The Night Runners: First Year

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Chapter 14

Emalynn had told herself that Karrowyn at this point of time in the year would be worse than her previous visit. Her premonitions were correct. Karrowyn, had become even colder and less welcoming than before. Cape Cove had hunkered down for the winter. The smaller fishing boats were now wintering in neat rows alongside the pier while larger trawls and merchant ships, who were willing to brave the winter seas, broke the ice of the harbor into dark lanes. Along the main road and down to the water, snow lay thickly, and the grey-sided houses huddled together for protection and warmth against the blasts of rough winter wind.

After a cozy night’s sleep and a familiar breakfast scene, Emalynn and Master Busby managed to tear themselves away from Mistress Busby, who kept trying to pack more sausages and flasks of soup into the back of the cart after she finished throwing few too many blankets on top of her husband and their guest. With a short puff on his pipe, Master Busby guided Theodore (his better horse) up Cape Cove’s main road to the highway which ran alongside the tops of the cliffs.

“Tawyrs is bound to be quiet this time of year,” the usually monosyllabic man said after about a half hour silent travel down the wide cobblestone road. “All towns out in the countryside get sleepy during the winter, as it were.”
“No wonder,” Emalynn huddled under Mistress Busby’s blankets. “It’s so cold. How do people survive this weather?”

Master Busby gave a sharp grin around his pipe.

“The Capital is a bit warmer, I take it,” he said. “Not as warm as Revaine, though. That might suit you more. Hm. Well, no fear. We’ll head straight for Tawyrs and get your questions asked and have you home in no time.”
“That’s the plan,” Emalynn said. “However, sometimes things do not go to plan. We have to be prepared for any trouble that might crop up.”
“Yes,” Master Busby agreed. “A sound philosophy. Colin has a good pupil in you. How’s the lad keeping these days?”
“Pretty well,” Emalynn frowned. “I don’t see Master Shermore as often nowadays since he’s so busy with paperwork and his own studies. The entire team has been busy too as well. It’s amazing how we were allowed to leave the school to complete this investigation – considering how much homework our teachers have been expecting of us.”
“The Academy looks well upon hard-working students who go the extra mile,” Master Busby nodded. “Yes indeed. That is how the saying goes, isn’t it?”
“The saying?” asked Emalynn.
“Hm. How did it go now? ‘Who goes the extra mile sees further and finds most.’ That’s how it went. I think.”

Emalynn contemplated the words. Who goes the extra mile sees further and finds most. That’s what our team is doing for sure! The girl looked to her left. Several feet away, the sharp edge of the nearby cliffs dropped away into a world of unending grey clouds and dull-green ocean. Even if Chrystyna’s – our – worries come to nothing, at least we will have learned to research independently. It could be worse, she told herself. You could be stuck somewhere in Snowmere – or Eldalind. You could be stuck in Alchemy class.

Tawyrs was just as, if not more, desolate than Cape Cove, the capital of Karrowyn. Compared to her previous visit, the roads of Tawyrs were almost impossible to travel upon and no one walked along the narrow muddy, slushy streets. The few people who were out shuffled along, heads down and feet stepping carefully through the chunks of snow and ice remaining on the roads. Everyone seemed to be focused on returning to the relative warmth of their homes. Emalynn noticed that the markets appeared to be closing early (at four in the afternoon!) and no one seemed willing to stop and chat with anyone, not even the peddlers.

“Not very chatty this time around,” Emalynn noted.
“Gossip and news from out of town and out of province is appreciated well enough,” Master Busby replied quietly as he guided Theodore to The Sailor’s Hearth. “They’ll be chatty enough at the inn. It’s just that things get a mite nippy round here in the late afternoons, and it’s best for everyone to be home in good time.”
“I hope your sources were right,” Emalynn shivered. “If Ulston isn’t here or doesn’t want to talk, this will have been a real waste of time.”
“He’s here and he’s ready to talk our ears off no doubt,” Master Busby reassured his young companion. “Let’s get inside.”

With that, Master Busby drew up the car and handed the reins to the stable master. Emalynn left the warmth of her blankets, got down from her seat, grabbed her pack, and followed Master Busby into the inn’s familiar dining hall.

