The woman paced along the wooden planks at the end of the port like a feline on the prowl. Her fiery hair stood out against the morning gray at the end of the pier. A few yards back the docks were filled with the early morning bustle, largely workman and merchants with some warriors and nobles thrown into the mix. Mostly, she would’ve blended with the crowd. She looked as hardworking as any of them with calloused hands, worn features, and a few strands of gray cleverly tucked away into her locks. Still, despite these clear markers of a hard life, she would’ve stood out amongst the crowd: she was cleaner than most, the sword at her hilt could’ve purchased a fleet, and her clothes, though plain, were clearly made of the finest material money could buy. If any other person like her had passed onto the docks that day, they would’ve been showered with offers from merchants or flattery from lesser nobles or even an attempted bribe or two from the more unsavory amongst them.
But once the name “The Lioness” had been whispered, all her potential flatterers backed away, in awe or fear or disdain and even those admirers who would’ve approached her normally thought better of it when they saw her expression, clearly one of ill-contained fury. Alanna of Pirate’s Swoop and Olau was as famous for her temper as she was for being a hero and no one dared interfere with that.
Still, she felt the eyes on her as she stalked at the edge of the pier, waiting for an early morning arrival. Why George had to meet her was anybody’s guess. He only met her at Port Caynn when he was afraid she wouldn’t react to something well, mainly because there was a favorite tavern of theirs in the city where they went when they needed some alone time and he generally thought it would help him make things up to her. His success on the front was normally in about every three cases out of four, but, considering this had to do with Aly, she was more inclined to think it would be the latter, particularly whenever she thought of George’s last message to her, coded and passed through Myles:
Found Aly. She is healthy and settled. Will return home alone.
What did he mean that she was happy and settled? Her daughter had gone missing while on her ship, alone on the way to Port Legann. That meant at best she was kidnapped by pirates and at worst . . .well, she was grateful this wasn’t an at worst scenario. Still, she was kidnapped by pirates or raiders and then George had tracked her to the Copper Isles, which meant that she was probably sold into slavery. How could her independent, intelligent, and directionless daughter be ‘settled’ if she’d been sold into slavery? She may not completely understand Aly, but she knew that any offspring of hers in that situation would put up a fight. It made no sense and she couldn’t risk asking George any questions until he got back or else risk that word got her daughter was not safely within the borders of Tortall.
So like everything else that had happened since Aly disappeared, Alanna was powerless, beholden to others for her daughter’s safety.
Everything about it put her on edge.
So she treaded across the now surely well-worn wood ending the dock yet again, glancing nervously toward the horizon. Finally, there was a small shadow on the horizon. It approached quickly, carried by a strong breeze.
Her fingers itched. While she generally tried not to excessively use her Gift in day-to-day life, under the circumstances, she was sorely tempted to act otherwise. There was a loose thread hanging off her tunic. It wouldn’t take much effort to tear it off, tie some knots, and summon a little more wind. . .
The ship arrived before she did something stupid.
Usually, George wasn’t the first off the ship. She’d never met him at the docks-generally her seasickness kept her as far from the ocean as possible -but she understood that he normally tried not to come off the boat first, just in case there was a surprise on the docks. However, since his cover was now a concerned husband sailing from Pirate’s Swoop to meet his wayward warrior wife, he was the first to rush off the boat to meet her, knapsack slung over his shoulder, gait open and easy. She forced herself to smile-he’d told her when he left that she’d need to smile when he came back no matter what- and let herself be folded into his embrace. When he gave her a long, theatrical kiss, she let herself get lost in it, but was a little more forceful than usual.
To an outsider the kiss would look like the relieved reunion of two lovers rather than an angry spouse wordlessly informing her husband of exactly how infuriated she was with the way their current situation was being dealt with.
Not that George was surprised.
Really, that his wife was actually trying to maintain their cover was a miracle after the incredibly cryptic message he’d sent to her from the Copper Isles. His wife wasn’t known for being patient under the best of circumstances and this situation was among the worst anyone could imagine. At least he knew Aly was safe for the time being.
