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a lonely soul, standing

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After the stars fell, legends took their time seeping across Spéir. The seas crash stories against rocks until there’s nothing left--nothing or stray shards beachcombers arranged into unrecognizable mosaics. Some say Franz Fishhook of the Civility has a forked tongue. Others further inland from the bay hear that a band of corsairs touched the edge of the sky, stuck their fingers through the holes still smoking from the heat of their missing stars.                               

And then, of course, there’s all that’s said about Orimar Vale.

The throughline of his legends from settlement to settlement holds fast to the facts--a Redfeather turned corsair, a man taken by the idea of monarchy in an age when any centralized government was barely more than a relic, the owner of the boot that had crushed the heart of the Bandit Queen under its heel. For most men, that list was one to aspire to.

Orimar Vale is not most men; and what Spéir can agree on as truth is hardly a hint at the true breadth of his deeds.

For one, they say not all of his crew is fully human. That I would believe. There’s something odd about the way that man they call Spit carries himself, and energy moves all wrong around that boy with the owl-eye spectacles they picked up under the guise of the ship’s doctor a while back. There’s something off about all of them, and that Orimar acts like nothing is amiss is enough to blot his own record.

It’s a blot next to a string of broken hearts, not even counting the Bandit Queen’s. That broken heart holds airiner’s gossip to a whisper at ports, as if he’d appear looming behind them if they spoke too loudly. (“I could never imagine hurting my lady like that,” a gruff woman murmured to me at Burza Nyth one off-season. “And she doesn’t have an entire fleet to hunt me down.”)

There’s Sonja of Wolfstooth, not someone I’d ever want to face at the Illimat table or on the other end of a business deal, but she won’t press a grudge til it bleeds. Amma of T’Shurt is one of the few residents of Spéir that could take Orimar down in a fight without breaking a sweat, but she never would. Her thick, corded arms would set down the lumber saw and pick up an embroidery needle to put the finishing touches on a piece illustrating how she really feels in case he ever shows up on her front porch again. Hahana of Loyench has trained every raven she’s seen to snitch on her shared business with Orimar to a frighteningly detailed degree.

I’ve run into one of Hahana’s ravens. There is so much about Orimar’s...tastes that I had no desire to learn.

But as we know, legends are slow to travel and pieces shatter along the way. And I want to tell you a tale of Orimar Vale I heard first-hand from an acquaintance who doesn’t normally deal in hearsay--that’s how you know there’s more than a couple grains of truth swirling around in its maelstrom.

I want to tell you about the day Orimar Vale landed in the town of Fesqom.

*

Fesqom lies on the opposite end of Spéir from Burza Nyth--it’s one of the only settlements that’s never sent a representative to participate in Aur Pióra in the history of the event, and why should they have? Nawi takes place the same week and hardly requires more travel than a hike across the island.

Much of the significance of Nawi is guarded from outsiders but the public spectacle is something to behold--local mystics barefoot on coals, whirling around and around in skirts of featherweave, the heat under their soles guiding them up, up into the air, still spinning, arms outstretched and face thrown toward the starless heavens like they themselves could replace what we’ve lost.

They rise, the featherweave cools. They sink, the featherweave heats up, and they rise again. The music plays in circles. The grog flows from endless taps. And no oversized birds will shit in your cup.

(I might be biased. Aren’t we all?)

Six years ago, the de facto leader of Fesqom was a man named Dara who had forsaken his family title in a gamble to gain some infamy and come out on top against some troublesome odds. The night before that year’s Nawi, Orimar Vale and the Uhuru docked at Fesqom, and he sent some of the underlings ahead to fetch Dara for a meeting.

A meeting about what, you ask? I don’t think even they knew. Orimar played his hands, both figurative and literal, close to the chest. Hard to get manipulated that way. Vale never likes exposing his strings for other people to try and pull, see. But those two men--Wilson and Wendell, or Samson and Saul, either way it was some pair of names like that--they maneuvered through the streets, avoiding the low bonfires outside people’s homes on the wide main road and the Fesqomis leaping over them. Some part of it wasn’t for outsiders’ consumption, as I’ve heard, and so had they. Plus, no one needs another blackened spot on their tunic from a stray ember. Not when you live on a skyship.

Anyway.

So Dara accepted--obviously, or this wouldn’t be much of a story. And something about meeting with this person on this particular night had Orimar leaning more into his cautious winds because his entourage strolling back down the gangplank with the alliterative pair, that ghoulish motherbusser who hardly blinks and must never sleep from how far his under-eye circles dip into his face, and the tallest person the Fesqomis had ever seen.

When I say the Uhuru’s crew has something wrong about them, this is what I mean. That tall skyjack’s face was shrouded behind long locks of silver hair so no one could even get a good look at their face to see how to address them should anyone have such unfortunate luck. But beyond the body was the sword strapped to it, an enormous, unwieldy slab of metal whose ends reached beyond the diagonal of their back and was wider than the average man’s torso.

“Now, I’ve got blacksmith training,” my acquaintance said, “and no ‘smith in their right mind would ever try to make something like that.”

Even the most trustworthy of gossips can indulge in the fantastical--I don’t know if I believe that the sword was quite that large or if gazing at this giant of a being through the light of the bonfires actually gave onlookers headaches, but it’s what I was told. Do what you will with it.

