A response to "Aurélia's Oratorio".
Karen stood on tiptoes so she could see in the back of the merchant's wagon. At first, all she could see were the slat boxes stacked until they brushed the canvas ceiling, but then she saw the merchant, a short man with a wiry beard that descended to his waist. Karen said, "Excuse me sir, I'm looking for a ride to Xander." She spoke slow and hoped that the merchant might know her tongue.
"I'm no sir," chuckled the merchant. He jumped down out of the wagon and went from towering over Karen to now looking up at her. "What is a northern girl like you doing down here?" His accent was better than the other merchants Karen had queried.
"I've got business in Xander," said Karen. It was a lie, but she doubted the merchant would help her out if she told the truth.
"There is a war going on between here and Xander. A pretty northern girl like you shouldn't be down here."
She looked at the distant hills and the wind blew several strands of blonde hair into her face. She looked back square into the merchants brown eyes and asked, "Why are you crossing a war zone?"
The merchant laughed and held out his fist so that Karen could bump it. "I like you girl. I've got a bum wagon and a bunch of goods that aren't worth much over here but will make it worth my while to travel to Xander. My name is Jamaal."
"Come over here and look at this," Jamaal walked to the side of the wagon near the wheels and leaned to point under the wagon. "This axle isn't going to last much longer. If it goes out, the caravans going to leave us and that will leave us alone with the soldiers and it won't matter whose side they're on. I won't be able to help you then." Jamal looked her in the eyes and didn't smile and asked, "Do you still want to go?"
"Do you have anything of value to pay for the passage?"
"No," said Karen. "I do have these knitting needles," she held up a pair of ebony needles that were dark as midnight, "I could knit you some socks if you'd wish. But I don't have any yarn."