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... Did you roll around in the mud again?!


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It had only been 5 days, but Michelle's feet were begining to ache, and her hands stiff. While she had hoped to come to Caemlyn and find A job, she hadn't expected to find two. Both of the kitchens that had offered her to show her stuffed had liked her work, and so, in the mornings she was baking breads, and in the afternoon, she was decorating cakes and cookies and all sorts of desserts. She was enjoying all of the work, and loved the pay, but her feet had been throbbing the past two days after not being able to get off of them, and her hands were sore from having to constantly be steady and working various doughs. Even one job would have been exhausting, but this was almost too much for her to bare.


Thankfully, in all of that time of working, she had also found a place to live. The owner of the cake shop had a daughter that rented out rooms to young ladies of standing that had come to Caemlyn to study. There were numerous rules, and Michelle wasn't exactly of noble blood, but the owner had made an exception, given her jobs and the fact that she had the money. It was a tad pricey, but Michelle was glad to have the added security. She was even lucky enough to have a room with a small balcony, and the building itself had quite a library and sitting room.


Her first day off since arriving in Caemlyn, Michelle stopped by the bakery she worked at to pick up a small loaf of bread. She knew there had been a few left over from the previous day, and then made her next stop in the market. Selecting a beautiful cheese, which she added to her basket, she then found a fruit vendor, and picked out a few apples. Smiling, she made her way back to her appartment, ready to spend the day off of her feet and enjoying her small feast. That was, until, she ran into someone she hadn't seen in a few days...

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As far as days on the street went, these last few hadn't been so bad. A trifle busy perhaps, but he couldn't complain. Much. One sore point had been missing his promise to that Lugarder girl to show her the city. His business the next day had become a little bit involved, and he hadn't been able to get away. Two days on a job, and another one laying low ... by the time he'd gone to see Michelle, she'd moved out of the inn. And the innkeeper had been less than forthcoming with exactly where she'd gone.


And so Arath had simply returned to his old routine. Surviving day to day. He had kept an eye out just in case he ran across Michelle, and had even walked into a bakery or two wondering if he might stumble upon her. In the mean time, he was living quite well. Compared to the usual. He'd even bought a new shirt. It was a muddy brown color. Durable, and good for blending in among crowds. And not too bad at hiding the inevitable street filth he'd pick up, just in case he ran across the girl again.


Half a week or so after that first encounter with Michelle, their paths crossed again. Under slightly better circumstances this time. Arath caught sight of a familiar face walking down the street, a basket in hand. Seeing as he had nothing else to do at the moment, Arath decided to follow her for a bit and see where she ended up. He stalked her through a few streets, making careful note of the bakery she stopped at, then followed her around as she stopped at a few more food vendors. Once she began making her way out of the market areas, Arath decided it was time to say hello.


Weaving his way through the crowd, Arath made his way up the street, quickly passing by Michelle without being noticed, then finding a good place to lean against a wall where she was bound to notice him. He'd much rather that she think she'd found him, rather than him stalking her around the city.

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Seeing Arath leaning up against a wall, Michelle had to smile. Well, what was he doing here? It wasn't the most expensive market in Caemlyn, but it certainly also wasn't the cheapest. He looked rather good in his brown shirt which, she noted, was new. He had said before that he only had one shirt... had he bought it because of her? He took look a little dirty, but she knew he was probably much more comfortable now than he had been, say, a week ago when all of his clothing was held together by dirt.


Realizing she had stopped when she saw him, Michelle continued to walk, and allowed herself to be carried slightly towards the wall. He looked up as she came closer, and she gave him a warm smile. Stepping out of the road and up against the same wall that Arath leaned against, she daintily touched his shirt. She had to keep from laughing at the fact that it was the same color as dirt, and she knew that she had to have had some influence over his color choice. It wasn't bad, though, and she was happy to know that she had made a positive change in someone's life.


"Fancy seeing you here. How have you been, Arath?"

