Fitseren was a town of money and commerce and goods moving through at a rapid pace. Sailors came in and out, stayed in the cheap inns for a couple of days gambling away their money and then left again. Rich merchants stayed in the richer part of town and the workers living their day to day life lives in the poorer part of town. Due to the high amount of opportunities for work and making money, many folk came to Fitseren. Not many made it out of the slums though, and the area around the bay was littered with huts, tents and houses that looked like they should have fallen over several years ago. Cobal and Mana spent the morning looking around Fitseren while the others would procure a passage to Rildar. “What do you want to see?” Cobal asked.
“I don’t know, back in my old world we’d sometimes go on holiday to the countryside. I remember it well, my parents would get a cabin that you can rent, which is usually in a park with many other cabins, and then we’d drive around and do activities in the area.” Mana’s face grew melancholic. “I remember one year, there was a basketball court and we’d go there every day. We would get ice cream in the nearby village as well. They had great flavors.”
Cobal laughed. “I don’t recognize half the things you’re talking about.”
“It’s things that were common in my own world, but you have neither of those things here.” Her eyes seemed to catch something. “Basketball was a game we used to play, kind of like what those kids are doing over there.” She pointed at a group of children kicking a ball around. As they stood and watched for a moment, one of the kids kicked the ball far too high and it landed near Cobal and Mana.
“Mister, could you kick the ball back please,” one of the kids yelled.
“What are you kids doing?” Cobal asked, walking up and kicking the ball back to one of them.
“We’re playing kickball, wanna join?”
The kid thought for a moment. He looked to be around eight or nine years old. The other kids looked to be of various ages, the older ones being young teenagers and the youngest one looked almost too young to be running with the bigger kids, but the young girl had the brightest smile on her face that Cobal’d ever seen so he was sure it was all fine.
The boy grinned. “You can be our goalman,” he said.
“Hey, that’s not fair, he’s way bigger than Stevre,” one of the other boys complained, pointing at their team’s goalman.
“You guys are already winning, so it’s fine, right?”
The kids begrudgingly agreed and the kickball game continued.
The river that they’d arrived in on was one side of the improvised court. On the other side was a row of houses and huts, with men and women sitting outside them. They were all working on something. Most were making clothes or blankets but some were working on furniture and a bit off in the distance there was a forge billowing smoke out into the morning sky. Mana had taken a seat next to some of the women who were keeping an eye on the kids while they worked.
After about twenty minutes or so of playing and trying his best to avoid getting too muddy – something that the kids clearly had different ideas about – he stopped. “Maybe ask that nice lady over there if she wants to play with you all,” he said with a sly grin, pointing at Mana.
Two of the kids immediately ran over and pulled Mana out of her chair.
“Good luck,” Cobal said as he walked past her and took her place on the creaking chair.
The women sitting in a little half circle watching the kids play all introduced themselves. Cobal introduced himself as well. Only as Cobal, but they’d already caught on to who he was anyway. Most of them at least, as one woman said “that’s the same name as the prince,” before another one burst into laughter. “That is the prince, Martha.”
“That’s ridiculous, what would a prince be doing here?” The woman named Martha protested.
“I’ve seen him before Martha, when Jarson and I went to the capital. Remember that?” The woman suddenly seemed to become very aware who she was talking to. “Your highness,” she quickly added.
Cobal smiled. “Just Cobal is fine. What are you working on?” He asked the woman – who had introduced herself as Jacintha – to change the subject.
“Mostly just new clothes for the kids. They outgrow em so fast.”
“They’re energetic kids,” Cobal remarked. “I’m sure they go through sets of clothes very rapidly.”
Several of the women laughed. “You have no idea.”
“Could I ask you a question?” One of the women said. Cobal remembered her introducing herself as Lianna, she seemed to be working on building a desk of sorts out of old planks and driftwood.
Cobal nodded. “Certainly.” He was rubbing his hands together to keep the cold at bay. He realized how cold it was now that he’d stopped moving around. The overhang and some of the buildings provided a little bit of shelter from the wind but the seaside was definitely colder than what he was used to.
“If you’re the prince, then is that lady over there the hero?”
“That is Mana, the hero we summoned to help our kingdom.”
“She doesn’t look like a hero.”
“Martha!” one of the other women said in a reprimanding tone.
“What? I didn’t mean anything with it, it’s just an observation. She’s just very different from the stories we were told about the previous hero when we were children. I assumed the new hero would be some powerful warrior or even some strange creature from a strange world. She’s just a nice lady you’d find on any street.”
