“So this is Iron Town?”
“Yes, we've made it back home, just like you said!” Kouroku replied.
A wooden fortress rose from a peninsula in a shallow lake, surrounded on all sides by naked hillsides. Tree stumps like stumble speckled the surface of the hills until the barren soil met water, and a wide road wound up to the great gates set in the high walls. White clouds billowed from some of the larger buildings, prompting a question from Roxas.
“Is that smoke coming from those roof tops?”
Kouroku nodded, then added, “Those are the forges. We make iron here from the ore in the sand. The Lady Eboshi sells most of it, but some stays within our walls for the creation of armaments.”
Another nod. “And firearms, too.”
The pair continued up the path to the massive gates in silence, the monk Jigo having never returned. Roxas was dumbfounded at the transition from the deep jungle to the outskirts of Iron Town. The basin that held the lake and the town had been stripped bare of timber, sparse grasses the only indication that life persisted on the slopes.
Kouroku ran to the gates as they drew near, proclaiming his arrival.
“Hey, I'm back! Look, it's me! Kouroku the ox driver, hahah!”
Roxas saw a few shadows stir behind small windows, barely audible murmurs reaching his ears under Kouroku's jubilant cries. Soon enough the gates swung open, slowly and ponderously. A rush of people came out to greet the returned Kouroku, and he was brought into a tight embrace by what must have been his wife.
As Roxas came closer himself he could hear the woman verbally berating her husband, who blushed and fumbled for excuses. Another man joined them, adding his voice to the fray.
“Toki, save your sweet nothings for some other time,” he said coolly.
Her attentions now turned to this newcomer, dressed in mostly black and with a bald head but short bushy beard.
“And as for you, Gonza, some captain of the guard you are, always struttin' and throwing your weight around when the danger's over.”
The surprised captain managed only a mumbled reply before Toki turned to face Roxas, watching from the edge of the gathered crowd.
“Thanks, stranger. My husband's an idiot but I'm glad he's safe and sound.”
“I wouldn't call him an idiot,” Roxas laughed. “But he is safe.”
Before he could introduce himself a finely dressed woman stepped through the gate, her delicately embroidered coat setting her apart from the more sensibly dressed townsfolk around her.
“Gonza, bring the stranger to me later, I would like to thank him personally. Kouroku, I'm happy your back.”
This must be the Lady Eboshi Kouroku and Jigo were speaking of.
“Yes, my lady,” the captain replied. Then, to Roxas, “I would like to have some words with you first, boy. It isn't often we have visitors such as yourself.”
The crowd gradually dispersed and funnelled back through the gates, leaving Roxas to walk behind with Gonza.
“Follow me,” he said curtly, the gates made shut behind them.