Dara operated out of his home, one not much larger than the rest on the island but situated the furthest back from the dock. The back wall’s windows pressed up against the broad leaves of the jungle growth, stems disallowed from stretching to their full breadth. You have to weave your way through the whole settlement to get there. A defensive precaution, most likely. But Orimar, clad in his cape and Redfeather cap and expensive boots that clinked with every step, the journey was less passing through security than it was a royal procession. Everyone stopped to stare at him and his entourage, just the way he likes it.

I can see it now: he wouldn’t want to reveal how satisfying it was, but the grin would curl under the shadow of his mustache regardless.

So: they met. The particulars of that first meeting are a mystery; Dara’s two main lackeys wear masks to these sorts of encounters, their public identities carefully guarded. All I know is that the five of the Uhuru emerged two hours later, all unscathed, pouring into the street where the bonfires had collapsed into pulsing red piles of coal and ash.

Orimar wanted to see the first day of Nawi, I think. He wanted to draw this process out with Dara long enough for that. The rumors of what happened at Dara’s negotiation table from what patrons of the cantina Orimar’s crew dipped into--he was too smart to try an angle like that without some ulterior motive.

Namely, showing up to Fesqom at all.

The tall one was still on their first thumb of liquor when the ghoul brought it up--Fesqom’s main line of commerce was through the Bandit Queen’s fleet, doing any kind of business with the Uhuru was as good as torching the lot of every artisan and farmer in the area. But Orimar, he could hold up a single finger, down the rest of his sizeable glass of whiskey in a smooth gulp, and say nothing more than a single word to ease the tension pulling taut around him.

“Patience.”

Though this time, it hadn’t worked as expected. The more portly of the other two--Wilson or whoever--sighed loudly enough to garner the attention of the other folks in the establishment, and there weren’t many.

“If you have thoughts on the matter, I welcome them.”

“Y’see, Captain…” he said. “I’m not sure I understand what’s wrong with the system we got now for hiring new crew. Spit ‘n’ Overboard ‘n’ Nodoze have been doin’ just fine with the interviews, and--”

And at this point, the other W-named corsair stepped in: “What he means to say is, Doc Poz is a fine ship doctor, sir. We know he’s gettin’ on in age, but he’s as fit as anyone aboard. Just not sure about lookin’ for his replacement so soon, is all.”

The ghoul muttered something about Doc Poz being the first doctor to not blame all his health problems on his chronic insomnia, and the tall one simply shrugged.

“And, as I said before: patience.” And that was all Orimar wanted to say on the matter.

I heard later from a different somebody, somebody with a few extra ears to the ground and sky, that Orimar Vale was after more than just a trusted doctor to keep in his back pocket when the other met the wrong end of a sword. The Church of the Slain God’s never had a presence on Fesqom, but Dara knows people, the kind of people Orimar apparently wanted to know as well. But how much can you trust a woman who walks up to her hips in the sea every morning without a sprig of concern?

(Really. I’d like to know. I’m starting to question my judgment.)

The first day of Nawi came and went. The dervishes twisted and swirled overhead, bare toes pressed hissing against the hot coals from the night before without coming away blacked and raw. The tall one made a mess of themself trying to eat the traditional street food, flatbread wrapped around a concoction prone to dripping fats and yogurt sauce. And all the while Orimar maintained his post, a barrel commandeered into a seat with a corner of his beard teased between his thumb and forefinger. Across the bed of coals sat Dara. the olive-tan of his face rosy from the heat and the maelstrom refills he’d been nursing the whole afternoon, the long dark braid of his hair bouncing against his chest as he laughed at a remark a masked underling made under their breath.

The first day of Nawi is an exercise in sensory overload. The year I went, I barely lasted a few hours--and this play between Dara and Orimar lasted the better part of the entire event. Shared smirks. Wordless commentary on everything from the dervish who tripped over a taller piler of coals to the Fesqomi child who smushed layers of honeyed filo pastry across his face. Eventually, as it always does with Orimar in these situations, it devolved into winks.

What, you didn’t pick up on that this was where it was going? Sure, Orimar Vale winks for a whole airship’s worth of reasons, but these winks--they were heated. And by the time the food vendors started closing up their stands, the tall one was squinting over the departing crowds for their captain and he was nowhere to be found.

I don’t know how my acquaintance came to know this, but this is what ze told me: that Orimar and Dara found each other in a hazy corner of an unmarked cantina down an alley off the main road, that drinks and laughs were had, and that Dara had taken Orimar by the hand back to his home through the side roads. Dark red blots marred Dara’s neck for the rest of Nawi and days afterward.

Few know this. Orimar’s reputation says his weakness is only for women, and I don’t quite know what he gains from advertising that exclusivity. But it’s as much a legend as anything else, his preference--true from one angle and a distorted web of nonsense from another.

At any rate, the Uhuru left the next morning, her heading pointed toward a settlement whose name hardly mattered anymore the way it was overrun by the fortune of the Youngbloods. They’re not airiners, that family, but they do possess the kind of power that’s braided with wealth. Maybe they have a doctor in their midst. Or something else. The thing about Orimar Vale is that you’re never sure what you’re giving him even as you hand it over, the whole of it visible against your palm.

I haven’t heard much from the Uhuru lately. There was talk they’d landed around Shankill and gotten the Broker of Burza Nyth in their back pocket, but that all came from sources I haven’t yet vetted properly. They’re all trying to tell me about some kid with a supernatural sight into the future and a raven that insists it’s not like other birds. The rumor mill has gotten weak on that side of Spéir in my absence.

I’d love to know what Orimar is up to now. Tell me if you hear anything interesting.