Dark Helm and Wing’d Spear, #1

(Table of Contents)

A wide-bellied merchantman of pale red and stark blue-black wood lumbered towards a gale it never reached. The dark clouds parted a hundred meters ahead and flowed to either side, gale and wild surf spreading out behind the ship like a vast second wake. It was just Shayris’ luck that on a voyage made safe by such power–almost godlike!–she was forced to play nursemaid.

She slammed an errant barrel back in place against the ship’s rocking and retied it.  She wore a plain linen vest and comfortable pants secured by a sharkskin belt, her only flair. She was dark as any from Kiwoda and lean from doing her part aboard the Hatless Happenstance. A classic Ansethi sailor, which sadly explained her current problem.
“Because these are my work clothes!” she explained for the first time. She knew it was the first time, but her Firascan tagalong’s incessant questions made it feel like the hundredth.
“But…” Filare checked his notes. Shayris knew, instantly, that he was re-reading some terrible line like, “The Ansethi people adorn themselves in magnificent silks which are part tapestry, part yearning for the lost glories of the Empire.”

He was a short man with a tall snub nose, steadily worsening sunburn, and a few extra pounds further softening his peacestock features. Perhaps “overgrown boy” was closer; his pointed little black beard and cultured mustache only worsened the impression. Some Firascan silliness about propriety had him sweltering under a black doublet, blue baggy shirt and the flaring tabard common among Ceslon’s peacestock. Filare confirmed her suspicions shortly, stuttering, “But you’re Ansethi.”

“If your ignorance were slightly less innocent, I’d toss you over,” Shayris sighed. “Listen, you’re Firascan, yes?”
“Well, somewhat, but my family are of only middle purity and–”
“Yes, good,” Shayris waved a hand impatiently. “Perhaps I can forgive this, your people only having the one city now. I spring from Kiwoda, which is a well-off port city at the northern tip of Demlu, which is one–rather nice,” she added, in a fit of civic pride–“kingdom of eighty-seven granted status to attend the Crystalline Conclave each year. This isn’t counting the Shards, because they’re a tumble for other tomorrows. Now, I won’t say to you that you we’re all perfectly unique. That’s foolishness. But if you expect to see me wear a surstwan, you’ll be disappointed. That’s court wear. I’m lower-middle class. I can’t afford one, and wouldn’t be allowed wearing it if I could.”

“But your tribe–”
Nation,” Shayris corrected.
“Of course! Nation! Er… you do wear the, er…”
“The stereotypical Ansethi vest and cloven skirts in which the waist section is a tapestry of family history while the other parts are colorful linework coordinated to flatter the wearer’s body though showing little of it?” Shayris smiled. “Yes, scholar boy, by blind luck you have that right. Names are culture, hm? My namesake was the one who made the surstwan court fashion for a time.” She squatted beside the scholar and nodded toward the Happenstance‘s bow.

A figure in black robes with a hunter-green cuirass–sloped and fluted in the Schwarzhafener style as opposed to the sharp angles of Ansethi work–held a winged spear out parallel to the prow. Shayris couldn’t help but feel there should be waves of light rippling from it or somesuch, something to prove to the world that this was the man splitting a storm in half. She could just make out a dark helm peeking back over the crook of his left arm, faintly purplish with gold trim around its slit. She saw only the the dark back of the bald head.

“To speak on other examples, the captain hails from way east, out in the Shards. Still nominally Ansethi, but,” Shayris shrugged, “more primal. His people are a tribe.” She paused. “As to our esteemed guest,” she eyed the stoic spear-bearer, “I’ve no idea.”
“You don’t know?” Filare demanded.
“He’s an Inquisitor,” Shayris shrugged. “If we knew much about him, I’d question his worth.”

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