The cart rattled behind Jessica, empty until she got another haul in the next city. She slowed her chestnut stallion to a stop just long enough to check the visible landmarks against her map. It confirmed what she already suspected, that she would arrive in Ledora by nightfall. Urging the horse forward, she brushed some of the road dust off her breeches. It was scandalous to most folk, but her father had taught to always favor practicality over fashion or modesty. Without a mother to tell her otherwise, she had taken his lessons to heart. Jessica’s mother had died during childbirth, leaving her merchant father to raise her alone. Rather than treat her as a commodity and marry her off for profit as most men would have done, he raised her as a son and made her his apprentice as soon as she came of age. She sighed deeply as she thought of her father. The wasting sickness had left him thin and frail for months before finally claiming his life. That was over a year ago, but she still missed him as though it had happened only yesterday. So deep in thoughts of family and home was she that she almost ran into the gates before she noticed she had arrived at Ledora. Grabbing her walking staff she leapt down off the cart. She was going to use the staff to rap on the heavy wooden gate, but a guard appeared on the turret above before she had the chance. “Halt, state your name and business, stranger,” He said.
“I am Jessica,” she stated loudly, “a tinkerer and merchant come to buy and repair goods.”
The guard hesitated before answering, “You’ve come late, lady merchant. All the shops have closed for the night.”
Jessica closed her eyes and sighed in frustration while thinking, “I knew that already.” However, years of negotiating taught her better than to say such things aloud. Instead she replied, “then I shall need directions to the nearest inn. I will seek my wares in the morning.”
“Then you’ll be wanting the Headwaters Inn. It’s not the cheapest, but you won’t have to worry about thieves or fleas. If you’re pressed for coin, the Cat’s Claw is on the other side of town, across the bridge.”
“I have coin enough for one night,” she said, downplaying her wealth.
“Very well, my lady. The Headwaters is the building on the left. Open the gate!” he shouted to his partner. Together they lifted the great iron bar locking the gate and allowed Jessica to pass. Once she was inside the guards let the bar fall back in place, locking the gate behind her.