Originally written 01/06/2015. Last updated 03/24/2020.
13th of Ocdeork, 740AP
It had been an impressively mild winter. Two months in and only now had the season released its first snowfall. The flakes fell thick outside the window, the pane frosting around the edges. Jary Miggon watched in fascinated distaste. He pulled the blanket closed around his torso, tight around the neck, and eased back from the window. Closed as it was, the chill seeped in slowly. He threw another log in the fire and watched it catch.
Jary truly hated the cold. He’d never been able to stomach it since his family had moved up from Brambletang when he was very young. He had hoped this winter would be different. And it had. But now it seemed to need to compensate for its absence.
The flames licked around the log and Jary sat back satisfied. He pulled in his writing station and dipped the pen in ink. He had nothing. The paper would go out three days hence and he had nothing to show for it. The paper heading had been calligraphed in earlier that week. VELUNDANE PERIODICAL stretched out atop the top left portion of the paper. He stared at several large blank portions of the paper yet to be filled in with articles or stories, some panels already finished and sent in from his staff. But none of these pieces were paricularly headline worthy. Once completed the paper would be folded in four, and added to write-in adverts, marriage licenses, obituaries, and other things worth noting that the city required. In recent years the magazine had gotten quite thick.
‘Perhaps I could include a section of the piece to my interview with lordling Brite…’ The prospect was a drudgery. Jary contacted the minor lord at his estate in Eastings during a pretentious fundraising event only yesterday. ‘While it was still warm out,’ he noted. Brite opined that his district, Eastings, was an advantageous location for fresh real estate in the city, situated snug against the carved out cliff face, because water flowed straight from River Atlúm to their doorstep. But Brite’s big proposal was that they build a duct system that carried the water directly from Atlúm to the center of Velundane, like the Akarians had done in Maradane.
Naturally this brought a huge round of applause from the sycophants and fawners in attendance, who quickly began calling the idea the “Brite Aqueduct,” but Jary was a far more practical man. This project wouldn’t happen any time soon. The money needed just couldn’t be obtained. And as selfless an idea as it was, Jary hardly suspected Brite’s motives were wholly altruistic.
Jary’s father Bart Miggon passed away nearly 5 years prior, leaving him the reins to the fortnightly periodical. And on occasion, now particularly, Jary felt it more of a burden than a blessing. But most days he relished the idea of writing articles for the VP. It was in his blood, and since the paper became his, its readership too seemed to escalate. He took pride in that. This was, after all, the very first periodical in existence, now entering its 50th year of publication.
But now, just after its half-century anniversary, the creativity well began to dry up, along with any worthy news.
A knock at the door preceded the door’s slow opening. A woman shuffled in. Beautiful. Short blonde curly hair. Very pregnant. She carried a tray with kettle and tea. Brambletang blackleaf. ‘She knows me too well.’ “Perfect timing. I’m freezing.”
Her face soured at the empty page, but she poured out two cups regardless. “You still haven’t come up with anything?” Her tone was equal parts annoyance and pity. She took a generous helping of milk and sugar. Jary took it straight.
“I’m sorry Lyla. Give me a bit more time. I’ll be sure to have it out by the deadline. I always do. Thank you for the tea, though. You’re my favorite.”
“Yeah, yeah. I better be.” She gave him a devilish grin and shuffled off to the window. The phrase “you’re my favorite” was a small nothing they’d repeated to each other since their courtship began when they were younger. Jary knew it would continue to bring a smile to her face for many years to come.
He went back to his notes. ‘There’s always the lifespan conundrum.>’ This was a new theory being thrown around by the supposed intellectuals based on data they’d been collecting over hundreds of years. ‘Akarianites,’ he thought with more than a tinge of prejudice. The theory explains that the average lifespan of humans on Atelinor had drastically decreased in the past century, from about 150 years to as low as 120. But these were the same people who claimed the universe was too orderly for it not to have been created by some higher power. That, of course, was nonsense, no doubt brought on by their meddling too deep in paradox theory, or anomalurgy as they deemed it. But perhaps there was more to the lifespan conundrum.
