Anladet wiped the tears from her face before she opened her eyes. She could see the sky through the tiny window in the kitchen, gray with a new morning. The oven fire had died down to embers, so she stacked wood in it knowing Onlard’s wife would be down soon to start baking the bread for the day.
She cupped water from the faucet in her hands, drinking her fill before wetting her hair. It was damp from sweating in front of the oven. She’d had the foresight to clean and dry a few items, which she gathered quickly. Anla would rather not bump into Onlard or his wife if she could help it. Things were sometimes tricky when she influenced people and she’d rather not see the aftermath if she could help it.
Anla made her way to the market, always open as soon as the sun rose, sooner in the summer. She bought bread, cheese, and a chicken leg with the tips she earned the night before, eating the meat greedily and wrapping the rest for later. Then, she headed towards Yue Begule on the other side of the city.
Every Thursday she made her way back to the abandoned mill to look for any sign of her siblings. She had written a large message on the wall above where their beds used to be, stating she would return every week to see if the had come back and to wait for her. As always, they were not there and there were no signs that they had been there.
While she waited, hoping it wasn’t in vain, she began her transformation into a piscarin. She opened her small purse of cosmetics, found her shard of mirror, and began applying what little she had in the drab morning light. She rubbed the hunk of charcoal in between her fingers until the oils from her skin made the powder into a silty, dark compound she used to darken her lashes and eyebrows. She added a sparing touch of a dark red pigment to her lips, then changed into a low-cut, bodiced blouse and skirt. Her final touch was to tie a kerchief around her head, to hide the tips of her ears. While none of the items she possessed had been stolen, she guessed that their owners had been very disappointed to find them missing.
The closer Anladet got to the edge of Ont’s Call, the more she took on the personality of a piscarin. Far away and detached, she walked as if she didn’t have a care in the world. It was supposed to show that she was in between here and there, that she had no thoughts for mortals and their concerns (unless, of course, they paid her to). It gave her a sense of false confidence when she pretended to have a true connection to spirits. Anladet could sometimes convince herself that she could, which in turn made it feel less like she was lying.
The day brought her a moderate income. Anladet pulled the handmade kerrin from her bag over a dozen times, earning a few silvers worth of coin in just a few hours. It was enough that she could eat a nice dinner, maybe splurge on a room with a washbasin and a blanket. Two nights in a row with a roof over her head. She smiled and wiggled her fingers.
She was about to leave her spot when three young men, laughing and joking with each other, spotted her and headed her way.
“Can you read our fortunes?” the darkest haired of the three asked. Anla looked him over quickly, taking in as much information as she could while seeming disinterested in his appearance. He was young, of an age to attend a college or trade school. Well kempt, groomed, and stylish, or at least wearing what was stylish from what she understood of fashion. He tugged at his sleeves and vest several times, but it didn’t appear it was a habit. His gaze was bright and amused, though haughty at the same time. His looks for Anla traded between wariness and wantonness.
She took her time responding. “Yes,” she finally answered in a soft tone, “but one at a time.”
“That’s not what piscarins usually say,” said one of the others and they laughed.
Anladet tensed at the barb, but immediately relaxed. She was aloof, she was calm. She pretended she didn’t know what they meant and ignored the comment. Instead, she cupped her hand in her lap and turned her detached gaze on the boy.
“Three coppers, unless you’d like a stronger connection.” She delivered the line as deadpan as she could, hoping they wouldn’t read into it and joke once more about what they thought piscarin women did on the side.
The dark haired man pulled the coins from his pocket and placed them in her palm. He sat next to her on the bench as she reached into her bag and took her time pulling out three tiles. While she made a show of it, she looked the man over much more carefully for a second time.
“Ee,” she said, holding up one of the wooden runes. “You’ve recently come into some money, perhaps a bit of property.”
Her eyes flicked quickly to one of his friends, who gave a look of surprise. “Yes, I have,” he said.
She held up the next letter. “Ah. You are a learned man, or one in school learning at this moment.”
The dark-haired man looked up at his friends, then back at her. “Yes, what does the third one say?’
“It is ‘ha‘, m’lord. You are confused by something, seeking an answer to a question.”
“What?” he asked. “What is the answer to my question?”
Anladet cupped her hands together, palm up, and waited patiently. The man’s eyes looked down, then up at her as he reached into his pocket to retrieve three more coppers. “I would recommend six, so that I may communicate more fully with the spirits.”
The dark haired man paused. One of his friends turned to the other and said, “Why does more money mean a better séance?”
“Because it’s pig tripe in a shoe trencher,” he responded.
This was a crucial point. She could triple her money, potentially more, but only if she refused to back down. If she wavered, the customer would lose confidence in her ability. She would be seen as desperate for money and not as the benevolent liaison between worlds. She continued to sit with her hands in her lap making a collection basket.
The dark-haired man relented and paid her the additional cost. Anladet took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and lowered her head. Her eyes were actually cracked open a little, watching what she could from beneath her thick, smudged lashes. She waited until the man shifted, then waited a few moments more.
