10/2, 95 Before.
Here I am, after all that—off the Mainland at last. We got in late last night and I came to the first inn I saw (appropriate name for me, ‘the Mainlander’!), so I didn’t see much of the island. Still exhausted from the travel.
There’s no hiding that I’m a Mainlander. Apparently I’m overdressed—people see the longcoat and hat (the hat you gave me on my thirty-fifth birthday—finally it’s getting some use!) and just assume that I’m stiff and withdrawn. I suppose I am, compared to them. Men here wear their hair short, presumably to keep it out of their eyes in the tempestuous coastal winds, so that’s another giveaway. And the briefcase sticks out a mile. I chose it for its anonymity but it’s the only one I’ve seen for the last two days. Naturally, I never let it out of my sight.
The Sunrise Drag, which is what they call the trunk road to Staves, was both uncomfortable and incredibly dull. By the time we finally saw the sea I was almost ready to agree with the locals that the Mainland is gruesome and savage and drear. To be honest, I’d have agreed with anyone about anything if they’d offered me a place to lie down. But I had to get the ferry first.
After the pictures on your parlour wall, I was expecting one of those stately castle liners, all turrets and flags and stone keels. But the crossing from Staves is too short for such vessels, and the ferry coming towards me was just a tin lump with a raised ramp at either end. In the centre was a thing like a thread-reel, the size of a large waggon I suppose, and wound around it was an enormous chain that stretched all the way across the gulf, stapled into the cliff on either side by enormous iron bolts. When the thread-reel is rotated by some magical contrivance, the boat hauls itself across.
Can you imagine me trying to come to terms with such an insane way to travel? A crewman told me it’s because in this particular channel, called the Halberd, the water rushes so fast towards Young Stuart (or away from him sometimes? Don’t really understand this) that it’s best to be tethered all the time. I asked if the constant danger bothered him—it certainly bothered me—and he looked me up and down and said the only thing that really bothered him was the feeling it gave him that his island was tethered to the Mainland. Then he changed the subject.
It feels strange to stand out, and so sharply, for the first time in my life. I jumped when the reel started turning, bearing us out into the channel. A few nearby passengers looked at me with thinly veiled amusement (like I said, there’s no hiding that I’m a Mainlander). To be fair, I do see the funny side of it. No doubt you’d be in stitches. And no doubt it’s my awkwardness, and not the briefcase, which earns me the occasional sideways glance. I have to keep telling myself not to worry about these looks, but what if someone decides I’m carrying something valuable and robs me? The joke would be on them, I suppose—nothing you can sell in there!—but I can’t stop thinking about how utterly that would ruin my promise to you.
Listen to me, catastrophizing already. Nothing bad has actually happened yet, even if the romance of the islands has eluded me. I’m more inclined to Jeremh’s view of them than to yours, even if I’ve only seen them at twilight so far. They just seem like more Mainland but with dangerous and inconvenient bits of sea. Of course, the Halberd is only a thin channel and the islands are just beginning. Maybe I’ll come round to it tomorrow. I have to get a ferry from the other side of Endell to Trelaine, then it’s the ride across Trelaine, and finally, on the other side of it, the Flurry. It feels like a long way.
Probably I’m just tired, but at the moment I confess I really don’t know why you thought I should do this.
The Rolling Whirlpool,
11/2, 95 Before.
It would have been possible to press on to East Trelaine today, but I am so tired from this morning’s crossing! Young Stuart was in a mood, apparently: the water between Endell and here (the Broad, they call it), was a complete cauldron. The ferry that took me across it looked a bit more like your pictures—stone tower, thatched roof, all that stuff—but far smaller and with none of the stateliness. A sort of junior version, with some of the same style but no shelter for the public anywhere on deck. I was soaked with rain and seawater before we were halfway across, and even some of the waggoneers—whom I daresay know the route—looked unhappy.
I threw up. Why deny it? Mainlander through and through. The ferry captain patted me on the back afterwards—Aelish, she was called. Stern but kind. It would have been easier if she’d laughed at me. Her crew wanted to, I think, but they found other things to do when they saw she was talking to me. “Years fighting Young Stuart,” she said, jovially, “and do you know, he’s never got any of us, nor we him.” It was good of her to talk to me. She must see it often.
