The One from the Red Shoal

After his last arrangements ended on bad terms, astronomer and sorcerer Haltolomos returns to his home city Terscepolos to recover his reputation and find a new patron for his research. However, upon his return, he happens upon an unlikely child; a twenty year old girl named Ryu masquerading as a younger boy at a slave auction. Intrigued and in need of good help, he purchases her, but finds that she is far more than the scribe he bargained for. A person of sharp intelligence and strong resolve, she may also be skilled in the same occult magics he has studied for years.

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A standalone novel set seventy years before the events of The Third Son, which is available on wattpad.com


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6. Chapter Six

The Tasallapiem rang with music. The round atrium was full of space, lined with white tiles and pastel frescoes along the walls. The wide ceiling opened up to the stark blue sky. Haltolomos adjusted his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes.

Unlike the Tasallopiem he'd just visited, which was dedicated to the male Tasallos, this temple was dedicated to female Tasallae. The difference between the two was subtle--light compared to knowledge, art compared to science--it was enough to warrant two separate temples.

Although Haltolomos had almost definitely missed Fascius Noreim, he wasn't about to let the day go to waste. The next person on his list was Nereos Areleous. Not only was he currently an employee of this Tasallapiem, but had previously been employed at two other temples over the past year.

The door to the interior temple was propped open by a rock. A few men walked between the two rooms, with supplies and tools, while a couple others worked on the ceilings at the top of wooden ladders. On closer inspection, the open ceiling was not like the neatly done impluvium in the Klennopiem, but a rough hole still being chiseled at.

Another man stood to the side, a tablet and papers in hand, as he directed the workers.

"Julian, Julian, no," he said, trying to get the attention of one of the men. "No, no, no, I need the other ladder. That one is broken. It doesn't extend."

As the other man left, he sighed and bent down to examine one of the corners with a complicated measure. His white tunic draped across his form, a narrow waist and broad shoulders.

"Excuse me?" Hal asked.

"I'm working." He straightened, rolling his shoulders back as he wrote down numerals with a piece of charcoal. His yellow toga gathered at his hips.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," Hal said, "Do you know where I could find Nereos Areleous?"

He paused. Hal saw his shoulders fall in a sigh. He turned around. He had an angular face and high cheekbones. A few strands of dark hair had escaped their bindings and fell against his cheek. His dark eyebrows arched over similarly thick black-framed glasses.

"This is he." He put his papers under his arm and held out his hand. "Is there something you need?"

Haltolomos shook Nereos's hand. His fingers were long and a shade lighter than his gold-toned skin.  "My name is Haltolomos Straveim. I'm interested in your work."

"Well--" He was interrupted by a loud thud, the sound of metal against stone. A pile of dust and rubble fell down in a shower, most of it on top of Nereos's head. He cringed, ducking down, but by then, his black hair was already covered in a layer of gray dust. He blinked, hesitantly opening one eye. "As you can see," he said. "I am a bit busy now. I could get the overseer if you're interested in my employment?"

"Oh." Haltolomos shook his head, but Nereos seemed preoccupied with brushing the dust from his hair, but the rubble seemed determined to stick to his oily black curls. He undid the ties he used to keep his hair back and let it tumble across his shoulders. Hal cleared his throat and Nereos looked up. The sunlight struck his steel blue eyes.

"I'm sorry. Yes?"

"I don't represent a temple," Haltolomos said. "I just find your art fascinating."

One eyebrow rose and one side of his lips rose into a smile. "Do you now?" he asked. "Are you free tomorrow night?"

Haltolomos blinked. "Certainly."

"I'll be at the Lavaalopiem on the corner of Frenin."

---

"Thank you for coming back," Nikureh Demos said.

Ryu squinted. Did her teacher realize that she had no choice? That it was her master's wishes? The words felt foreign in her ears, like a drop of cold water.

"You're, um." She paused, trying to find her voice. "You're welcome."

"Ryu, I can already tell you're going to be a bright student," Demos said. "So after we review your characters, we can try more challenging constructions, alright?" She pushed the parchment over to Ryu and handed her a charcoal pencil. They were at the same place as the first time they'd met, sitting across from one another at a small table.

"Alright." She sighed and looked up at Demos. Demos was taller than her. Most people were. Her eyes were a deep, soft brown. Ryu could see the sides of her dark hair at the edges of her stola.

Looking back at her paper, she wondered if Demos was from a rich family, to prize her modesty so much. Only the noblest of women wore full headdresses, stolae, and veils to cover their faces. But anyone who needed money badly enough to teach a slave surely couldn't be that well born. Still, her skirts were clean and sky blue, and her blouse rose to a stiff collar beneath her strong jaw.

Of course, Ryu had never worn clothing like that. It wasn't as though she had much to hide, anyway, in terms of modesty. Surely that could be enough to hide her gender, even though her master suggested otherwise. She frowned.

"Ryu?"

"Hm?"

"The next letter now," Demos said.

"Oh." She moved her hand, staring the next character. She blinked and tried to remember in which direction it curved and how she'd have to move her fingers to make the pencil behave.

"Like this." Demos reached over and put her hand over Ryu's. The teacher's skin was soft and warm. It took Ryu a moment to pull away. Her ears felt hot.

"I know how it goes," she said. She drew it quickly, too bothered to make it less sloppy, and went onto the next before Demos could protest. The more quickly they could get to advanced material, the better.

