A Curse of Krakens
Sage and Sprout
Somewhat unusually, I had a morning meeting scheduled with the bard to record the previous day’s tales. Fintan had heard about a place that was new to us both, an inn on the north side of town that the shingle proclaimed to be The Gasping Gills. That caused me to wonder what sort of air quality I might find inside, but as I saw no one staggering out, coughing or wheezing or, indeed, gasping, I figured I could risk it.
The interior proved to be much more pleasant than I expected, because I thought there’d be fish heads strewn about and vomit stains on the floor: That’s the power of names. But the tables and floor were spotless, and there were small vases with wildflowers quivering in them from a gentle breeze wafting through the place. There was a large fire in the hearth for heat, but they’d designed the building with some Kaurian touches regarding the air circulation, which meant that it was probably the best possible place to spend time indoors when it was still chilly out in the mornings.
Fintan was at a table along the western wall, equidistant from the hearth and the door, and they had bench seating, which gave my bad knee a bit of trouble. Once I groaned and eased myself into place, Fintan apologized and said we’d not meet there again.
“There’s no need for you to be inconvenienced, Dervan,” he said. “There are plenty of places that have heard of chairs.”
A young woman came out from the kitchen with tea and beamed at us as she put down the pot and cups and saucers. “Morning, men. Here for breakfast?”
“Sounds fabulous,” I said. “What’s on the menu?”
“Oh, I just told you the whole thing, love. We have breakfast. It’s chef’s choice these days, and we don’t have a lot of choice, you know? We take what we can get.”
“Fair enough. I think we’ll have breakfast, then?”
Fintan nodded enthusiastically. “Can’t wait. Thank you.”
Her smile widened. “No complaints? Oh, I like you two. Coming right up.”
“The shortages are becoming worrisome,” Fintan said as she departed, “but I think the element of surprise is a bit fun. Breakfast could be brilliant.”
“Or it could be a horrific sludge of porridge.”
“True. But I find hopeful anticipation to be quite nourishing.” He poured us each a cup of tea, the steam swirling attractively above them, and asked if I wanted to get right to work or to relax a bit.
“No, we can get started,” I said. But I’d no sooner gotten out my pen and ink than we were interrupted by the arrival of a Raelech courier and another bard. I recognized the stones on her Jereh band and realized I’d never seen two bards together before.
She introduced herself as Eimear and said she’d come to share many developments in Ghurana Nent.
Fintan’s eyes widened in delight. “You have updates on Hanima Bhandury and Tamhan Khatri?”
“Yes, but more important, Pen Yas ben Min.”
“Pen? The cousin of Nel Kit ben Sah?”
“The very same. If I’m correct, she’s going to be one of the most famous Fornish people in history.”
“Seriously? She was just a kid, newly blessed.”
“Aye, but blessed as a greensleeve. You’re going to want to hear this.”
“Absolutely.” Fintan turned to me. “Dervan, my apologies, but this sounds like something I must hear sooner rather than later. We can catch up another time, right?”
“Of course, but I have a question. Why are you here?” I asked Eimear.
Somewhat taken aback, she extended an index finger toward her countryman. “To update Fintan.”
“Yes, but why?”
“The Triune Council ordered it. I have spent some time in Talala Fouz, where much has been happening. When I returned recently to Rael and reported what I learned to them, they said Brynlön must know also, and I was to repeat everything to Fintan so he could include it in his tale of the Giant Wars.”
“His . . . Wait—his tale is something the Triune Council is so concerned about that they’d send you here with a courier to update him?”
“Again: Why? It seems like an extraordinary expenditure of your resources.”
Fintan answered for her. “You and I haven’t gotten to the part where the council ordered me here, but we will soon. Suffice to say that they feel this tale is important for both our nations and a key part of Rael’s support for Brynlön.”
Eimear nodded. “And of course they’re aware that you are writing it down, Master du Alöbar, adding your own historical notes, and they are hopeful they’ll get to read the completed version someday as a joint project between allied nations.”
I wasn’t so sure they’d be thrilled to read my additions where I was supposed to counter Fintan as a suspected spy, all while we’d had a Bone Giant operating as our master of spies for years, and he’d painted a target on Clodagh’s back and pointed me at her like a weapon, assuming I’d want to avenge my wife’s supposed assassination at her hands. I knew now that the Wraith had fed me lies, of course, but that didn’t change the fact that much of what I’d written might be incredibly embarrassing to us. And to me personally.
Or it might bring a refreshing chance for honesty and dialogue and allow us to move forward together more productively. I couldn’t know for sure. But one way or another, Pelenaut Röllend would eventually have to answer for some questionable choices he’d made. Answer to Rael, of course, but also answer to me.
“Very well. I assume you’ll be occupied for some time?”
“Yes. There is much to share.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then, and I’ll see you on the wall later, Fintan. You can have my breakfast, Eimear—I’ll grab something elsewhere.”
That freed up my morning, and I decided to spend it trying to hunt down either Rölly or his lung, Föstyr du Bertrum, to get some answers regarding the intelligence I’d received yesterday from Dame Nyssa du Valas—namely, that Sarena’s assassination had come at the hands of the Nentian ambassador, Jasindur Torghala, whom Rölly had expelled, and that her poisoning had been ordered by none other than the shitsnake Melishev Lohmet, former viceroy of Hashan Khek and current monarch of Ghurana Nent. Rölly had known both of those facts and hadn’t told me. He’d even sent a hygienist to Ghurana Nent recently who might wind up curing the loathsome murderer of his wasting disease.
Nyssa had explained that the ambassador had to be expelled for something else to keep her role in the embassy a secret, but that didn’t explain why these secrets had been kept from me—especially when Rölly had a month’s worth of opportunities to tell me and chose instead to let me believe the Wraith’s lie that Clodagh had something to do with it.
Unless Dame Nyssa wasn’t who she said she was at all and everything she told me was a fabrication. I supposed I’d need to confirm her identity and her story. But it had the ring of plausibility to it, whereas anything from the Wraith had to be suspect. I needed to see either the pelenaut or the lung to ascertain whether this was true.
My attempts to gain an audience, however, were curtly rebuffed at the palace. Both men were impossibly busy, and no matter how important I thought my news, they simply could not see me. I could leave a message with the mariner if I wanted.
That was some chum and shit right there. I just left word that I needed to see Rölly urgently and stalked away as best as I could on my tender knee to help at the refugee kitchen outside the city walls. It would allow me to wreak unholy vengeance upon some innocent vegetables, and besides, it seemed to be where I got my best information now.
Halfway through a rather small mountain of sad potatoes, I realized that if Eimear had been at Talala Fouz recently, she could have told me if Melishev Lohmet was still alive or not. I’d been so distracted I hadn’t thought to ask.
The potatoes were finished long before I’d run out of anger, but it did make me wonder if the chef wanted a thin soup today or if our supplies were dwindling.
“Dwindling,” Chef du Rödal confirmed. “I’m rationing what little we have left. I’m told there aren’t any ships coming for a while, so we have to make things stretch. A lot.”
That was disturbing. Tomorrow morning I would have my last toast from my current loaf of bread. It occurred to me to wonder whether it might also be my last loaf. A trip to the bakery confirmed that it was, for now.
“We’re out of flour, sorry,” the baker said. “We’ll bake again as soon as we get some grain.”