They parted, but only just enough for him to slide his arm into the crook of her back, pulling her close. He always missed this, being able to hold his Lioness in his arms, feel her next to him. Even if he knew he was about to chewed out repeatedly and deservedly-Aly wouldn’t have even been considered by Kyprioth if she hadn’t been his daughter. Or maybe if Aly had known of his interactions with Kyprioth-he’d only told Alanna-she would’ve known better.
Though really, he’d had to finally admit to himself as he thought it over, she was doing what she was meant to be doing. She was a natural and far more dedicated to it than he’d thought she was capable of being. If he and Alanna had been more open to Aly pursuing the life she wanted to pursue, whether they truly approved of it or not, then maybe she’d at least be doing it closer to home. Which is why he was dreading the end of this conversation just as much as he worried about its start. This was going to plunge both Alanna and himself into a world of guilt and that wouldn’t be pretty.
“Where is she?” Alanna whispered through a smile as she laid her head on his shoulder, he lifted his knapsack back to his side, and they started to walk forward.
Leaning his lips toward her ear, he murmured, in the same manner that normal couples whisper compliments or jokes or gossip to one another, “She’s working with the house Balitang on the island of Lombyn.”
How could he speak about their daughter being in slavery so casually? “In what capacity is she working with them?” The words barely escape the openings between her gritted teeth audibly.
Sensing the tension rolling off his wife, George chose his next words carefully. “She used to be their slave, but in a recent attack she showed a lot of dedication to them and they set her free.” Alanna pulled back, about to make some proclamation, but he pulled her close again warning, “Let me finish.” He then let out an affectionate chuckle, working to maintain their cover. Alanna held out for a moment, stubborn as always, but George talked quickly now, needing her to know everything before they got to their lodgings, “She also works for them in a similar capacity that I work for Jonathon.” Alanna stopped fighting him now, giving him a quizzical look.
They had made it through the docks now and were walking down one of the streets in Dockside. Quickly scanning the area, George found a side street. Taking Alanna by both hands, he pulled her into a tight alley between two stores, putting in the effort to make it look like he’d just said something scandalous and was about to make overtures to that effect. Unfortunately, Alanna was having none of it.
“She’s a spymaster?” Alanna’s had to work to keep her voice low, but that didn’t detract from her accusatory tone.
“Yes,” George whispered, having positioned them in a shadow, out of view to the passerby. His Sight showed him no listening spells, so this was as safe a place as they were going to get to speak in public. “Ever hear of the god Kyprioth?”
Now Alanna was confused. “The Trickster? The one you worked with? What does he have to do with this?”
“Well, lass, if you’ll remember the lessons your dear Myles taught you when you were pretending to be a lad, he ruled the Copper Isles and the raka people before the luarin came in and took over, at which point Mithros and the Mother ousted him from his throne.”
Alanna nodded, vaguely recalling Myles going over the situation, still confused and now slightly embarrassed-she’d forgotten most of the history she’d learned about other realms all those years ago. Still, she didn’t see what this had to do with Aly.
Understanding her confusion, George continued, “Well, as often happens when one monarchy is overthrown and replaced with another, some distant relation of the old rulers escaped extermination and apparently one of their descendants married into the Rittevon family. Now that the two daughters produced by that marriage are near grown, he believes it’s time for him to seize the Isles back.”
“And Aly?” Alanna was starting to see where this was going, but why would a god want Aly to help with that kind of coup? She had no ties to the Raka or the Copper Isles.
“Kyprioth arranged for Aly to be captured by pirates and placed in the Balitang home. Once there, he offered her a wager. She was apparently planning to leave immediately, but . . . he offered to convince me to let her work for me if she won and apparently that was an offer she couldn’t refuse.” He sighed. “If I’d just let her work . . .”
“Well why didn’t you just give her a job when you found her,” Alanna demanded, “Doesn’t the Trickster owe you a boon? Why didn’t you . . .”
