It was a sunny day as the cart rolled through the arid landscape surrounding the city-state of Ul’dah, rocking from side to side along the uneven, derelict road. It had the dusty coating of something once polished with great care given only to the merciless wills of time. I kept my head down, or avoiding the eyes of the man in front of me. The children in the cart (once I had gotten over the bravery exhibited by children in this land, one which I strongly desired to probe. For, if our cart and wagon were to be waylaid by bandits or such, how would they defend themselves? Noticing first, they had an aloof air of complete indifference, the same kind of aloof air exhibited by people experiencing the familiar; as far as an observer is liable to go without breaking the rules of unbiased observing, I would suggest they were of wealth.) dozed softly, the boy (or girl? I was won’t to distinguish) with their head rested on their sibling (friend?). My ears picked up sounds foreign to my upbringing; the stale, dry, wind picking up loose gratings of sand over cactus and rock, a little convalescence of chimes. The short-hair on my body felt the susurrations of the land as it rolled from the east near where the desert became savanna became forest. I yawned, the heavy daylight was creating an exhaustion I had not yet experienced; a drowsiness from a far away corrupted mold mysteriously reaching through the levity provided by thousands of miles. A hand of spores and I had fallen asleep.
I did not sleep long before I was roused by the nudging of the white haired man sitting across from me. The sun still lay high in the sky and I deduced I had been asleep for no more than one hour, judging by the distance the sun had traveled. It was still a tormenting heat as little cloud cover provided the sun free reign this day. I drank deeply from a waterskin at my waist and grimly noticed how much water I had left. I had no reason to worry, really, as I had picked up a few potions from an apothecary I stopped at when I first arrived in Aldenard. I picked them up at the sage advice of another — a leathered skinned and weather worn– traveler who also journeyed under the sign of Oschon. To have to resort to using them before even reaching Ul’dah was a bad sign. We had not exchanged names, and had spoken no more than the obligatory greetings, each of us greeting the other in their own unique way. Yet, he had been observing my water situation and the apparent alarm written on my face.
My head had rested at a weird angle and now contained a stiff section. He motioned to me to listen and to be silent while I rolled my knuckles across my neck. He had heard something which had disturbed him. I listened and poked my ears up and around. It wasn’t what I heard which alarmed me, it was what I didn’t hear. He was right, the once cacophonous wildlife shuttered and stalled till only the eerie creaking of the wooden cart broke the silence. The driver of the carriage noticed the silence as well. The Lalafel sat upright, scanning the horizon in all visible directions. The chocobos were riled and scratched warily at the ground, throwing and shaking their heads in their distress. I was surprised when what assailed the carriage was not dusty, smelly brigands, but, rather, dusty, smelly troops from Ul’dah. I was relieved at their appearance, but the older man in front of me cursed under his breath at their arrival. They stopped the carriage, two of them riding martial chocobos stopped in front of the carriage, while two soldiers circled one on each side.
“Just a routine inspection,” a soldier with a single blood stained pauldron said as he came around to the back of the carriage. The other soldier stopped at the back, as well, and hopped off his chocobo with an experienced ease. His face was hidden behind a sanguine colored guard leaving dull yellow eyes barely visible behind the visor of his helm. This one snickered then said, “Yeah, just a routine inspection,” as he began poking around the luggage with a recently polished battle-worn two-handed axe. To my naivety, I thought it truly was a routine inspection: stopping incoming carriages and poking around for what could be contraband goods.
The silence of the surrounding desert had now been accentuated by the lewd jeers and sophomoric chides. The driver sat uneasily, answering questions about where they departed from and their reasons for entering Ul’dah. The old man in front of me, wearing a style of clothing I had never seen before: high lapel with a run of gilded buttons down the middle not folded down, rather out and away from his body; a silk scarf frayed around the edges, yet still immaculately white; a sky-blue choker which held fast a stretched diamond shaped gold pendant, likely a congratulatory medal or personal memento of some kind. He was anxiously fidgeting, coyly trying to look over at the soldier poking around through the goods. The soldier stopped poking around and instead came around to the back carriage examining us all in kind. The children were still sleeping and no one had bothered to wake them for the routine inspection. I did not notice it then, but it was curious the children had not woken up. I was keeping to myself, pulling stray threads off my black woolen vest, trying to blend in to the surrounding cart. He looked unsatisfied, haven’t seeing out of the ordinary. He glanced around at the vast desert around him, then glanced back at me, a menacingly gleeful expression in those eyes.
“You there, Miqo’te,” the guttural voiced rummager said, the cruel glint in his eyes never wavering, “what are you called?” I fumbled for words as I had become the center of attention. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and I mumbled something incoherent in my panic. “What was that?” He said, raising his voice. “Speak up, Miqo’te,” saying Miqo’te with such loathing it stung him to even utter the name my people were called.
“Rok,” I uttered, raising my head and projecting my voice, “I am called Rok Vanooq by my people.”