Spring 36: the second thing

My dearest Zann,

I’ll keep going with the story I was telling you.

When I came back to Wande’s roost, there was a man waiting for me on the steps. I didn’t recognize him right away because of his clothes. A sky-blue pajazuse with red cape and belt. That’s the uniform of the Rosolla Guard, you can see it a mile away. I didn’t think I knew any Rosollas, and I had my hook in my hand in case there was trouble. But when I got closer I could see, mostly by his nose, that it was Candur.

You don’t know Candur. After the Great Nap, I found myself in the Wallantorp army. The Wallantorp laurans were in the middle of some kind of squabble with the Sugarside laurans, so we were besieging the Sugarside castle. Candur was the Ancient of our company. I don’t know a lot about the military life, but I thought he was a good officer. The other soldiers said so too, mostly.

Well, one day, the Sugarsiders made a sortie and broke our lines. We had to retreat. It was a mess. I saved Candur’s life, but I got a blade through the leg doing it. Getting it healed was, well, that’s a story I’ll have to tell another time. But it’s fine now.

Candur stood and stretched when he saw me. “Day, Ybel,” he said.

“Day. It’s good to see you.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. Wasn’t sure you’d feel that way. Maybe you want to put the soldiering life behind you.”

“Well, I do,” I said. “It didn’t suit me at all. But I have no grudge against you.”

“I’m glad. Get some water?”

I nodded. “There’s a fountainroom on the corner here.” I thought of checking in with Wande first, but the afternoon mists were still very light in the low places and alleys; she wouldn’t be home yet.

We walked down the block together. The building on the corner had a laundry on its west face and a cobbler on its north face, and a small fountainroom in between, right at the corner. Four floors of roosts above. There were only about four or five other people sipping their water inside; there was a larger and sunnier fountainroom not far away. But the two women who tended this one stocked a selection of flavours I liked.

We selected a couple of lacquered wooden cups and filled them from geysers in the wall. Candur took hot water; I took cold. Of the dozen or so shrines arranged in a circle around the central benches, the one for Dumasha of the Great Arch was glowing the least brightly. I touched my hand to my heart and poured a drop of my water into the shrine’s stone bowl; it disappeared immediately, and the glow brightened a little. Candur did the same at the shrine of Yskere, the soldiers’ patron.

I added a pellet of double-pear flavour to my cup and sat down on a short bench. Candur got orchid apple and used the star-wand on the wall to make it a pop.

“Water,” he said as he sat down, holding up his cup.

I held mine up and said, “Thanks are,” and we sipped.

“I didn’t come find you just to drink pop and tell stories,” Candur said.

“I didn’t think so.”

“You’re a stevedore these days, aren’t you?”

“I am. Leg’s finally healed. It pays well enough, for now.”

“I can offer you something that pays better,” he said, turning to face me.

I looked at his Rosolla uniform, up and down. “I did say I wanted to put soldiering behind me.”

“You did. But it’s not like soldiering. It’s… it’s a different thing.”

“We’re talking about me joining the Rosolla Guard, right? At the palace? How is that different?”

“We are. Our numbers are down, and I wouldn’t give you a cube of frozen piss for what’s left.” He spoke slowly, staring over my left shoulder. Any of his men would have recognized this. Candur never did that when giving orders; only when he was trying to explain something that he wanted to get correct. “It’s different because you’re not in the field. The food is better. Fighting is rare. But having your wits about you is even more important.”

I thought about that.

He continued. “If all I wanted was a soldier, a fighter, someone to hold a spear, I’d get Troca or Mazzon or someone like that. I need someone who can stay calm and think and handle details. That was always you.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I do. It’s perfect for you. And it’s three silver cups a day.”

That was a lot of money. More than I could ever make on the docks.

“Come on, Ybel. I need someone to help me wrangle the other mudwitted smackasses in the Guard. Come help me.”

I had several questions begging to be asked. Why are your numbers down, Candur, was one of them. What aren’t you telling me, and what are the reasons why I wouldn’t want to do this. And my first thought was, I don’t want to take this job and have to deal with all the trouble Candur was dealing with in the palace.

And I knew there was trouble. Candur is young and fit, well-respected as a warrior and a leader. Nobody would put him in charge of a ceremonial guard unless it wasn’t just ceremonial. He was there for a reason. And I didn’t want any part of it, no matter how much it paid. Wande wouldn’t like it, but I could get her to understand.

But then… I don’t know how to explain it to you. A thought came into my head that, no, I can’t do nothing, I have to do something. There’s a responsibility being put in front of me, and I have to fulfill it. This job is an opportunity to do something that matters.
Candur was looking at me curiously, probably because I had been staring into space for a minute. I held up my hand to let him know I was just thinking.

Obviously I didn’t have to take the job. Obviously if I wanted to take on a big responsibility I could pick something else. If I could find something else. I probably could eventually. Obviously I could say no to Candur. But, somehow I knew that I should say yes, that this was the right choice.

I didn’t like it. I felt like I was going against my better judgment. But I didn’t really doubt that it was the good move.

“Yes,” I said. “Now…”

“Good for you!” He pounded me on the shoulder. “There’s a gate to the left of the pink tower of the palace. Be there tomorrow morning at second bell. Wonderful seeing you again. I have to go and recruit someone else. Our numbers are down.” He drained his pop and tossed his cup into the washbin by the door, where it clattered around happily.

“Before you go. I want to ask you about–“

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow!” And he was gone.

I finished my water and went to leave. I remember I picked a penny out of my pocket for the moneybox on the back of the door, saw it was the old coin I had found at the docks, and paid with a Crideon penny instead.




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