The Eastern Circle
Chapter 22 : The Bustling Road
All day the princess walked the eastern road. She could have had a horse, or a carriage and three — yet what adventures could be had that way? If Saeng hoped to hide that she was a princess of Bengal, she would soon discover this a difficult task, but for now she kept her silvery hair beneath a scarf and long garments concealed her light skin, so that those she passed on the road hailed her cheerfully and unsuspecting.
What bustle there was! The princess counted the carts bearing fruit and the carts bearing fabric, the wagons drawn by horses and those drawn by water buffalo, the men with bright pink tunics and the women with deep blue shawls. She caught a ball thrown astray and played with the children who had too much energy to stay with their slow procession, she jumped off the road when a thundering messenger cantered by, and she introduced a few horses to the cat.
The princess walked against most of the traffic drawn by the activity in the city due to the arrival of princes. Of the few carts heading east, one at last drew up beside her and asked if she would like to ride. Saeng gave the driver a beaming smile and climbed up next to him, settling the cat on her lap, and her entire body relaxed in thanks. She wondered, a little excitedly, what the man thought she was doing, if he was curious as to her destination, or shocked by the impropriety of her wandering alone.
“You are the princess, aren’t you?” he asked, once they had moved a short ways. She stared at him, unable to do naught by blink in surprise, then she laughed aloud. “Why! What a short secret! Ah, of course, you must have come from Chang.”
“I did, but never would I have thought our princess would be adventuring on foot. Where is your guard? Your elephants? Your attendants?”
“Attended am I by a powerful spirit,” she said, nodding down to her lap.
“The cat?” His confusion turned to thought, then to a look of understanding, for the family of the Beast King must draw strength from beasts. “I see. Then the people of Bengal shall be all the rest your guardian spirit is unable.”
“I thank you. It moves me deeply, the kindness of our countrymen.”
The man was so struck by the innocent sincerity of her words that he would forever remember and tell the story of the day he ‘drove with princess and spirit’, and he always spoke well of her.