Into the West!

Here’s Ferin telling the first part of the new adventures. It’s promising!

“Hey! That’s my goat! She escaped when I wanted to milk her!”

And I thought it was dinner, running into my arms, on its own four feet, as it were. It was Aylin who was pursuing her — I know the girl. Quite a cute itty-bitty girl, well, woman, but unfortunately, like so many here in Solay badly treated by their Khas overlords.

Me, that’s Ferin. I’m from Tilis, and I’ve been on a boat since I was four, and on sea since I was nine. Eight years later, I arrived here in Solay with the King’s army and left my nice, steady job as third mate on the Black Swan of Lenyas, or Our Wicked Witch as we call her in honor of baroness Raith, who once put nearly all the cordage and canvas to fire with her firestorm off the coast of Iss-Peran.

I decided to stay here because there are cute, itty-bitty girls (only the one I stayed for apparently had a boyfriend, a half-Khas ex-soldier!), good food — and of course, the Princess! Now that’s a woman to die for!

I was one of the first the join the Princess’ Guild, before she knew about its existence, when it was still a boys-only affair. When those Iss-Peranian girls arrived, it became a bit broader, and Aylin sort of joined as well. Good girl, lots of pluck and lots of backchat.

She took her goat and invited me to help eat up its little brother. She might have several Síthi forebears, but her one Valdyan grandmother means she feels she can eat meat with impunity. On the other hand, my nine years in the fo’c’sle means that anything freshly slaughtered, except for biscuit-fed rat, gets my automatic approval. And her, rather grumpy and taciturn, granddad even provided some wine. He was also unusually talkative, full of sententious good advice and little bits of insight into marriage and so on.

When Aylin and I went off to do the dishes together we were surprised by a small girl blocking the doorway. (Aylin lives in the third courtyard, that’s one courtyard from the Princess’ First Courtyard, and nextdoor is the spring in the ruined baths.)

“Hi! I’m Dayati. I want you two to do something for me.”

We gaped a bit. Aylin said that the girl looked a bit like one of the twins from the second courtyard, but not quite. I wasn’t too sure, but I asked, “Are you Timoine-Dayati?”

“Yes, I’m Dayati. Please go to the guild meeting, because I want you two to do something for me.”

Off we went. We were anxious enough that we wanted to make sure the Princess and her doxy (that’s the Bitch which is our Witch!) were safe, but armed with apples and wine from Her kitchen, we went to the usual meeting place, the big oval stairs at the beach.

Most of the Guardians of Ayneth were already there, and when Erian (the Khas bloke who is apprentice with our Witch) had arrived we started. It turned out that Lan, a rather small half-Síth, half-Khas boy had started getting nightmares about the Khas returning.

And that’s no joking matter.

The Khas had retreated beyond the two fortresses guarding the canyon through which the river that brings all the fresh water to Solay flows, beyond the mountains maybe, even. Except for the Khas who had surrendered or who simply had stayed in Solay and gone on living with their Síthi families. But nobody, and that’s really nobody knows what’s beyond those mountains. Are there still thousands and thousands of Khas making ready to invade again? Or are the remaining Khas nice flower-gathering, hat-tipping polite gentlemen who wouldn’t think of importuning our Princess (and her Witch)?

Put it like that, yes, we all started wondering. We sort of knew, because otherwise Erian would have picked up some hint (he’s got free access to the Witch’s mind during his lessons, and sometimes the Princess’ mind, too), as I said, we sort of knew that there had been no official mission sent across the mountains.

The next possibility would have been the Order of the Sworn, who had just founded a Chapter House in Solay, on the market square. But their Commander happened to be drinking wine with the Palace Guard’s Captain, and Aylin and I offered to subtly ask him whether they had sent a mission…

Commander Geran took one look at us, then told us:

“No… I can’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you if we’d done it, I couldn’t tell you if we hadn’t done it, I cannot tell you either way. But it’s an interesting idea. Pity, though, those gangsters in the North of the city keep pretty close tracks on us. What we’d need would be some gifted people willing to go… Without our direct involvement.”

Aylin and I were practically jumping up and down with excitement. We sort of felt, both of us, quite sure and certain that this is what Dayati wanted us to do. It would be Guild business, since it would be protecting our Princess. And it would be interesting. More interesting than milking goats or clearing away rubble in the war-damaged parts of the palace (my day job…).

