At midday two days later, having hitched a ride part of the way on a wagon transporting sheep from one outlying village to another, without any further adventures or mishaps, the Gobiks, rounding a bend in the road, got their first view of the great city; Baluchinople.
The thing that struck them all most was the sheer vastness of it. The grey city walls spread out as far as the eye could see and were near a hundred feet tall. They were patrolled by hundreds of men in blood-red uniforms, marching up and down with swords at their sides. Mook and Pook huddled together. Was this imposing place really where they wanted to start a new life?
""No turning back now..." Pook murmured. Mook hoisted the goblets up on her hip and they carried on walking. The road to the city got wider as they got nearer and more little roads joined it. There were wagons and carts, litters and chaises. Whenever anyone of particular importance or wealth came near their herald would cry their name and rank ("The Sultana Anlynia of Zoihong!" or, "Lord Errieln of Darkwood and his daughters, The Ladies Edwysse and Edmia!") and everyone would have to hurry to the sides or risk being trampled by their beasts. The rich folk cared little for the commoners.
Soon, they had reached the three city gates. The middle and the most ornate, with gold plating and bejewelled embossments, was the one through which Lord Errieln and his family rode. Two guards, standing with spears crossed in front of it, stepped aside without a word spoken, bowing to the ground. Lord Errieln rode through without so much as a nod to or a glance in the direction of the guards. The second gate was much less ornate, made of simple iron, but was wider. The wagons and merchant carts were stopped by the guards here and asked to show papers, then waved on through.
The Gobiks had no papers to show. They looked around bewilderedly, not sure where to go.
A stocky merchant dwarf with bits of grizzle in his beard took pity on them. He pulled up his cart beside them and asked, "You got papers?" Mook shook her head, a tear dribbling down her cheek She wiped it away, ashamed. The dwarf nodded and sighed. Not more of 'em, he thought, come to the city looking for a better life. You had to feel sorry for them... "Join that line over there..." He pointed to the third gate, where a long line of people stood waiting nervously. Pook thanked the dwarf and the Gobiks joined the line at the back. It was moving irregularly; everyone would suddenly move forwards several paces then stand completely still for a quarter of an hour. The sun was high in the sky and, with no shade, the Gobiks began to feel dizzy and faint. Gobuxes are not creatures fond of sunlight and too much exposure to it can make them ill. After an hour's wait when they were still not much closer to the gate, Mook began to worry for the littlest litter, and for Girkom, who was still weak after inhaling so much smoke. After what had nearly happened to Girkom and what had happened to Gmisel, she was feeling very protective. She couldn't bear it if something happened to another of her children...
"Pook," she said, "The goblets will sicken if we stand about here much longer. Why doesn't one of us take them into the shade while the other waits in line?" Pook agreed that it was a good idea. He handed the goblets he carried to her and Mook looked about for a shady spot. A tree, just off the side of the road, would do. Struggling with the weight of the five goblets, she headed for it. A sword, thrust in front of her, stopped her.
"Where do you think you're going?" snarled a uniformed man. Spit sprayed in her face.
"I want to sit in the shade, I fear my goblets will get ill. My Pook is in line, waiting to get in..." she garbled, shaking with terror. The guard laughed at her distress. Mook could smell his breath, he was stood so close to her. It was a strange smell, sour and heady.
"You get back in line."
"You get back in line or I'll run you through, you little slimeball!" The man shouted. Mook hurried back into the line then cowered behind Pook.
"What did he say to you? What did he do?" Pook growled.
"Nothing, nothing... We're just not meant to leave the line."
"Are you sure? Because if not, I'll kill him!"
Despite herself, Mook felt really quite flattered by Pook's fury on her behalf.
"Don't worry about it, Pook. Soon, we'll be in the city! To start our new life!"
Mook nodded and found a wan smile. So far, she wasn't warming to this new life...
