Tomas climbed up onto the main deck. The voyage was almost over. Soon they would land on Destria and he would have to make his own way from there.
Once he got to the town of Hamelford his betrothed’s family would have a carriage waiting for him, but until then he would be on his own.
He was beginning to appreciate how useful Dania’s gift would be. Right now it was safely bellowdecks away from the spray, but once he disembarked it would be by his side always.
Pulling up his hood against the wind and water he walked to the prow. Below the boat crashed through the waves as the crew tried to outrace the storm that was following them.
One thing or another, this whole voyage. First they had been delayed leaving the harbour, then there had been a small storm that forced them to lower the sails and ride it out, and now this one that they had to go even further off course to avoid.
Why was it that whenever someone went on a sea voyage they were delayed? Was it really so difficult to go from one port to another without mishap?
Frustrated at the delay and frustrated at being unable to do anything Tomas began to Sketch. He didn’t really care what it was he was doing, didn’t even notice until he suddenly felt the surging energy of having Completed.
“Ah. That was not intentional”
They quickly left the Sigilian far behind as the boat banked and raced, but distance did not affect the strength of the Sketch.
He may as well use it now that he had Sketched it.
Spinning on his heel he leapt the distance to the nearest crewman.
“Is there anything I can do to help? At the moment I’ve the strength of ten men, and can react faster than any normal person!”
The crewman stared for a moment then muttered something about ‘damned Sketchers’.
“Yah! Go talk to the first mate, he’ll give you a line to hold or something! Or who knows, maybe you’ll even get to crank the wheel!”
Tomas waited until the ship was fairly level before leaping again, bouncing from his position near the bow to the bottom of the stairs, and then up to next to the mate.
“Sir, a crewman told me to talk to you if I wanted to help! I’ve got the strength of ten men and speed to match for as long a time. What do you need to me do?”
The first mate just nodded and pointed at two crewmen struggling with a line.
“Go help those two! That’ll free one up to do something else, and the other will be able to call out to you what to do. Listen to him, ok? And if you lose your concentration and that rope goes flying we’re going to be in a very bad position, so don’t! I’m assuming that in offering you trust that you’ll be able to stay in the State even if the storm catches us?”
“I am not sure about if the storm catches us, but until then I’ll help as much as I can! Thank you sir!”
This time Tomas ran along the increasingly slick decks. He didn’t want to end up skidding into something at the end of a jump, but using the rail as a guideline while running removed that risk.
This time, he would be helpful. He would get there in time, and he would do what was needed. He wouldn’t be useless anymore!
Throwing his carryall over his shoulder Tomas hurried down the gangplank. His trunk and other bag were already on the dockside waiting.
“Thank you Tomas. During the storm you were a lifesaver”
“It’s my pleasure Captain. I’m just glad we managed to make up lost time afterwards”
“As am I. Good luck on your trip. We’ll watch your luggage here until you can find yourself a carriage”
He walked the length of the dock and paused to look at the city.
Belnar had been built on the beach, which was by its nature flat. However, according to his sister’s book, the Duke had wanted to be able to look down on the citizens. So he had commissioned a massive tower to be added to his home, taller even than the lighthouse.
Not to be outdone the merchants, lesser lords, and wealthy landowners had all commissioned towers for their own homes.
Unfortunately everyone had wanted to have the tallest tower resulting in a constant competition of construction.
To support the taller towers there needed to be many supports. The best way to make supports was to build buttresses from the nearby towers.
However, nobody would help someone build their own tower taller, and so a new plan had been devised. The wealthy would spread out as much as possible so as to have a large distance between them and the next tall tower. On each neighbouring house a tower would be built to support their own tower.
However, as the main towers got taller the support towers needed to grow taller, and so needed their own support towers.
The result was a ridiculous network of teetering spires ringed by staircases or ladders, connected together by a webbing of scaffolding and beams. Workers leapt from one to the next forever shoring up one thing or another to stop collapses while the people below looked up every third step, afraid of debris falling on their heads.
Tomas spotted a sign post with listings of caravans and carriages. Perfect.
He took his first few steps towards and breathed in deeply, missing the smell of the town of Berna. He instantly regretted it.
“If this is what all of Destria smells like, I’m going to need a pair of noseplugs”
“What was that foreigner? You from Lomwar here to look down on us?”
Tomas knew he should walk on and ignore the taunt but instead turned.
“Sorry, are you talking to me?”
Three roofworkers on their break got up from where they were seated on a barrel and sauntered over.
