The air was sweet. Nispa had never imagined that such a busy city could smell like that. It was the trees, she decided. There were easily several hundred of them, and they were all in bloom--them, and the multitudes of flowers that competed for sunlight beneath their branches. The forest had been planted by the cityfolk themselves, or so she had been told, "in twos and trees," and she quickly concluded that it was her most favourite part of the whole sprawling city.
The streets were clean and bright. Music and laughter filled the air, and a trio of children chased each other past Nispa's skirts. She fought the urge to join them--but it looks like so much fun!--and kept pace with the tall man beside her.
He was the reason she'd gotten to go to Kinaldi. Morrim's capital didn't let just anyone into the city (or so they said, anyhow. In reality, the guards stationed at the city's open gates hardly gave them a second glance. They weren't the only ones, after all. Streams of people came and went without so much as a how-do-you-do). Hadron's business was with a local stablemaster, but the rest of the details had been lost on Nispa as soon as he invited her to come along with him.
They'd arrived at the city the previous night. Hadron had gone straight to the inn and then to bed, but Nispa, the ever-social spider, took to the tavern and listened to the stories of the city. One man spoke of a giant sea-monster with three heads each as large as a carriage. A thin waif of a woman told of a legendary lute nestled in some long-forgotten city. Two dwarves took turns telling the tale of Brodrika the Brazen, a hammer-maiden who (supposedly) defeated a dragon that had been terrorizing her rabbits. After the third story, the night became rather blurry, and Nispa had found her way to her bed not long after. Now that the sun was up, she and Hadron were wandering the streets in search of the stablemaster.
"Stay close, now," he warned, his voice surprisingly high for his stature and build. He hardly needed to watch her, but his own daughter was only seven and he couldn't help but think of Nispa as the same. Nispa trailed after him anyway, despite her attention being pulled in every direction by the goings-on of the city. Perhaps it was because her attention was pulled in so many directions that she couldn't decide which way to run off first.
They passed a musician, a lanky woman with a wooden flute. Her melody soared above the street rabble and rivaled the flowers for their sweetness. With a particular distraction now in mind, she wandered away from Hadron and towards the woman. She wore an airy dress and had painted her lips a bright cheery red. The melody that she played was haunting and ethereal, and Nispa found herself entranced for the better part of five minutes before she remembered her manners. She fished a coin out of her pack and dropped it into the woman's bowl. Her eyes crinkled in a smile, but she didn't stop playing to thank her verbally.
Nispa glanced around for Hadron, but he was nowhere to be seen. That's alright. I know where the inn is. She continued down the street. She purchased herself a candied apple and munched happily on it. Two more children ran past her, and this time, uninhibited, she frolicked after them for a time. She came to a stop near another musician, this one with a lute. She was shorter than most everyone in the crowd, but she'd found herself a box to stand atop, so her head poked up above the rest. She stomped one foot in time to her own music, the oversized brim of her sunhat bobbing as well, and Nispa found herself dancing along in no time. The ditty was a jovial one, and she whirled and twirled in the street until the tune came to a close.
"That was a lot of fun!" Nispa exclaimed, digging out another coin for the woman. "Sounds centauri. Where'd'you learn that? Did you actually go all the way to the great forest to learn some music?"
Kinaldi. The City of Liars.
What else did you get in a place full of nothing but politicians and bards?
Still, it was home. No matter how far she wandered, the Kaadian Way always seemed to bring her back to Kinaldis winding streets and arboreal squares; birds chirruped from the blooming boughs, adding their own music to that of the West Quarter. The Palace rose above the wooden buildings like a golden spectator, parapets flashing in the afternoon sun.
Shed been playing since the clock struck twelve, but she hadnt noticed. The hours had whirled by as fast as her skirts, and only the crooked twinge in her fingers kept the time. This day she dressed in canary yellow, gauzy as the fabrics in Ashoka to ward off the heat. At some point one of the minstrels by her had given up the ghost of his own song and added a twittering flute to her tune. One opportunist capered in with a tambourine. All well and good till they started taking her money.
A few glares later, the tambourinist had dropped his instrument, yelping as he chased the rolling thing down the street; the flutist inhaled a bee, her performance axed by a fit of violent coughing. And thus all the attention went back to her. The teifling flashed wide grins at each patron, bowing with a flourish and striking new melodies from her lute.
Today was going splendidly. The clatter of coin kept her happy, box winking merrily back at her with a promise of a hot meal and inn room for the night. Shed been perfecting the ditty on her route back to Kinaldi, ambling with little to do but sing and play to herself, and itd paid off.
Ha! The rollicking song twanged to a close. Oriole grinned as a smatter of applause came from the group thatd gathered to watchbigger than usual, she noticed, and with happier facesand the bard gave a mummers bow, the absurd peacock feather in her hat bobbing. Thank you, good people of Kinaldi. Thank you!
When she flounced up again, two pair ofno, four pair ofeyestwo handsfourfour? met her, and the teifling blinked, caught off guard for a moment. Surprise tripped into a great grin. As another coin fell into the pile, the bard dipped her hat, hopping off the box. Ye, Vespasians bollocks, her fingers were cramping bad. Flinging back her braid, the teifling shrugged to adjust her lute strap, shaking out her wrist.
Aye, thats the mark, the bard winked, grinning and deciding to play along. Offer some Centauri a spot of moonshine, and theyll teach you plenty. Well, the girl was sort of right. Her guess was as good as any. One day on her travels, shed gotten drunk on the road through one of Kinaldis many forests. At some pointhungry and starving for companyshe followed a merry tune into the boughs, hoping it might lead to a troupe of mummers. It all went dark after that. When she came to, she saw rings of mushrooms and mysterious, wooden flutes ensconced by them, rising with a head ripe to split. And an infernal ditty that wouldnt get out of her mind.
Any Fae, really. Jolly folk, know how to have a good time. Oriole peaked her eyebrows, smirking at the girl. Well, she was a strange looking one. All those eyes
The bard bent to retrieve her box, deftly arranging the coins into piles and counting them under her breath. Satisfied, she opened her purse and slid the money into it.
Are you from the forest, lass? Begging your pardon, but never seen anyone like you around here.