Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Puppethead War #8: Up in the World (Part 1)

< < Issue 7
A change of gear in this week's issue.  There may be some things that don't entirely make sense but any questions can be posted here or on the hub page and I'll try to answer them ;)

Irena woke up not long after three in the morning.  The dreams had been getting worse, leaving her skin clammy despite the cold.  For why or for what was no clearer, but she knew that there was a reason.

Her surroundings were as lavish as she could imagine.  Everything in the house was sumptuous, colourful and rich.  Oh yes, very rich.

She had not known what to make of it when her father's uncle Osrum returned from the southern lands on a boat laden with plunder.  The thought of her family's heritage being restored or the sheer wealth the expedition had attained did not properly enter her mind.

Instead, it was the little things that changed her.  Her parents had spent the day discussing trade routes and politics instead of the entrepreneurial schemes that they were infamous for.  Perhaps most frighteningly, they had agreed to spend the weekend with Osrum in the country.  Some place west of Carpol apparently still recognised the de Postrems as their ruling house.  More likely, an unusually cynical part of Irena thought, there was a county without a lord that responded pleasantly to gold and ancient artefacts.

She'd played nice with the other children at the party, and beamed sweetly to anyone who noticed that she was a noble, but Irena had been born at the bottom of the pyramid and felt that by associating with upper class she denied her own origins.

She had gone to bed early, in this, the most fantastic room she'd ever seen.  There were plenty of cobwebs still to be removed but the bed and toys and wallpaper and everything else was fit for a princess.  Irena had slept on the floor with but one of the voluptuous cushions.

The dark of the morning was broken by lamps lining the corridors of the de Postrem house.  Irena crept along the hall outside her bedroom and past living rooms where party goers lay slumped in chairs or over card tables.

She reached the far end and turned into an airy sun room where pillars and billowing curtains stood in place of walls.  Out on the balcony was a tall figure whose hair and shawl were waving in the sea breeze.

'Irena,' Nairé said in her soft, melodious voice.  'Why are you up so early?'

The girl looked confused.  'Why are you?  I couldn't sleep.'

'The nightmares,' said the woman.  Irena's expression changed to surprise.

'Don't be worried,' the southerner continued.  'Your parents told me.  I too cannot sleep.  My dreams are... well, never mind me.'

Nairé turned to gaze out over the balcony.  Carpol was mostly flat by the docks but the eastern quarter rose slightly where the little “Fingers”, tributaries from all over the lowlands, reached out to the larger river.  The sea was rolling gently under a partially obscured sky and the many city lights shone in twisted patterns, but Irena was more intrigued by the foreigner’s attitude than the view.

‘Please continue,’ she said in a small voice.  A gust of wind joined them on the balcony, then left for the streets below.

Nairé looked at the shivering girl.  She nodded, her shining white hair sticking to her much darker face as she placed the shawl around Irena’s shoulders.

‘In my homeland, they were using children to fight in the border wars.  My brother was taken when he was younger than you, and my parents did nothing.  I ran away.’

The young de Postrem kept quiet and Nairé continued.  She hadn’t been this frank for years.

‘I didn’t know that people from the north had reached our shores,’ she laughed.  ‘Hey, I didn’t know your people existed.  When I came to the monastery, I thought your kind might have been the Chuai.’


‘Shu-wai,’ Nairé said calmly.  ‘I think your Kept Sect call them by another name, the brothers.’

‘They told the story of the brothers last Sunday.  I'm always confused about the brothers and the Quandomen,’ Irena said.  Her eyelids were drooping, but she wanted to keep talking.  Nairé was here to play the babysitter, so why shouldn’t they develop a rapport?  ‘One of them was man's friend against the other.  The Keeper reminded us that the tirans don't count because they have no interest in this land.’

Nairé nodded.  ‘And the guernas have their own troubles to deal with.  That I realised when I met Keeper Haasque.  It was our trip to Omarin and the years I spent there that kept me awake this night.’

Irena’s curiosity was captured.  ‘Omarin is the city of thieves!’

Nairé chortled and corrected the child.  'The city of traders.'  The woman's eyes darted away and she shrunk sadly onto the balcony railing.  ‘But I guess you could call some of them thieves.  My people were being sold as slaves.’

‘That’s awful,’ Irena said, more by reflex than by thinking.  ‘What did you do?’

‘Haasque protected me for as long as he could, but eventually his identity was compromised.  Someone found out what he was behind the Keeper’s mask.’

Nairé paused and looked up at the partially obscured stars.  She assumed that Irena thought highly of her countrymen and decided to spare her a further account of cruelty in the Ryndian colonies.  What happened to Haasque preyed on her mind.  The guerna had been her mentor and the only Kept Sect member who had treated her like a being instead of an exotic pet.

Irena on the other hand knew of the old guard colonialists who still lived in South Ryndia or the ports.  Though it was less common nowadays, a guerna or even a human from the south like Nairé could be assaulted simply for sitting at the wrong table.

‘My uncle is a bit like that,’ Irena admitted, having guessed the train of thought.  ‘He isn’t a big fan of Keepers either.  I don’t know about the Captain, but Osrum doesn't treat outsiders very well.’

‘I disagree,’ Nairé said, lifted from her reverie.  ‘Osrum and Captain Gelba brought me here.’  She smiled and grasped Irena around the shoulders.  ‘And they made sure that I met you.  That’s better than anything that happened in the city of thieves.’  She winked.  ‘Let’s get inside.  I think the clouds are brewing up something fierce.’

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