A Tale of Two Bori: Part Seven
Feinly did not want to move when morning came. Her fur was still damp from yesterday's torrential rain, and the ground was still a thick sea of mud. She curled her tail more tightly around herself, stubbornly clinging to the cherry tree's base. She felt miserable. She was hungry, for she had not eaten anything the day prior, and there was a monumental task before her – repairing and rearranging all of the heavy stones for her garden. The small decorative pond had flooded, leaving the lower areas under several inches of swampy water. It was a disaster, and she did not want to deal with it.
When the afternoon came, mild sunlight filtering through the cloud cover, Feinly finally stirred. Her limbs felt heavy and unresponsive, and her stomach was cramping. She really needed to eat. Struggling to rise to her paws, the white Bori trudged through the deep mud, trying not to look at how her attempts at terracing the landscape had fallen apart. It was a tough lesson; she would have to work much harder to shore up the stone dividers in the future, because the flood had dispersed them effortlessly.
She made her way to the footpath, noting all of the broken tree limbs and leaves scattered before her. Puddles gathered in the ruts, leaving deep channels in the hillside where the water flowed downhill. It had been quite a storm, worthy of comparison to the blizzards and avalanches of her birthplace. The sour feeling of betrayal from yesterday faded into a sense of respect; of course nature had its sway in every land. Shenkuu was no more a paradise than Terror Mountain. It was simply a different world, and it would take time to learn all about the differences. Rather than deal with scavenging for fruit in the damaged forest, Feinly decided to visit the town as she had previously intended to. She could really use a hot meal, and her memory of those exquisite noodles in broth haunted her. She still had no coin, but felt hopeful that she could scrounge some as she had during her last visit.
As she continued down the path, Fein began to feel warm. She squinted up at the sky, expecting to see the sun emerging from the clouds, but it was just as overcast as before. She pressed the back of her paw against her forehead, and was surprised to feel the warmth was radiating from her own face. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on her nosetip. Why did she feel so hot all of a sudden? She was walking at a leisurely pace, but the winding path was beginning to make her dizzy. She wobbled for a moment, trying to catch her breath. It was as though the hill was spinning, and she simply could not keep up with it. It was no wonder she had not wanted to get up this morning – walking made her feel quite ill. She stumbled groggily for a few paces, her vision hazy. Had she reached the port town yet? She was so warm, and she just wanted to... rest...
Feinly felt very woozy when her eyes finally fluttered open again. She couldn't quite recall what happened – had she passed out on the path? She still felt warm and lightheaded, and now confused, because she did not recognize where she was. There was a heavy blanket draped over her, with a pretty gold trim and a pattern of flying birds on it. She was atop a bamboo pallet on the floor of a room dimly lit by candles. Did that mean it was nighttime? A small tray was arranged neatly by her head with a stone kettle and cup of green tea, along with some sort of dried and diced white root. She slowly sat up, dizzy and uncertain, before she reached out to grasp the teacup. The beverage temperature was cool, which made her wonder again how long she had been unconscious. After several sips, she sank back down against the pallet, unable to resist sleep...
Time passed Feinly by, and she remained oblivious to it. She would awaken only for brief moments, enough to sample whatever small items of food, drink, or remedy were left at her bedside, before the fever-induced weakness would wash over her and she was too exhausted to keep her eyes open. When she finally felt well enough to sit up and shed the blanket, she saw sunlight was streaming in through an open window in the small room. It was sparsely furnished, decorated only with a simple wall scroll painted in ink with a black and white circular symbol. Outside she could hear the chirping of Gikerot lizards sunning themselves, and the chatter of merchants in town selling their wares to the crowd. Feinly slowly rose to her paws, twisting her claws nervously. Someone must have found her passed out on the hillside and carried her back to town, and then nursed her back to health without even knowing who she was. She had no way to repay them.
She took a deep breath before walking to the door, relieved to feel strength returning to her. She needed to thank whoever it was, and explain that she was penniless and she was sorry. As the door creaked open into the hallway, she peeked anxiously around the corner, taking in her surroundings. It appeared to be a small shop, where she had been resting in a back room. Lines were strung from the ceiling to dry out various roots, flowers, and mushrooms, which were then stored in containers all along the shelved walls. The main counter, which she was behind, had stacks of tins that contained tea leaves and powders. A stone mortar and pestle was perched on a stool, still with some half-ground poultice inside. The shop was empty.
Then the front doors swung open, startling Feinly into emitting a squeak. The Neopet who entered was like none she had ever met before, although his appearance seemed vaguely familiar from her fevered dreams. He was a Ruki; his shiny insect carapace was chestnut brown and daubed with darker spots, swathed in a pale tunic marked with the same black and white circle she had seen in her recovery room. Thick bushy brows framed his golden eyes, matching the long mustache which hung low and white with age. He was the keeper of this shop, and he was undoubtedly the one who had cared for her.
