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Return to White River


by hzoo_26

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Mornings in White River, Meridell were usually quiet. The sun rose over the sea, illuminating the water, and bathing the streets of the town in a dusky red. Moaches chirped, Baabaa herds bleated, and the low throaty croaking of Morthogs could be heard. The townspeople would begin their usual routines, getting dressed, and beginning to run their errands at the start of the day.

     However, this morning the peaceful routine was broken by the loud clanging of a ship’s bell, accompanied by a string of odd-key refrains from a military trumpet.

     “ALL ABLE-BODIED CITIZENS OF THE TOWN ARE TO REPORT TO THE TOWN HALL POST-HASTE. ALL FEEBLE CITIZENS, CHILDREN, AND THE LIKE ARE TO REPORT TO THE RUSTY WHEEL. THIS IS A DIRECT ORDER FROM THE MAYOR AND THE MERIDELL NAVY.” Shaylin Moore barked.

     Behind him Jackson Reyas marched, his face turning red from blowing the trumpet. Shaylin turned back towards the Disco-coloured Kyrii, and shot him a slight look of disapproval.

     “I told you Shaylin, I’m not a trumpet player. I only had two lessons before I switched to guitar.” The Kyrii groused under his breath, swiping his brown hair to the side and tucking it under his beanie.

     “O-officer Moore.”

     “Yes, young miss?”

     Shaylin turned, and found Draikriel behind him. His eyebrows raised when he saw the gleaming sword in her hand.

     “I know that I’m probably ‘ot exactly…fighting material…yet. But I want to ‘elp. Don’t make me go to The Rusty Wheel with everyone else. Please Mr. — I mean, Officer Moore.”

     The Pteri looked down at the White Draik, at her bright eyes undimmed by the horrors of war. Although he could see the determination in them, and her strength, he didn’t have the heart to dim those eyes just yet.

     “I…I won’t. But Miss, I’m not going to have to help by fighting.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Sometimes, the best weapon you have is your brain. Do you have any idea where we could get some farming supplies?”

     Draikriel’s eyes lit up.

     —

     Ivan had led him through the streets of Reka once again, taking him towards the outskirts of the city. From there, they travelled on the backs of a pair of Uni, heading out towards the countryside.

     “Where are we going, Sokolov? Please tell me Nikolai did not order you to leave me in the Taiga.”

     The Yurble chuckled, gripping the reins loosely with one hand.

     “No, no, Mr. Riddle. I would never leave you to such a fate. We are going to an estate. I have sent word ahead, and hopefully, the estate manager will meet us.”

     They drew up before a large fence and gatehouse leading to a cobblestone drive. Ivan dismounted quickly, then strode towards the gate. He tested it quickly, before muttering under his breath.

     “Vanka! Vanka Voronin! Open up, please! We are cold!” He shouted.

     They waited a moment, their breaths coming out in misty clouds. Then, a voice from the other side.

     “Zachem priyezzhat' syuda zimoy, mal'chik?” The voice asked.

     “YA privel gostya.” Ivan replied. Another short pause, then they heard the gate unlatch.

     “Pozhaluysta, voydite.”

     Charrie’s eyebrows raised in concern.

     “She was asking why we were visiting in the dead of winter. I told her I brought a guest.”

     “Her?”

     “Yes. Vanka. She’s the manager of the estate. She’s a bit of an old Crowabek, but you’ll enjoy her. She told us to come in. Let’s move.”

     Once on the other side of the gate, they watched as an Elderly Xweetok made her way down the icy gatehouse step. Her silver hair was braided and tied back, and she walked with a wooden cane. Charrie saw intelligence gleaming behind her lilac-coloured eyes, and the way the cold had reddened her aged cheeks.

     “Vanka. This is Charrie Riddle. He is a friend of Lady Provoskia.” Ivan said, gesturing towards Charrie.

     “Nice to meet you, Vanka.”

     The Xweetok’s eyes glimmered with unshed tears for a moment, as she looked at Charrie with what could only be described as relief. In an instant, the Halloween Ixi found himself embraced in a tight hug that lifted him several inches from the ground.

     “Oh, how is she? How is my Porti? Is she eating well? Does she miss her dear Vanka? Tell me.”

     “Vanka, it might be of use to you if you let the young Ixi breathe.” Ivan said, chuckling.

     Charrie stumbled for a moment as his feet landed back on the ground.

     “Sorry. It is very lonely in this house with Lady Porti away. She has not come to visit in so long.” The Xweetok said, wringing her hands.

     “Understandable Vanka, now shall we get Charrie out of this cold? He looks like he’s about to freeze.”

     “Da, Mr. Sokolav.”

     —

     She headed in the direction that Illusen had pointed her towards, and listened as she travelled the barely-worn path through the forest. She had gone less than a quarter of a mile before she heard the refrain of a song floating through the branches of the trees.

     She recognized the lilting native language of the South Meridell clans, and continued further. She had just stepped into a clearing when she heard a thud. Turning quickly to the side she noticed a wooden arrow sticking out of the tree trunk beside her.

     “I don’t often miss. That ’twas a warning shot.”

