Chapter 11: Stonewait's Gallery

Favors can open doors no gold or silver can unlock. — Proverb

The Boar Hunt Inn impressed Kanéko. There were about sixty windows on each wing, arranged half to a floor. Two sets of doors led into the main hall where a steady stream of merchants, teenagers, and workers filed through in a cacophony.

Kanéko’s discomfort grew. She had never been around so many people. It felt like hundreds of people crammed into the yard, all talking and yelling. It reminded her of the dalpre mill. The sound hurt her ears and she squirmed closer to Pahim for protection. “Is it always this loud?”

“Yes,” said Pahim, “but only in evenings and mornings. Everyone comes in late and leaves early. The rest of the day is just quiet cleaning and preparing for the next night.”

Her brown hands clutched his arm, trying not to hamper his attempts to drive the wagon into the yard. Near the door, she saw the other school wagons already stopped to the right. Students spread out despite the efforts of the exhausted teachers to corral them.

Garèo stood on the first step of the inn, yelling at the top of his lungs. After a week, even his commands were ignored more than obeyed.

She ducked down and watched him through the crowds as Pahim continued to lead the wagon. Instead of stopping at the front, he wound his way past two merchant caravans. Guards fingered their swords as they watched Kanéko and Pahim. None of them said anything to the two teenagers.

Coming out the far end of the caravan, Pahim stopped the wagon. “Kanek, why don’t you get off here? I’m going to bring this around in front.”

She held him tighter, her breath quickening. “What do I do?”

“Keep away from Garèo. I’ll find you in a few minutes.” He gave her a sly grin.

Kanéko felt uncomfortable with the idea of being alone. She held him tightly as she sat up. “Okay, just a few minutes, right?”

“I promise.”

Kanéko slid off the wagon. The earth felt like rock beneath her, no doubt pounded solid by years of traffic. She trailed her fingers on the wagon side before stepping away.

Pahim circled around the yard and headed for the front door.

A pair of caravan guards glared at her. Wrapping her arms over her chest, she turned around slowly. She spotted a smaller yard to the side and headed over there to get away from the noise.

Near the center of the side yard, she spotted a crowd gathering. There was all variety of people staring at something, from well-dressed merchants to inn staff. The ones in the back lifted themselves on their toes to peer over the shoulders of the people in front of them. Others were crawling up on nearby wagons to look.

Curious, she headed over.

A liquid sloshing noise drifted over the whispered voices and jostling people. It sounded tinny like water poured into something metal. She recognized the sound when Jinmel filled the boiler at home.

Kanéko stopped and cocked her head. Her curiosity was rising. Judging from how quickly the water sounds raised in pitched, she guessed that it was a smaller tank than she used. She guessed about a dozen gallons.

There was a ripple of surprise. She looked up just in time for a ruddy light to flash through the crowds. Everyone stepped back from a wave of heat that radiated from the center. She spotted a flash of flames as a fire core was being shoved into place underneath a boiler.

“Oh,” she said and stepped through the crowds as it broke apart in surprise. The heat didn’t bother her, she had burned herself on a fire core enough times in the last few months.

It only took Kanéko a moment to clear the crowd. When she spotted a large iron device with wheels, her sound of surprise ended in a gasp. It was a steam-powered vehicle, an automobile. It was almost exactly like the one she saw in Emerging Wizardry, though much smaller than she expected. Instead of being able to hold six, it would be a challenge to seat even two people on the narrow seat.

The driver was a portly man who was making a big deal of snapping the fire core into place. He had a bowler hat perched on his head and a pair of heavy goggles dangling from his neck. Sweat dripped down his face and soaked the front of his button-down shirt. He was also all smiles as he pointed to gauges that were already beginning to creep up underneath the intense heat from the magical vase. It would be a few minutes before it was primed and ready to drive. She wondered if she would be allowed to ride it, if she asked nicely.

