To Downrow Caldor went bouncing along in the back of a poorly assembled wooden carriage driven by Gabber.
Their search hadn’t turned up any more information regarding the survivor, but he was further ahead than he was before. Caldor now knew that the survivor was a female child. Foe would be glad to know that Irbet wasn’t a complete waste of time.
The carriage hit a bump.
Caldor stiffened, pressing his head against the back of his seat. He had hoped to make good time leaving at dawn, but with the old mule pulling the carriage at walking speed, that wouldn’t be the case.
When the sun was overhead and Caldor had caught up on some rest, he found himself watching the world pass by through the open window of the carriage. Small farms rolled past every few miles, divided by long runs of birch, pine, oak, maple, and poplar.
They stopped the previous evening in Berk: a village consisting of two farms, a smith, and about fifteen people, all of whom didn’t know of, or remember, a Morzi girl. To his dismay, there was no inn or tavern in the town, which left him sleeping on the boarded floor of the carriage. His back didn’t thank him for such a night the next morning, nor did his stomach thank him for the sludge he had eaten that evening - gifted by a farmer.
Nauseous and sore, Caldor found the next day of riding equivalent to what he believed hell to be like, complete with Gabber singing off-key folk songs and a squeaky, wobbling right wheel. Caldor was willing to do anything to escape the confines of the carriage, but he knew this was the only way he could get to Downrow to meet his friend.
When his legs began to cramp again from sitting in the bumpy, uncomfortable, confined box on wheels, Gabber piped up from his seat outside.
“Downrow on approach.”
The carriage jumped when it hit a bump and Caldor grabbed the edge of the bench to keep himself from flying off. The boy went back to singing. Caldor hoped it was less than half an hour.
The carriage gained speed as it began descending a hill. The carriage bumped along, and Caldor began his calming breathing exercises in hope that they would take his mind off of his thoughts of dying in a crash.
Gods, I am not a religious man, but let me not die in such a silly way. He glimpsed up at the ceiling, hoping that the Gods heard his prayers just as the carriage began to slow again. And let us get to Downrow before I am as decrepit as that bloody mule.
To Caldor’s dismay, there was no inn in Downrow. The tavern - if he dared call it - was a canvas tent with four pine benches. Yes, he admitted it was larger than Berk, but Irbet was better suited for travelers.
The sun baked the back of his head, burning the small bald spot before he lifted his hood. A group of men were singing songs around the barrels of the ‘tavern’ while the keeper was tending to another customer.
Caldor recognized the blond man leaning against one of the spitted barrels the moment he spotted him. The light deerskin vest and the Demori steel blade on his braided leather belt helped confirm his suspicion.
“When in seven hells did you get here?” Caldor stomped over to the Steward, who turned to face him with a silver stein in his hand. “You did not think of looking for me?”
“Yah may be tiny, but ya’re resourceful,” Foe took a sip, as Caldor smacked him across the arm, “Eh, watch the brew!”
“Watch the brew? I have spent a day and a half in a hell box, and you tell me to watch the bloody brew,” Caldor took a step back before taking a deep breath. “When did you get here?”
“A lil over an hour,” Foe took another sip, “Marcia says hello, as does me boy.”
“Druce actually spoke?” Caldor shook his head, changing to a harsher tone. “Do not distract me. I am still mad at you.”
“The King ain’t happy yah left without tellin’ him,” Foe continued, sitting down on a bench, his knees in his chest. Even sitting down the Steward was taller than the sage.
“Did you tell him I may have found a book with a cure?” Caldor inquired, patting his belt where the almanac was hooked.
“I may have mentioned it… that was after overhearin’ the Sisters tryin’ to get yar wee arse sent back to Easterly,” Foe added, taking a sip of his brew. “Yah know how to make enemies, eh?”
“Those women are always looking to throw out the outsiders. Their whole purpose is to keep Derm a pure Dermite land. You can thank Cark for that,” Caldor remarked, removing his glasses to wipe them against his robe. “I pay them no mind. When I return to Demor with the survivor and this book, Charn will have no reason to send me off. Now, tell me you found out a little more than how the brew tasted while you were waiting for me.”
