Dawn’s first light had not yet breached the black sky when Payton woke up on Saturday. She turned over in her bed to glance at her clock, which let her know it was a quarter to six in the morning. The first train to Zaphyr left in an hour and a half, which allotted her time to bathe and eat a decent breakfast. She dragged herself into the steamy shower and allowed the running water to work its magic on her groggy mind and body. After drying herself off, she draped on her short-sleeved white blouse, green skirt, a brown cincher with brass fastenings and black ankle boots. After tying her hair back with a gold ribbon, she went downstairs to make herself a breakfast of bread, eggs, and coffee. As Payton enjoyed her breakfast, she heard footsteps creaking down the hallway above her, and she glanced up to find her brother half awake slowly making his way down the stairs.
“Lawrence, what are you doing up so early?” Payton asked. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“You did, but it’s fine. I wanted to say goodbye to you anyway.” Lawrence yawned and then sat down next to his sister.
“Well, in that case, why don’t you have breakfast with me? I’ll pour you some coffee.” Payton got up to grab Lawrence’s favorite brass mug and poured him a steaming cup of coffee. After she handed him the cup, she whipped together some eggs and toast for him.
“When does your train leave?” Lawrence asked as he brushed his unkempt hair out of his eye.
“That means you’ll be arriving in Zaphyr at about one-fifteen. Didn’t you say that you were to meet this woman at the tavern at six in the evening? What are you going to do for those extra five hours?”
“Get crocked and score some jacks at the local bar,” Payton replied with a mischievous smirk at her brother.
Lawrence nearly spout coffee through his nose. “Why don’t you tell it like it is, Payton?” he laughed. “You’re going to get those chaps drunk and lure them to a hotel room to rob them all.” Payton giggled and Lawrence sipped his coffee before he continued. “You’re just going to have a pile of comatose joes in your hotel room and they’re all going to wake up with no money and no memory of Payton striking at their wallets.” Payton choked on her bread from laughing hysterically.
Come six-thirty, Payton had finished her breakfast, and though she would have loved to stay and swap jokes with her brother longer, she still needed to gather her belongings and catch a trolley to the train station. Lawrence offered to clean up so that she could finish getting ready. Payton did what she could to quickly pack light, figuring that she could buy whatever else she needed at Zaphyr, and then hurried back downstairs to catch the trolley. However, the moment she caught a glimpse of her brother’s glistening brown eyes, she dropped her bags on the floor and crushed him in her embrace. Tears burned behind her eyelids as she pressed her cheek against his chest.
“I’m going to miss you terribly,” she choked against the lump in her throat. “But this isn’t goodbye forever. I’ll come back for you. Trust me. Everything’s going to turn out all right now. I promise.”
Lawrence gently pulled back to look into her wet hazel eyes. “I’m holding you up to that, you know. Now go and achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”
Payton’s heart was weighed down by grief and lifted up by excitement all at once as she carried her bags out the door.
Payton gazed in awe at the grand train station which shimmered on the outside, and glowed on the inside. She was fortunate to have arrived so early as there was a conveniently small line at the ticket booth. While she waited in the queue, she took her time admiring the gold columns, copper friezes, and brass stairwells, all of which reflected the light from the large iron chandelier hanging steadfast from the tall ceiling. The clanking of gigantic cogs and gears echoed loudly about the depot, hurting Payton’s ears. The rugged cherry wood floors contrasted with the gleam of the copper and brass which made up the station. Once she finally reached the window at the booth, she was greeted by an old man wearing his best scowl. She imagined she wouldn’t be too pleased to work in such a noisy environment either.
“Where are you going?” mumbled the ticket master.
“Umm…Zaphyr,” Payton responded with uncertainty creeping into her voice. “WB Seventy-One leaving at seven-fifteen?”
The old man rested his head lethargically on his hand as he crunched the numbers into the register. The machine screeched and coughed as it spat out her ticket.
“That’s going to be fifteen gold pieces, miss.” He ripped the ticket out of the machine as Payton handed him the fee. “Your train will stop at the red gate to your right,” he continued in a monotone growl. “We reserve the right to throw you out of the train at any time for disorderly conduct. Make sure you present your ticket to the ticket examiner on the train or you will not be allowed to ride. We are not responsible for lost or stolen luggage. Do you understand and agree to these terms and conditions?”
Payton gave him a blank stare. “Uhh, yeah.”
“Sign your name here on the ticket and have a safe journey.” He slammed down a fountain pen for her to use.
Payton scribbled her signature on the ticket. Then she handed back the pen and left the ticket booth as quickly as she could manage. She approached the guardrail to the stairwell and glanced up at the massive clock on the wall in the center of the depot. It was already seven-ten. There was no time to spare in heading to the red gate.