It will be interesting to see what is really going on here, Emalynn thought as she crossed the threshold and waved in greeting at Maddie, one of the serving girl’s she had befriended on her last trip. I’m sure that the people here were left with a good impression of Colin and me, but one never knows in a small town like this. Mother said that in small villages, you can live there for twenty years or more and folks will still see you as an outsider. Which means that even if there is anything going on, it may be difficult to detect since it might be a conspiracy involving the whole town.

Emalynn’s uncertainty settled within her gut uneasily. As the young girl followed Master Busby up to her small room which he had reserved separately for her (the inn was emptier this time of year), Emalynn caught a glimpse of the dark cold world outside. Night fallen already, and thick white flakes of snow had begun to drift down. The cold world fit her mood.

Trapped in an icy world with a bunch of fishing folk in between two cliffs on the edge of an ocean at the far end of a provincial wasteland. I never imagined that this is where my group assignment would take me. Catching a glimpse of dull gold light from the castle above the cliffs opposite her, Emalynn imagined Lord Sadon looking over his small frozen world like a giant bird of prey. She shivered.

Just as Master Busby predicted, Ulston was more than willing to talk about his misfortunes in life. Emalynn on her previous trip with Master Colin had not had the ‘pleasure’ of meeting the tall, rail-thin fisherman. Surprisingly, Master Busby left Emalynn to the interrogation.

“You’ll be fine on your own,” he had said laconically during the short briefing they had in his rooms the next morning. “I’ll handle the steward.”
“I can do it,” Emalynn agreed quickly. Part of her felt relieved that she would be able to ask her questions without concern about what Master Busby might think, but another part of her felt a tiny bit anxious on whether she would be able to employ effective interrogation techniques on Ulston. “It’s my first time doing a real interrogation-”
“What did you do last time?” asked Master Busby, poking around in his pipe and giving a few experimental puffs before lighting it.
“I talked with the stable boy and a couple old grandfather fishermen down the road... and an older woman,” Emalynn recalled her previous stay in Tawyrs easily enough.
“Was that too difficult for you then? Did you not succeed at getting your answers?” asked Master Busby.
“Well, no. I mean, no, it wasn’t difficult.” Emalynn admitted. “Not at the time. I mean, I thought we got all the answers we needed. Now it seems we have to go back and verify a few things.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Master Busby said with a sharp nod. “After all, sometimes it’s a matter of timing or there’s something that the informant may remember at a later date. Perhaps it’s a thing that is hidden in a small detail, and it needs your ears to hear it.”
“Oh,” Emalynn paused. “Yes, I see. Maybe I will notice something that Master Shermore did not?”

Can that happen? Emalynn thought with near horror. Could Master Shermore make such an obvious mistake? I know that he likes flirting quite a bit, and he is sometimes a bit too relaxed on a mission. However, in every other way, he seemed to be very diligent and effective as an assassin. I remember overhearing Mistress Knowles saying that Master Shermore was at the top of his class – and that’s why I was assigned to him. Emalynn shook her head and focused on the older assassin as he rambled on.

“Exactly,” Master Busby smiled at Emalynn. “At any rate, you can interrogate subjects just fine. Be yourself – in a matter of speaking, of course. That is, display a genuine spirit of interest, and people will respond naturally. Within reason, yes, within reason. You don’t want to leave a mark on a village either.”
“Just in case I may have to return one day.”
“Exactly,” Master Busby repeated with a nod. “Well, then, let’s get down to breakfast then, hey? Can’t begin a day on an empty belly.”

After breakfast, Emalynn and Master Busby parted ways. Emalynn, following the instructions, found Ulston at his small home just underneath the cliff edge on the upper eastern edge of town. His house was a rickety, wood-sided building – and at the windows, Emalynn glimpsed a series of round-faced, red-cheeked young children. Ulston’s family, she guessed.

Ulston himself waited by the gate and at the sight of Emalynn jerked, his head and the two went for a walk along the upper reaches of the town. He led the girl round and up to the east cliff where the navy and black and white Tawyrs Tower stood. It was an ancient lighthouse made of great heavy stonework and was manned by a regular rotation of retired sailors.[1] Listening politely to Ulston’s running commentary, Emalynn gained the impression that Ulston was used to telling stories.

