A Tale of Two Bori: Part Three
There was a thick mist in the morning air when Feinly awoke. Her snout peeked from beneath the bamboo shelter she had crafted so hastily the night before, testing the air as though to make sure it was not poisonous. Her sensitive ears picked up on the hustle and bustle of the town, coming alive with their morning routines. Hesitantly, the white Bori crept forward, parting the stalks of bamboo to take her first look at the Shenkuu citizens.
The port town was already drawing a crowd, traders and merchants hawking their wares from market stalls. There were Neopets of all different kinds, for which she would learn the names later – plump ones with tiny wings and snub noses, called Skeiths; round-faced ones with large eyes and long winding tails, called Mynci; ones with large ears and artful stripes throughout their fur, called Kougras; and so many more, all unfamiliar to her. What she did not see were other Bori. She realized sadly that she was probably the first one to come to Shenkuu. Her race had a deep connection with their ancestral home, the mountains she promised never to return to.
Feinly watched them for a long time, studying the locals and trying to glean their customs. From what she could tell from her vantage point, they were not a violent or dangerous country. They dressed in colorful clothes, often red and gold like she had seen on the fishing boat, or adorned with patterns such as flowers or birds. Many of them, males and females both, let their hair grow long so that they could tie it into a knot, held in place with thin decorative sticks. They exchanged scrolls, fanciful foods, exotic petpets in little cages, even some artistic weaponry, nothing like the things Feinly was used to. In the frigid Ice Caves, everything was about practicality and usefulness. Garments were fashioned out of the most resilient, hardy materials, and were never dyed or embroidered to look pretty. Food was whatever could be scavenged, and was rarely cooked since that wasted energy and ingredients. She knew nothing about weapons, being a pacifist, but the Bori clan had more use for mining picks and tools than they did swords or staves. Everything she saw was so... fantastic.
A street performer, a flying creature she would later recognize as a Shoyru, fluttered down the street plucking a melody on a small stringed instrument. Several of the passersby smiled and cheered, clapping and tossing gold coins after him. Several coins fell unnoticed near Feinly's hiding place in the bamboo, which caused her to freeze nervously. When no one chased after them, she let herself breathe a sigh of relief – she was still safe. She was beginning to feel painfully hungry, though, exhausted from the stress. There was a food cart on the path nearby, the foreign aromas making the Bori's tasseled tail flick back and forth with anticipation.
When the sun reached high noon, she could wait no longer, and edged from her cover into the open. She stooped down to pluck the abandoned coins between her heavy claws, and shuffled anxiously closer to the merchant, wondering what she should say. She could not understand the language these locals spoke, and she obviously looked and dressed differently from them. She swallowed audibly, ears flattening back as she felt the surrounding Neopets begin to take notice of her and stare. Ducking her head low, Feinly reached the food stall and set the coins down on the counter. Would they even give her food, knowing she was an outsider? Would she get arrested, or deported, for having stowed away? She wrung her tail between her claws, too distressed to watch what happened.
With a gentle clink, a cup of tea and a small bowl of food was set down in front of her. Feinly glanced up in surprise, meeting the Nimmo trader's friendly smile. He gestured toward the dish of noodles and vegetables, clearly offering them to her in return for the coins she had proffered. Haltingly, Feinly reached forward, accepting the meal. It was the most beautiful food she had ever seen in her lifetime: colorful vegetables diced atop the thin noodles and broth, artfully arranged and accompanied with two thin sticks as utensils. She carried it, and the teacup, precariously balanced between her claws as she made her way over to a bench shaped like some fantastic creature. It was like a dream. All that she had left behind felt like a lifetime ago. This was a land of color, of warmth, of plants and waterfalls and paper lanterns and costumes, and delicious food, she added mentally as she tasted her first bite of Shenkuu cuisine.
Feinly sat on that bench until long after the sun set, and the lanterns were lit again to illuminate the paths and shops and wooden bridges beneath the stars. She took it all in, wide-eyed and silent, only moving to take an occasional sip from her teacup. As the traders returned to their ships and the merchants closed up their shops, the noise of the crowd gradually faded into the soothing rhythm of the ocean tides, and the nocturnal melody of the Naleaps. A sweet scent on the breeze chased away the food aromas, rustling Feinly's white fur before scudding away into the bamboo.
