“Eighteen gold, five silver?” Al asked, holding the coins in his hands. “Should I ask?”
Anla yawned and stretched, then sat up to face Al, who was already bathed and dressed. “I was paid ten gold for the wench auction. The rest you’re probably not interested in.”
“I mean, as your ‘husband’ should I be concerned?”
She glared at him briefly. “I read palms.”
“Oh. Piscarin stuff. Well, at least it’s not… I mean, I’m supposed to be your husband, so it doesn’t look good if you’re…”
“If I’m what?”
There’s body language and looks and tone that most married men learn early on in a relationship, to preserve peace and life. Al, unfortunately, had never learned the warning signs and didn’t know that he really shouldn’t answer that question. “Well, what women walking on streets late at night do. I mean, you didn’t get in until late last night, so…”
She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Only a few minutes into the morning and the day had already been spoiled. “I am going to freshen up and then I’m going downstairs for breakfast. After that, I am taking the money I earned last night not whoring and I’m going to walk around Calaba with Telbarisk, perhaps shopping, perhaps dining, and perhaps not whoring.”
“But, I thought that we could go see the shows together. There’s going to be a to’ken invasion around lunchtime and a demonstration on sailor’s knots later on.”
“I’m sure Raulin would love to see that with you.”
“I don’t want to go with Raulin! He’s an ass!”
“I won’t disagree, but it’s not changing my mind. If you want company, ask him. I told you what my plans are. To summarize, not whoring.”
Raulin and Telbarisk were already eating breakfast when the two of them went downstairs. Telbarisk’s plate was full of fruit, johnny cakes, and whipped cream, much to his apparent delight. The innkeeper’s wife kept coming over to see how he was doing and taking in all the compliments on her cooking. It wasn’t hard to see that flattery was getting him everywhere.
Anla asked Telbarisk if he wanted to walk around Calaba, which he seemed enthusiastic about. Al sulked. Raulin said nothing.
The two left and walked along the cobblestones towards Old Town. They ignored the strange looks they received. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Better. I don’t feel ill at all.”
“How about your kil?”
“I’m fine, but I would prefer to be away from so many people.”
“People effect how much kil is in the area?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Kil is everywhere, but more in the quiet places where men don’t go. Deep forest, mountain tops, caves, oceans, places like that. The more serenity, the more it grows. In places where people are constantly around, it doesn’t have the chance to replenish, since people are constantly feeding from it.”
“People? You mean, I take in kil just like you do?”
“Yes. Everyone does. Only kiluids have ability to do something with it, though. Our souls are connected to the world directly; everyone else’s are still connected but much less so. Instead of pushing it out, like me, they digest it, take it in and let it mix with their spirit. I was surprised to learn that Ghenians do not know this. I think this is why they’re in a bad moods all the time.”
“I don’t remember anyone explicitly telling me this in my tribe, but I always thought there was a reason why the elves liked to live closer to nature then Ghenians.”
“I’ve always liked the elves. They are fiercely protective of their lands and I appreciate that.”
“Especially since you benefit when their lands are unsettled and full of kil?”
His face, usually thoughtful if not sunny, fell at this. “It would only benefit me and not my people. There aren’t many of us who are kiluids; it wouldn’t make sense for me to make any diplomatic issues based on that reasoning. Besides, my brother is in charge and doesn’t care much for the elves, regardless of their resources.”
Anla was on the verge of apologizing for the unspoken accusation of greed, but he seemed suddenly distracted by a table of collectible items. There were only a few other booths; not an official market, then, but perhaps a consignment of souvenirs.
“See anything you like?” the older woman behind the table asked.
“I like them all!” He grinned, holding up a scrimshaw whale’s tooth. “How did they do this?”
“They carved whatever they wanted darker, dyed the whole tooth, then wiped it clean,” Anla explained. “Or sanded it, I’m not sure.”
He held up a small dish with seashells painted on the inside. “How did they do this?”
“They worked clay until it formed the dish, then fired it in a kiln, then painted it when it was cooled.”
He held up a ship in a bottle. “And how did they do this?”
She thought about this for a moment. “I…I don’t know, Tel.”
“I want this, then.”
“I think a souvenir from Calaba would be nice, but maybe you’d like a smaller one, since we’re traveling.”
