Caravan never really slept. It just rested a little when it could find the time. When Gillian and Valeria stepped out of the Tavern of the Rising Sun and into the early morning sun, the town square was already bustling with activity. Workers were constructing a stage opposite the tavern.
"King Leoric will officially open Caravan and welcome the merchants later this morning," explained Gillian.
Of course, Valeria didn't care if Old King Cole was going to welcome the merchants. She couldn't, and didn't, say so. She nodded at her warped bow.
"Right," said Gillian. "Come this way." She turned to the left where there was a small smithy on the other side of the street. Valeria could hear the steady clang-clang of metal being pounded on an anvil.
The clanging stopped as they entered. "Whoa! What kin I do fer ye?" It was a powerful, throaty voice, but definitely feminine. Valeria was startled to see that the blacksmith working at the forge was a red-haired girl of about twelve. She wore a heavy leather smock, thick gloves, and a visor made of smoked glass to protect her eyes. She lifted the blade she'd been working on from the anvil and examined it critically.
"Good day, Hildy," said Gillian. "Is your father in?"
Hildy Griswold put down the sword. "He's down at the docks. A huge shipment of rare ores came in from the west, including one that's supposed to have fallen out of the sky. He was so excited to go examine it that he left me in charge of the shop," said Hildy, clearly proud of the trust that her father had placed in her. "So, what have you got there?" She eyed Valeria's bow.
Gillian made the introductions. "This is Val. Val, this is Hildy Griswold," she said. "We were hoping your father could repair her bow."
"Let me have a look," offered the girl, taking off her gloves and hanging her visor on a hook. She was a stocky girl, and a coat of perspiration glistened on her muscular arms. Although she was an inch or two shorter than Valeria, she looked like she could have out-wrestled a mud runner.
"Took 'er swimming, didja?" smiled Hildy, running her fingers along the length of the bow.
Unable to retort, Valeria just sighed and nodded.
"She lost her voice from her fall into the river," explained Gillian.
"She's lucky that's not all she lost," remarked Hildy. "The river's pretty foul this time of year. It's from all the cow crud washing off of Farmer Lester's land. Someone oughtta do something about him." The blacksmith's daughter shrugged. "Anyway," she said to Valeria, "I can get the water squeezed out of your baby and have her as good as new again in no time."
"Y'great tomboy! Playin' w' Papa's tools again are ye?" a voice called from the entrance.
"Ah, get back t'yer kitchen y'great fat sissy!" retorted Hildy without looking up. There was a smile on her face.
Valeria turned to see the newcomer. His family resemblance to Hildy was obvious in his curly red hair and big-boned build. However, while Hildy was muscular, the young man who joined them was plainly someone more at home with a fork in his hand than a hammer. He was pushing a cart filled with fresh loaves of bread.
"This great lout," Hildy told Valeria, "is my brother, Hogan. The finest chef and baker in Tristram, and one day, he'll make some lucky man a fine wife."
Hogan made a face at her.
Valeria's guffaw came out an embarrassing squeak. Damned laryngitis!
"Is Mama in?" asked Hogan. "I've got a loaf of bread for her. I'm taking the rest over to Mrs. Ogden." He nodded at Gillian.
"I've been out here since sunup, so I wouldn't know," said Hildy.
Hogan shook his head in mock disapproval. "A proper daughter would be helping Mama in the house."
"So why are ye still out here then?" Hildy wanted to know.
"Don't mind them," Gillian told Valeria. "If teasing were gold, they'd be the richest siblings in all Khanduras."
"You will come by my booth, won't you?" Hogan asked Gillian. "I'm going to be selling my latest creation." He held up a medium-sized loaf. "It's a split loaf of bread full of different meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, black olives and seasonings."
"Sounds delicious," said Gillian. "What do you call them?"
Hogan shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. Torvan says I should name them after myself."
"'Griswolds?'" asked Gillian. "How about 'Grissies?'"
"I know," suggested Hildy, "Grizzlies, because they're fit for a bear-sized appetite."
Hogan nodded thoughtfully. "Not bad, but it sounds a little too much like gristly to be appetizing. Actually, Torvan was thinking I should call them Hoagies." He shrugged. "Hopefully, something will come along to inspire me." He grinned broadly. "If I do well enough at Caravan this year, I'll have enough money to finish building my bakery. Then next year, I'll be able to send a booth with Caravan. Maybe I'll even go myself. In a few years, I could have bakeries all across the continent!" He was silent a moment, basking in future glories. "I'd better get this bread inside to Mama." He turned to his sister. "By the way, thanks for fixing that crack in my oven door. I set aside a sweet loaf for you. Make sure you don't get too busy here to come by and eat it."
"I'll be along as soon as Papa gets back," promised Hildy.
"We'd better run along too, if we want to get your clothes cleaned," Gillian told Valeria.
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