CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Stoneybrook

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Stoneybrook

As they entered the village, Story tried not to stare. It was difficult—everything around her was so vastly different from what she’d come to expect from a town. She felt excited and anxious as she took in every detail. It was like she was in the most accurate Renaissance Fair village ever built; except that this was real life to these people. All around her there was movement, hustle and bustle, trade and commerce. Children chased dogs, farmers led livestock to market, women walked around with babies on their hips and baskets full of fresh bread or produce from the farmers’ market.

I really am in another world!

She watched as two women paused in front of a shop window and pointed at some vividly-colored orange cloth before stepping inside to get a better look. She could hear their laughter; she could hear everyone’s laughter all around her. One thing was certain; the gnomes were definitely not the little garden statues that populated lawns back in her world. On the other hand, they were obviously not elves or humans either.

Now that she could see several of them all at once, she confirmed what she’d assumed in her encounters with the solitary gnome travelers on the road. They were all short in stature, around five feet in height, plus or minus a few inches on either side. If Eirnin was an example of the elves’ typical dimensions, the gnomes were a shorter and hardier bunch—thick set and sturdy. Story thought that actually might have more to do with the nature of the labor-intensive farm work than anything else. They all had weather-beaten, sun-darkened skin, many as dark as the earth itself, and every one of them managed to look serious, yet all were quick with a laugh. Ultimately, the gnomes struck her exactly as Eirnin had first described them to her: earth people. They even smelled earthy.

“Hey, elf-boy, why are so many of them wearing their clothes inside out?” The gnomes all had on vivid and earthy shades of red, orange, brown, and yellow. Most of them also had tiny bells woven into their hair, or beards if they had them, which caused a constant, yet pleasant, tinkling sound in the background noise of the village.

“It’s another trick to keep away the fey. Same with the bells.” Eirnin inclined his head and greeted another gnome, who thankfully had no produce to give him. The bag of food Story was carrying was heavy enough.

“Ah, you mean it’s like bug spray.”

He cracked a smile. “Aye, if that is what you use to keep the fey in your world from bothering you, then yes, it’s just like bug spray.”

Starting about a mile before the village proper, the dirt road had gradually been replaced by a smoothly paved road. The paving stones themselves were gorgeous white marble with silver grain lines, just like the stones used for the bridge and building she’d encountered on her first day in Ailionora—at least from what she could see of them. The road was mostly covered by a thin layer of dirt, straw, and animal feces: the typical things you’d expect to encounter on a village road.

The buildings in the town were small, practical edifices made of wood siding, logs, and wooden shingles or thatch for roofs. Signs hung above all of the shops, each one with a picture describing the nature of the business carried on within: a milliner, cobbler, blacksmith, and many others. Despite its grimy and shabby appearance the road looked out of place—overly refined and artistically very different from the rest of the village.

“The gnomes didn’t build this road did they?”

Eirnin’s eyes widened momentarily, orange flickering through them. “Very perceptive. No, they didn’t build the roads.”

“The elves did. Back before the Change, I’m guessing.” It wasn’t a question; she was certain of this.

“Are you sure you’ve never been here before?” He sounded like he was only half-joking, so she pointed at her bandaged foot. “Oh, right.” He smiled wryly at her. “How could I forget? Well, you are correct, little human, back before the Change the elves built and maintained roads from Ailes to all of our cities. All that remains of them now are the bits that are kept up by the gnomes in their villages. The rest have long since been reclaimed by the forests.”

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