The forge wasn’t far from home. She could see their huddled little roof and stone chimney from here. There was a nice view of town, too. The smithy sat alone on a hill on the outskirts of town, but still inside the great stone walls, observing the cramped, messy streets from above. From this perch, Minette had done quite a lot of people-watching, guessing at the lives of the little ant-sized citizens that rushed to and fro down below. Droz wasn’t massive, but it wasn’t empty, either; it teemed with life. There were districts and people Minette had never ventured to or met. She’d been relegated to her little corner, her little life.
She’d never made it past the walls. The gates were always guarded, and if she went too close, her parents screamed at her about the dangers of the Outside World. Drozians rarely left, and when they did, it was for essential reasons, not because of some secret, hard-to-describe yearning.
Her parents had set her up on playdates with other children in town, but the boys she’d played with were all so rough, so violent. She didn’t understand them or their equally brutish fathers. Some of the people in Droz motivated Minette to just stay home, cooped up inside of walls upon walls.
Maybe her parents were right. If she could barely handle Droz, would she even be remotely prepared for what lay beyond its walls?
Minette admired the tenacity of the weary blue sky and the stubbornness of the dying, tawny grass stalks, the exhausted bumble bees searching bravely for the last of the late summer flowers to pollinate. They all persisted despite the heat and dryness. She understood them, the effort it took just to grow.
A titter grabbed her attention.
A real, actual, dictionary-definition titter.
She looked up and found two ladies walking past, staring right at her. What they were doing all the way out here where the streets were mud was a mystery. They stood out in this tired landscape like gemstones among pebbles.
She didn’t know how old they were, or who they were, or where they were from, only that they wore maroon dresses and high stockings and boots. They carried a parasol between them, keeping fair, unlined skin from the sun, and they smiled over at Minette when she caught their eyes.
Minette was enthralled. Just like with Sir Edric, the sight of them drew her into vivid, rose-tinted fantasies. Their very existence spoke of a different world, a different reality that called to Minette in dulcet tones.