A response to the challenge-prompt Bingo game in SasukeBlade's forum The Myrrh Tree. Anais Nin of Tipa might not be a thief like most Selkies (or at least not much of one), but like many others of her race, for a caravanner, she really does hate being dirty. Little does she know that she managed to clean herself up "just in time" this time.

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles or any characters or locations within, only my caravanners from Tipa and one of Mio's angels, the sea elemental Pontus.

Selkies Can't Stand Dirt

"We've got to get into Shella as quickly as we can," a blond Clavat named David admonished the caravan from Tipa as they had just collected their first drop of myrrh for that year, the third caravan since its two newest members joined, from the sluice at Veo Lu. "Winters can be really mean in these parts, and it's looking like we'll be getting a snowstorm before the dawn breaks tomorrow." The caravan had little time to lose; it had taken them all morning and most of the afternoon to fight their way past Veo Lu's legion of lizardmen, ice-bombs, griffins, gigan toads, water-flans, and the sluice's guardian-golem. The days were short enough as it was during this time of the year, and wind and snow-clouds were already gathering in the west.

Lydia, David's younger sister who had carried the spoils-bag most of the way from the golem's clearing, passed it along to her big brother in exchange for the crystal chalice. "I can't believe just how much chilly-gel we've managed to scrounge up from fighting all those water-flans," she remarked. "Between it and all those iron blades and spearheads we salvage whenever we kill lizardmen—Khetala said something about making freeze-resistant talismans out of iron and chilly-gel—we just might never need fear another Blizzard spell if we have some of those!"

"Speaking of Blizzard spells, look out!" one of the newer caravanners, a brash green-eyed Lilty whose name was Dimo Nor, shouted in warning as another gigan toad reared its ugly big-eyed head. A tell-tale blast of cold air told them that a Blizzard spell had narrowly missed both Lydia and Khetala, the Yuke woman in charge of this caravan. David promptly dropped the spoils bag and cleaved the toad wide-open with a single swing of his sword, wincing as the slice sprayed him with blood and gore. More exclamations of disgust indicated that the spray of toad-guts had also hit Lydia, Dimo Nor, and the other newcomer, the lavender-haired Selkie Anaïs Nin. Khetala alone had not been sprayed with gore.

The sluice had stone stairs leading down into its many water-channeling pools, and no sooner were the caravanners in chalice-range of one such staircase than Anaïs Nin hurried toward it. Ignoring the cold, she waded in calf-deep and splashed the water all over herself in a near-frantic effort to wash the toad oil and other filth away. "You know, for somebody as utterly fearless in battle as you are, Anaïs Nin, there was never a battle where you weren't terribly anxious to get cleaned up afterward," David remarked wryly. It was true; Anaïs Nin had stopped several times for quick wash-ups throughout the sluice.

"I'm a Selkie. It's a well-known fact that we can't stand being dirty," the girl answered in mild irritation. "The sooner we get into Shella and I find a secluded cove for bathing, the better."

Khetala pressed a stone of red Fire magicite into Anaïs Nin's hand. "If you insist on bathing in a cove at this time of year, you need to warm the water before you bathe," she admonished. "You may have a higher tolerance for cold than the rest of us, but I certainly have no wish for you to be afflicted with hypothermia."

The rest of the journey from the sluice to Shella passed fairly uneventfully; only one more lizardman and a water-flan dared attack the caravanners. Finally, close to sunset, they reached the Shellan gatekeeper. "Who goes there," the elder Yuke questioned, "friend or foe?"

"Friend of Shella," Khetala answered with authority. "I am Khetala of Tipa, and I lead the Tipa caravan."

"You have three unfamiliar faces among yours," the elder stated. "What became of Gemma and Fen Del in the seven years since you last came to Shella?"

A somber pause followed. "Gemma retired from the caravan when she married one Halsten of Marr's Pass, and Fen Del was killed in battle at Lynari," Khetala explained. "The young Selkie in my party now is Anaïs Nin, who is Fen Del's oldest niece. The green-eyed Lilty is named Dimo Nor, and the darker-haired Clavat is David's younger sister, Lydia."

"I do see where the two Clavats appear to be kin," remarked the gatekeeper. "Very well; you may enter the citadel." The elder raised his arms, and within less than a minute a magical bridge appeared to cross the gap between the island and the bank where Tipa's caravan waited.

Once the caravanners were inside of Shella, they started inquiring at inns for room availability. The first one, the Knotty Alder Inn, was full. The second, the Boarshead Inn, was far too expensive given the ramshackle-looking state of its rooms. Finally the caravan arrived at a small but well-kept inn at the eastern part of Shella, the Sunrise Inn.

"Ah, your motley group must be the Tipa-landers," greeted a middle-aged Yuke as he led the bedraggled caravanners inside, where a younger woman overlooked accounts at a desk. "My name is Lazarus, and this inn has been the pride and joy of my family for six generations. How many rooms were you looking for?"

The caravanners glanced back and forth between themselves for several moments. "We can do with two rooms, but three would be preferable," Khetala decided aloud. "It depends on how much it will cost per room per week."

"Well," Lazarus began to explain, "I do have three rooms available together in the south wing, on the ground floor. Normally I ask a hundred gil per room as a weekly rate, but I do believe that your caravan will be here a rather long time. All the signs portend a blustery winter the likes of which Shella has not seen in nearly thirty years. With that in mind, I am willing to offer those three rooms together at a rate of seven hundred and fifty gil per month for room-and-board."

