Welcome to White River: Part Two
C harrie was not surprised when Portia arrived at the Mayor's office a few weeks later, looking slightly lost. He shrugged. Most expected some sort of city hall or municipal building. The office was in the previous location of a law firm that had gone out of business. King Skarl may not have been the toughest on crime, but when lawyers used their wiles to try to hold back taxes for their clients, they often ended up seeing the bottom of a dungeon block. The office's location, nestled in the heart of main street afforded the citizen's easy access to the mayor should any situation arise.
"Mister Riddle." Portia asked, startling him from his thoughts.
"Ah. Come in. I'll admit I thought you'd give up the fight sooner. But the vacancy is still open if you want it."
She nodded. He noticed she had changed her clothing into a serviceable tunic and skirt. She was prepared, and he liked it.
"What is our first order of business?"
"Well, the Lighthouse is technically up kept by the town's funds, although the couple who own it do all of the labor saving us a few Neopoints. They've requested some supplies for upkeep purposes." He paused, running a hand through his brown hair.
"Now, I trust Shaylan and Miranda, but for official purposes we have to make sure the claim is legitimate. So I'm gonna send you down to the lighthouse to talk to the two of them and have them run you through what's needed and why. Feel free to take a notepad."
"Don't need one." She responded, curtly.
He stared at her for a second, appearing confused, then pleased.
"May I ask why?"
"Memorization is an important skill set that was required at my previous position. I have an excellent memory, and thus do not need a notepad."
Charrie nodded. "I suppose you would, battle plans and all that." He muttered.
Portia stalled for a moment, staring.
Charrie shrugged his shoulders. "I've seen plenty of sailors and soldiers come through this town. Sailors lean like they're still at sea fighting for footing a rocking ship. Solders have posture as straight as a cedar tree. You walk like one. You might try slouching on occasion." He suggested, his eyes humorous.
She rolled her eyes at him, then exited from the office with an exaggerated huff. He watched her from the window as she walked down the street. He noticed that she was trying to slouch.
The behemoth that was the White River Lighthouse had stood for well over two hundred years, and certainly was not going to be overcome by the sea anytime soon. It was a windy day out, and the swells were high, breaking against the rocky cliffs and filling in the sea caves. She wondered if any of those caves had treasure, like in some of the books she had read as a young devushka.
She shook the thoughts away and walked slowly up the rocky cliff path towards the lighthouse, watching her steps. The path was slippery, her shoes less than serviceable, and the wind howled and bellowed around her.
When she finally came up to the door she knocked, hoping that someone was home. She did not mind the wind or the cold, having grown up in the harsh winters of Ursus, but still...she would rather be doing something useful instead of waiting.
"Head's up!" A voice above her shouted. She looked up and quickly ducked in time to avoid the white Pteri who raced past her. He landed on the ground amongst the sound of flapping wings, and promptly turned towards her.
She took a second to examine him. He had gray hair mostly covered by a light wool beanie. His face was clean shaven, save for some stubble, and he wore an old flight suit and a pair of galoshes. His wings caught Portia's interest, as they had black tips instead of being solid white.
"Name's Shaylan!" He bellowed, his voice reminding her of a foghorn. "What can I do ye for?"
She tried her hardest not to chuckle as she replied. "I'm Portia Provoskia, and I'm with the Mayor's offic-"
"Ah. So Charrie finally got himself an assistant. That boy's been running himself ragged I tell you. One time back on the M.S.S Jeran, there was a sailor who didn't sleep for ten days straigh-"
"Excuse me Mister Shaylan, but I need to talk to you about the parts you requested for the Light House."
"Oh yes! Lighthouse Parts. The glass around the lens needs some fixing up and the railing's a bit rickety...reminds me of ole Stubby Leg'd Mc-"
"Is your wife around?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Up in the lighthouse, taking care of a few things around the lens. Just up those flights of stairs there. Now, where was I. Oh yeah, Stubby Leg..."
She slipped away from the Pteri and his storytelling and proceeded to climb.
She entered the tall lantern room, not quite sure what to expect. In Ursus, they did not have lighthouses. The water was too rough and the ground too frozen to build one on the coasts. She peered outwards. The view from the top stole her breath away for a moment. She could see the entire village below, smoke rising from the chimney tops. The glass lantern panes kept her safe from the wind outside.