     Portia froze, searching for where the arrow had come from.

     “What are ye doin’ here, out in the ‘oods?” the voice asked again.

     Her eyes darted up towards the sound, spotting a dark outline in the branches of one of the trees across the clearing.

     “I mean you no harm.”

     “Have ye any weapons?”

     “None except my wit and hands.”

     There was a chuckle, and then the figure dropped from the branches of the tree onto the ground below, stepping into the light.

     Portia stared at the Ixi, from her evergreen locks that had leaves haphazardly sticking out in places around her ears, to her emerald eyes, to her shamrock-hued fur. She was dressed similar to many peasants in Meridell, tunic, and boots, with a long cloak. Of course, even her clothing contained varying shades of green intermixed with brown. Portia noticed the silver dagger that hung on her belt, the gold earring in her right ear, and the wooden compound bow and quiver of arrows strapped to her back.

     “I am Rita, of the Woods. What business have ye with me, Mayor?”

     “Y-You know who I am?”

     “Aye. I travel to White River often. That farmer, Darrow I think his name be, sells me seeds.”

     “Seeds?

     “I like to garden. But ’tis not important at this moment. What caused ye to have a need to visit this far north?”

     “Thieves.”

     The green ixi’s eyebrows raised slightly as she crossed her arms, leaning her weight back on one leg.

     “Which guild or band are ye having an issue with?”

     “The Eclipse Thieves Guild.”

     Portia watched as the Ixi’s expression hardened. She began muttering, and Portia was glad she couldn’t understand what she was saying.

     “I’m guessing from your reaction that you do not really like them.”

     Rita smiled wirily.

     “Aye. A bloodthirsty band of scoundrels they be, without any ‘ort of honour. Their leader, Phantom…” Rita went silent for a moment, before shaking her head quickly.

     “Let’s just say ye don’t want to meet ‘im.” The green-eyed ixi strode past her, grabbing her arrow out of the trunk of the tree with a quick motion.

     “Is there any way you can help?”

     “Aye. I think there is. But I’ll ‘ave to ask a friend ‘o mine. And she’s…hard to convince. Thieves don’t do things out of the ‘oodness of their hearts.”

     Portia smiled, then chuckled.

     “I think I may just have the solution you’re looking for.”

     ———

     The house was spacious, if not on the grandiose side. Vanka lead them through the servant’s entrance, into the kitchen, where she gestured towards a small dining table.

     “Let me warm you up with some soup. I made it for lunch and saved the extra. It’s what Lady Porti would insist on, da? And…drinks…yes.. Would you prefer Kadvo? Or Grog perhaps, if you’re not fond of our native fare.”

     Charrie shook his head.

     “Tea, will be just fine Vanka, if you have it. I can boil it myself if you need. Just tell me where the kettle is.”

     The Xweetok pointed towards a cupboard, and Charrie began preparing the kettle for tea. Ivan sat on one of the kitchen chairs, tapping his fingers on the table.

     “When I last saw her, Portia was in good health. She’s mayor now of the village I hail from, a small fishing town called White River.” Charrie began.

     Vanka’s face lit up. “Oh that sounds like Porti. Always had to lead the others around. Ivan, you weren’t around when she was little. But she was quite the handful. She was always ordering that one boy around…what was his name. You knew him, Ivan? Yes? The one that she went to the academy with?”

     “Ah. You speak of her friend Alexi. They always were a pair.” The Yurble replied. His fingers stopped tapping for a moment, faltering.

     Charrie listened as he set the kettle over the fire to boil.

     “Horrible thing, da? To lose him? So young too.”

     Charrie’s eyes leapt between the two faces, noting the sadness. His eyes widened as the pieces of the puzzle came together.

     “Alexi…he was the friend she lost.”

     “Da. Lost to the ice and the river. Fell through during a training exercise.” Ivan replied.

     “They grew up together. Poor dears. Alexi’s father was one of the house servants. He and Porti were childhood friends. You never saw one without the other. They ran all around the estate. The late Lady Provoskia couldn’t keep up with the two of them.” Vanka said, chuckling.

     Charrie could imagine it. He pictured a younger version of Portia, her red hair tied in a pair of braids, running around the kitchen and giggling. He imagined her hiding behind her mother’s skirt, peering out behind it and making faces. He wondered what it would have been like to know her when she had been carefree and happy, with no weight on her shoulders or pain in her eyes.

     He poured then, letting the water run over the tea bag and turn it a light amber colour.

     “So are you the only one left at the house?” Charrie asked.

     “Da. Except for Andrey, who comes by to tend the grounds a few times a week. He doesn’t live here though. I just keep the few open rooms tidy. The rest are shut until Lady Porti decides to return.”

     Charrie sighed, casting Ivan a glance while Vanka worked in the kitchen. He didn’t want to tell the poor soul the truth. That her lady probably never would come back to live full-time in Ursus again.

     “Vanka. Why don’t you show Charrie around the house? It might do him some good to see it. After all, he has not been in Ursus long.” Ivan remarked.

     “I’ll show him. He might enjoy seeing some of the paintings. Much history to be found in these walls, da?”

To be continued…

 
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