He nodded and picked up one she could hold in her palm instead of his palm. She paid for it, overpriced at five silver, but worth the fascinated look on his face.
They walked farther to the small beach in between the wharf and where the fortifications began. Anla took off her soft leather boots as they walked on the beach. Telbarisk’s feet were covered in sand, since they were so large and they hadn’t found shoes to fit him yet. They talked about the coast on Ervaskin, of his home, of his people, of her people. They sat and talked until the sun started to feel dangerously warm.
“Tel, I want to spend some time a little farther up the hill. Would you mind staying here for a bit? Sit in the shade and keep yourself cool.”
“I will. I do not like the warmth here, but maybe dipping my feet into the ocean will feel nice.”
She left him behind a rock and headed up towards where she was last night. She had changed her clothing and tried not to make eye contact, in hopes people wouldn’t recognize her. Despite returning to where she had made a lot of money, she had no intentions of breaking her promise with Birgetha.
The air inside the temple of Cyurinin was cool and smelled of parchment and binding glue. It was the first library she had been inside since her family’s trip to Wavalay many years ago. The one in Hanala was always far too crowded at night and wasn’t always the safest of places. This one, however, felt comfortable with muted warm colored rugs on the dark, hardwood floors, murals of the ocean on the walls, and plenty of light shining through. It was still, reminding her of a quiet glen in a forest.
Her father had taught her long ago the order of books in libraries: pleasure reading on the outside, educational books on the inside. The freestanding cases in the middle of the room were imposing at a story and a half tall, but the carved ocean scenes on the outsides brought a quaint comfort to them.
Her intention was to see what she could learn about the chalice, but wasn’t sure where to begin.
Anla began perusing at “A”, hoping that it would be under “artifact”, but was surprised to find several books on the Agrihi, the name her people used to describe themselves. Curious as to what Ghenians had written, she flicked her fingers along the bindings until she found a startling title: On Magic and Mixture. She grabbed a few others that interested her and sat in a high-backed chair in an alcove to read.
It was a dry cultural study written before the 132 year-long war between the Ghenians and the elves. The author had spent some decades visiting various tribes that lived farther east than they do now. She was surprised to read that there had been quite a few coastal tribes that had utilized the waterways to trade with Ghenians, other Agrihi tribes, and even the to’ken. Relations had also been fairly good with the Ghenians during that time and only about twenty years after the book was printed did things grow hostile quickly.
The author got a lot wrong. It was probably the difference found between excursion and immersion. All those little nuances, like how elvish magic didn’t derive from their belief in their gods, but was saturated in that part of their culture. Or the fact that some elvish spells didn’t decay; they did, just very, very slowly. She found herself snorting at a few things and began to skim more than read until she came to the last section. Then, her heart stopped.
“On baerds” it read.
The author had begun cataloging half-elven children. Several pages were taken up with ledgers of names, tribal affiliations, location, ages, which parent was human, whether or not the child wound up producing a baerdic skill, and at what age it showed. Out of 112 mixed children, only three showed any ability. One, Kiema Mossgrove, was so famous for her abilities that a colleague of the author’s was writing her biography. She committed the name to memory, in case she came across it.
She tucked her hair behind her ear and delved in. There were so many new things that she hadn’t ever guessed at! For instance, Kiema Mossgrove had been a famous healer, charging several gold per session in the capitol (which had once been Hanala, apparently). Healing. She could heal with her powers. She had no idea how, but that was something she felt confident she could work out in time.
“Excuse me?” she asked of a clerk she hadn’t seen before, who was sitting behind a desk near the back of the library.
He looked up, his eyes widening for a moment. “Yes, miss? What can I do to help?”
“I was wondering if you had any parchment and ink I could purchase?”
“Are you planning on taking notes?”
“Yes, actually, but I forgot my supplies at my hotel. I’m doing a…study on Mikros. This is the first hall I’ve come across in my journeys.”
“Ah, then no charge. Cyurinin wouldn’t appreciate us denying the education of the public.” He opened a drawer in his desk and removed a sheet, followed by a pen from another drawer. “Have you used a pen before? You don’t need to dunk them, like a quill, but if the cartridge runs out, you’ll need to replace it. Just see me if that happens.”
“Thank you,” she said. Before she left, she asked, “Could you recommend the best books on Mikros? I’m especially interested in his artifacts.”