"Hello?" she called.
"Ach! Out 'ere lassie! I'll be in in a second!"
Portia peered at yet another white Pteri, this time an older woman. Her white hair was tied loose at the nape of her neck, a few stray strands whipping around in the gale. She pulled open one of the panes of glass servicing as a door and hopped inside.
"Name's Miranda. Miranda Moore. How may I help ye?" she offered Portia a wing.
"I'm from the mayor's office. Charrie wanted me to ask about what parts you require. I tried asking the...uhm...gentleman down there..." "Ach. My husband takes some getting used to. Don't worry about it lassie. You're not the first to be stumped by him. He's not well in the mind. The wars changed him." She shrugged, then gestured to the room. "I'll try to explain what we need so you can let that poor boy Charrie know."
"Thank you. I'll admit, I don't know much about what's required. We do not exactly have lighthouses where I am from."
Miranda eyed her for a moment, looking her up and down.
"Aye. Ursus was never known for their seafaring might, although some think that those who settled her came from the sea. Well, let me give you the tour, and as we go I'll show you what needs to be bought."
She gestured towards the large object in the middle of the room.
"This is our lantern. It's what keeps all of the ships safe out o'er the water. We use oil in it. We don't have enough money nor the resources as a town for a fancy electric one. We're not out yet, but we'll need to order some in a week or so. You may as well lump it in with our order...."
And so the tour continued, until Portia knew so much about lighthouses, lenses and tides that her mind was swimming. Miranda and Shaylan sent her off with a wave and a bundle of cookies for Charrie.
"Thanks for stopping by dear!" Miranda called.
"Don't let those Darganians ambush you on the way home!" Shaylan bellowed.
Portia's answering chuckle was lost on the wind.
Charrie called her into his office less than a week later, and she was surprised to find him looking over a large set of notes, chewing on the end of a pencil absentmindedly.
"Sit down Portia, if you don't mind." He muttered without looking up.
She sat across from him, crossing her legs.
"What are you doing Charrie?" She inquired, peering down her nose and past her black glasses towards the paper.
"I'm looking at the laws concerning the position of Provost."
"Remind me, what's a Pro-"
"I keep forgetting you're not a Meridellian. Provost is a southern Meridell term, it basically means Mayor. Although some universities use the term for those in high position on their staff." Charrie rambled, shuffling papers as he went.
"Yes, Miss Provoskia. It's rather boring in most of the language, and I am by no means an expert on law, but...I'd rather make sure that the new mayor is appointed correctly."
"N-new mayor?" She stuttered.
Charrie looked up at her, his eyes twinkling with amusement.
"Don't worry. I still have to approach the person I'm considering. And to be honest, I'm not sure they will accept."
"Why wouldn't they?"
Charrie ran one hand through his messy brown hair. "Because this person is not exactly accepted in the town yet. They're somewhat of an outsider. They keep to themselves. They may not see fit to run a town that they are not accepted in yet."
Portia's mind leapt to those who had recently come into town. There was, of course the usual troubadours and lute players who breezed in and out, a few traders, and on occasion a person of title on their way to some event or another. There was a businesswomen from Shenkuu who had been meeting with Charrie to discuss the possibility of opening up an exotic tea shop in town. She seemed older and quite mayoral...maybe she could help speed the process along.
"So, your problem is that you don't think this person will accept the job because the town hasn't gotten used to them yet...." she began.
"Well, maybe you should have the town show them that they're appreciated. I'm sure you have some pull with some of the different businesses." She remarked.
"That just might work, Thank you Portia, as always."
She stood and headed towards the door, and then turned back towards Charrie.
"Will I be able to keep my position if...?"
"I'll talk to the new Mayor about it. Who knows. Maybe they'll promote you. Give you some more responsibility around here."
"I can handle it sir."
After she was gone Charrie smiled to himself as he looked down at various papers and notes scattered on his desk. Buried somewhere under there was a notepad on which he had written "MAYORAL CANDIDATES" in large block letters.
Try as he might, he could only think of one name that really fit what was best for the town. Underneath the title he'd jotted down the name that had haunted him from the moment she'd come into town.
"This meeting of the White River City Council will now come to order." Leanna stated briskly.
She and many other members of the town stood in a large room off of Charrie's office, seated at a large table.
