I had occasion to visit Aurice for the first time in the Spring of of this year (2744), in Dawmoon to be precise. I am from Cantira, so you may think this trivial, but it is no little matter to visit the imperial capital for the first time for someone like me from the provinces, even if it is neighboring Goscundy. My mother did not want me to go and made some mention of the wiles of city-goers. She did so without much conviction and we both knew that she would miss me. My father lit up and asked me to check the markets for furniture, not because we need any. My family makes and sells furniture in Cantira. If you’ve lived there any amount of time, then you know our family, Spusha. We’re not the biggest furniture dealer, but we are the best, I say. My father used to go to Aurice all the time when I was a child and took my older brother, Tmaru, with him, much to my envy. I thought my first visit would be with my father or at least with my brother. But my next older brother, Gaskondain, left two years ago to serve in the Grand Army on the east frontier quite all of a sudden. My mother didn’t want to see me leave, but I was determined and my father liked the idea. My papa kept telling me about Goscunds Market where he said he sold jewelry boxes for twice the price as in Cantira. Then he warned me about the taverns with horrible zuftee to avoid. I grinned. I told him that I couldn’t consider myself a veteran of Aurice until I had eaten some badly made zuftee.
“All along the great Goscundy Riven,” said my father with a sweeping gesture. “Worst zufteemongers.” He made a sour expression.
“What are you going to do?” said my mother gently.
“I’ll see all the sites, the Senatorial Palace, the Temple of the Golden Phœnice, the Magitechnic Institute,” I said brimming with excitement.
“You don’t want to take a friend with you?” said my mother.
“Pellias and Usak can’t afford it,” I said with some resignation.
“Don’t forget to see the Provincial Curia,” said my father with bourgeois pride.
“That’s not in Aurice,” I said. The Provincial Curia met in the Aurician Metropolis, not the city proper.
“You can still see it.”
“I can push it in, I suppose.”
“Do you need any money?” said my mother softly.
“No, I saved it up for the past two years. Since Gaskondain left.” I bit my lower lip.
“Father can give you some money to take the dragonrail,” said my mother.
“I don’t want to take the dragonrail. I’m riding with a teamster who’s leaving in a few days.”
“That’ll take you almost ten days to get there,” said my papa.
“I’ll be reading.” I had two books with me, Best Loved Goscund Bards, and Children of Besheth. They were my favorite books and they were really my only books. I had once seen a bookseller with Legends of the Witchlands by Vastvar Igoriaco, but I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t dare ask my papa for three months wages for a books about the haunted places of Throvy. I considered myself well off for these two and for the handful of books I read in my parents’ possession.
“If it’s the Jahatti boy, it’ll take you nine days,” said my father with knowing accusation. I didn’t answer because it was Gettlar just like my father knew. I had considered riding with the Ibrevite boatmen, but I didn’t know any personally and they have a reputation.
“What are you going to wear?” said my mother.
“The clothes I wear when I sell in the shop,” I said. She didn’t answer but stared at me with curiosity. I couldn’t wear my best clothes sitting in a wagon for nine days. I was only taking a second set of clothes in my rucksack for something to wear when the laundress cleaned my first set.
“Stay at the Half-Orc’s Skull,” said my papa with total confidence. “The Tavernkeeper knows me. Bryffeis Sumat. He’ll give you a good deal. Don’t even look at the taverns near Ugorth Station,” said my father, referring to the one dragonrail station in Aurice. “They are all of them too dear for a Cantiran,” said my papa with a chuckle.
It was the seventh of Dawmoon when I left with Gettlar in the morning. I had donned a cloak to tolerate the chilly air but Gettlar just wore his long-sleeved smock like he always wore. The spring air was clean and I didn’t really appreciate how clean it was until after I returned from Aurice. Cantira rests on the north shore of the Ibrew River and is surrounded by the woods of the Eyfrey Forest, much of which has not been put to the axe. It is a beautiful land and well watered in the spring and in late summer. I won’t speak of the long winter drizzles, because I suppose every land suffers from those. I didn’t put my nose to any reading yet, because I wanted to enjoy the countryside as the sun rose, just as we left the teamsters’ stables and made for the Tafestrundel Bridge that crosses the Ibrew River. The bridge was built in Yophenthean times and has been rebuilt at least twice. It is a broad river as anyone knows and Gettlar was driving a full load. The traffic was bad for so early in the morning. Gettlar mentioned that it just gets worse as we approach New Year’s day in a few months on summer solstice. Every merchant wants to sell his wares in Aurice on that day when the crowds are sheer madness. Gettlar paid the toll to cross the bridge and I didn’t have to, I thought, grinning to myself. I had already paid Gettlar what he expected and could just sit as the horses pulled the load. It was nice wares, I gathered, in the wagon’s bed, sufficient to pay for the cost of the trip and much more. I didn’t bother to ask Gettlar the particulars about it and he didn’t ask me my business in Aurice. We weren’t going through Sassuva, but along the dragonrail route because it is shorter. In eight or nine days, we would be in Cormantissa and then I would take a barge to the city.
