It had been raining in the morning and it would probably rain again later in the day. It rained often here but right now it didn’t. In fact, the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds and it was, actually, a rather nice day.
Roy was sitting alone at a little sidewalk café across from the train station and realized with some surprise that his mood was improving, something it had no business doing. Last week had been bad and today’s morning in particular had been extra miserable.
He didn’t enjoy travelling at the best of times and these were far from it. He’d been on and off trains for the past four days and this morning the one he was on had been late and he’d missed his connection. Normally this shouldn’t have been much of an issue, but this was out in the arse end of nowhere and the next passenger train going in his general direction wasn’t due until early evening, several hours from now.
So here he was, place called Eddeth, barely large enough to be a spec on the map. Roy suspected that hadn’t it been for the train station the place wouldn’t have existed at all; but apparently the station made this place important. Eddeth was a major hub for freight trains transporting goods between the northern and southern parts of world.
It had looked good on the map, but apparently most passenger traffic went east of the mountains, by the coast. His agent would have known that and would probably have booked him in on trains that would have had him home by now. His agent hadn’t helped though; in fact, she hadn’t even known he was going and would probably have stopped him had she suspected anything. Roy had planned the trip himself, looked at the map and picked the shortest route from Tin Jian to Kul Viller.
Little good that had done him. Stuck here for most of a day getting no closer to his destination. He’d already walked up and down the main road that went through town once and concluded there wasn’t much to do or see. A general store, two bars and a café seemed to be the city’s main attractions for bored travelers.
He had no material needs at the moment and he really shouldn’t be drinking in his current state of mind so he’d settled for the café. It was run by the tallest elf he’d ever seen. Taller even than Roy, him being at least half a head taller than most people he knew, she must be one of the truly ancient one; thousands of years old - maybe even ten thousand.
Roy hadn’t asked; just having to actually look up instead of down at someone was a novelty and when he’d noticed the woman was an elf he’d not been able to get a sensible word out. Like a mute fool he’d taken his tray with a cup of coffee and a bagel and gone outside to sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk.
That’s where he was now, the bagel eaten, the coffee drunk and the sun on his face. Light music was streaming from a little speaker by the door, loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough not to intrude. Not that he had anyone to speak to, but it was still nice that it wasn’t too loud. The song was in the local language, some version of Trinian, and he didn’t understand a word of it, but it sounded happy without being energetic.
His Trinian wasn’t good, but it was the most common language in this part of the world and he’d picked up enough of it over the years; only passing through he would make do. It wasn’t nearly good enough to make out the lyrics of pop songs sung in a heavily accented dialect though.
The elf, of course, had been able to understand him when he ordered his coffee and bagel. She probably spoke every language there was; having had time enough to learn them all, but manners dictated he attempted the local language as long as possible.
Roy stretched and leaned back in his chair. It was comfortable. The sun was shining. Life was good. Roy hesitated for a moment and then replayed that last thought again. Life, as a whole, was a mess and had been for a very long time. It wasn’t good. He’d lost his family, his friends and the love of his life. He made a living out of beating others to within and inch of their lives and the fact he was very good at it really didn’t make things any better.
No, life wasn’t good, but even so, here and now he had relaxed and for a moment forgotten all about it and it had been wonderful. With that realization the memories of the past came back and his mood began to take a turn for the worse.
- “You’ll want some more coffee.”
It wasn’t a question and his cup was half full already when the comment startled him.
- “Oh, uhm, yes, thanks. Thank you.”
Roy stammered and sat up straight, trying to think of something else to say while also trying not to stare up at the elf. She really was incredibly tall, not to mention thin. Her waist was probably about the same width as his thigh and her arms were so thin he could probably break them with a firm grip if he wasn’t careful. Not that he’d actually dare touch her, but still.
Had she been human she’d have looked starved or malnourished but instead she was beautiful in that otherworldly way only elves can be. Her face was angular with the only the barest hints of wrinkles and her eyes were large and green. Her hair was a mixture of grey and white and she wore it in a thick long braid that nearly reached her knees.
- “You staying here long or just passing through?”
- “Err, just passing through. Missed my train this morning and the next one isn’t until later.”
- “Good, good. I don’t mind your kind, but the townsfolk are a different matter. Had a guy like you trying to settle down here a while back and it didn’t work out very well. The old folks still talk about it and it’s well over forty years ago.”
- “Oh, eh… I’m sorry to hear that. But no, I’m only passing through. Just waiting for my train.”
- “No worries at all, you’re free to wait here. Mind if I join you for a bit. Business is slow today and all the chores are done.”
Again, it had not been a question. The woman had pulled up a chair and sat down before she finished the sentence. They talked for hours. Every now and the she would get up to get more coffee or a snack or serve one of the few other guests at the café, but mostly she just sat with him and they talked. Time flew by and as the time of his departure came Roy was happy to leave, not to get away, but because of where he was going.
Afterwards, he could never remember what they talked about; only that it had been good, pleasant even.