River Celeste, A Change of Mind

With less than a day before getting into port, Emmeline saw River (Rivanon) writing a letter. Two others were completed by her side. Looking up she said, “Hello Em.”

“Okay, what have you got?” Emmeline prompted.

“So, here it goes. Hello, my name is River Céleste and I am 19 this year. The ‘Céleste’ comes from my mother’s name Réalta, which means starry or celestial in Old Danaén. He wanted me to remember my mother, who was a servant woman on Thalassa he once loved. My father misses her deeply. I barely remember her myself. Today my father is a fencing instructor on Thalassa, serving the high and mighty. I am not Thalassan, though I’ve lived here for awhile. My accent? Yes it is an odd combination of native Thalassan, Savonan, and Old Danaén – though I’ve forgotten most of the words of my mother’s tongue. My father never knew about me until after her death, when at age 7, I was left at the steps of his home, to his surprise. Father took me in as his daughter, but had to – for proprieties sake – present me publicly as a servant. My father was good to me. Using his connections, he was able to get me instructions in poetry, singing, art, and even a touch of bardic magic in exchange for his training at a discount. He served a number of great Patrician and Merchant houses on the Isle and throughout the Periphery. In my training, I became an associate first of the merchant Salvator Fabrini, a Savonian, and then Francis Alphére of the Second Phoenix, learning the ropes of being a minstrel. It has been a tough life from time to time, but so far fun. I’m meeting with an entertainer I met at the Second Phoenix on Thalassa by the name of Emmeline – near Portreaux. We got along well, and with my father’s blessing, we are hoping to start a troupe.”

Emmeline nodded slowly as she considered, then smiled approvingly. “That’s good. Believable and it won’t make others feel your are inaccessible or too haughty to spend your time with them. Not too proud to work an inn for a few piece of gold or handful of silver and a bed to lie in, but not drab, either. I take it the letters are meant to help provide verification in case someone wants to look up your background?”

River replied, “Yes. I plan to send these via bluecaps tomorrow as soon as we get on shore. Also, I just didn’t feel that the previous one was enough like ‘me’. It would be difficult to keep up. Fun, but difficult. I’m keeping the accent though, mixed in with some Danaén.”

“The western people had tribes?” Emmeline asked.  She avoided terms like “common folk”, but it was nevertheless the people to whom she referred, the Danaéans that River had mentioned.

“Sure. Before the Eterians invaded,” River replied.

“So they were conquered. I can only imagine the horror that might have been,” Emmeline mused, distaste on her face.

“Actually many of them joined the Eterians, siding with the most powerful or seeking an end to the chaos and in-fighting that had persisted for thousands of years. It was not a happy state of nature. Many of the noble families are descended from those who changed sides, or invited the Eterians in in the first place. What is now called Adera for instance. But yes, it was not pleasant for those caught in the middle. War never is. There were revolts and pacification over the next hundred years, with two or three major ones, including a very early one led by a woman named Cenniya. In fact I think the battle site is not far from Breven.”

“The hill tribes in the far west and the heights of the White Mountains were never completely conquered though politically, but after over 600 years their culture is as much Eterian as anything.” she answered.

“Adera still hosts a temple to Hate,” Emmeline murmured. “Wait a moment. Who did you say led a revolt? Someone named Cenniya?” Emmeline raised a finger to make a point. “Someone who might have drawn a great deal of angst from Eterian loyalists, allies and generals?”

“Yes? Maybe. I mean, they defeated her, but it took three years. I think the Dwarves sold her weapons, kicking off the Eterian-Azenkuul Wars later on,” River replied. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I’d very much like to see a portrait of her,” Emmeline said simply.

“I have a history text I’m reading up on to give me more background for Ms. Céleste.” she looked around a bit, “here it is.” Picking out a tome, River paged until she found a lithograph which she showed Emmeline. The picture showed a blonde-haired warrior woman on horseback. 

Emmeline frowned. “I’m going to guess this image is not contemporary with her time?”

“No. It is not. It is a recent engraving based on accounts gathered by the Academics of the Library, Eterian records, and local legends. At least I believe that is the case.” River flipped to the front and read the publish plate, “yes, first printing, year 442. Engraving from the collection of Mdme. Emilia Brunier, Seer of Bourbriac.”

