Naia 30, 1014 (Ref 1)
Somewhere “on the other side of the continent from Baranur”
Detta and Taria hurried through the trees hand in hand, giddy with the freedom of a late spring night. They came to a stop by a thick trunk and leaned against the rough bark, breathing heavily and looking up at the moonlight filtering through the leaves.
They sank down slowly to sit at the foot of the tree, shoulder to shoulder, hand still in hand, their chemises shamelessly revealed by their descent. They turned their eyes from the moon to each other. Detta raised her other hand and touched Taria’s cheek lightly. Taria leaned forward, lips parted, eyes closing, waiting.
Suddenly, a loud squeaking came from above them. Both girls looked up, startled. They couldn’t see whatever was making the noise, but then something fell from the branch above their heads, landing in Detta’s lap. She had expected an acorn or small branch dropped by the upset tree rats above, but the object was larger and more solid. Startled, she shrieked and leaped up, scrambling away from the foreign object.
Taria laughed at her friend’s fright, and caught the thing catapulted from Detta’s lap. She found herself holding a small statuette of a tree rat with shiny, almost glowing eyes and a purple streak from the crown of its head to the tip of its fully purple, fluffy tail.
Detta darted back over to her friend’s side and peered cautiously at the object in Taria’s hands. The figurine was so well carved, so lifelike, that she forgot her fear and reached out to touch it. The statuette was cool and hard, not warm and soft as it appeared, but she couldn’t quite tell what it was made of.
“He’s darling, Taria, but how did he get up there?” she asked.
“I don’t know, Detta. Tree rats don’t thieve like magpies, do they?”
“Don’t think so. Are you going to keep him?”
“Why not? And since he came to my arms from the tree, I’ll call him Brichal.”
The two petted at and cooed over the statuette as they walked slowly back home. In the limbs of the tree they’d sat under, a mother tree rat was briefly confused by the absence of her mate and her child. Fortunately, in the way of animal-kind, she soon forgot about such abstract matters and returned to what was important — survival.
A year and a third
Lots of places between there and a different there
Brichal became a very well traveled tree rat statuette. He was traded for affection, then favors, then goods, going from woman to woman to man to man, leaving his home in the lands Prince Bastien once ruled and moving ever northwards. His name went with him, though his origin was very quickly forgotten.
He eventually came into the hands of a soldier who went to war in a land even further north. The war didn’t go as well as it might have, and the soldier found himself cut off from his fellows and nearly as lost as poor little Brichal.
Seber 14, 1015 (Ref 2)
Baranur, maybe, more or less
Valan hadn’t wanted to engage the group of villagers and the stranger who sat cooking in their midst. The locals were no threat, all obviously much the worse for the wear of the war that had brought Valan and his fellow soldiers so far from their home in Beinison. The stranger, for all that he looked grizzled and old, had a crafty air about him. One man against five — long odds, but Valan had the idea that the stew cook might just come out on top of the confrontation.
Valan’s commander — rank bought by family, not skill — had the wisdom of a fool, which was just about the only reason they were still alive, truth to tell. They had caught a goose by dumb luck, but not one of the five knew how cook one, even if they’d been able to start a fire. Which was why they’d approached, coats turned, weapons left behind, to offer their prize to the locals.
It had been a good thing to do: the stone stew had been far better than any of them, locals and former invaders alike, had ever expected. The stew had done more than fill bellies too. Valan watched as two of his fellow soldiers, Lanin and Rontil, offered to help with some repairs the locals needed, which did as much to ease the tensions between them as the goose had.
Valan also watched the children, thinking of his own son and daughter back at home. He knew he’d never see them again — failure had no place in the empire. He knew that Rontil for sure, and maybe Lanin, wanted to go native and find a life in this kingdom they’d invaded, but Valan couldn’t see himself doing that either. If only he didn’t get seasick in the bathtub, he could be a sailor …
“That’s a neat tree rat. Did you carve it yourself?”
Valan looked up from where he was running his hands nervously over the little statuette he’d picked up to give to his son. The boy that had brought leeks to the stew man — they’d been watching the locals for some time now — was standing in front of him staring at the purple-striped figurine.