Cobal smiled. “I’m sure she’d take that as a compliment.” He paused for a moment, watching his cold breath disappear into the air. “I don’t know if Mana will ever become a powerful warrior that can split mountains or control the weather or duel a thousand soldiers with ease. But I strongly believe that this kingdom needs Mana. I know that sounds vague, but I think very highly of her. She’s made me see truths I’ve been ignoring my entire life. She’s made me view the world from a completely different perspective and she’s already brought many people closer together. She’s elicited empathy from the stoic and bravery from the fearful.” Cobal stood up. “And if none of that convinces you, just take one look at the smiles on those children. “He gestured at the kids who were all running around the field with Mana, smiling from ear to ear that this nicely dressed lady was now covered in mud and snow.
“Well, at the very least she’s not too haughty to spend time with normal folks like us,” Lianna said.
“She is normal folks like you,” Cobal corrected. “She wasn’t born in luxury. She didn’t grow up in a palace like I did. She’s just a normal woman who one day woke up in our world without knowing what happened. It only makes sense that she gets along well with normal folks.”
“But you’re here with us too.” Martha said.
“She has that effect on people.”
“You seem like you’d make a very wise king,” Martha said.
“Well thank you, but I doubt I’ll ever be king, so that’s not going to be very helpful. But my brother’s a great man too, don’t worry.”
Mana came walking up to them. “Let’s head into the town center for a bit,” she said. She turned to the women working. “It was nice meeting you all.”
“It was nice meeting you too.”
Cobal reached around in his purse for a little bit and pulled out a handful of silver coins. “I know it’s not much, but make sure that those kids have some extra delicious dinner tonight.” He put the points on the table.
“You’re far too kind,” Lianna said, grabbing Cobal’s hand and shaking it.
Cobal shook his head. “I know it’s not nearly enough, but take this as a promise. It’s a promise from me to you, that the crown has not forgotten its duty to the people.”
“May the gods bless you, your highness.”
Cobal waved at the kids as he walked away with Mana.
“I think we should try and find some clean clothes.”
“It’s not that bad, right?” Mana said. She looked down at her trousers. “Oh.” They were covered in mud.
Cobal laughed. “It’s more mud than fabric, let’s go find a clothing store.” They followed the winding path out of the slums and into the mercantile part of town. Luckily it didn’t take too long, as they had to endure some stares from passersby – because they were both covered in mud – they stepped into a small store. The corner of the store had a hearth that was burning brightly, greeting them with a wave of heat. A desk was located in another corner of the store and the room had a few tables with fabrics and clothes lined up on them, as well as a couple of racks. Talking to another customer was a middle aged woman with her brown hair tied up in a bun. She acknowledged Cobal and Mana when they entered but continued with the customer for another minute or so before walking up to them. “I’m guessing the two of you are looking for some clean clothes?” She said, wearing her best merchant smile.
“What makes you think that?” Cobal replied.
“I’m a magician, I can read minds.”
“Then why are you running a clothing store?” Cobal jabbed back.
“Funnily enough ,there’s more people around that are in need of new clothes than people who need their own minds read. Most people know what goes on in their own heads.” She smiled. “But if you’re here for mind reading I can provide that too.”
Cobal laughed. “Fair enough. And I’m afraid I have to disappoint you, since I’m here for clothes. We’re about to set sail again and as you can see, our current clothes have been dirtied. We’d each like something that can hold us warm on the open seas.”
The lady nodded. “Certainly, let me measure you both real quick and I’m sure I can find something that fits your needs without a problem.”
The lady meticulously measured each of them, making sure she wrote down everything she measured before going into the back of the store. After a minute or so she peeked her head back out from behind the curtain. “Do you want to change here or do you want me to pack it up?” she asked.
“I’ll trust your judgment, just pack up the clothes and we’ll take them with us that way, that’ll be easier.
She came back with two small bundles. Each bundle held some jean pants, the ones for Mana were a bit smaller but both looked like they were quite wide in their fit, probably prioritizing comfort over style. There were dark green tunics and black undershirts of a heavier fabric that would probably keep the wind out. “I hope something that matches is alright, I sell this set to people going out to sail quite regularly.” She put them down on the table in front of her. “Although most sailors go for something cheaper, the ones that have some extra money come to me.”
“Excellent, we’ll take them.” Cobal paid the woman for the clothes and picked the bundles up by the little strings that tied them together. They said goodbye to the women and left the store. The wind had picked up a bit and it was getting cold. “Let’s go find the others, we don’t want to miss the ship if they get one that leaves fast.”
Mana nodded. “And I wouldn’t mind being indoors, this weather is rough.” They quickly made their way back down the winding paths and towards the harbor.