The sun was at its highest when Borda's horses finally pulled into Moonbrook. Idira stared, wide-eyed, at the sudden existence of so many people. She ducked her head, shy, and peeked out between the slats of Blackie's crate. To either side, two-storey houses crowded up onto the street, the smallest of them at least four times the size of their little house. A few of the houses were very fancy - their carved and polished wooden beams gleamed in the sunlight, and smart red tiles covered their roofs. Within shiny clean windows, pretty blue curtains drifted in the breeze. One of the houses even had little planters with blue and red flowers on its window ledges.
Street after street opened out to the side of the main road as they progressed, the traffic growing busier and more congested as they entered the town's main square. Filling the centre of the square, an elegant three-tiered fountain rose up, its waters sparkling in the sunlight. A low stone wall lined with benches and rose bushes surrounded the area. From the top of the fountain, a stream of water bubbled out, the overflow cascading down its sides into the middle tier. Lily pads laden with white flowers dotted the bottom pool. In between the lily pads golden fish darted back and forth. Idira stared, incredulous, her tummy aching with hunger. What kind of place was this, where fish were just for looking at and not eating?
On two sides of the square, in between some of the grandest houses Idira could ever have imagined, several shops with big glass windows displayed their wares of cheeses, meats, and sweet and savoury breads. Two other shops sold clothing, one just for men, and one for women. Idira caught her breath, the dress on display in the women's shop was made of pale yellow cloth, its neckline and bodice worked with creamy lace and ribbons. A dress for a fairy princess.
She caught Myra gazing at it, wistful. With Myra's waist-length wavy blonde hair, sea-blue eyes, straight nose, full lips, nicely arching brows and smooth skin tanned from the sun, Idira could tell Myra would look very pretty in it. She wished her sister could have the dress, maybe then she might be nicer. Myra had been wearing the same old brown homespun dress for years, its fully let-out hem ragged and torn. Out of the corner of her eye, Idira caught Myra surreptitiously trying to smooth the creases from her stained and torn dress, her sister's cheeks dark with shame.
From behind Blackie's crate, Idira examined the other women—some followed by liveried servants carrying their wrapped purchases. Those women were wearing very nice dresses. Compared to all of them though, Myra was by far the most beautiful. After all her sister had had to go through with Papa, she deserved something nice. Maybe now she could marry Benny and he could buy her that dress. He had lots of silver. Idira would ask him next time she saw him.
The horses came to a halt as Borda waited for a glut of carts to clear. The shop beside Idira only had big leather chairs in it. A man sat in one of the chairs with a line of white foam on his jaw, another man used a long flat blade to take it away. Idira had never seen that before. She glanced up at Papa, noticing his clean shaven face. Never once had she seen him shave. She had never even thought about it, she just thought that was how he looked. She glanced back into the barber shop, watching as the customer paid out a silver coin to the barber. A little spark of indignation ignited. So Papa had had money enough for that. Myra said one silver piece from Benny could buy them enough potatoes, carrots, flour and chicken feed for a week.
The carts cleared, and they moved on. To Idira's left, a massive open-fronted smithy looked out of place amongst all the grandeur. At least a dozen men laboured within, wearing nothing but breeches and leather aprons. Sooty sweat stained their muscled backs as they worked over the red hot coals, the ringing of their hammers against metal filling the air with the reassuring sound of industry.
Borda called to the horses, steering them round the fountain and through the chaos of wagons towards the opposite side of the square, facing the smithy. Women carrying baskets moved in little groups along the walkways, chattering amongst themselves, stopping to point at items on display in the shop windows. Near the fountain, a group of boys knelt playing some kind of game with little round stones, trying to knock their opponent's stones aside. Someone must have done something right, because four of them starting cheering and slapping each other's backs.
The scent of roasting meat pulled Idira's attention away from the boys. She turned just as the wagon rumbled past the open double doors of an inn. Groups of men and women sat at various tables, their platters overflowing with roasted meat and vegetables. Laughter spilled out into the square, mixed with the gentle strumming of a stringed instrument. Idira's mouth watered and her tummy growled, loud. She glanced at Myra, afraid her sister would scold her, but Myra seemed to have forgotten all about Idira. Though she tried to hide it, Idira could see Myra pressing her fists tight against her thin abdomen, something she did when her hunger pains were really bad. Only Papa seemed relaxed. Sitting like a king on the wagon's bench, he nodded at the townsmen as they passed by, acknowledging their respectful nods.
Borda slowed the horses, and pulled up in front of a massive stone townhouse three stories high. Idira tilted her head back, open-mouthed. It was very imposing. This couldn't be where they were going to live. He must just be stopping to rest the horses. She let her gaze wander, inspecting the adjoining buildings. All of them were built of stone. The central building was as wide as two townhouses and four stories high. A black and gold banner bearing a crest of crossed swords hung from the balcony of the second floor. The heavy material lifted in the wind and fell back against the stone balustrades with a sharp snap.
Borda jumped down and offered his hand to Myra. She took it and stepped down, dainty and ladylike. Idira had never seen Myra act like that before, not even with Benny.
'This'll be ye're home from now on. Mr VanCleef says ye're ta call on him when ye's have settled in. All o' ye's, even the little 'un.' Borda nodded at the big townhouse with the rippling banner. 'I reckon ye can find his house alright.'
Papa stepped down from the wagon. He looked over their new home, unimpressed. 'Aye, we'll be there shortly.'
Borda reached up to help Idira down. She handed him Blackie first, and then let him lift her down onto the ground. She picked up Blackie's crate and stared at the big carved door of the mansion in front of her. It couldn't be true. It had to be a dream.
Borda rubbed the back of his neck, eyeing the pathetic heap of their belongings strapped to the back of the wagon. 'Ye'll find the house is already filled to the brim with fine furniture, so if ye prefer we can just store ye're belongings elsewhere.'
Papa nodded. 'That'll do well.' He started up the stone steps to the front door.
'What about the chickens?' Idira blurted out.
Myra laughed, but this time, it was a pretty laugh, one Idira had never heard before.
'Idira, look around ye. Where're chickens goin' ta live in a house like that?'
Borda glanced at the chickens, the little stick in his mouth moving from one side to the other. 'I reckon my brother could give 'em a good home, he's got hisself a little spread just outside of town. I can ask what you'd like for 'em?'
'Just take 'em,' Papa said without turning around. 'I never want ta be hearin' about chickens again.' He lifted the latch. The heavy carved door swung open with a groan. He disappeared inside. Myra hurried up the steps after him, her ladylike behaviour forgotten in her eagerness to explore.
Idira sighed and followed them, her arms wrapped tight around Blackie's crate. At the top of the steps she waited while Borda released the brake on the wagon and eased the horses back out into the square. First her house, and now everything else was being taken away, even her seashell from her murloc friend, packed in one of the sacks. All she had left of her previous life was her homespun tunic and Blackie.
'Bye chickens,' she whispered, tears filling her eyes. When she couldn't see the wagon anymore, she backed up, went inside and pushed the big, heavy door closed.