The cart bounced along the uneven stone road that was overrun by weeds and long grass. The glasses, pots and various other trinkets rattled and smacked together while the horses trotted, letting out an occasional snort. The smell of fermenting barley burned my nose. The gloved hand I used to cover it gave little aid. My other hand gripped onto one of the various wooden racks built into the cart. Fletcher was doing the same on the other side.
We had arrived in a small port town of Natandre four days ago and had finally reached the northern central merchant city. There was one merchant city for each direction and then the fifth one was in the capital, in the heart of Natandre. Each market offered all known plants, herbs, flowers, and fungi known in each region. And the capital merchant city housed all of them.
There were eleven ingredients we had to find. Thus far over are four days of travel we had found seven from the poorer marketplaces. The nobility in Natandre differed from the ones in Tessilia in how lax they were. Tessilia had at least one noble in every town, who was expected to report anything unusual to the governing noble council in the capital. Natandre’s nobility was only found in the five merchant cities. Tessilia’s people thus were less impoverished, but Natandre’s had more freedom. Neither truly being ideal for the lower-class citizens, but the freedom here would allow us to get most of the ingredients unnoticed. The nobility between the two countries had an agreement to report the purchasing of certain vegetation in exchange for money.
Due to this, we had chosen to seek out the remaining four ingredients in the outskirts market of this merchant city. We couldn’t guarantee they would have all the items we needed, but it was less likely the nobles would discover out we had purchased them.
The driver failed to avoid a large hole in the road and the right wheels ran through it. The cart almost toppled onto its right side. Several pieces of the cargo tumbled out onto the road. The horses were yanked to an immediate halt with the driver stumbling out of the cart shortly after. Curses fell from his lips as he kneeled around the debris, trying to salvage what he could.
We both hopped off the cart. Fletcher came along to my side as I attempted to help the driver. He growled and he looked back at the cart. His gaze snapped towards us. “The town ain’t far from this here point. Go send for the carpenter’s apprentice to come with spare wheels,”
Standing back up, I nodded at the driver. “Sure, we can do that,”
The driver went back to his ruined wares and I jogged to catch up with Fletcher who had slowly started down the road while keeping an eye on me. Falling in sync with him, I adjusted the strap of my satchel.
“If we can’t find the remaining ingredients here, we’re going back to the central market then?” Fletcher’s looked at me from the corner of his eye.
“No, we will have to go looking for them elsewhere,”
“Do we have time to spare though?” Fletcher frowned while running a hand through his hair.
“We lose our only chance at a cure if Azalea is arrested. Any other doctors to the masses aren’t close and we’d probably have to enslave ourselves to some noble house to get them to potentially give us a cure. And what’s the point in surviving this infection just to be ensnared for the rest of our lives? Azalea is the only option and though it may not seem it, the Tessilia nobility is a very prominent threat,” I understood his concerns. This whole trip I was praying that we would find all the items quickly, but at the same time, we couldn’t stop being cautious just to try to get a cure sooner. Unfortunately, this infection would require much patience.
“I am afraid we don’t have turoo root or hibiscus drop flowers,” The shopkeeper proceeded to put back various bottles on the warped, wooden shelf in front of her.
Fletcher let out a low grumble. This was the fifth and last botanical shop in the market and we were still missing two ingredients. I sighed and tried not to breathe too deeply. Botanical shops tended to smell like a failed concoction. Most of the vegetation on its own would smell good, yet putting it all together was horrible. My stomach felt queasy. I would need to leave soon.
“Do you know where we can find them?” Fletcher pulled out our worn, brown map from his pack.
The shopkeeper fixed her eyes on it, her thick frames almost falling off her nose. She shuffled over to her uneven countertop and sat down on the tall, wicker stool behind it. She softly tapped on it. Fletcher quickly laid out our map of Natandre across it.
I slowly approached, my right arm hugging my middle. My cool, leather coat felt refreshing to my warming skin. The smell of sweet peas though faint among the other smells, was gradually becoming more noticeable to me.
“You cannot guarantee that any other shops will have it unless you go to a central market,” She dragged her finger along the map indicating the cities with them.
Fletcher grimaced and ran a hand through his hair. He retrieved a bronze coin from his pocket and slid it towards the woman. “We can’t go to those,”
The woman snatched the coin and nodded her head in understanding. “Well then, the locations I would suggest going to are the Circle Water Veil for the hibiscus drops and the Jindi Caverns for the turoo root. They aren’t the closest locations, but the nobility doesn’t go to them to collect their supply,” She tapped at each spot as she spoke.
“Thank you,” Fletcher memorized the locations on the map.
“Get your girl out of here before she upchucks in my store. You’ll be cleaning it up if she does,” The woman disappeared to the back of her shop.
Fletcher glanced over at me, letting out a low hiss. Jamming the map into the pocket of his jacket, he swiftly heaved me over his shoulder.
I clamped my hands over my mouth. I tasted acid from the jarring, sudden motion. Shortly though my lungs were taking in the fresh air as a cold breeze cooled my heated face. Fletcher set me down on an overturned barrel and kneeled in front of me. Both of his hands rested on my shoulders, keeping me at arms distance.
I closed my eyes while tilting my head back. My stomach steadily settling and my mind clearing. I wondered if I’d ever be able to enjoy the smell of sweet peas? Or any other mementos of my mother?
“Evelyn, are you ok now?” Fletcher lightly shook my shoulders.
“Yes, those shops just have too many different smells in such a closed-off space. I just get overwhelmed by them,” I rubbed at my face with my right hand.
“The sweet peas don’t help either,” He mumbled.
I dropped my hand and locked eyes. “You remembered that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know…” Maybe I hadn’t expected him to after the rejection in the past, but this just further proved how he had been trying, changing. I was still struggling though to completely see him though for this new Fletcher, free of the old one. But maybe with yet more time, I would be able to.