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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2. Chapter Two

 

Ryu studied her new master.

He was far taller than her, sturdily built. His skin was just a shade lighter than her own, but enough to mark him a native Lussanite. A dark beard lined his square jaw and cheekbones. His black eyes struck her as especially observant, small and smart. Not to be trusted.

He hung his hat on a hook by the door. They'd walked up two flights of stairs to get to his apartment. Stacks of paper and book filled crates lined one wall, and an old hide sofa sulked in the opposing corner. There was a door across from it, closed. Yellow paint peeled off the walls. The floor was cold.

"You keep staring at me," he said, "as though I am about to swallow you whole."

She shifted her weight and glared.

"If you think I will be like your old masters," he said, "you are very much mistaken."

But he could say whatever he wanted. In the end, he had absolute power over her. His words meant nothing. She wondered what his motives could be, trying to earn her trust when he could just as easily beat her. If this was a new game, she was unfamiliar with it.

"You need clothes," her master said. "And shoes."

"Oh." She blinked. She had been dressed before, but rarely, when her owner wanted to make a good impression or show off his wealth. But there was no use dressing a boy if he was just going to work outside in the grime and heat of the city. She looked down at the ground. Her feet were pale with dust from the sandstone.

"I don't need shoes, sir," she said. Her feet were so calloused, the radiating heat from the streets barely bothered her.

He left for the other room--the bedroom?--and shouted back to her, "I won't have a half naked imp running around my house."

She frowned. He spoke as if he were the master of an estate, entertaining guests and serving men of high standing. She eyed a crack in the wall, the faded yellow paint, the dust lining the corners of the small room.

"Well, come in here."

She walked into the other room. It was smaller than the other, with a large bed and a few crates shoved beside it. Heady afternoon sunlight wafted in from the large window.

Haltolomos dragged one of the chests from by the bed, letting it screech loudly across the floor.

Someone shouted from the apartment below them. "Ey! Quiet the fuck down!"

Haltolomos rolled his eyes. "Don't mind the neighbors, Ryu. They're assholes." He shouted the last part. From below them, someone pounded on the ceiling. Ryu jumped, feeling it between her feet.

Haltolomos took a piece of clothing out of the box and handed it to her. It was a formal robe, originally a richly dyed green but faded to gray and lined with wooden buttons of varying shapes. She put it on, but it was so long on her that it dragged along the ground and swallowed her arms. She had always felt more comfortable in men's clothing, but she saw a shadow of herself reflected in the window, so small and feminine that her heart sank.

"Sir?"

"Yes, yes, I know." He pressed the side of his fist against his upper lip, thinking. "Take that off. Let's try something else."

As he dug through the crate, She slipped the old robe off of her shoulders and shrugged so it fell onto the floor. He handed her an off-white tunic, but this was also too long, falling past her feet and onto the floor.

He knelt beside her and, grabbing the bottom of the garment, tore it down its seam. When he was done, it hung ragged but at the right length, showing her ankles.

"I'll hem it later," he said.

"I can sew, sir."

"Nonsense." He stood. "Do you know how to fold a toga?"

"No, sir." Togas were for freemen.

He pulled out a red toga and stepped behind her. She felt his hand on her shoulder and went rigid, eyes wide. She could hear her heart in her ear. Of course this is what he was doing. Bringing her into his bedroom? Dressing her up? She pressed her hand into a fist to keep from trembling.

"See?" he asked.

She started. "Sir?"

He reached around her neck, pulling the toga so it draped correctly. She saw a few white scars crisscrossing his palm. "Over the shoulder, do you see?"

She closed her eyes and forced herself to swallow her fear. "Yessir."

When he stepped out from behind her, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"This should work," he said.

"Yessir."

"I know it's a bit unconventional, but we need to cover you up." He frowned. "The scribe of a scientist needs to be presentable."

She wanted to roll her eyes. "Yessir."

"And to be able to write."

"Yessir."

