The Travels of Con Marquarata, Vol. III, Entry 29

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30th of Tredecimbra, 739AP

Despite my extensive travels, my readers may be surprised to note that this was indeed my first ever trip down to the southernmost reaches of continent Atlúma. After departing the small town of Karattra yesterday – a relief as my host family was a particularly tense lot, claiming their town was on the eve of battle with a neighboring tribe, or some codswallop – we made our way down a beaten footpath amid the rolling hills of that region. Eventually we came upon a straw hut, where a large, sinewy fellow came striding out shirtless. He did not speak our tongue with any casual finesse, but he managed remarkably well, accepting our coins happily in exchange for guiding us down the river.

He took us down a path behind his hut that carved around great mounds of purest green in the land. When I strayed to step upon them, for they appeared manmade, our guide would huff and fuss and, by the crook of my arm, drag me back down. I attempted this thrice, and on my third try he threatened to stop taking us. He did not have the words to describe the mounds significance, so my prodding here was useless.

Walking up a steep hill, we eventually found our way to its ridge, and, expecting to begin a steady descent down its southern slope, we were surprised to find it simply dropped off. The cliff face was sharp, and below we saw the very start of the Shattrakani forest. Indeed, Blarney and I had finally found ourselves in Shattrakan. The treacherous beauty of it all from up on high was diminished when our guide, Waky by name, attempted his hand at humor. He laughed diabolically as he mimed pushing us off the ledge and into the jungle below us.

After his gag was up, Waky took us to a place where wooden steps were built into the cliff face, which proved a most precarious descent. Upon finally finding ourselves below the canopy of the jungle, we could not ignore the potent humidity, thicker here than even the dankest days in Covetown had been. I suddenly sympathized with Waky’s shirtless state, and though I wished to do likewise, I merely removed my tunic. The pages of my journal absorbed much of the moisture, warping and pushing away from one another. I must remember to find a Fumarin anomalurgist who knows a thing or two about removing the damp, before mold sets in.

We found the river at the base of a hidden waterfall, which released its water from an underground river flowing out of the hillside. Brilliant. I had not seen such a thing in many a travel, and certainly not one so fine. Like a drainpipe it gushed its whitewater, spraying the air with a cool mist that somehow relieved our sweat-covered brows. Waky showed us where the boats were kept. Hundreds lined the river, each with its own unique markings, perhaps the names of its owners in the Shattrakani tongue. We walked a ways, over root and moist soil, making sure not to trip on the ropes which tied the boats to land. Waky showed us his boat, a blue vessel I was pleased to find, as this was made from the blue trees only found in this portion of the known world.

It took a bit of wiggling to get comfortable in the vessel, and Blarney nearly didn’t make the trip, what with his fat bottom and all. But we pushed off, our guide’s oars pushing gently through the wake.

It was early in the day, just after noon, when we caught our first glimpse of the fabled blue trees of the Shattrakani Peninsula. Marvelous, tall things. Skinnier than I had previously imagined. The base of the trees were no wider than the circumference of my leg, but they expanded as they grew up and out. The leaves, still wet with dew, shimmered a blueish green and hung low. The most remarkable part about them, as I had not known this until now, was that they grew in pairs of three. The hajta trees, as Waky liked to call them, grew together in a perfectly equilateral triangle. Some grew closer together, others were several stafflengths apart, but they always made up triangles in seemingly 60° angles, in proportion to one another.

I had to get a closer look. I stopped Waky several times on our journey downstream, making sure that he stopped on the bank so that I and Blarney could get closer looks at different examples of the hajta trees.* Even hajta seedlings, sprouting like no more than blue twigs from the ground, grew in pairs of three. It was something truly breathtaking.

We also witnessed an incredible breadth of wildlife and game. The birds this day were of particular note, those which made especially ludicrous sounds and mating calls. The large black eye of the colorful marqueep stared us down intently as we drifted along. The wings of the rathtalon beat viciously as we entered its territory, but besides giving us a quick fright it did not bother us.