I don’t remember you ever speaking about the Broad, but you must have crossed it sometime, if only when you left. Eahoe’s little harbour is the closest port to the whirlpool, and you can tell. To dock, the ferries turn into the tide and one of the crew throws a kind of grappling hook at the cliff, where it catches on a huge iron bar drilled into the rock. This allows them to make the tight turn into harbour without hitting the wall or being sucked into the caldera. Did they do that in your day, I wonder? It must take incredible skill. It also makes you feel like you’re already in the whirlpool. I’d have been sick again, but there was nothing left.
Why do people live here, Stusan? I know the islands are the heart of civilisation and the source of magic and so on, and I’m just a hick from the frontier. But it takes ages to move even short distances. Then you battle the whirlpool, and here you are on Trelaine—and for what? The town is tiny, the rain and the sea drown out every other sound, the inn is cold, and expensive, and—
But I remember your parting words. “Try to see it as I did.” I’m too much like Jeremh, ready to find fault with the coast just because everyone else likes it.
Poor Jeremh. I do miss him. I suppose we’re coming up on three years, aren’t we?
He would laugh to see me in this inn. I feel myself the cliché of a Mainlander—I sit quietly in the corner, speak stiffly, answer questions in monosyllables. “The Vaguemarch,” I told someone who asked where I’d come from while I was drying out in front of the fire. “Just on the other side of the Long Heath?”
“I know where it is,” she replied, shortly. I felt my ears burning.
It wasn’t noon when we arrived—I could easily have gone on—but I’m completely exhausted and I’m hoping that a night’s rest will restore me. With any luck, I’ll be on the move bright and early, and the islands will be looking very different. We’ll see.
I’m doing it wrong, I can tell.
I’ll write again,
The Rolling Whirlpool,
12/2, 95 Before.
So much for my brilliant decisions: it’s the evening after my last and I’m still here. Normally caravans haul out at least once a day, but apparently there’s a problem with the sloths and nothing’s moving east until tomorrow morning. Finally, a transport difficulty I recognise! But on the Mainland, people would have complained, and panicked, and written angry testimonials—all of which I’ve at least contemplated. Here, no-one bats an eye. Civilisation!
I know one more day can’t really make a difference, but you won’t be surprised to hear I’m handling it badly. I want to get to the Flurry and get this over with, and all the sitting around kills me. It’s an extra day for me to make a mistake, to offend the locals, to prove myself unequal to the task. If I’d pressed on instead of resting yesterday, I’d be there by now. But I couldn’t stay in my room all day recriminating myself, so I forced myself to go for a despondent look at the quay.
You can’t actually see the whirlpool itself, but the clouds swirl above him so you can tell where he is. The weather really hasn’t let up since I arrived, though one does sort of get used to it. I regret my birthday hat less and less. The locals wear sloping things with wider brims, so I still stand out—there’s no hiding that I’m a Mainlander!—but at least my head is staying dry. Behind the quay, I found a little café which served spiced hot chocolate. That helped too, although I made a fool of myself in the process.
It was a needlessly cosy place, little circular tables and teal pig ornaments on the walls. The only other customer was one of the brambles. I would have told you that I was going to be cool and seasoned and not stare. But of course, I was worrying about the delay, worrying about Currangle, and all my reactions were dulled. I thought at first that there was just an overgrown potted plant on the other side of the table I was seating myself at. I only realized my mistake when the leaves twitched in the still air. “Please excuse me,” I said, hastily standing again. Then I realized I didn’t even know if they understand speech. “That is,” I fumbled. “Uh—oh dear. I’m sorry.” What a mess I am.
The bramble lifted a thorny branch, apparently to mean something like “no problem.” Soundly embarrassed, I went to another table. “Over from the mainland?” asked the hostess. Oh dear.
