The Pull of the Tides
I know most people find the beach relaxing. But when I’m standing there on the shore at high tide, watching the effect the moon has on the great oceans of the world, I find myself wondering what effect it has on my insides, which are more than half water themselves, and I get dizzy. I’m like that, I think too much about things, like the power of storms on the water - massive forces lifting the ocean into deadly slopes - and the insurmountable depths below the deck of a boat where unknown creatures lurk and where the dead go to rest.
That is why I stick to the shore, my feet dug deep into the sand - the furthest I’ll go out towards the water’s grasp. I refuse to go further, despite the better pay. I know all too well the price that comes from tempting Iniuk with your life, and I refuse to leave my mother and sister the same way my father left us. So I stick to the markets and the wharf, hauling goods on and off ships and running errands. It isn’t the most impressive job in the world, but it pays for food and for my mother’s medicine, so it is worth it. Besides, the markets are where things happen here in Hafen.
As the capital city of Iria, we get a lot of foreigners coming into the city alongside hopefuls from the rest of the country. It is a tangled, loud, and crowded mesh of shops and stands that makes up the city. The markets are Hafen’s lifeblood, and they sprawl across the city in a way that takes months if not years to learn by heart. At midday, the sounds of all the people can become almost overwhelming, which was why it was so confusing to turn a corner and encounter near-silence on the street.
I cast my eyes down the road, but through the press of people it was almost impossible to see what was causing the whispers that floated through the air. Spotting my friend Nesren, a blacksmith’s apprentice, working at a stall nearby, I slipped through the crowd and walked over to him.
“Nesren!” At the sound of my voice, the boy turned, looking slightly startled at being addressed by name. When he saw me, his young face melted into a smile, a hand coming up in a shy greeting as I walked up beside him.
“Janak, you surprised me,” he said quietly, gesturing for me to join him behind the stall out of the way of the crowds. “It’s nice to see you. How are Heeba and Yanew? Your mother hasn’t gotten any worse, has she?”
“No, she’s staying about the same for now. I’ll be able to bring her to the healer’s again by the end of the month,” I stated, running a hand through my hair with a sigh. “Yanew’s doing fine as well, though she keeps pestering me to find a way for her to help too. I keep telling her that knowing she’s with our mother is helping me, but she just won’t listen.”
“Maybe you could find her a task to do. I know that my master enjoys carving driftwood in his spare time. If you find any the next time you’re down at the shore you could try picking some up. If she gets good enough, maybe you could apply to get a permit to sell her carvings.” Nesren looked a little afraid of my reaction to his suggestion, but at the sight of my reassuring smile, his tension eased a little.
“That’s not a bad idea,” I admitted, looking back down the street to where the majority of the whispers seemed to be centered. “By the way, do you know what’s going on? The market’s never this quiet, especially at midday.”
Nesren looked away, biting his lip. It was a different sort of tension that filled his body now, no longer the stiffness that came from how shy he was around most people. He seemed nervous, on edge. After another moment of contemplation, he turned back to me.
“There’s a girl here, from Aren. She isn’t a trader, either.” My eyebrows rose and I hissed out a surprised breath at the news. Encountering Aren traders was a rarity in and of itself, but coming across an Aren citizen? Since the Rebellions started, they had all but disappeared from Hafen due to the strict border policy Aren had enacted to try and control the chaos.
“Damn. How’d she get all the way out here? I thought the dire wolves kept anyone from making it very far. She’s either quiet as midnight or else has connections to the Church if she isn’t dead yet.”
“That’s just the thing,” Nesren responded, clearly reluctant to continue. He paused, leaning in almost instinctively, an action which I mimicked as his voice dropped to just above a whisper. “She’s got a dire wolf with her.”
I reeled back in shock. Had it been anyone but Nesren who had told me, I would have accused them of lying. But Nesren didn’t lie to people - he could barely even talk to them. How in the world had that girl managed to get a dire wolf to listen to her? Everyone knew that Aren’s border guards had to be some form of stupid or suicidal to use them, but to keep one as a pet?
The sound of a girl’s voice broke my train of thought, and Nesren and I both turned towards the speaker. She had dark hair and her eyes were a pale blue, hardened by life and the hunger that had made the shape of her face just a little too sharp. Her clothes were tidy but well-worn, and it was more than likely she was from a poorer village. Most striking of all, however, was the dire wolf standing beside her.
It was huge, the top of its shoulders reaching the center of the girl’s chest and its head the width of a barrel. The teeth alone would be enough to send someone running - big enough that they could snap my femur without even trying - but include the wild, dark orange eyes into the mix and it was a wonder anyone on the street was still standing.
“My name’s Terin, and this is Eri,” the girl began when neither Nesren or I responded to her original comment, showing no sign of fear at the terrifying beast standing less than a foot away from her. “I was hoping you could tell me where I could find an inn. Nobody seems to want to help us.”
I tore my eyes away from the wolf with no small amount of difficulty, glancing over at Nesren. The kid seemed to have frozen in terror, meaning it was up to me to respond. I turned back to the girl, Terin, already prepared to make excuses to send her and her monster of a pet on their way when I noticed the look in her eyes.
She looked resigned, as if she knew there would be no help coming from us or anyone else. There was a hint of fear there too, like the look of something hunted that didn’t trust they were entirely safe. She looked like the world was against her, but she had to try anyway or else there would be no point. Trying was her way of holding onto hope that things could be better than whatever situation she had left behind.
For the first time, I wondered what effect the sun had on the water and the tides, if it affected them anything like the moon did. I wondered if it affected me like the moon, changing me from the inside because of the water in my body. That was the only explanation I had for what happened next, for the words I distantly heard myself say.
“No inn will accept your wolf, but you could stay with me.”