“No, son,” Valan said. “No, I bought this from a … a nice woman back home. Before I came up here.”
“Troad. That’s my name. Home? Where’s that?” the boy asked.
“Beini … south, son … ah, Troad. South. Long way thataway.”
“Oh. I live here. Alone. Can I pet it too?”
Valan held out the statuette to the boy, who stroked it like it was alive. The grin on Troad’s face reminded him so much of Rintan, his own son, that he had to fight to keep from grabbing the boy and hugging him.
When he had a little better control of himself, he said, “Here, Troad, why don’t you take Brichal and give him a home. I think he’ll like it here, don’t you?” Standing suddenly, he put the statuette into the boy’s hands and turned away.
“Gee, thanks, mister! I’ll take good care of him, really. You can visit Brichal any time you want to, too! Bye!” Valan was already walking away.
Not quite another year
That “different there” to Dargon
Troad’s life wasn’t much better with his tree rat friend Brichal than it had been before the stew man and the other men in the strange clothes had come and gone, but it wasn’t much worse, either. The aftermath of war is never pretty, and the Baranur-Beinison conflict had hit parts of the kingdom worse than other parts. Eventually, any prosperous land will do what it can to fix what it can, and help did eventually come to Troad’s village.
Troad was gone by then, though. He’d gotten the idea that he could go somewhere else, just like the stew man, just like the guys from the south. Well most of them, since one had ended up staying. Not Troad, though. Once spring returned, after learning what he could from Rontil about living off the land, Troad went north.
Yuli 8, 1016 (Ref 3)
Arlin Tran walked into the captain’s cabin of his new ship, the Dame Sarina, like a sultan walking into his harem, or a newly crowned king walking into his throne room. He’d had to restrain himself long enough to watch the former captain and owner, Beck Sephlin, leave — honoring the man’s time with and devotion to his ship, not worrying whether the old man would rescind the deal, of course — but once the dory was away, Arlin had dashed to the door of his new quarters, the heart of his new home.
The cabin wasn’t nearly as grand as the fantasies Arlin was seeing — spare, utilitarian, neat, not a bit of ornate trim or excess polished brass to be seen — but it was everything that Arlin had ever wanted so he didn’t mind. He had slaved and saved, learning the ropes — literally! — while stowing money away, and finally he owned his own ship.
So what if the old, but still sea-worthy freighter wasn’t sleek, fast, or shiny-new? It was broken in, it was well seasoned, it almost had a life and personality of its own, like it could sail itself home if it needed to. Arlin wasn’t going to turn pirate or anything. He was going to be a rich sea captain — eventually, once he’d established that he could run this ship just as well as Captain Sephlin had and could take over the old man’s standard runs.
Arlin slipped back out on deck to make sure that his first command — to set sail — was being carried out. He watched the docks of Dargon slip away, feeling the rising wind on his face, not the least worried about the storm clouds brewing up before them. Signaling his pleasure to his new first mate, he returned to his cabin.
He saw the small, purple-striped tree rat statuette on the table that had been folded down from the wall sometime between when he’d left and returned, at the same time that he heard the young voice say, “Hi, I’m Troad. Are we sailing? I’m going to be a sailor! Who are you?”
Arlin turned and saw the tow-headed boy sitting on his bed, grinning like a vacant fool. A stowaway! Now, what was he supposed to do about stowaways?
Sy 20, 1016
Oddly-charted waters of the Valenfaer Ocean
“Did you find the chart, boy?”
I ran up to Captain Arlin, a rolled chart under my arm. Cabin Boy Troad, that’s me! “Yessir, sir. Here it is.”
The deck moved unnaturally under my feet. I don’t mean that it’s moving was unnatural, but that the way it moved was unnatural. Not that I knew a lot about what was natural and unnatural on the ocean or anything, but, well, I just had a feeling about it this time. Sure, I’d only been on board for just more than a month. Even so, I’d gotten a good idea of what a ship being tossed around by a storm felt like on that very first day. The Dame Sarina, Captain Arlin’s new ship, had sailed out of Dargon Harbor and into a “slight bit of weather” — accordin’ to First Mate Deto, anyhow — that’d had both me and the Captain sick as dogs all over his brand new cabin within menes of clearing the breakwater.