This was the part she had felt so clever for figuring out. You never rushed the spirits. They always arrive shortly before the customer complained.
Anla opened her eyes. She ignored the man’s friends and began the labored process of choosing six pieces from her bag. Ess, me, ay, ef, ah, nen. She rubbed a few lightly, rearranged them in her hand, then finally looked up at the man.
“This question of yours concerns a woman.” The two friends looked at each other quickly, a good sign. “There is a question of whether you should do something that involves her.”
“Should I?” he asked. All traces of the joking bravado he had shown less than five minutes prior were gone. “Should I take a leave of absence and go find Lady Silfa?”
That was not the question Anladet thought he was going to ask. A young man concerned with a woman was almost always a proposal of some sort, whether it be for courtship or marriage. Well, situations like these were exactly why piscarins practiced dispassion. She showed no sign of surprise. In fact, she narrowed her eyes and smiled in a knowing, pleased sort of look. “The spirits are clear in this. You must pursue her. Only you will know where she is.”
He leaned in and grabbed her shoulders. “Tell me anything you can, any clue to help me out.”
Anladet gently removed the man’s hands and he apologized under his breath. She stretched the moment, closing her eyes and saying nothing. He sighed, reached into his pocket, and gave her a silver. “My lord, water is your key. You will find her at night, when the moon is full or near full, near the sea or a lake. Great rewards will come to you for this.”
He smiled and stood. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” He looked back once after he joined his friends and nodded to her. She gave a graceful bow from her neck and resumed her placid nature until they were gone from sight.
That was quite a rewarding reading, she thought, and she wasn’t thinking of the two silver she had earned from the man. She changed her clothes in a nearby alley and walked a few streets over to New Arouk, where she could find a tavern to sit down and think without spending all her hard-earned money.
The bartender seemed friendly enough, going so far as to smile and nod at Anla as she entered. She sat at the counter and ordered a glass of Chieri Rose, a blush wine that was often watered down to a hint. She paid the woman, sipping the drink until the bartender seemed free enough for a longstanding conversation.
“It’s a fine day out,” Anladet said. “Glad to see the sun again”
“Indeed. After that nasty storm we just got, I’m glad it didn’t flood like the priestesses were so worried about. I’m thinking about leaving the door open to dry out the corners.”
Anladet smiled. “Do you serve food here? I don’t see a menu.”
“No,” she admitted, “but I can tell you that Rafter’s across the common serves great food and isn’t too expensive.”
“Thank you, I’ll try the place later. Say, what is this I hear about Lady Silfa?”
“Mmm, yes,” the bartender said, nodding slowly, “Duke Frenrell’s youngest daughter. She was kidnapped three days ago in the dead of night.”
“So sad. Terrible what happens to even the noble.”
The bartender rolled her eyes and gave a crooked smile to share in Anladet’s sarcasm. “Sad indeed. However, this time the commoners may benefit from the tragedy. The duke has offered a sizable reward for the return of his daughter.”
“Why doesn’t he hire a trirec?”
The bartender tilted her head to one side. “Do they do that? I thought they just stole things and killed people. Anyway, I think the duke is still sore over a trirec assassinating his favorite brother.”
Anladet remembered the news spreading like wildfire through Yue Begule two years ago. She swirled the wine. “I can see why he might skip that option. So, he’s opened this to anyone? Seems a tad foolish.”
“A tad desperate. The duke dotes on his daughters quite a bit, from what I hear. He’s beside himself, making crazy threats one minute and promises of great rewards the next.”
“What’s he offering?”
“Two thousand. Gold. Some other things as well.”
Anladet almost choked. “That must be his favorite daughter.”
“Favorite or not, the duke isn’t a poor man, just a sentimental one.”
Anladet tipped the bartender and left to check on a poster she told her was on a nearby wall. Sure enough, there was a beautiful portrait of Lady Silfa with a moving plea to return her to her loving father. It wasn’t just two thousand gold the duke promised. There was a long list of treasures below the gold, including jewelry and gems. Anla fancied herself wearing some of the items and realized she would look beyond gaudy if she wore even a quarter of what was promised at the same time.
She wished the best to that man from earlier or whoever it was that brought the Duke’s daughter back. It would take a lot of talent to track the girl, never mind extricating her from whatever situation she was in. You’d need something to set yourself apart, something like a gift or incredible skill.
Anladet thought about it for a moment. She had just qualified herself, but she didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity that Garlin or Raidet would find their way to Yue Begule and wait for her. She needed to find them before she tried to find anyone else.
But it had been so long. Would it be all right if she just left for a week or two? If she managed to find the lady, she could fund her own search for years to come. She could pay people herself, maybe even trade some of the reward in exchange for the location of her brother and sisters.
Anla made her way back to her old home in Yue Begule and wrote below the sign on the wall. I love you and miss you. I’ll find you some day.