“You need a ship?” A man called out. I paused as the captain approached and motioned to his dilapidated ship, the Glory.
“Not that kind,” I grinned as one of the boards gave and dipped into the water.
“Wait sir!” The man grabbed my arm, “I can give you a discount! They call me Captn’ Droy, and you can trust my word!”
“You won’t want to take me.” I removed his hand from my arm.
“But I can take you anywhere.”
He was persistent, I’d give him that. “Vanashtan.”
The captain stopped and his mouth dropped open. “You jest.”
This time, as I turned to leave, he didn’t follow. Smart man.
It had been over several hours and I’d found that there was a rather large shortage of captains willing to sail to Vanashtan. Not that I could really blame them. News had circulated that hostility towards foreigners had become more than insults and the occasional fight. No, violence was becoming commonplace there.
As I strolled down the port, thinking of the latest news. An order passed by Empariver now allowed immigrants to receive citizenship without converting to the state religion. Vanashtans had been outraged and had begun protesting in the capital. Rumors of the people storming the Preemphis building, where Empariver commenced, had circulated and had the Commons Guard on high alert.
“Hmmm,” I spotted a presentable boat and walked over to one of the crew members, who was mending a net with all the passion of a stable hand cleaning up manure.
“Excuse me sir,” I approached. The man didn’t look up, but grunted.
“Would your captain be willing to sail to Vanashtan?”
“We don’t take Vanashtan filth.” He spat the word “Vanashtan”, glaring up at me. “I can’t say any of the captains here would want to do the same.”
“Good to know,” I replied.
I moved on, feeling more self-conscious. It was saddening to see relations between Vanashtan and the rest of the world deteriorate so rapidly.
I took a seat on a nearby barrel and questioned whether going back was a good idea. The idea of returning to Vanashtan brought on conflicting feelings. In the end though, it was best to return.
I glanced around the port, its docks filled with countless ships and fishing vessels. The port in Idonera was the largest in the world, most notably because it’s main income was trading. I’d heard the port here was massive, spanning miles, and that was just the docks. I was thoroughly convinced however. I’d been there all morning and I’d only covered a fraction of the place. That left hope for finding someone crazy enough to sail me to Vanashtan.
“Best to keep searching then,” I pushed off the barrel and walked parallel to the endless rows of docks. Most of these were cargo vessels, but several smaller boats were docked there. I passed by a group of sailors and then glanced a boy staring at me. He caught my gaze and ran over to me.
” ‘scuse me sir,” the boy stopped by my side. He looked to be around ten years of age, and looked to be well familiar with the sea.
“Aye?” I replied.
The boy motioned to a small ship back aways, with a man standing on the deck who was observing our conversation.
“Someone want to talk?” I mused and followed the lad over to the ship.
“I’m Captain Teral, and you are?” The captain offered his hand.
“Malcolm,” I accepted it.
“You’re willing then?” I asked.
“Are you?” He replied, a questioning look on his face. He had the look of an experienced man of the sea, but he had an air of caution around him. Not the sort of man I would’ve thought would be so bold.
“I am,” I said. The deal was struck and about an hour later, the ropes were loosened and weight that had long been in my heart slowly lifted. It had certainly been a long seventeen years, but I was finally returning home.
I heard the blade pass above my head before I saw it, so I ducked and made a thrust at my attacker. He easily thwarted my thrust and made a jab at my chest. I jumped back at the last second and then parried at my attacker’s next cut.
Adrenaline surged through my veins as I calculated my opponent’s next move. Sweat trickled down my back in the early morning air as we faced off. I looked for an opening in my opponent’s defense. His skill was superior, his cuts and slices executed with precision.
He advanced and I was forced back, the rough surface of the stone wall touching my back. I had nowhere to maneuver. Come on, think! I thought to myself. I saw one option but it was a gamble. Oh well, one option was better than none.
Ase he struck, I met his blade with a feint. He countered faster than I had anticipated though and forced our blades into a lock. The sword was wrenched from my grasp, and the sword rang in the air.
“You’re improving.” Master Fenton said.
“If you call a three minute fight improving.” I picked the sword up and sheathed it. “Same time tomorrow?”
Master Fenton nodded and I slipped indoors. I dashed up the stairs to my room and shut the door. I slipped a long white tunic over and put on a beige head scarf. Meditation and prayers were an hour earlier than usual since it was Holy Year.
Father met me below and we got into the coach. “Let’s get this over with.” I whispered and father almost smirked. We weren’t particularly devout, in fact we weren’t even religious, but Hafvis Law required all Vanashtans to attend meditation and prayers every morning and evening.
We rode into the city and the streets were so congested with people that it seemed that there was not a single patch of the ground to be seen.
“Seems like a lot of people are late.” I said.
“I’m afraid they’re not late for morning prayers.” Father’s brow furrowed.
He nodded, “Their numbers have been growing significantly.”
Crowds of people passed us, shouting and heading towards the heart of the capital. The temple was still full today and I walked up the stairs as quickly as I could though looking improper. Father, followed by his guard, Andrew, followed at a more relaxed pace. I slowed on entry and then entered into the left wing where the women were. Father entered through the right.
The familiar smell of incense filled my nose, though it smelled particularly bitter today. I headed into an outer courtyard and then pushed open the door to a small building. My gaze swept around the room till I spotted a light orange scarf. Harai was bowing on a palate in meditation as I plopped down beside her. I closed my eyes, my thoughts far away from any sort of mediation, and knelt down. The process usually took half an hour if I was lucky.
Someone nudged me a moment later. It was Harai, one of the most devout girls I knew, which is why I was surprised she was talking to me when we should’ve been praying and meditating.
“Did you see the crowd?” She asked, without opening her eyes.
“How could I miss it?”
“I’m concerned for Empariver. I do not believe they have favor with Vanashtar.”
“You really think so?”
“With all my heart. That is why I wish you would not go.”
I sat up and opened my eyes, “I’m going.”
She looked at me, like a mother trying to figure out how to instruct her misguided child. Harai was only two years older than me but she was already married and expecting a child. No wonder she was imparting her motherly wisdom on me.
“Syrena, I implore you to stay. You already have Vanashtar’s disfavor.”
“What, because I’m not of Vanashtan lineage?”
“Exactly, and especially because you brought to Harcourt Manor on the most unholy day of the year.” She clutched my hand, fear shone in he eyes.
“I can’, Harai. You know as my father’s secretary, I can’t skip this. I take my work very seriously.”
Harai knelt back down, her troubled look deepening. She’d displayed concern for me before, but this time it made me uneasy. She had never looked so afraid before. Not until now anyways.
I stood up, adjusting my scarf and feeling like I needed air. Harai grabbed my hand, and whispered, “Then Vanashtar be with you.”
I offered a nod of thanks and then left. The anticipation of working with Father was absent today, stolen away by the words of my friend and the increasing violence among the protesters.
Note: Due to the long length of the chapters, I’ve decided to break them up into “parts” instead of chapters for easier readability.