Sun rose behind us as we made our way to the west. The land of Throvy rests on the western edge of the great continent of Asdauria, hugging the southwestern shores of the Pallathantic Sea. It is not so cool as a temperate climate and prone to hot summers after the beginning of the year which begins on summer solstice. But the winters are very tolerable and spring and autumn are fine when it’s not pouring. Foreigners scoff at Throvy because of the witchlands, but if you don’t mess with the witchlands, the witchlands don’t mess with you. I imagine if I visit any of the great cities, Trevirs or Bryndyd or Johaulia that I will still love my native Goscundy the most.
The Eyfrey Forest is not much of virgin woods these days. It’s more like a sea of little clouds of woodlands with farms and hamlets speckled across it. The trees are oaks and firs and tall bimbhari trees. All manner of life can been seen in the short and tall grasses. The farmers have already planted nearly all their crops and you think that the horses and cattle must be the luckiest creatures with the morning sun streaming down on such a little paradise.
I pulled out my Best Loved Goscund Bards and Gettlar asked me to read aloud for his benefit. Gettlar was probably taught how to read, but evidently never cared for reading as he didn’t own any books and I never caught him reading so much as a manifest. Best Loved Goscund Bards would be easy enough for him to enjoy. It starts out with a poem by Bringbanter who praises the best of bards and curses the worst. There’s a tune to the poem, but I didn’t remember it and I didn’t dare sing it with my voice, so I just read it. Gettlar chuckled at the funny parts as did I. Gettlar wanted me to read more, but I explained that I had to pace it or it would be done by the sixth day. Gettlar told me I could just start again. I didn’t really want to do that and I wasn’t sure that he would want to hear Children of Besheth. It has some exciting parts, but it can also be very preachy and neither Gettlar nor me is Incarnandist. So I read a little more and a little more with poems by and stories about Timshurizze, a bard from Mondorigor who has the funniest jokes about Igoriac farmers.
By evening we had cleared the Eyfrey Forest. We stopped every night at the local teamster’s inn which is somewhere between an inn and a barn. I did not have to pay money in our shared accommodation with Gettlar. It was cheap fare to be sure, but I saved my coin and did not complain. In a few more days, we made it to Chaffora where the dragontrain also stops for passengers. Chaffora is about halfway between Cantira and Aurice. The truth is that I had only ridden dragonrail once in my life and that was to Chaffora when I was about eleven with the rest of my family. Gettlar stopped for a few hours to rest the horses at the teamsters’ stables. He didn’t want to leave his load unattended and asked me to buy some things with his coin at the city center which I gladly did. Chaffora is smaller than Cantira, but it looked much smaller to me than when I had been there as a child. I wondered whether Aurice would look much smaller to me when I had grown old and white-bearded.
It was early afternoon when we left Chaffora. The traffic on the dirt road seemed to have increased by the smallest bit, but I noticed it somehow or perhaps I just imagined it in my growing excitement to see Aurice. I had not been entirely forthright with my parents about why I had wanted to visit the imperial capital. Indeed, my curiosity was certain and sincere, but I wanted to see what prospects the city could offer me. I was determined not to be a merchant like my father and not to join the army like my brother. Farming and driving a team like Gettlar were out of the question also. Although my learning at the schoolhouse was humble, I was probably the best of the grammarian’s students when it came to reading and writing. My math was not poor either. I wanted to see the Magitechnic Institute and the other places of high learning in Aurice.
It rained the whole time shortly after leaving Chaffora up to Cormantissa on the coast. It was a vigorous rain at first and Gettlar made me hold his umbrella as he drove. Then it slackened off into a slow drizzle such as the coasts of Throvy are said to be famous for. I hoped that the weather would get the rain out of the clouds in time for clear skies in Aurice. I managed to finish Best Loved Goscund Bards holding the umbrella in one hand and balancing the precious book in the other and I managed to keep it dry, too.
