Fen awoke to find daylight across her face. What time was it? She flung her arm around the bed, looking for her pack. Where did I leave it? She had no choice but to get out of bed to look for it. She fished out her pocket watch out, which marked something around half-past eight. Maybe she could sleep some more? No, she thought, I have to meet El. He’ll introduce me to a caravan master after all.
After redressing, combing her hair, and wiping her face with water from a ceramic washbasin, Fen went to the common room for some breakfast. Few people were there, El wasn’t one of them. She sighed. Helga was there though, ready to give her a quite elaborate breakfast, along with some fruit juice. The Misplaced Poet was definitely worth the two edges.
Fen had breakfast mostly in silence, aside from some small comments from Helga or one of the serving girls regarding her room. She could stay one more night for just five copper slabs, and after the treatment she had, she saw no reason to disagree. One of the serving girls would even clean her clothes! Never in her life had she been treated this well outside her home. Not that she had left her home often. She always had her father, and her mother as well, as a child. But now she didn’t really have a–
A while later, El descended the stairs. “Oh, good morning Fen. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I mean, wait, I need to look for something in my room.”
She went back to look for her leather side pack, along with the coin pouch. She would rather never let that one out of sight. Soon after, both of them were already on their way to meet the caravan master.
El was wearing a long-sleeved red woollen shirt, different from the white one he had worn last night, and brown leather leggings. And a rather large belt knife. He walked with a certain rhythm in his step. Contrasted to Fen, he must have been awake for quite some time. Fen’s thoughts were still on the bed. The clear summer day hadn’t woken her up fully yet.
“Where are you from, Fen?”
They had walked some distance in silence; she hadn’t expected a question.
“Northod, a town south of here.”
“So why are you going to Phoelles?”
Looking for my father’s killer. She couldn’t quite say that. “Looking to enrol in the Akademia.”
“Akadimia, huh? You have that look about you.” What does that even mean? “You might come across my cousin, she is studying there as well. Her name’s Lisandra.”
El looked at her; he seemed to be trying to hold in a smile. “You’re not much of a talker, are you?”
Fen felt her cheeks getting warmer. “Sorry, I’m tired. I mean, I’m still a bit asleep–"
“There they are.”
They weren’t that far from the docks, and various stables and caravans surrounded them. How had she not seen them before?
Guided by El, they came closer to a group of eight or so people around five wagons. Rather simple the wagons, a wooden structure with a large cloth tarp as a roof. Some were loading some crates into a wagon, others were checking the wheels and tending to the horses.
“Ledwig, I found someone looking for transport.”
Ledwig was a tall man, Rendarean by his dark hair, a beard surrounding his mouth. He was talking with a woman before turning to greet El.
“Oh, great, who is she?”
Both stood looking at her before she realized it was her turn to speak. “Oh! My name is Fen. I’m looking to go to Phoelles.”
“Phoelles? That will be two rounds.”
Two golden rounds! “What?” Fen quickly covered her mouth; she hadn’t intended to say that out loud.
“Ledwig!” protested El, “come on!”
“Ha! You could probably sail to Phoelles for that much. One round.”
El glared at him, arms crossed, tapping his foot.
“Okay, okay, I was just playing with the lass. Ten edges.”
That seemed more reasonable. Not that Fen knew much about prices, but a whole round… She wasn’t sure she was willing to spend that much. At least not yet.
Fen paid the man, then he introduced her to the rest of the people there. His wife Maere, Jom, Able and Hart, lanky caravan drivers, and some of the guards. Fen tried to remember their names for later. Ledwig also said that other people not present were coming, people who had paid for transport as well.
“We leave tomorrow at first light,” said Ledwig. “We’ll meet here at dawn.”
El chatted a bit with the rest of the crew, but soon after, both him and Fen left the stables.
“I’ve got some things to take care of at various inns throughout the city,” El began, “do you have any plans for the day?”
Fen hadn’t really thought about it, but she had an entire day to waste away. Perhaps she could read her father’s poetry book. But who knew when she’d be back in Baysend?
