Sora took one look at his surroundings and knew immediately that he was in the wrong place. He was on his way to make a delivery to a city called Valespur from another town. And while he had never been there, he knew this town was not Valespur. According to what the client had told him, it was a genuine city. Stone wall, major river just to the left, everything cities had including a bustling marketplace where people haggled and bartered to get lowest prices for their goods.
This was a town. No wall, no marketplace, just a deep forest to one side and a wide lake to the other. That was the last time Sora took directions from a hermit.
He sighed and walked toward the town anyway, hoping to ask someone for directions. As a trader, he had a pretty good relationship with most of the towns surrounding his own. Recently, he had opened his business to making deliveries for certain trusted clients, which meant moving into new territories. Even if this town was not his ultimate destination, there was a good reason to make nice with the townsfolk. It was a way to improve his client list, or even take an extra job to Valespur if someone needed.
At the entrance of the town, there was the usual watchman, hoping to keep the peace. Sora stopped to ask him the town name and if anyone from the town was well traveled who could help him out.
"Well, this here is Baumhain. There are a few tradesmen who come through here, but the last one left yesterday. Ya just missed her," the watchman told him, giving a shrug. Sora groaned, and the watchman raised an eyebrow. "Hm, 'less you wanna talk to the wizard- er- witch, whatever he is. His name is Riku. He's the only one in town who travels kinda often."
Sora perked up at the prospect of someone being able to help, "Where can I find him?"
Following the watchman's directions through town, Sora found himself on the far edge near the forest a good bit away from the rest of the town center. Tucked away in a covering of greenery, the two story stone building had wide glass windows on the bottom floor, displaying a wide range of potted plants and flower arrangements. The door was carved in an intricate pattern of vines reining together to form shapes and knots. It was heavy under Sora's hands as he pushed it open.
The inside of the building looked like a garden itself. Dried plants hung from the ceiling, tables lined with all kinds of flowers covered the space. Several large bags of dried herbs sat in the corner with a shelf holding a weight scale and small silk woven bags. In the windows, several small crystals dangled from string at varying heights, catching the light and making colors dance across the shop. And the fragrance. It was not overwhelming, but just enough to make him feel comforted and relaxed. Sora stared in wonderment. It was gorgeous. He had never seen anything like it.
"Can I help you?" Sora jolted out of his daze and spun around to see who was talking. He found a man standing behind a large wooden counter that was carved similarly to the exterior door. Long silver hair pulled back low with a piece of twine and rested over his right shoulder, he looked just as astoundingly beautiful as the rest of his shop. Dressed in lavender and earthy greens, he almost blended in with the mass of flowers next to him. Almost. He raised an eyebrow, as if to question Sora's staring.
Sora shook himself out of his daze and walked toward the counter, "Hi, yes, you're the wizard, right? I'm a trader and I was hoping you could give me directions to-" Sora stopped mid question. The man, Riku wasn't it, was actually glaring at him, arms crossed, and stiff posture. "Wha-"
"First, it's witch. I'm an earth witch." He snapped. The flowers around him took on a darker, more muted color. Sora would have questioned it if the man had not continued. "Second, if you are not here to make a purchase, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. My business is not in charity." Sora was taken aback at the sharpness of his tone.
"I-I'm sorry, have I done something to offend you? I'm not from here, did I miss something?" He tried apologizing. Being foreign usually gave tradesmen a pass for missing a custom, as long as they learned their mistakes. Sora had barely said anything to him, how could he have offended him?
Riku sniffed indignantly, "Surely you don't enter every place of business and not comment on their wares before asking anything else? That's uncommonly rude. Especially if you carry a business yourself."
Sora's eyebrows furrowed, "Excuse me, I'm lost, I was looking for help-"
"You'll find none here. The door is there, take your leave," the witch pointed to the door, and it flung open.