"And to eat."

"Yessir."

"And somewhere to sleep."

"Yessir."

Haltolomos peered over her shoulder, into the other small room, and made the same noise in his throat that a discontented dog might. "We can make this work."

"Sir?"

He cringed. "I won't call you 'girl' if you don't call me 'sir.'"

"What else would I call you, sir?"

"Just... anything else." He waved an indifferent hand. "Here, let me fix that tunic for you."

Ryu shrugged out of the toga, letting it fall to the floor, and took off the tunic as Hal got a few things out of his chest.

Hal sat on the floor, a roll of thread and a few bone needles beside him. Ryu sat across from him and watched as he folded the tunic's frayed edges back, making sure it was the same length all around. Once it was neat, he set it aside and he cut a length of thread with his teeth. He fumbled with the small needles and struggled to get the split end of the thread through the needle's eye.

Ryu cringed. "Sir."

He looked up and frowned. "Ryu, what did I say?"

Rolling her eyes, she took the spool of thread and one of his needles, threading it without another thought. Before he could protest, she pulled the tunic over and, looking him in the eye, she pulled the thread in and out of the fabric with ease. She'd been taught to do repairs when she was still a child and by now, even after doing men's work for so long, it was as simple as breathing.

Hal sat back. "Okay. Fine. You can do it."

He only watched her for a moment, before he left to get a book, sitting beside her again. She leaned closer to try to get a glimpse of the page, but she could only decipher every other word. He'd written some notes in the margins of the page, crossed out lines and replaced them with his own annotations. His handwriting was cramped, dark, and hard to read. No wonder he wanted a scribe.

A scribe who can't even write. She snorted softly. She looked at the tunic, watching the fibers separate around the needle. The thread was the wrong color, too dark. She kept her stitches small. The sun was beginning to set, its red rays only just reaching the bedroom window.

"Tell me about yourself, Ryu."

She frowned. What did he want her to tell him? That the only thing she remembered of her home was diving beside the shoals of red fish? That in the morning she listened for the birds so she could learn their calls? That she made a game of walking quietly so, for a moment, her masters might not find her? That the face she saw in the mirror made her want to hide somewhere small and dark?

She looked him dead in the eye. "I don't understand. Sir."

"Fine." He shut his book. "Fine. I'll start. Ask me something."

Why did you buy me? What could you possibly want out of me? What kind of scientist goes an entire year without working? She studied the dust on the floor.

"No? Nothing?"

"No, sir."

He went back to his notes. Under his breath, he muttered something in a language foreign to her. She went back to sewing the last inch of the tunic, but around Haltolomos the air bent in a heat shimmer.

She looked up, squinting. "What is that?"

"What?"

She blinked and gestured vaguely. "That?"

"You can see it?"

"Yes?"

He ran his hand through the air and a lick of flame followed. He extinguished it against his palm. "Hail, Lavaalim." The goddess of fire. He looked at Ryu expectantly. "This?"

Ryu blinked. She had heard of these people before, those able to call the holy energies of the gods, but she had never met one before. She shrunk back. What was a man, blessed by the queen goddess Lavaalim doing living in a cheap apartment at the edge of the city?

"This is what I study," he said. "Didn't I tell you that?"

"You said you study the position of the stars."

"As they relate to other planes," he explained. "Energy lies in different levels of existence, planes that contain our gods and the gods of others. That's what you saw."

She put the tunic, half-sewn, aside. "Is that strange?"

"I'm not entirely sure." His dark eyes studied her and she squirmed under his gaze, looking away.

"It's getting dark," he said, standing. "The sofa is yours, so is the tunic."

She left for the other room, sitting on the sofa like he requested. His door clicked shut behind her. When she could no longer hear his footsteps, she stood. She stepped slowly, making no noise as she headed to the door. She tried the knob, but it was locked. In the dim light, she couldn't find a key.  She fell back against it, sinking to the floor. She'd have to stay here, for the time being at least.

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