The river rounded a long bend, almost a full 180°, to the point where it felt we were going back up north, but it corrected itself after a time. We eventually came to a clearing in the canopy layer, where the sun beat down at us imperiously. We were almost grateful to resume the humid shadows the jungle offered us.

Several hours after noon Blarney dozed off, snoring away as he does, fool man. We came upon our first encampment that looked inhabited. And it certainly was inhabited. Children came running out of their huts and out from under their root holes wearing naught but rags. The women of the tribe spared no thought into garbing their breasts, and the men but stared at us, weapons bared at their first site of swarthy men. Cautiously, we floated onto the bank, hands raised high, so that they knew we meant the tribe no harm.

*I’ve attached several drawings to the following pages so that you may get a better glimpse at the hajta trees remarkable growth patterns.

She’s Here to Stay, an early poem of Kay Timan

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Excerpt from the Journals of Captain Kay Timan, Vol. II, from the years before his Captaincy. At the time he served as a deckhand aboard the cargo ship Bluewood. It is unknown if this was intended as a poem or a song.

5th of Twonombra, 2055AP

Into dock we make our land,
Throw the anchors in the sand.
Birds of night make way for day
All will shout “she’s here to stay!”

Maradane upon the hill,
Sails are tied and wind is still.
Sol’Enase overhead,
Wake the souls still in their bed.

Up she comes, out of the hull,
Assailed by the sound of gulls.
Could Illoman, land so green,
Create beauty so unseen?

Her hair as bright as a fire,
A smile sailors can admire.
Her eyes light up at the sight.
A city to her delight!

A 3-day trip from her home,
Gave her blankets of my own.
Not once did I see her sway,
‘Cause o Saivé’s here to stay!

Maradane you treat her right,
Watch over her in her plight,
To become Akar. Oh why,
Did Saivé not say goodbye?

A Blueprint and a Storm

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

“The latest insight in modern intellectual understanding is being referred to by members of the Akarian Scholaria as the Lifespan Conundrum. Although it is currently only proposed as a theory, the past half century has seen a widespread increase in naturally occurring deaths under the expected lifespan of 150 years. Scholars and record keepers alike are claiming we may be seeing a sudden drop of nearly 30 years off the average human life cycle, and they have as yet reached no conclusions as to why this would be occurring. On average it appears women live roughly 3-4 years longer than men. One Akar (who has asked to remain anonymous) states that the diminishing lifespan may not be an entirely new concept. Some, including our source, believe it likely that those who experienced the Purge could have lived as long as 200 years or more.”

Ashayr Cannifury Brite shook his head and chuckled as he finally understood. He dropped the satirical tabloid onto his nightstand. The Strand is finally taking potshots at those paradox addled fools of the Scholaria. For such self proclamation of collegiate prowess, Ashayr couldn’t fathom how the Akarianites could still profess their belief in a Purge ever actually happening. Absolutely no proof!

He looked about him, rising. The previous night was an unbelievable success, both as parties go and as a fundraising event. It was dishevelment in the extreme. Ashayr was extremely proud of himself. As only a minor lord, this project would forever stamp his name on the annals of history, (and it would bring water more readily to the people). Lord Sarnichor and his wife had promised a generous loan, and old Lady Marley Crondy is officially recognizing a portion of her will towards the financing of the, tentatively titled, Brite Aqueduct.

He left the room, silently bidding the two youthful beauties unbothered rest under the sheets. The hallways seemed intact, ferns unruffled and paintings leveled. He ascended the stairway, several goblets and a bottle of 20-year aged Marnvalley Red empty and abandoned on the bottom step. They found their way into my cellar, he thought with exasperation.

Ashayr stopped when he hit the next floor, staring at the open door in front of him. Exasperation drained from him, anxiety filling the gaps. No, no no… No, the room was locked. Locked? Surely, I locked it. He moved forward, entering his workspace. It was remarkably clean opposed to the rest of the manor’s appearance. No party entered through here. The papers on his table sat untouched. Precious heirlooms, weapons, and other valuables remained where they had been positioned. Maps of Atelinor draped magnificently on the wall, each town marked, and landmark pinned.