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"You know ... staying out of trouble. Mostly." Arath shrugged and returned her smile with a nervous grin. "I had an ... interesting situation I had to deal with, and you'd moved by the time I was able to get back to your inn. I can't imagine why, but the innkeeper wouldn't tell me where you'd gone."


Arath made a show of examining Michelle's burdens, even though he already knew exactly what she was carrying. "You look busy now, but I think I promised to show you around the city. If you haven't already figured it out in the last few days that is ..."

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Arath gave her a grin, saying. "You know ... staying out of trouble. Mostly." Michelle had to laugh softly at that, knowing that she would probably rather not know what he had been up to. Their friendship would probably have to stick to a 'don't ask questions' basis, and she was fine with that. It just felt good to run into a familiar face. "I had an ... interesting situation I had to deal with, and you'd moved by the time I was able to get back to your inn. I can't imagine why, but the innkeeper wouldn't tell me where you'd gone."


Oh, that old woman was just trying to protect her. She hoped that Arath hadn't looked for too long, but given that he had gone back to the old inn looking for her, it made Michelle question whether or not this was a chance meeting. Going back to her don't ask policy, she simply smiled and was silently happy that they had found each other again, regardless of the circumstances.


Arath looked into her basket, and she showed him the fresh bread and the cheese. Perhaps he was hungry? There was more than enough for them to share her small meal. "You look busy now, but I think I promised to show you around the city. If you haven't already figured it out in the last few days that is ..." Of course Michelle had figured it out. The city was simple. There was the Inner City, with the beautiful walls, that housed the royalty and the more impressive places and sites. Then there was the rest of the city, which surrounded the Inner City. Michelle lived and worked in the northern area of the New City, which had the nicer establishments and better reputation. She tried to keep as close as possible to her apartment and work, knowing that the further away she ventured, the less respectable it was. She couldn't tell him that, of course.


"Caemlyn is such a large place, Arath. I find that if I venture too far from home, I am completely lost! Why don't you show me some of the beautiful sites of the city, and then we can share my lunch?"

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Well, lunch certainly didn't sound like a bad idea, though Arath doubted that she was having as much trouble finding her way around as she let on. By all accounts, Caemlyn was one of the most organized cities in the world ... far better than her native Lugard. Still ... who was he to make a fuss over whatever little white lie she might be telling when he had already set her up to think she had found him by chance?


"I guess I can't say no to that," he said with a shrug. Pushing off of the wall, Arath led his companion up the street, headed toward the Inner city. "Most of the 'beautiful sites' are in the Inner City ... stuff they say the Ogier built." Arath wasn't sure if he believed in Ogier, but that was how the story went anyway. "Lots of interesting buildings there ... worth spending some time looking at at least once. But there isn't really a lot to DO there, unless you're disgustingly rich, or a noble. Most of the interesting stuff is in the New City. These markets, most of the inns ..."


It felt strange to be talking so much. He'd never really done that before, though he found it became easier the more he did it, and the less he thought about it. Michelle asked a few questions here and there, but mostly listened as he led her around to what few places he was familiar with. A strange statue shaped fountain, of what Arath assumed was an Aes Sedai, water pouring from her hands. A large square where a gleeman or two could be found most days. About half an hour into the tour he even stumbled upon a large rose garden that he hadn't even known existed.


"So ... I'm running out of ideas," Arath said as they took in the sight of the rather impressive garden. "Is there anything in particular you wanted to see or do?"

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As they walked around Caemlyn, Michelle simply looked around and followed. At a few places, she asked questions, but for the most part, she let him talk, tell her stories, and explain things. While she did know her way around, it was refreshing to actually see things. She felt safer, knowing that she had someone with her, and had tried to keep her eyes on the ground when she was alone. She didn't want to seem like an easy target for theft or worse. Arath always kept a few steps ahead of her, and Michelle just watched and listened.


Eventually, they got to a beautiful rose garden. Michelle could smell it as they grew closer, and felt herself slipping into heaven. It was a wonderful fragrance, and not one she got to smell often, and the site was breathtaking. There was red to white to pink to yellow and every color in between. She wanted to sit amongst the flowers all day and just read or relax. It smelled almost as good as fresh baked bread.


