Time she couldn’t calculate and countries no-one under this sky had ever mapped behind her, Sylvie now only saw sea voyage between herself and home. It felt odd to again be negotiating with someone who spoke Seafarer tongue natively.
“Ship-mages usually have a better handle of wind than ‘hardly at all’.”
“I’m very good with wood, in case your ship has patched leaks you’d like properly fixed. And I can keep water clean, or pull the salt from seawater.”
The captain gave her a long look. “If we get no better offer by tomorrow, you’ve got your passage.”
I'm attempting the April A to Z challenge, with fiction with at most 100 words. "H is for Homeward" came from Lyn Thorne-Alder.
If you have prompts for later in the alphabet, please give them to me.
Everybody needed salt, and the further away from the salt pans by the sea you got, the more precious it was. So Karva put together a caravan. One year’s time, and carts, animals, people, cargo. But it would pay off.
It was a long way to the mountain-locked nation of Raaji, and the people had to help push the carts up the pass roads, but it would be worth it.
But no-one wanted to trade anything like Karva had expected. Finally she snapped and asked.
“You want far more than the Goblins.”
“They bring salt from underground.”
I'm attempting the April A to Z challenge, with fiction with at most 100 words. "E is for Effort" came from Rix Scaedu.
If you have prompts for later in the alphabet, please give them to me.
Kondarans! Arrogant, lazy... Mirab was an example of the type, being put out at the thought of having to learn a new language - it had never crossed her mind anyone would not speak her own. Teaching it had fallen on Daaren, and he was not about to complain about it, given that he had been another one of the strays the local keep was in a habit of taking in. The girl’s attitude grated on his nerves, anyway.
Mirab’s companion, Firo, seemed an exception from the rule, modest and diligent, and trying to mediate between the girl wrapped up in herself and the real world. It was he who suggested they could translate a story, for them to offer as entertainment and as thanks for the hospitality. The idea even roused Mirab’s interest.
“Oh, yes! A tale about Sir Garob!”
The name seemed vaguely familiar to Daaren. “What is he known for?”
“He was a knight who travelled to barbarian places to teach people to defend themselves. To teach them courage and honour. Only he and his page. How brave he was.”
“Ah. I heard stories that came from Harred.”
“That sounds like the place where he fought a bloodthirsty griffin.” Mirab was blind with hero-worship for someone she never had met. Firo was more perceptive, judging from the nervous looks he gave me.
Daaren nodded. “In Harred I heard tell of him. A Kondaran noble too stupid to care for his own horse or gear, so he had to have a boy following him and do the work.”
“Or maybe lazy. Certainly, though, arrogant and stupid with that. He was set to killing a griffin that at the time hunted near the town. People tried to tell him it was a bad idea; there was a cyrnag with the griffin; they left the herds alone and occasionally traded with the people in Harred.”
The girl yelled something in Kondaran too slurred and rapid for Daaren to catch more than something about lies. He talked right over Firo trying to calm her down.
“I’m not making this up. I am telling the story as it was told to me. Do you want to hear the rest, or not?”
“Not.” She pouted, sulking like a girl half her age.
Firo tried to smooth things over. “Maybe we should try with the story of Saya and the good fairy. It is less long also.”
Mirab gave him a sour look. “You do it, I don’t care.”
“I’ve never heard of a good fairy.” The very idea raised Daaren’s hackles. But he did appreciate the boy’s efforts. “So tell me of those fairies you have down south.”
In a small courtyard made relatively quiet by the surrounding walls, Sylvie lay prone on a bench, breathing evenly while a tattooist worked on her back, and calming her mind by repeating in her head with each breath ‘I trust her’. Sylvie had not seen the design her friend Gumei had come up with. It was about the size of her palm, a cool sketch on her left shoulder blade gradually turning sore-warm under the needles.
I trust her.
Gumei was right here, getting a tattoo of similar size, in the same spot, that Sylvie had decided on. A gull in flight might not have been very original—Gumei owned a brooch in such a design—but suited her; she often seemed flighty, making her sudden decisive actions a surprise for those who did not know her.
I trust her. We've been friends for too long.
In contrast with Aman. The rhythm of pinpricks, her breath, her mantra had let Sylvie slip into a state in which she could stand thinking about him. The first boy who'd shown interest in her. A little older and taller than her, confident and charming. He'd plied her with compliments and attention. And laughed in her face for being stupid enough to believe him, after she had slept with him. She didn't even want to know what kind of gossip he and Cassar were spreading about her.
