So there was this guy in the tavern and he was talking about Sarralan and how everybody always gets it wrong. He said they see the grey sea in the winter and the flat marshes and they let the chill get in their bones because they’re not prepared for the soft, deceptive breeze that cuts like a knife. And you know what? Yeah. That’s always been enough for me. I’ve never fancied Sarralan in summer. Yet here I am.
But this guy in the tavern, he said – and he wasn’t just any guy, you know? We were inside the inner wall and he was wearing a sword by right, he wasn’t some schmuck, and he wasn’t a trader with something to sell. And he said that Sarralan knows how to meet the winter. He said you have to dress for it, of course – and he was dressed for that tavern, I’ll tell you, silk and the finest wool, with an enamel pin my fingers itched for, or I’d never have listened to the tedious old git – but he said Sarralan meets the winter easy.
The fields of Rashaf meet the winter at bay, that’s what he said. The dead arms of hedgerows and orchards reach blindly through the snow, and it takes an act of faith to believe that the blossom will come again in time. And yet Sarralan – and folk call Sarralan bleak just because the landscape pools and stretches in wide layers – Sarralan meets the winter with good grace, fading into tones of honey and copper before dressing itself in frost and surrendering gently to a down cloak of snow. If you can find a high place to stand, and there are a few, whatever folk say, and survey the sleeping land you will see it relieved, even on the greyest day, by the steely gleam of water, and by flashes and glimmers of silver and blue whenever the day is clear …
There was a fair bit more. You don’t expect me to remember it all, do you? But anyway, here I am. In the raw cold. In a ditch. In sodden clothes and ruined boots. And you know what? He’s right, there’s no bare trees reaching like dead things towards a weeping sky, and you know for why? It’s because there’s no fucking trees. And you know what else there isn’t. There’s no fucking shelter, either. Not a hillock. Not a bump. Not even a wall, but that at least makes sense, because you build walls to protect what you value and I haven’t seen one fucking thing in five fucking days that I’d value higher than the scrapings of the common pot in the meanest kitchen in all Khyre. And certainly not one thing I’d risk my neck to steal.
Yeah, in the end we get to that. My fine fellow in his fine array in that cosy tavern within the wall, looking like a man with a grand estate behind him, starting to doze a little under the influence of the extra spices I’d slipped into his mulled ale, mumbling about silver and gold, mumbling about jewels, mourning everything he’d had to leave, the riches that the whole of Khyre were naught to match. (I’m sorry, he talked that way, he really did.) So I didn’t roll him for what he carried – seriously, we were inside the wall, rolling him for what he carried was never the plan because I’m not that fond of jail – but just made sure he’d had enough extra spice to forget me, and made sure of his seal. Next day I knew who he was and where exactly he hailed from, and now here I am. Freezing. Not seeing any damn jewels.
Not hearing any hounds anymore either though, and that’s got to be good, right? Fucking hounds. As if they’ve got anything I want. Manor that you could fit complete within the Tourning Yard. Not even real thatch, some shit made of reeds. Ready enough to give me something from the common pot (thin pottage, not a shred of meat in it, but by the Gates what I’d give for that bowl now), and a bed (call that a bed!) in the common hall, and no wonder. I had myself a prowl, once the manor was sleeping. Not so much as a silver plate or a glass beaker in the whole place. One horse in … I’d say the stables, but one fucking horse. Her tack must have been worth almost as much as everything else I’d seen; leather’s not cheap in Sarralan, not the decent, beech-tanned kind. I’d have taken her. I should have taken her. I felt fucking sorry for them. And what do I get? Their hounds baying on my trail, as if there was anything I could have taken that was worth chasing down.
But it’s quiet now, and there’s light enough to think of moving. There’s a burg east of here, and even a burg-bug like me can find east when it’s blinding me. And it is. Sunrise like a sheet of fire, and a matching glare touched off every frozen pool. Give me rolling hills, give me green, give me a sun that puts a little warmth in my bones, instead of wasting its time putting a sparkle on every damn thing it touches.
Okay, I’ll quit grousing and walk. If the sun won’t warm me the walk will, and I’ve done worse than this. I’ll reach the burg and I’ll find a way home and I swear by the Gates I’ll never leave it, and I’ll never think any more of richer pickings than fat merchants. You know where you are with fat merchants, and they don’t keep fucking hounds.
But I keep thinking about that maundering old fool in the tavern within the wall.
Some folk don’t know when they’ve got it good, you know?
Not my usual kind of Khyran. I think he might have had a run-in with Kit Scurius though – & Kit Scurius is my usual kind of Khyran. You’ll like him when you finally meet, I hope.