Demos took out a book from her bag, one with a worn red leather cover. She opened to the middle and laid it in front of Ryu. Each page was filled with variations of the same word.

"All verbs," Demos said, "change depending on their usage and meaning, and it's critical you know where each belongs to understand a sentence. We'll start with the simpler ones."

Demos went through. giving her example sentences, asking her to find the right word to go with each and how to write each word. Ryu stared at all the combinations, baffled. She was beginning to realize there was more to writing than memorization. She could recognize the forms, the slopes and dips of the calligraphy easily, but to memorize the amount of grammatical constructions needed to write a sentence? She wasn't sure if it was even possible. She turned the page of the conjugation book, wondering where Demos had found the money for such a tome.

"Demos?" she asked, interrupting the lecture.

Her teacher paused. "Yes?"

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Are you..." She let herself hesitate, let her voice go lower and crack as she whispered. "Is your family very well-born?"

Demos frowned. "Maybe we should stick with the lesson."

"It's just that my family used to be well-born," Ryu said, "like yours, when I was younger. I remember having books like this."

She was the farthest thing from Lussanae nobility that she could imagine--obviously Eastern and a slave since she was a small child, her hands were calloused and her skin burned from too much time in the sun. She thought of rich Lussanites, born in the center of the city, with their long skirts, golden skin, round eyes and covered faces. She couldn't even begin to fake the high-throated trilling accent of the aristocracy.

But she let tears well in her eyes to accompany her story. She felt powerful and free. Was this what Haltolomos meant? The shivering feeling that seemed to coat her skin? The rush she felt deep in her chest?

"Oh, oh, you poor thing," Demos said, closing the book. "Why don't we walk."

"But, aren't you worried I'll..."

"Run back to your master?" Demos smiled. She had a kind face, soft eyes and pink lips. "Do you think you could fool me twice with the same trick?"

Yes. "You're too smart for that, aren't you?"

Demos smiled again, picking up her bag and slipping the strap over her shoulder. Ryu stood and Demos took her arm, making her stand beside her. She stood so close to Demos that her skirts wrapped around her legs. A precaution, Ryu was sure.

"We weren't very rich," Ryu said, thinking up the story as she went. She made her voice waver in her throat, as though she were on the verge of crying. "I think we'd been struggling for awhile. We had estates on the peninsula during the disputes over the border. By the time there was any peace, there was nothing left. The soldiers came to our house next."

They rounded the corner at the end of the street. Ryu read the street plaque: Gainoiem. From the top of this hill, she could see the temple Demos had pointed out during their last lesson. The sun struck the dome so brightly that she had to look away. She studied the cement street as they walked.

"And your parents? No wait, you don't have to answer that, I'm sorry," Demos said. "I can't imagine someone as young as you going through this. It must not have been long ago."

"I was sixteen at the time."

Demos paused for a moment, thick eyebrows drawing together as she examined Ryu's face. Her mask wavered. She realized her mistake; disputes over the border of Lussany had ended only a few years ago, but Demos must have assumed she was significantly younger. Dreaded knotted in the bottom of her stomach. Had she underestimated her teacher? She hadn't seen through her lies like Haltolomos had from the start, but perhaps she might, if she was given enough reason to do so.

"I have a young face," she said quickly. "Everyone thinks I'm younger at first. They would wonder how my father had such a young son." She looked away, at the red clothes waving from the tops of apartments and the ivy crawling up the shadowed side of the stone buildings.

"Oh." Demos's head tilted to the side. She still seemed dubious, but apparently not enough to question her. "My family went through something similar."

Ryu perked up. This was what she was waiting for. "You did?"

"My father lost a lot of money in debts. He ruined our reputation. We weren't exactly high nobility, so that's not something we can come back from. They tried to marry me off to another family to try to salvage themselves." Her back straightened and her jaw rose. "But I'm not a bargaining tool and I'm not an object they can use to fix the problems they caused, so I left."

Ryu blinked. "You left?"

"We haven't spoken in a year," she said. "Can you imagine something more horrific than being completely in the power of a man?"

For the first time since they started talking, Ryu didn't lie. "I can't."

"Oh." Demos made a startled noise. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sure it's worse for you."

"It's okay."

"I didn't mean to suggest that it wasn't."

Ryu laughed. Never had someone been so insistent about her well-being before. Looking at Demos, eyes wide and arms out like a flustered bird, made her want to smile."I'm fine."

Demos stopped, turning so she could look Ryu straight in the eyes. Ryu felt the same dread again, as though Demos was seeing through her story. Panic settled in her limbs and pricked at her skin. She wanted to look away.

"Are you?" Demos asked.

"I..." Words stuck in her throat like stale food. Sunlight beat on her face. "I should get back to my master. I'm sure he's waiting."

"Oh." Demos frowned. The wind picked at her stola and tried to free her hair. "Is it that time already?"

"Yes, yes it is."

"Well, before we walk back." Demos took a book out of her bag. "I'm not sure if your master lets you keep personal belongings, but I figured this would be small enough for you to keep on your person."

Ryu took it. It was a small leather bound book. She leafed through the pages. The crisp, creamy parchment made pleasant noises against her fingers. "It's blank."

"It's for practicing," she said, "and taking notes if you need to."

Ryu swallowed. Her throat still hurt--from when she was pretending to cry. "Thank you."

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