Famed for her brilliant performance as the old crow woman, the vile fae that ruined the lives of five helpless woodcutters in exchange for one wish each, Tisin of Penesol's reputation grew throughout Kormar. By the end of the second season, she had won many prestigious awards including being formally declared The Feathered Queen of the Stage by the Golden Queen herself.
— Manidail Sidoral, Patron of the Arts: The Golden Queen's Contribution to Society
Over an hour later, Linsan trudged along a narrow dirt trail that wandered over every single hill surrounding Fanasis Village. On occasion, it would branch out toward a house in the distance or to a small pond with a table next to it. If she was native to the area, she would no doubt know which trail led to which location. Without that knowledge, she had been forced to repeatedly cross as she chased after rumors and suggestions.
She wiped the sweat from her brow. The sun had beat down on her for most of the trip and she was tired of sweat clinging to her skin.
“Why does every damn farmer in this village insist on sending me across the center of a field?” she muttered as she stepped over a thick exposed knot. She glanced past a narrow line of trees to her destination, a tiny cabin on top of a hill and surrounded by raised planters.
No one answered her.
She rolled her eyes and muttered again as she broke from the tree line and started to climb up the hill. As she approached, she noticed an older woman sitting on a rocking chair. Even from a distance, it was obvious that she had reddish-brown hair and wispy hair that stuck out in all directions. Her skin was mostly covered by intricate tattoos that others in the village had possessed. It was a tribe that Linsan didn't know and none of them had been willing to even address her.
Steeling herself for another rejection, Linsan hefted her violin case over her shoulder and raised her hand. “Hello! May I ask some questions? Just a—”
The woman raised her head. Milky eyes turned to stare at her. “No.”
Linsan stumbled to a stop. Her case thumped against her hip. “What?”
“You deaf, Girl? Old Gab is tired and has no interest in any young kid's shit.” She lifted one wrinkled hand and pointed behind Linsan. “So turn that tiny little ass of yours around and head back to the square.”
It was more words than she had gotten from any other tribe member, but the rejection still hurt. Shaking her head, Linsan apologized and then turned away.
She made it only a few steps before Gab called out. “What kind of person carries a damn musical instrument around here in the heat? Do you know how hot it is? What if you drop it in a creek?”
Linsan couldn't escape the sweat that prickled on her brow. She shook her head and clamped a hand over her case. She looked over her shoulder to answer. “It's important to me.”
The rocking chair creaked as Gab leaned forward. “Let me guess, spent your last dime on it? Waste of money, that's for sure.”
“No, my grandfather made it. There aren't a lot left anymore.”
Gab scoffed and leaned back. She tugged a blanket up over her waist despite the sunlight that painted her lap. Her middle finger on the right hand was missing. “Never cared for those things. Just a bunch of noise, screeching and banging around.”
Linsan's shoulders tensed. She wanted to snap back but the words wouldn't come. She sighed and turned around. “Thank you.”
“Can you sing? If you can, I might have a cuk or two.”
For a moment, it was temping but the old lady obvious didn't have a lot of money. A single cukdin might be an entire meal for her. Linsan shrugged and kept walking away. “I can, but not as well as my mother.”
“Oh, why would that matter? Is she important? Who is she?”
Linsan waved and tried to escape the conversation. “Thank you!”
“Who's your mother, Girl? Answer me!”
“Tinsin of Penesol!”
Linsan rolled her eyes and repeated herself, louder so the old woman heard her. She turned back to see if Gab would respond, but the rocking chair was empty. The blanket on her lap had been folded neatly and set in the middle of the season, but Linsan couldn't imagine how the old woman would have enough time to tidy her seat in a matter of seconds. With a frown, she turned back.
Gab stood in front of her, only inches away. She squinted at Linsan with one eye and then the other.
Linsan inhaled sharply in surprise.
A waft of a flowery perfume tickled the back of her throat. Flecks of pollen hung in the air around them as the old woman inspected Linsan's face from one angle to another.
Up close, the tattoos were easier to mark. They were vines and flowers that inched across the seasons with flecks of snow and sunshine spread out. They appeared to be coming from underneath Gab's shirt and they reached up to her chin and down to her knuckles.
Linsan gulped. “H-Hello. I'm Linsan.”
“Your mother is Tinsin? The Feathered Queen? She was in Tears on a Cat's Whiskers!” The old woman's breath was musty.
Startled by the closeness, Linsan took a step back and shrugged. “My mother played Filil in that. Three seasons, actually.”
Gab smiled broadly, revealing three missing teeth. “Oh, I loved that play! I saw her performing that in Jamorel when I was just a weed.” She sighed and smiled. “I loved to hear those voices, when they weren't being drowned out by all those damn screeching things.” She gestured to the violin.
Gripping her case tighter, Linsan forced a smile on her lips. “She does have a beautiful voice.”
Gab pointed to her cabin. Both sides of her hands had been tattooed almost entire in gnarled branches with only a few pale leaves. “Come up and talk to me. I have tea.”
“I really need to ask some questions.”
The older woman looked at her pleadingly. “Please? There isn't anyone left in the village who appreciates songs. At least not… your type of songs. Just a little while for Old Gab?”
Linsan groaned. “I… need to find someone. A man named Gabaw.”
Gab's face dropped. “What do you want with that bastard? I'd pray his dick would fall off into compost, but I wouldn't plant anything in that shit.” She spat on the ground.
“He stole something from me.”
“Oh, so you don't like him.”
Linsan frowned as she wondered how much she should tell. Gab's response to his name encouraged her to speak up. “He killed someone I know. I want to bring him to justice.”
Old Gab's smile grew wider and she cackled. She gestured to a dirt road barely visible from their vantage point. “He and the other vermin headed down there two days ago in some black metal monstrosity. It made such a racket.”
Linsan's heart beat faster. “R-Really? He went home?”
When Gab looked at her curiously, Linsan stammered, “I-I've been looking for him for a week or so. Some buskers in Jamorel told me that he might be heading home to repair the car he's driving.”
“You aren't lying to me, are you? You aren't friends with that shit, are you?”
“Oh, no. I swear, I want him arrested.”
Gab's eyes flickered to the side and then up to the cabin. Linsan could see her fighting with some thought. She guess Gab was considering withholding information to force Linsan to talk.
Desperate, Linsan held up her hand. “I'll sit and talk, I promise. I just need to make I'm going in the right direction.”
“Yes, yes, he's still down there. Damn fool's wagon was belching white smoke everywhere and the men with him were yelling the whole time. You could hear them from here.”
Linsan almost moaned in relief. “Oh, thank you! I can't tell you how badly I needed to hear that.”
Gab patted Linsan's shoulder. “I guess you better get going then.”
Linsan glanced at the road and back. As she did, a wave of dizziness washed over her. It cleared as fast as it came.
By the time her eyes focused, Gab was gone.
Lifting her gaze, Linsan saw that the old woman had returned to her rocking chair, shoulders slumped and blanket once again across her lap. There was no dust or wind to mark her passing and she looked as if she had been there for hours.
Her mind screamed to return to the village and get Brook. They needed to hunt down the murderers. But her heart told her to stay. Even thought she risked losing her quarry, Linsan headed up the hill.
“Don't you have a man to catch?” Gab said tiredly. “That's what you do, right? Get what you want and leave?”
“Mother always said I need to stop and admire the spider webs.”
The old woman frowned. “That's a line? I don't know it.”
“Three Queens of Melodol. It was a play she was in a few years ago.”
The look of hope and joy almost melted Linsan's heart. She could see the hunger in Gab's eyes, the desire to talk.
With a smile, Linsan snapped open her case. “Want me to sing one of the songs?”