"So ... I'm running out of ideas. Is there anything in particular you wanted to see or do?"


Coming back to reality and remembering the bread and cheese in her basket, she smiled, and looked for a place to sit. "Why don't we find a bench and eat something? I know I am half starved," and she didn't want to ask him how long it had been since he had eaten. Given that he wasn't currently stealing, he couldn't be starving, but she had no idea whether or not his last meal had been the one she had given him.


Michelle found a bench a few steps into the garden, and sat down. Opening up the basket, she pulled out the bread and cheese and split them both. Giving him half, she took a bite of the bread. While the crust was hard from having been baked the day before, it still tasted divine. The baker she now worked for liked her recipe so much, he had added it as an option to being sold, and it was such a hot item, she was having to prepare more and more each day.


Watching him take a bite of the bread, she smiled. "What do you think? I made it myself yesterday. It is my first step towards owning my own bakery. I spend all morning making dough for the baker, and then spend the afternoon decorating cakes and cookies and pies at the sweet shoppe. It isn't glamorous, but it does get me real experience and a good income."

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Arath tried to voice his approval of the bread, but his mouth was too full to do more than mumble. He simply nodded instead, quickly chewing down the mouthful of bread and cheese while Michelle spoke. When he finally managed to work the too-large mouthful down, he grinned and finally paid his compliment. "Tastes like your employers made a good choice. Where did you learn to make this?"


Laughing, she took another bite of the bread. It was the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Thank the Light she had been a good student in Lugard. "Our Housekeeper taught it to me, actually. My family wasn't rich by any means, but both of my parents were busy, so we had a housekeeper that took care of the cleaning, the laundry, and the cooking. It was her family recipe and given that she had no daughters, she taught me how to bake bread, decorate cakes, do sewing and beautiful stitching, and all the things a real mother should." Especcially given that her mother was always too busy to have the time of day for her.


Arath took another appreciative bite of bread. "So what made you want to do this for a living? What do your parents do?"


Taking a small bite of the cheese, she thought about how much she wanted to share. Was there any point in really explaining her parents? She didn't even understand them, so how was she supposed to describe them and have someone else try to understand them. "Well, my parents were Silk Merchants. Well known in Lugard, actually, to the upper class. Me, well, I didn't have a love of trying to sell products. I like working with my hands and creating something beautiful and tasty at the same time."


"Well, I think you made a pretty good choice. If everything else you make is this good, you should do fine. If the bakers you work for ever let you escape that is." He laughed as he took another bite. "I wish I could cook half this good. And a place to cook I suppose."


Michelle had to smile to herself. It did seem as though they wanted her to cook constantly. Thank the Light they were giving her a day off a week, and a second one every other week. She liked the hard work, but until she could pass her recipes onto them, she would be constantly busy. "The place you live doesn't have a kitchen? My apartment does but I am always too tired to cook at the end of the day. I would rather just pass out. I could teach you though, if you wanted. It isn't that hard to toss some spices in a pot."


"Maybe ... though the few times I've ever tried cooking I didn't make anything but a mess. Anything that required mixing and patience never ended well." Arath shook his head in mock sadness. "If you couldn't put it on a stick over the fire, my father couldn't cook it. I don't do much better."


Laughing, Michelle imagined her brothers attempting to cook. Light, they were yelled at for even looking at the Kitchen door way back when. she was certain that they stuck to a fire as well. "Well, just because you cook it over a fire doesn't mean it can't still taste good! You just have to pair it with other things! Take for example any piece of meat, put it on a piece of bread, add a slice of cheese and a few vegetables, the vegetables being raw or cooked over a fire as well, and you have a healthy tasty meal." Thinking about it for a moment, she just laughed and shook her head again. "I would suggest not cooking over a fire in the city though. Perhaps you should stick to the market place."


"Good idea," Arath agreed. "Much better to leave that kind of dangerous job to the experts."