“That old lug sure needs his morning cup of coffee, doesn’t he?”
Payton turned her head to the direction of where the voice came and spotted a very tall and muscular middle aged gentleman with short brown hair and a bushy beard. He eyed her through bright green goggles flashed her a warm smile.
Payton chuckled. “Yeah, I would say so too.”
Just then, the loud cry of a train whistle blared through the station, only growing louder and louder by the second. Payton and the scruffy man beside her turned their gazes to the long iron train as it rolled down the railway. It took the train a few minutes to come to a complete screeching halt in front of them. Once it did, the large iron doors slid open with a hiss.
“Ladies first,” said the man. He bowed slightly and used his bionic arm to tip his bowler hat with all the chivalry of a medieval knight.
Payton nodded a thank you and stepped onto the train as anticipation pounded inside her chest. She made her way along the red carpeting to the coach car with its red velvet cushioned seats and brass framing. The seating was formed so that there were two rows of two seats facing each other with a table in between them. She placed her suitcase in the compartment above her and took a seat. The man took a seat right across from her. “Mind if I sit with you, ma’am? Four hours is a mighty long time to sit on a train alone.”
“Not at all,” Payton beamed. “Four hours you say? I’m on here for six. Where are you headed?”
“Mirah. Going home to my wife and two daughters after a week-long business conference. I miss my beautiful ladies dearly.”
Payton raised an eyebrow and grinned mischievously. “Is that so? How would your ladies feel if they knew you were talking to another woman?”
The man chortled as he placed his own luggage in the compartments above. “Oh, my wife knows me well. She knows I would never betray her for another.” He returned the smile. “By the way, I never got your name.”
“Payton.” She offered the man her hand. “And yours?”
“Drake.” He shook her hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
After their polite introductions, the iron doors shut with a loud hiss and clank. Then, the conductor’s high-pitched voice resounded through the speakers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard the West Bound Seventy-One heading toward Zaphyr. We ask that you use caution when leaving your seats while the train is in motion. Please place luggage you do not need immediate access to in the compartments above you and shut the security bar so they do not fall out. The ticket examiner shall be punching out the tickets shortly, so please have them ready. ALL ABOARD!” With that, the train whistle cried out its call to move out of the station and the wheels jolted the train in motion with a low-rumbling chug. Before long, the train was at full speed and the world outside Payton’s window became a blur.
“So, you didn’t tell me where you’re going,” Drake continued.
“Oh, right. I’m heading to Zaphyr. I’ve obtained a new apothecary job there.”
“Well then, congratulations! That’s very impressive, moving up so quickly at such a young age.”
“Thank you! By the way, if I may be so bold, might I ask what happened to your arm?”
Drake looked down at his mechanical arm and smiled. “Not at all. In my younger years, I was a bounty hunter. I had an altercation with a highly wanted goblin and he tore my arm off in the row. I still managed to apprehend the dumb troll. It was worth putting an end to his reign of terror in Mirah. Needless to say, I’m retired from that kind of work now, but I still keep in close contact with other bounty hunters and offer training from time to time.”
Payton listened intently to Drake’s story, and was surprised to find that his tone was not as arrogant and prideful as most bounty hunters she had heard of.
“I appreciate your service. In a kingdom that has a broken law enforcement system and is full of conceited bounty hunters, it’s refreshing to know there are genuine strong people out there willing who put themselves in the face of danger in pursuit of justice and the safety of the community.” [Paraphrase]. Payton wished to inform him about the merchants she’s came across, but decided to respect the fact that he retired.
Drake eyed her with reverence. “That means a lot to me. Most people aren’t so humble.”
The two continued on like this for hours until Drake’s stop was announced. Before he left the train, Drake opened up his bag and pulled out a notepad and a pen. He scribbled down his name and address.
“If you ever find yourself in Mirah and need anything, here’s where you can find me. I really needed the friendly company and want to thank you.” Drake ripped the page out of the notepad and handed it to Payton.
“Oh um…” Payton took the paper and tucked it safely in her pocket. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to keep this.”
It was the best response she could come up with at the time. Unsettled, Payton watched Drake walk away from the train to pick up his luggage. Twenty long minutes later, the train finally moved forward to complete its last two-hour trip to Zaphyr and Payton could relax again.The next couple of hours flew by as Payton continued to gaze out her window lost in thought. How long will it take for me to become a full-fledged nurse? What’s the boss like? Do my non-human co-workers speak the human tongue as well? She was very surprised to hear the conductor announce that they would be arriving in Zaphyr at the next stop so soon. Before she knew it, her train rolled into a golden train station, slowing down ever so slightly until it came to a full and complete jolting stop. Payton’s heart flittered wildly in her chest as she yanked her bag down from the compartment above her and took her very first steps in the largest city in the human kingdom of Liadon.