A Mist on the River
By M Cid D’Angelo
And the uncouth ones ― the rural-minded and lazy locals ― call their home Tinney-Town. Tin-knee. So, the rural people of Cor Tinnan are considered savage and stupid compared to the urban people in Cor Brethil, then. No one in the capital city will own up to that, though, even if everyone here on the River knows it’s so.
Oh, but it’s beautiful in Tinney-Town. The wide and great River Tharans dictates the town’s fortunes. It flows gently here, the water, and though its color remains a dark, muddy brown in the best of months, it cannot detract from the way the chilly north air kisses the surface when there is no cloak of mist. Oh! The trees, the stones, the eddy pools, the trolling fishermen in their small barges ker-plunking their long poles in the shallows, add to that wilder-land majesty of the town’s ancient sylvan evenings.
Bright sunshine when it’s not raining, which seems most of the time, and bold fireflies sparking the cool summer evenings belie a serenity even after, a long time ago, the passing of the great wizard and the evils that had scoured the land thereabouts. No one remembers those times because anyone who would is dead. Dead and buried.
Anyhow, the moon is on the wane as Adbur takes a small pipe from a friend on the stoop of Brinn’s Tavern and strides into the night. The moon is strong enough to cleave shadows near the docks, casting black fingers from the edging fences down the Waterway Road.
Adbur struggles with his pipe ― it won’t remain alight for some reason.
“The feltweed is either wet or the breeze is robbing it of warmth,” the dockworker mutters.
He sticks a grimy, stubby finger into the bowl to feel the ember and finds the feltweed dry and cold.
“What sake!” Adbur exclaims and lights a long match. Matches are expensive, and he can’t afford to waste more than one on a bowl. There ― success. He tends the bowl and puffs blue smoke.
He walks on with thoughtful puffs in the late hour, sticking his hands in his pockets. Here, the road rises from the docks, and now there’s the glistening misty river glowing in the moon ahead.
Haunted, the dockworker thinks. He stops to peer across the bank at the eastern shore where the great wilderness beyond the soft, comforting lights of Tinney-Town stand out in blackness. What odd bird or beast may hide in those far shadows? He blinks, drawing breath.
Is there something coming across?
Adbur holds tightly to one of the Eldari trees, eyes wide. A figure, dark and enshrouded, glides out of the far mist like a demon ferryman ― yes! Surely not a fisherman at this hour! The dockworker lets out a ragged, nervous breath. No fisherman would brave the mist on the river when it is higher than the prow of his boat.
No sound comes from the dark figure: no creak of the hull, no plod of an oar or a pole. The only clear reason that occurs to him is that there is no boat or skiff ― it’s a ghost! A river ghost! It’s a waterlogged phantom gliding above the river in a dark cloak!
Adbur drops his pipe from his teeth. At once, he’s away and down the road toward the warm lights of Tinney-Town.
The dockworker lives in a shack near the river. By chance that same night, Rathmur, Sergeant of the Town Watch, has taken to the streets because of an argument with his son. He picks up some talk in Brinn’s Tavern among the late-night drinking crowd.
“Adbur says it’s a ghost,” comes a half-sober, half-ridiculing report from an amused witness.
“Not halfway through his cups,” observes another.
“Ah, bah! Adbur has so much drink in him from his teen years, he’s never sober.”
“Ah, fool Adbur.”
Anyway, it’s not his fault, the argument Rathmur’s had with his son; or so he’d like to tell everyone. The guardsman rules his family as he rules the stone streets of town, and that’s only because his family can be chaos if not given strict guidelines that only he can give them. But they don’t agree, no. It was all fine and dandy years ago, yes, when he and his wife were young and the children so tiny and dependent! Not now, though. The older boy is, well, older now. The two girls behind him are catching up in their audacities. Sassing. Obstinate. Belligerent, even.
The problem is, of course, love. Well, of course not love! There’s no one who can convince a hardened man like Rathmur that a teenage boy with too much time on his hands could love anyone. Lust, yes, because Rathmur understands that.
Ah, well, now let’s forget all that now. There’s work to be done and…
Adbur’s tale strikes a chord in Rathmur. Now, it takes much to keep Tinney-Town’s Sergeant of the Watch interested; after all, he’s plagued with literally hundreds of minor and major distractions that keep him riveted to his job. Those, as well as the constant personal matters that harass his home life, and thank Drillae of the Stars that I have a place to escape to when the wife and the children are up to their nonsense! Indir, his errant boy, must must must must! learn his place! A sully, swarthy Eastroun girl has no right to seek attention from an upright Adaán boy! Those swarthy people…! They make Rathmur’s blood curdle. Nomadic thieves, here and there!
