Mu So pushed the bindle higher onto his shoulder and looked up at the walls in front of him. The smooth stone glittered in the faint remainder of sunlight, reflecting back the blurry image of a line of people lining up to be let in before the end of dusk. Above the shiny surface were white spikes and holes for the magicians and archers to hide in though. This city, it surely tried hard to keep people out. It was the type of place one didn’t want to stay if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Mu So shook his head, moved his shoulders unhappily, and then waited until it was his turn. Whether he wanted or not, he had almost reached the gates and it was too late to move somewhere else. He’d have to find a place to stay for at least one night.
When it was finally his turn to step in front of the guards, he gave a huff and handed over the bindle on his shoulder to let them search it, answering their questions in a low voice before he was finally allowed to enter the city. Seeing the way they looked at him, the bad feeling in his stomach got even worse. In all the years on the road, he had gotten a good perception. If you were treated like this outside of a city, it would be even worse inside. He’d have to think twice about every step he took in there or things might turn ugly.
The guards finally waved and Mu So stepped through the gate. He walked a few more steps before he halted at the side of the cobblestone path. He looked at the buildings on both sides of the street, trying to get a better feeling for this place. To be honest, it didn’t look bad at first glance. Just like the shiny wall outside, the buildings on the main street were in a good condition. At most, the frame of a window could use a new layer of paint here or there.
This was the kind of city that was rich and welcomed those that were the same. Mu So patted the pocket of his pants, feeling for the small sack of money inside. This … might prove difficult.
He sighed and then went forward, just barely catching one of the vendors who was already packing up. "Heh, there! Do you still have something to sell?"
The vendor immediately halted in his task, turned around, and showed him a grin. "Sure, sure! Have a look. These are the freshest goods in all of Lald!"
Mu So gave an uninterested hum and pointed at a small piece of dough that looked like it should be cheap. "I’ll take that then." Anyway, this stuff was at least made this morning if he was lucky, maybe yesterday if he was unlucky. Who had the money to splurge on a vendor’s food?
The vendor’s smile immediately collapsed but a little money was still better than no money so he still spit out the price and handed the so-called pastry over to Mu So. He immediately turned away though.
Mu So pursed his lips and bit into the dish, not surprised at all when it tasted like nothing as if somebody had skimped on the seasoning. "Say, where to go to visit the city’s temple?"
The vendor finally stopped and turned around again, his lopsided grin almost looking gloating. "Which one?"
Mu So cursed under his breath. Don’t tell him the people here were still praying to that one? Well, for one night, he didn’t mind pretending either way. "How far apart are they?"
The vendor laughed and motioned down the street. "Both on the square in the middle of the city. Better choose carefully though. Ending up in the wrong one might cause you to not wake up in the morning." He laughed at him again and went back to packing up. Clearly, he was taking quite a bit of joy in the traveler’s misfortune.
Mu So sighed and then left with the unpalatable dough in his hand. Well, he could only hope that the temple would have something better to offer.
Walking down the street and accelerating his steps with the receding of the light that seemed to become faster by the minute. Finally, he reached the square when the last bit of sunlight vanished behind the wall on the other side of the city. Having a quick look around, Mu So almost wanted to laugh.
Light or no light, there was no way to mistake the two temples that seemed to be facing off against each other from the two ends of the square. In front of the one on the left stood two men in armor, the eyes behind the visors narrowed, a cold light glinting in them while they stared at the other side of the square. Looking over there … Mu So saw a young man in a flowing robe who was sweeping the stairs all on his own.
Mu So whistled and then immediately went over. Ah, blame his love for beauty but he’d rather give this one a try. Who knew if there wouldn’t be added benefits? The night was long, the day far. Who wouldn’t feel alone in those dark hours?
He hurried up the stairs with a spring in his step and stopped in front of the young man. "Heh, there! Could your temple put a lonely wanderer up for a night or two? It’s already late and I’ve just arrived so I don’t know where else to go."
The young man stopped in his movement and slowly looked up, revealing a pair of shockingly bright blue eyes. "There is a guesthouse right over there." He vaguely motioned to a building on the other side of the square.
"Oh, I’m also broke." Mu So did not even do him the favor of glancing over and just continued to look at him. No matter how he looked, this priest was really good. Was that the air in the temple? Some holy light or goddess’s blessing? Had to be. In this world, he did not believe that anyone could sport such good looks if they weren’t protected by some power.
The young priest stayed quiet for a moment as if he really intended to turn him away.
Mu So’s brows twitched. "Isn’t your goddess known for benevolence? What’s with this treatment? I didn’t do anything wrong!"
"God." The priest raised his brows, making Mu So look a little longer and miss what he was actually saying.
"I’m sorry. What was that?"
"It is the god Jel we honor. Not a goddess." He turned away and stepped down, brushing away the dirt on the lowest step as if he didn’t care about this visitor at all.
"Eh?" Mu So widened his eyes, unable to understand for a moment. Then, he motioned at the temple on the other side with his thumb. "Then what about these guys?"
The priest’s gaze didn’t even flicker over there. "The god Bul. No goddess there either."
"Oh." Mu So scratched his cheek. That was unexpected. Well, the names were also unfamiliar if he was honest. He couldn’t quite recall what the ones he had heard of previously were called but he was pretty sure that they were neither Jel nor Bul nor anything similar.
The priest swung the broom again and then glanced at the temple on the other side after all. He seemed to ponder something before he finally went up the stairs again and turned to face Mu So, the gaze from his ice-blue eyes direct enough to fluster the traveler. "In any case, Jel does not turn away people in need. So come on in then if you really are."
Mu So smiled and nodded fervently. "Very much in need, yes. I’m very grateful. After I leave again, I will spread the gospel of your temple everywhere on my journey in thanks."
The priest did not bother to reply. In any case, a visitor that did not even know their god’s name wasn’t the right person to spread anything. It’d be great already if he wouldn’t mix them up with the temple on the other side. Maybe he shouldn’t have told him that one’s name.
Putting the broom in the corner behind the door, the young priest led Mu So deeper into the temple and to one of the rooms that were originally reserved for the priests. Opening one of the doors, he motioned inside. "This room is currently empty so you can stay here for a few days."
"Oh, thank you. What about you?" Mu So didn’t give the room more than a cursory glance before focusing on the young man again. This one … should be a priest? In any case, this robe wasn’t the same as what people on the streets wore. It was wide at the bottom but had tight sleeves and a stiff collar. There was some embroidery around the rims that would probably show which temple he belonged to. Well, one still needed to know the god in question to understand.
In any case, Mu So didn’t think that this temple had anyone else than the priests. But then again, he had also been wrong about the god they honored so he probably shouldn’t try to rely on what he believed to be true. It was still better to verify. "You are a priest in this temple, right? So you live here as well?"
The young man’s lips thinned, clearly unhappy with all these questions, but he still answered. "I am indeed a priest and I do indeed live in the temple. Now, if you would excuse me." He inclined his head and turned around, ready to leave.
"Ah! Wait!" Mu So hurried after him, not willing to give up yet. "Say, your temple wouldn’t also happen to have anything to eat leftover, would it? I really don’t need much but all I ate today was some piece of old, stinky dough. I’m basically starving here." He showed a helpless expression, hoping to appeal to the priest’s compassion. This wasn’t even a lie. He had been on his feet the whole day to make it to Lald in time before night fell. He might have eaten something in the morning but that had been so long ago that he could hardly remember. He really felt as if the only thing he ate was that piece of dough from the vendor on the main street.