I know, dear reader, my journey is a weary one. It is a forty day trek from Mávben to Féavoll and another seven down to the Shóroll Strait that divides the lands of the Valkons from the younger kingdoms of the riverfolk. To the north, the Véosá Strait winds to the Hart, and heading south along the inner coast, one comes to the Meye, which carves through the canyons of the midlands and out to sea and the shores of Nychiour.
These are the three great veins of this realm, and had the one I sought taken to ship, there are a hundred different lands to which he might sail such that I would have to wander years to hear tell of him again. So I did not linger long in Féavoll, truth be told, as much as I adore the city. Here, a cinnamon scent lingers on the breeze, and though the air is ever crisp, there are ales and rums to warm the bones. My first and only night, I ambled down the lantern-lit streets and listened to the songs and cheers emanating from each inn and pub.
At the crossroads of the city, where eastern and western roads met and four pubs sat to welcome travelers, they had strung a banner that read in their tongue, Chédha, or ‘Tidings!’ I wondered whether Allan and Shesa up in Mávben were enjoying their festival as much as the drunks teetering out of open doors or dangling over each others’ shoulders, down here in Féavoll. They cackled and howled, their eyes alight. Perhaps it was that another year had come and gone and neither plague nor famine had taken them. That was worth drinking to, indeed. Or perhaps it was enough that the sons and daughters of Féavoll had not taken up arms against their own kin, as so many had across the riverlands. Perhaps it was the return of pilgrims to Keirigan. Perhaps it was the ale. Or perhaps it was simply that they were alive. The dead were so many these days.
I strolled down the main street, cobblestones slick with yesterday’s rain. The smell of wet stone and night air whispered its way past, and I stood aside to let a procession of dancers and partygoers hurry after it, up towards the keep at the crest of the hill, near the southern side of the city. After a time, I stepped back off the sidewalk and began back down the road.
— Aye, a voice called out behind me. Chronicler, wait.
I glanced over my shoulder.
A fellow garbed in the long cloaks of the local villages hurried up and gave a quick bow. He had quite the eyes—a sea-foam color that reminded me strands of thread wound about the needle-points of darkness that were his pupils. He tugged his hair up into a bun and bound it with a length of ribbon, then offered his hand. I studied him a moment longer before accepting. He’d smooth hands for a country-dweller, I thought; even Héna had callouses upon her fingers from carrying tools and whatnot, but this man had the hands of a noble’s son.
— You are the one they call Ténai? he asked. I am Cénath én Shésaven.
— Shésaven, yes, I’ve heard of it, I said. I recently passed by with a local named Héna. You wouldn’t happen to know her, would you?
— She is the one who sent me after you. You are Ténai? After repeating his question, he propped his hands on his hips, and I knew at once he was nobility.
— I am. And why would Héna send a princeling after me?
— I am heir to the county of Shésaven, yes, but that’s not what I’ve come to you for. Héna told me you were looking for stories about the Traveler, Khal Mhuchelván. I have one, if you’re interested.
— You came all this way to deliver a story? I find that… unlikely.
— It’s not just any story, Cénath said. I know the truth about Khal’s birth. I know everyone and their grandmother will tell you some different story. Was he kidnapped by the fae? Was it a huntsman of the Runic Order? Did his mother give him away to slavers? Or was it wizards? But I know what happened. And I think you’ll be interested in hearing it.
— I’ve met a lot of people who think they know the ultimate truth. I flung a hand over my shoulder and began trudging back down the road. Go found a religion or something. It’d be a better use of your time, and mine as well.
— But you’re bound by a creed, aren’t you? That’s what I was told. Héna said she made you listen to some awful shanty just to see if it was true.
I was beginning to wonder whether I shouldn’t cast off the mantle of Chronicler entirely when he held up his hands and shook his head. I know it sounds strange, but I would appreciate it more than you can know. Please, just hear me out.
I kneaded my brow. Fine, but we’ll walk as you talk. Alright?
— Oh thank the tides. Cénath scampered after me. I was beginning to think you’d turn me away. But I knew I’d win you over in the end.
— Don’t try your luck. Just tell me the tale. I’ll write it down later.
— Are you sure you won’t forget?
— I don’t forget, princeling.
Cénath let out an exaggerated sigh. Then, as we passed into the southern districts of Féavoll, he told his tale to me and to every passerby we happened upon along the way, until he had behind him an audience of idiots and drunks who hung upon his every word.