The running joke in Baradan was that the Duke’s Anthem was actually a seagull’s cry. The loud birds piled onto beaches and rocks at low tide and regaled the city with their wonderful song. Some described it as mournful. Others as achingly beautiful. Those that were sane described it as annoying.
Despite the caws from the southern shore, Baradan had a beautiful quaintness to it. The houses surrounding the train station were tightly packed and dirty from the soot, but still had wrought iron railings around their porches and decoration hanging from the eaves. A few had brightly colored ribbons twisting from the railings in reds, oranges, and yellows.
“It’s Narishna’s Day,” Al said as they exited the train. “You can tell who’s Br’vani and who isn’t by the decorations.”
“Narishna?” Raulin asked. “I haven’t heard of that ap.”
“She isn’t an ap, she’s the Br’vani goddess of autumn.”
Raulin thought about that while they continued walking. They passed by a woman with a peculiar dress that Anla recalled from the ember man’s shop in New Wextif: wide pants with a paneled skirt and an elaborately embroidered overcoat that flared at her hips. Her hair was pulled back, threaded with scarf that covered the top of her head. She held the hand of her husband behind her back so that she was slightly ahead of him. Al bowed as she passed and she nodded her head at him.
“So, the Br’vani in Baradan worship gods outside of the Twelve and Gheny is fine with that?” Raulin asked Al.
“They aren’t; it’s against the law, but Baradan is so far away that they let it slip by.”
“Ah, so a sort of ‘if it’s not a problem and it’s not blatant, so we’ll ignore it’ situation?”
“Yes. Us Br’vani keep our gods in our way and we haven’t asked for more, so there are no issues.”
“Is it worth it to the king to worry? Are there a lot of Br’vani in Gheny?”
“There are enclaves all across Gheny, but the largest is in Baradan. 30% of the population is Br’vani, last I heard.”
“Wow,” Raulin said. “That’s a significant amount. I’m surprised the government doesn’t feel threatened.”
“They might, but would you want to start a skirmish against forty-five thousand people?”
“No. That’s probably wise of them to leave it alone. Of course, the Br’vani could easily win by sending one of their women to negotiate terms.”
“Why is that?” Anla asked, thinking there was a joke.
“Oh, one should never enter into negotiations with a Br’vani woman. It’s just good advice, like ‘never pet a cactus’ or ‘keep your sugar cubes out of the sink’. They are ruthless, cunning, manipulative, and unswayed by any story or emotion you throw at them.” He looked at Al. “I mean that with the utmost respect.”
“They’re really not all that bad, but I also wouldn’t want to sit across a table from my mother if there were pens and papers between us.”
Raulin stopped at an intersection and looked around for a few moments. “Well, Wizard. I’m in a city I’ve never been to before. Since neither Tel nor Anla has been in Baradan as well, I think this makes you the expert. Where should we go?”
Al looked confused for a few moments. “Go for what?”
“Well, it’s a bit brisk outside. Anla was smart enough to get her cloak out, but I, sadly, am lacking any outerwear that will keep me warm. Perhaps a mens’ clothing store?”
“Okay, um, something fashionable? Well-made? Ghenian-style or Br’vani? Or maybe some other…”
“Well, actually, less expensive, since I shouldn’t need it after this week.”
“Oh.” He thought for a few moments, then took a sharp right. A few blocks down and over three more led the group to a second-hand store where Raulin purchased a torn and patched wool coat he admitted was a little tight in the chest but was wearable. Telbarisk appreciated the offer of a poncho that may or may not have fit him, but said he was actually comfortable in that temperature.
“Out of curiosity, what would you have done if I wasn’t here?” Al asked as he began leading them down the street. They were meandering at this point, but with no immediate cares.
“I would have asked directions and gone to the nearest market,” he replied.
“They sell coats at the market?”
“Sometimes, but usually not. I go to markets to get the best feel for a city. I can make a quick judgment call based on a few criteria, but a market tells me so much more.”
“What are your criteria? What would you say about Baradan so far?”