Foe looked at his old friend for a moment, swishing the deep brown stout in the stein. Did Caldor seriously think he was going to get away with leaving the North without informing the King? Did the old man have any idea how much his actions had upset the Sisters of Mercy?
“Chaos singers are in the main square farther in and some people have mentioned a Morzi girl, but I don’ know if she’s the one we’re lookin’ for,” Foe replied, taking a deep breath. “Also overheard somethin’ about veils… I don’ know.”
Foe had done better than Caldor had expected. He hadn’t been able to tell Foe about finding the blood stained dress in Irbet yet. Foe’s information was promising, and if the villagers had mentioned a Morzi girl, there was a chance she was the survivor. Foe was already set on finishing his pint, but Caldor wanted to start looking for answers.
“Meet me in the square when you are done,” Caldor said, patting his friend on the shoulder and heading off into the streets.
There were enough villagers gabbing for him to listen to. They were discussing recent changes regarding the war and the loss of young men. Some were even discussing the arrival of a seer to the village.
Simple-minded fools. Caldor scoffed at the idea.
No one had the power to see the future; the so-called Gods wouldn’t allow such a thing. If someone had the ability to really see future events no one would believe them, or should believe them. There were enough people preying on the weak minded for coin without telling false tales of nonexistent events.
Everyone smiled despite the ridiculousness they were spewing. Men were working in the fields while long stalks of corn swayed in the breeze. Young women worked in the apple orchards, or tended to their children that ran around their feet. One woman bathed her child in a rain barrel while another clung to her skirt. The square was small, but surprisingly busy for such a tiny village.
“And with the light there will come a change!” called a raggedy fellow near the well. “It’s this change that’ll bring the new era.”
Caldor glared at the strange man waving around the rose red text. The indented symbol of the triquetra brushed with powdered gold glistened in the sun. The chaos singer ruined the atmosphere with his wild preaching.
“My brothers and sisters, we’re given a sign and must follow it. The light is the beacon guiding us to our purpose.”
The singer stood atop his wooden step. His robe dirty and torn. His feet blackened and hair greasy. Still, his voice was the loudest in the streets, and there was quite the crowd before him.
“With the fall of Morza, a time of peace and happiness will come.”
Simple minds attract simple minds. Caldor took his pipe from his robe before resting it between his teeth. The sage stood at a distance to study the display while waiting for his friend’s return.
“It is from the darkest moments the light will shine. This is the first sign. Can’t you see!”
The crowd pulled closer as the singer lowered his voice. The singer had their attention now, and he would ramble on his nonsense until they were either tired of him, or he was done for the day. Caldor silently hoped the man would lose his voice and retire early so he could not ruin the uneducated minds of these people, but that was unlikely to occur.
These followers of the ‘great’ prophet had been singing that drawl for years. Every disaster was a sign for them. It wasn’t right to be drawing attention away from the tragedy of the western city, even in the name of the Gods.
Crazy old bat. Caldor couldn’t stand chaos singers. They were all over the streets in Demor and La’reen. All the capitals were covered like lice on a poor man’s beard. If chased out, they would reappear later in larger numbers.
The chaos singers were the followers to the last book of Kanrow. Caldor remembered learning about the brilliant theories that man had developed, and it was heartbreaking he had lost himself to the voices in his head.
By the end of Kanrow’s life, he believed he was a prophet of the Gods sent to the world to write down a great prophecy. Despite all the academic texts and theories, the one book that had defined him was the Prophecy of Six. A book said to describe the ending of the current era and the beginning of a new one. That had been over 200 years ago, yet the belief grew strong, gaining followers from across Gaitan, all singing the strange text for others to hear.
Man wasn’t able to know what the Gods were thinking. If they knew, then they themselves would be Gods.
“Do yah hear that babble?” Foe spouted, moving to be beside the wee man. “Since the news of Morza spread, these lunatics have been preachin’ none stop.”
“Let them,” the sage glanced at one of the carts selling apples, “we know what happened.”
“We do, eh?”
“Well, it was not the Gods.”
Caldor headed towards the apple cart once he had tucked his pipe back into the inner pocket of his robe. His stomach was growling, and he wasn’t taking a chance with the local stew.
“Yeah… but it wasn’ just the Snakes either,” Foe followed.
