There weren't a lot of fighters in Wilverth proficient with a sword or axe, which left Una and Inga to teach themselves for the most part. They got pointers occasionally from traders who came through town, and filled gaps by trial and error. They enjoyed sparring one another, and worked their technique tirelessly, practicing every day, often twice. They set up obstacle courses and workout areas outside the village. People wondered why they acted as though they were about to go fight the King, but everyone in Wilverth knew the twins and they were all proud to see them growing into strong, young women.
Sweat dripped from their chins as Una and Inga sat near the fire pit in the center of their home, taking a break from practice.
“I want you two helping with chores the rest of the day.” Signey ordered while fixing herself a bowl of stew. “No more training until they’re done.”
The girls were grounded and stoic; they didn’t talk much and usually needed little more than a facial expression to communicate with each other. They paused their chewing to look at one another and Inga raised an eyebrow at Una. Unable to decipher their mannerisms, Signey wanted affirmation.
“Did you hear me?” She asked, her head tilting to the side.
Una responded. “We want to contribute, but not by doing the chores of a care-maiden.”
Signey was taken aback.
“What kind of work would you like to do then?”
“We want to travel the mountains and find trade routes.”
“You must be joking.”
“We know how hard it is to get by. The village is poor; many do not get enough to eat! We can help!”
“You’re teenagers!” Signey scoffed. “You can’t be merchants.”
The twins held their heads high in unison.
“Yes, we can. We have prepared ourselves.”
“Listen, swinging dull swords at each other in the fields isn’t going to prepare you for what’s out there. There’s no use arguing any further; you can’t travel alone.”
“Then we’ll go with someone!” Inga suggested quickly, in a bright tone.
“Yes!” Una added. “We’ll learn the routes from an experienced trader.”
“There aren’t any experienced traders here, and even if there were, they wouldn’t want to babysit.”
“We are not babies!” Una said as she stood up. “We’re strong, good fighters, we’re ready to prove it.”
Inga looked as though she wanted to scream. Una braced her across the chest and she swallowed her words.
“Let that be the end of it,” said Signey.
They all went back to eating in silence until a figure entered the doorway.
“I’m so hungry, I swear I could smell the stew from the watchtower!”
Wary barged into the house and dropped his things on his way to the food. He glanced searchingly at the other three when he realized no one was talking.
“So? What’s the news then?”
“The twins think they can find someone to show them how to be merchants.”
Wary thought for a moment while Una and Inga kept their eyes fixed in their bowls, not wanting to admit defeat.
“I could take them out.”
The girls looked at him bemused; Una asked cautiously, “You know the trade routes?”
“No, he doesn’t!” Signey tried to interject.
“Sure I do! Used to travel all the time.”
“Where did you go?” asked Inga.
“He only ever came here from the old village!” Signey interrupted again.
“And now, me and the twins will go from here to the next village!”
The girls waited for Signey to reject the idea once again, but she started to see how much this meant to them. It dawned on her, as it did from time to time, that she wasn’t their mother; she was barely old enough to be their mother. What she saw in those faces reminded her of the dreams and aspirations she had once, not long ago, the things Wary still talked about. Signey had fallen into routine since coming to Wilverth, the responsibilities of raising orphan twins that were practically left on her doorstep filled her days, leaving no room for adventure. She slapped away the thought of regretting her decision as quickly as it came; Una and Inga brought her purpose and joy that could not be measured. Signey couldn’t let them wander off, hiking through the mountains, facing danger, and having all the fun alone. The decision was made; they would go, all of them.
A few days later, the four of them were prepared to begin their journey. Wary had been collecting bits of advice from conversations at the tavern for years, which gave him a general idea of what landmarks to look out for, and which villages they pointed to. He prepared the girls as best he could.
“We’re aiming for a village called Gatespoke,” he instructed. “It’s on top of a high peak so tall the fog never breaks and the ice never melts.”
Una and Inga listened with stern faces, like soldiers receiving orders.
“They don’t have the means to grow grain way up there,” he continued. “So we’re gonna load Patches up with as much as he’ll let us, and come back with a whole fist full of gold!”
Just then, Signey walked in, wearing a leather corset and pair of leather pauldrons with layers of furs covering her shoulders and flowing down her back. She looked as though she were going to battle. Inga looked closely at the leather stitching.
“You look like you could defeat a Giant!”
“We’re gonna need protection out there, so I had one made for each of you.”
“What about me?” Wary asked.
“You can fend for yourself.”
The girls were ecstatic to finally get their own armor; for them, it was a right of passage.
As the sun rose the next morning, the four of them set off for Gatespoke with eagerness in their step. It wasn’t until the second day that they started to witness new scenery. Rolling mountainsides formed from lava flows with brilliant green moss blanketing everything as far as the eye can see. Brilliant waterfalls seemed to cascade from the heavens, flowing over smooth rocks with ease. It was calming; the crisp air tasted different, fresh and sweet.
Each night, they would find a landing along the trail large enough to set up camp. If there wasn’t a fire pit left from previous travelers, they would build one and hand out rations. Signey predicted harsh reality would hit the girls after a few nights of sleeping on the ground, but they were right at home. Nothing phased them; the long, hard hikes, the cold of the peaks, the rain in the valley’s, nothing. They had it in their minds that they were meant for this kind of life, a bigger life than anyone dare dream of.
When they finally set eyes on Gatespoke, they were in awe of the achievement it must have been to construct such a city. A massive bridge connecting two peaks with sharp slopes as though one mountain was split in half. On the bridge sat a city of stone suspended in the fog. They continued along the narrow path that led around the mountain and onto the bridge. As they went onward toward the center of Gatespoke, they saw the people of Gatespoke wearing clothes of a finer, softer material than they were used to.
“We must look like grubby peasants to these people.” Wary remarked.
They arrived at the center square which was lined with merchant shops and trading outposts, much more advanced than the markets of Wilverth made up of makeshift tables and backs of carts with merchandise in piles to be picked through. Wary looked to the others with a shrug and went into the nearest one.
“Let me do the talking, I’m an expert at this.” Wary bragged.
Inga pulled Signey closer to whisper, “Is he really an expert?”
“No, but we’ll let him think he is.”
“Hello there!” Wary greeted the woman at the counter. “I’ve got sacks of grains out there just for you, if we can strike a deal.”
“The rates are on the board.” She directed, without inflection.
Slabs of wood with items and prices were written in charcoal, they had been smudged out and written again, over and over until the wood was grey underneath the black writing.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, this price just isn’t going to work for me.” He posted his hand on the counter and leaned toward her flaunting a grin. “What kind of wiggle room can you find me back there?”