So much has happened today! I'll try to go as far as I can, but it's going to be difficult. I need to get it into words before I figure out what to do next, so I'll write until the light goes. We'll be docking in Carabos tomorrow, I think. What happens then, I wonder. In any case, I suppose the only thing for it is to start at the beginning. It started with the announcement.
Just as I was finishing up part three of Grandfather's story, one of the crew began ringing a bell on deck. I gathered with the rest of the passengers to hear what the announcement was. We would soon be arriving at Lockhill. The boat turned away from the fast-moving river, and into the shipping canal as he was speaking. The next bit of news was what was really exciting. Not only would those leaving at Lockhill be able to get off of the boat, but since the boat is going to be waiting for a while to go through the locks, and the deck very busy, passengers were encouraged to disembark and visit the town.
It's a pleasant enough little place, dwarfed by nature and the canal it supplied. Maduin High Falls are still quite a few miles away, but far in the distance the plumes of water can be seen. Supposedly, the high towers of Carabos have a great view of them on a clear day. Even though that area is so close to Carabos, and such a scenic wonder, It's apparently pretty lawless right now. The Wars pushed the Carabian military to it's breaking-point, just like every other nation, and when they weren't paid what they were promised, the conscripts took the forts as payment instead. Carabos has been whittled down to a city-state, turning inward as a place of learning. Even Lockhill is barely connected to the Gnomish Capital, taking a lion's share of the levies on river traffic for itself. The City gets by on the magic trade, but I wonder if it'll hold out.
In any case, the city is mostly sized for the Gnomes that live there, with a few buidings in the entertainment district sized larger. There's a row of taverns, inn and what I'm fairly certain is a brothel, right on the main street, along with a few inns and general stores. There's a sizable theatre as well. It takes about an hour for a boat to go through all four locks, not counting the line, and the inspections. It looks like we'll be here most of the afternoon. I took a look down at the first lock, a long, empty trench with a little water at the bottom. There are gates on the side that let in water, or take it away down a second channel. That water goes down to a water wheel that provides power for the different factories and mills in town. On top of the lock, Gnomish engineers ran to and fro, tying lines and supervising the equipment. Gloria came up and joined me at the railing. After looking down and telling me to be careful, like I was just a little kid, she said that all the heavy lifting was done by golems in a big room underground. The sides were all a smooth white surface that wasn't quite stone. You can find it here and there in very old buildings up in Lythia, but I've only ever seen it with big cracks and patches in it. The Gnomes call it "concrete," and it's their special building secret. Dwarves dig in stone, and Elves are masters of lumber. The Halflings know clay and brick better than everyone else, and the orcs prefer to live in animal-skin tents. Humans use a little bit of everything. I've never seen a construction this size before, though. Supposedly, everything in Carabos is like this. I can't wait to get there.
We still had a few hours to kill, so I wanted to check out the theatre, but Gloria would have none of it. I had thought I had finally gotten a chance to relax on my own, with Mr. K not really being the watchful type, and Magus Ceylon having hysterics in his cabin, but no. The closer we get to Carabos, the more overprotective and bossy Gloria gets. So she pushed me away from the locks, and through the town shopping. We didn't actually get anything, of course, but it was fun to look through the stores, I guess. There was a really nice cloak I was tempted to get. It was reversible, all weather, and I think a little magicked, but Gloria gave me this look, and told me not to waste my money on it. There's a long semester ahead of us, and we have to make our supplies last. She reminded me that we should eat while we're in town, and we headed to a little teashoppe she had heard of.
Right from the start, I cannot think of a more tragically reputable establishment. It didn't look like the sort of place that served alchohol, much less hosted barfights. Definitely not the point of refuge of innocent maidens on the run from evil. I doubt a bandit could find the place with a spyglass. First of all, it was Pink. REALLY pink. Pink walls, pink roof, pink door. Rows of lovely pink flowers in spotless beds out front. Pink stones lining the path up the tiny, but immaculately cut lawn. Disgustingly, boringly pink. And everything that wasn't pink, was lavender! I felt like an idiot just walking in. This wasn't where two dangerous young ladies on an adventure dined on the road.
Gloria assured me that the food, which was the important thing, was of the highest quality, as well as quantity, so I sighed and headed on inside. It was just as bad on the inside. There were doilies EVERYWHERE. I will admit that I am a bit of a tomboy city-girl. I'll admit to a bit of a wild streak, and I've never been one to behave and stay quiet, but this place would have turned anyone's hair gray. Lace curtains, etc. You get the idea. I was beginning to realize that I had perhaps misjudged Gloria's taste, if she was taking me to a place like this. Gloria was already headed to a table. I recognized a few of the faces there from the boat as Gloria's new friends.
I looked past them, and I saw, of all people, Periel the magnificent seated at the corner table. He was conversing with a beautiful woman. She was tall, with long, blond locks, and her ears were long and somehow gracefully pointed, as though her face had been sculpted rather than grown. I wonder if she was be an elf. They were whispering, and I admit that I tried to listen in, but either he had cast a spell, or I was just too far away, and I couldn't hear a thing over the chatter in the restaurant. I shrugged, and followed Gloria, already deep in conversation at the table.