“You have much family here?” she asked conversationally as they stopped by a low running wall and looked over the city in relative privacy.
“My family grew up here. There are five Ulston branches in town – and there’ve been Ulstons in Tawyrs since time out of mind,” Ulston blew on his hands and rubbed them together. “The Ulstons, the Hadrocks, the Sterpens, the Crawchins and, of course, the Sadons. Others come and go. We remain.”
“The Sadons,” murmured Emalynn, her blue eyes drawn to the castle which loomed over the town on western cliff edge.
“Aye, they’ve been here for some time. I remember old Lord Sadon that was – when I was a child, I glimpsed him now and then. My Granddaddy used to tell us stories about him. Then his son took over the management of the estate, and here we are today.”
“You don’t sound happy about it,” Emalynn noted.
“No,” Ulston tucked his hands into his coat pockets and turned about to lean against the wall. He glanced at the girl. “I told your friend so the last time.”
“What did you tell him last time, exactly?”
“I told him everything I knew,” Ulston gave the girl a sharp look. “Aren’t you a bit young for this?”
“For what?” asked Emalynn, refusing to give way.

Perhaps it was the sharp glint in her eye or perhaps it was the very atmosphere of the day – grey, dull, and dead. Perhaps it was the heavy, smothering silence which lay over the small town. Ulston sighed aloud and nodded.

“Let’s begin with what caused you to send messages to the Capital,” Emalynn suggested.
“My Granddaddy died.”
“I heard about that,” Emalynn said, injecting into her voice a measure of sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, there it is. He died. Walked off the cliff one night.”
“This cliff?” Emalynn asked cautiously.

She peeked over the side of the wall and winced as she mentally measured the cliff below her. It’s not the highest section of the cliff, and it’s still pretty steep.

“Further up ahead. The wall comes round and joins the tower,” Ulston pointed toward a small copse of trees by the tower which stood embedded and carved into (and out of) the far edge of the cliff. “The cliff face beyond the tower has no wall.”
“I see,” Emalynn took note in her pad and drew a quick diagram of the area.
“There used to be a wall,” Ulston went on. “But times got hard for some folk – they were from the inner parts of Karrowyn. When they arrived here, they had no money for homes, so they built small hovels out of the wall’s stones. That caused some hubbub round town, I can tell you!”
“So the area became a lot more dangerous without the wall.” Emalynn frowned and then asked, “But, your grandfather would have known it was missing. So, he walked over because of the drugs?”
“Aye,” Ulston nodded. “That was it exactly! A mixture of Tear Dust and Smack that did it. Tear Dust doesn’t do much – just relaxes you and all – but Smack is something else. Some folk, who want to turn a quick sovereign, get their clients addicted to Tear Dust by adding a bit of Smack.”
“Smack causes visions and dreams... and...”
“Halluseenating,” Ulston said carefully. “That’s what Doctor Carlson said when he checked Granddaddy after we found his body washed up on the shore. That’s when I realized the seriousness of what we had gotten involved in.”
“We – as in the Ulstons – or the town?”
“Both,” Ulston added quickly, “but I’m naming no names. In the end, it’s what we gotta do. Our farmland isn’t much to write home about, and fishing gets low at certain times of year. So, certain kinds of jobs, when they come available, are welcome. We never really question where the work comes from, if you take my meaning.”
“And these jobs... came from Lord Sadon?” asked Emalynn carefully.
“Sometimes from merchants, but mainly from Lord Sadon and his steward both. They recruit a few men at a time to do guard work and hauling, and there are others who do packing and re-boxing and all that. Others ferry stuff to and from the island. Tawyrs Island that is – you saw it last time, right?”
“Hm,” Emalynn said noncommittally.
“There’s a rotation and all... and to be honest, at first I struggled with it real hard, I have; but too many terrible things added up in the end. To lose this would hit us hard something bad,” Ulston sighed. “We all need the money, the Seven know, and the work’s easy enough for us – but then there’re folk like Granddaddy who get caught up in it at the wrong end. Hadrock’s nephew and Lyle’s wife... There are others, I’m sure. I can no longer stand by.”
“So, you think Lord Sadon should be stopped.”
“Yes, yes,” Ulston paused. “I mean. I sent some information to some family I have in the Capital. Told them to send the information to the police. Maybe Lord Sadon could be put in jail or the smugglers fined or something. Or, perhaps, they could go to the East Continent and put a stop there. I don’t know. I just... I just... I just want something to change.”
“No one asked you to inform the authorities?” probed Emalynn.
“Asked me to inform the police?” Ulston blinked. “Goodness, no. I mean, we all are in this together – and like I said, this was no easy decision. This is Lord Sadon. The Sadons have been here as long as the Ulstons. I have nothing against Lord Sadon personally – and his wife, Lady Matilde, is the sweetest woman on earth. Have you met her?”
“No,” Emalynn made a few more notes on her pad, “but I have heard about her. She’s from another province, from a wealthy family in Marble Vale...”
“Yes, yes,” Ulston nodded. “The Cravanaghs. Very well-brought up, very traditional. She brought around a mourning wreath before Granddaddy’s funeral. We talked for a short time. I remember she inquired after my wife and family and told me that if I needed any help I was only to ask.”
“How nice,” Emalynn said. “She came to the funeral then?”
“Oh yes. Goodness me, it seems like only yesterday. We were all dressed in our blacks, and Lady Matilde came in her carriage to our house – she is always doing charitable works in our village – to deliver the wreath herself. We talked about the Capital and our families there and how life in Tawyrs was so difficult. She is such a sympathetic lady.”
“Did she suggest you to go to the authorities?” asked Emalynn.
“No, no,” Ulston shook his head. “I know that she isn’t so happy with Lord Sadon’s interest in smuggling and all that. I mean, she is a Cravanagh and Cravanaghs don’t deal with such low matters – but he is her husband. This town is her livelihood now, if you take my meaning. No. She just listened to my wife and I – we were quite grieved about the whole matter, you see – and she agreed that this had been a travesty and that the trade, the smuggling and all, was firmly to blame. But what could she do?”