Farahail, the Second Watch Captain, is sitting with his knees upon the hard stool near the door when his boss enters the tower. They regard each other.
“I know what you’re thinking, Rathmur,” the keen one says slyly.
“You’re one to think otherwise?”
“Nay, but I haven’t said what I need to say,” Farahail mutters with ragged blond hair and his brown eyes as intense as a snake, “but Adbur is a fool.”
“A cloaked figure, far out on the misty river. As misty as his brain.”
Rathmur splits a wry grin. “I know you are a bigger fool, Farahail. Besides, I have smugglers on mind.” And thus, now heart of the matter. And they argue.
“Smugglers, if any there be, would come up the Glantron way, not ferry it across the river. The current makes the crossing dangerous,” Farahail says.
“Eh, as such you think, as anyone would think, that is why they’re cleverer than you.”
And Farahail laughs. “Ah, yes, and you are so much smarter! Or do I need to bring up that incident a few months ago about Elegroth spies in the warehouse? Checking on our fish stores? You had the whole town in an uproar, Rath, until it turned out to be nothing more than the young boys sneaking about.”
“Quit your mouth.” And Rathmur was done with it. He was sure this time. Young, blond Farahail was just a lad himself. No more than nineteen summers, and as old as Rathmur’s son, Indir. Perhaps, in the dark corridors of his brain, Rathmur thought of his subordinate in this way. A son rather than a colleague. Indir was far less … mature, yes? Flights of love and fancy. Oh dear father, I love her! I love Ebart! Do not keep us apart! My beloved Ebart!
Which of course inspired Indir’s only attempted sonnet:
Keep me not from my love
As we something something wings
Of a dove
Long shall I caress her coppery skin
Something or other for a swim!
My lovely Ebart
Keep us not apart!
Aye, it was sickening, but Rathmur could not help feeling touched by his son’s failed attempt at verse and rhyme. Farahail would have been a better son, at least, practically. The young Watch Captain is married already, to a fair and pale Osgerithian lass! Not enraptured by a swarthy-skinned Eastroun girl who bears no mastery of their language!
Thus Indir is FORBIDDEN to see this Ebart ― to keep the Osgerithian gene pool untainted by a dark-skinned layabout. Let Indir whine and cry and lament his prison! No child of Rathmur will….
“The Fence!” Rathmur shouts aloud, startling Farahail. “I will bring up once again the idea of the Great Fence to keep those Eastrouns from our banks.”
“The Council has long disapproved that,” Farahail reminds him. “Too much expense, and Eastrouns provide cheap labor for the farmers.”
“Too many of them rats,” Rathmur mutters. “Eh? What is the Adaán now but a province of the Eastrouns? Long did our ancestors fight to keep them from invading our land, and to what? To have them scurrying over here across the river? To take our jobs and our livelihood?”
Which also bought into the fact that Rathmur is certain the smugglers he chases are no other than Eastrouns. Farahail grumbles because he doesn’t agree. He does not possess, as most of the younger Osgerithians seem, the mind of the traditional set. Their betters. Their elders.
So, forget all that nonsense about the immigration, Rathmur thinks, because he’s more of the mind in following up with Adbur about this “ghost” on the river. Farahail confirms that his own sighting of a strange cloaked figure awhile ago was in the dead of night, as Adbur’s. The same time. Come about midnight. And damn Farahail and his laziness, and for this reason, Rathmur sits down and begins to write a report to the Osgerithian Council to reprimand his colleague for not reporting the incident himself.
“I do this for your own good as well as the welfare of our county,” Rathmur says.
“You do what for my good?” Farahail wants to know.
“Nothing.” And Rathmur writes it out with wax seal and formality.
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3 thoughts on “A Mist on the River”
Wow. What a story! More from this writer, please!
I was drawn into the story, first by the dark and sinister mood that the author evoked, then by the characters, and their realistic personalities and their all-too familiar feelings and prejudices.
The deepening suspense built up gradually, not just with physical descriptions of the setting, but also through the development of the characters and their conversations, kept me reading. I knew something was coming, but I didn’t know what.
Love the voice in this!
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