Fistful of Magic – Chapter 2

So, I’m busy, but I didn’t want to deviate from my newly planned schedule of updating. So today’s update is another chapter from Fistful of Magic. You can read it after the break!

Pònanlò’s portside market bustled in the early morning light. Heat and humidity hung in the air, and the dark clouds gathering in the sky promised a substantial rainstorm by noon at the latest. Everywhere Alexa looked about, she could see sailors hustling about, either coming in for a rest at shore, or procuring comforts of the shore to be taken back out to sea. The occasional merchant captain was about; either haggling with merchants over the price of various commodities that they hoped to sell for a profit back in the more temperate ports of the mainland to the north, or angrily denouncing a merchant who had failed to have such purchased goods ready to be loaded on the docks earlier that morning. Everywhere merchants had stalls set up under brightly colored awnings that would provide relief once the sun had climbed higher and beat down upon the market. Beneath each stall, merchants eagerly busked and hawked their wares to anyone who passed by.

Alexa was constantly and politely declining invitations from spice, cloth, fruit, jewelry and other sundry sellers that she would ordinarily stop at and entertain the possibility of a purchase, if she could bargain a good price for the item that caught her fancy from them. Today she maintained her course through to the far side of the market where the more permanent shops of the richer merchants were housed in larger stone and wood buildings. If she had been shopping strictly for herself she would never venture to these merchants shops, as the price of their goods dwarfed the paltry coin that her master, Grand Vizier Andrev, spared for the services she performed him and the other magi that formed his coterie. The leather satchel slung over her shoulder and gently bouncing against her hip as she wend her way through the crowded market did not contain her coin purse this morning. Instead, it held a rather sizable quantity of the Grand Vizier’s own fortune. She had memorized very specific instructions on how the coin was to be spent in the merchant district, and she quailed at the thought of the punishment that would befall her should she spend even a single coin outside of the purview set by Andrev’s steward. She had been provided clearly outlined lists and prices for foods and common stock for the manse to memorize and procure and very specific instructions on how much to give to certain artisans in the merchant district for parcels that she was not allowed to know the contents of.

Alexa was thrilled that she had been entrusted with the task today. It freed her from the confines of the mansion that would regularly be spent in tutelage of Andrev’s leering underling magi. The only thing that matched her enthusiasm and desire to learn the magi’s art was her repulsion at the lecherous gaze of the Grand Vizier’s toadies and the way that they would rest their hands on the female students shoulders in a lesson or run their palm along one of the female students forearms as they administered their lessons. As one of the three female students that the Grand Vizier had accepted into what he claimed at the time was his tutelage, Alexa endured the very worst of the coterie in the hopes that one day she would learn enough to flee from Pònanlò and make a living as an independent mage. Until such a point as she had worked off her debt to the coterie, she would suffer through all the unwanted attention she had to in order to learn all she could of magic. She considered it a good sign that she was trusted enough to perform an errand that otherwise would have been assigned to one of the male students in the household, even though she had noted at least two of the older male students assigned to follow and snoop on her actions over the course of her work.

She ducked out of the cover of one stall and onto the brick paved streets of the merchant district. Whereas most buildings in Pònanlò were one story tall, each of the buildings on this street rose to at least two floors in height, with the most established merchants having three floors. The first floor would always house the shop and storage, with the top floor being devoted to living quarters for the merchant’s family. If a merchant was prosperous enough to afford a three story building, he would often house his apprentices on the second floor, in order to pay them a smaller rate for their services. Alexa believed it to be as much of a grift as her own situation learning from the magi, but she knew that much like herself, the merchant and artisans apprentices held hopes of eventually learning enough and paying off their debt to their masters and striking out on their own in one of the smaller towns that dotted the islands of the archipelago. Only the most foolhardy or stubborn considered saving the money required to book a berthing on a ship heading north to the mainland. Even a highly trained artisan was likely to live in poverty and squalor in the overpopulated cities there, and the frontier settlements where always being raided by brigands or barbarians.

As Alexa began her orderly route with a stop at the glassblower’s shop, she mused on where she would end up. She had heard promising things about the former pirate city of Cape Town. After the Pirate King Tarhun had been overthrown and banished into the Maelstrom that raged at the center of the Nueska Archipelago, piracy had come to a complete halt. Cape Town had transformed over the past decade and had become a booming port in its own right. The town leaders, made sure that it did not grow more prosperous than Pònanlò, so as not to anger the Grand Vizier, who had spared the city with the fall of Tarhun. It was only an added bonus that it was a few days voyage around the Maelstrom to get there from Pònanlò. From the glassblower, she moved on to the grocer, then the metallurgist, and finally rounded out her shopping retrieving a specially sealed item from Arnsson’s Imports and Exports. Despite the small size of the item in question, the gold purse that she handed over to the clerk behind the counter was the heaviest of all the amounts that she had been provided. She tucked the newest acquisition in the bodice of her blouse for safekeeping and started her return trip to the Grand Vizier’s mansion.