Caldor knew the Steward had a point about Morza. There were other issues to consider aside from Sydrin. There was that light and the survivor. The child would have the answer to his questions and hopefully shine a light on what truly happened that night.
The old sage tucked his hands into the sleeves of his robe before leaning to look at the assortment of polished apples in the wicker baskets. There were orange speckled galas, red striped northern spies, and his favorite: the golden delicious. There was no doubt which he would buy since the choices were limited. If it were later in the autumn, he would have had more selection, but there would be time back in Demor to indulge.
“Hello dear, three golden please,” Caldor swayed on his heels in anticipation. La’reen hadn’t had such sweet treats, and it had been close to a year since he had tasted a fresh apple.
The woman looked up from polishing to give him a smile. She acknowledged his request with a dip of her head before reaching for the bright golden fruit in the basket beside her.
“You say they were talking of a Morzi girl?” Caldor raised his voice to make sure the woman behind the cart would hear him. He didn’t want to force out information, but if the girl was known by the villagers, he wanted to know what they knew.
“Yeah… an older woman was talkin’ about a girl. Might be our Morzi, might not,” Foe didn’t know much about the survivor but it was strange for a Morzi child to be out this far without mention of their guardian.
“You looking for a Morzi girl?” the woman piped in, passing Caldor the polished apples.
The sage nodded. He knew his idea would work.
“Well, there’s a Morzi girl living with the pellar down by the river. Some of the people saying she’s gifted or some bullocks. I haven’t seen her, so I wouldn’t know,” the woman put out her hand, palm up. Caldor placed two silver in her palm. “Oh, that’s too much.”
“No, that is the right amount for the information you gave me,” Caldor chimed, placing three copper into her hand, “and, those are for the apples.”
“Thanks…” the woman was wide eyed.
Caldor smiled ear-to-ear at her reaction, feeling his cheeks twitch and eye crinkle in the corners. The woman deserved the extra coin for being so willing to offer them the information.
“I see yah learnt somethin’ from Irbet,” Foe smirked.
“I did not learn - I improved,” Caldor remarked.
They made their way to the short stone bridge. The bridge wouldn’t be their path. Instead they cut down onto a gravel path between two crooked fence posts. The path was made by foot traffic. It faded out in places where browning grass sprung up in small uneven patches like hair on a balding man’s head. They strolled along the pebbly edge of the river. The pebbles were of various shades of black and grey, polished smooth by the quick current.
Caldor should have asked the woman where exactly along the river this pellar lived. He hadn’t thought it would have been a ten minute walk from the village, and part of him wondered if they had missed it. Pellars weren’t known to live in big places or cottages. In all likelihood the pellar was living in a tent.
“A pellar’s a what?” Foe asked, keeping a close eye on the edge of the woods. The pellar wouldn’t be living in the river, obviously, which left the incline on their right covered with thickets.
“A person who believes they are a healer,” Caldor sighed, swatting away a fly.
“But they’re not?” Foe wasn’t familiar with pellars. Titles weren’t important to him like they were with the wee eastern folk. He still wanted to know what the difference was, since his friend’s nostrils flared at the brief mention of the pellar.
“If you consider eating maggots or steeping scat in hot water to be healing,” Caldor spat. He couldn’t stand amateurs.
Unfortunately, there were more pellars than actual trained healing professionals like him. Anyone who knew how to stop a paper cut from bleeding called themselves a healer, but that didn’t make it true. To think a child was living with such a vagabond made Caldor queasy.
The thin river worked well for the community as a source of food. There were fishermen on the other side with their fish piled in baskets by their feet. A group of women were washing clothes in the river while children splashed and played.
The two strolled around a bend and up the incline to the forested part of the path before Foe called Caldor’s attention to something just over the edge and past a fallen tree. Foe pointed at what looked like a pile of leather sheets strung together with sticks and vines. That couldn’t even be called a tent, in Caldor’s opinion. He couldn’t tell what it was.
Shuffling around the log, Caldor noticed a woman with her bare feet in the grass. Her face was directed at the sky and her eyes were closed. She was a lean woman, wearing a chocolate brown dress. Her brown hair was matted in a bun, and she couldn’t have been older than Foe.
“Good day,” Caldor chimed.
“Is it?” the woman’s hazel eyes glared.