Thankfully, it was nearing the uniformed men's afternoon break and they were anxious to get through the queue so they could head to the tavern. Once the men at the gate had got their act together, the Gobiks found themselves a quarter of an hour later just metres from the front of the line.
Another gobux family, from Saltywind Cliff, Pook guessed from their weather-worn faces and the woolly style of their dress, were being questioned by the two guards on the gate.
Over the hubbub of the busy line, Mook couldn't catch every word that was said but, from the frightened way the gobuxes were huddling together and the way the uniformed men were grabbing them and waving their fists in their faces, she could tell that they were being bullied and threatened. Mook had hoped that the horrible guard she had encountered was a one-off, but it would seem not.
Finally, the guards allowed the gobux family through. The next few were all humans and let in after a minute or so and then it was the Gobiks' turn.
"What do you want?" one of the pair of guards, a dwarf, asked, glaring at the gobuxes. Not more of 'em, come to the city looking for a better life, he thought scornfully. Unlike the helpful wagon driver, the guard felt resentful of those who came to the city, not pitying. What right had they to come to try and pick the riches of the city, to further overcrowd the already stuffed slums and create yet more work for him?
"We'd like to move to Baluchinople." Pook answered him.
"Oh, would you? And why do you think we would want you to move here?"
"I can work..." Pook stuttered, then, desperately, "Please! Our home burnt down in a fire caused by a lightning storm! The fish have all died or swum away and I haven't been able to make a living! We have nothing left... I've come here seeking work and looking for a new life."
The dwarf snorted, "'Eard it all before... Why d'ya think, just because YOU needs to come to the city, that we WANTS you to come to the city?"
Pook pondered the dwarf's words for a moment, before repeating something he had heard the Koog say many a time, "Because at heart, everyone is good and wants to help other people."
The guards stared at him for a moment then burst out in raucous laughter. Pook stood, nonplussed, until it had died down.
"Alrigh', let's cut to the chase. Give us three gold coins and we'll let you in to the city."
Pook gasped, "Three gold coins! But all we have in the world is ten silvers, and we need them for when we get into the city!"
"Ten silver coins?" the other guard, a sullen-faced human, spoke for the first time. He glanced at the dwarf and, through nods and eyebrow twitches, they had a brief exchange.
"Alrigh' then. Hand it over, all ten mind, and we'll let you in to the city." the dwarf said, grudgingly.
"Please," Pook pleaded, "How will we get a new home, how will we eat, with no money?"
"Find work, like you seem so desperate to do," the dwarf snorted, "That'd make a change for you filthy little gobuxes..."
"Now, now..." the second guard, the human, spoke, silencing the dwarf. He turned to Pook. Pook could tell that the man was intelligent and not so easily prejudiced against the gobuxes as most of his colleagues. However, there was a something in his eye that made Pook wonder if there really was good inside of everyone and whether this man, although he appeared more reasonable than the dwarf, wanted the best for them, "Give us the coins and we'll let you through." The dwarf stretched out his hand.
Pook saw that there was no avoiding it. He looked to Mook, who nodded, and then took the coins from his pouch. One by one, he placed them in the dwarf's hand, thinking of the food they would have to do without and the daughter who had been eaten by trolls because he wouldn't give up the coins... The dwarf's calloused hand closed greedily around the coins. Pook turned away towards the gate but the second guard stopped them.
"Do you think we're really going to believe that you came to the city with nothing but ten silver coins?"
Mook began to cry, "We had more; dried food, embroidered cloths... but troll bandits took it all! And they took our daughter!" She collapsed, shaking, on to Pook's shoulder.
The dwarf spat, "You slimy ones are all as bad as each other!" He had no sympathy for the grief of gobuxes, "Now get out of my sight..." The dwarf handed Pook a bundle of papers and gestured towards the gate.
"Thank you!" Pook cried. Supporting the wailing Mook, he made for the gate.
This was it. Baluchinople. The start of their new life.