As I was drinking my hot chocolate, I was looking over a map of Trelaine on the wall—showing my road for tomorrow but not the Flurry itself—when I suddenly had a shock. The briefcase, which had been with me the entire morning, was not at my feet! In my hurry to check for it I smacked my head against the table, then jumped up and raced to the door. I could see only pouring rain and the completely empty quayside I’d been walking around. If I’d dropped the case without noticing (this is the state my mind is in—how would I have done that?) it would surely be visible. Unless I’d left it back at the inn. Unless it had somehow gone in the sea. Unless someone had taken it.
My head whirled as I was faced with the complete failure of my journey, and I felt a sour taste in my mouth as I began to think about how fully I’d let you down. But you, dear Stusan, will have guessed the answer already. There was a rustle of leaves and the bramble stood at my shoulder. I noticed now that a sandy-coloured runestone hung by a ribbon on one of their thicker stems, and it served to translate the invisible plant language. “I think,” they said, “that this is yours?”
Their branches swayed and uncurled and deposited the briefcase in my arms. I felt a huge, exhausted relief. “Thank you so much,” I babbled. “I was so flustered. You really must excuse me.”
The bramble made another permissive gesture with an upper branch. They must have finished whatever they were drinking (cafés round here serve a special nourishing water they like) and I realised that I now stood between them and the exit. When I stepped aside, though, the bramble didn’t go out immediately. They looked me over—that is, I think that’s what was happening. Their rough, star-shaped leaves were tinged round the edges with a little purple. “You are a traveller?” they asked, after a moment.
I knew I was travelling, of course, but I never thought of myself as a traveller. “First time,” I said. “From the Vaguemarch,” I added. “On the Mainland.”
“Ahh,” the bramble said. Their words came through the stone quite slowly, in a sort of whisper. “I too am a traveller. I am heading South, to the Breaches.”
“The Flurry,” I said, in answer to the implied question. “I’m going to the place where my friend grew up.” I clutched the briefcase harder. “If I can ever get out of here,” I added, a little more bitterly than I would have liked.
“Ahh,” the bramble repeated. “You are—behind schedule? You have to get there soon?”
“No,” I was forced to admit. “I just don’t like the delays. It’s... not a sightseeing trip.”
The bramble was silent a moment. Was it thinking, or was it saying something that was hard for the stone to translate? Eventually the words came. “All trips are sightseeing trips,” they said. “The Flurry has sea breezes and tall islands. You will like it when you get there, I think.”
It didn’t sound defensive or upset—if anything it was wistful, optimistic. I really didn’t know what to say. “I hope so,” I eventually managed. “Thanks again for spotting my briefcase.”
“Welcome to the Stuartswell,” the bramble said. Then they slid gracefully out into the rain.
After that I walked around the town, trying to make sense of the encounter and recover some semblance of dignity. Was that welcome sincere? How well do those runes translate sarcasm? Is sarcasm even a concept in Rubusiani? On every side, I’m confronted with my own ignorance.
Eahoe isn’t big, but it bustles a lot. The ferry comes in from Endell every couple of hours (it’s nicer to watch the docking process from the safety of the cliff) and disgorges a bunch of new people and waggons, which fan out towards the inns and yards and rest stops, each in turn springing to life. It gives the place a sort of rhythm—not like Beigewater, where everything is always happening in the same hurry. Stay here long enough and I imagine you could tell when the next ferry is just by seeing what’s open and how busy they are. A natural cycle, inhaling and exhaling, which has kept the community alive for generations.
It’s reassuring, but of course it’s a fantasy. I tried to imagine what the place looked like when you came through on your last journey to the Mainland. That would be fifty-nine years ago? It must have been chaos—soldiers heading for the Blackrock Circle; refugees, including you, going the other way. I wonder if the sky would have been dark in the East or if I’m still too far away. Certainly, the rhythms of the town would have been completely different: crowds, mobs even, roving around the place, smashing windows, hunting for food. Or maybe it was calm, sober; everyone grey-lipped, waiting in lines. How does one flee a famine? I try to imagine you young, dismounting from a waggon at the platz, a single bag on your shoulder, looking for the ferry. Was Jeremh with you, or did you travel alone to meet him? There’s so much I’ve never asked you about that time.