The captain unrolled the chart across his table. I looked under his arm, not being tall enough yet to look over his shoulder, and tried to figure out how anyone could tell what all those lines and arrows and blotches meant. We’d both learned how to weather a storm over the past month, so the rolling deck wasn’t so bad, but my hand was still clutched tightly around Brichal, my tree rat statuette, who was stowed safely in the belly pocket of my shirt.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed at almost the same times as Captain Arlin stared at the chart. I knew what was around us — a whole lot of nothin’ besides water under us, water above us in the clouds, and about to be all around us when the rain finally let go. Land had last been sighted two days past, but the captain had still been able to follow where we were — or were supposed to be — for two more charts, dotting a line in charcoal across the inked vellum that didn’t look all that different than this one did except the lines and arrows and splotches were in different places.
Another flash and rumble came, then another and another, then a fourth one that was sort of purple instead of bright white. There wasn’t any charcoal on this chart yet, but Captain Arlin pointed to a funny mark in the middle of a splotch near one edge of the chart. It wasn’t like any other mark I’d seen on any of the charts, or the scraps of vellum that the captain was teaching me to read with.
“Now, I wonder what Captain Sephlin meant by this? Troad, fetch me the Captain’s Secrets book that’s under the bed — maybe he wrote it down in there …”
I went for the book, but before I got to the bed the ship started spinning. First stem to stern, which was weird enough, like we were caught in a huge eddy … “malestorm” the captain called it, or something like that. But when it started to spin topmast over keel, squashing me to the deck and making me dizzy like that first day asea, I knew we were in trouble … and not just because of the biscuits and gravy that were coming the wrong way through my mouth and all over the room.
Janis 14, 1006 (Ref 4)
Barony of Fennell, Duchy Dargon, Baranur
“This way, Troad. I can hear people over here.”
Arlin, former captain of the shipwrecked Dame Sarina, led the only survivor of said wreck, his stowaway-cum-cabin boy Troad, towards the sounds coming through the trees. They had been traveling for days, perhaps even a sennight, from the coast through the frigid forest, looking for a town, village, a temporary camp, mostly just people and help. That last storm, it hadn’t been natural in any way. The purple lightning, the spinning ship, the weird feeling of coming loose from the world and suddenly being slammed back down into it … he didn’t know what it meant but it couldn’t have been good. Then losing his ship, his whole crew — that had been even worse.
The sounds resolved themselves into what was clearly a battle, and Arlin wondered if he was cursed. His superstitious sailor’s nature briefly sought to blame the boy, but there was no way that Troad — innocent, trusting, grinning, smart Troad, with his little tree rat figurine he called Brichal — could be bad luck.
They reached the edge of the trees and found a melee in full fury. Armored men in surcoats swatted at each other with maces and swords, while a couple of boys and a young woman were being watched over by a frowning, portly, older man who bemoaned how everyone was tearing up his front yard. Just about everyone was bloody, even a few of the bystanders.
Arlin thought the symbols on the surcoats looked familiar, and he concentrated on trying to remember instead of watching the battle. Troad, on the other hand, was making amazed sounds at what was probably his first look at combat first hand. No one was dead yet, and Arlin briefly wondered just how exciting the boy would find that aspect of the reality of battle.
As if the thought had summoned the deed, people started to fall. Soldiers, knights, the noble, distinguished by the decorations they wore, all died the same. Arlin heard Troad whispering, “Get up, get up, it’s his turn to die now.” The increasing desperation in the boy’s voice was increasing his volume as well, and Arlin finally said, “Hush, now, Troad. Let’s wait until this is over before we introduce ourselves, straight?” When the boy turned away and hugged him, Arlin just hugged back and continued watching.
Finally, it was over. One last man fell after a sorely fought duel, and the young woman raced over to the keeling victor shouting, “Father!” Arlin heard another man speaking to the boys mention Sir Jarek, and suddenly he knew. But it was impossible. He’d heard stories from his father, who had served in Fennell Keep, about the perfidy of Sir Jarek that had been thwarted by the Baron Dorja.
