“Alright, that’s it! I’ve heard enough of your sighing, Missy!” Firious wagged a grouchy, sausage finger towards the princess as the group arrived at their seventh peddler’s booth that morning. “You’ve been sniveling ever since we set foot in town, and I’ll tell you, it’s getting under my skin! How am I supposed to concentrate on our inventory checklist with you boo-hooing all the time?”
Hataru grimaced, “I’m sorry, Firious.”
“Not as sorry as I am!”
“It’s just that… being in this place… it’s very nostalgic for me, especially at this time of the year, with the Marcelia Day Festival and all. Plus, I’m worried about Zeph─ ”
“Well, why don’t you and your ‘nostalgia’ go someplace else, so I can do my job, hmmm?” the old sky pirate barked.
“I ─ alright. I’m sorry.” Hataru sighed again, making him cringe. Once again feeling useless, she studied the familiar hue of the chestnut soil beneath her feet as she walked over to join Antenor and the two other crewmen who had come along.
“Ignore him, my dear. He’s just upset about the costs of all the repairs from the Kresreb incident,” the kind, old man chuckled gently. “Here’s something to cheer you up,” he handed her a small pouch. “The Captain asked me to give this to you, in case you saw anything that took your fancy.”
“What is it?” Curious as a cat, she peered inside to find twenty pieces of gold smiling back up at her. “Oh, no, I… I couldn’t! I don’t need anything, really. I’m perfectly fine!”
“Aww, don’t worry, Miss! The Captain just want’s to make sure you’re happy,” chimed a gangly, unshaven fellow with a rosy nose and tousled, dirt brown hair topped with a tattered hat. “That’s how he expresses his emotions, you see; he gives people presents. Right, Cedy?”
Cedy, a round man with chocolate skin and a dark pencil mustache, smiled reminiscently, “Yeah, I remember, when he was… oh… fourteen or so, he sliced my hand open by accident during one of our ‘sword-n-claw’ lessons, as we called ‘em. The young captain bought a special ointment for my wound the very next day, and he completed all my daily chores until it healed. I can still see him swabbing those decks as if he weren’t the captain’s son, just like an ordinary airman.”
“So he’s a gift-giver,” she mumbled, unconsciously fingering her sapphire ring, “that actually explains a lot.”
While the captain and his first mate finished gathering supplies for the ship, the tetrad of shoppers continued along, goggling the interesting local ornamentation. Navy blue banners garnished with the country’s iconic emblem ─ a nobel wolf standing guard over its people, ready to leap to their defence at a moment’s notice ─ waved from every visible balcony. Festiv baskets filled with cerulean flowers embellished every lamp post on the street, and every wall was plastered with eye-catching posters advertising the annual Marcelia Day parade; not a single square inch of municipal property lacked at least a small trace of patriotic jubilee. A few blocks down the street to their left, a children’s choir robed in uniforms, embroidered with the gallant lupine hound, belted out their allegiance in perfect harmony. In the opposite direction, a boisterous band of aged men made merry with their instruments while their wives danced playfully to the upbeat tunes. Even the majority of the shops held holiday sales and displayed trinkets of all sorts, gilded with national symbols.