She noted her two tails resuming their duties as she arrived at the entrance of the common market. Her momentary distraction caused her to nearly walk face first into the enormous Tuskan that blocked off the only point of entry not thronging with people. Tuskans were not entirely uncommon in the islands, but their settlements were mostly built in the savannahs of the northern continent. She knew that some of the richer citizens of the archipelago would hire Tuskan mercenaries as bodyguards, which the one in front of her appeared to be, judging from the tremendous maul that hung from his hip and the stiff leather that wrapped around his torso and trunk. A shake of the mercenary’s massive head sent his trunk and large ears flopping and he pointed a finger the size of a sausage toward the docks. Alexa tried to peer around the hulking behemoth, but could not make out exactly who or what prompted this detour . It was an interesting development, despite the inconvenience it was causing her. Whoever it was, they obviously had wealth to rival Andrev’s. She looked back at her fellow students beseechingly, but the elder of the two merely shrugged at her and motioned for her to take the path through the docks like the Tuskan had wordlessly suggested.

Alexa rolled her eyes and moved onward. Of course they would be no help she thought exasperatedly. They were probably given strict orders to keep an eye on her and make certain that she did not dilly dally or misuse Andrev’s coin. Since they had not been ordered to escort her or assist her with the burden of carrying the goods that were carried in the bags that had joined her satchel in being slung about her shoulders, they would avoid any such extra work that they could. To her chagrin, the dock was just as busy as the market had been. She was constantly jostled about by dockworkers and sailors as they went about their work. Several times she found it necessary to push away men and women who were so preoccupied that they didn’t see her. If one of them was to crush into her and ruin any of the Grand Vizier’s newly acquired property, the resultant damages. The mass of people on the docks was such, that she didn’t notice she had lost her tail until she reached the end of the docks that transitioned suddenly into the golden sand of the beach.

She knew that if she didn’t wait for them to catch up to her they would most likely claim she had deliberately taken the path through the dock instead of the market to lose them. Given the opportunity to blame a younger student, the older ones would always take it rather than revealing their own shortcomings to the magi. Once she caught sight of them, she resumed walking, taking to the sand of the beach. This would show to them that it had been an honest mistake that she had eluded their pursuit on the docks and a good faith offering that she was not attempting to undermine or embarrass them with the magi.

Up ahead she noted the abandoned rowboat that had been left near a small dune of sand. The rowboat itself had a rather battered appearance to it, but she was surprised that whoever owned it had chosen the stretch of beach so close to the Grand Vizier’s villa, as opposed to stopping at the docks. It was mostly likely owned by a fisherman from one of the smaller nearby islands who was attempting to avoid paying a docking fee before he sold his catch to one of the hawkers at the market. Alexa looked back to make sure the other students who had been following her all morning were still there, and seeing that they were she playfully waved as she began to descend the small dune that had gathered near the boat. She was certainly not expecting to tread upon the body of a man as she crested the dune, and if it had not been for her inattentiveness as she kept her unasked for entourage in view, she was certain she would not have stumbled as she did.

Engrossed as Alexa was with not disappearing from the other students’ field of vision, she did not notice the recumbent form of the man at the bottom of the dune. The tip of her shoe dug into the man’s gut, and Alexa tumbled face forward into the sand, landing on top of one her bags with a gut wrenching crunch. She gathered herself and divested herself of the bag to check the contents. Of course it had been the glassblower’s goods she’d fallen on, it wouldn’t have been the groceries or the metallurgist’s, that just wasn’t her luck. She opened the bag in vain, knowing what she’d find already. Every single phial and bottle that was packed in the bag had been smashed. Months, if not a full year’s worth of her stipend would go to replacing the expensive pieces she just smashed due to her negligence.

“No. No, no, no, no, no!” she screamed.

She heard and saw the older students rushing toward her. They couldn’t see the man that she’d tripped on yet, but it wouldn’t go well for the fisherman, she was sure of that. Even though students persistently undermined each other, they always drew a line at harassment from outside the coterie. She would feel bad for the fisherman, if not for the predicament he was going to cause her on her return to the villa. It would start with being berated by the steward, followed by punishment from her instructors, and finished by, if she was unlucky enough, reprimand from Andrev himself. She was certainly unsympathetic to the unforgiving chastening the fisherman was about to receive from her fellows as they rushed to her. She stood helplessly watching as the fisherman groaned and began to rise.

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