The Failed Scheme

The constant, repeating sounds of her horse’s slow trot and her wagon’s four rotating wheels fell silent as Mkali Moto Kipande Njia’yawazi came to a sudden stop. A smile formed on her lips and she breathed a small, satisfied sigh of relief as she stood and gazed into the distance. Far ahead, only just peaking around the curve of the soft green ridge the elven maiden had been following all morning, was the first signs of a tall wood-planked wall. 

The wall, no more than two miles distant, belonged to her destination, the city of Sharlstown, a place she had never been. Though she’d had complete confidence she would find the city early on the third day of her journey, she had exactly followed her parents directions as well as the map she’d bought in the city Dutos after all, Mkali Moto Kipande could not help feel that small wave of relief in seeing for herself that the city actually was where it should have been.

“N’guvu!” Mkali Moto Kipande exclaimed with a laugh as her horse pushed its muzzle past her long straight white hair to playfully lick at her pointed ear. “Ok, ok, we’ll keep going,” she said in mock surrender as she lovingly rubbed its head in reply.

The sounds of travel picked up again, just a little bit faster now, as Mkali Moto Kipande started on her final push. More of the wall quickly showed itself as she emerged from between the two hills that had flanked her since the evening a day ago. Soon, the city’s gate and the still considerable stretch of road that led to it became visible. There were other walkers and riders on the road, a couple of wagons too, most heading towards the city gate like she was. It was an odd feeling, having to balance her excitement of soon arriving some place new with her patience of still being a good three quarters of an hour away, but somehow Mkali Moto Kipande managed.

That three quarters hours passed quickly and Mkali Moto Kipande now found it was uncertainty that weighted opposite her excitement as she neared the gate. The two guardsmen who’d first looked no bigger than nearby bees now loomed on either side of the entry way. They studied her with unconcerned expressions as she approached. When she got close one of them moved from his spot and walked out to meet her.

“Stop there, please,” he said to her in a friendly kind of tone when she was within an arrow’s shot of the wall. Mkali Moto Kipande complied and stood, holding her breath, as the guard walked up to greet her. 

“Welcome to Sharlstown. May I have your name and your intensions, Miss?” he asked her.

“My name is Sparks Clearpath and I have come to trade,” Mkali Moto Kipande Njia’yawzai answered confidently.

“Where did you journey from, Miss Clearpath?” the guard asked as he walked past her to inspect her wagon.

“From my home in the woods near Dutos.”

“That’s quite the bow you have. And you’ve brought more, I see?” the guard asked as he stepped on onto the side of Mkali Moto Kipande’s wagon to inspect its content.

“Yes sir, I am hoping to trade them or sell them and the furs there for glass panes and steel door hinges, mostly,” Mkali Moto Kipande answered. Though a little nervous, she’d been through similar inspections with her parents and by herself several times before when entering Dutos. So far, things were proceeding normally, to her relief. ‘It is funny how different it feels, being so much farther from home!’ she thought to herself.

“And Dutos could not provide you with such?” the guard asked.

‘A fair question,’ Mkali Moto Kipande thought calmly before answering. “I’m certain it could, but I had long heard of Sharlstown but never seen it. This seemed as good a chance as any,” she explained.

“Really?” The guard asked after he’d finished his brief inspection. Mkali Moto Kipande stood just a bit straighter at his question. His voice… it didn’t sound suspicious exactly, but there was an extra note of interest that had not been present in his other questions. “And you would be what, close to sixty year of age or so?”

“Fifty six, sir.” Mkali Moto Kipande answered, impressed he had guess her age so closely. Judged by appearances alone, she looked of similar age to that of a human girl nearing her 20’s. But this guard apparently knew a good bit about her people and how slowly they aged.

“All right, Miss. Clearpath, everything checks out. You are aware there is a entry tax of three silver?”

“Three? I was told it was one…” Mkali Moto Kipande said, trying to keep her surprise from entering her voice.

