Chapter 2: Ellen the Harold - Part 2
A few days later, the group accompanying Ellen, the so-called Harold and recently renamed Himelforth Bread-bringer (as no one liked saying Ellen and or Harold), entered the city of Geriapolis. It was a large and modern city, as much as something can be large and or modern in this time and place.
It was reminiscent of the northern Florencia and Vente Wests of the continent but certainly the southernmost cultural hub. This owed, in large part, to the Abbey on top of Mount Geriatris, for which the city was named. Since its origins, the faith of Riley had spread far and wide, reaching much of the continent and converting a majority of its population (except of course Himelforth, which we've already discussed. A people so ignorant, that when a god actually appears to them, they still could not perceive its divinity).
Snooterwagons zigged and zagged through the paved streets, while dogs sold newspapers, and cats in little suits dispensed change into what appeared to be a public use pigwhistle. Ellen's petite jaw dropped as a pig on a cycle zoomed by the crowd on the sidewalk, calling back to voice his annoyance at their clogging of one of the city's arterial lanes. Ellen was amazed, the Himelforthians were very much, annoyed.
My previous description of the city is not meant to leave out the majority of humans who make up the city's populace, just to emphasize how different it may be for you, the reader at home who lacks a cat in a suit or a pig on a cycle (though by chance, if you do happen to have one of those, see "someone," it'll do you good). Just use your imagination to fill in the normal people where I might fail to describe them. I assure you, they're there.
As the party slowly wound their way through the streets of Geriapolis, they discovered it was quite easy to find their way.
"Look here, the goat-bear's home lies yonder," exclaimed Himelforth Goat-tugger, as he pointed a boney finger at a rather official-looking blue sign that depicted the silhouette of a crowned dog next to a church with an arrow.
Himelforth Hammer-smasher had attempted to clarify once more that there was no such thing as a goat-bear but quickly stopped himself. Realizing that by now, in a city filled with dogs of all coats, if they didn't understand, they never would. He busied himself instead with the type of knots he would tie for his horse when he got home.
There were other signs as well, though, the party could read little of them. Most depicted local industry and manufacturing, such as the Snooterwagon plant and Theedle & Son's All-in-One's department store. These building-wide signs hung from steel girders, attached to three-story towers of brick and window. Even the doors had signs etched into the glass of the entryways all along the sidewalk. Things like Furs & Fleas Dry Cleaning and General Meow's Official Weow's Take-out.
On the topic of the service industry, particularly that of food, Riley's visitation hadn't only sparked agricultural growth across the continent. Fish were more abundant in the rivers and seas, livestock was more alive and then suddenly stock. Food in all shapes, sizes, and intellectual capacity flourished, and so too had the previously marginalized food and hospitality sector. Entrepreneurs, long-time restaurateurs, and anyone with two hands (or paws (or hoofs)) and pockets were hocking food for money. The world had taken a marvelous turn since Riley's arrival, and much of the bleakness had dissipated into fields of golden grain.
And while they are walking to their destination, let's once again revisit how awful the people of Himelforth are and how by now you should understand why eating cats is particularly appalling here. (Oh, and it seems that having left them for a moment, the party has lost their way.)
Even though the amount of signage plastered across the streets was numerous and no doubt pictorial in nature, the party had somehow managed to find themselves scuttling sideways, the wrong way, down a one-way road. It didn't help that every time they saw a directional arrow for traffic that the Himelforthians assumed that this was the obvious formation the group must make in order to traverse the street. This was in no way a reflection on Himelforth Monk-guy, who, upon discovering the signage to the Abbey, was supplanted in his leadership role as Himelforthian Directional-coordinator.
Thumb-twiddler, in his desire to impress the Abbey, reasoned that if he led the party through this last leg of their trip, he would likely receive the credit for guiding the entire journey. Thus the minor coup was enacted, and the group found themselves in a small turnaround with a man and a cat sitting on a bench.
The pair on the bench observed with curiosity the disheveled, dirty, and backwards crowd that had arrived in formational unison and now stood staring at them, with faces that betrayed their confusion. The awkward standoff was broken as a small interruption ruffled through the crowd of Himelforthians.
