For as far as I could see Stillwater was surrounded by sturdy, pale-yellow stone walls that seemed to radiate heat as they gleamed in the sun. A path branched off from the main road, leading to a gate that was guarded by men in black. More black-clad guards were patrolling the walls.
In front of the gate there was a line of about two dozen pedestrians waiting to be admitted, and I joined them. The woman in front of me was carrying a basket with two geese in it, one of which eyed me with suspicion. None of the humans paid me any attention.
The guards at the gate seemed to be doing a thorough job of interrogating everyone who sought entry to the city and searching the various items they were carrying, and progress was slow. Every now and then we were passed by riders, all dressed in black, entering or leaving the city.
I thought about what Jarvik had told me about Lowanda. Which was very little. He hadn't even given me directions to her house, telling me instead to ask at the gate. I hadn't given any thought yet to what I would do after I'd delivered Jarvik's letter. Though Jarvik had advised me not to stick around, I might be able to find work in the city. I still had most of the money that Jarvik had given me, and I decided to see if I could find a place to stay for a couple of days and look around.
Through the gate I could see the woman with the geese enter a narrow street, and I was facing the two men in black at the gate. I peeled off my backpack and got out the letter from Jarvik.
"Jarvik sent me to deliver a letter to someone named Lowanda. He told me to ask you where to find her."
The eldest of the two guards took Jarvik's letter of recommendation and inspected it carefully before giving it back to me.
"You a law-man?"
"No. I'm just delivering this message, that's all."
He held out his hand.
"Just give it to me and I'll take care of it for you."
"Jarvik would want me to deliver it in person."
He shrugged. "Suit yourself."
He ended up ordering a drone in black to take me to "the commander", who I assumed to be Lowanda. My backpack wasn't searched, for which I was grateful. I wasn't sure what they would have made of my storyteller's cloak or whether they would have known what it was, but I was beginning to think that having it on me was not a good idea.
I followed my guide up a narrow street. When we turned the corner at the end my senses were assaulted by colours, smells, sounds coming at me from all directions. We were in some kind of market square, a maze of stalls lined at the edges by open storefronts.
My guide noticed my lagging behind and turned to me.
"Not used to city life, are you?"
"No," I said, "I'm not".
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