For Glory, For Empire
Talis' Introduction in Flen
Flen, pirate haven and the de facto capital of the islands of Flenouaye, sits on a narrow, hilly strip of land between two harbors. To the north is the smaller Weather Harbor. Long and difficult to sail to, but with steep shores to protect from all but the foulest of storms, and out of site of any passing pirate hunters. To the south is the Fair Harbor, expansive, bustling, and open to the whims of the Cycladine Ocean. This is a city vibrant with trade, illegitimate and legitimate alike.
High above the Fair Harbor, sits a cliff-side restaurant, The La’i Kai, without equal within a thousand miles. The chef is a Maglioshi master chef, and the fare is a combination of the freshest and most exotic ingredients available at this crossroads. Facing south is its garden patio, with a panorama unparalleled.
Talis sits on a patio bench with a cup of kope, a rich, warm, slightly bitter drink made from ground seeds of a Areiyistis shrub, contemplating an idyllic, clear sunset, unusual for the end of the vernal rainy season. The light is such a brilliant golden orange, it is as if there is a choir from the heavens singing just for her. Three rounded merchant vessels are sailing into port in line from the west, the crews bustling, but many others on board stand at the rails idle.
A small motion to her left draws her attention. At the other end of the bench is a small, bald, Maglioshi man in a clean, undyed muslin robe. He is drinking a yellow-orange tea that you do not recognize, almost the same color as the sunset, and he too seems to be taking in the sunset as well.
He turns to you slightly, lifts his cup in greeting and smiles. “It is rare for a sunset this lovely at this time of year.” His tea glows slightly as the cup comes toward you, and it gives off the whir of hummingbird wings.
It was true. For most of the year, it was either raining at sunset, or the sky was clear of the clouds that now speckled the sky and made the sunset what it was. “A treasure indeed, Master.” Talis lifts her cup in return. “A promise of mystery, peace and prosperity. May your path continue in Light.”
It was a beautiful ending to an exhausting day. She’d spent the morning in training with people she had grown to love like family: Fithian and his skill with the whip, Jani and her shield, Mortimer and his ability to read her like a book, and Reith, her mentor and friend. The afternoon was spent working on her letters and figures. She hated reading ledgers, but if Reith said she would need it some day, she trusted his word. She just hoped it’d get easier to deal with soon.
The waitress arrived with Talis’ meal, a crab salad with nectarines, radicchio, and blue cheese. “I am Talis. Would you care to join me?”
“It would be my pleasure, Swordsister.” he answers with a bow of the head, with a slight accent.
He continues with a soft, warm smile, “I can hear in your accent a distinctive note of the Upper Muchen. I myself was born of the Tiger tribe out on the Okesh Steppes not far from there. We are so very far from the our birth homes. I am Tubayek.”
He returns to his tea silently, eyeing the three caravels, the closest of which was being hailed by the harbormaster’s ketch. After a few moments, the lead ship heads to starboard to the Argent Pier, where ships tied up for resupply and relaxation. No off-loading, no taxes, only silver and gold flowing into alehouses and storehouses.
“Do you like it here, Talis? Is this your new home?”
She reflected on what was once her home: her father’s strong arms, the embrace of her mother, the giggling of her little brothers and sisters, the ability of her friends to make her laugh, and the crone’s ceremonies of survival. That was once Home. Good, comfortable memories at first, but then the memory of the loss of her father, the beatings her mother endured at the hands of a terrible man, the rape and beatings Talis endured at his hands, the hope of escape to only lead to some of the most terrible moments of her life, enslaved, abused, and mistreated at the hands of evil men. Home…
Was this home?
Flen, the home of many different peoples, differing views of life, and a strange dichotomy of those with purpose and those without. It was a safe haven for pirates and thieves, and a stronghold for those who would protect against such. And amongst such diversity, she felt safe and secure. Perhaps it is because it was here in Flen, that she found a purpose, a way to avenge the wrongs she had suffered.
She tried to hide the reflection’s discomfort with a sip of her kope. “For now, Master Tiger. What about you, sir?”
“I am no tiger, Young Talis.” Tubayek answered with a chuckle, then turned wistful. “I did not have a home for a very long time after I was sold into slavery as a boy.”
Tubayek took a breath and began his story, “I was a houseboy for a corpulent merchant of a Maglioshi trading house. When I was 17, I was sent on a caravan to Baerland to keep an eye on a caravan master that the merchant had begun to suspect of malfeasance.”
He closed his eyes and cradled his tea in his lap. “We were ambushed from the west just before sundown, as we were halfway through fording a creek. I learned later that it was called Bloody Creek. Unfortunately, it was too apt.”
“I was on the rear wagon, the horses just getting their hooves wet. The driver took two arrows almost simultaneously and I dove off the opposite side, lept up and took an arrow in my left arm.” He rubbed it gently. “I ran long past sundown, into the dark woods.”
“Two days later, I was taken by a tribe, and was used in the chief’s household as a translator, bookkeeper, and…” Tubayek trailed away with a frown.
“I was nearly 50 before I was no longer shackled by one chief or another. My last owner was a retired Regal madame who died in her sleep amidst a terrible lightning storm. I was the last of her household. For the first time in my life I stole something. I took a sack of coins kept for household expenses and caught the first ship away from there. It brought me here.”
“There is a darkness in the world. And you are light. Those three ships are going into the heart of darkness, and they will need you and others to bring them light.”
Darkness, she had seen. Was she ready to see more?
Fear arose with remembrance, panic thudded through her chest. For a second, she was locked up again, being beaten and abused by her captors… A loud ringing tone interrupted her panic. She was able to breathe.
The candle on the table rang one last time. She’d almost forgot about the power of the light. This little candle had enough power to push her memories of darkness away. And now with her training, she could be of use, would be of use. Time to let this light shine.
“Tell me about this darkness. How can I help?”
Tubayek took a sip of tea and cleared his throat. “Those three ships will stay in port tomorrow, resupplying, and will set sail the day after. I will be aboard one.
“They are travelling to Areiyistis to start a new colony in the south. There is darkness there, a threat to all of them, and even those here in Flenouaye if they are unprepared. I will go there and find the darkness, but I will not find my way back here.”
“Reith, I think, will tell you tonight that you should go on one of those ships too. ‘To spread light, and drive back dark.’ If you go, I hope you will also help me find this darkness that I can feel, even from here.”