Long Fiction #2 – Exploring Gado

It took me three or four days to recoup enough solitude that I wasn’t feeling jittery and overtired. I spent them quietly, divided between my room, the courtyard, and the baths. Out of deference to Eskir’s wanderlust, our late afternoons were occupied by tours of Gado under the tutelage and direction of Chema, the eldest, and her younger brothers, Argane and Eno. The kids weren’t as young as I’d initially thought. Although their slight stature made them look a few years younger, Chema was fourteen and the boys were twelve. As we wandered, Eskir and I heard a fair amount about their family and how the three of them were trying to help support their family while their father, a dockworker, recovered from a broken arm. It came out that their mother took in laundry, which allowed her to stay at home with the surprise who’d been born a year ago. That was our laundry problem solved, at least.

Chema was a good guide and the three of them were patient with our attempts at speaking Gado. Chema insisted we spend our time primarily in the inn and market districts while our language skills developed, as strangers frequently visited those areas and as a result people would be more likely to overlook our lapses in language and custom. I couldn’t fault her logic. That the kids were patient with our clumsy tongues did not mean they were gentle; indeed, it seemed that the three of them delighted knowing more than us and were slightly annoying with their continual corrections. When I’d remarked on this to Eskir one evening, he replied that he’d rather get scolded by children than get cheated in the market. I couldn’t fault his logic, either.

As a city, Gado stretched along the coast for some distance and occupied most of the sharp decent between the plateau and the waves. Buildings were clustered together in what seemed at a distance to be utter chaos, resolving into coherent neigbourhoods the more we walked. Most of the stone buildings in the city were plastered in something thick, slightly abrasive, and brilliantly white and it took me a while to overcome a feeling akin to snow blindness the first day. As we wandered, I saw at distance areas where the builders had added colour to the plaster, resulting in walls or domed roofs in creamy yellows, pinks, peaches, and blues. I asked Chema why this was and didn’t fully comprehend her answer. Something about residents being the same and different combined with hand gestures that might have meant inclusion, separation, and conflict, or other things entirely. I attempted to clarify but was unable to bridge the gap. Sensing her frustration with my language skills, I dropped the conversation and made a mental note to ask Tyr about it when we got back to the inn.

That afternoon Eskir and I were escorted to a nearby market, our trio of guides chattering like starlings. I made out that we could expect to buy food there and look at some vendors selling trinkets for tourists. When I tried to give Chema money for the food purchase the way we had on previous outings, she gave us stern looks and told us we’d be ordering our own food so we could practice our Gado. I would have laughed at her solemn commitment to our Gado if I knew it wouldn’t have offended her deeply. Such a mother hen! At least Eskir and I were good with coins now, thanks to some hasty instruction on Tyr’s part regarding making purchases and what we could expect for costs. He really went above and beyond with his customers, although I got the sense that his level of attention to us was due to his curiosity about Eskir. It was amusing, watching them talk or play stones of an evening, all shy smiles and mild fidgeting. I was happy for Eskir, although I knew that if Tyr hurt him, I would be livid. Well, I’d cross that bridge if I came to it.

Nested in a long rectangle between some multi-storied buildings, the market buzzed with the sounds of people making the rounds. Vendors called out their wares over the sounds of sizzling from the cook shops and negotiations from the stalls, and there wasn’t a truly quiet spot to be had. As we did a quick circuit of the cook shops deciding our menu I was bombarded with smells I had no reference for, some sweet, some salty, some pungent. Ingredients I couldn’t identify were piled on tables or heaped in bins alongside those I could and it seemed every cook we passed had a combination of things I wanted as soon as I could smell it. This was amazing! Chema flashed a grin at her brothers and winked at me, saying we could come back tomorrow if we wanted to. I nodded enthusiastically, turning to look for Eskir.

Eskir was a few paces behind us, white to the lips, staring at something. Furrowing my brow, I handed my small coin purse to Chema and approached him, grabbing his arm and gently pulling to get his attention. His attention snapped to me and he seemed surprised to find me there. “Oh. Uh… Hey, Dyre.”

“What’s going on, ‘Kir?” I asked quietly in Frejan.

“Uh… nothing?” he replied, voice tipping up, establishing his uncertainty. “If by ‘nothing’ I mean that there is a very tall lizard making that person’s meal and I really don’t know what to think about that.” His eyes darted back to where he had been looking before I’d interrupted. I followed his line of sight and saw that indeed, there was a large, lizard-like figure expertly handling the contents of a flaming wok.

“Hey. Look at me. You know it’s rude to stare,” I said, squeezing his arm again.

He gave me a look of disbelief. “That’s what you’re telling me right now?! Seriously?! There’s a bloody lizard making lunch!” He was practically squeaking in his indignation, eyes goggling almost out of their sockets as he stared at me.