This was published as a factual piece in The Strand, known best in the journalist community for their questionable sources, or their obvious lack thereof. The theory is believed by some however. It goes on to propose that there might be some basis to believe that those who passed through the Purge could have had a lifespan closer to 200 years. However nobody, including the propagators of the theories, have any definitive proof, or an answer as to why the lifespan would be diminishing. Furthermore, it was questionable if there ever was a so-called “Purge.”
Jary rubbed his eyes, jotted down both the idea of including a section for lordling Brite’s water duct system, and addressing the validity of the lifespan conundrum. Both were alarmingly hypothetical topics. One might never happen and the other might be simply unprovable for years to come. And hypothetical topics like these were something he and the Velundane Periodical stayed far away from, if only to distinguish itself and its quality from its competitors. Perhaps the day had arrived when he’d need to rely more heavily on articles of a hypothetical nature. ‘Hyll, I might as well start investigating the Purge soon after all; for a future edition of course.’ He jotted another note down.
He pushed his writing station aside and stood to stretch. Getting the blood flowing was an integral part of his work. He paced in front of the fireplace, still quite chilled to his bones. His wife ignored his movements, sitting on the stool by the window. “Where do you think she’s off to?”
Jary braced himself for the cold as he left the warmth of his hearth behind. In the street, bundled tight in cloak and shawl was a young woman, wading slowly but confidently through the snow. “Who do you think it is?” asked Jary.
“I can’t tell just yet.” The figure got closer, her footprints small but heavy in the powder beneath her. The wind blew in her hood, the flakes attaching themselves to her hair. Brown hair. Her nose was pointy and her features long and pale. “I think it’s… Aelin. Where could she be going in this weather, you think?”
“Aelin,” Jary pondered. “Aelin the butcher’s daughter? From Low Hill?”
“Well she can’t stay ‘the butcher’s daughter’ forever. She’s training for bardship, see.” Lyla pointed to the brick building Aelin was entering. A stylized harp carved into a plank hung above the door.
“Terrible weather for practice,” Jary said incredulously. He went back to the warm spot on his chair, by the fire. There had to be a story in there. “Bardship. I had no idea. You’re sure she’s not training under a minstrel?”
“Is there a difference? She’s learning her notes.”
‘An entertainment column might not be a bad idea, come to think on it.’ Jary scribbled down the name of the traveling group he had seen pass through Velundane a week past. ‘A Journey of Storms’ they called themselves. Odd name, but they put on a marvelous show. The man and woman who led the troupe were likely surnamed Storm or other. The troupe themselves weren’t particularly pleasant on the eyes, and Jary wouldn’t have been surprised had they also been unpleasant to the nose, but he hadn’t gotten close enough to test his suspicions.
A Journey of Storms boasted their ability to play by memory a hundred shows, and three times as many songs. They played a game of song naming, where they had the audience take turns telling them to play certain songs, and if they weren’t familiar with one, they’d buy the individual a drink. They knew their art well. Afterwards they would end with a show of Carus and Carrion, a dark, bawdy comedy.
Music began to play then. It took Jary out of his concentration. The sound came from outside – no. From across the street. It must be from the music tavern Aelin had entered. He closed his eyes and let himself relax. Harp? It sounded like a harp. But it also sounded more or less like a lute. ‘Two instruments in tandem.’ It was a slow melody. Just gentle plucking of strings in truth, but in the right order… The harp faltered. A short pause followed and then it started up once more. ‘I guess she is getting a lesson.’
Lyla hummed along, as she tidied up the study. Books were lain out on the table in stacks, and she placed these back on the shelf. Jary took a sip of his tea. He’d nearly forgotten it was there. ‘Still warm enough to drink,’ he thought happily. The dulcet melody was oddly fitting for an afternoon as bitter chill as this.
Lyla made a startled exclamation, breaking the mystique of the song. “Jary! Jary, come look!” She stood by the window looking upon the snowy street below. Her voice was urgent; terrified, even.
A body lay in the snow, facing the oncoming blizzard. A young woman, Aelin. The butcher’s daughter. Red stained the white around her. Lyla screamed as Jary threw his cloak on. The music continued unabated.