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.


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


1. Chapter One


Haltolomos had forgotten how the city smelled. Walking into Terscepolos' market square, the scent of a dozen imported spices and fresh melons wafted on the air, mingling with the heaviness of sweat and heat.

He pulled his wide brimmed hat farther down his face. He could already feel his nose turning a deeper shade of red. The sun was at its highest. The hot air took dust from the limestone bricks and coated the sky with a white grime.

In the center of the square, a slaver held a sickly, sunburnt girl by her arm. His thumb dug into the hollow of her elbow. She twisted around, in obvious pain. The rest of the slaver's lot stood behind her, distinguishable from freemen by the chains around their ankles and scars where their owners had marked their ears.

Hal turned away. He'd left in the morning to discuss his studies with a supposedly interested temple, only to discover upon entering that they were no longer entertaining new scientists. After such a long trek, he only wanted to get back to his apartment and figure out which temple he would suit next.

But at this time of day, the market was at its busiest. He was taller than most of the crowd, but it didn't help when he was trying to fight against the tide. Someone stepped on the hem of his robe and he nearly tripped. He hoped it wasn't torn. He didn't have the money for another.

He could still hear the slaver's practiced voice over the din of the crowd. "Bidding on this boy starts at ten denarii."

Haltolomos paused. Boy? Was the dealer trying to snag a few extra coins, pawning off a girl as a man?

He pressed closer to the auction. On closer inspection, he saw that her black hair was cut so it hung short and ragged at the ends of her ears. Her breasts were flat with labor and sickness. A cloth sat around her hips like all the slaves. She was dark as burnt sand and red in the sun.

Someone raised a hand, waving a red scarf in the air. The slaver called out eleven denarii. Were they falling for his ruse? Hal snorted. If there was one thing he missed about the city, it certainly wasn't the scamming peddlers lining the streets.

Another bid. This man stood near the front of the crowd. Hal could see him clearly. Tall and thickly muscled, he reminded of Hal of someone he once knew.

If the man bought the girl, surely he would see through the girl's disguise eventually. Hal couldn't imagine what would happen to the girl once her new owner realized he had been duped into buying a girl.

"Going once more," the slaver called.

Perhaps he would be all the more happy to have a young girl in his power.

"Twice more, for this lovely boy."

Perhaps he wouldn't even wait until he realized she was female.

Hal held up his hand. "Thirteen denarii."

"Thirteen denarii, to this fine gentlemen." The slaver pulled the girl closer to the crowd again, waiting for more bids. The previous bidder, from across the crowd, narrowed his dark eyes. Hal set his jaw. What did he care? He didn't know the man.

"To the man in red," the slaver announced. Bending down, he undid the chains from around the girl's legs, leaving only the ropes around her hands. Hal could see the bones of her arms starkly against her dark skin. As sickly as she was, it was no wonder he had won her for so little.

Haltolomos fished the coins out of his pocket, hesitating for a moment as he felt their weight in his hand. He'd been without a patron for a year, and he was running through his savings more quickly than he'd like. He let the slaver take his money.

"You had better be worth this," he told the girl.

"Yessir." Her reply was automatic, more akin to noise than meaningful words.

"Come with me." He took her by the rope between her hands. He wanted to get away from the noise of the market square. Walking down to the end of the square, he rounded a corner into a secluded alley.

Someone in the apartments above had draped yellow and red clothes from the ledge of one building to another, blocking the blaring white sunlight from the alleyway. Hal started to undo the rope around her hands.

"They shouldn't tie you up like this."

"Sir?" she asked. Her eyes were pointed like a cat's and looked faintly of green in the filtered yellow light. Once the ties were undone, she snatched her hands away and hid them behind her back.

"I know that you are a girl," he said. "It would not have worked, your ruse."

"What?" In her shock, she forgot to "sir" him. She glanced down one end of the alley, then the other, like a bird watching out for predators.

"Please don't run off," Hal said. "I paid a fair bit for you and I don't have much to begin with."

She took a step back. Her eyes were wide.

"Your disguise is well enough, but you're too pretty," he said. "Have you see your face? Your bones are delicate, so are your shoulders. They may not have thought you a girl, but they would have thought you a eunuch, and you would have been in a harem regardless, but then with much more to lose."

He saw her gulp. Her eyes were dark. He wanted to cringe.

"Don't look at me like that," he said. "I am not vile, not like those men."

"That's good, sir," she said, faking nonchalance by holding her chin high. "I don't like men."

He held out his hand for her to shake. "I don't like women."

She shook his hand. Her wrists were scraped raw. He wondered how much alcohol he'd have to use to clean them well enough and sighed at the thought.

"How old are you, girl?"

"Sir," she said, "don't call me girl."

He snorted. "Oh, you think you're in charge here."

The tips of her ears were just pale enough to show her blush, blooming red as she went silent. He immediately regretted his words. With still a few blocks of walking left before he reached his flat, he didn't need to give her a reason to bolt.

She looked him in the eye. "I'm twenty, sir."

He nodded. "Follow me. We have a bit to walk before we're home."

He stepped out of the alley. She stayed by his side, a step behind him. He wondered if he would lose her in the crowd, but she slipped between other people with the ease of a small snake.

"I'm Haltolomos Straveim," he said. "Your name?"

"Ryu, sir."

"That's a man's name." Farther from the market, the buildings were much taller and closer together, to support as many apartments as possible. The road cracked underfoot.

Her brow furrowed and wrinkled her broad nose. "You paid for a man, sir."

He paused. She had a point. "Where are you from, Ryu?"

Above them, lines of laundry dried in the midday sun and dripped water onto the concrete. A drop landed on Ryu's nose, making her sneeze.

"I don't remember the name of my home." Her thin lips pulled downward.

"This is why you speak Lussanae so well."

"It is the only language I know."

"Can you write?"

She hesitated, then nodded.

He stopped in the street and turned to fully face her. "Can you?"

"No. Sir." She met his eyes, chin high.

Haltolomos frowned. Thirteen denarii. "I will have to find you a tutor."

She started. "Why, sir?"

"You must be useful to me and I have no use for your body. At the very least, you need to be a good enough scribe that I can read what you write."

"You're a scholar, sir?"

"I'm an astronomer," he said. "Specifically, I study the orientation of the planes as they relate to the position of celestial bodies."

"Oh." She made a soft sound. It didn't matter to him if she understood. "For what temple, sir?"

Haltolomos frowned. Typically, a scientist's work was funded by a temple or associated patron, and in return the temple could use their work in public projects. But he had been without one for a year and--considering how well his meeting this morning went--he would be without one for at least another few days.

"That's a good question."

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