Fiction Tuesday – Taking a Breath

Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link

Welcome to the Valleys CoverAs the party continued along Second Run they began to pass through the city’s outer settlements. Unlike the other places Jeremy had seen in The Inner Valleys, The Ravine was not surrounded by farms and orchards. Instead, the city itself seemed to pour out from the city walls in all directions. Jeremy passed through several different kinds of neighborhoods as they approached the city proper. Some consisted of clusters of smaller homes surrounded by well-tended gardens. Others were made up of multi-story buildings which seemed to be constructed almost on top of each other. Many more appeared to be shopping districts, from which Jeremy caught the scent of fresh break traveling on the morning breeze.

People were beginning to emerge from their homes to engage in their daily routine, and as they did so the roads slowly filled up. Jeremy, as had become his habit, tried to meet the eyes of those who passed him – only to be confused when he found people pointedly avoiding his gaze. Walter seemed to sense Jeremy’s dilemma and chuckled.

“People here don’t make eye contact much, lad.”

“But why?” ask Jeremy as he side-stepped a family hurrying by in the opposite direction. “I’m just trying to be friendly.”

“Well, lad, there’s just too many people living in The Ravine to try to recognize everyone. I mean, look at how this road has filled up in the last twenty minutes. Half an hour from now we’ll probably barely be able to stay together.” Walter stopped suddenly at a group of young men cut in front of him without acknowledging their intrusion. The old trader shook his head and muttered darkly. “I really did not want to be traveling during the rising.”

“I think, Old Fox, we may want to stop and enjoy morning meal while the roads thin out.”

“That, Meddle, is a good idea.” Walter turned back and caught Michael’s eye. “Michael?”

“Yes, Walter?” He called back.

“We need a place to stop and eat, you have any recommendations?”

The guard nodded. “Yes, turn left and cut up two blocks. There’s a nice bakery there were we should be able to some comfortable seating.”

“Right,” Walter turned and was bumped by a woman rushing by, holding a child in her arms. He stepped back and stepped on Jeremy’s foot.

“Ow!”

“Sorry, lad.” He turned back to Michael. “Captain, how about you take lead here? I’m being reminded why I left this place.”

Michael nodded silently and pushed his way to the front of their group, which had come to a halt in the middle of the road. Suddenly, Michael held up his hands to his mouth and trumpeted.

“Make way, guard of the people. Make way!”

To Jeremy’s great surprise, people who had been diligently ignoring everyone else on the road stopped and glanced in Michael’s direction. Those who found themselves in the line of Michael’s gaze actually stopped and formed vacant path before him. The guard began walking through the vacated space almost immediately, beckoning the others to follow. As they passed, the crowd filled in behind them. It made Jeremy feel as though he was walking in a bubble which was rising through a turbulent sea. All the while they moved, Michael continued to shout.

“Make way, guard of the people. Make way!”

He led them up the two blocks, where the crowd seemed to thin out somewhat. Jeremy spied a small seating area by the road to his right, from which he could taste the smell of fresh baked bread pouring into his nostrils. The sign above the building read, “Sarcon’s.” Michael led the party over to the seating area and sat down, motioning for the others to do the same.

Walter collapsed into a chair at Michael’s table. “That’s a useful trick, Captain.”

Michael shrugged. “Also illegal if I have, indeed, been stripped of my rank.”

“Well, we’ll see about that.” Walter looked out upon the busy street beyond their quite sanctuary. “You said your family lived outside The Ravine. Do they live near this neighborhood?”

Michael shook his head. “No, they live along the The Boulevard’s approach to the city.” He pointed back along the way they came, “Several miles in that direction.”

“Would you like to go see them?”

Michael nodded, “Very much so, but I will see you all safely delivered first.”

“For all intents and purposes we’ve arrived at The Ravine, Captain. Why not take leave and see your loved ones?”

Michael shook his head. “No, Walter. I will see my family, but only after I make sure you reach the Senate unmolested. After all, should Senator Merkot decide to bring charges against me, you are the only defense I posses!”

“Hmm. Well, there is that.”

“What’ll it be, folks? I haven’t got all day.”

Walter was startled and turned his face up to find the source of the question. He located it in the form of a short woman, dressed in an apron and wearing a name tag which read, “Sally.”

“Well,” Walter peered closely at the tag. “Sally. I’m not sure what you have. What’s on the menu?”

Sally rolled her eyes openly and sighed. “We have all the normal breakfast foods right now. Are you ready to order?”

Walter pursed his lips in frustration, which lead Michael to step to the rescue. “Sally, do you still make your egg, cheese and cured ham on nook-bread?”

Sally nodded. “Of course.”

“Then one of those for each of our party, and coffee for everyone.”

“Sure thing. Be back in a jif.”

Walter was not amused. “This place was bad when I left, but that was just rude.”

Michael grinned. “I don’t even notice it. Tollen says it’s because of how much the population has increased, but anywhere else just seems too slow to me, after having grown up here.”

Michael nodded again and the pair lapsed into silence. The rest of the party either dozed at their tables, the long night catching up with them at last, or talked quietly among themselves. Soon, Sally returned with six mugs and poured some steaming liquid into each. Micheal grinned broadly and picked up his mug almost before Sally had even finished pouring. He lifted it to his mouth and took a noisy sip.

“Ahhh. That is good coffee.”

“You aren’t even going to allow it to cool down?”

Michael took another sip. “Oh, Walter, this is the only way to drink coffee.”

“Thanks, I like the roof of my mouth to be unscarred.”

It was several minutes before Walter felt he was able to take his first sip of coffee. By that time Sally had brought out the sandwiches Michael had ordered. These consisted of scrambled eggs, topped with a white cheese and several strips of cured ham, all fitted into the circle of what Michael called “nook bread.” Jeremy, famished, took a bite of his sandwich even before he sipped his coffee, and the combination of flavors caused his mouth to water.

“This is good!” He exclaimed.

“It might be the best breakfast sandwich in the wider Ravine, Jeremy,” Michael nodded. “It’s fortunate we passed this way!”

At Michael’s comment, Jeremy looked around at his surroundings. As his did so, his brow wrinkled with confusion.

“Something wrong, lad?”

“Well, it’s just that you keep calling this place ‘The Ravine.’ It doesn’t seem to fit, though. The city seems to be so flat.”

It was Talum who responded. “Oh, Jeremy, wait until you see!”

Before Jeremy could ask, “See what?” he noticed several guards marching up the street, directly towards them.

Walter noticed their approach and nodded to Michael, who stood. Much to Jeremy’s relief, when the approaching guards spotted Michael they saluted. Walter, however, wasn’t so easily set at ease.

“What’s with the intrusion, Patroller? My friends and I are tired and would like to eat in peace.”

The guard bowed to Walter. “My apologies, Senator. But my men and I are ordered to convey you to the Senate with all possible speed.”

“On whose orders?”

“President Satal, sir. She has requested an audience.”

“Well,” said Walter with a chuckle. “I certainly didn’t expect that.” He took a large gulp of his coffee and picked up this sandwich, motioning for the others to rise. “We’d best not keep the President waiting.”

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