“Come, Troad,” Arlin said, getting to his feet. “Let’s introduce ourselves to Baron Dorja Fennell.” Who, he thought, had dueled and killed Sir Jarek all the way back in the year 1006!
Seven years, from 1006 to 1013
Mostly in the Barony of Fennell, Duchy Dargon, Baranur
Troad and Arlin, displaced in time, made the best of their lot with the kind intercession of Baron Dorja, who took them into his service. Both learned a new way of life and did their best to adjust to their new time. Troad had an easier task there, having known little more than his own village before being whisked into the past. Arlin, however, knew more of the events of the years that were happening once again, and so had to struggle harder with himself not to try to change that history.
When the ducal levy came and Troad was chosen to go, Arlin bade his stowaway friend a fond fare well, hoping that the wish would be true, and the coming war would leave the young man in peace.
Seber 24, 1013 (Ref 5)
Shipbrook Keep, Duchy of Dargon, Baranur
Troad shifted his shoulders, settling his armor more comfortably as he marched with the rest of the troop back to the docks and the ship they had sailed in on. He couldn’t believe that it had been seven long years since the shipwreck that had ended his seafaring career, not to mentioned stranding him out of his proper time.
Arlin, once his captain and friend, then his mentor, teacher, and still friend, had tried to explain it to him, but Troad didn’t really understand it. Neither of them knew why it had happened, but the reality was undeniable: somehow time had flowed backwards. Troad had also finally realized that the war that had wrecked his life, killed his parents and those of many of his friends, hadn’t yet happened.
Arlin was still in Fennell serving the son of the Baron who had taken them both in seven years ago and made them part of his household. They had both received training at arms and settled into life there. Then, when Duke Dargon and the Count of Connall had come raising forces to march against the renegade Shipbrook, the baron had assigned Troad to the levy. The trip by ship to Fennell Harbor had gone well, for all that Troad had spent most of it looking worriedly at the sky, dreading the advent of every dark cloud that came over the horizon. They’d landed safely, marched to the gates … and ended up not being needed. Count Luthias, Duke Clifton, and the castellan Michee-ah, or something like that, had essentially battled the barons Shipbrook and Oleran one-on-one, leaving the soldiers out of it. Well, at least Troad knew he could have held his own — Baron Fennell’s trainers were nothing if not thorough.
The gangplank loomed, and Troad felt in his belt pouch for his good luck charm. Brichal was still there, even if it was two years before a soldier that hadn’t yet invaded had given it to his younger self. The ship was sailing for Dargon without its supercargo — the high nobles had gone on ahead by the agency of the spooky Marcellon. Troad wished he’d had the guts to ask the high mage about traveling in time, but as friendly as the old man had seemed despite his uncanny air, he had surely had more important things to think about.
Troad stepped onto the deck and immediately looked to the horizon, searching for dark clouds. He hoped the trip to Dargon was as uneventful as everything else had been since leaving Fennell.
A month, 1013
Shipbrook to Dargon
Troad got his wish, and the ship that took him to Dargon made it there safely. The troops that the duke had called up and taken north were then released from the levy since the city had not yet seen battle and it could not afford to keep a standing army idle while the enemy made their way north. Luckily, there were plenty of jobs waiting the able-bodied men and women. Troad was soon a member of the Town Guard, a job that almost immediately provided all the excitement he could ever want.
Ober 24, 1013 (Ref 6)
The streets and alleys of Dargon
Troad ran, anger propelling him as much as the desire to catch the thief he and his fellow Town Guard were chasing, especially since the victim of the thief had been Troad himself. His second day with the city’s guard hadn’t gone well at all, and having his purse snatched wasn’t helping!
If Troad’s partner Navan hadn’t been a native, his hard-earned pay, not to mention his tree rat Brichal, would be gone forever. As it was, he was running and darting and dodging as hard and fast as ever he had under Baron Fennell’s trainers, doing his best to keep up with Navan, whose shortcuts and hard turns were at least as wily as the thief they chased. Two other guards had joined the chase as they passed their stations, and the third set they’d passed had gone a totally different way to cut the runner off.