That was not the common response. Normally a person would reply with a simple yes, or it is.
“To most, they’d think so,” the sage noticed her eyes narrow.
“Why yah here?”
“I heard you may know a Morzi girl.”
Her stern expression melted to a smile before returning.
“If yah here to see lil Li for some healing, she ain’t here,” the woman stepped back to stoke the fire, “neither is the pellar for that matter. They both went north for supplies.”
That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He had come to Downrow because the girl should have been there, now he was being told the child had left. This was utter nonsense.
“When will they be back?” Caldor asked, crossing his arms.
The woman shrugged. That wasn’t the answer he wanted. He needed specifics. He needed information. Vague shrugs and half-answered questions weren’t going to cut it.
“Where in the North are they going?” Caldor saw the woman shrug again. “Damn it, woman, use your words.”
The woman straightened up, crossing her arms under her chest. Her brows were knotted, her eyes like rusty needles jabbing into his skin. His tone hadn’t pleased her, but the feeling was mutual.
Feeling a heavy weight on his shoulder, Caldor glanced up to see his friend’s hand resting atop his cloak.
“Make tea,” Foe patted Caldor’s back before lumbering towards the woman. The wee man didn’t have the patience for people, but Foe knew how to get the answers the old sage was hunting for.
The Steward placed a gentle hand on the woman’s arm, flashing her a smile before ushering her away from the fire to talk alone. It must have been strange for the woman to have two foreigners asking questions about a girl - that from her smile - was important to her in some way.
Caldor scoffed at his friend who lumbered off with the woman to sit along the rocky shore below. How was he possibly going to get the answers out of her if Foe didn’t even know the questions to ask?
Turning his attention to the fire pit, Caldor noticed the water was already close to a boil. There was no chance he was going to be using anything from the pellar’s supplies. He thankfully had his own selection of teas hidden in his robe for an occasion just like this. Rosehip and lemongrass would work nicely enough, although he wasn’t sure if the woman was used to drinking such a refined choice of flavors. The herbs were found outside her familiar range - Caldor was certain - as rosehips were found farther north and lemongrass was a southern plant.
The woman should have been thanking them for such hospitality and smiling at their kindness. She wasn’t sick and wasn’t dying. She was lucky to be getting such nice treatment.
“Is the tea done?” Foe called.
“Another minute, dear,” Caldor sweetly chimed, before glaring at the back of his friend’s head. There was nothing more annoying than stupid questions. It would be done when it was done. Don’t ask if it is, or when it is. It will be done when it’s- “Done!”
Taking what he hoped was a clean cup from the stump beside the fire, Caldor filled the cup with the steaming tea before making his way back to the woman sitting, rolling a stone with her foot.
Caldor pushed the cup into the woman’s hands as she changed to sit cross-legged.
“Thanks,” she muttered, taking a sniff of the tea, “ooo lemongrass and rosehip. Nice choice.”
“Now that you have tea and have some idea that we are not here to hurt the girl, can you please answer my questions?” Caldor noticed Foe narrow his brow and shake his head. “What she knows, we need to know.”
There was a long silence, as the woman sipped at the tea. Every second felt like an hour. The woman lifted the cup to her lips taking a sip before bringing it back down to her lap. Five times she did that before opening her mouth as if to speak, and then took a sip of the tea instead.
For pity’s sake! Caldor was holding back the urge to shout. Listening to every sigh and slurp was beyond aggravating.
“Lil Li is a special girl,” she finally muttered. “The girl’s smart. Quick to help others.”
“Yes but wher-”
“Shhh,” Foe interrupted, “Talia was talkin’.”
The woman glimpsed at Foe before peering back into the cup.
“I noticed right away Li was different. Not that she was a Westy - I didn’t worry about that. The girl had something about her - a gift. Something unnatural…” Talia swished around the tea. A rosehip bobbed on the surface. “At first I thought that something wasn’t right with her. The Pellar has a habit of taking in strays. Li was the most troubled - not troubled - lost. That’s until Pellar got her helping ’round here, tending to patients and such. I could keep the place clean, but that was all. Li knew healing.”
“Where did they go?” Caldor asked.
“I told yah, north,” the woman snipped.
“North is a big place,” Foe stated, “would help if yah could give us a name.”