"Fine!" Sora stomped his foot before turning to leave. He felt childish for wanting to get in the last word, but he found himself shouting, "Your flowers are wilted anyway!" before slamming the door. At least it was true; the flowers on the counter looked worse and worse over the course of their argument to the point of wilting.
Sora stomped back to the town center, pacing his anger off and grumbling to himself. He realized he was causing a scene, but he was lost and angry and had nothing else he could do! Stupid witch and his stupid flowers- uhg!
An older woman exited a building nearby and noticed him. Looking around before approaching, she gave him a kind smile, "Dear oh dear, what's the matter? You're not from around here are you?"
Sora’s demeanor softened at her approach, but the frustrated crease between his eyebrows stubbornly stayed in place. He took a deep breath and spoke.
“I’m lost ma’am, would you happen to know which direction Valespur is in?”
“I’m afraid not dear, I’m not very good with directions these days. But, there is a witch near the edge of the forest who may be able to point the way for you. He receives customers from all over and is fairly traveled.” The old woman answered kindly.
Sora huffed, crossing his arms petulantly. “The one with the wilted flower shop? He nearly threw me out before I even asked for help! The last thing he’ll want is to see me again, I’m lucky he didn’t send me off with a curse or something. I’ve met a couple of people with curses and it’s never pretty.”
“A curse!” The elderly woman bubbled out with laughter, “Why, in all my years of knowing Riku he’s never even cursed a weed growing in his garden. I can’t imagine he’d use his magic for darkness.”
The affectionate tone the old woman had for the witch baffled Sora. He himself didn’t have much by the way of family, but he imagined this to be the tone a doting grandmother would adopt and he briefly wondered what Riku did to earn this affection.
“But, the boy is, headstrong.” She continued wisely, “You may have insulted him unintentionally. Witches are proud people and to ignore their craft could be taken as offence.”
Sora “ohhed” in understanding. That still left him with the same problem though. He didn’t want to be stuck in Baumhain for long with goods that need to be delivered. Back tracking was an option, but that would put him several days behindx. The trail he took to get here was stony and unpacked, unsuited for caravans to roll though for him to hitch a ride with to save time.
The old woman chuckled softly seeing the boy’s expressions flicker as the gears turned in his mind. She patted his face softly bringing his eyes back to her.
“Cheer up young man. Travelers come every few weeks, but my son goes to meet his fiancé in Valespur quite often and he should be back day after tomorrow- I’m sure he’ll be happy to give you directions. You can even stay in his room if you need a place to stay; there’s not much by the way of inns and I know he wouldn’t mind you taking his bed while he’s gone.”
“That, would be very kind of you,” he beamed.
She took Sora’s hand and tucked it in into the crook of her elbow while she lead the way through high walled cobblestone streets.
Her home was a quaint tudor style cottage with brick along the bottom half and long flowerpots underneath the windowsills with tiny purple cosmos flowers spilling out - Sora pouted when she told him it was Riku who sold her the flowers.
Inside was just as cozy. Hand knit afghans rested on nearly every piece of overstuffed furniture in an array of styles and colors, picture frames adorned the walls displaying smiling red headed children and their parents, and the smell of fresh bread made the air heavy like a blanket. They had a simple meal of split pea soup while she told Sora about herself, her family and life in Baumhain. Some of her family was still in Baumhain. Her name was Carole, she had a daughter and a few grandchildren here in town- the rest of her children were spread out and her son was in the process of moving to Valespur and starting his own family there. She used to be a horse veterinarian and even won a few trophies for riding, but retired thirty years ago when a kick to the leg crippled her for many months. She walks well enough now, but on rainy days the ache returns so she stays chair bound knitting to keep her occupied or spending time with her granddaughter.
Sora listened to her talk amiably sharing a few stories of his own and before they knew it night settled in.
“There are extra blankets, in the armoire, if you get cold.” She said between puffing breaths as she ascended the stairs. “It gets a little drafty, the windows, don’t shut properly I’m afraid.”