“The streets seem in reasonable repair for their respective neighborhoods. Not all the alleys are cobbled, so Baradan isn’t a very rich city, but the main roads are and they’re mostly flat with no missing stones or holes that I saw. The streets are clean, which either means there isn’t much horse traffic or people take care of it rather quickly. The people have been friendly, at least not hostile. I’ve noticed more of a Br’vani presence based upon the clothing I’ve seen people wearing, but I’ve seen some Imperial and Tondeivan attire as well. To me it’s usually easier being in a city with diversity; if there aren’t any major issues between ethnic groups or nationalities. And finally, I check for the height of buildings. Cities with higher than three stories are going to have a lot more available than your average backwoods locale. That means the people are likely going to be more cultured and less likely to run a stranger out of town.
“Of those I’d say Baradan is a good city to be in, though we’ve only seen a few neighborhoods. I can give you more of an idea if you bring me to a market.”
“Okay,” Al said, dubious. “There’s one a few blocks over. It’s not very large, though.”
“That’s fine. Let’s go.”
The Old Quisset Market was indoors in a former textile mill. The wooden floor creaked and groaned as the four of them entered and began to weave around the crowds gathered along the vendor stations. Raulin spent a solid half-hour going up and down the aisles, talking with a few vendors, buying a few things here and there, but mostly watching and listening. He stepped outside, licking his fingers after finishing an iced pastry.
“So?” Al asked. “What did the market tell you about Baradan?”
“Well,” Raulin said, moving the group across the street to a short retaining wall that was out of the way, “it’s big.”
“That’s it?” Al scoffed. “I’m sure even Tel could have gathered that.”
“Wizard, you seem to enjoy interrupting me before I can begin to start to make my point. Be patient.” He took a long, dramatic breath. “It’s big…a large market for a city of only one hundred thousand. It’s busy as well, which means that there are supplies moving through and there are enough people with enough money to buy them. The vendors seem eager to sell; they’re not dejected or bored due to lack of customers. The buyers haggle, but they are respectful.
“The quality of food and items for sale is fair; it’s not all high-end, but there’s also not much I’d consider poor. There’s a lot of fish and seafood, which isn’t surprising, and neither are the seasonal fruits and vegetables. The imported spices, confections, fabrics, and knickknacks were, however. I wouldn’t have thought people would establish such a lush trading spot all the way up the coast. Then again, trains do run by regularly.
“So, I’d say based on all that information, Baradan is a fair city to live in, very middle-of-the-road. It’s not too opulent, but far from poor. Some cities are very divided amongst the tiers and I wouldn’t guess that here. I’d suspect there to be a healthy merchant class, perhaps even a good chunk of the bourgeois to surpass the nobility in wealth. Does that sound like a good understanding of Baradan, Wizard?”
“Yeah,” he said sullenly.
“Just ‘yeah’? No corrections? Nothing to add?”
“It sounds about right. My mother always said this was a good city to live in, a place where those that worked hard could be appreciated and grow in their wealth.”
“That sounds splendid. She seems like a wonderful person.”
Raulin noted that Al didn’t seem pleased, but it was Anla who caught on to the why of it. As Al led them with no direction, she waylaid Raulin and said, “This is his home. He was excited to come here. Let him do what he wants to do.”
“I have no objections,” he said. “He led us to the store and the market.”
“Yes, but Al knows things. He’s proud of knowing things; it makes him feel valuable. Remember how happy he was when offering all that information about sweet-blood then when he beat up Crossel?”
“So, you just took his opportunity to share the knowledge of his home with us by figuring it out and telling us instead.”
“How do you know that?”
“He’s not difficult to figure out, Raulin. Most people aren’t. Give him the chance to educate people on something and he’s happy. He likes being smart.”
He took a deep breath. “Wizard!” he called out and Al stopped and turned around. “Anla and I were just discussing how we were hungry.”
“You just ate a danish,” he said.
“I’m…yes, I did, but I’m hungry again. We did a lot of walking around, so I’m famished.”
“But it’s only four o’clock.”
He ignored this. “Baradan is famous for seafood, if I remember correctly. Where’s a good restaurant that’s not terribly far, a place that’s great for a newcomer to Baradan?”
Al’s eyebrows furrowed as he thoughts. “It’s going to be a bit of a walk, but I think I should take you to Barrows-by-the-Sea.”
“All right, then. Lead the way.”