Unguilded, p.10

Unguilded, page 10

 

Unguilded
 



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  “But they aren’t,” Kara said. “Magic makes them possible, the same as Mage Guild Island.”

  “You’re right,” Mika said. “It would be best to remember that, wouldn’t it?”

  “Yes,” Kara said. Mage Guild wouldn’t forget, so neither should anyone else.

  She gazed out at the shadow that was Mage Guild Island. Where her mother lived. Had Arabella Fonti heard about her death? More likely she’d barely spared a thought for the daughter she’d never wanted, the daughter who’d died by falling into Broken Burro Gorge.

  Kara squared her shoulders. Her mother had wanted her dead—and now she was. It was time to make a new life.

  THE ROAD THROUGH the valley was wide enough to allow two carts to travel abreast of each other, and almost every hour they passed a group of people or wagon heading north from the bay.

  Kara was excited, and despite Mika’s warning to keep her head down, her gaze was drawn to the strangers who passed them. One man had a pale yellow mist swirling about his head, while on another, deep green mist covered an arm that was strapped into a sling. They both wore guild crests, but not for Mage Guild. They’d bought spells, she decided, probably to help them heal.

  The road took them straight to Rillidi Port. The small villa clung to the shore of the bay, offering access by ferry to some of the closer guild-owned islands. Wooden houses jammed up against each other, and the narrow roads were filled with mud and wagons and people. Kara took a deep breath. The salty tang in the air was almost overpowered by the smell of fish and burro dung.

  Kara followed the cart as Mika slowly worked her way through the crowded streets. Eventually she led them down a quiet alley that ended at a wooden gate. Mika banged on a small door within the gate and exchanged words with someone Kara couldn’t see. A moment later, the main gate swung outward. She followed Mika and the cart into a small courtyard.

  “Kara, this here is Wellert,” Mika said. “He owns this inn.”

  Kara looked past the frowning Wellert. There was a ramshackle stable and a small two-level building that must be the inn. There were no signs to indicate you could get a meal or lodging there.

  “Don’t never call it an inn,” Wellert said.

  Kara brought her gaze back to him.

  “Against Guild Law for me to run an inn.”

  Wellert was the same height as Mika, but where Mika stood tall, Wellert seemed to hunch in on himself. Dark eyes were set deep into his pinched face. His black hair was limp and unwashed, and Kara wondered how clean the rooms he rented were.

  “No, not an inn,” Mika said. “’Course not. Wellert, this is Kara. She’s planning to settle in Rillidi for a while. I’ll be making my usual visits and introducing her around at the same time.”

  “Humph,” Wellert grunted. “Not a good time for new unguilded.”

  “It never is,” Mika said.

  “No, but this be worse. A month or so ago the Guilds started poking around, asking about newly arrived unguilded. Mage Guild was behind it, some said. Looking fer a runaway.” Wellert stared at Kara. “Heard the runaway was dead, but folk are still uneasy.”

  “We’ll be careful,” Mika said. “Come along, Kara, let’s stable Zayeera and unpack the trade goods. We should be able to make the last afternoon ferry.”

  KARA SHIFTED THE large pack on her back, staggering slightly under its weight, before she followed Mika through the crowded streets. The noise and smells of Rillidi Port were overwhelming after the fresh mountain air.

  Something plucked at the strap of her own small pack, which she’d slung over one shoulder.

  “Hey!” She batted a hand away and glared up into a grinning face. He was dark-skinned, and his long, white hair fell across his shoulders in dozens of thin braids. She glared at him, and he laughed and said something she couldn’t understand before he faded into the crowd.

  “Gyda-cursed Seyoyans,” Mika growled. “They know unguilded can’t do anything if we’re robbed. Come on, stay close.” Mika grabbed her hand and pulled her along.

  Here the city smelled of fish, lamp oil, and fresh cut wood. And everywhere mage mist swirled. Every colour of the rainbow, it wrapped around everything—entire buildings, a woman’s ring, the wheel of a cart, the shoes a of wealthy man. People, animals, foodstuffs, trade wares, at times even the road itself—mage mist was everywhere.

  Mika stopped, and Kara, overwhelmed by her surroundings, almost bumped into her.