David weighed a gil-pouch in his hand tentatively. "Okay, so the Sunrise Inn wants for a month what the Boarshead wanted for a single week—and if the locals' word is to be believed, we could be stuck here as many as three months," he surmised. "Do we want to stay here?"

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Dimo Nor answered. "I could really use a scrub-down and a hot meal."

Anaïs Nin agreed. "I don't even need a tub-and-kettle hot bath—just point me to a secluded shoreline cove and I'll bathe there," she added.

"Give him fifteen hundred for the first two months," Khetala told David. "We'll pay the third month's worth if the weather stays foul, or we'll leave when the blizzards end."

David obediently counted out fifteen hundred gil and handed them to Lazarus. "Splendid," the innkeeper happily replied as he subsequently handed the gil to the younger Yuke who made notes in the account books. "Phoebe!"

A dark-haired and plain-looking Clavat, no older than twelve, appeared from the southern hallway, her arms full of folded linens. "Yessir?" She spoke with a strong Marr's Pass accent.

"She and her brothers work for me, and they live upstairs in the attic," Lazarus explained to the Tipa caravanners. "Prepare rooms 112, 113, and 114 for these motley guests," he ordered, "tell your big brother to corral the papaopamus in the stables once their wagon is in the coach-house, and have someone bring in a bathing tub and begin drawing a bath." The girl nodded obediently and ran off to do as she was told.

As David stepped outside in order to see to the wagon and Khetala led Lydia and Dimo Nor down the southern hallway to the caravanners' assigned rooms, Anaïs Nin inquired of the young woman at the desk, "Do you know whether there's a suitable bathing place along the shoreline?"

"Actually, yes, there is," she replied. "We're just over half a mile from shore, it's not too hard to find your way, and most of the smaller cottages north of the three-lantern shore point are uninhabited. You don't want to go too far south of the lanterns, though—there's some terrible poison ivy in there. And I hope you're carrying some Fire magicite with you, because you really need it at this time of year."

Anaïs Nin smiled as she showed the magicite in her hand. "I know about the need for it already; thank you for your help." With that, she raced outside to the coach-house where the caravanners' wagon now rested and clambered aboard to gather a chunk of soap wrapped in a scrubbing-cloth, a towel, a change of fresh traveling clothes, and the warm purple behemoth-skin cloak that she had inherited from her uncle. She filled a canvas sack with these supplies in no time at all, making her way to the spoken-of bather's cove as though under a Haste spell, the fading dusk offering no impediment.

True to Khetala's warning and those of the locals, the lake-water was frigid, forcing Anaïs Nin to cast two Fire spells before she could comfortably wade in. But the cold temperature didn't matter to her at all—not now that she was finally getting clean! She had been covered in the dust and dirt of battle for mere hours, but by the angels, it had felt like days! It felt so good to submerge herself in the spell-warmed water and scrub her hair free of toad-oil that had found its way there at some point over the many battles at the sluice.

While Anaïs Nin may have emerged from the bather's cove significantly cleaner and in better spirits, the lack of moonlight that evening made it dark enough that she had a hard time finding her way back to the inn—and suddenly, as she rounded a bend, a flare of light startled her into jumping back, so that she wound up striking the back of her head against a low-hanging sign beside the road. "Ow!"

A low gasp of surprise told Anaïs Nin that she, too, had managed to startle someone: a Selkie youth not much older than she who wore a purple-and-grey bandana, and who carried a large covered basket in one hand and a torch in the other. "Oh—I'm sorry, miss, if I frightened you and made you hit your head," he apologized, speaking in an accent that Anaïs Nin recognized as Leudan based on her mother's background.

"It's okay, I'm all right—at least, I think I'm all right," she panted, lowering the hood of her cloak in order to feel for damage. "No sting, so I'm not bleeding…"

"You're a caravanner, aren't you?" the young man began to ask. "Judging by your wet hair at this late hour—I know too well we Selkies can't stand being dirty, but only a caravanner would be so bent on getting clean that she'd bathe in the lake when it's as cold as it is…miss…" He floundered, obviously wanting to know the name of the girl he had just startled, but unsure how to ask.

"Anaïs Nin," the lavender-haired Selkie answered the unspoken question, smiling in spite of her pain and cordially extending her hand. "Yes, I'm with the caravan from Tipa."

The youth set his basket down in order to shake the proffered hand. "My name's De Nam, and I've been a resident of Shella for going on four years," he explained by way of introduction. "Would you like me to see you back to the inn of your caravan's stay?"

"The Sunrise Inn," Anaïs Nin clarified. "Yes, I'd like that very much, as you know these roads better than I."

The immediate acceptance of his offer seemed to gratify De Nam, as he picked up his basket and led the way with a smile. Before either of them knew it, they had reached the entrance door to the Sunrise Inn. "I'm sorry that I haven't the time to stay a little longer, but would you care to join me for morning tea tomorrow?" he invited.

"Certainly," Anaïs Nin replied. "But how will I find you? I don't know where you live."

"You can find me easily enough, my dear," De Nam explained. "I live in one of the cottages just a short way north of the three-lantern shore point—my house is the one with the seal of Pontus in red paint on either side of the front door."

"All right, then," Anaïs Nin smiled as she bade De Nam farewell, "Take care."

"Thank you. And yourself as well."

"I always do."