“Yah, lordling, we were. You think just because you’re better than us you can condescend? Just because you’re from Lomwar or some other stupid place you can talk about our city like its not worth a thing? You’ve got another thing coming buddy”
Tomas sized them up. They were ambling closer, taking their time. If he could put some distance between them then he could Sketch and solve everything, but otherwise he would be out of luck.
“Ah, gentlemen, I don’t want a fight. Really, I don’t. And I didn’t mean any offense to your city. I’ve lived in the country most of my life, my family are farmers, and I’m here in Destria to pursue a career as a scribe, and I’d never been in a port before, I rowed out to the boat as it passed by. My family saved up to buy some stylish clothes so that I would fit in, but I think we may have gotten the wrong kind…”
He trailed off as he saw that the lie was failing to placate the brutes.
“I uhh I think perhaps we can solve this in a more friendly way maybe? I could buy you all a drink?”
“Or outlander we could rough you up and buy ourselves drinks with your coin. Whaddya you boys think?”
With a chorus of ‘yah’s the other two drew short clubs from inside their jackets and stepped forwards, trying to box Tomas in.
“Ah, well, I think that, as fun as this is, I had better be going now and let me just umm, yes, really, no the clubs aren’t necessary, I don’t want to be hurt!”
Genuinely terrified Tomas turned and darted around a startled man, between two workers, and leaped over a cart. Terror forcing his mind into the State out of habit he left after images of the Basic behind him every step of the way.
Behind he heard shouting first in anger and frustration and then in fear, but he didn’t turn to look. There were a few crashes, and thunderous bang, but he didn’t stop, just ran, ran, terrified of being hurt, terrified that they would beat him within an inch of his life and leave him bleeding out and then he would not only be too badly hurt to do anything and maybe die but then he’d also fail his family and never see them again, and he had to move now.
Tearing around a corner he skidded to a stop in front of several guards.
“Why are you running?”
“A group of thugs threatened to rob me, so I tried to outrun them”
“Did you provoke them?”
“Not at all, I merely said that the city looked interesting and they took that as an excuse, realising I was a foreigner”
Never settle for a lie when a half truth will do. And then follow up with a distraction…
“Do you by any chance know where I could hire a coach, or find a wagon train going to” he pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and pretended to check it “Hamelford?”
The guards looked at each other and shook their heads.
“Look stranger. You’re probably lying about something here. Likely you insulted the men, or the city in some way. We don’t care, just don’t start trouble. And since you’ll be wanting to avoid the signpost back the way you came you’ll have to go ahead. I think the best place to go is Darben’s. He’s a merchant who has trade interests up that way. His warehouse and shop are up the street on the left. Hard to miss. Now stay out of trouble”
They moved aside to let him by and Tomas could feel their eyes on him for the rest of the block as he made his way to the warehouse.
He hadn’t been able to tell if they were lying or steering him wrong, and he hadn’t sensed any ill will or malice, so he could probably trust their directions.
Stopping across from it he surveyed the building.
Big, blocky with a smaller block in front it had a huge spire on top of it. That spire was the local focus of the spiderweb above him. The front store was a smaller block sticking out of the larger one. Its roof was a base for ladders and scaffolding going up, and also served as a convenient holder for the slightly lopsided sign that proclaimed the building as “Darben’s Deals”.
He pushed through traffic and stepped inside.
A large man stood behind the counter at the far end of the room. Spotting Tomas he waved.
“Hello there! Are you here to buy, or here to hire a carriage?”
“The carriage, or, if its an option I’d like to sign on with a caravan heading to Hamelford, if there is one that will get there in ten days. I have some more luggage, a sea trunk and bag, but I can fight well enough and can also pay if need be”
The man looked at Tomas’ skinny frame and complete lack of muscles.
“You can fight well? What, if you stab someone in the back? No offense intended sir”
“None taken. I am a Sketcher, and use my Sigil to fight. I hope you don’t have any issues with that?”
“Issues? With having a Sketcher guard my caravan? None at all! You’re hired. I’ll want to see some proof that you’re actually able to do what you say, but if so you’ll have free passage and a place for your luggage. You don’t have one of those useless Sigils do you? I know a man who can make cloth move. Imagine how useless that is for guarding a caravan?”
“Thats right. I’m Darben by the way. Nice to meet you…?”
“Master Bern, it is my pleasure to meet you! I look forwards to a long and hopefully prosperous partnership, or if you don’t have any need to travel with my caravans again, at least a safe and quick trip!”
“I can agree to that”
The two shook hands before Tomas left with a few porters. He led them back down to the docks, careful to check for the roofworkers before rounding the corner.As they shouldered his luggage and he thanked the boat captain one last time he never noticed the cloaked figure with the red scarf watching him from the scaffolding above.