“No, not really. Might just wander around the city. Though I’m not quite familiar with it yet.”
“Come with me,” he offered, “I’ll show you around while I do my things.”
“I mean, I…” El was quite friendly, perhaps she could stick with him for a while. And he seemed to know his way around. “Okay, I think I will.”
Fen accompanied El as he met various innkeepers throughout Baysend. Most remarked how talented he was, and wished to see him again before giving him a small leather pouch. In the meantime, El introduced her to the different boroughs of Baysend; Upper West, where they had left in the morning, Upper East with its amphitheatre, the Barracks with the huge set of stairs, Temple Town, with its, well, temple… not that she would remember all the names.
Along the way, Fen pulled a sack of dried fruit and snacked with El as they entered Reader’s Apple. Now, this place she quite liked. The buildings were not very tall and there seemed to be various libraries around.
El stopped by an inn next to a big park. There was a rather large statue; Fen stood studying it while waiting for El. It depicted a woman in robes, arms stretched to the sides, holding a book in one hand and some crops in the other. Who was she?
“So, when will you be back?” That was the innkeeper talking with El.
“Not sure. I’ll be in Reiss Bridge for a while, then visit Phoelles. I’ll be sure to visit if I return though.”
After their small chat, Fen heard a door close, then El walking towards her.
“This is the Reader’s Apple that named the district,” he said as he gestured to the park. “The statue, that’s Z’sof, Rendarean goddess of wisdom and humility.”
Rendarean goddess? Despite being Rendarean herself, she knew very little of their religion. Her father had taught everything as the laws that bind nature, with little comment on theology. Perhaps a word or two about So-Phell, the God-King of Phoelles. Had he really lived over three hundred years? Maybe he was the closest thing to a God; if he wasn’t one already.
“One of the few still standing.” He was talking about the statue. “After the Vain Wars, few remained. And once So-Phell named himself the God of wisdom and knowledge, he ordered to demolish those left. The Rendarean pantheon is still present, but having a living god around… Many don’t know what to believe in.”
“You sure know a lot about history.”
El faced her, then grinned. “Helps when writing songs. But that’s as far as my knowledge goes. Don’t go asking me to multiply big numbers like you akademic folk.”
Fen giggled despite herself. What did he think akademics did?
“Akademics don’t do maths for the sake of it. It’s not like they go around making calculations for no reason.”
“Huh? What’s, let’s say, hundred-thirty-seven times twenty-five?”
“Three thousand… four hundred… twenty-five.”
“I mean, it’s not like akademics have to know how to do it. I just do. And I’m not even close to being an akademic yet.”
“You do look like one already.”
The next inn they stopped in, the innkeeper invited them for lunch. The sun was high up in the sky, and Fen’s pocket watch marked about half-past two. They had walked for quite some time, yet Fen didn’t feel tired at all. The innkeeper served them some fish dish that was refreshing for the summer day. And that they shouldn’t worry, the meal was on the house for the bard Eliandor and his friend.
“You’re quite the celebrity here in Baysend,” commented Fen once the innkeeper left their table.
“I’ve been playing here for about three months,” El answered after swallowing, “if I am to earn a living in a big city I should earn some renown first.”
“Then why are you leaving?”
“I like to move around,” he answered. “And I like to think of it as a challenge to try and get known throughout a new city. I’d also like to visit my cousin in Phoelles later in the year.”
What about going back to Helicia? She didn’t ask it though; El might ask about her family in return and… she’d rather not talk about that.
“You must not find it hard to get known around, you’re very talented with your Helician, Uhm, lute.”
“What?” Fen protested.
“It’s not a lute, it's a guitar. Simpler, yet more versatile.”
“Figure other bards may disagree, right?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes they just call me a ‘six-stringed fool’ and move on.”
“‘Six-stringed fool,’” Fen chuckled.