I trust her. I trust Gumei. I trust my old friends.
Sylvie couldn't let Aman take that from her.
But what if I'm wrong?
Sylvie and Gumei used two small mirrors to show each other what they had etched into their backs now.
Gumei's quick, delighted laughter at the bird could not be feigned, relieving one of Sylvie's worries.
Her own... "A lizard?" All right, that wasn't bad. Amusing since it was nothing she could have imagined, but not bad. "Why a lizard?"
"Because of the times I found you high up on a rock sunning yourself." Like when she had brought the idea of those tattoos up again, when Sylvie had been trying to see how big she could grow a plant from a seed using only magic, no soil or water. It had not worked well. "And because of the old story how lizards have leaf-shaped heads because they grow from seeds."
It drew the first genuine laugh Sylvie had had for weeks.
When she did not keep herself occupied, nightfall in Muirha nearly tore Sylvie apart. The settlement being snugged into a valley between high mountains meant the dull, purple shadows blanketed it early, while the sky was still a bright blue, and the light on the mountaintops started changing colour from the almost-white of day to golden yellow.
The principle was soothingly familiar; the same happened in the narrow streets of the city she had been born in, with the sun still lighting the tops of the higher buildings. But none of the towers of Yrn, even built on the island-mountain as they were, could match the splendour of those wild peaks.
In the east, the light gleaming from old snow slowly turned from yellow to orange, looking even more brilliant against the darkening sky. To the west, dark teeth had swallowed the sun already, and blocked the sunset proper.
Sylvie missed the wide horizon over the ocean, a view only a few sets of stairs or ladders away back home, the complete rainbow of colours each sunrise.
Twilight had never felt like a purple shroud at home.
You'd like to hear a fairy tale from me? Really? Well, all right.
Many generations ago in a village in Kandral was a boy who thought he was smarter than he was. He went out into the woods without telling anyone, wanting to prove he could hunt on his own. Instead he got lost. His parents thought he was with his cousins, his cousins thought he was with his parents, so nobody missed him until night fell.
In the dark and with no idea where he was, he became very afraid. He called for help.
Someone arrived, a figure with skin and hair shining like a moon. It talked sweetly to the boy, until he was not afraid any more. The fae asked the boy to tell it about his family, in exchange for being led to a street, and got a lot of complaints how his parents liked his brothers and sisters, who he said picked on him, more, and no-one took him as seriously as he deserved.
"Ah, this is sad," said the fae, and nothing more.
They walked in silence until they reached a path. The boy recognised it after a moment.
"Here, take this," said the fae, and handed him a seed, big as a nut and shimmering golden. "Plant it somewhere near your pastures. It will grow into something wonderful. It will bring joy to your life."
The boy thanked the fae and ran home. He hid the seed, and it was a week later, after all the anger, relief and excitement about his disappearance and reappearance had worn off, that he snuck off and buried the seed in a hedge, a bit hidden. He did not want it out in the open, so he could be the one to "find" whatever would sprout.
He never saw the plant, because it grew much faster than he had thought, but much more hidden. Roots spread far, sending up shoots that the goats liked to eat. It did not harm the goats, but their milk turned to slow poison. Soon the boy's parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many of their neighbours fell sick, and died. The fae's poison never harmed the boy who had received the gift of getting rid of those he maligned.
When the story came out, the remaining people of the village decided they had to cleanse the area with fire to get rid of the plant. The boy, mad with grief and guilt, jumped into the flames, and burned to ashes.
What, you don't like it? So leave me alone about fairy tales. That's the kind of story about fairies that I know.
My grandfather told me this happened when he was little.
Alarm spread through the village, in short warnings the grown-ups didn't bother to explain to their children. The children were gathered in the homes together with the old, while the able-bodied armed themselves and went out in groups to warn anyone scattered.
Cooped up indoor in broad daylight, the children heard the stories about this particular threat for the first time. A pale spirit of sorts, as calm and shining as a cloud-free and wind-still midwinter night. And as deadly.
They were interrupted by calls of a returning search party. They brought one of the older girls home, dead and cold. Not a mark on her.
Everyone waited out the day and night, fearful or mournful.
By mid-morning the next day, some parents decided the children should see, and took them to the place where the hoofprints had been spotted.
Most fae were capricious, but my grandfather never forgot, the unicorn was most dangerous of all.