The sound of voices and liveliness joined the ever present crunching of the carriage wheels and slapping of horse hooves against the dirt. The small windows of the carriage Esmina and her father sat in didn’t provide much insight to the commotion outside, but soon the wheels met cobblestone. They had reached Tal’Doraken.
Berold glanced out the window, looking up into the sky. He gave a short huff, but made no comment.
Esmina sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap. She stared downwards at the seat cushion across from her, trying her best not to offend her father in some ludicrous way. If she was dutiful and patient, perhaps she could get away with some time to herself while they were in the city.
“We’ll be arriving at the inn soon. It will still be a while before the sun sets, which is when we will be heading to the Ministry Offices to get the Night Seal officiated.”
Esmina made eye contact with her father. Her voice was clear, but not aggressive. “I suppose you’ll want me to stay in the room until then?”
Her father frowned. “That is how I would prefer it, yes. But today I will make no such demands. You are permitted to go about the city as you please, so long as you return before nightfall.”
Esmina’s heart leaped with joy. Father allowing her to do as she wished? Without so much as a discussion? She wondered what had gotten into him lately, but dared not question it. Instead, she smiled and nodded. “Thank you, father.”
The carriage slowed to a stop and some words were barked. She could feel movement as the coachman stepped off. A few moments later one of the doors swung open and the middle-aged man bowed to them. “We’ve arrived at the Liar’s Respite, sir. Welcome to Tal’Doraken.”
Berold gestured for his daughter to depart first, and she graciously did so. Taking the coachman’s hand, she took the large step off the carriage and into the busy streets.
There were so many people. Left and right, the lane was filled with dozens, if not hundreds of passersby. People with boxes and carts, horses and a few oxen. Some were yelling at each other or to the general masses of things they were selling, standing on stacks of crates as they did. The buildings weren’t as big as she had expected—none were nearly as large as their own estate, but most were built right next to one another. She had never seen so many people in one place before.
Her father joined the two of them, adjusting his pointed coat as he did. He scanned the nearby area, but with far less wonder than Esmina openly expressed. “Go get our things,” he told the coachman. “I want them brought to our rooms.”
His real job having been done, the coachman looked like he was about to protest, but soon thought better of it. One didn’t object to Lord Berold’s demands.
Her father walked towards the building their carriage was halted next to. The Liar’s Respite, apparently. “Father!” she called after him. “May I go now, or shall I stay?”
He waved a hand, not even turning to address her. “What do I care? Just be here before nightfall.”
Elated, she rushed over to the back of the carriage, nearly bumping into the coachman as he fumbled with her trunk of clothes. “Oh! My apologies. May I?”
“Oh, yes of course, milady,” he grunted. The trunk wasn’t meant to be carried by one man. He set it down and she opened it, pulling out her coin purse and covertly taking her spyglass and stowing that away in the purse as well.
“Oh! Esmina,” Berold said from behind her. “I almost forgot, you’ll need an escort.”
She spun around. “The coachman, I presume?”
“No, no, I need him here. You there!” he yelled, pointing at a man all but lying on the ground, half asleep as he drooled into his scraggly beard. The man, realizing he was being addressed by a nobleman, shot upright immediately. He wasn’t exactly the most sober of individuals in sight. “Eighty dragon marks says you’ll accompany my daughter to wherever she wishes. Just for an hour or two.”
Esmina paled, horror washing over her face. Assigning a drunkard to escort her across town? Did he care at all about her safety? Eighty dragon marks was no small amount, but that man could mug her—or worse—and make three times that besides with all the money she carried with her now.
With one sentence, her father had just thrown away all hope she had for enjoying herself.