If a huge crowd packed the streets of the fishing district and the harbor, the complete opposite could be said for the east side of the city. Despite being the biggest of the three main residential areas of the city of Eneleïa and being very densely populated it attracted very few tourists during the day, and even less since the preparations for the festival were going full swing. It wouldn’t be the same during the festivities when every single inhabitant of the port city would be parading and celebrating during the next few days but the local residents relished this period of calm before the storm. They used it to decorate their houses and to prepare themselves for the wedding ceremony. Thrista was walking in on of the secondary streets, not very busy as it usually went unnoticed by the tourists and visitors, he strolled slowly through the scarce crowd going around the small market, looking at the multicolored decorations and the well stocked displays of the local shops. His destination was a small tavern he had already visited the previous time he had come to Eneleïa, it was supposed to be located between two large houses but it seemed to be well hidden as he had already been searching for half an hour without success. Finally after turning right at a crossroads he thought he recognized he noticed the old wooden front of the establishment.
Despite its small size and its plain appearance it was one of the best spots to eat and spend the night, renowned almost exclusively to the connoisseurs for its exquisite homemade cooking and its warm welcome. The owner had a secret recipe for a delicious minestrone made of fresh zucchini, carrots, pasta and minced meat. That was where Thrista had decided to spend the few nights while he was in town as he knew the owner, a small woman nearing her fifties and whose rust colored hair barely started graying, since his father had brought him there during his first visit to Eneleïa. « En Carménie ». The sign made dark wood hung over the front door, rocking slightly to the wind. The teenager noticed it seemed to have been renovated since the last time he had seen it, the horse sculpted and painted in the center seemed to have gotten fresh colors again and paraded in its black and white coat. Thrista pushed the large door and entered, greeting anyone who might have been inside. To his surprise, as his eyes adjusted to the half-light of the room he noticed it was empty, despite his memory telling him it used to be crowded with people the few times he had been there. There were usually clients drinking, eating, laughing and playing cards around on the tables, filling the air with noise, tempting smells and a thin cloud of smoke. He stood there, letting time to his eyes to adjust for a few seconds. Finally a voice greeted him from the back of the room and he turned towards its source.
“Welcome dear visitor. Please come in, come in. I’ll be with you in a moment.” The dark-haired teenager immediately recognized the slightly raspy voice of the tavern’s owner, which made him smile, but couldn’t place its origin exactly. He had to walk forward a few steps before finally noticing the small silhouette of the small woman cleaning the tables in the corner, her back was turned to him but he instantly knew it was indeed Carmen.
“Hello.” He replied as he looked around. All the curtains seemed to have been pulled which was the reason in was difficult to see I the room at first. He also noticed the inside of the fine establishment had also been renovated, most of the table looked brand new and the paint seemed freshly redone. Not even a trace of dust was visible on the ground.
“I hadn’t seen you Carmen, I thought the room was empty. Everything change so much since last time!” he added with a small whistle.
“Oh, yes, I apologize for the sudden darkness. I was taking advantage of the absence of my employees to clean the place a bit and I do hate it when the beats down like that so I pulled most of the curtains shut.” she replied without even turning around to take a look at who she was talking with. Her arm was vigorously trying to make every last stain disappear from the surface of the table she was cleaning.
“Do we know each other?” she finally added with a smile as she finally looked up a moment later, seemingly satisfied with her work.
“So you don’t remember me? I do admit it’s been some time but even so…” asked the young man with a small pout.
The small woman put her tools away and walked towards him, eying his face curiously, her brows furrowed and her gray eyes taking in his features. She remained like that for a few seconds as Thrista simply stood there, his smile slowly getting bigger, as he imagined her surprise when she would recognize him a few instants later. He had changed quite a bit since the last time she had seen him, he had grown at least a good fifteen centimeters, his shoulders had gotten broader and his hair longer. It now fell down on his ears even though he used to keep it cut short, his face had gotten thinner and longer and his features slightly sharper, he was almost unrecognizable. Almost. The older woman tilted her head slightly to the right as she slowly voiced her thoughts.
“Your eyes…”, she started while narrowing hers,”Yes, I remember! Thrista! My gods, I hadn’t recognized you! You have grown so much!” she exclaimed as she pulled him into a tight embrace. The young man responded by also hugging her and laughing a little.