A crash from up ahead drew Troad’s attention from his partner’s maneuvers. The thief had crashed into an almsbox by a doorway. Coins and other debris rained down at his feet, and he slipped slightly allowing Troad and his fellow guards to close in slightly. Unfortunately, he recovered and raced on, but Troad took warning from the mistake and stepped as carefully through the ruins as he could and still maintain his pace.
The chase continued, taking Troad past more of the city than he’d seen yet, either on his latest venture there, or the one that he’d had seven years ago, three years in the future. Navan had narrowed the gap between criminal and justice by half by the time that a final turn brought the runner up against a wall of guards and what coins on the ground couldn’t do, that blockade managed — the thief crashed to the ground. Troad made sure to retrieve his pouch and Brichal before joining in on some street justice.
The city of Dargon
War finally came to Dargon, and the levy was called up again. Troad fought for the duke and the king, and the southern enemy was pushed back.
Troad returned to the Town Guard once the war was over, spending two years in the ranks before taking his leave. He was guarding the warehouses of the Fifth I for better pay than he’d ever earned when his life changed once again.
Nober 6-13, 1016 (Ref 7)
Dargon and environs
Tristyn, one of Sir Westfahler’s guards, whistled when he saw Dargon for the first time as he escorted Sergeant Jenna, once a fellow guard, to her new post with the duke. He’d grown up in the small holding of Westfahler, and the big city that was the ducal seat awed him.
Jenna laughed and said, “Country hick! Don’t let them see how dazzled you are, Tristyn, or they’ll have you stripped of every Bit — and probably your armor, weapons, and clothes! — in a split mene.”
“Tell me you’re not just as impressed, Jenna! You’re no more sophisticated than I, and you know it,” Tristyn said.
“Maybe, but at least I know how to look iced about it!”
Tristyn laughed at that, but took the sergeant’s advice. He laughed long and hard, though, when Jenna saw that bridge-thing over the enormous river and cut off her own whistle in mid-blow.
Tristyn and Troad met at the bar of the Inn of the Panther when they both walked up and ordered ale at the same time. They looked at each other and found something utterly fascinating in each others’ eyes. Their ale was delivered, paid for, and drunk without a single waver of their locked gazes.
Jenna hugged Tristyn while Troad stood off to one side, somewhat nervous and feeling extraneous. “Take care, sergeant,” Tristyn said, choking up slightly at finally saying goodbye to his very good friend.
“You too, Tristyn. And good luck with your new man, there. He looks quite handsome. I’m sure Barros would be happy for you.”
Tristyn hugged Jenna again, then stepped back. “I’ll take your best wishes back to Sir Westfahler, sergeant. And I’m looking forward to your return home.”
Jenna saluted with a smile, and waved to Troad before turning and walking away to her duties at Dargon Keep.
Troad urged his horse forward when the pathway widened enough and said, “Have we entered the dangerous part of the forest yet, Tristyn?”
“Actually, we passed the first circle about half a day back, Troad.”
“Circle?” Troad asked. “Oh right, those marks on the map. Right. What are they again?”
Tristyn looked fondly at Troad, and said, “Mysterious magic, love. Bubbles of weirdness that come to life and then fade away on their own schedule. Not always dangerous, but it’s better to be safe than sorry since they don’t come with signs listing their effects. Best to stay well away from them, which is why this path is so well maintained and marked.”
Troad looked around at the wide, sunny path, unconsciously drawing closer to Tristyn. He couldn’t decide whether he really wanted to see one of those bubbles or not.
The storm came up suddenly, clouds boiling up from nowhere and turning a sunny late fall afternoon into a windy, gloomy nightmare. Troad and Tristyn rode faster and faster, hoping to find shelter of some kind, but only succeeded in losing the trail in the darkened forest.
If they hadn’t slowed their headlong rush out of necessity — lack of visibility combined with low-hanging branches meant they needed to take more care as they rode — the disaster would have been far worse. Lightning began to crash down around them, spooking their horses not to mention themselves.
A flash and boom, a branch falling at the hooves of Troad’s horse, and the young man was on the ground. Tristyn scooped him up as another crash made the riderless horse veer away, right into another flash. Both men watched as the flash turned from white to deep turquoise, then flared yellow before fading to a sickly green.