  “Here’s the ferry.” Mika turned to her. “I’ll arrange passage.”

  Then she was gone, leaving Kara amongst a jumble of wagons and people loaded with packs and bags.

  Idly Kara shifted her small pack, keeping an eye on the people around her. A group of Seyoyans stood off to her left, and she thought she recognized the one who’d tried to steal her pack. When one of his companions nudged him, he looked over and grinned. She glared at him, angry that he’d tried to steal from her, but then he bowed elaborately, his white braids trailing the ground, and she turned away, trying not to smile.

  She was surprised at how poor the people around her seemed. Rough clothing was patched and worn, and many had only meager packs slung on their backs. Children clutched the hands of women who seemed far too young to be so worn and weary.

  The guilds took care of their own—that was Guild Law. But despite the guild crests sewn onto tunics and packs, these Guildsmen seemed more underfed and dispirited than anyone in Larona had been.

  Then she saw the Mage—a woman shrouded in pale yellow mist. The crowd melted away from her as she passed, but when someone else wrapped in mist didn’t retreat far enough, the Mage’s yellow seemed to shrink in on itself. Once the Mage had passed, the trail of yellow quickly faded. Kara looked up from the mist and met the Seyoyan’s surprised eyes. Quickly she turned away, wondering if he could see the mage mist too.

  “We’ve passage on the ferry,” Mika said. “Let’s go.”

  Kara was more than happy to leave the unsettling Seyoyan behind. She followed Mika to the ferry, nervous and excited. She was almost . . . not home, at least not yet, but she would make a place for herself on Old Rillidi. She had to—the only other option would be to take her mother’s suggestion and leave Tregella. And why would she take the advice of the woman who wanted her dead?

  The crowd shuffled forward, and Kara, her pack held tight against her chest, shuffled with it. She felt it when her feet left solid land and she stepped onto a wooden gangway that was suspended over water. Mika was behind her, her own pack crushed against Kara’s back. Soon the path widened, and the crowd spread out.

  “This way,” Mika said and steered them both to the left.

  A uniformed Guildsman, the crest of Guider Guild sewn onto his left breast, stood beside a small wooden door. Mika showed him a red piece of paper, and the Guildsman opened the door. Kara followed Mika into a small cabin. The door swung shut, muffling the sounds of the crowd.

  The cabin was narrow, and the long passageway was lined with wooden benches that faced each other. A squat window ran along the top of one wall, letting in some fresh air and noise, but it was too high to allow more than a view of the blue sky. No one else was in the cabin, so they walked to the far end, just in front of another door.

  “This will be full soon enough,” Mika said. She sat down on the bench, and Kara sat across from her, facing the window. “But it’s the best an unguilded can do and a sight better than being on deck.”

  “Will Guildsmen travel in here too?” Kara didn’t want to share such a small, cramped space with anyone from the Mage Guild.

  “Not likely,” Mika said. “Guildsmen that can afford cabin space were let on first. They have better quarters than this, so I’ve been told. Seyoyans, Wulmarians, and other unguilded, that’s who’ll be put in here with us.”

  “And all those other people, they’re Guildsman?”

  “Most of them, yes,” Mika said. She set her pack on the floor and shoved as much of it under the bench as she could.

  “B
ut they look so poor,” Kara said. “I thought the guilds had to take care of their own?”

  “Shh,” Mika said. “You don’t want Guildsmen to hear you talking like that. The guilds don’t like being called to task, especially by an unguilded.”

  “But it’s Guild Law.”

  “Yes, and the guilds follow their laws when it’s convenient or profitable.” Mika leaned across the aisle. “And this law is neither. Guilds like cheap labour, and lots of it, so they tell a man what his station in life is and make it so he can’t step out of that no matter how hard he tries. If somebody is going to be rich, then somebody has to be poor. It doesn’t work any other way. And each guild has plenty of powerful, rich people wanting it to stay that way.”

  “It wasn’t like that in my villa,” Kara said. “No one lived as hard a life as these Guildsmen and women.”

  “Guildsmen there are lucky,” Mika replied. “Maybe your villa had one or two honest folk running it. All I know is that I’ve been coming to Rillidi for twenty years, and it’s getting worse.”