The cat pinned back her ears and narrowed her eyes, watching as something made its way through the crowd. Much shuffling and bumbling ensued.
"Oof, sthorry. Oooh, scuse me! Ahh, oh no, lurbths! Woah! Okay, sthorry, oooof!"
With more than a few toes trodden on, a small child broke its way out of the masses. Her eyes widened behind her askew glasses as she let out a gasp and began to tug on the robe of the old man beside her.
"Oooh, itsth a weow!" She whispered loudly.
"I can hear you," the cat said, feeling somewhat insulted, having been made to feel the subject of so many stares.
"Oh no, oh. Tho thorry!" Ellen bowed her head low in apology. "You just have such a beautiful coat! It's been a long time since I've been to Weowland, please forgive my woodness."
"You've been to Weowland!?" The grey-striped cat curled her lip into a cat's smile, the girl's accidental rudeness immediately forgotten. "I grew up in Tunapola, before moving here, of course."
"Oh yeah, Tunapola! Yarn Ball Day is my favorite!" Ellen said with a grin.
The cat let out a cry of elation and leaped down from the bench. She ran towards Ellen, her gingham print dress flying around her. With both paws in the air, she worked herself up into a little dance before taking Ellen's hands and bobbing in place excitedly, a motion that Ellen was all too happy to mimic. The two danced around merrily for a bit while the Himelforthians looked on in surprise and uncertainty. As the initial burst of excitement leveled out, the cat formally introduced herself as Asmine.
"Philip!" Asmine shouted behind her to her human companion, "come meet Ellen!" She turned back to Ellen as her companion smiled and proceeded towards them. "Philip and I are getting married next month, and I so want him to see Tunapola and meet my family!"
"Oh wow, that's just great!" Ellen exclaimed with a wide smile. "Hi, Philip!"
The man nodded at the Himelforths as he arrived before extending his hand down to greet Ellen.
"What are you folks all doing out here?" He asked, "visiting the city?"
While he didn't voice it, he did very much judge the crowd by their more common appearance, particularly that of the mud and dirt that clung to the majority of their faces.
"Oh, we're twying to get to the… uh… Babbey?" She looked to Monk-guy, who shook his head and corrected her with the word "Abbey." "But these signs are just so darn confusthing! I think we're lost, unless…" she trailed off while looking around.
"Oh, well, you're never too far from the Abbey. It's on that small mountain in the middle of the city. The whole place is built around it. If you keep walking towards it, you're bound to find a road up to it."
"Oh Philip," Asmine said as if wounded. "You can give them a ride up there, can't you?"
"Well, I'm not really sure I'm supposed to…"
"He can do it. He's a city milkman, and he's just finished his rounds, isn't that right, Philip? You have plenty of time and space for them, don't you?"
"I suppose…" Philip agreed slowly while scratching the back of his neck and eyeing his supposed passengers.
"Perfect! Come and sit up front with me, Ellen. You can fill me in on your travels through Weowland and the news from Tunapola!"
Ellen, Asmine, and Philip arranged themselves in the front of the milkman's snooterwagon, while the Himelforthian's squeezed into the back, with a few trailing behind off the trunk and more than several hanging from the sides. It was a remarkably quick, albeit bumpy ride for some passengers, but it was pleasant enough. Ellen did her best to relay everything she remembered about her trip through Tunopola and how she had come into the company of so many Himelforths. Asmine hung on every word as they zipped through the city streets—this time following the signs (correctly).
As they slowly wound their way up Mount Geriatris to the Abbey nestled at its peak, the Himelforthians had trouble discerning if they were, in fact, climbing a small mountain or just an unusually large hill. For the people of Himelforth, an arbitrary discussion of this nature was as natural to them as their morning dirt washing ritual. It would have horrified them to find out that they had, in this conversation, shared something in common with the people of Geriapolis.
The taxonomy of Mount Geriatris had long been debated and to this day remained one of the most contentious topics of conversation one could broach with a native Geriapolian. But whether it was a colossal hill, an average-sized peak, or a stunted mountain, the Abbey refused to give a definitive answer to its questioning populace. Deciding that a place of such divinity is beyond concrete definition and that relying on one's faith should present the answer.