In the long moments of pressure rising, she looked at the automobile more closely. The pipes were complex, almost as much as the water screw. Unlike the Farimon’s devices, which had a certain elegance in appearance, the iron cage that protected the core was chaotic and forced; pipes were bent to fit into the space to form an eagle in the gaps between the metal. The bends reduced the pressure but gave a distinctive shape to the design. It was a Ramnis-Cubrick vehicle, one of the first designs native to Kormar.

Kanéko stepped closer, peering down into the cage to get a better look at how it was mounted.

The driver looked at her and then his eyes widened.

She smiled at him. “This is a Ramnis-Cubrick, right? A Perpetual Momentum Mark—”

The gaze twisted in a scowl. He shook his hand at her. “Get away, you sand-blooded whore!”

Stunned, she stepped back. “No, I just wanted—”

The driver launched himself from the vehicle and covered the distance between them in a heartbeat. With one heavy gloved hand, he pulled back and slapped her hard across the cheek.

The force of the blow spun her around. She managed to keep standing as she reoriented herself to her attacker.

He chased after her. “Away, you desert bitch!”

Frightened, Kanéko staggered back. She expected to collide with someone, but the crowd split apart on each side of her until she was forced to stumbled to a halt on her own.

The driver continued after her, his face twisted in a sneer as he bellowed incomprehensibly.

She held out her hands, palms up to show she had nothing in them. “I just wanted to look at who made it.”

“Like you can read, you damn thief. Get away from my car! Guards!”

Kanéko didn’t know why he called her a thief. She looked around and then realized she was the only dark-skinned person in the yard. She continued to back up, trying to avoid the driver who stormed after her.

Her back smacked against the side of a wagon. She let out a shriek and spun around, losing her balance. Her arms flailed out and she tumbled into the man accusing her.

He grabbed her shoulders and dug his fingers into her skin. With a growl, he shoved her forward.

Kanéko stumbled. When her bare foot caught on a leather shoe, she crashed to the ground. She managed to plant her palms before she hit her face, but the impact briefly drove her wits from her.

“She attacked me!” yelled the driver right before his kick caught her in the ribs.

Kanéko cried sharply and curled up to protect herself.

Another kick caught her back. Dust peppered her face.

“Thief!”

“Sandy!”

Men loomed over her with masks of rage on their faces. Their boots and shoes flashed as they struck her.

“I-I didn’t mean to,” she cried as she looked up at them through her fingers, “I just wanted to look!”

“Stop!” A man’s voice cut through the crowd.

To her relief, the kicking stopped.

A heartbeat later, an older man with slicked-back gray hair and a neat suit pushed his way from the press of people. He was short, maybe five feet tall, but had a easy face. He ignored everyone else to stop next to her.

Trembling, she looked up at him.

He held out his hand for her.

Kanéko, unsure of herself, took it and pulled herself to her feet. Her sides and ribs ached from the kicks. She felt the glares of all the men on her. They were muttering quietly but she didn’t need to hear to know what they were thinking.

The driver spoke to the older man. “Come on, Falkin, I don’t want some sandy idiot breaking off something important. This is expensive, it took two years of savings to commission it.”

Another man spoke up. “We don’t need her kind around here.”

“Kick her out.”

“Run her out of town!”

“You don’t need her at the inn.”

Falkin ignored the calls as his brown eyes searched Kanéko’s face.

She wrapped her arms around her and stared at the ground. Except for the man in the suit, all of them spoke angrily.

“I’ve seen you before,” said Falkin. “You are in Stonewait’s, aren’t you?”

Every year, Stonewait’s Gallery sent an artist to illustrate her family. The artist came right at the beginning of spring and would leave behind last year’s gallery. Ronamar’s entry was two pages long and listed all his battles, granted titles and accomplishments, and a record of his first family and their assassination. The second page was for his accomplishments of magic, up to and including the title of Fourth Circle Earth Knight of Kormar.