It was the fifteenth of Dawmoon, nine days as my father had told me, when we arrived at Cormantissa. An unassuming port city, Cormantissa is larger than Cantira by a bit but not so large as imperial Aurice which is home to over six hundred thousand souls and that’s large by any account. Of course every city seems large when you’ve never seen it before. Gettlar pointed out the places along the main street to the docks. I offered to help him load his goods into the long barge where dock workers labored with a dozen crates and boxes. Gettlar chuckled. The barge was huge and I soon realized that he had a whole system of shipping set out and certainly didn’t need my help. Gettlar had a page take his wagon and horses from the docks, probably to the teamsters’ inn. Gettlar and I sat on the deck under the dark clouds and a slow, lazy drizzle. I looked to the north across the great Lagoon of Aurice. The sea is gentle as the lagoon is relatively shallow and opens to the Addanine Sea rather than directly to the Pallathantic Sea. The smell of the brine was exhilarating. I felt the barge slowly tug, but fortunately it was great enough that I did not immediately become seasick. The barge was a motorized, titancraft rig and I could feel the power of the titancraft engine push the heavy seacraft through the water. It was not a beautiful ship, but it held a great load and must have been the source of tremendous wealth for its owners.
“Is this your first time in a ship on the sea?” asked Gettlar. I nodded in my excitement, barely looking at him.
“You’re doing well.”
“Can we see the islands of Aurice yet?” I asked, not hiding my enthusiasm very well.
“Not yet,” said Gettlar. He grinned. “You’ll see Aurice this evening.”
The sun hung low in the west over the timeless sea when I saw the isles of Aurice for the first time. The rain clouds were already parting and the sun was peaking out from under them. I had already seen the other islands of the lagoon and Gettlar pointed out to me the tall domed towers of the Provincial Curia on one of them. “That means we’re close,” he said like an old hand.
Aurice rests on hundreds of islets connected by tiny pedestrian bridges. It was still too early for the essence lights to be illuminated, but the city didn’t need any gas lights to make it a great spectacle to my eyes. We approached from the south as the softly gilding rays of the sun nearing his dusk lit up the smooth sea and glimmered off the hundreds of palazzi and taverns and warehouses and temples of the waterfront. Dozens of ships and barges plied the waters just outside of the city. Overhead, skycraft fluttered, the ancient kind and the titancraft kind, big, bulbous craft with propellers spinning madly at the rear. The most ignorant rustic who lives in the deepest woods of the Eyfrey Forest has at least seen a hundred titancraft vessels glide overhead en route to one of a thousand skyports around the Pallathantic Sea. But here I was approaching Aurice, the great capital of the eastern Pallathantic Sea and there were indeed dozens of titancraft skyships flying above all at the same time. How amazing, I thought, it would be, to ride in one of those craft. Dragonrail would be nothing compared to that.
The great colossus of the sun god Amrulon made a dark half-shadow against the north sky, its left side to my point of view lit up with golden sun light and its east side dark with shadow under the clouds. The colossus stands on its own island just south of the mouth that opens through the center of the islands which is Golden Phœnice Riven.
The barge did not take Golden Phœnice Riven which everyone knows passes through the center of the city where the Lord Governor-General’s Palace and the Senatorial Palace stand. Gettlar grinned when I asked him and he explained that cargo barges like this never take that riven unless they had express permission to unload in the city center. “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ll see it soon enough. The barge made its course around the west side of the islands of Aurice for the many docks which face away from the sea towards the inner lagoon. I looked with wonder at the dozens of windows with their pointed arches along the faces of the palazzi. The sea air blew into my face with the approaching dusk and I wondered how I would sleep tonight in a strange city, now that I would need to wait until dawn to see her again.
The barge docked around the northwest side of the islands of Aurice, the sun still spending his last strength on the horizon of the Pallathantic Sea. A flurry of dock workers raced against time to unload the craft. In my excitement, I hadn’t noticed that the essence servo lamps were now illuminated all along the dock and along the fundaments, the little promenades that lined the edge of the outer islets of Aurice. I followed Gettlar closely so that I would not get lost in the shuffle. He spoke to one of the ship’s officers and we waited on the dock for his goods. Gettlar explained that in Aurice, there are very few horses and wagons as everything is shipped by boat and barge. He said that he had hired a boat to ferry his wares to a warehouse. I asked why he didn’t wait until morning. Gettlar said that the warehouses on the seafront were sheer extortion to rent and that it wasn’t the safest place after midnight anyway. I asked him why but he said I didn’t want to know. Gettlar told me where he was staying at that he would be leaving in five days and that I was to meet him there. That would be the twenty first of Dawmoon I confirmed with him and he assented with a nod. The boat arrived in the interior of the islands of Aurice and Gettlar told me it was too late for the aerobarge that didn’t run after sunset. I took out my little moneybag with my saved money to hire a gondolier. Gettlar immediately upbraided me and told me to keep it hidden on my person at all times unless I was actually paying someone. He thanked me for my company and we parted ways.
