The villagers of Mávben hold, twice a year, a festival on the stretch of beach laid bare by the receding of the tides. The water warbles out far enough, I’m told, that they hurry down the rickety stairs set into the cliffs and heave up a tent, trot a few horses down the bluffs some leagues south, and get to running them on the sands. Someone is selected by lottery—by drawing a pin or ring or some other identifying trinket from a hat, for paper is far too expensive for such a thing—and made to sit atop the cliffs and watch for the returning of the tides, warning only once it has come so close that, if they began to pack up just then, the last of them to leap onto the stairs and hurry up to dry land might feel the nip of fish on their toes and the lick of the waves at their heels.
This year, his name was Allan, and I sat with him and watched the waves.
— You know, he said, tipping his hat up to meet my eye. I’m told that realm has been bleeding something sick since the fall of sultanate.
— I wasn’t aware news travelled that far, I said, putting a hand to my brow to peer out as a few horses dashed across the beach, kicking up clouds of sand and salt water in their wake. What have you heard?
— No more than I’ve just said, truth be told. But that almost goes without saying. All the realms are bleeding these days.
— Aye, they are.
— You know, the other day Shesa told me—she said, ‘I do hope that traveler stays with us till Tidings. I’m sure she’ll love that festival even more than this one.’ Allan shrugged, brushing a few dandelion seeds from a crease in his shirt where they’d clung, flitting with the winds. Now, I don’t mean to keep you, but…
He let the words fall away into a hum and took to cracking his fingers one by one.
— I would, but I’ve caught wind of a certain someone travelling south of here, and I can’t pass up the opportunity. It may be quite some time before I’m able to track him down again.
— Is this…
— Yeah, that one.
— Where’s he heading?
— Can’t say. Metir Keviv, maybe.
— Sure he’s not heading on to Vómakháll?
I wound my scarf another time about my shoulders, kneaded my fingers through my gloves, then rose and slung my pack on. A pot clattered against the helve of the axe strapped to my right, and a few lengths of rope rapped upon my breeches as I extended a hand to Allan. He cracked one last knuckle, then returned the gesture.
— If he’s headed to Vómakháll, then we’ve more to worry about than the suffering of a few realms. Let’s both hope it’s Metir Keviv.
— Aye, I’ve got enough hope left for that. He stared at the waves a moment before continuing. It’s been good having you here, chronicler. Gives the kids something to talk about. Keeps us old folk from forgetting there’s a world beyond Mávben. You know, I saw another chronicler once. I do hope I get to again. Not a whole lot of you wandering about nowadays.
— I’ll be back, eventually.
— Don’t know if I have enough hope for that.
I knelt a moment and patted his shoulder, then took up his hand and folded a pocketwatch into his palm. I’d come into possession of it in the far north, where they’d only just found the technology for such things, and I doubted anyone else in the realms of Alvyria could yet explain how it functioned, save perhaps in the workshops of the most skilled of Vómakháll’s engineers, a five months’ journey west. Allan turned it over twice, then held it up to the light, the crystalline pane refracting beads of light across his face.
— Just before you leave, he said. You never fail to amaze, Ténai.
— Please, call me Edèl. You should know my true name.
— Edèl. Edèl. He repeated it as if he had sap upon his tongue. That is a fae word, chronicler. You would have me name you in that tongue?
— Where I come from, it is just a word.
He nodded, and then offered his hand again.
— Good travels, Edèl én Kyr.
— And you, Allan of Mávben.
With that, I set out towards the village proper to collect the rest of my belongings and begin upon my way.