Kul Viller – Old Town
A small spring, halfway up a hill, overlooking a river flowing into a big lake. Once upon a time, a forest ended here. So long ago barely even the hill remembers it anymore.
This is where the city began.
Here, a wanderer dug the first fire pit. Here, a shelter was first raised. Here, settlers staked their claims, and traders plied their wares – and when the first road finally found its way around the lake, this is where it came.
That road is long gone now, just like the forest.
But a spring still has water, and a city still grows.
Only, not right here. Not much has changed since the last fire. A century and a half ago the hill burned. Fires raged for days and when rain finally put it out only smoldering heaps of rubble remained.
It was rebuilt, of course, and quality work it was too, for the time. Stone and wood. Brick and mortar. Cobbled streets with actual gutters. Gas light. The pride of the city. For a while.
It no longer is.
The people who live here keep their homes together, but the age shines through. Old buildings. Old streets. Few visitors. The subway stops at the foot of the hill and it is a steep climb from there.
Halfway up the hill, five streets meet. A cobblestone square with a fountain in the middle. Water spurts from the mouth of a dragon made of stone, into a bowl that overflows into a basin at the dragon’s feet.
Around a square are shops and pubs. Small, old-fashioned places, where regulars are known by name, and you can pay another day if money is low.
Tourists don’t come here. There are older buildings to see – prettier ones, with more history, where famous people have lived, closer to everything else.
But a paladin and her chronicler are not tourists, and a step hill is no deterrent.
Neither is rain.
– – –
Where the street entered the square, Toini stopped. “There.” She raised her hand and pointed. “That’s my sister’s pub.”
Raoul nodded. “I see.”
A narrow two-story building at the far end of the square, wedged in between a greengrocer and a butcher – uphill from where they stood.
Toini sighed. “It looks just the same.”
Green wall. Darker green door with a window in it. Square windows flanked the door on either side, each with sturdy wooden bench under it. Candles burned in the windows.
A wooden sign hung above the door, too faded to make out any words. Her sister still hadn’t repainted it. She always said she would, but never got around to it. It had been the same with the previous owner. Probably a spirit thing.
Raoul nodded again.
Her sister would be in there. Working. It probably wouldn’t be busy. Mid afternoon didn’t pull much of a crowd during the week. Especially not in this weather. People would stay home, or at work.
“I want you to keep out of the way.”
“What?” Raoul turned to her with a frown on his face.
“Inside, there’s a booth to the left of the door. Grab a seat there and keep out of the way.”
“Toini…” Raoul rolled his eyes. “I’m your chronicler. It’s my duty to keep a record of your activities. You know this.”
“It’s a small room. You can see most of it from the booth.” Toini sighed. “Just stay out of the way. Okay?”
Raoul scowled at her, drawing himself up to his full length. “This is an important part of your quest and you’re asking me to not bear witness to it.”
“No, you idiot.” Toini glared at him. “I’m about to meet my sister for the first time in twelve years, and I really don’t want your stupid face hanging over my shoulder.”
She took a deep breath. “If you sit with your back against the window you’ll see and hear just fine.” Forcing a smile to her face she planted her hands on her hips. She had to try to be reasonable. This would be a really bad time to pull rank. “Just let me pretend I have some privacy for once. Please.”
Raoul looked down on her. He started to say something but stopped himself. He looked out over the rain soaked square, at the little fountain with the dragon, at the wet cobblestones. Water dripped from his umbrella. Not a person in sight. Miserable day.
Eventually he turned back to her and nodded. “Okay. I’ll keep in the background.”
Toini sighed with relief. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” He smiled, trying to look amiable, or something. “You won’t even know I’m there.”
“I appreciate it.” Toini turned and looked across the square again. Right there. Twelve years.
She took a deep breath, and another. She shrugged, flexed her fingers, clenched her jaws. And then, finally, she set off across the square.