Belgera, part two

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It took the better part of two days to settle the members of the caravan in the city, and when they were done all inns were filled to capacity. In reality most traders were housed with families who wanted to make some unexpected money from the arrivals, something Harbend had told Arthur was a very lucky turn of events.

That didn't need any explaining. After months spent with the wagon train Arthur was more than tired of going to sleep dirty and cold. The capture, awful as it had been, had still broken the endless monotony of the journey, and he had a dim memory of something happening. Most of the traders had not even seen the battle where they finally broke off any further attempts at recapture.

Arthur grimaced with ill hidden distaste. He'd seen very little of the fighting itself, but he had seen the grounds where it had occurred afterwards. It must have been a bad fight, and he was surprised so few of their escort were killed. So many bodies in the snow, most of them badly mutilated. Arthur wondered what could have made the soldiers from Gaz so desperate they continued fighting after loosing limbs. Fanatics, they must have been filled with some mad warrior's ideal, or possibly something even worse.

Arthur sighed. Warrior's ideal. Gring why don't you tell me what happened?

She never answered when asked and he had to satisfy with her refreshing frankness in all other matters. He asked Harbend, but he knew nothing, and asking the golden mage was out of the question. She was an uncomfortable acquaintance at the best of times.

For the moment Arthur was happy enough to explore the city by himself or in the company of friends. He did appreciate it as a city even though it wasn't large enough to be a suburb on Earth, but the last months had taught him something about proportions, and now he walked among the gray stone houses with the same feeling of wonder as if he had just arrived in one of the many exotic capitals at home.

Another thing gave him pause. Earth was home, but he thought less and less of it in those terms for every month he spent here. This was a violent and barbaric world, filled with death and disgusting deeds, but somehow it still felt more alive than the placid world he'd grown up on.

Apart from the silent parts of the central city this place was vibrant with life, almost like Verd, but in a very different way. Belgera was built in a harsher part of the world, and even though it shared some of the magical wonders people here still had to fend for themselves more actively.

Most streets needed cleaning, and water had to be brought from wells. Apart from a few broad avenues Belgera was a maze of narrow streets ending in small squares with a well in the middle and shops strewn along their sides.

Then, of course, there was the immense cliff climbing into the clouds walling he city on three sides. Arthur didn't know how many hundred meters of vertical stone it was. Maybe thousands, and it all blocked any chance of the sun ever reaching here. It was a shadowy world, constantly lit by lamps and the occasional torch. In a city of dusk and night people made out their lives and created things of astonishing beauty, but sometimes Arthur longed for some greenery.

He had to admire anyone who managed to bring more life to this vastness of stone than he had ever met on Earth. Only the arrogant inhabitants on Mars kept up a similar show, but then they were all supposed to be a little crazy. Arthur wondered if the proximity of death was needed to give life a meaning. Now that was a depressing thought.

One morning he strolled around with Harbend after they had managed to shake off the demands of traders, both members of the caravan as well as traders local to Belgera. They were in search for a late breakfast when they got lost and found themselves at the city wall. Arthur was about to turn when something caught his interest. A small sign bolted to the wall itself. He leaned closer to give it a better look. He could almost see the letters, but had to wipe them with his sleeve first. They were readable, faint but still readable. He turned in surprise.

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