I was introduced all around. There were four of them, coming from all over, each of them different, but fast becoming friends. I've never made friends easily. I've always been an outsider. I was instantly jealous of Gloria for her ability to socialize.
Corrina was the first. She's a human from the borderlands, and she's as tough as they come, by the look of her. She's a year older than me, and she's off to seek her fortune. Her parents were going to sell her off to pay their debts! I was thunderstruck when I heard that. I can't imagine a parent doing something like that, no matter how desperate things became. So she scraped what she could, and somehow made her way onto the ship. She's going to start a new life in Carabos, or maybe stop there for a while, and drift. She hasn't decided yet. I kind of envy her but at the same time I completely don't.
Melody is a Gnome on pilgrimage. She is going to be a musician, and she's coming to Carabos to study at the Bardic College. Bards are strange folk. They study lore, like wizards, but not the arcane. They learn about songs, and stories, and history. And one in a thousand becomes great enough that their songs have a magic all their own. She is beautiful, and her voice is great. She already showed she's been studying, and told a wonderful story about a fisherman. It's apparently from her home village, out east.
Tina is a trader's daughter, like me. She's part elf, and she's on her way to be apprenticed in her Uncle's shop. It's not something she would be allowed to do in her home, I guess, but she's vague on where she's originally from. I've heard of half-elves in stories, of course, but I've never actually seen one. They say that a human and an elf fall in love maybe once in a lifetime. A human lifetime, that is. She's very quiet.
Hilda is from Paladine, and she is a stout and somewhat dour Dwarf-maid. She's a junior priestess, just finished with her training at the tender age of fifty. She's being sent to preach serve as a Handmaiden in Molem's Temple of the Illuminated Will in Carabos. The Dwarf God and the Gnome God are allies from ancient days. The temple in Carabos is the most magnificent outside of the mountains. It is a high honor to serve there, and it is a heavy responsibility. She bears it well.
The five of them talked, and laughed and planed their futures in the city. I was included in it, though treated as Gloria's 'little sister.' I grinned, and shruged, and generally stayed quiet. Eventually, the food arrived: Sweet, black tea and a huge stack of pancakes with strawberries. I dug in gratefully. Honestly, I was glad to have something to do that prevented me from talking. They were all nice girls, but I just wasn't comfortable, for some reason. Maybe it was because my suspicions about Gloria's attitude were being proven true. THe raven pendant in my pocket seemed all the heavier at that moment.
The food was just as good as promised, though. In the far corner, the mysterious woman stood, her business with the mage apparently concluded. As she rose, he reached into thin air and pulled out a card, which he presented to her with a seated bow. Her lip curled in almost a smile, or maybe a sneer, and she left quickly. I admit I was a bit in awe of her as she walked past. She seemed so, I don't know, forceful. The magician sat looking out the window. Once she is fully gone, his face fell, as though it was a mask of good humor he was wearing.
A bell rang in town. A crier announced our ship will be leaving the channel soon, and Gloria and the girls settled the bill. I told them I would catch up.
I hung back to speak with the magician. His table was in a quiet corner, and he sat nursing his tea and looking worried.
"Excuse me," I said. It startled him. "May I sit here for a moment?" He looked at me with these sad, shining eyes, and said "of course." I took her seat.
"I saw you on the boat, but I wasn't sure how to approach you."
"Approach me? Why?" He asks. I'm embarrassed by the answer, but I decided to be honest with him.
"Well, someday I'd like to be a magician like you." I said.
"Well, a cute face like yours would surely bring in the marks," he said.
"Marks?" I asked
"Oh, you know, crowds, customers."
"Right. But I don't know if I can do it. I'll wash out for sure."
"Wash out?" He looked puzzled for a minute, as if he didn't understand the concept. A great, traveling magician like him must be unaccustomed to failure. "Oh, right," he said at last. "Well, there are three things you need to succeed in this business: Patience, Practice, and Confidence. If you focus and train, take your opportunities when they come, and believe in yourself, you'll see your name in lights one of these days." It was good advice. I memorized it.
"Thanks for that," I said. "I saw you a few days ago in (name of town). You were really great!"
"Oh..." he looked concerned for a second, but I don't know why. Then the smile came back, officious as ever. "It was a good crowd for the Wake this year."
"Wake?" I asked.
"Yes, the Halfling Wake, which you were at." He gave me a strange look.
"I've never heard it called that before," I said.
"Oh, yes. It's a fine old tradition. The road's a dangerous place. That's why they have the blessing and the feast. Didn't you go up to the hilltop shrine for the ceremony?" I thought back to the service, the way she had given a blessing in the quick, high Halfling tounge. I nodded. "Well, you've already had last rites, in case you meet with accident or murder out on the highway." A living funeral, a feast of sorrow not for those that had gone, but for those who would not be coming back. And they had hidden it from me, like I was a child, still a little girl. Gloria knew, and she hadn't told me. Even she hadn't trusted me to accept that kind of danger. She's handling me with kid-gloves, like she treats her brother. I was wrong to think that things were getting better between us. Not when she hid this from me. I stood up, nearly knocking over the chair in my haste.
"I have to go," I said. I ran out of the teashoppe without looking back at his expression. I was being rude, I know, to a man of considerable power. But I was flush with rage. Why hadn't they told me the truth?