Not long after, both moved on. El was done with his meetings, but they still spent time walking around Baysend. They chatted as they walked. Well, most of the time it was El who spoke; Fen just liked to listen. The things he said were quite interesting. Facts about history, especially about the city. Fen wasn’t aware that the city was once known as Bay’s End; the old Rendamic name long forgotten after the Vain Wars. And with time people made it one word. Sometimes people mistook it and called it ‘Bay Send’, which led to songs such as ‘Sent from the Bay’, a classic Rendarean royal ballad. Often he would drift from history to something music-related.
“I like to think that music is everywhere,” he said, “and that every city has its own song, due to its history. Listen to the sounds of the city for a moment.”
They had walked back to the docks. Again, she heard bells, seagulls, people walking and talking. If she strained her ear, she could perhaps notice the people walking to a beat. But it was all for nought.
“It’s just chaos,” Fen said after a while.
“Does that mean it is not music?”
“Well, isn’t music supposed to have some order or pattern?”
“Why can’t chaos be music?”
Fen paused to think. “Chaos is just high entropy within a system,” she said matter-of-factly, “it means there's a lack of usable energy. If music is supposed to produce a reaction in people, how can it do it without usable energy?”
“You and your akademic terms,” El chuckled. “If you listened to a Xaotepequi beat, the first word you would describe it with would be ‘chaos’.”
“Then what makes people like certain kinds of music?”
“That is something I’m trying to figure out myself,” he said with a sigh.
“You sound more like a philosopher than a bard.”
El shrugged. “Maybe I am. Isn’t science the philosophy of nature?” Fen nodded, reluctantly. “Then you are not far from a philosopher yourself,” El continued. “Perhaps you can find the answer to that question with your science, and I’ll do it my way.”
“That doesn’t seem very fair; you already are a musician and I’m not an akademic yet.”
“Who says you have to be an akademic to answer questions?”
Fen stood wide-eyed. Then she asked, “what do you know about poetry?”
“Tends to have deeper and more obscure meaning than the songs I’m used to writing. Why?”
“Oh, nothing.” I shouldn’t have asked that. I should keep my secrets better.
“There she is!” Who shouted that?
Both turned to the source of the shout. It was one of the men from yesterday, who stood across the street. The hairs at the back of her neck shot up as the other three caught up.
El’s hand went to his belt knife. He didn’t draw it though. “Fen, who are these people?”
“Yesterday… they tried to attack me. I… I just defended myself.”
The lanky, pale-haired man stepped forward. He had a bandage wrapped around his head now and was holding some sort of club. “Shut up witch.”
Fen’s hand went to her chest. If she had managed to escape before she could–
Where were the rings? Shatters! I left them in my room!
“Watch out for her magic!”
“El,” said Fen. He eyed her in return. “Run.”
Both turned and bolted up the alley.
“You two, stop!” No shattering way I’m stopping.
They ducked through alleys, then merged back to the main avenue. Where to go? El took the lead, Fen followed his every move.
“You’re not running this time witch!” The thugs were still on their tracks.
“Shatters,” cursed El as they ran, “where are the shattering city guards when you need them?”
Fen had no answer.
“Follow me,” he said some blocks later, “I have an idea.”
They rounded up another alley, then turned left. Then left again.
“Where are we going?”
“The roofs.” Roofs?
They turned in another alley, where there was one squat building compared to the rest. In a swift motion, El climbed up its side. “Quickly,” he whispered, stretching an arm for Fen.
He grabbed her with both hands then pulled her up. “We still have some way to go.”
They climbed up another wall, then moved up a slanted roof. An entire block they moved through the tiled roofs of the city before stopping and lying down.
“Where did they go?” Someone asked in the distance.
“That shattering witch! Keep on looking for her!” Then steps that faded away.
Fen was breathing hard. “I think we lost them,” she whispered.
“Still, we should stay here for a while until we know they won’t return.”
Fen left out a long breath.
A while later, El spoke. “So,” he said trying not to grin, “magic?”
Fen giggled, “akademic science.”
Laughter burst out from the two. Fen couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so.
Both sat on the roof until dusk, watching the sunset to the west.
“Phoelles has great sunsets,” El said, “having the Bay to the west and all.”
“Can’t wait to see them,” was all Fen said. Though perhaps, right then, she could have waited a bit.