She could guilt trip you into telling the authorities, Emalynn thought grimly as she wrote down what Ulston had said. As the words formed on the paper, the notion began to take root in the girl’s mind. It may be that she wanted Ulston to get Lord Sadon into trouble... but to the point of her husband dying? Risking the future of her estate? For what reason?

“Things seem to be difficult here in Karrowyn,” Emalynn said after a moment, tucking her papers away. She thought of Chrystyna. Her classmate had volunteered so that her small village in Eldalind would get compensation from Doran’s government. “Life can be difficult all around Doran – and people end up doing things they never really intended in the first place. The effects of our decisions are never clear to us in the present, and sometimes they never become clear even with time.”
“You are a smart girl,” Ulston said with a short laugh. “You’d be a good influence on Loralee.”
“I’m sure Loralee will learn much from you,” Emalynn pushed away from the wall. “She will see that her father is a man who is trying to do the right thing. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Except for the part where Loralee’s father may have been an unwitting pawn in some kind of battle or game between a husband and wife, Emalynn sighed. This has definitely become more complicated. Before I leave however, I think that I can verify my guess by looking into the other two people he mentioned.

“You said something about Hadrock’s... nephew,” Emalynn pulled out her pad and pencil, “and Lyle’s wife. Are they in town? Can I talk to them?”
“Oh,” Ulston looked down at the curly-haired girl’s earnest face below her knitted black cap. “Yes. Hadrock and Lyle are both in town – and they’ll be willing to share their stories too. Hadrock is livid and Lyle is still grieving... but they’ll talk.”

After getting the directions from Ulston, the girl once again put away her pad and pencil and, with her ever helpful informant, made her way down the path and around to the top of the village. Overlooking the roofs of the houses as they slanted downward to the water’s edge far below and the great piers stretching out into the small cove, Emalynn shivered. Winter did not suit Tawyrs well. The entire town is like a roadside pebble. You wash the pebble and for a moment it glistens and shines and then after a minute or two, it dries and looks just as worthless as it did before you washed it, Emalynn mused. Then she remembered what Ulston had told her and what tasks now lay before her. Not entirely worthless, she amended.