And then he realized, looking back to his work table. “Where is it,” he asked in a low fury. “Where is the blueprint!?” He had shown nobody the most updated layout. If this gets into the wrong hands… He collapsed into the chair, hands shaking. The document contained more than a few confidential details he hoped would remain a secret, including how much he would personally pocket from the project’s proceeds. If this gets into the wrong hands, I’m finished.

– – –

Aelin kept the rolled up blueprint hidden beneath the folds of her cloak, anger and determination warming her from the inside out. From Brite’s boastful speech last night she had realized the location of the water duct system to be dubious. It was worse than that though. Oh, how papa needs to see this.

It had begun snowing on her way back home. It was so sudden. No snow all season long and now it falls in buckets! She furiously blew the snowy hair out of her eyes, unwilling to tuck it back inside her hood for fear of numbing her fingertips. Her walk was endless and lonely. All had shuffled their way indoors at the onset of the snowfall, and she walked the streets by herself. The sky was ominously dark; relentless.

The overwhelming silence would have been considered soothing. The white flakes falling slow and deliberate could have been inspiration for song. The soft crunch under her boots should have reminded Aelin of her youth. But she was upset and her mind was elsewhere. The sketched plans under her cloak foretold the doom of her father’s house.

Wind picked up, buffeting more snow against her course. The layers of snow under her feet piled higher, each inch making it harder and harder to budge forward. What I’d give for a horse right now, she thought grudgingly. She hugged to the walls at her left, where the snow fell less feverishly. It was becoming increasingly dangerous. I’ll have to stop at Duree’s Harper, until I warm.

She turned under a wooden archway, accented by a hanging plank with an embossed harp, and pulled open the heavy door. It was a breath of fresh air, entering the building. Not quite the breath she hoped for though. Duree’s Harper Tavern was an old establishment, and Aelin had been coming here for some time. Her father’s line of work wasn’t something she could follow in the footsteps of exactly; that’s what her brother was for. She had been training under a minstrel, coming here twice a week generally. Her tutor, a reclusive master, would be absent today, she was aware.

Since she set out to earn her minstrel certificates Aelin found that only one thing truly peeved her – being mistaken for a bard or a mere singer. Master Davad’s first lesson stuck with her after all these long months. “The road to becoming a celebrated minstrel is elusive. If you ever find it, let me know. And make no mistake, being celebrated and being successful are two very different things. There are many celebrated bards with more poems to their name than coin. There are many successful singers or musicians with more coin to their name than talent. As a minstrel, you must blend deft fingers, a trained voice, and a honed wit if you ever plan on attaining success. Once you attain that, celebrate.”

The warmth of the room was jolting. Fire licked up from the large rectangular pit in the center of the room. Aelin allowed her hands to heat up, feeling the ache in her bones slowly return as she thawed. The room smelled of roasted pork and ale, and it’s scattered attendants joined the crackling fire with idle chatter and mirth.

She needed to look at it again. She sat at the nearest empty table, fumbling the flattened roll out of her cloak. A key dropped out of the cloak with it. Despite it all, it rolled out easily. The parchment was likely a fine goatskin, not coiling back up as most scrolls would.

She traced where the water system led, a gigantic snake across the page. She did not question that the people would need the water, or doubt that this would make it easier for them. It was a brilliant plan. But there. Just there. Her finger traced where her home would be. Several piers and walls would need to come down directly on the people of her neighborhood. If Lord Brite gets the funding to go through with this… Her home. Her father’s shop. Neighbors she had known all her life. All would need be uprooted for this… Brite Aqueduct. The words were stained across the top of the magnificent parchment.

At the time she stole the plans from Brite she knew she had to stop him any way she could, but just now she had no idea how to go about such a daunting task. What would her father think, being sacrificed to the wellbeing of the future? What was she thinking, even attempting to interfere in the games of lords?