“Does the account in the book give an accurate description of her?”

River went to the chapter, “It says here, ‘Cenniya’s stature was tall, fair and strong, in appearance most terrifying, to catch her eye one found a ferocity most intimidating, and her voice was strong and deep, instilled with a great confidence; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell long to her hips…’, there’s more here about clothing, servants, some allies…and yes she angered the Eterians a great deal.”

“Hm. Well, if she’s the one, I can find out easily enough once we return to Uzec,” Emmeline said confidently.

“She’s the one what?” River asked, “the one from the card?”

“Right. If the figure in the card is someone else, well, I might be able to learn that, too. It all depends on Mara, because she’s always been there for every generation of my family line. The only problem is that getting precise dates and such is unlikely since Mara experiences time differently, I think. I thought I would also inquire as to whether she thinks my grandmother and I are cursed. I bet she’d know if a curse was on me.”

“I doubt you are cursed personally. In fact, looking at recent history, you don’t seem cursed at all.” River said.

Emmeline shrugged. “I don’t feel cursed, either, at least I don’t feel a cloud of foreboding lurking near me or anything. However, Archmagus Revan pointed out some things that suggest it’s possible, and so I’m going to investigate that as much as I can and then properly dispose of the card. Better to be safe.”

“Right. Best be safe. Well, I’m going to work on my masquerade, glad you like the new approach,” she said with a smile. She added almost non-chalantly, “Oh, by the way, Elemix was swooning over me yesterday.”

Emmeline smiled. She couldn’t resist a few wise cracks. “That’s to be expected. Now if you were swooning then I’d be really surprised as you really don’t seem the swooner type to me. Since we’ll be traveling quite a ways together Id rather see that sort of thing happen near the end of the trip. So how do you feel about this swooning business?”

“Feel? Oh from him it is complimentary enough, but it cannot go anywhere for a variety of reasons. I do like to play with men’s hearts from time to time, but I won’t do that to him. In truth, I think I am just his latest fascination. If the right wizard came along, or something more exotic, I’m sure he’d forget me.” She said most matter of factly. 

“I suppose time will tell,” Emmeline replied. “While you finish up your work on your background, I’m going to visit with the sailor, Jeri. He seems to know all the best sailing songs and I’m nearly finished learning a few that I think, with a few small changes, will be a popular diversion in areas remote from the sea. And perhaps bawdy enough to earn a grin and a blush from stuffy aristocrats.”

“It’s stuffy priests that rarely enjoy things of that nature. And being an aristocrat, know that we are not all that stuffy – we just don’t tell anyone. Maybe there are some things I need to teach you too my friend,” she said with a smile. “By the way, being an aristocrat is a good thing – at least from where I’ve always stood.”

Emmeline laughed, “Oh I know there are things you have to teach me. I might be able to juggle titles, bowing, and looking proper just fine, but actual court politics and political maneuvering — even just for a landholder of a tiny fief — is still a scary beast to me.

“And speaking of assistance, there is one other thing that’s been on my mind. My uncle is still convinced, even after well over a decade, that my father could not have died at sea. Mazarin went on about how my father was too tough to just die of some accident. He says something else must have happened, so I promised to ask around ports that I might visit for any information about a ship called the Ravenswood. That was the last ship my father served under, and if it has been spotted any time since it went missing… well I’m not sure I share my uncle’s conviction that my father is still alive, but I promised.”

“That is easy enough. What I know how to do is gather information and use it to advantage. Something like the Ravenswood may be findable, especially in ports like Breven or Adera. I pray your father is alive, but knowing what became of him is good too. The Library should have had a missing vessel report, and the merchant’s guild, the sailor’s guild and others. But frankly the first place to ask in right over there.” River pointed at a 50-ish sea hand of a nasty disposition.” His arms are tattooed, meaning he’s been part of the culture of the crews and sailing, his face is extremely weathered indicating tanning from sun and salt of may years at sea, the other seamen listen to him, and even the captain asked his advice once. The scar on his cheek indicates he’s been in a duel or battle aboard ship, and lastly he still has host of his teeth, meaning in all that time he hasn’t suffered much from scurvy or rickets. He’s a veteran of the sea. I’ll be you he not only knows about the Ravenswood, I surmise he knew people on it.”