“How long has it been? Two years maybe?” asked the tavern’s owner as she stepped back to take him in, a large smile appearing on her face, taking the place of her puzzled expression a moment ago.
“Yes, it’s me.” replied the dark-haired teenager with a smile. “It’s been a little bit more than two years since I saw you last I think. I didn’t think you would recognize me so easily…” he then added with a small pout.
“It’s your eyes that betrayed you. You have the same deep soft brown eyes as your father…” She took him into her arms once more, hugging him tightly and with surprising strength despite her small stature.
One couldn’t trust her appearance only though, she could prove to have a very strong character and a surprising amount of strength, and she managed to knock the wind out of the young man as she embraced him the second time. But Thrista didn’t care, he was happy to see her again and he let his joy do the talking, embracing her a second time with as much strength as her.
“Wow, you’ve definitely gotten stronger!” she commented as she let him go once more. “Could’ve crushed my bones there!” The tavern’s owner laughed as she said this, turning around without waiting for a reply and rushing towards the kitchen.
“Do you want something to eat or drink?” she then asked from the other room.
“Yes I would, thank you. I haven’t eaten since this morning!” Replied Thrista as he put down his shoulder bag by the table nearest to him, he also took off his cape, revealing a long staff-like object encased in leather and cloth and held to his back by straps . He hesitated to sit down but preferred to take a stroll around the room instead. The tavern looked a lot bigger from the inside than it appeared from its exterior appearance, the room was wide and usually luminous. A chandelier was hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room and several candle orbs could be seen on the walls, no light was emanating from them at that time of the day though. One could see the heavy beams made of old oak protruding from the walls to hold the ceiling in place, which gave an old but familiar air to the place. If the room had been emptied and the curtains opened it would have easily passed for a small temple, the carvings on the ceiling and the paintings depicting epic scenes hanging on the walls helped reinforce this feeling.
“I see I was wrong when I thought that you might never come back from your journey… I underestimated you Thrista.” The woman’s voice came from the kitchen, loud enough so that he could hear her. The teenager didn’t reply but smiled as the owner walked back into the room and he sat at the nearest table. Carmen came back with two plates full curry grilled meat, vegetables of all sorts cooked in a broth and a mushroom sauce that looked delicious. She also put down two cups of fruit juice that the teenager loved to drink when he came. Before Thrista could protest she shut him up with her famous “shut up and eat” look, so he did as she asked and simply accepted the meal.
“Don’t worry, I had this cooking up already.” She explained with a smile. “I was about to stop to eat anyways.”
“Well thank you!” Exclaimed the brown-haired teen as he started digging in, relishing to finally be able to calm his protesting stomach.
“So you are finally back. May I ask why it is? I thought you were gone at least until the tournament.” Asked Carmen.
“Well I changed my mind.” Started Thrista as he took in another bite. “I met a lot of people on this trip and to see really amazing places, I also learned a lot about empirium and I think I really did get stronger. I met a really good friend while I traveled and we journeyed together for some time. He helped me understand a few things I would’ve never thought about, we taught each other a few techniques and we spent good time training together. But unfortunately at some point he had to go back and I found myself traveling alone which, I realized, was something I didn’t enjoy as much anymore. I missed company and I think I was a little homesick. I decided it was probably time to come back, but it was only when I learned about the wedding that I made up my mind. I’ve traveled more across Simeriah than I have through Ore and I also want to change that. There’s much here that I have to discover and see. Maybe I’ll even meet interesting people on the way.”
“I think that’s a good decision. Traveling in a group is more fun and less dangerous.” Approved Carmen with a nod. “So you came back for princess Silena then?” She then added with a wink, emphasizing the ‘princess’. She then laughed at the surprised look Thrista gave her.
“Well I’m sure that you’ll find good friends here and that you’ll become strong enough to participate in the Sage’s Tournament!” She added with a playful smile.
“I hope so.” Nodded the young man. “By the way, I wondered if I could stay here during the next few days. Do you have a room I could rent?”
“You’re only staying ‘a few days’?” Asked Carmen with a pout.