She felt for her coin purse and frowned, knowing she had only brought seven old silver coins along with a handful of copper ones. Her family was almost entirely self sufficient and most times had little use for human currency. Even her parents had needed to scrounge around to locate the few higher value coins she had brought with her.

“It was one and probably will be again soon,” the other guard chimed in as he came froward from his posting near the wall. He’d apparently been close enough to hear her question. Or maybe he’d just recognized her expression? “But the city raises it temporarily when money gets tight,” the guard said sympathetically.

“You picked an unfortunate week to come visit, I’m sorry to say,” the first guard added.

Mkali Moto Kipande sighed as she pulled out the required three coins. “I usually have better luck,” she told the two guards as she forced a smile.

“I’m sure you do,” the first guard replied kindly as he accepted the fee. “Is there anything we can help you with? Direction and the like?”

“There is,” Mkali Moto Kipande replied. “I was told to seek out Cunningham Glass Blowers about the glass panes I am looking for. That he and his sons are the best in town and that his son Travis likes to hunt.”

“That he does!” The second guard said with a hearty laugh. “Drive his father crazy with it, his hunting, too, that lad!”

“I’m sure he’d love to see one of those bows of yours though if they are half as good as they look,” the first guard said. “You’ll want to head straight in then turn left on the second street after ‘The Hole’ tavern. Head down a ways and you can’t miss Cunningham’s on your right.”

“Thank you! That’s a big help!” Mkali Moto Kipande said happily.

“You have a good day, Miss Clearpath,” the first guard told her as he and his partner moved out of the road and returned to their posts.

“And you,” Mkali Moto Kipande replied before she pulled at N’guvu’s reins and passed through the open doorway into the new and unfamiliar city.


Walking slowly, horse and wagon following behind her, Mkali Moto Kipande took in all that she could. Sharlstown both was and was not what she had been expecting. In broad strokes, it felt a good deal like Dutos. The main street she was on was about the same width, the buildings to her left and right shared a similar human-built style and were about the same height. Most everything had the same variations on the color brown with few accents, same as Dutos. And yet, for a town so similar at first glance it felt almost completely different. 

There were some people here and there, going about their morning business, but fewer of them and they moved with just slightly less urgency. The sounds around Mkali Moto Kipande were familiar, too. People talking. Doors opening and closing. Wood being chopped and metal being hammered. But… it was all a little quieter and a little… not more distant in actuality… but that’s what it felt like. It felt as if she were in some out of the way corner of Dutos and the sounds of the city were straining to reach her. That relative lack of noise made her own horse and wagon and even footsteps seem just a little louder in her ears.

Still, it had been the promise of the smaller town that had drawn her tens of miles from home. And, it wasn’t as if Sharlstown was a disappointment. Already it had its own charm. The main road was only packed dirt instead of the stone tile work three of Dutos’ main streets shared. And the way the people around her stopped to look as she passed by was new and intriguing. One youthful young woman playing vigorously at her fiddle stopped momentarily to wave, a gesture which Mkali Moto Kipande returned in kind. Another hurried couple took a short moment to cock their head her way before stepping into a nearby shop. 

‘Yes, Sharlstown would be an interesting place to return to,’ Mkali Moto Kipande thought, ‘that is, if I can afford the entry fees…’

Soon, Mkali Moto Kipande came across a small tavern with a somewhat newer appearance that the buildings surrounding it. Above its door was a sign that read “The Hole” the name of the landmark the entry guards had instructed her to look for. She continued on past one street then guided N’guvu onto the narrower path to her left. With the way the buildings blocked the still rising sun, the small side street felt a good deal like one of Dutos’ alleyways, Mkali Moto Kipande mused. Not a minute later she came across a good sized shop with large, clean windows and an elaborate sign made of blown glass fitted with, and intriguingly illuminated by, a collection of small orange glowing lanterns.

