Jun 30, 2022
12 mins read
Althaes - Elith, City of Flowers
55th day of Banem, year 146, Era of Ke'larri
I awake in the dark to a flash of lightning and cracking thunder. At the sound, Pepper jolts up, claws tearing at the sheets and my legs as she scrambles from the bed and out of sight. Through the open window, I can see mist hanging low over the gardens as the rain softly pitter-patters down. The clouds shine brightly in the east, nearly sunrise, and I catch the hushed voices of Monah and Mama Ada floating in from somewhere on the back porch. Before I can shut my eyes, another burst of lightning, a boom of thunder, and I know I will not find sleep again.
I stretch and slide out of bed, muscles stiff in the frigid, wet morning and I feel a shock up my spine as my feet splash into an ice-cold puddle of rainwater. I give a small yelp and throw down a bedsheet to soak it up. Rain continues to spray in as it smacks against the windowsill and I cross quickly to close it. Wiping my feet on the tattered rug next to the wardrobe, I struggle with the sticky door for a moment before it finally gives. Inside, I quickly rifle through blouses and trousers, snagging anything that looks light and airy and tossing it to the bed. I am not confident any of it will be good enough to ease the heat - my father told me stories about how oppressively sweltering Eporo is and how he had journeyed in his cold-weather clothing, only to pass out from the heat once his feet touched the shore.
In the back of the wardrobe, I find his tattered traveling coat, the leather musty and worn in streaks and patches. It’s not practical to wear, even in Althaes, but makes me feel like he will be with us, so I toss it with the other clothes on my bed before changing for the day.
Once I have finished packing, the suns have just begun to peek out from below the horizon and I can smell food wafting in with the draft under my door. I shuffle my way out to the kitchen to see Mama Ada seated next to the oven, closely watching eggs and peaches sizzling in two great pans over the hot coals. A bowl of fresh greens and a plate of bread are already set out on a table on the porch. A pitcher of tea sits beside them and my mouth suddenly becomes impossibly dry with thirst.
As I grab a mug, Ada’s hoarse voice calls, “you better go see that girl before you head out, gods know I’ve got no time or business helping her while you’re gone.”
“Yes, mama,” I say, rounding back to plant a kiss on her sweaty forehead before heading outside.
On the back porch, I see Monah digging around the gardens in a colorful smock that frames her like a balloon, balancing her beeswax parasol lightly over her shoulders. As I pour my tea, she spots me and makes her way back.
“I like the smock,” I laugh as she sits at the table.
She rolls her eyes and waves me away.
“I like to wear it in the gardens so I won’t care too much if it gets dirty,” she says.
“I’m teasing of course. It just reminds me of when you were little,” I chuckle.
She smiles as she picks at a piece of bread. She doesn’t say anything else, so we sit like that for a while. I watch the rain come down over the gardens and beyond, the mist beginning to clear as the suns rise higher in the sky. Monah looks up at me finally, droplets of water hanging from her eyelashes, and my heart sinks.
“Please don’t -”, I start. She shakes her head vigorously and laughs as the tears overflow.
“No, no. I’m just thinking what Father would feel right now. He would be so proud of you,” she says.
“You too,” I say, barely holding back my own tears.
Monah was only a newborn when our father left for Perimia. For the first eleven years of my life, he only ever talked about his travels and how he had to see Perimia before he died, but that all changed when our mother, Onietta, fell ill with the plague shortly after giving birth. The plague ran rampant through Althaes at the time, and father insisted he couldn’t go with her in such a state… and with Monah just born - people typically didn’t recover and we expected the worst for her. The crown was persistent though, visiting the house every day for a week until mother finally urged him to take the voyage. She said Mama Ada could come take care of us and she didn’t want him to miss his dream.
Mother died the day after he left and we had no way to tell him. It took three months for him to make port and send a letter back to us. Another three months for us to receive it since the kukobirds have trouble flying messages in cold weather. We sent a reply and never heard from him again.
Monah was raised on stories - father’s written accounts of his travels and anything Amos could tell us about his life and what he was like. My memories have become blurry with age and speckled by tall tales that I am not sure if I remember or was told. When I look back into Monah’s eyes she has already dried her cheeks and is picking at the bread again.
“I’ll bring you next time and we can have Amos show us everywhere he and father went,” I say, “if you can stand to be away from your potions and tinctures that long”.
“Oh no you won’t,” Mama Ada grunts from the doorway, sizzling platters in hand, “this one stays on dry land.”
Monah laughs again and helps Ada with the food. As we eat and chat, the rain finally clears and, once Monah and I are both finished, she leads me down to the gardens.
I rarely find myself here, cautious of somehow killing everything she has worked so hard to grow, but now among the rows and rows of herbs and roots, I stare around in wonder. She guides me through, naming things along the way: trine, evening primrose, moltflower, farsweed. Towards the back of the gardens, out of view of the house, she finally stops at a small clearing filled with logs and mushrooms. I stop to examine a group of tall, two-stemmed mushrooms. They’re all a dark, powdery purple. I reach to touch one, but before I can, Monah catches my hand.
“Queen’s Cap,” she says, “very hard to grow, very expensive, and just a little will cause you to miss that boat today.”
