The sun had been cruel to her family, the children especially. Anladet and her siblings had awoken to skin hot, dry, and red, blistered in some places. Their skin, a mix between their mother’s dark bronze and father’s fair color, was unused to the exposure an open beach brought. Even their father’s nose, cheekbones, and forehead were pink where the sun had burned them, though he had spent quite a bit of time under the awnings the town provided. He left that morning and returned with an ointment for them to rub on their skin.
Their view in the hotel had been limited to the buildings across the street and the ones right up against the other side. Martin didn’t want his family stuck inside when they were capable of at least walking and seeing. They decided to get dressed after breakfast and explore the town.
The street they were on ended in an L-shape, then turned toward the center of town. The buildings on the western part of the road stopped abruptly, replaced by a forest of short pines. “Why do you think it’s wooded here?” Martin asked.
Garlin and Sildet kept throwing out answers, starting with obvious ones and moving eventually into fantastical ideas that sometimes bordered on silly. Raidet rolled her eyes and tried to stay as far from her family as possible. Anladet spent her time looking around and trying to notice things, as her father had taught her. “Is it because of the wizard?”
Her father turned and raised his eyebrow. “Anla, I’m surprised you’ve joined your younger siblings in the fairy tales. I thought you would be the one to say the right thing.”
She was doubtful of her thoughts for a moment, but answered, “Wizards like to live in forests in high towers, yes? I thought maybe he lived up there.” She pointed up.
Martin looked as did the rest of her family, her mother holding her wide-brimmed hat to make sure it stayed on her head. Her father laughed. “Perhaps not exactly how I thought you were going to answer that, but you’re right in a way. These are the grounds of the Grand Courmet Hotel. They believe that forests are a great place for their customers to relax and retreat from the tribulations living in the city can bring.”
This was on odd concept for Anladet. Her tribe lived in a forest. Some were always relaxed while others weren’t. Maybe this was one of those “people do things differently and we should respect that” things that her father was always talking about.
There was a carefully lettered sign, very neatly written, that was tacked to a tree. Martin asked Garlin to read it out loud, which he did so with only a few stumbles.
Analussian Hot Springs
Soothes Wary Travelers
Open Viewing for the Public
“I think we may have found a lovely excursion,” her father said and led the family onto the trail.
Just a few hundred feet away, the path was raised by a boardwalk. Another sign requested for all visitors to proceed on the pathway for fear of injury or death. Not even Martin knew why. Anladet suspected there might be creatures in the forest that wouldn’t touch anyone on the path due to their fear of lumber. She squeezed Garlin’s hand, who looked around worriedly and wouldn’t let go.
“Ah,” her father said, holding the syllable out. They had reached the end and were instructed to stay on one side of a short fence to view the hot springs. “The ground must have been unstable or maybe there were small springs in the forest. I’ve read that some are very, very hot and can kill a person. They just did it for our safety, so we wouldn’t fall into one.”
Garlin let go of Anla’s hand and ran up next to their father. “Are these ones safe?” he asked, then added, “Martin?”
“I suppose so! See, there are people bathing over there!” he said, pointing far to the right.
Every one of them, even Raidet, leaned over the fence to view the swimmers. They were decently clothed, much as Anla and her siblings had been the day before, but in finer suits. The water was a soft blue, like the sky at the horizon in the middle of a hot day. Steam rose in plumes and obscured the scenery, which was likely more trees and flowers anyhow.
Another sign pointed left, informing the family that one hour’s time in the hot springs was priced steeply at eight silver per person (or it was complimentary with a stay at the hotel). It was yet another thing that would be too much for them. Though their father brought his family considerable means with his profession, and also helped considerably with the Deerborn tribe, he did not make enough to keep up with the typical patronage of Analussia.
If there were any doubts about what kind of clientele came to the opulent resort town, they were dispelled when they stood before the hotel. “Best behavior,” their father said. “No touching, no running. We’re just going to look inside and leave.”
Anladet was too awestruck to do anything but gape. Even outside, the richly embellished sign and the gardens along the front were enough to make her want to sit and take them in for a while. At home, only their house had flower beds and carved wood for decoration. It was one of many little things that Martin had added to blend he and his wife’s traditions together. Though tolerated by the tribe, his affectations were seen as queer. He therefore kept them relatively simple, not like the treasures in front of Anla.
Their father shepherded them inside the atrium of the hotel, where two men in crisp, dark brown uniforms that matched the exterior of the building greeted guests and opened doors for them.
Inside, the floors were shiny and white with sparkling, black veins. “That’s marble,” their father explained. “It’s very expensive.” The walls were covered in paper with a soft, tan color, like the beach sand. The counters and tables were made from a lacquered wood, gleaming as the morning sun strewn through the large windows.
Anla couldn’t help but gawk. She looked up and saw all the way to the top of the hotel, twenty stories high. Each floor had an open space in the middle where guests could view the sights below if they wished. The main attraction would be the indoor garden. Indoors! And they were real plants, which she needed to verify by rubbing the broad leaf of one plant between her fingers. The thought still was hard to grasp until her father explained patiently that it was like a very large version of the herbs he kept in the kitchen.
As her mind settled, she began to take in finer details. The wallpaper wasn’t just one color, but had a curled design slightly darker than tan. The border under the front desk was a dark metal in the fashionable eyelash pattern. And they had gold, real gold, on the ashtrays and the painting frames behind the desk.
Their father explained that this hotel did more than just feed and quarter rich guests. Up above, somewhere, there were rooms where wizards plied their trade. There were musicians, dancers, and gymnasts who put on shows for the guests. Gheny’s best touch wizards soothed guests for top dollar. “So you weren’t totally wrong, Anla,” he said. “There are wizards in the top of the tower, but they don’t live there or own it.”
It was like being in a painting. It seemed wonderful to Anladet that such a place existed and that she could visit it. For a moment, she imagined herself as one of the princesses from the tales her father told her, living in opulence and adored by the people.
The hotel would often lend out their performers for a free concert in the plaza. Anladet’s family caught the show that day, watching with rapt attention as they ate their shaved ice with strawberry syrup. Women with scandalously tight clothing performed feats of balance, standing on tiny poles held by men below. They made pyramids and towers with each other, no one dropping or falling the entire time. A band performed during their show, the music suspenseful then triumphant. They played music that made Anla’s mother weep at times. It evoked emotions Anladet couldn’t even describe, something close to being at one with everyone or flying in the sky searching for a long lost child. A dance performance ended the show on a high note, her heart soaring after they bowed at the end.
They ate a dinner later in their hotel and filled their bellies with fish and seafood of all kinds. Their father was called out of the servant’s area to help the children shell the crustaceans and mollusks set in the middle of the table.
This day didn’t quite match the pure happiness Anladet had experienced the day before, but it was second best. She loved this town, its people, and its ingenuity. She didn’t want to leave.