A harpist and a lutist began to play on the raised platform closest to the window. Aelin recognized it as a private class, the harpist being the less experienced of the two.

– – –

“What the hyll is that?” Stann stood over a young woman’s shoulder looking down upon the parchment on the table.

“Oh,” the girl exclaimed, clearly flustered. She was very pretty. Olive skin. Brown hair. But the parchment was… “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you standing there.” She noticed Stann’s eyes scanning the map of sorts. “It’s nothing. None of your business.”

She attempted to half-heartedly cover up the page before her, outstretching her palms across it. “Doesn’ look like noffin’, love. Wha’s that say then? Briiite Aqueeeduct…” Stann knew his letters. Not well. But he knew them. He took the seat beside her and she recoiled. Whether she drew back because of the intimacy or the smell of alcohol wasn’t certain. He studied the parchment. The map in front of him detailed plans to build a monumental structure. A blueprint. To the right people this would be worth it’s weight. And it didn’t belong to the beauty that sat beside him.

Recognition hit the girl’s face and she quirked her features. “I know you,” she said. “You’re A Journey of Storms, aren’t you?” He hated himself at that moment for not skinmasking before confronting her. Course she knows who I am.

“The name’s Stann. An’ yeah, part of the company.” He pointed over his shoulder at the table near the alley exit. “There’s the rest of em.” Several members raised their mugs at the gesture. “Now. This wouldn’ be little Lordling Brite’s would it?” The color drained from her face. “I thought it might be. He had that big party of his last night. Suppose’ to unveil some big project of his.” She said nothing, but guilt and fear weighed heavy on her features. “Why don’ you hand that over, I slide a little coin your way, and our lord never finds out who took it?”

She stammered her words out. “N-no. It was given to me by Lord Brite himself. A message of sorts to-to the people of my locality.” Her lies were as large as her eyes. “I do not think he would much appreciate a band of thieving troubadours intercepting it for their own gain.” She found her courage and rolled up the blueprint, tucking it under her cloak. She got up and stood by the fire.

“Eh, we’ll see,” Stann mumbled, returning to his table. He recounted what he’d seen to the others present. They were 8 in total.

One of them, a woman named Jaspona piped in. “We need that Parchment, Stann. You know the pale one will pay.”

He shot her a glance. He knew whom they would sell it to. He did not need reminding. “I’ll skinmask and exit out the side door,” he stated, pointing at the alley.

“Well, get on with it then! That one looks ready to leave.” Jaspona pointed at the girl, tapping her boots rhythmically by the fire. “Jus’ be quiet this time!”

Stann glanced about the tavern making sure no eyes were watching, took a deep swig from the mug in front of him, and let all the air in his lungs fall out. The man sitting next to him scooted out of elbow range. Stann opened his mind to impossible things.

– – –

A harp string broke and Jorl swore under his breath. The B string swatted his finger. He shouldn’t have been plucking as hard as he was, but it wasn’t nearly the same as playing the lute. It took his tutor some time to realize that he had stopped playing. Carin frowned and placed her palm over the strings of the lute. “You’re plucking too hard.” Carin was his betrothed, as well as his tutor. Even her rebukes were soft-edged. Even so, it shamed him that she so outstripped him in age and skill.

“I know. I know.” Jorl proffered the harp out to her, letting his disappointment hide the jealousy. “The lute is my instrument, dear. Can not I work with that tonight?”

Carin sighed. “Of course, but you’ll have to learn the harp eventually.” They traded instruments. “Same tune?”

Jorl nodded, and as he settled back into his seat he noticed a women with brown hair exit out the way she had come. But then he noticed a young girl, no older than eleven years of age leave out the alley exit. Odd. I don’t remember seeing any children enter. He shrugged the thought away as his betrothed began to strum on her harp. He too fell back into the rhythm.

– – – – –

Writing prompt/exercise taken from Writing Excuses episode 10.2.

Using last week’s five story ideas (or five new ones):

Take two of them and combine them into one story.
Take one and change the genre underneath it.
Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.