Knave of Fates
A light snow was falling when Stiantia Lymilvar and her radiant not-quite-five-year-old daughter, Sianis, moved into closed, dingy rooms on the second floor of a brick townhouse on the north bank of the stinking Tranbir River, just east of Nine Span Bridge and Embassy Square. Stiantia had been to Salamport twice before, but she and little Sianis were both still wide-eyed at their new home.
The square was wide and long, with cobblestones all around, and a small temple and gardens in the center. There was plenty of wagon traffic from the bridge and the nearby, sprawling Foreign Market, soldiers on ugly Chenol horses, and carriages heading to and from the embassies on the north and east sides of the square.
the Zalamiri Empire was a comfortable behemoth, trading in every commodity, with every neighbor. High roads and fat-bellied fleets all lead back to the bustling ports in Salamport, and at the heart
The city was the new posting for
My father was a young Rochgweth officer, iconically handsome astride his horse, Tumarun, who I loved almost as much as I loved him. He had been a training officer, but now was reassigned far away, repelling another Baerish incursion of the Upper Muchenwald. My mother explained it as “riding with the emperor.” My father would be gone for almost another year, wounded twice, decorated three times, and promoted. I would never see Tumarun again.
The Embassy on the west side of the square at south end. I knew which embassy was The Embassy, a bit of our homeland here in this strange, drab city. My mother and I went there for dinner at least three times a week since we moved there just after Midwinter.
Mother and I would come and stand on that stoop and she would tell me stories of the Embassy, the Ambassador, who was a distant relative, and that massive, carved door. I knew the door’s name, and the name of the tree it came from. My mother’s father and his father carved that door-with-a-name. She would caress it after she would knock, an apologetic touch.
It was late winter when my mother’s headaches started. She would not tell anyone, but she was different. Our warty, old Zalamiri landlady noticed after a few weeks and called in her nephew, a back alley physiker and chymist.
He was odious. His face was misshapen and scarred, with a limp in his right leg, and I never liked him; I would hide under a table every time he came. He had a twisted smile that he flashed at my mother, but she didn’t seem to notice. His treatments and concoctions did not help, but he kept returning.
Eventually, my mother stopped going out of our rooms. The Ambassador sent His Man around to check on us when we did not appear at the Springtide ball. I could not remember the name of His Man for many years. Derrith Daethini was very polite, proper, loyal, calm and resourceful; very much a His Man. He said he would return the next morning with a proper Imperial medico.
When I answered a knock at the door the next morning, it was not His Man. it was the physiker, stinking worse than the river, pushing past me through the door. There was something dark about him; he was not trying to ingratiate himself. I crawled under a table.
He had forgotten about me while he mixed his poisoned brew. He poured a cup for her, and said that he was concerned that i might be coming down with it too, and poured some for me. I saw his twisted smile turn cruel while my mother drank it. When she collapsed and shook, i ran for the door. He noticed me late, reached, and I squirmed. I got away from his oily grip.
I was running through a cold Spring rain in a strange, foreign city. It was a strange place and I was running as fast as I could on the slick stones from the swarthy Zalamiri physiker who had just killed my mother.
Drivers swore and cracked their whips, pedestrians called after me, and the physiker was gaining on me as I ran for The Embassy and The Door. I ducked between two soldiers smoking cheroots in front of The Embassy with The Door.
My mother would have been gentle. I took no such care; I pounded and kicked The Door, but I did aim for the edge where there was less carving. I looked over my shoulder, and the limping physiker was getting closer, the rain making him even more wretched and angry, shoving past the soldiers. I looked back to pound again and there was another girl, my height, golden-skinned, leaner, a wild head of hair vivid like a tropical flower. And behind her, an exasperated His Man and a dozen more Tumkayal inside the bust embassy.
She smiled at me and said, “I’m Marya.” Then she yanked me inside away from the crooked man, leaving the physiker to deal with His Man and the two soldiers. I had just met my best friend and it was the first time she saved me.
The worst and best day of my childhood, is also one of my earliest clear memories.
Kometaven – safe harbor formed by a comet fall before the fall of Kartuus
Aterpea – refuge