Kanéko’s own illustration was a tiny square in the entry to his second marriage. The artist had reversed the image, so her face was almost completely black on a white background. In the entire book, there were only two darker-skinned illustrations done that way, and one of those was her mother.

There were thousands of illustrations in each of the Stonewait’s Gallery volumes that documented over five thousand nobles and their families. She didn’t think it was possible anyone could have recognized her among them.

“Yes, sir.” She spoke as politely as she could, “On page 773 of last year’s volume eight.”

In the brief pause that followed, she looked at the faces that had been twisted in disgust and anger. They had attacked her suddenly and gave her no chance to defend herself. Clearing her throat, she spoke louder, “I’m the daughter of Bartim Ronamar Lurkuklan, Fourth Circle Knight of Kormar.”

The mood of the gathered men changed instantly. The man who slapped Kanéko blanched. The others started to back away, pretending that they had never been involved.

She expected to feel joy at seeing them cowed, but the expected feeling never came. Instead, her throat burned, and she was disgusted at herself. She had never used her own father’s fame to avoid conflict before. She never had to. Everyone had already known who she was.

Falkin cocked his head. He seemed unimpressed by her declaration. “Do you have proof?”

Kanéko nodded. She fished into her trousers and pulled out a leather wallet. On the front was her father’s shield, the symbol of his land with the bartim crest underneath it. She flipped it open. On one side was a color illustration of herself and a golden seal from the Stonewait’s artist. On the other was a description of her family along with her physical appearance. She handed it to Falkin.

He took the wallet and inspected the contents. He handed it back. He spoke with a wry smile, “Please forgive Master Mardas Devinsir.” He gestured to the man who first slapped Kanéko. “He didn’t realize you were a bartim’s daughter.”

Mardas sputtered, “I-I—”

Falkin interrupted the merchant. “And I’m sure Mardas will offer his sincere apologies by giving up the Royal Suite for the night.” Falkin turned to Mardas pointedly.

Mardas gaped at Falkin but when Falkin nodded, Mardas gave a dramatic sigh. He turned to Kanéko. “Lady Lur-Lurkuklan, I insist you take my… the best suite in the inn.”

At Falkin’s nod, she agreed. “Thank you, Master Mardas Devinsir.”

Falkin stepped forward to whisper in Kanéko’s ear. “Give me a second to talk to Mardas. I will have your luggage moved up to the room.”

Kanéko was terrified Falkin made an assumption about her ability to pay. “Um, Falkin?”

The older man stepped closer. It was close but not intimate. “Yes?” he asked in a quiet voice.

“He is really going to pay for it? I-I can’t afford a new room. I have less than two hundred crowns in my wallet.”

His eyes flashed up for a moment before he made a soft grunting noise. “Don’t worry about money, Lady Lurkuklan. Mardas will cover your room. I will make sure the rest of your night is well taken care of.” At Kanéko’s blank look, he explained himself, “Any and all other services you wish from the Boar Hunt Inn for this visit. Don’t hesitate to ask. No charge.”

“Why, Falkin?”

“Mardas trades with Rock River twice a year in iron and brass. He makes about a third of his—”

“No, no,” interrupted Kanéko, “why are you,” she pointed at Falkin’s chest, “doing this?”

Falkin smiled and gave a short bow. “You are as astute as your grandfather.” He chuckled. “Your family has enjoyed the famed hospitality of the inn many, many times. Your father has been very good for my business and a loyal patron of my inn. One could say his crowds have made an excellent investment in my inn. I wish to extend that same hospitality to you in hopes that you will grace the inn frequently during your, no doubt in my mind, illustrious life.” He held out his hands in apology. “Though, Lady Lurkuklan, my offer of gratis will not be a frequent occurrence. You have to understand, I do run a business and nobles such as your self will be expensive when someone is paying the bill.”

“So,” Kanéko said warily, “you are giving me a taste of the good life in hopes I spend my father’s money here later?”

Falkin cocked his head and smiled. “Very blunt, but yes. Later, I hope you spend your money here.”