“Yes,” I said firmly, squeezing his arm so hard he winced. “You don’t get to walk into someone’s home and pass judgment based on no direct information. You were raised better than that and you hated it when it was done to you. Take a second and look around—really look. I’ll wait.” Nervously, he peered around, but I could tell from his unfocused gaze that he wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. Regaining his attention, I continued, “Clearly, that vendor is well trusted here, judging from the lineup to buy food from them. This may be unexpected for you, but it is clearly normal for the citizens in this market. If you can’t get yourself together, we need to leave. Maybe even leave Gado and take you back home where you won’t be so uncomfortable.” He shifted on his feet. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get away from my withering glare or flee the scene all together. At the moment, I didn’t care. He wasn’t going to embarrass that vendor, or our guides, or us, not if I could help it. “Do I need to get you out of here, or are you going to get your shit together?”

His eyes widened more, if that were possible. I swear so rarely you’d think I never do it at all, and he knew it. He swallowed hard and tried to force himself to relax. I started breathing slowly and deeply, knowing that his body would mirror that even if he didn’t consciously realize it was happening. After a moment he gave me that look of his and I nodded, still holding his arm, but relaxing my grip a bit. Catching on, he closed his eyes and breathed a few more deep breaths. When he surfaced his composure was somewhat restored. “I’m good now, Dyre. I swear. Let’s stay in the market.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, giving him a hard look. I tried to edge some compassion in there, but I don’t know if it showed. I was pretty mad, although I had a feeling it wasn’t all directed at Eskir. How people treat each other, especially poorly, always gets under my skin.

“Yeah, I am sure. I promise,” he said, gently tugging his arm free.

“Don’t fuck this up, ‘Kir,” I warned, releasing my grip. He nodded hastily though I barely saw it, turning to find Chema and the boys. At first I didn’t see them and a flutter or nerves ran through my gut as I realized I wasn’t sure I could get us back to Sheathsholme on my own. Then I spotted Eno standing on the edge of a large fountain staring at us and felt relieved. I nodded my head to him and he and waved at me to join him. I smiled a tight reply and started weaving my way through the crowd, half listening for Eskir behind me.

“Everything good?” Eno asked with a puzzled look.

“It is now,” I replied, nodding.

Contentment soothed his features. “Chema and Argane went to get food,” he said, miming eating. When we nodded, Eno jumped from his ledge and lead us to a nearby grocery stall, giving us a short lesson in what different foods were called while we waited. We had a sketchy sense of fruit by the time Chema and Argane found us, carrying baskets. We found some shade and made a picnic out of the contents, Argane and Eno explaining what we were eating and Chema showing us how the different utensils worked. Most of it was recognizable, although spiced and presented in ways I’d never experienced. A few of the utensils were new, including a clever slotted spoon for eating a brothy seafood stew that I really enjoyed and an oblong type of paddle-knife for the thick paste of olives spread on flatbread which Eskir practically inhaled. Chema had gone to a number of stalls, collecting things from each so we could have a wider experience, which I appreciated, the adventure of flavours and textures restoring my good temper. Once we were done eating, the trio took us to a small fountain just outside the market and showed us how to rinse the bowls and utensils that Chema had brought us. She handed one of everything to Eskir and I, explaining that if we wanted food in the market and brought our own containers we could be charged less. She also handed me back my coin purse and I returned it to my vest again, noting absently that it was lighter, although not tremendously so. We could definitely afford to come back here to eat again. I mentally did a little jig at the thought.

Chema and Eno were having a quiet, rapid conversation while Eskir and I washed our things and I saw them both casting quick looks at Eskir. Finally, Chema nodded and Eno shrugged. Turning to us, Chema said that they were going to bring us back to Sheathsholme as they had something they needed to do. Internally, I sighed. Great. Eskir offended the guides. It probably wasn’t the biggest problem if they decided they’d rather not be seen with us; I was sure we could find someone else to act in that capacity, tourism in Gado being what it was. I had grown a bit fond of them over the past few days though, and I know I enjoy myself more when I am familiar with the people around me. This seemed doubly important being in a city where I barely spoke the language and was almost completely unfamiliar with the cultures. Having to learn the mannerisms of a new guide would be fine, but I knew observing them would distract me a bit from taking in Gado. Well, it was what it was. Nodding to Chema, I stood and picked up one of the baskets. The walk back to Sheathsholme was quieter than our other returns, but I didn’t get the sense that it was unfriendly. Maybe Eskir hadn’t bungled things too badly after all?

When we arrived at the inn, the trio followed us inside. Chema shooed us away while Eno and Argane went around the pick-up counter and disappeared into the kitchen. I thanked her for taking us to the market and let her know that we’d like to go out again tomorrow if they were available. She smiled politely without committing. Fair enough. I waved awkwardly and headed through the dim interior to the courtyard. I heard Eskir make a hesitant apology behind me and then follow, almost on my heels.

“Uh, Dyre? Are we okay?” he asked as we passed the pool on our way to the rear staircase.

“Yeah,” I sighed, suddenly tired again. “We are. I am not ready to talk about what happened yet though.”

“There’s more to talk about?” Eskir asked sounding confused.

“Yeah, there is,” I nodded. “But not right now. I want to go read and digest that lovely meal in peace.”

There was uncertainty on his face when he nodded. “Okay. I can find something to do, then.”

“You do that,” I said, opening my door. “If I am not out by dinner, please come get me.”

He was nodding again when I closed the door behind me.

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