“Cunningham,” Mkali Moto Kipande said, reading the glowing glass letters aloud. This had to be the place! She continued a short way past the shop’s entryway to a hitching post. With N’guvu secured, she retrieved a second bow from the back of her wagon, then took in and released a breath to calm her nerves before she pushed her way through the heavy wooden door.

Inside, the front half of the shop was clearly set up as something of a showcase of goods. Glassware cups and bowls of various sizes and colors gleamed and sparkled, reflecting the glow of hanging lamps above while a row of sample window designs to the left and a wide variety of lanterns and lamps and plates to the right each pulled at Mkali Moto Kipande’s attention. Samples of all kinds stretched back along the straight walls where they ended halfway into the shop. It was there that the display section stopped and the work area started, complete with benches and tools and two large, roaring fireplaces who’s heat Mkali Moto Kipande could feel even in the entryway. There in the back a large man worked a billows as his gloved hands handled a long pole with a molten glass shape fitted to the end. Mkali Moto Kipande was about to call out to him when a sudden clatter of shaking glass drew her attention back close.

“Are you… are you here to rob us?” asked a young human boy no more than perhaps fifteen years of age. He had obviously gently bumped into one of the shelves displaying a row of plates when he’d seen her and now stared with his mouth agasp. Mkali Moto Kipande quickly recognized his question for what it was, realizing that she must look quite the sight in her toughened leather outfit with a hunting knife and quiver of arrows at her sides and two bows, one across her back and a second held (non-threateningly) in her hand.

“Travis!” the man working the fires and glass called loudly in a gruff voice from the back.

“Sorry…” the boy apologized sheepishly. “Welcome to Cunningham Glass Blowers. I am Travis Cunningham. Is there anything with which I could help you with?” he asked, his routine sounding only slightly over-rehearsed.

“You can,” Mkali Moto Kipande said reassuringly. “I have come looking to have cut window panes custom ordered.”

“Can… May I?” Travis asked, ignoring her reply. He was looking intently now to the longbow Mkali Moto Kipande held in her left hand.

She smiled and held it out for him. The boy grabbed it immediately, his hand gripping the wrong end, but then, to his credit, he flipped it around so that it faced the correct direction and pulled back on the string as if he had a notched arrow. His form and technique, while not flawless, clearly spoke to his having loosed many an arrow before.

“Who made this for you? It must have cost you… a lot more than I make…” he said appreciatively.

“The cost was only my time and a bit of hard work. I made it myself,” Mkali Moto Kipande replied before turning at the approach of heavy footsteps. Now it was her turn to stare, as the man who had been at the back of the shop towered above even her. She was considered tall among most humans, but was a head shorter than the man who now stood before her.

“My son is right. The bow is very good quality,” the man said after taking it from the boy. It looked more like a short bow than the longbow it was when held in his hands. “I’m guessing you want to trade it for something?”

“Um…” Mkali Moto Kipande said as her mind failed to find the words she had intended to say.

“She is looking to have window glass custom made,” Travis ended up replying for her.

“Ah! What sort of windows, Miss…?”

“Mkali Moto Kipande Njia’yawzai… is my name. But you may call me Sparks Clearpath,” Mkali Moto Kipande replied, finding her voice once more. “My family and I are constructing a new home of my father’s design and the front foyer calls for two sets of double windows with panes three feet two inches by seven feet five inches.”

“All for this bow?” the man asked jokingly.

“No,” Sparks said, letting through a friendly laugh of her own. “I brought nineteen more as well as an equal number of well made quivers and a few arrows for each. I also have a variety of fine furs and pelts.”

“I don’t need all that,” the man replied flatly, his smile gone.

“No… but… but others will. I do not anticipate having any problem paying for my order,” Makli Moto Kipande said, trying to reassure the man.

For a moment no one spoke. Mkali Moto Kipande felt as if she were holding her breath even if it were not strictly true. Finally, after a short eternity, the man cracked a smile and said, “The name is Trevor. Trevor Cunningham. Bring in two more of your best bows as downpayment and we can talk the exactlys of these windows of yours.”


To Be Continued…