“And Madras?”

“It is never too early to learn the art of politics. Madras is a good person to practice on since he is eager to please you. He also needs to be a bit more aware of those with influence around him. He should have known or met you long before this point. I always told him to memorize Stonewait’s.”

“And you are getting us together because…?”

“Because, Lady Lurkuklan, if your land prospers, both you and Madras have more money to spend here. And you will remember him when you take your father’s place. And he will remember me when he succeeds his mother.”

Kanéko smiled. “Who is being blunt now?”

Falkin held out his hands in apology. “I’ve been working with the nobility of Kormar for most of my life, as did my father before me and his mother before him. You are young, you need blunt. Later? We’ll see what you need from me.”

She found herself smiling in kind. “Thank you, Falkin.”

“No, thank you. If there is something I can do, don’t hesitate to ask any of my staff. They will be made aware of my offer.”

Kanéko watched as he walked away, and then realized she could ask something. “Falkin?”

He turned. “Yes?”

“There is a desert man with the school, goes by the name of Garèo. He won’t approve of me being moved to a better room.”

“Then, I’ll do my best to make sure he never finds you,” Falkin said with a bow.

Kanéko relished the rush of excitement at his words.

He strolled toward Madras with open arms and an easy smile.

She watched him, her heart skipping with excitement, even as she wondered if Falkin had some other scheme in mind.

“Kanek!”

Kanéko turned toward Pahim as he ran up.

He stopped in front of her. Gulping, he wiped his hands on his pants and patted his pocket. “Sorry, I lost track of you. And then Garèo pinned me in a corner asking about you.”

Kanéko worried her lip. “You didn’t tell him?”

“No, of course not,” he said with a smile. He reached out and ran his hand along Kanéko’s arm. “I would never betray you. But, I don’t know if I can save you from his evil plans.”

“What plans?”

“I saw him pulling out a pair of tents and setting them next to a horse. He also asked for dinner and breakfast food for two. I think he’s going to drag you away tonight.” Pahim looked sad, “I’m sorry, Kanek, I tried.”

Kanéko sighed, feeling her emotions burning on the edge of her thoughts. For all the joy she felt with Falkin, the idea of Garèo forcing her to leave the inn left her with an icy heart and growing rage. “Like the divine hell I’m going to let him.”

“Kanek? What are you—”

Kanéko turned away from him and signaled for a serving girl. The girl finished delivering three large mugs of ale to a merchant and came over.

“How may I help you, Lady Lurkuklan?”

Kanéko was relieved that Falkin’s orders had already been communicated. She hoped that he wouldn’t mind if she took advantage of his offer to cover her entertainment. “You know the students from Rock River?” At the girl’s nod, Kanéko grinned. “Could you scare up a couple bottles of cheap wine and lager? And deliver a few to each of the rooms?”

The girl looked nervous for a moment, and Kanéko wasn’t sure if she just overstepped her bounds. But then the girl bowed. “Yes, my lady.”

When Kanéko didn’t ask for anything else, the girl ran back to the great hall of the inn. Kanéko watched with a self-satisfied smirk, and then turned to Pahim. “Let him try to find me with sixty drunk students.”

Pahim laughed. “By the Divine Couple, I think I love you.”

She felt a strange twisting in her gut and cleared her throat to distract herself. “Want to check out the Royal Suite?”

He gaped in surprise. “How!?”

Kanéko turned her body and arched her back. She gave a wry smile. “I’m just lucky, I guess.”

Pahim stepped back and regarded her. After a moment, he gave her a dramatic bow. “I’m afraid, Lady Lurkuklan, that the evil bandit Garèo is inflicting me with lessons on ‘respect’ for not telling him where you were. As soon as I finish, I’ll find you and show you that I have not learned a single thing.”

Kanéko giggled and waved good-bye to Pahim. She jammed her hands in her pocket and headed inside to find the Royal Suite.