  “But . . .” Kara stopped speaking when the door at the far end opened.

  A trail of people came through it, and the cabin quickly filled up. The last to enter was her Seyoyan and one of his companions. The Seyoyan smiled a long, slow smile and started towards her. Despite the tangled legs and packages that lined the aisle, the two Seyoyans gracefully made their way through the crowd. The one stopped, bowed low, and then squeezed in beside her on the bench. His companion settled beside Mika, who frowned and pulled her pack further away from them.

  “We meet thricely,” her Seyoyan said, his slight accent making him lisp. “In my country it is said that one meeting is chance, two is a coincidence, but a third is destiny.”

  “But you followed us,” Kara said. “Does that count? Can you create your destiny?”

  The Seyoyan raised his eyebrows. “Ah, a philosopher. A good question—can destiny be created? I thought Tregellans believed destiny is found—and then only within their guilds.”

  “Not true,” Kara said before she thought about where she was and who she was speaking to.

  “You disagree? Tell me.” The Seyoyan leaned back, seemingly at ease, but she felt the tension from him, almost as though he was holding his breath, waiting, daring her to say what she knew he already thought.

  “One guild,” she whispered. “One guild believes that if a Guildsman controls enough . . . talent, they can make their own destiny.”

  “Yes,” the Seyoyan agreed. “They believe they can, but are they successful?”

  “Not always,” Kara said, thinking about her father. He’d tried to create his own future, his own destiny, but in the end he hadn’t been able to control magic—not as a Mage in his own right nor by fathering a child who had magic. “And not all Guildsmen.”

  “No, not all Guildsmen,” the Seyoyan agreed. “But which ones are successful?”

  The ferry lurched, jolting Kara. She looked out the window. The sky was a brilliant blue with faint traces of fog. Except it wasn’t fog—the grey-white mist eddied about the windows, but not in a way that might be caused by a breeze or the movement of the ferry. No, this mist pulsed, and each time it pulsed, she felt the ferry lurch forward.

  “What do you see?” the Seyoyan asked.

  He’d leaned close to her, close enough that she felt his breath on the side of her neck. A few white braids fell across her shoulder, and when she inhaled she smelled the sea and sun-warmed rocks.

  “Nothing,” she replied and edged away from him.

  Mika frowned and glared at the Seyoyan from across the aisle.

  “Leave the girl be,” Mika said. “We don’t even know you.”

  “Apologies,” the Seyoyan said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m called Chal Honess, and my companion is Sif Shadae.”

  He stood and bowed, which caused some nearby passengers to snigger in amusement. His friend nodded, a small smile on his lips. As Chal settled beside her, he asked, “Will you tell me your name?”

  “It’s Kara,” she said. “This is Mika.” Mika frowned again.

  “Kara, Mika,” Chal nodded to each. “May the wind fill your sail.”

  “And abandon the sail of your enemies,” Mika replied.

  “Ah, you are a friend to my people already,” Chal said.

  “I’ve known a few Seyoyans,” Mika said. “Not that I’d call thieves friends.”

  Chal grinned. “If a Seyoyan has stolen from you, then you are indeed a friend.”

  “You tried to steal from me,” Kara said. “And not as a friend.”

  “That? I was just seeing if you were paying attention. If I’d wanted something from your pack, you wouldn’t even notice it was gone,” he said blandly.

  Kara stared at him with narrowed eyes. He’d already taken something! And from her own pack, not Mika’s trade goods.

  “Give it back,” she said. “Whatever you took, I want it back.”

  It wasn’t as though she had so many possessions that she could afford to lose one. She pushed her hair off her face, blinking away tears.

  “Keep it,” Kara said. “It’s not like I’ve owned any of it for very long anyway.”

  She crossed her arms. Let him have it if it meant so much to him. There, the anger was better. That’s how she’d survived so many years, that’s what gave her the ability to go on.

  “My sincere apologies,” Chal said. “I will return it, do not worry. I fear that I cannot return it to you right now.”

  “What do you mean?” Mika said. “Give her back what you stole.”