The city of Aurice is dazzling under the changeable glow of the essence servoes . The west sky was quickly transformed from blood orange to the deepest cobalt blue. I noticed how the gas lights spoiled what few stars might have peaked through the dissipating clouds. But it didn’t matter as the spectacle just above sea line was worth my undivided attention. Despite the sunset, the great city of Aurice was still very much alive with all manner of revelers, tavern-goers, merchants, gendarmes, skull-capped mages, long-robed students, housekeepers, wealthy bourgeoisie, and countless others making their way across the cobbled streets and quaint bridges for their business or pleasure. I must admit I was quite hungry and ate the last of my snacks in my satchel. I would have to shop for groceries in the morning as I did not want to pay tavernfare cost for a bite to eat. The gondolier pulled us up alongside a four storied palazzo with brightly lit windows on the ground floor that was evidently the Half-Orc’s Skull Tavern and Inn. The face of the building was well kept, but not so sumptuous in architecture as some of the palazzi I had seen earlier from the barge. The gondolier demanded quite a lot of money, I thought, but I paid him and he made change. I would have to learn my way quickly around this city, I thought, to avoid the extortion of gondoliers. He seemed a bit ruffled when I did not give him a tip. I stepped onto the little strade which hugged the edge of the riven where the gondola had taken me. The strade ran to the right against the face of the building that was the tavern. I found the door opened and entered, instantly surrounded by the sight of customers eating and drinking, lit up by lanterns of all sorts. Against one wall, prominently displayed mounted onto the wall was a largish skull of a humanlike, certainly not a human. It was a half-orc’s skull, I realized in amusement, the namesake of this establishment. I saw a barmaid and wasted no time to ask her for the proprietor.
“Excuse me, miss, I need to speak with Bryffeis Sumat, please,” I said, feeling the uncomfortable newness of a country boy in my voice which only added to my discomfort.
“Bryffeis is here. I can get him, young man, but it will be a few minutes. Just wait here. Who asks for him?” I was much relieved to hear her confirm his existence. I trusted my papa, but I also knew that people come and go in the great city.
“Tell him that it’s for Spusha the furniture merchant from Cantira. Thank you.”
It might have been a lot more than a few minutes, but I didn’t notice. I sat at a wooden table and listened to the chatter of a dozen conversations around me. They were without any exception that I could hear in the Throvian Language. The Auricese have their own accent that is amusing to foreigners who learn proper Goscundian Throvian and insufferable to native Throvian speakers. The Auricese know this and can tell someone from outside the city in a heartbeat as soon as he opens his mouth. Most of the speakers were speaking in the Auricese dialect as I call it. They speak quickly to my way of thinking and say their vowels with a kind of dullness that I can’t describe. I heard a few Goscundians speaking too and I wanted to converse with them, but thought better of it. I listened intently, but didn’t hear any Tassan being spoken or any other language from outside Throvy. I figured it was inevitable when I would hear one of them. I had never learned to speak a language other than Throvian, I am ashamed to say. I knew a few curses in Khahonri from the Incarnandists and memorized a whole prayer in Classical Yophenthean that my mother had taught me. I knew a few phrases in Thracian and Medibgóëse as well. But truth be told, I couldn’t carry a decent conversation in any of them. But I did know just about every way of speaking in Throvian from Magetown to Salunca. And if I didn’t sound perfectly like the accent in question, it would be clear to any Throvian who I was imitating.
A tall, stocky man came up to where I sat.
“I’m Bryffeis Sumat.” He looked at me with bemusement. I stood and nodded shortly.
“Sorry to bother you, sir. I’m Bayskon Spusha. You know my father, Harthake Spusha, from Cantira.” His face lit up.
“Yes, the furniture merchant. Best furniture I bought, son. What brings you to Aurice?” I was caught off guard with his sensible question.
“I’m here to see what opportunities I may find,” I said, surprised at my own answer. Mister Sumat nodded.
“How long are you staying?”
“About six days.”
“Do you need something to eat?”
“That would be splendid,” I said. Mister Sumat sat down.
“How’s your father doing?”
“He’s doing very well, all things considered. We don’t get as many orders from Aurice these days.”