Vignette I: Quirna of Tarves
Quirna took a slow breath to focus. This would have been more helpful if she wasn’t breathing in the rotting smell of the drainage ditch. She tried to rub her ear against her shoulder to shoo a mosquito away, not wanting to move her hands and lose any progress picking the lock on the grating. She closed her eyes and visualized the inside of the lock. One more pin…
Damn it all to Void! A horsefly landed on her right elbow and make her lose tension. She’d have to start all over. Her hands were shaking more with each attempt. If she didn’t get it soon, she’d have to give up and sneak home before anyone missed her. Then it would be another long day out on the water, pulling in nets full of sprat, before she’d get a chance to try again. And that was only if she succeeded in sneaking out again.
There! Finally, the lock turned. Now she could sneak beyond the upper city walls and put the whole Erlon Sea behind her for a while. She drew her dagger. The rune-inscribed blade gleamed with a fresh layer of poison toad-salve she’d made herself. There wasn’t likely to be anyone else in the sewers, but rumor had it the rats in here were getting nearly as big as the ones people claimed roamed the Witchwood.
She put the dagger back and pulled her ropes out of her pack. It was a steep decent from Upper Tarves on the coast of the inland sea to Lower Tarves at the bottom of the falls, where the river began. Once she was at the river docks, she was sure someone would hire her. It was always good to have a local Kalmak guide, and any decent sized riverboat could use another hand who knew some first aid and who could shoot a crossbow bolt into a Lothlan raider’s heart from thirty yards. She would be particularly valuable because she knew the rykta of the leaders of the local war bands. She could tell by their banners which were the companies that raided small ships and which had bigger fish to fry and would leave a small craft alone. With recent rumors that the Kestrel was terminally ill, the balance of power among the warlords had been shifting, and most other Kalmak had been too busy cowering behind the city walls to keep up with the lay of the land.
She just needed to make sure that none of the Tollscir’s tax agents at the port saw her. If they did, word would surely get back to the clan elders. She’d told her family she had a an apprenticeship lined up on a ship plying the Erlon-Knocklee route on the sea, mending nets and learning how to craft various tools. Once she got away, she could send a letter saying the ship had left earlier than expected. But if anyone saw her in the lower city heading downriver, there would be questions…
She took a nasty fall as a rock broke loose. The heavy rains of the past week had softened places that weren’t usually soft. She felt herself flip upside down, as one foot stuck in a crevice while the rest of her fell. After she recovered her senses and pulled herself back upright, she examined the foot. Dislocated big toe. There were worse things. She popped it back into place and continued gingerly down. After only a few more scrapes and one unfortunately smelly incident, she found herself at a drainage pipe leading out into the river at the edge of the lower city.
The river shone with bright sails in Ternacenti red, Romanza green, and all the colors of the smaller local traders. She picked out a likely looking river barge named the Emerald Dawn. With any luck, it would skip over the nightmare-infested city of Aethis and head straight on for Juldan. From there. it should be easy to find passage to the frozen shores of Frain. There she would find great-aunt Fiora, and the answers she was looking for.
Aunt Fiora’s partner was held in disgrace by the clans, exiled for dishonorable conduct during the War of the Byways. Nevermind that those actions had very possibly saved all the northern Kalmak from living under Lothlan rule. Fiora had chosen to go into exile, too, and taken on the disgrace herself. If Quirna’s family ever found out she’d gone to see them, she’d never be allowed home again. But there were answers Quirna needed to have. She brushed her hand over the pommel of the dagger. She’d have answers, one way or another.