Keera felt it as she approached Moss Gate. The smell of the lichen and stones was not the same anymore. It had finally stopped raining, so she put back her hood and freed her hair, never letting go of the reins. Something in her told her to turn around, to stop and take a last peek behind her wagon at the outlands, the swamps and tundra that surrounded the city. Yet the convoy did not stop. What had been left of her father’s farm after it burned down was in the wagon and the only reason why she had come back at all. A few things might fetch good prices, the sewing machine or her old set of pliers perhaps.
But it felt all wrong coming here, a feeling that had become stronger ever since the city walls had come into view. Paradoxically, they seemed to be smaller than when she had left so many years ago, although they had lost nothing of their grim majesty. After withstanding thousands of sieges and several wars, a decade or two was but a footnote in the history of the walls. Not for Keera, though. She tried to find a common denominator for what was telling her to turn around, to leave again as fast as she could.
The gate guards waved her through, yawning at her cargo and the early morning in equal measure. The street became less step and took a sudden turn to the left. It hit her like a brick. At first, it was all one cascading murmur which echoed off the timbered walls and windows, unrefined noise to all senses. Keera tried hard not to cover her ears. If she did not get used to it now again, she probably never would. Besides, she hoped it would help her getting rid of the feeling that still haunted her better knowledge.
Finally, a scream broke through the cacophony and erupted into laughter. A faint voice advertising spotted grapes could be heard. The fluttering of wings above a closing window. She drew a deep breath. The city was coming back, falling apart under its own weight and thus becoming tangible. Slowly, she allowed herself to loosen her grip on the reins a little. A small girl was standing on a barrel at a corner and handing out pieces of sugar to the caravaneers. As she leaned forward and put a morsel into Keera’s hand, a smile stole across her face.
Keera sat back. Slowly, she realised that the feeling would never go away. She had forgotten about it over the years, but this feeling was part of the city, as real as the street beneath her wheels. It was the dynamo that drove people out or in or crazy, sometimes all three in various combinations. A certain uneasiness mingled with hope, although there was much more to it.
She crunched the sugar with her teeth, enjoying the first taste of civilisation after two months of black bread and jerky. There was no need to look back. She would find a way out again whenever she needed to. All she had to do was follow the feeling.