In the end, Commander Geran gave us a couple of hands full of gold and silver, little coins from all different countries and then bade us leave, telling us he had never seen us, and would we leave the next day? The Palace Guard Captain was grinning all the time — I don’t know his name but he had a big nose, like he was Eraday by birth.

The Guild agreed with us, and the next morning we went out through a gap in Palace Wall I knew about. First to get some stout shoes and other necessities for a long tramp, then to a woman Aylin happened to know. Pretty interesting woman: her house had a back door, and that back door was in the City Wall… A very nicely overgrown part of it, lots of rubble, plenty of opportunity to go in and out without showing your furlough pass to gatekeepers. The woman told Aylin that a little Khas boy accompanied by some other people and three camels had paid her for their passage as well.

It was really nice weather, now the rains had passed and the cool season had begun. I wasn’t hot in the least, though Aylin was sweating like a fresh ship’s boy on his first trip. We were walking along the river, discussing Commander Geran’s strictures to teach each other all we knew about semsin — with me not being a journeyman, and Aylin knowing even less (though she is good in hiding!), when I discovered she didn’t even know how to read and write Ilaini! Well, that’s something the Princess and her sis-in-law is very keen on, so I promised her I would teach her her letters.

Then we had a wonderful stroke of luck! On the river was a smallish, rather cute, girl trying to run her barge westwards, up-stream, on her own. The boat was empty and bucked like a drunken captain. I hailed her, and in my best Síthi I offered her my help. Later on, Aylin told me that I had said something like “you, two nice breasts, how much, I help, big pole!”, but I don’t believe that, since she hailed me.

I gave my bundle and clothes to Aylin and swam towards the ship. Swimming is another thing Aylin probably needs to learn, at least in something that’s more lively than the Princess’ pool! I helped the woman land her boat, and helped Aylin in.

Dear Gods, dear Timoine, it was so good to have a pole in my hands again! I was very nearly born on the river, and we made good time. The bottom was nice, mostly quite gravelly, like on the Rycha, not muddy like the Valda. The occasional muddy, marshy part was easily navigated by sculling. Lots and lots of birds around, blue sky and two pretty women admiring my prowess! (I usually don’t get much admiration, on account of the usual shipboard mishaps that took away what little cuteness I had when I went to sea.)

We passed a small group of people on camelback, with a Khas boy apparently leading them. That seemed a bit suspect — why would Khas travel westwards if not to cross the mountains? — so Aylin made us inconsipic… — dammit, whatever, nearly invisible with semsin, and we passed without attracting attention.

Soon, we arrived at the girl, well, woman, she was called Dhekhi, at her village. Three small, round, reed huts next to a landing stage. Two boys and an older man came out to help us land the boat. They prepared dinner for us, even gave us some wine, and were all ears when we started telling them about the Princess. They gave us two bags of rice. In turn, before we left next morning, I caulked their barge for them.

It was a good place to stay, and I was sort of sorry our cover story was that Aylin and I were travelling to the farm near the fortresses that the Princess had given us for our services. Dheki was really quite cute… And good with a boat, too! And smart — she followed along when I was giving Aylin her letters.

But the next day we were walking along the old Gold Road to the west. A nice fish for lunch, lots of semsin work all the time to get back into training. I think we both felt we were lucky with our travelling companion!

Some time later, we passed the Khas boy and his mates again. One of the camels was having something tiresome with its hoof or foot or claws or whatever that ship of the desert has for a keel. We greeted them, they greeted us, and we went on our way, towards the South Bank fortress.

It was very nearly dark when we could reach the Sworn guarding the fortress with our mind, and they opened the door for us. A hearty welcome, nice food and a chance to speak under six eyes with their Commander, Faran.

Faran told us that he had sent out several expeditions, actually, but that none had returned from the Khas lands. He was quite worried about us, but before he could use his authority as a Master in the Guild (of Anshen) to forbid us to continue, the Khas and his people arrived.

Looking very puzzled, Faran returned to us some time later. The Khas boy had told him he was guiding the Síthi and Valdyans in his retinue to his native village, to trade there, and that he was only the guide, not the leader of the party. To me, he looked quite a bit like the boss of the crew… We asked Faran to keep us and that party apart for a bit.