“Ash… come here. What did you bring?”
Ash looked up into the eyes of a petit young woman stood over by the window; he smiled but received only a frown. He unfastened the rope from his belt and laid the sack onto a small rectangular table in the centre of the room. The young woman approached the table, she glanced over at Ash and then begun to roll up her sleeves. Ash untied the rope sealing the sack and stepped back to allow the woman to take a look. She lifted up the bottom of the sack and allowed the contents to settle on the table before placing the now empty sack underneath. Ash looked up at her, waiting to see her reaction before he could let himself feel triumphant. The corner of the woman’s mouth twisted upward, she nodded towards Ash.
“Son, best hunt you’ve had all week”, she looked down at the fresh rabbit then back towards Ash, “Sweetheart come give me a hug, I don’t mean to be so reliant of you, you know…”
Ash shifted towards his mother, reluctantly accepting her embrace, contact like this always made him feel uneasy. Ash didn’t like to show emotion, he had to be reliable and unhinged, emotions were too distracting.
“…You of all people should know how hard it has become around here. I think maybe tomorrow you should take your brothers out. It will make things easier on you, start to teach them how to use a bow… maybe even show them how to set some traps.”
She released her son and walked over to the basin, “do you know how lucky we are to have running water? Not many folk around here do. Bring over the rabbit, come help me clean it”
Ash headed towards the end of a wide street, a few rows away from the river until he reached the very end and approached a tall stone tower like building. The building looked around five storeys tall, although inside you would never have guessed. Planks of old rotted wood pressed against the windows, only a few windows remained intact although tainted. Glass was expensive, so the planks of wood had to suffice. The building looked older than the others around it. Ash was certain that if anyone was to go higher than the second floor the whole thing would just topple over. It was a miracle that the building still stood. The streets around him were empty, which wasn’t unusual. As he walked closer to the building he could here faint chatter and laughing, the closer he got the more clearly he heard the sounds. An upbeat musical tune played amongst the laughing and chattering, a slight glow seeped out between the wooden planks over the windows and into the night.
He started up to the door, pushed it open and stepped inside. The bitter stench of ale flooded instantly into Ash’s nostrils, so strong and overwhelming, he couldn’t help but gip. The air inside the room was musky and putrid. Ash began to walk towards a door at the far end of the room. The cold was no longer a problem now for Ash, instead he felt his body start to sweat as he passed through crowds of drunken peasants breathing heavily as they engulfed mug after mug of ale. He tried to distance himself away in an attempt to keep them from rubbing up against him leaving dirt, sweat, ale and any other repulsive liquids on him. This however, seemed impossible. Intoxicated men and women tumbled around the room holding onto tables, chairs and other men and women to keep themselves upright. Once he reached the door, he hurried inside and slammed it shut behind him.
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In between the docks, and the cliff was the town. It was arranged into rows of houses, citizens with the highest status and wealth lived further up the cliff, the less wealthy with lower status lived further down, and the poor lived closest to the docks. The lord lived at the top of the cliff in an oversized manor house, which could probably have housed the whole town. Each row of houses at the top of the cliff and a few rows below had stone paths leading from house to house. The lower houses had to make do with dirt, accept for the houses lucky enough to live near the path that ran along to the market. The upper class citizens didn’t like getting their expensive clothing dirty, so the lord had insisted he build them a stone path they could use to get to the market. The houses were all made of stone, no matter where they were located in Picker, although sizes varied. Most of the lower houses had only one floor, the upper houses closer to the top of the cliff had two or three floors, some were sprawling estates, some just large mansion houses and a few towers.
Ash made his way through the market and headed towards the lower end of town. The houses he passed were in need of repair. The stone work on some was chipped and dull, some even had stone missing and the gaps filled with dirt or whatever the inhabitants could get their hands on. The windows on most of the houses were cracked, removed or covered up with wood. These houses reflected the real Picker, and the poverty that the lower class citizens of Picker faced day to day.
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It didn’t take long for ash to reach the end of the dirt path. The trees had been left behind him and he was beginning to approach Picker market. The market was situated strategically at the end of the dirt path leading into Picker; any travellers arriving into town would have to go through the market first. The market was empty however, not unusual in the dark hours. No one liked to shop in the dark, especially with the risk of having their pockets picked being much greater. Ash began to walk into the market, pretty bad representation of Picker Ash thought to himself. The market was decorated throughout and all the stalls were made of high quality wood. The floor itself had now turned into stone; instead of the dirt path Ash had travelled on to get here.
Picker was probably one of the best places to live in the whole of Kataryne – if it wasn’t for the man who ruled over it of course. The town was set into the cliff side, amongst lots of low foliage, dotted throughout with fruit trees and patches of blossoming flowers. Running along the front of town was the trader’s river, which got its name from its purpose, to ship traders and their wears around Kataryne. Right at the edge of the river was the docks, not a large structure, but large enough to enable the traders to load up their boats. The floor of the docks was made of stone, which was built high to raise the docks above the ground. The barriers around the docks were made of logs cut from the forest Ash had travelled through, each with a gap in between and a loose line of rope fastened around one log to the other. This was done to stop people falling from the docks. The side of the docks facing the river had wooden logs stuck into the stone which were used to fasten the boats up to the docks.
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The trees seemed to tower over him as he began to pick up his pace, moving into a steady run. Every tree seemed like an exact copy of the other, so easy for someone to become lost. Huge roots were scattered around, bulging out of the dirt causing him to occasionally trip, although still managing to maintain his balance. Not too far ahead a red rag entered Ash’s sights, the reason why he never got lost when he entered the forest. Ash stopped and untied the knot then stuffed the rag into his trouser pocket. He looked on and continued following the trail of rags he had left himself, untying each and storing them in his pocket.
As time passed by the forest seemed to get darker and more eerie, he could no longer see his feet on the ground, and could barely see ahead of him. Luckily the leaves had already started to fall from the trees leaving gaps above him for the moon to light the way through. Eventually Ash reached a narrow dirt path, winding through tall, leafless trees. It was as if the path had been laid first, then the trees had been carefully lined alongside. The lower halves of the trees were totally bare. Towards the top branches pointed up and across, entangling themselves around the branches from the trees opposite, creating protection from the weather to everything that travelled underneath, but still leaving gaps for light to peer through. This path was the only way into Picker, unless you were to travel through the forest itself without the guidance of the path. For carts and carriages this was the perfect route, the only route. Naturally this meant thieves and thugs hung around, but not usually in the darker hours. Not many people would travel through the forest at those times, most feared they would get lost, or attacked.
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