  Chal shook his head. “I am sorry, it’s not safe.” His eyes bored into hers, and that’s when Kara understood.

  The book! He’d stolen the book of magic, the book written by a Primus of the Mage Guild. No, he could not give that to her here, in the open! Any book would be suspect, but once they found out it was a book of magic she’d be handed to Mage Guild.

  “Mika,” she said. “He’s right. Best to be safe.”

  She willed Mika to agree. When the other woman nodded, Kara’s shoulders slumped in relief.

  Of all the things to steal from her—and how had he even stolen it? She’d buried it at the bottom of her pack, wrapped in her father’s old trousers. Unconsciously she tightened her hold on her pack. No hard, book-shaped lump—just her mug, plate, and utensils. Kara’s lips thinned, and she stared at the small door at the front just to keep from looking at the Seyoyan. No doubt he was laughing at her, her and her wretched pack and sad collection of possessions. She glanced his way. But he wasn’t laughing. In fact, he looked quite uncomfortable. And his companion was glaring at him. No, he didn’t look at all happy.

  “So why did you steal from me?” Kara asked quietly. “Why me out of all the people in the crowd?”

  “I thought you could afford it,” Chal whispered.

  She snorted. “As if you’d know.”

  “I am sorry. You were carrying a large pack obviously filled with trade goods. I assumed you were a reasonably well-off trader.”

  “But I’m not a Guildsman,” Kara said.

  “Neither am I,” Chal replied. “And many of the Guildsmen in the crowd seemed to have less than you.”

  “Probably about the same,” Kara said. “But they’re guild, and so are better off than me.”

  “Are they?” Chal’s voice was low and quiet. “They didn’t look so to me. And I know what was taken. Do you?”

  “Of course I do,” Kara snapped. “It was in my pack, wasn’t it?”

  “Yes, it was,” Chal replied. He met her gaze. “You intrigue me, Kara, unguilded.”

  “Don’t call me that.”

  “You Tregellans,” Chal said. “You’re either obsessed by guild associations or you’re embarrassed by a lack of them.”

  “How long have you been in Tregella?” Kara asked.

  “Six months.”

  “Have you ever been outside of Rillidi?”

  He shook his head.
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  “Yet you think you know my country. Don’t mistake wariness for embarrassment,” she hissed.

  “Well said, Donna,” the other Seyoyan said. “I often remind my young friend that he has much to learn.” He chuckled, and Chal’s dark skin flushed even darker.

  Kara looked away. The Seyoyan had no idea how perilous it was to live within—or outside of—a guild. Especially Mage Guild.

  The ferry shuddered and came to a stop, and Mika leaned across the aisle.

  “Stay close to me and keep the pack low,” she said. “We’re on Merchant Guild Island, and they don’t like competition.”

  Mika stood and nodded to the Seyoyans. Kara copied her, wrapped her arms around Mika’s large pack, and slung her own over one shoulder.

  Everyone else in the small cabin stood up too. The door at the front slid open, and Mika walked out into the day, Kara trailing behind her.

  The crush of people almost overwhelmed her. A hand steadied her, and she threw a grateful glance over her shoulder to Chal. Mika was a step ahead, her shoulders hunched as she made her way between a set of wooden rails. The other, poorer passengers were pressed up against the rails, and Kara shrank away from them, keeping her head down. A fine, sky-blue mist coiled around the rails in a slow, undulating motion, and Kara noticed that whenever someone touched it they edged away from the railing.

  Then her foot touched solid ground. Mika turned to her, and grabbed her elbow.

  “Can’t dally here,” she said. “We need to get to the old bridge before this crowd thins out too much.” Mika threaded her way through the crowd, towing Kara, who glanced back but didn’t see either of the Seyoyans.

  Chapter nine

  THEY QUICKLY LEFT the crowds and ferry behind. When Mika turned onto a wide boulevard and slowed, Kara lifted her eyes from the cobbles under her. A few well-dressed men and women strolled by, and others, dressed plainer, scurried past with their heads down, guild marks sewn to their shirts and tunics.

  Shops lined the street. Colourful signs hung over windows stuffed full of goods for sale—cloth and hats and ropes and baskets and food.

 

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