I nod in understanding and she leads me to an empty log where we sit together. Next to the log, there’s a wooden crate brimming with glass bottles, all filled with various liquids and creams. She rummages for some time before offering me two small vials of a glittery orange potion. I recognize it to be an elixir of eciras, something I have seen her give to many on the brink of death. Heaps of eciras root have to be harvested and brewed meticulously over a moon cycle just to make one of these tiny vials - so much work for such little yield.
“Thank you, but I can’t take this,” I say, pushing the vials towards her.
“Nonsense,” she says, pushing them back, “I have more and who knows what you’ll find in Eporo.”
Reluctantly, I accept the vials and place them in my pockets. I grab the coin purse at my waist and hand it to her.
“No payment, you’re my sister! Gods, you’re unbearable sometimes,” she shouts. She swats the purse away and folds her arms.
“It’s not for the potions, goose,” I start with a chuckle, “I’ve been meaning to give you this since your birthday. Get Halder to build you a fence so you can keep those pesky deer out.”
Her eyes light up as she grabs the bag, coins clinking around within. Before I know it, she throws her arms around me and pulls me into a tight hug.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
“I love you,” I whisper back, “I’ll be home soon, I promise.”
The docks are crowded and the two suns, Cindiel and Calysis, shine bright overhead by the time I arrive at the Titan. Her many neatly secured sails and strong, ornately carved masts tower meters over any other ship or sailboat in the area, and her bow is adorned with a massive tentacled Kraken. At sail, she is a fearsome sight to behold. In flight, however, she is terrifyingly wondrous. With swirling white smoke that pours from the furnace room (where cadatite is combusted and fills a massive balloon that carries the ship up towards the clouds) and canvas wings that stretch from chambers at either side of the hull, she easily transforms into a beast of the skies. The sight of such a magnificent vessel fills me with burning joy and excitement, but as I approach, my stomach drops at the sight of several crown guards crowded around the entry. I quickly push my way through the busy sailors toward them.
“Can I help you?” I ask loudly behind one of the men. He turns to me and I watch the split second of recognition before he hastily moves out of my way, revealing Senator Dorophon.
“Good morning, Commander Balador,” he drawls nasally, “Do you typically make a habit of leaving your ship unsupervised?”
“Quartermaster Stanesh has things under control here. I had other matters to attend to and still many things to prepare before we leave,” I say, “I ask again, can I help you?”
He smirks and gestures towards the ship.
“By order of King Aldemarius,” he begins excitedly, the corners of his mouth curling up into a weaselly smile, “I am to be the official Althaen representative to Eporo. You and your warships, as well as these crown guards, will provide security for me during negotiations”.
I feel several eyes on me from around the dock and walkway and other sailors and workers have paused silently to eavesdrop. It is no secret that my relationship with the Senator is strained - he has been outspoken against my station since the day I was named and is rumored to have hated my father as well. I am not sure why this change of plans makes me uneasy, but I choose my words carefully anyway. I can barely spit them out through gritted teeth, however, and have to ball my fists in my pockets to hide their shaking.
“Well, we are certainly glad to have you with us. Allow me to personally guide you onto the ship where we can better make accommodations.”
Dorophon smiles wider and steps back, clearing the walkway. I slowly ascend to the deck to find Amos and Jorin waiting for me nervously. Amos raises his eyebrows at me and I scowl before making way for Dorophon and the guard.
Dorophon eyes the deck and crew with distaste before starting up again.
“Unfortunately, not as grand as it is reported,” he sneers, “I’d like to retire to my quarters for now.”
“Jorin, please show the Senator and his guard below deck,” I say flatly.
“I am to be accommodated,” Dorophon starts indignantly, “not jammed below deck like a sailor dog. I shall have my effects brought to one of these cabins.”
He gestures towards the door to my own cabin and I struggle to suppress a laugh.
“My apologies, Senator, if you assumed you would be acting as Captain today,” I begin and the crew around me roars with laughter, “if you would prefer not to sleep below decks with the rest of the crew, I believe we can tie a hammock for you right here above deck.”
“Great for seeing the skies and sea. Nothing crowded like below. You’ll sleep like a babe,” Jorin remarks sarcastically. Amos gives a snort.
“I would much prefer that, thank you,” Dorophon replies, oblivious to the joke.
“A hammock then?” I say, unable to contain a smirk in Jorin’s direction.
Jorin nods and escorts them along. Once they have gone, I round on Amos.
“You! Did you know?” I snap.
Amos shakes his head, clearly worn and sporting dark circles under his eyes.
“The guard came last night while you were away. Nothing to do about it except get there and back in a timely fashion,” he replies.
“Lovely,” I say, rolling my eyes, “Keep an eye on the tide. We only have a few hours for everything to be in order. I need to see Kisma before we depart.”
Amos gives a lazy nod and I head around and below deck.
The men are buzzing and milling about and I find Kisma in the furnace room sweeping cadatite dust and ashes into small piles before scooping them up and dumping them into a large crate. She is young, short, and petite, her honey-colored skin stained with oils and ash. Her curly, coily hair stands up in two puffs on the top of her head, exaggerating her youthful appearance. Kisma is our airship engineer, an expert in both flight and regular sailing. She is the only person in all of Niveen who knows the Titan more intimately than myself. When she sees me she gives an excited squeal and bounces around her latest dust pile to meet me.
“Is it time already?” she asks, beaming up at me.
“Nearly,” I say with a grin.
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