Laughing, Michelle finished up her last few bites of bread and cheese. Her sides were starting to hurt from all this smiling and laughing. "Never fear, as long as I am around, I shall keep you well fed."


Finishing off his own bread, Arath dusted off his hands and picked a pair of apples from the basket, offering one to her. "Sounds like a good deal for me." Taking a bite of the juicy fruit, Arath fell silent for a little while. Not really caring for the silence, he tried to prod the conversation along again. "So when you do set up your own shop, where do you think you'll do it? Here in Caemlyn ... back to Lugard?"


Accepting the apple, she smiled and took a bite. She had just a little cheese left and took a small bite of it, enjoying the flavor of the sweet apple with the salty cheese. Something about the combination of the flavor was just heavenly. "Heh, you seem to have more faith in me than I do. If, Arath. If I am fortunate enough to set up my own shop. And here in Caemlyn I think. Or perhaps another city. Not Lugard though. Lugard is the past..." A past she wouldn't return to. The air felt like pure evil, and she had no real family left there. At least none she would return to. No, she prefered the bright beautiful city of Caemlyn, and having friends like Arath. "And what are your plans for the future?"


Not quite sure how to answer that, Arath took another bite to stall for time. His plans for the future didn't extend very far beyond where he'd sleep for the night, or where to hide from an angry pursuer. "Well ... I really don't know. I'd like to get an apprenticeship with one of the smiths in the city, but that's a lot harder than it sounds. There's no shortage of people looking for the same thing." He shrugged, not quite sure what he would do. "I haven't really thought about it much lately."


Michelle thought about it for a moment. He had mentioned before that he used to work in a Smith. Even if he could find a position, he was clearly out of shape for the work. "I know you like Caemlyn, but why not go elsewhere to look for work? There is plenty of large towns that could probably use an Apprentice Smith. Just start traveling and see where you end up!" She highly doubted he would ever do that, but it was all she could think of for ways for him to work as a blacksmith. "If that doesn't appeal to you, you may need to look for a change in career..."


"Yeah ... well ... I didn't really mean for things to happen this way." That was certainly the truth. By the time he'd figured out what was going on in those first days since running away from the mess he'd left at home, he'd been driven to desperate acts. Things had just grown harder the longer he'd been here, until he'd simply fallen into a survival routine. It was getting easier ... though he wasn't sure if he wanted it to be. "Going elsewhere might work, but I wouldn't know where to go. Travelling is hard enough when you know where you're going ... as I'm sure you know."

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Michelle could tell that Arath had done enough talking for that day, and that she wouldn't get much more out of him. Finishing her apple, she picked up her basket and stretched for a moment. "I think, Arath, that it is about time I head back home. This being my first day off, I haven't even really moved into my room yet save to sleep there. I also need to get some other things done...." He probably wasn't interested in her girl stuff, so she left it at that. "How about you walk me back to my place, and then you can know how to get a hold of me?"


Arath nodded, and they then walked toward her place. It was a silent walk, as Michelle was sure Arath had a lot to think about. She tried to not think about Arath's past, as she knew at this point there was no point in guessing until he was willing to open up and tell her. He was a locked book with invisible ink that would slowly but surely reveal it's pages when it was ready. She was patient enough to wait.


Making it back to her place, she smiled at Arath. "Thank you for showing me the city. I am glad we ran into each other again. Any time you need me, I hope you now know where to find me."

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It took a strange kind of person to willingly show a known thief where she lived, but by now Arath was beginning to expect strangeness from Michelle. Not that he intended to ever steal anything from her. Except maybe part of her lunch from time to time ... that bread was pretty good. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." He looked up at the building that Michelle was living in. It was pretty nice looking. The sort of place he'd never be allowed into. Not that he really had a reason to go inside. Still ... it was nice to know where he might find a friend. "I guess I'll see you soon then?"


When Michelle disappeared inside, Arath made his way back to more familiar parts of town. There were still a few hours left to go make a few coins ... wherever he might find them.

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