I was walking along Market Street at Gullystead. The sun shone down through the sparse clouds on the tables spread with emerald green fabrics, the scorching air filled with the scent of freshly baked sugar cookies sitting on the windowsill of the bakery nearby. The street itself was fairly short, but wide and filled with curiosities, so after I passed along one side I immediately turned around and walked down the other side (chewing the warm cookie I had bought at the bakery).
A vendor—Itri’s Diverse Diversions—sold wooden jewelry, and I found a ring made of cedar wood that I thought a friend of mine might like. I picked it up, held it to my nose and inhaled slowly to take in the wood’s natural sharp musk. After I paid for the trinket I thanked the merchant, a short twig-folk girl by the name of Itri. Her small hands—full of fingers like spider’s legs—would have alarmed any who were not used to her kind, the Winslies. But for me, who had seen many of her kin selling their fine long blue-steel carpets in the villages east of the Great Chasm, she was a familiar sight.
She wore a practical outfit and a wary demeanor, but I introduced myself and asked how long she had been here, at Gullystead. She seemed to take my friendly approach in kind and replied that she had only been here a day or two and was just passing through. In her breathy voice she explained that she had gone out into the world to find out who she really was. Another Winslie emerged from behind a curtain and exchanged trays of items on the table, never looking at me and never saying a word before disappearing behind the curtain again.
The other Winslie was her brother, Fron, Itri explained. She admitted sheepishly that she was afraid of being separated from him, which was probably what kept her in the stall and not out and about on such a sunny day.
She tugged the hem of her hood lower over her eyes in a polite gesture—it was the Winslie custom to cover their eyes to reassure others that they meant no harm. For, you see, their eyes were a literal shock to behold, as they flashed like silent lightning when they became alarmed. Itri was nothing but friendly, however, and after a brief chat I thanked her again for the ring and went on my way.
Gullystead appeared to be a simple, bustling village in the Beryllian Forest. “Population 82,” a small sign had said as I came in. And that was after one of the villagers had stopped by to change it from “81.” Evidently a baby had been born the night before.
As I walked from Market Street to the shrine near the gully outside of the village, I felt the prickle of magic dance over my skin; there must have been a leyline running through the area. Sure enough, I saw a heavy glistening stone carved into the shape of a dwarven house-deity—a sure sign that the Fairy Faith was practiced by someone in the village. The stone itself was ice white, inlaid with eyes of blue quartz.
At the foot of the figure I saw that there was a clean clay bowl with three small pebbles of azurite inside—an offering for the Fey. Someone had also offered a short spear with a lindenwood haft and a head made entirely of glass. Several offerings of fruit were also laid nearby, and I thought a moment about what I could leave behind out of respect for the local gods. I pulled the cedar ring out of my pocket and considered it. My friend could do without a ring this time; there would always be more baubles. Holding it under my nose one last time, I inhaled the sharp cedar musk and laid it inside the bowl beside the azurite.
Stepping back, I took in the sight of the shrine as a whole. It was appealing and clean, a sign that the villagers of Gullystead truly respected their gods. I suddenly felt more honored to have been among them that day.
My final stroll took me along the gully, a long and dirty scar across the otherwise thick and shady linden forest. Coffee beans dangled in vines from the branches, adding their scent to the forest air, now cooler under the canopy. Deep in the gully I saw deposits of sandstone, and a discarded set of padded clothing. I paused and wondered whether it had been thrown there, or if someone down in the gully had removed it before undertaking some dubious action. At last I decided my mind had run away with me, and I went on my way, soon to see some other place, with more things I had never seen before.