“I don’t know, maybe more. For now my plans are not very clear, it’ll depend on what happens I think.” He replied. “But don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to catch up!”
“Oh I’m counting on that my boy! Now, of course I have a room for you, you are welcome here anytime! And no need to pay, you are my guest!” She added, holding her hand up before the young man could even bring up the idea.
“Alright Carmen…” He sighed playfully. “As you wish. I don’t know how long I’ll stay though so maybe at one point I’ll pay for my room.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever you say boy! We’ll take care of that when you leave.”
Thrista didn’t press the matter, he knew if he did she would never agree to let him leave and even less to let him pay for his stay. They kept talking as they ate their food, Thrista recounting his adventure on the continent of Simeriah and describing the amazing places he had seen while Carmen put him up to date with recent events in the Alliance and about what had happened in her life. When they finally finished emptying their plates the young man offered to help her to finish cleaning the room, which she accepted happily once he said that he at least wanted to do that if he didn’t pay for his stay. As they did the petite woman explained to him how she had earned enough to completely renovate her establishment and to hire another employee to help her with the chores.
“It’s really helpful you know, since the renovation more people have noticed the tavern and I was a little over-tasked. Vladislaw told me I should hire someone new and he was right, it’s so much easier now. Though I do have to watch her because she can be very distracted sometimes…” The woman had said that with a sigh but her small smile was still there so Thrista deduced this new employee must have been adorable and very helpful despite her slight quirkiness.
“Anyways, Juliette is efficient in what she does, and that’s really something you don’t see everywhere.” She added as she started to clean the floor with a floor cloth.
Thrista then explained to her some of the things he had seen, like the religious processions in the northern mountains of Simeriah where monks walked for days along a narrow mountain path to offer their faith to their deity or the impressive natural rock columns of the Cliff Palace near Ostar.
When they finally finished cleaning everything night had already started falling and the candle orbs were getting brighter. The streets were also starting to fill with people, both tourists wanting to visit the city at night or to see the chariots still in construction for the wedding parade and locals managing their shops or going back home after a long day of work. Thrista decided to take a stroll around the district before eating and put his coat back on before going out, leaving his belongings in the care of the tavern’s owner. Once outside he decided to walk towards the northern part of the district, he would have time to visit the other ones in the next few days and therefore preferred to remain in the relatively calm area of the city for the moment.
As he walked he let his thoughts wander in his mind and thought about his plans for the near future. He still hadn’t decided what he would do next, coming back had been decided quickly and on a whim more than anything else after all. Was it really a good decision? Meh, I’ll see, no need to fret about this now, what is done is done. Let’s see how the next few days unfold and we’ll decide then. Ore was his home and it was a vast continent, full of places to see, people to meet and things to learn, he would have his fair share of adventure if he looked in the right places. He walked, lost in his train of thoughts, leaving his destination to the places his steps decided to guide him. Night soon fell completely and the sky, which was mostly devoid off clouds shone with the bright lights of thousands of stars. Thrista admired them from time to time as he passed by chariots: huge boats, tall warriors and other dragons made solely out of wood were patiently waiting for their moment of glory during the upcoming parade. They were lit by the tall lampposts on the sides of the street on which had been attached candle orbs. The white spheres had slowly gotten brighter as the sun had started to set beyond the horizon. As the air started getting cool he turned around and decided to walk back, he was starting to feel his fatigue after that long day and was only wishing for one thing: a good hot bath and then to go to bed and have a good night’s sleep. He would need that to be up for it for the upcoming festivities which would start soon after dawn the next day.
He looked up to the night sky and focused on particularly bright star of the white veil, a large trail of stars that extended over a quarter of the sky and was especially visible at night. One of the stars seemed to be brighter than the others, which was strange since they were usually shining with the same intensity and also because he hadn’t noticed it sooner. He had learned to name all the constellations in the sky almost as soon as he had learned to walk, his father loved to spend evening laying in the grass and simply looking at the sky. This thought made a bunch of memories resurface and a few words came back to him, an old friend of his had told him that a few years back.
“It’s useless to wait for luck to come to you, you have to go look for it.”
He smiled lightly as he neared the tavern again. Perhaps he didn’t know what to do next but he was not going to stay there and do nothing, and it began by attending this wedding.