The storm fled as suddenly as it had arrived, and sunlight flooded the forest in what seemed like barely a mene. There was no sign of Troad’s horse or the tree that had halted its headlong dash.
Troad grasped Tristyn’s waist and laid his head against the man’s broad back. Tristyn heard Troad sigh, “Brichal’s gone,” as they rode away from the weird storm damage.
Leaves moved moments after the horse and its two riders vanished between the trees. A naked young man sat up looking bewildered. His eyes were purple, and he had a purple stripe down the middle of his hair and, in fact, all the way down his back. He held an object in his hand — a figurine of a horse fully equipped with tack.
The next few months
Duchy of Dargon
Brichal sat naked in wet leaves, poked by broken branches, a strange object clutched in his hand. Familiar scents of greenery comforted him somewhat, though he didn’t know why. Everything around him was strange, yet strangely familiar. Strangest of all was his own body, so totally unfamiliar, yet so right.
The young man stood, wobbling only slightly though he had never before stood on only two legs. He took a few halting steps, swaying slightly and bracing himself against tree trunks as he went. He emerged onto a path and looked vacantly in both directions. He looked up, a brief longing for the high branches fading away before a growing desire to go toward the setting sun.
Luckily for Brichal, the folk who lived in the forest took him for mad rather than dangerous when he came across them. He learned to speak very quickly, almost as if he wasn’t learning the language but how to use what he already knew. Civilization came almost as easily, if only to a point — he knew how to use a spoon and knife, for example, but he wasn’t adept at casual conversation.
He wandered across the northern part of the Duchy of Dargon, sometimes going west, sometimes north, sometimes south or east, following something within him that led him on without letting him know what he chased. He stayed away from villages and cities for a long time, fearful of being among so many people, but eventually his inner goad drove him into the city of Dargon.
Sy 11, 1017 (Ref
City of Dargon
Heidi watched Willis and Deserae as she did her job at the Inn of the Serpent. Poor Deserae with her scarred face seemed to finally have found herself a good man — as strange as Willis was at times, he seemed to truly care for Ballard’s daughter, even if he did insist on calling her Maura.
Heidi sighed wistfully as she wiped down a table. She was young and pretty enough to get more than her share of attention from the patrons of the Serpent, but aside from a few overly hopeful, or overly sad, usually very young men, most of her admirers knew that the limits of that attention only rarely extended more than an evening in the taproom, or a bell or two upstairs. She wondered whether she’d ever find someone like Willis.
Heidi took a pail of slops from the kitchen into the alley behind the inn. She tossed the contents away, and then jumped when she heard a sneeze from behind her. She whirled, pail held ready as a weapon, only to find herself confronting a sad, slight, bedraggled young man with the strangest purple streak in his hair. The fellow was crouched against the wall, head down, sniffling softly more from a stuffy head than sadness, Heidi thought.
She set her pail down and slowly walked over to the young man, as carefully as she might a frightened dog. “Hey there, are you hurt?” she asked in a caring voice.
The fellow looked up at her, revealing startlingly purple eyes to go with his streaked hair. He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head.
“Well, that’s good, ’cause I’m no healer,” Heidi said, smiling wide. “So, what’s your name? What are you doing back here?”
The man continued to stare at her. She thought he wasn’t going to answer, but finally, he said, “Brichal. I’m Brichal. Where’s here?”
Heidi had reached Brichal’s side by then. The young man hadn’t flinched as she approached, just continued to stare with a disconcerting directness. She noticed that he hadn’t once ogled her on-display charms either. She said, “Here is an alley behind the Inn of the Serpent in Dargon.” Brichal’s stare didn’t change. “No connections, eh? Must be lost, then. I wonder what it is about the Serpent that draws strays? No matter. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up and ship shape.”
She reached down and drew Brichal to his feet by one arm, tsking when she saw the state of the rags he was almost wearing. All stretched out and standing, instead of crouched into a ball, young Brichal was something to look at under the grime and rags. She started moving toward the kitchen door, pulling Brichal gently along by that arm grip, wondering whether maybe she’d found her own Willis.