“Hell if I know,” she shrugged, “Pellar doesn’t have a straight thought in his head, so even if I had a place, he probably went elsewhere.”
“Anythin’ can help,” Foe placed his hand on Talia’s knee. “Please, Caldor just wants to see his great granddaughter, safe - before he leaves for the Eternal.”
Great granddaughter? Eternal? Was he serious? Caldor shouldn’t have been surprised. The man had pulled similar stunts in the past, but this was insulting. How old did the man think he was?
“He mentioned stopping through Menk, but I know… he has family in Bay’s Lake and Demor. I’m sorry… if I knew exactly where, I’d tell you,” tears rolled down the woman’s face, as she glanced up at Caldor. “I’m sorry.”
Foe patted her on the back as Caldor turned away before rolling his eyes.
There was something strange about what the woman was saying before. The girl was helping people. That meant the girl was knowledgeable in healing, or was learning how to heal from Pellar. Whichever it was, the girl wanted to be a healer. Naygu would have taken notice and would have likely taught this girl.
“How was she helping people?” Caldor turned back. Talia was sniffling into her tea. “Was she healing them with medicine?”
“No… well yeah some she did that. Li learnt a lot from her gran. Li said her gran was a special healer back wherever. The girl knew her herbs and made a better tea… no offence,” Talia winced.
The girl’s grandmother was a healer?
No. Caldor couldn’t believe that. The only healer in Morza was Naygu, which meant the girl was the Master Healer’s granddaughter.
“Her full name is Liora?” Caldor’s throat went dry.
“Yeah… but we call her Li. Easier to remember,” Talia smirked, tapping her head.
“Oh Fate…” Caldor felt his head begin to spin.
“Caldor?” Foe’s voice was muffled.
Too much was running through his head. The girl was supposed to be dead. At least that’s what he had believed. He had imagined the girl was in one of those piles or one of the burnt corpses laying in the streets. How cruel for her to have experienced that? How cruel for her to have survived?
“Cal!” Foe’s booming voice echoed in his ears while a pain shot through his shoulder.
“Aye,” Caldor leaned away, holding his arm where Foe had smacked him. “What?”
“Yah look like yah’ve seen a spirit,” Foe said. “Yah ’ight?”
“Yes, it is just… nothing…we will talk later,” Caldor rubbed his arm, turning his attention back to the stork like woman. Now he really needed to know what she knew. “So, Liora helped heal the people with medicine. Continue.”
“Well at first she did, but she noticed some people couldn’t be healed by herbs. Some people need to be given peace of mind,” Talia replied.
“And Liora talked to them?” Caldor pressed.
“She did more than that. I don’t know how. Pellar knows,” she sniffled.
“And that is all you know?” Caldor asked; his voice harsh.
The woman nodded. The sage had wanted to find the girl in Downrow, but that wasn’t the case. Caldor cupped his hands together listening to the river roaring past.
The girl had been here. He had just missed her. They had been so bloody close.
All he hoped now was the girl was safe. She had been lucky enough to find the care of this Pellar, but the roads to the North were dangerous by foot. They were filled with dangerous plants that could make her sick, or animals that could eat her up whole. The evenings were colder too, meaning there was chance she could freeze or get frostbite.
If they were heading to Menk first, they would run into snakes, or worse acid-thropes. Those four foot tall wingless dragons were known for spitting acid and went for small game.
There were plenty of poisonous, dangerous creatures living in the rocky hills leading up to the mountain village. She was too small to fend off such creatures on her own.
She has survived this long. Caldor’s brain was being kind, sharing that thought. Whatever the forest put in her way wouldn’t have compared to her escape from Morza.
By what Caldor could tell Foe was trying to leave a good impression on the woman. He was telling a story about his son and how the little boy was getting into all his mother’s books.
Marcia was tending to the prince since Caldor wasn’t there to ensure he was taking his medicine. The woman had been trained and knew the basics of healing that would keep the boy alive until his return.
Then there was the King. Charn was probably shouting at the servants and taking his anger out on the council while he waited for the sage to return. The first meeting back in Demor wasn’t going to be pleasant, but Caldor knew he would have to sit through it. Charn wasn’t happy, but there was nothing the old sage could do. There was nothing anyone could do at the moment.