Ah, lady, you are fairly spotted now,” said Ruili. “I believe Plesz is eager to welcome you. No doubt the broadsheets have already spread word of your presence. Now that some have caught a glimpse, I don’t doubt the whole town will be on the look-out for you.” He seemed to think that an amusing prospect.
They traveled across the cliffs of Plesz nearly an hour, some of that due to heavier than usual traffic, but soon, the goats were trotting up the cobbles of the aptly named Cherryrose Lane, a residential street lined with flowering trees, close to the commercial center. Here the Prince of the Navigators kept a townhouse with a view of the docks, where all ships coming and going could be observed.
As in many places in Aeldreth, the houses of Plesz were identified by the signs and emblems over their doors. The house to which the goat carriage brought them bore the painted sign of a merchantman, a commercial vessel in full sail. Other attributes of the house included sparkling white plastered walls, large windows of leaded glass, red roses climbing up its face, and a very tiny lady in a plain green gown and white apron standing on the doorstep.
“Ahoy, Mistress Bodling!” called Ruili as the carriage pulled up to the door.
“Welcome home, Lord Ruili,” said the lady.
“Thank you. I have brought a guest.” Ruili jumped out of the carriage, turning to offer Y’lanna a helping hand if she needed one.
The gray-haired little gnome lady watched from the top step of the house’s entrance, but even on that elevation she was barely as tall as the selkie’s belt. Her wrinkled little face bore a passive expression, and her tiny, gnarled hands were clasped primly over her apron.
“Come, Mistress Sparti,” said Ruili, “allow me to present to you Mistress Bodling, my noble brother’s housekeeper. Missus B., this lady is Y’lanna Sparti, the traveler we saved from the sea in the Vortex Zone. Due to the festival, she is to stay as our guest until further notice.”
“Very good, milord. I’ll make up a room for her.” The housekeeper looked Y’lanna up and down with frank appraisal. “Welcome, milady. Please inform me at once of anything you may need.”