Mook soon perked up once they got through the gates. Baluchinople was even more amazing than they'd heard claimed. All around them were buildings like palaces made of smooth marble. A procession of elephants, drums, lyres and Zananian dancers and acrobats passed them in the street. Girkom stared in amazement as the acrobats performed death defying tumbles while juggling, leaping from one elephant to another.
"What a welcome for us, ey?" Pook joked to Mook, who smiled at him. She was once again full of the hope she'd had when they'd left. She was staring in wonder at the fabulous fashions all the fine ladies were wearing.
"Ooooooh, look at that Nom's lovely hat! The one with all the mushrooms decorating it! Isn't it beautiful?" she squawked, pointing at the Nom. An elf's headress caught her eye, "Look at that trail, now doesn't it glimmer so? Oh, it's dazzling... And that woman's silks!"
Mook felt horribly aware of their own tattered rags. She noticed that the elf was looking at them disapprovingly and wanted to die.
"You will have all those fine clothes, and more!" Pook promised her, glad to see his Mook excited, alert and smiling properly for the first time in months. Impulsively, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Mook squeezed his hand.
The Gobiks continued wandering through the city for some hours, marvelling at the beauty of it all. Suddenly, dusk seemed to be all around them and they noticed the hunger in their bellies and the weariness in their feet.
"We'd better find somewhere to stay..." Pook said, looking around him. He realised that they had no idea where to go, who to talk to, where to find lodgings, where to get food...
They wandered around more, this time more frantically, looking this way and that, turning down side-streets, until they were completely out of the grand area in the middle of the city and in what looked like a different world.
Leaning buildings with holey makeshift patched roofs stood with just a metre between their front doors. Filthy tramps lay in the doorways of some of the more ramshackle, now deserted, slums. Pook shivered as one, a gobux who was nothing but skin and beak, with both his legs missing, reached out an arm.
"One coin... Please."
"I have none." Pook told him, backing away, frightened and embarrassed. This area of the city was worse than their cliff. The poverty the people were living in shocked him. How was it that, just a few streets away, there were fine lords and ladies in great marble palaces, yet here they had no warm place to sleep and nothing to eat? Pook was scared. He had been sure they would end up, if not quite so much as those in the marble palaces, rich in the city, but now he feared that in a year's time, he might be lying in a doorway like that poor gobux back there.
"Pook, it's late." Mook whispered. She felt too uncomfortable to speak loudly in this place where a pair of haunted, yearning eyes stared out from every nook and cranny, "We're not going to find anywhere tonight. Let's just... Settle down here."
Pook looked away, ashamed that he was unable to provide a bed for his Mook and goblets. Mook, however, walked over to a nearby step, checked it was definitely empty and then sat down. She cuddled three of the goblets to her.
"Come on," Mook smiled, beckoning Pook, "If we huddle, we'll be able to keep warmer."
Pook joined her. Mook lay her head on his shoulder. Pook sighed, "I promise, this is just for tonight. Tomorrow, we'll sort it all out. Our new life starts tomorrow."
Pook said these words every night for the next three weeks when he returned to that same step. He spent his days searching for work; work in one of the palaces, work in a shop, work in an alehouse... He soon realised that no self-respecting person or establishment was going to hire a gobux. He started looking for work in one of the city's hundred or so factories, where most of the gobuxes worked sixteen hours or more a day at some mindless task for a copper.
But all the factories had quite enough over-worked, starving gobuxes, thank you very much, now be on your way please, and no-one wanted to employ Pook.
"No luck." Pook said to Mook once again after a long day of walking from factory to factory, pleading and petitioning the fat owners with more money that they knew what to do with.
"Tomorrow... Tomorrow you'll find something." Mook said.
"I will." Pook promised, just like every night before. The words were empty now.
"Yes." Mook agreed, but she did not believe it.
They were silent while Mook handed Pook and each of the goblets a lump of raw potato. She gave an extra piece to little Gernpuk, Girkom's littermate, who was weaker than the others and ailing with the lack of nourishment.
Pook did not ask where Mook had got the food from, with no money. He hated to think how low his family had stooped that his Mook had to steal for a mouthful a night.
"Pook..." Mook murmured, as she handed over his bit of potato.
"Mook?" Pook asked, anxious. There was something in her voice...
"I'm with another litter."
Pook gasped. He stared at her, shocked. It had been two years since she'd last had a litter and they'd all died within moments of being born. He had thought that they were past the age of producing children; that these five who starved now were all they would be left with. He was happy, of course he was happy. He squawked with pleasure, leapt on Mook and pecked her cheeks, her forehead, pecked her firmly on the beak, folded her up in his wings and cried tears of pride and joy.
Once he had finished his initial outburst he sat back, smiling so hard at Mook that his beak ached. It was only then that he realised that Mook was not smiling. She was sobbing softly. He realised how weary and desperate she looked.
"Mook, aren't you happy?"
"Happy about what?" she asked, staring at him with eyes without hope, "That my goblets will be born on to the street, to die of starvation and cold? How can we hope to feed newborns when we can't even feed ourselves?"
All Pook's joy was gone within an instant. How could they? Of course the goblets would die. They would lose yet more of their children.