They had walked to Hanala, the whole way. They were too afraid to trust anyone after what they had been through, so Raidet forbid them to ask for rides from strangers. “Who knows what they’ll want from us in exchange,” she said. “It’s better to walk than to risk dealing with unsavory people.” At that point, Anla thought she meant those people would make them lug rocks or do laundry as a form of payment.
In every town, Raidet used some of their money to buy food, which was whatever they could get cheaply. They shared bruised and overripe vegetables, uncooked, stale bread, and half-rotten fruit. If they found something on the side of the road, they risked the poison and ate the berries by the handful.
When it was time to sleep, they found the softest ground and curled up in their dirty clothes. A few times led to being awoken by biting insects or some mischievous creature in the woods. Garlin would fall asleep in Anladet’s arms, sometimes waking and calling out for their mother and crying until she soothed him back to sleep. Only when his breathing grew slow and deep did she cry herself.
They all assumed that Hanala would be a paradise for them. The way the lady had spoken of it made it seem like there would be people there to help them. No, she hadn’t given specifics, but the way she so eagerly spoke of the city, there must be something or someone that would make the darkness go away. Sildet had suggested that maybe that lady would contact their mother’s family and they would find them in the city. Raidet had told her she was being stupid. How would the lady know where they lived if they didn’t know themselves? Sildet had closed her mouth and said nothing.
When they arrived, their clothes were torn and stained, their funds were down to three coppers, and there was no providence. No one was there to welcome them. No one told them where to go. No one gave them anything. Like the towns before, It was just another place with people who didn’t care what had happened to them.
The only people who gave them any notice were the other homeless children. A small unnamed and leaderless group, not quite a gang since they hadn’t broken into violence, had found them wandering the streets. They brought them to Yue Begule, one of the poorer areas of Hanala, and showed them the abandoned warehouse where they all lived. There was space where the roof caved in that they could sleep under.
This was the closest the Auchindol children came to being cared for. In the beginning, the group shared their food and clothing. Once they were settled, they showed the children where to find food that was thrown out by restaurants, still mostly edible, so that they didn’t starve. They taught them how to steal clothes off of people’s wires and from the backs of unsupervised carts. They ultimately explained, in many ways, how to survive when you had nothing.
Garlin was too small to work, so he played with the youngest children that were looked after by the older children and contributed nothing. Sildet was a good pickpocketer, but was overly cautious and made little to contribute to the family’s needs. Anladet was creative and found different ways to support herself. She tried legitimate work, like courying or a day job as a window washer, but the pay was poor and unreliable. She’d often only bring in enough to cover herself and maybe half of what Garlin needed.
Raidet was the one who brought in what she could to cover the rest. She got a job as a waitress near the warehouse and maintained a steady amount for most of the time. Yue Begule was near the docks and they were dependent on sailors. During the winter, when they needed the money the most, the work would dry up and she’d begin to fret about income. Every few weeks she’d bring in a larger sum of money, a silver extra, and they’d feast.
Anladet had asked her once, innocently, where she had gotten the extra wages. “I didn’t steal it,” she snapped and refused to explain further. One of the other kids, a girl around Raidet’s age, told Anla what she did to get the money. Anla never asked her sister about it again, though it had never been a strongly shameful thing back home. They were already learning to favor their father’s blood in order to survive.
It was during this time that one of the girls, Riyan, suggested Anladet should become a piscarin. “You have an older look to you, something that would captivate men. If you cleaned up, brushed out your hair and used cosmetics, if you dressed the part, they would pay just to stare at you.”
Riyan was one of those lovely people in the world who give themselves totally in friendship. Her dark hair was cut short and she dressed like a boy. She told Anladet it was easier to get jobs that way, but she understood later dressing that way made her comfortable.
“But, I don’t know anything about being a piscarin. Aren’t they special people who have a connection to the other world? I don’t have that.”
“Listen,” Riyan said, getting conspiratorially close to her. “I was hanging outside the docks once when I saw two piscarin talking about their days while in their cups. They laughed about how easy it was to lie to people, just tell them what they want to hear and be vague. I think you can do that.”
She shook her head. “But there’s so much…”
“We’ll do it together! All we need to do is watch them and do as they do.”
The two spent the next few weeks spying on piscarin in between jobs and mimicking them. Their nonchalant swagger, the clothes they wore, what they said to the customers, how they said things to the customers. They took extensive notes on what they charged, what kind of customers were attracted to piscarins, and where were the best places to find their quarry. They saw readings go exceptionally well and some that went very poorly, though they had a hard time trying to figure out what had caused either.
Anladet practiced with the children in the warehouse, mostly with Riyan. She developed a persona and walked around the city for the good part of an afternoon in her costume and makeup before setting out one day. She dropped a few of the stones and was dead wrong on a few predictions, but she made five copper on her first day, more than what she made running letters across the city for twice the length of time. More importantly, she learned. She learned to not be specific, she learned to be patient, she learned to have excuses ready in case anything went wrong.
It took her a while before she had the skill to crest a silver in one day. When she did, she excitedly brought home extra food for her siblings. Instead of being happy and appreciative, Raidet was sour the whole evening. Anla would have asked her about it, but the concern over Sildet’s absence was greater.
They went out looking for her the next day, and the next, but never found her. There were no leads, no rumors, no trace. It was as if the ocean had flooded the streets and swallowed her whole.
Her disappearance became a very large wedge between Anladet and her sister. Raidet had given up looking for their sister only after a few days. They fought, mostly rehashing the same argument: Sildet would come home eventually, she had told Anla. She needed their help, she told Raidet. Anla grew distracted and spent more and more time searching for her sister, not content with letting her just fade away. She did less work and brought in less money.
Raidet frequently reminded her that they could find a better place, maybe rent a room somewhere, if she didn’t waste so much time looking for Sildet. They had fought bitterly the first night she had changed from “she’ll come home” to “she’s not coming home”.
“You think she’s dead!” Anladet had yelled. “You’ve given up on her!”
“It’s been a long time, Anla! She was young, yes, but she’d make it back here if she could.” She had folded her arms across her chest. “It’s better to face facts and keep what family we have here together. Stop looking for her.”
Anladet was angry about so many things. She had never learned to deal with her anger well, always letting it burn her up inside. She had clenched her teeth and left in the night, preferring to spend her time searching and away from her sister.
She was gone for a few days and returned with some money. Raidet was frantic when Anla returned. “Garlin,” she said and she didn’t have to say any more. Anla talked to all the kids he would play with and visited all the places he frequented. He was gone, too.
She was inconsolable. She couldn’t sleep and ate little. As someone who lived hand to hand, wasting any food by not eating it was a slow suicide. She wandered the streets for large portions of the day, calling out his name.
That went on for some foggy amount of time until one day Raidet didn’t return. With Sildet and Garlin, Anla feared the worst. With Raidet, she suspected she had just given up on taking care of her younger sister and left so she wouldn’t have to deal with her. By that point, the children that had lived in the warehouse had moved on to better lives or the next one. Even Riyan had moved on, securing a job outside the city as a farmhand.
Anladet had weighed her two options: die or find them. She had chose the latter, surviving as best she knew. She took odd jobs, she worked as a piscarin, and, yes, when the times were lean she did what she had to do to keep from starving.
All that led her to where she was, still searching for her siblings and hoping one day she’d be successful.