“I tried lass, I tried,” George lamented, regret in his eyes, “Unfortunately for us, while completing the wager Aly did what we’ve been trying to push her to do: she found a cause she could believe in. Her mind is now set on the Raka’s revolution. I couldn’t even get her to be our agent in the Copper Isles.”
Alanna’s mind was reeling. This was only beginning to sink in. What did he mean their daughter’s mind was set on revolution? What did being a spymaster for that kind of movement entail? Why didn’t George try harder to get her to come home? She knew he'd probably tried harder than that, but ehy didn't Aly want to come back? Still, at the same time, a quieter part of her mind acknowledged that it was perfect for her daughter, the girl who’d been her father’s daughter since birth, who’d taken every opportunity her extended family gave her to learn, who was far more calculating and resourceful than Alanna could ever hope to be. Still, she had to ask the primary question any mother wonders about her child when he or she is far from home: “Is she safe?”
“For now,” George replied, then elaborated, “She had a broken nose that wasn’t set properly, had a couple broken ribs that were healed before I left, and has a charming scar above her left eyebrow that she didn’t have before. Other than that she’s as safe as anyone else in our line of work, albeit with a lot more training and the hand of a god on her.” This wasn’t comforting and he knew it, but this wasn’t a situation he could make sweeter with lies. Still, he could try to soften the blow, “Not to mention she’s gathered quite the collection of people around her to help.”
“Oh?” Alanna was confused now. Aly had never really made friends outside of their family group. She’d charm those her age, but wouldn’t form a long-term relationship with any of them, merely staying in their company for as long as it was fun. Then again, it didn’t sound like Aly was merely doing things for fun while in the Copper Isles. Maybe this would work out. She let herself relax a little against the wall behind her.
Sensing the change, George chuckled, “Yes, from the nobles right down to the servants. There’s even a young man that used to be a crow. I’ve never seen a young man so relieved to find out a young lady was hugging her father and not some strange man off the street than when he walked in on our reunion. And when he walked in, Aly got away from me faster than a thief from the Provost.”
Now Alanna’s eyebrows were raised in amused skepticism. “She found a boy to kiss for more than fun?”
“And she shouldn’t lose interest in him,” George said, eyes filled with good humor, “After all, he was born a crow. Technically he’s two, but he could give you a run for your money in some of the fighting arts.” She didn't deign that with a response, just gave him a look that only he would understand. Backing out into the open, he offered Alanna his arm again. The hard part out of the way, he thought they should get to the inn.
Taking his arm, Alanna processed, “I shouldn’t be surprised, but . . . He used to be a crow?”
“Yes, our daughter's attention could only be held by another species,” his grin widened as they stepped back onto the street and continued to walk down the street, “I can’t wait to tell Daine and Numair.”
Thinking of how that conversation would go, Alanna begged, “Please not in front of me. As much as I appreciate academics, I don't want to hear that many questions or theorizing or. . . oh, Great Mother, I'm getting a headache thinking about it.” Then a thought occurred to her, “How serious are they?”
“The revolution, deadly serious, everyone butAly and Nawat are the products of generations upon generations of planning. Aly and Nawat: He looks at her like I looked at you,” George replied with another easy smile, “so, based on my limited intel, I’d say it’s pairing that’s meant to last.” Normally, that would earn him a playful nudge, but Alanna was too distracted for the moment.
She knew there were many more serious questions right now, but one couldn't be dismissed now that she'd had it, “Does that mean our grandchildren could be crows?”
“I don’t know,” George replied with a sigh, “but I thought that was another reason to talk with Daine and Numair and maybe even Lindhall. Daine’s pregnancy was bad enough, I don’t know what the complications there could be with parents that are two different species.” How Aly would feel about them looking into this while she and Nawat were still only beginning their romance, he could guess and it wouldn't be loving. However, she hadn’t been a parent yet and he was going to look into this with as much care as if Thom or Alan were to fall in love with a porcupine. They lived in a strange world that had gone topsy-turvy two or three times in his lifetime and, while the Gift helped with a lot of problems, this was amongst the stranger situations he'd encountered over the years- even with friends like Daine and Numair-and he wanted to be prepared in case his daughter needed his advice.