I conveyed this to my new friend with a bit of the Word infused so he knew it was truth. But even truth has to work hard to permeate that calcified layers of suspicion the living in Bri-sean beats into people.
“Why would you do this for me?” There was uncertainty as well as hope in the question. He wanted it to be true and feared the questioning would make it evaporate like morning mist.
“Call it philosophy.” I explained. “I believe that if we can lend aid to a fellow demi-human and remain comfortable, it’s their duty to do so. For each person I give a hand up, maybe they give a hand up to another when they can. And if I can set something big enough in motion, we might one day wake up and find the Age of Tragedies over.”
The minotaur grunted in amusement. “A loreman that doesn’t know simple history. The Age of Tragedies are over.”
For a little over thirty years, technically. The end was marked by the Thirteen Nations Treaty in the history books. I turned to walk away, but looked back with a thoughtful expression. “Is it?” I didn’t wait for an answer, just took my leave, hoping I had done my part.
The Aurora was pulling away from the airdock. From five stories above, I watched her and appreciated the poetry of her lines.
She had been built to fly and to do so in the face of all natural phenomena. Looking like a humongous, red lacquered scarab, she set no sails, presented no rudder, and had no keel. All of her movement was controlled by mystic engines and spells worked into every plank to keep her buoyant in the air.
The only way to distinguish her back from her belly was the translucent red envelope of magical force that protected her foredeck from the elements. It was perfectly transparent to those on the inside, providing the passengers an enviable view.
I watched the graceful ship thoughtfully as it cleared the hanging piers and loading spars. Then it slowly turned to the west and glided away with more speed than a ship on an ocean could hope for. Once my free transport to Spinar was a red speck on the horizon, I pushed off the railing I was leaning on and turned to the Master of Boarding.
The title sounded impressive, but the office amounts to a hut built at the third tier entrance to the stone tower of the airdock and a wand enchanted with a spell that made the tip hot for etching the tickets. Even for the tier one step below the homes of Bri-sean’s seedy nobility, this honor fell to a fifteen year old girl with greasy hair of indeterminate color and a runny nose. She sat on the other side of an open window with a little ledger before her to hold the schedules and rates.
“So.” I said, offering my most brilliant smile to her and the two guards assigned to ensure no one thought to rob the Master. One was a minotaur with a broken left horn and an old wound across his bare shoulder that was closed with wire. The other was a thick necked thug with a look in his eye and a stance that made me feel I had a better chance against the minotaur, and question the wisdom of leaving him in the care of a teenaged girl. “I need to leave the city today. What’s leaving now?”
The girl sniffed wetly and overtly evaluated me with her eyes. In her short experience, I would wager that this was not how things worked. People wanted to go somewhere specific. They asked her when a given scheduled flight would be arriving, or what flight was going to Kinos or Spinar, or even more distant places like Seram Leggate of the Dragonpier.
When the question was ‘what’s leaving soonest?’, they were obvious thieves and assassins, hiding their faces and acting as if every second mattered. And they never smiled.
Still, the penalty for letting a criminal through to the tower was less than hindering any type of monied folk in their daily habits. The nobles wanted it made clear that money greased every wheel in Bri-sean, provided one stayed on the upper tiers and thus avoided greasing them with your own blood and fat.
Thin fingers turned pages and practiced eyes quickly made sense of the devilishly complex shorthand the various coming and goings of the airdock were translated into when the Master of Manifestos made the weekly copies for the Masters of Boarding. It took only a few moments to compare the schedules to the intricate little gearwork clock on the ledge next to the book and relay the mysteries revealed to me.
“In ten minutes, the Cordial Oak is bound for Rizen, by way of Port Ballar and Emmidos, sirrah.” She said. “Final destination is Fort Iiemes.”
“Ah, a supply run then.” I guessed aloud, based on the minor backwaters the ship would be visiting. The inclusion of Emmidos, seat of Rizen’s unofficial thieves’ guild suggested smuggling as well. “What leaves after that?”
Once again, the girl divined the code in scratch handwriting with her clock. “On the half hour… That would be forty minutes and five, sirrah… the Zephyrus is off to Harpsfell. The only stop is three days at the Frost Gates.”
My brows raised without my permission. Harpsfell. Home. True, I was born in a village in the distant east, and raised in a farming village in Rizen, but from the instant I entered the College, Harpsfell was home, the place I pined for when I walked the world.
“But they don’t have rooms left, sirrah.” The girl interrupted his reverie. “Only cargo passage and at a mark-up.” She cringed as if I were making to strike or shout at her and offered in her defense, “Seeing as they been hired out, sirrah.”
I scratched what was rapidly feeling like beard thoughtfully. I hate not shaving in the morning. “No, I understand. I’ll take it.”
The girl gave me another nervous look. “It is a very large mark-up, sirrah.”
“Doesn’t matter.” I waved her off. “I’ve got plenty of coin from my most recent engagement.” To illustrate, I produced a small stack of Calleni gold spear coins from a pouch in my coat sleeve. The Calleni spear, along with the Rizeni rose were the coins of trade in Bri-sean.
He counted five from the top of the stack and pushed them toward her. She only continued to stare, expectant and apologetic. The remaining six in the stack joined them and she still stared.
“More than eleven spears?” I wondered aloud. “That cargo hold must be a veritable palace.”
“Fifteen, sirrah. So says the cap’n.” The girl said with another overly wet sniff.
Fifteen should have gotten me a heated room with a soft bed for a trip to Harpsfell, not a hammock and a locking chest in the cargo hold. The fare aboard the Zephyrus must be exclusive for the captain to feel that was justified.
And an exclusive fare might mean more, and hopefully more pleasant work for a loreman.
“Done.” I produced the extra coinage plus two more which I flipped in the guards’ direction. The girl looked at me expectantly.
“Giving you coin would only bring you trouble, girl.” I said, giving the thug behind her a meaninful glance. “But, give me a spare page and charcoal and I’ll give you something just as good”. She did as told, tearing a blank page from the back of the schedule and passing me a nub of charcoal from a loop in her belt.
For several minutes, I bent myself to the task of writing. Finally, I folded the sheet and handed it to her. “Do you know the way to a Deyic Temple here?”
She bobbed her head in the affirmative. “The only kind here, sirrah.” Of course it was, only the Queen of wrongdoing and redemption would sully herself with Bri-sean.
“Then you bring that to the head priest or priestess and tell them that the man who gave it to you said that you are in need of a wash and a curative spell for that sniffle. I’m no health reckoner, but that can’t be enjoyable.”
I passed through the hut and into the airdock tower with her still shouting her thanks. Maybe with the grime washed off, and her ills cured and with the amount of aid and tutoring the Deyic Temple would offer her thanks to his letter, the girl might become someone great. She already had a good start, as quick as she was reading and doing sums.
I could only hope. For the moment though, I was going home.