“Yes. Walk with me.” She noted that he wore an open yellow robe over rather plain clothes. “Would you like to see the artifacts we have here? Only pieces, but still divine.”
She followed him over to a glass case embedded into the wall. “That’s a piece of Cyurinin’s Letter to Ap Newa. You can just barely make out the words ‘stone in stone’. We don’t know what it means, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.”
He walked to the other side to another glass case in the wall. “This jewel right here is from the Chalice of Mikros. It’s a solid ruby in an emerald cut, extremely rare even if it hadn’t been on His chalice.”
Anla drew her lips into a thin line. It was obviously a fake, though perhaps not a fake ruby. Though, what if one of the ones on the chalice had been replaced and they had a fake? Or, even yet, what if what they had wasn’t even Mikros’s chalice?
“What do you know of the chalice, His chalice?” she asked. “It’s an artifact I’m having difficulty researching.”
“Really?” he said with surprise. “It’s His most famous artifact. I’d think there would be plenty written about it.” He reached down to the desk below the jewel and opened a drawer, pulling out a thin book. “It’s said that Ap Vriet founded and spent much of his life in this very hall. He wrote a booklet on the chalice and all the information he could gather on it.”
Anla took the book and thanked him before gathering the items from his desk. She looked outside and lamented she wouldn’t have enough time to copy all the information she needed, then sat and began reading as quickly as she could.
Understanding baerdic magic became easier when she realized there were essentially two categories: the sounds she produced and the sounds everything else made. For the first, a baerd was able to change what she said or sang to manipulate what the person heard and interpreted. The ability to fully control another’s mind was called mesmerizing and was a rather advanced technique. On more subtle levels, she could merely nudge a person in a certain direction of thought without canceling their free will. She sighed in relief at this.
The other portion let her change sound in several ways. She could cancel noise completely, change the effects of sound, and detect it far past its normal decay. That she already knew. What she didn’t know that she could change a yell into a whisper that filled a hall or ball a message into something like a glass sphere, holding its content until it was broken. She could shape sound so that what someone said could only be heard by certain people in the same area. She could isolate a particular voice amongst thousands and capture it for others to hear later. So many possibilities.
Anla understood that a man who couldn’t get basic facts about a people correct might also have some of this wrong. But, she could at least try everything now that she knew the building blocks.
She fanned the paper to dry the ink, then turned it over for a fresh place for notes. The pen was held over the parchment, poised and ready, but she wrote nothing. She was far too shocked.
When Anla reached the end of the booklet, a few dozen pages, she sat with her hand covering her mouth. If she had known this from the beginning, there was no way she would have made the bond with Al or Telbarisk.
They had been fools.
She thought about the contents for a few minutes, then realized there was no way she could tell Al or Raulin. Telbarisk, yes, but not those two. Neither of them knew Elvish, so she took the bare minimum of information down in that language, then gathered her belongings to leave.
“Miss?” the clerk asked.
“Yes?’ she asked.
She looked down and saw it in her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry! I was just…I’m sorry.” She walked over and placed it on his desk. “I think it’s still half full.”
He nodded absently. “Miss, I’m just curious. Are you with the Pilgrims?”
“No. Who are the Pilgrims?”
“Oh,” he said, smiling. “They’re a group of people who move from temple to temple, taking in the holiness of each site. We had a group come through about a week ago. I just thought you might be one because of…” He brushed the tips of his ears.
Her eyes widened as she realized at some point she had tucked her hair behind her ears. “They’re…like me?”
“Well, one woman was. She had a fresh babe in her arms and another one by her knees. I felt sorry for her and vowed that if I ever saw her again, I would say something.”
Anla’s heart was in her throat. Raidet? “Why did you feel sorry for her?”
“It seemed apparent that her husband was not kind to her, nor were the other women. She was berated and timid, and it was hard not to see the cuts and bruises on her face and arms. I felt that, perhaps, I could find a way to help her escape from that life.”
“If I see her, I’ll try to help. Which way were they traveling?”
“North, definitely. They spoke loudly and frequently about Beliforn’s temple in Viggerosh, which is about two day’s ride north of here. They were traveling by caravan, so they might be there by now.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I will be sure to keep an eye out for them.”