Imara agreed with me that the most likely place to find a settlement was where the nearest river to the door met the sea. In a world with no roads the rivers and sea were the natural highways and where highways met was where people gathered. Both Imara and I needed people to follow our chosen professions. We were prepared to do other work too, that was a given. Working as team also might be an advantage, I could entertain crowds waiting for an audience with Imara. She laughed, “Crowds? We can always hope.”
The sun was sinking slowly in the east as we finally caught a glimpse of the sea from the crest of a hill. There, just as we had anticipated, was a small town of timber built thatched houses on both sides of the river. Chimneys sent tendrils of smoke into the air and small sailing boats moved in and out of the river mouth. We could see fields of grain and crops on the far side of the river, isolated farmhouses and even a windmill turning slowly in breeze.
Night came suddenly in Nova Albion and we made our way to the town guided by the light from windows and burning cressets in the central square. Before we entered the outlying streets Imara apologised to Hodari and fitted him with a collar and leash. “It is for his safety rather than for that of the people we meet. If he wanted to, he could break free from me, but people will not think of that.”
Inquisitive faces peered at us, from windows of oiled parchment, as we walked down the small streets leading to the main square. Perhaps it was Hodari's presence that made them too nervous to say hello. Eventually we reached the main square and here there were people. Many sitting on benches before a tavern sporting the sign of crossed malt shovels. A couple of horses were tied to a hitching post by the tavern and pulled on their reins as they caught Hodari's scent. All eyes were on us as Imara led the lion to the water trough and let him drink. She then took him to the other side of the tavern from the horses and tied his leash to a gilded metal ring fastened to the wall. “Now, sit here and be a good boy while we find a drink.” she said.
At last someone spoke. “Odd looking big dog you have there, does he bite?” Imara laughed, “Only if you pull his tail, otherwise he is a pussy cat”. That broke the ice and the silence that had descended. Suddenly there were questions and laughter and even a leather mug of foaming beer for me and beer in a real glass for Imara. Somehow everyone knew they had met a real lady when they spoke to Imara and treated her accordingly.
As for me, I unslung my ud from my back and started playing and singing, making sure everyone could see the hat I placed on the ground. I was not sure if the people here would have decided to use coins as a means of exchange, but it was worth a try. After my first song I was rewarded by the sound of a couple of coins landing in my hat. I paused to take a swig of beer between songs and examined the coins. To my amazement they were gold. I was rich, or was I?
“Am I that good a singer?” I asked the crowd and got a laugh in return. The inn-keeper who had treated us to the beer enlightened us, “They should have called this planet El Dorado, gold is more plentiful than copper or iron. Gold coins are for small change, silver for larger denominations, then copper and iron next. Those who came here as blacksmiths are now goldsmiths and our horses have golden shoes. I hope you did not bring any gold with you hoping to be rich.” I smiled and replied trying to hide my disappointment , “No, I only bought small change with me.”