The milkman's snooterwagon crested the last hill with a lurch, almost dislodging Himelforth Sockmenderson (whose name teetered dangerously on the edge of being un-Himelforthian) from his perch on the snooterwagon's boot.
Liopold the monk, a devout believer of Riley and brother of the Sect of Dogvinians, sat at his station and lapped at a luke-warm mug of tea. It was viscount brown, his favorite blend. He was disturbed from his lapping as a single large milk wagon skidded up to the Abbey gates and slowed to a halt.
The driver nodded before turning to say something behind him. Liopold watched with an ever-dropping jaw as first three, then seven, then twelve, then twenty-three grimy and feculent men and women poured out from the wagon.
The bulk of these strange folks disembarked without a thank you to their driver, and in fact, from what Liopold could hear, most replaced their gratitude with complaints about uncomfortable seating. They huddled around in odd little groups and pairings, suspiciously pointing and complaining about ordinary things, like the gravel that made up the driveway and the unnatural way the gate held itself up and in no way was leaning and or broken.
Himelforth Monk-guy, the only Himelforth to actually thank Philip for the free ride, broke away from the herd to go introduce himself to the dog manning the gates. As he left to get things settled, Ellen turned to Asmine and Philip to say her goodbyes.
"Thanks for the milkman snooterwagon ride, that was gwate!" Ellen said with genuine excitement.
"Oh no, it was our pleasure," said Philip as he eyed the remnants of Himelforthians in the back of his wagon.
"It was so, so wonderful to get to know you and hear all about everyone in Tunapola!" Asmine chimed in with another round of jittering paws, and then in a moment of uncharacteristic seriousness, Asmine lowered her voice and leaned into Ellen. "You're sure you're okay with all these Himelforths?"
"Oh yeah, they're okay people. And besides, I think I'm supposed to be here," Ellen said as she looked around.
"Well," Asmine paused with understanding. "If you are this Harold, then I suppose so, but please take care of yourself, Ellen."
"Oh, huhuha. I uhuhha will. I hope you have a splen-spen-splendif-splendiferous wedding, weally good!" Ellen said.
As they hugged and parted ways, the little girl stopped with a "oh woh!" and began rummaging in her pockets.
"Something wrong, Ellen?" Asmine asked, concerned.
"Oh, hang on! Have to get you a wedding pweasant!" Ellen answered excitedly. As she rooted around in her pockets for a gift for her new friend, there was a type of magic at work that neither could see.
Often a child's pockets are filled with the mundane and benign, collected out of interest and fancy.
Ellen's were a bit different in that she always seemed to find whatever she needed at the moment, though Ellen would never realize this. She was not a greedy person, nor apt in entirely understanding how pockets worked. It was the earnestness of her desire to give her new friend a gift that produced a spectacular and wonderful thing.
"Huh, it's a neat pokey pin! Got thome stuff on it, though." Ellen's little hand held out an ornate antique weow brooch, adorned in the most beautiful catsphire fire gems that had been arranged in the shape of a beautiful bloated tuna.
Asmine let out a squeal of pure delight and a few kitty-cat tears of joy. She clutched the brooch in her paws and hugged it against her as she danced about before giving Ellen another hug in thanks.
"Oh, it's just beautiful! Where did you find this? Oh, thank you, thank you! You write me, we have to stay in touch! Just send your letters to Tunapola with my name on them! I've decided I'm going, and Phillip is ecstatic, aren't you, dear?"
"I am?" Phillip said quizzically, still somewhat concerned with the uncanny smudges in the back of his wagon. "Uh, yes, that sounds wonderful, please do write to us, Ellen, and all the best."
Asmine and Ellen hugged once more before she and Philip departed in their snooterwagon. As they rolled away, Asmine's little body leaned out of the window, waving wildly and yelling, "Don't forget to wriiiitteee!" as they disappeared around the bend of the large hill, small bluff, or whatever type of mid-ranged geographical elevation happened to obscure them.
Himelforth Monk-guy returned just as the snooterwagon's fumes dissipated. "What nice people," he remarked.
"Yeah," Ellen said with a little sniff, "I weally hope the best for them."
"Well, no time to dawdle, we have a meeting, with the Abbit!"