Melrin 4, 1018 (Ref 9)
The Madenee Manor House, Barony Madenee, Duchy Dargon, Baranur
Brichal helped Anliv and Lenna roll the dead body of the nasty Haian in the carpet. He had come a long way, in a lot of ways, since that alley behind the Inn of the Serpent almost a year ago, but he knew he still had a long way to go.
Heidi had been very nice, even when her obvious hopes about his sexual interest had been dashed. She’d helped him get cleaned up, then get a job at the Inn — pot boy wasn’t glamorous, but it gave him a room, food, and some coin every now and then. It also gave him an opportunity to get used to being around so many people, which slowly wore away at the strangeness he seemed to project to all who met him.
Brichal had learned much from Heidi and the others at the Serpent, but there was still much he didn’t know about himself. Where had he come from? How had he arrived at that wet forest glade? He knew a slew of names — Taria, Valan, Troad, more — but not who those people were. He did know his father’s name, Sirnon, but nothing more about the man.
At Lenna’s command, the three of them lifted the rolled carpet and walked from the room. The weight wasn’t significant, but what had happened over the past few bells did weigh on his mind. He’d enjoyed being one of the baron’s cowherds, and the party the night before at the lodge had been a nice bonus to his regular pay. But that nasty man breaking in and accusing the very nice Maurev of cheating on the baron had been disconcerting, most especially when, had the party not been interrupted, Brichal might well have been helping the baron ‘cheat’ on the baroness. Then that cross country ride in the dead of night, followed by the little charade in the baroness’ bedroom, culminating in a bloody body and a bloody rug, were easily enough to get him thinking about a change of career.
After all, cows were pretty smelly.
Smelly cows and a dead horse thief had done almost as much to push Brichal out of Madenee as the divining rod of his need to find — whatever he was seeking. Following the draw, he took to wandering again, which was no longer quite as easy as it had been before he’d been civilized by his stay in Dargon. Now he needed jobs to take him from here to there, since a growing sense of self worth no longer let him merely exist, beggar-like, a mad wanderer kept alive by the charity of strangers.
Unskilled labor was easy to come by, fortunately — it took no great learning to mend a fence or dig an irrigation ditch, or even to chop a tree beyond knowing where to stand when it fell. He also seemed to have an uncanny way with animals, so herding sheep or driving cattle, which weren’t quite so smelly when on the move, came easily to him.
If only he could find jobs that took him in the same direction as he felt the need to go at any given moment, he would almost be content with his strange lot.
Seber 14, 1018 (Ref 10)
City of Dargon, Baranur
Brichal sat on the driver’s bench of his wagon and thought that horses didn’t smell all that good either, nor was the view from where he was all that appealing. He’d eventually returned to the city after leaving Baron Madenee’s service, following the pull in his head, when the farmer he’d last worked for had put him in touch with a merchant in town. Unfortunately, that pull was now trying to draw him south, and he was pledged to the merchant for another month of wagon-driving.
He looked around at the busy streets of Dargon, taking note of the people walking back and forth. He envied those people their knowledge of themselves, their understanding of their origins and the path of their futures. Why, even the shadow boy urchins, like that one with the funny rag tied to his shoulders, probably knew more about himself than Brichal did.
Wait, why was that boy …? “Hey, move!” Brichal shouted in a gruff, startled voice as the shadow boy calmly walked out into the street, directly in front of his horse. Brichal clearly saw the boy turn his head, acknowledge the approaching horse and wagon, and then turn his head away again as if it didn’t mean anything to him.
Brichal tried to pull back on the reins, but it was too late. He braced himself as the horse smashed into the boy, knocking him across the street, then stumbled and fell, whinnying horribly and wrenching the shafts until the yoke broke and with it, one of the wagon’s wheels.
Brichal all but fell out of the driver’s seat, cushioned in his fall by the beans spilling out of the wagon’s bed. He stumbled to his feet and looked at the wagon, then looked at the cargo, and back at the wagon again. Dried beans probably wouldn’t be ruined by contact with Dargon’s not-too-filthy streets, but who was going to fix the wagon? And then reload the beans?
“Hey!” Brichal again shouted, this time at the bystanders who were poking at his beans speculatively. “Get out of here! Go! Scat!” He turned to see a flash of blue from where a strangely cowled man knelt by the fallen horse. Brichal was sure the beast had broken a leg in the fall, but it was struggling to rise even as the man beside it got easily to his feet. “You, what are …?” he started to shout, but then the man turned to face him, and Brichal saw only impenetrable darkness within that cowl and he shut up.