What was that fragrance? She had noticed it last night, too, but had been distracted by everything around her. Most of the foreign Neopets had dispersed now that the market was closing, so she felt safe enough to step into the street and explore a little. Of course, she cast many anxious glances over her shoulder, making sure no one was following her, but she still felt a flutter of bravery at her willingness to try so many new things at once.
The sweet perfume on the air led her past the ornate buildings, along a small stream with a little bridge, up a set of stone steps carved into a slope. At the top of the gentle incline was a grove of trees flush with tiny pink blossoms, redolent of the sweet fragrance that led her there. They were cherry blossoms, though she did not know the name yet; their delicate petals drifting to carpet the ground like pink snow.
Of course the Bori had never seen anything like this in her sheltered life, and this sight called to her more than any other. She had never had an inclination toward athleticism, craftsmanship, battle, any of the callings her fellow Bori seemed so naturally aligned with. Yet all along there had existed this land of her dreams, the paradise of flowers and trees and seasons and warmth. She caught a petal on the tip of her claw, marveling at the delicate edges and soft blushing color. No snowflake could ever waft this way, or perfume the air with such a fragrance. This flora could never survive in the harsh climate of the winter mountains. And it was this understanding that brought a smile to Feinly's face.
She wanted to be a part of it all. To be more than simply a bystander watching flowers grow, Feinly wanted to cultivate and landscape, to nurture these precious blossoms herself and let the garden be a part of her. She could devote her life to preserving and maintaining them, carving herself a home in the misty slopes of Shenkuu.
The inexperienced Bori had much to learn about gardening before she could begin. The basic needs of a plant are water, sunlight, and soil. Each flower exists to produce a seed, which in turn can be nurtured into a new plant. Every plant has some form of leaves, to capture sunlight, and roots, to capture nutrients from below ground. Trees were once tiny seeds as well, but after many years grew to be giants. Feinly pored anxiously over the scroll she had been given by a kindly Wocky merchant, running her claws gingerly over each painted illustration. Of course, she could not read the writing, but the simple drawings had been intended for Shenkuu children learning about nature, and were quite straightforward.
She curled her whip-like tail around her feet, tilting her face up to the sun. It was easy to imagine flowers drawing their sustenance from such warm rays of light; she herself felt energized and invigorated every time it washed over her. She had already come a long way from the tunnel dweller that squinted fearfully whenever it was not dark. She was, however, still too shy to interact directly with the Shenkuu residents unless it was absolutely necessary – such as purchasing food or scrolls from them. Feinly did not have a social personality, and so far preferred the company of plants.
The white Bori meticulously rolled up the scroll, tucking it beneath her arm as she rose to her feet. It was time to choose a location. She wanted her own garden home. It had to be somewhere outside of the town, where the locals would not come bothering her or be upset by her presence. Somewhere abandoned.
She spent her day wandering up into the hills, calmly surveying the land outside of the port town. The altitude climbed higher as the winding footpaths circled upward, intersected by the trickling streams that fed the waterfall pools below. Wizened old trees jutted out into the misty air, marking small groves of wild Purplum, almonds, or bamboo. Away from the noise of the market, Feinly felt more peaceful and relaxed than she ever had before. The solitude combined with the sheer natural beauty was stunning.
There. Barely visible from the path she was following stood a sagging wooden gate, the gold paint peeling from its unstable legs held together by cord. As she drew nearer, she saw that there were flat stones embedded in the ground, a path to the long-forgotten shrine. Wild bamboo grasses had overtaken the enclosure, uprooting some of the walking stones and concealing a small pool of clear water. The hill rose steeply to create a wall behind the gully, with several old cherry trees framing the edges.
It would take a lot of work to carve terraces into the hill, to expand the area, to cultivate her own plants and chase away the stubborn weeds. It could even take a lifetime. That was the thought that excited Fein the most.
To be continued...