The following day when Emalynn rattled away from Tawyrs at Master Busby’s side, she left with a sense of real accomplishment. The girl smiled into her thick scarf and for once, although the freezing breeze was already biting at her nose, she didn’t mind the cold.

“You seem to be in good spirits,” Master Busby commented.
“I got the information I needed,” Emalynn found it hard to keep her excitement banked. “I’ll need to send a pigeon message to the others when we get back to Cape Cove.”
“That’s easily arranged,” Master Busby nodded. “So, there was something missing after all.”
“Yes.” Emalynn’s smile grew wider with pride. “I won’t lie. I thought Chrystyna was a little crazy at first when she was talking about something not feeling right – but she was right. Lord Sadon was targeted specifically when other people could have been looked at first. I don’t know why exactly, but someone wanted him removed for reasons only generally tied to drugs.”
“So the smuggling charges are only a cover?” Master Busby shook his head. “Someone used a man and his vengeance and the police and two guilds to get their way, eh? No good will come of it.”
“No,” Emalynn sobered a little. “I never heard of something like this before... Father has never told me stories of people using our guild for their own schemes.”
“That would be because the guild does research on every request before assigning missions.” Master Busby explained. “Just as you are doing now, many folks, like the Mistress and I, are used as channels of information so we can verify the actual situation regarding a request.”
“You looked into this for Master Shermore and I?” Emalynn asked. “Is that how you rigged the peddlers’ back stories?”
“I’m always a peddler in Tawyrs.” Master Busby winked at the girl. “It’s best that way. But yes, Master Shermore had contacted me ahead of time regarding the assignment. We go a ways back, Master Colin and I.”
“And this trip,” Emalynn’s blue eyes gave Master Busby a shrewd, no nonsense glance. “Master Shermore set it up as well, didn’t he? He probably asked you to go with me and wrote ahead to Ulston and everything?”
“Ahem,” coughed Master Busby, and he frowned at his reins and dug around with his free hand for his pipe.
“I knew it,” Emalynn’s finger rose. “It just seemed too easy!”
“Master Shermore is your Master-in-Training, young lady,” Master Busby gave Emalynn a hard look. “It would remiss of him to just let you go off wandering around Karrowyn’s countryside without any help.”
“I suppose not,” Emalynn agreed slowly. “We are very young for this program, after all.”
“Precisely. Remember, Master Colin may look a carefree, but he is truly a good man and does the guild and Academy great credit.” Master Busby added, “He works hard and cares for his subordinates well and that includes you, young Emalynn.”
“I’ll be sure to thank him when I get back to the Capital,” Emalynn sighed. Then she frowned as an idea occurred. “Does that mean that Mistress Athylee prepared the way for Katrynn as well?”
“Hmmm...” Master Busby chuckled then. “I am not sure if I can say anything on that matter – but no doubt your sister will be well cared for thanks to her Mistress-in-Training. The Academy, after all, cares well for their students, considering those students have connections to the Academy as well as the guild. This is a matter of security as much as it is care and commonsense. We two are just lucky that Mistress Busby is so busy with another inquiry that she couldn’t come with us.”
“It would be quite a different trip,” agreed Emalynn.
“Could you imagine?” Master Busby adroitly lit his pipe and shook his head at the thought of his ever chatty wife. “We’d have a lot more chatter – and our wagon would be going along that much more slowly.”
“Why?” Emalynn’s blue eyes widened. “Would she wish to drive?”
“Drive? No,” Master Busby laughed then. “But she would want to pack the whole pantry and probably most of the house as well. Poor Theodore!”

The two laughed at the thought as the cart rattled down the road.

[1] The ancient lighthouse of Tawyrs, better known as Tawyrs Tower, is a building of mystery due to its unknown origins. Erected during the time before the creation of Doran, the makers of Tawyrs Tower remain unnamed. All that is certain is that the tower was made during a primeval period and has been in use to this day. Nowadays, every year on the Spring Solstice, the Tower of Tawyrs receives a new ceremonial coat of paint and the great wall leading up to it is festooned with gaily coloured ribbons and flowers.

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