When they arrived Sora set his large pack next to the bed and examined the windows. “It looks like there’s some splintering wood that’s keeping it from shutting all the way. I can fix that for you if you like, I’m really good with my hands!”
“Oh that would be wonderful!”
“Is there anything else that needs fixing?”
Carole tutted and placed a few more blankets on the bed for him. “I can think of a few things.”
The next day Sora set to work. At his insistence she gave him task after task of small chores to help around the house. He worked to the point where she had to pull him away to feed him a sandwich and some juice which he swallowed down before the plate seemed to touch the table. He ran around town getting sanding paper from a store to smooth out the window frames, borrowed wrenches from neighbors to fix a leaky faucet in the kitchen, lubricated creaky door hinges, flushed out the rain gutters, cleaned out ashes from her fireplace, he even picked the lock of a music box she lost the key for like it was something he was made to do.
Finally around late afternoon Carole ran out of things for him to do. “I’m making you a wonderful dinner tonight.” She announced with determination, “You have a journey ahead of you tomorrow and you certainly earned it.”
Sora linked his fingers behind his head and tilted a little to the left with a grin. “Well, maybe it’s a good thing I was shooed away by that cranky witch after all. An extra day in a new town is kind of fun, and I like making friends.”
Carole patted his cheek. “I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding. You’re a very good boy, and so is Riku. You both have this warm light about you, I think you’d be good friends given the right circumstance.”
“I doubt it.” He shrugged. “He basically told me to never come back.”
Sora cleaned himself up and they set off to the market to get ingredients for a nice fish dinner. They picked up some fresh vegetables and were about to enter the fishmonger’s shop when a flash of silver caught Carole’s eye. A mischievous grin tugged her face and she placed a few copper coins in Sora’s hand.
“Why don’t you go in and purchase the fish?” She offered with a slight push, “My feet are tired from all this walking and since you’re from an island you must have excellent taste.”
As soon as he was in the store she hurried to find what she saw. After passing an accessory shop and a little boutique, she turned the corner and spotted who she was looking for.
“Riku.” She called out a little breathlessly from exertion. “It’s so rare to see you in the town, what could possibly bring you away from the forest?”
Riku blushed a little embarrassed, “Good evening Mrs. Laselle.” He greeted with a small bow of his head, an old fashioned gesture she recognized her parents used to do, “Medicine. A client came for a remedy a few days ago and is too sick to pick it up.”
“That’s very kind of you. I just met a little traveler who makes deliveries, he could be a help for you with these kinds of things in the future.”
Riku hmmed a bit awkwardly. “Perhaps. Well, I must be off.”
Carole could tell he felt uncomfortable being this far away from his shop. She could probably count the number of times he left his safe little edge of the forest and it pained her to see a good man like this isolate himself from other people.
“I was wondering,” Carole caught his attention mid step, “I haven’t been able to visit since your wonderful shop since it’s a rather far walk for me, and my cosmos are so beautiful, would you care to see them and have dinner tonight?”
He paused looking troubled for a moment, “Thank you, but I really must go back to my-,”
“It won’t be more than a few hours.” She insisted with a hopeful twinkle in her eyes. “I can show you pictures of my new grandchildren.”
“Well,” Riku’s shoulders sagged a little, submitting to her plea. “I suppose just for a little while…”
“Oh splendid!” She took his hand in her warm and wrinkled one. “I’ll get supper started quickly and you can entertain my young guest.”
At that moment Sora skidded around the corner and recognized Carole’s shawled shoulders. “Here you are Carole! I was looking all over for you, look! I don’t know how, but they had Allural Sea Bass and-”
Sora stopped in his tracks and gaped when his eyes met Riku’s, his face making the same uncomfortable expression as the dead fish looking up from the basket.
Carole grinned linking Sora’s arm in her other free one as she began to tote them both back to her home looking highly pleased with herself. “Good news Sora, Riku agreed to have dinner with us!"