The weird man turned and walked away even as the horse reached its hooves. Brichal looked around once more, wondered whether a broken wheel, spilled beans, miraculously healed horse, and even that poor child, was worth the meager pay he wouldn’t see until the end of his service to the merchant. A moment’s thought was all it took — that, and the magically obscured cowl — to make him decide it wasn’t.
Brichal slipped into the crowd and walked away from the accident even as a Town Guard wandered by and started asking questions. Brichal decided it was time to follow his inner compass … after he washed the dye out of his hair, of course.
Yule 2, 1019
A gypsy fair, not far south of the city of Dargon, Baranur
Brichal’s purple eyes were wide as he stared at the tray of jagged crystals that were sparkling in the center of Madame Zeefra’s table. He found the trappings of the seer around him to be reassuring in some way, as if he might have finally come to the right place. He had spent more months wandering around chasing the lure in his mind before finally deciding to try to find answers elsewhere. His options had been limitless, especially in the city of Dargon that seemed to attract seers and soothsayers like rotten fruit draws flies, but ultimately futile. He’d heard the name of the gypsy Madame Zeefra from many sources, and when word had come that the caravan she traveled with was near, he had sought her out.
Madame Zeefra’s tent had not been hard to find at the gypsy fair. Brichal expected to wait in line for the seer’s time, but there was no one waiting outside when he walked up. Just as he’d reached for the tent flap, it had opened and an intent young man had come rushing out, and expression of purpose on his face. Brichal stepped aside, and the man excused himself before hurrying away, seemingly having found what he’d sought in the tent. Brichal hoped for the same luck.
The dark-haired woman, bedecked with shimmering clothes and jangling jewelry who sat on the other side of the table finally looked up from the sticks she had thrown out of an ornately decorated jar. She’d had trouble deciding on her divination method, but that had only strengthened Brichal’s faith in her talents.
There was a strange smile on her young/old face, and she said, “This is very portentous, and very curious that you would come here just when you did. I can tell you exactly what you need to do to find every answer you seek, and all you need do is listen well.”
Brichal leaned forward eagerly. He’d been afraid he wouldn’t be able to meet her price, despite everyone telling him that Madame Zeefra was the most fair, and most skilled, oracle around. “I’m listening, my lady,” he said.
“Very good, Brichal Sirnon’s-son. You must seek out …”
Yuli 23, 1019 (Ref 11)
City of Dargon, Baranur
Brichal had returned to Dargon, following the advice of Madame Zeefra and the pull of his inner compass. Every street he walked, every turn he made, the pull grew stronger, and when he reached the door of the bar he had been told to seek out, he found that the pull within him was so strong it almost dragged him bodily into the taproom.
He walked into the Rogue and Quiver about halfway between eighth and ninth bell and crossed the room, drawn directly to the table at the back where an old man and that same young man he’d met outside Madame Zeefra’s tent were sitting. He strode up to the table, looked at the old man, the wizard Tasrein as it had to be, and said, “I’m Brichal Sirnonson, and Madame Zeefra said you could tell me who … and what … I am.”
The young man’s eyebrows went up in surprise, and the cat’s eyes almost seemed to pop out of his head. He heard the same word doubled, almost as if both had spoken it. “Sirnon?” they whispered.
The wizard stared at Brichal intently for a few moments, and then he sighed resignedly. “This was certainly a consequence I never considered,” he said before covering his eyes with his hand and letting out a sigh that was almost a groan.
Ref 1 – co-existing with the flashback tale in A Father’s Gift
Ref 2 – Stew a la Gundi
Ref 3 – Beck’s Next
Ref 4 – A Matter of Honour, Part 3
Ref 5 – Trial by Fire, Part 3
Ref 6 – Talisman Chapter 10, Part 3
Ref 7 – subsequent to Born Leader
Ref 8 – Surfacing
Ref 9 – Ballad of the Potter and the Horsethief
Ref 10 – Fears
Ref 11 – just after A Father’s Gift