Her confidence, as always, was infectious. “Oh,” she added, “his name is Bruno.”

Emmeline could think of a dozen ways a man could get scars like that without ever being in a fight and just being a sailor didn’t make one an expert on every ship that sailed the sea. But it didn’t hurt to ask. She eyed the rough looking man. Well, she hoped it wouldn’t hurt to ask anyway. But she shrugged, smiled and approached the man.

“Excuse me, sir. Bruno? I’m Emmeline and I’m looking for a ship that disappeared a long time ago. Have you ever heard of a ship called the Ravenswood?”

“Um. Err. Ma’am,” the man said, adjusting his clothes and posture in response to the sudden appearance of a very pretty, but curious young woman, “I be no sir, m’aamselle, just an old salt. But ya got the name right. Boatswain Bruno I be. Ya say a ship that disappeared long ago named the Ravenswood. Let me think a bit here…I’ve been at see for nearly forty years and I think I heard of your ship. A cargo vessel out of the Isle, gone missing over ten years ago. Yes, I remember it, not for the ship itself, but for what its loss did to its owner.”

Emmeline’s eyes showed old pain and loss. “My father was a sailor, too, so just Emmeline is fine, Bosun Bruno. He was aboard that ship. My uncle won’t believe that my father is gone more than ten years passed now, says he feels in his heart my father never died. Yet, I can’t imagine he’d abandon me willingly. Is there anything you could tell me about that ship, its owner, or what else could have happened?”

Bruno replied, “the ship was a large carrack, one of three that left the Isle for Erilos in the south and then beyond to Sarantium, the City of Silver or even Al-Rashan. It was a large scale attempt to establish a trade route there. They carried the best goods of the northwest, metals, skins, cloth, inventions, and other goods seeking spices and silk to bring home. It was lost at sea somewhere past Tahlon crossing the Broken Straits and the Burning Isles. Each of the crew was bound to make a pretty good sum, perhaps enough to retire for several years or buy a farm. The owner, Jacques LaPlace borrowed a huge sum on this speculation, got government backing, and lost it all. While not everyone blamed him, his creditors called in the debts. He made up many excuses, none of which proved true.”

“While he himself lived, he lost all his wealth, broke his backers, was tarred and feathered by the families of the sailors and investors who lost their husbands, sons, and savings. It is said he fled to Guitte, near the Kingdom of Vannes. He later claimed again that he knew what happened, but his lies to everyone made his claims empty. It is said he is the most untrustworthy man alive.”

Emmeline was stunned to hear the flood of information. She hand’t known a single word of it. In fact, none of the places he mentioned sounded at all familiar to her. “Jacques LaPlace,” she repeated the named, hoping to remember it later. “I’m afraid I’ve never really been beyond the Periphery, no further north than Calder Falls in Uzec, and but never even to the Brentine Shore. These places you mention, are they very far south?”

River leaned in and whispered, “Bruno likes to talk. I’ll fill you in on how ship’s sails are tackled and set some time.”

Bruno continued, “Yes, south, south-east, and east-south-east, 2/3rds the way to Eteria. All but Guitte, it’s east-north-east, with Vannes beyond, the northernmost of the Rift Kingdoms.”

“Guitte must be east of Portreaux and Dinan, then,” Emmeline mused. “Thank you so much Bosun Bruno! I may be able to find my way to Guitte. I could seek this Jacques LaPlace and hear for myself whether he lies or not.” Sadness touched her voice when she added, “Sometimes, when you miss someone badly enough, hearing lies are better than hearing nothing at all.”

“Ya,” he said, “lost several friends on the Bart’s Beauty, and the Pioneer, the other ships in the fleet.”

Impulsively, Emmeline gave Bruno a hug. Despite the salty odor of sweat and the sea she hung on long enough to prove her grattitude. “Thank you, Bruno. My father’s name was Hoel. If ever you hear anything else, or just feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to visit me.”

The older man looked a bit confused, returned the hug with hesitation as not to break Emmeline, and said, “Aye, I’ll keep out an ear for ya.”

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