"I see you are awake at long last," he said with a kindly smile, setting down the armful of supplies he was carrying. "I am the herbalist known as Anshu, and this is the Remarkable Restoratives shop."
She blinked for a moment, before replying hastily, "I can understand you! I, I mean, the other merchants... their language..." Her tail curled gingerly as a faint blush rose beneath her cheek fur.
Anshu nodded, busying himself by pulling several cases down from his well-organized shelves. "Indeed; I am versed in many languages from traveling in my youth, and when you spoke in your sleep I recognized your dialect. If you would like to learn the native Shenkuu tongue, I would be happy to lend you several scrolls from my library."
Feinly nodded mutely, dumbfounded by having someone to speak directly to after all this time. She shuffled several paces closer, trying to muster up the nerve to ask him what her debt was. He glanced over from his work, raising an eyebrow at her mannerisms.
"My dear, if you are wondering what brought you here, it was no trouble at all. I travel up into the hills frequently to gather my supplies. The day after a heavy rain is often the best time to locate certain mushrooms... but instead, I found you unconscious on the path, suffering from a severe fever. I brought you here to cure you, though it took a long period of recuperation. It's summer now, you know. I suppose that is to be expected when one comes from a vastly different climate..."
The Ruki continued speaking on about immune systems and travel, but Feinly was distracted by what he had said. It was summer now? She had been sick for weeks, months even? She had to get back to her garden, she was so far behind! What if the weeds had come back? What if more floods washed away everything? Uncomfortable, the Bori bowed her head, flicking the tasseled tip of her tail. She was too shy to interrupt, but her anxiety was soon noticed by the Ruki apothecary.
"...I apologize for my rambling, friend. You must have much to catch up on, and I must finish packing for the journey I am embarking on. Captain Tuan has invited me to join his crew aboard the Cyodrake's Gaze, so I will be abroad for some time. Let me put together some supplies for your safe recovery, as well as those language scrolls, and you can be on your way. Blessings of good fortune be upon you, traveler."
His nimble fingers plucked the scrolls from a high shelf, placing them on the counter as he organized a tin of herbal tea leaves, a white root, and a porcelain teacup not unlike the one from her room earlier. He deftly wrapped them in a silk cloth she assumed was a handkerchief, and pressed the bundle into her arms with a kindly smile. Feinly left the shop in a daze, awed by the kindness of this Shenkuuvian she had never met before.
The next several days were slow and relaxing for Feinly. She was still recovering from her illness, so rather than jump back into the physical labor of rebuilding her garden, she curled at the foot of her favorite cherry tree and read the language scrolls Anshu lent her. The summer sun was comfortably warm, making her drowsy and content while illuminating the words she was absorbing. Reading and writing had not been very useful skills on Terror Mountain, since it was too cold for them to use ink. They passed on lessons and history orally, and some of the oldest accounts were painted on the walls of the Ice Caves. Shenkuu, on the other hand, had vasts libraries of scrolls filled with invaluable information, and it was as though their world was finally opening up to her.
The first scroll she set about memorizing was the Shenkuuvian alphabet. The header mentioned an imperial exam for literacy, and in many different languages explained the importance of educating their citizens. Feinly traced the symbols into the soft ground with her claw, smiling broadly as she began to recognize the swooping curves and lines of each phonetic rune. Placing that scroll beside her as a reference, she began unfurling the others, including the illustrated gardening scroll she had been gifted months prior. By matching the symbols with their sounds, she could read them aloud, hesitantly at first but with growing confidence. It was magical. She no longer felt like a foreigner living outside of their society – thanks to Anshu, she would be able to fully integrate herself into Shenkuu. Her vocabulary was still poor, but the more she read, the more words she would commit to memory and use later.
It took her several days to finish translating them all, but once Feinly had finished, she felt enlightened and proud of herself. She had learned about irrigation from her garden scroll; that when terraced gardens were built in Shenkuu, they needed to account for rainwater and flash floods, so trenches would be carved into the slopes to direct the water's flow safely downhill. She learned about the history of Shenkuu, that they are ruled by an emperor and his daughters that live in a royal palace at the heart of their country. She learned that the many traders who populated their port towns were pushing against the isolationist policies, wanting to branch out and trade with other regions such as the kingdoms of Meridell and Brightvale to the east, or the wild villages of Tyrannia to the west. She learned about the fishing boats like the one she immigrated on, and the flying ships like the Cyodrake's Gaze, where Anshu and his crewmates must be now. Shenkuu was largely hidden away from the rest of the world, but times were changing, and soon more strangers like Feinly would come to see their beautiful misty mountains and make a life here for themselves.
It was enough inspiration for her to finally set about restoring her old shrine into the garden paradise she imagined. Feinly rolled up all her scrolls and stashed them in the silk handkerchief she had been given, nestling the precious bundle in the low-hanging branches of her cherry tree. Then she stepped out into the sunshine, blue eyes surveying the terrain with determination. Before this season's end, she would transform this rocky, muddy mess into something amazing.
To be continued...