"Mrs.Moore, as our minutes keeper, please note that we started on time." Charrie began, surveying the faces around the room as he went. The white Pteri that he had addressed nodded, her pencil at the ready.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my duty as your interim mayor to remind you all that we must begin the process of selecting a successor soon. I know many of you think I am doing a fine job, however my business is suffering because of it, and I'm sure you all know that the position of Mayor does not pay very well." The council members chuckled with grim humor.
White River was a very prosperous town compared to other towns that had been ransacked during the wars, but there were still large costs associated with rebuilding certain areas of the town after the war. Add into those costs the taxes levied by Skarl to make sure that Meridell's armies were up kept, and the town barely had enough money in it's coffers to pay it's taxes and the small salary of the mayor.
"So what do you suggest Charrie?" Enid Allaway asked, looking down her snot covered ixi nose to glare at Charrie. The seamstress was often stern when her workload was heavy. Charrie smiled at her, trying to ease the tension.
"Well Enid, if you must know, I have a candidate in mind."
Heads swiveled collectively towards Charrie's seat at the head of the table.
"And just who would that be?" It was Gerardo Bello, the manager of the bank, a Grarrl with a large belly and a voice that rumbled like thunder.
The silence around the room spoke volumes.
Finally after a few tense moments, Charrie decided to end the silence.
"Look friends, she's got a lot of experience. She's been working for me for a few months now."
"She's not one of us." Enid protested.
"And what gives you the right to say that Enid, considering that you've been giving her the cold shoulder from the moment she got into town?" Charrie drawled.
He stared down the table at all of the faces. Faces he'd worked beside and dealt with over the course of many months.
"Look. Many of you have not been welcoming to this poor girl from the moment she arrived here. She's led men...more men than are in this town in fact. She's got the ability to do this well. I need you all to trust me on this."
He placed his hands down on the wooden table in front of him, sighing as he did so. "I don't have the energy to fight each and every one of you on it. But I think that we need to at least show her that we can be accepting. That this town can be called her home. I'd like you all to join with me."
"How can I help Charrie?" It was Miranda, looking up at him from behind the pad and pencil.
"We need to make Portia feel welcome in the town if there is any chance of her accepting this position. So I ask each of you...as your interim mayor...to find one thing to do for Miss Provoskia that will make her feel welcome. Talk to her, bring her a gift, ask her to help you with something...get her involved and let her have a chance to know you." Charrie stated. Miranda glared at those around the room, and slowly Leanna stood up.
"I'll second that motion." She said briskly.
"Well now, I'll third it." Gerardo bellowed.
Slowly support began to trickle through the room as Charrie and Miranda watched on.
"Well then, as your soon to be outgoing mayor, consider this motion passed."
She had come in the late days of summer, when the first notes of fall were on the wind. Now it was closer to winter, and she felt the cold chill of her old friend on her cheeks. Others had taken to wearing woolen jackets and scarves, boots and gloves. She had no need of them yet. It would take much more to make her shiver.
"Miss Provoskia?" the voice blew her thoughts away like the leaves of fall. She turned, it was the Librarian.
"Aye?" She replied, somewhat surprised that the Meridellian term sprang to her lips before the Ursian one.
"I was wondering...well...I mean..." she harrumphed in exasperation.
"There's a bookseller coming to town. He's a wandering one, travels all around the face of Neopia. He'll often sell me books for our collection. I was wondering if you would be willing to offer some suggestions." She bit out.
"Well, Miss Provoskia, it seems our section on Ursian literature is a bit...thin. I've heard only a few recommendations about writings from that part of the world, not enough to make an informed decision. I was hoping that you might be able to inform me about some writings that you have read...in your youth perhaps."
Portia nodded, a small grin lighting up her face.
"There's a poet, Agafya Zika. She's well known for her work. She's comparable I think to some of your Meridellian masters of the craft."
"You have read our poetry Miss Provoskia?" The librarian asked, the look on her face almost appearing surprised.
"Yes. When I was little, my friend Nicholai and I would read from his parents' library. They had a large collection of books from all around the world. In the winter, if the weather was not good enough for playing in the snow, we would read by the fire's light." She murmured, lost in the memory.
"Call me Leeanna."
"What?" Portia responded.
"I'm Leanna O'Fallon. And you are Portia, correct?"
"Welcome to White River."
To be continued…