Had a meal of deep-fried cauliflower and seared microkale in the lounge downstairs. That, at least, was excellent. Travelling again tomorrow—hopefully. Will write from the road.
13/2, 95 Before.
I was up at the crack of dawn for the first caravan to East Trelaine. It’s a long road, in part because it follows the coast. Nothing on Trelaine seems to be built out of sight of the sea. Given the landscape on the caravan’s left today, I have to say I understand. It’s almost paved. Grasses grow only in the cracks in the granite floor. I don’t know what people can possibly farm here, but they grow something—plenty of barns and silos visible on the route, and sideroads leading off into the rocks.
Agonizingly slow though it was, it felt good to be moving again. The rain died down as we moved away from Young Stuart, and the three hours went faster than I was expecting thanks to my companions in the waggon. I didn’t join the conversation much, not only because I was too embarrassed (surprise!) but also because they were talking so convivially that I assumed everyone was already friends. Not at all, though: we were each of us strangers, which for me was a reason to stay withdrawn and for everyone else was an excuse to get chatting.
People meet here. Not just polite hellos—they actually come to know one other. Apparently Trelaine is considered prim and stuffy compared to the other islands. All I can say is that to a Mainlander it all feels positively gushing. I don’t mean they rattled on for the whole journey, but there was a kind of warmth, even in the silences. I suppose this is the ‘fahrensgift’ you’re always talking about, the bond between fellow travellers. Watching it happen in the waggon, I thought for the first time that maybe people haven’t been silently judging me and my useless Mainlanderish ways this whole journey. Maybe the bramble’s welcome was sincere. Maybe people here are just nice.
How does one join the fahrensgift? I suppose that just by asking, I’ve failed. It’s all very elusive and annoying. And yet without it, I wonder if you and I would ever have become friends. Now that I come to write this, I realise that the openness I’ve always admired in you—your willingness to give so much time and attention to someone so much younger than you, with whom you had so little in common—is absolutely an Islands thing. And Jeremh, that grump, must have got it from you despite himself.
I don’t know what possessed the two of you to take an interest in me. You’d have been, what, 73? Jeremh older. I was so young that I don’t think I realised how odd it was, to see someone who needed friendship and advice as much as I did back then and respond by taking them so completely into your life. But it really wasn’t odd, to you, was it? Just you being yourself. Just the fahrensgift.
I suppose we are fellow travellers.
Two thirds of the way to East Trelaine, we stopped in Olsterly to water the sloths and take on a few new passengers. Bumpy roads and, once the rain stopped, a lot of dust. Why don’t they put a ferry route in, round Trelaine’s south coast? There must be a reason—the journey would be far quicker, and these people apparently put in ferries at the drop of a hat. I watched the sea for the rest of the way, wondering about the islands, about you, about where I was.
Arriving in East Trelaine, I saw a sign promising grath, and, road-weary and missing home, I went right in. But it wasn’t like grath at all—over-spiced, too thick, and with a floury aftertaste. Expensive, too. I choked it down, but I heard Jeremh’s voice inside me: “They think they know food out there, but let me tell you it’s overpriced swill!” I kept quiet, of course. He wouldn’t have.
Writing to you certainly keeps me grounded in these strange places. I hope it makes sense to you. Jeremh would have thought it stupid to be writing all the time. But I know you won’t.
Anyway—nearly there! The Flurry is right off the coast. Just have to find out how to get to Currangle—another ferry, doubtless—and then it will all be done.
15/2, 95 Before.
You’ll note the two-day gap. I hit a setback—to be honest, I lost all hope for a while and couldn’t write. Things seem a bit more promising now, and I can pick up the pen. But it’s been tough.
I thought I was nearly there: one more ferry to Currangle, as I wrote at the end of my last letter. I knew the Flurry was lots of islands all crowded together, but I assumed that there’d be a boat to Currangle, and Currangle would have an inn, and the rest would be straightforward. Looking back, I didn’t understand the Flurry at all.
I’ll tell it just how it happened. I went to the ferry terminal, which is a tin hut at the end of a low pier that juts out from East Trelaine. East Trelaine doesn’t really have a shore, it just... stops. The cracks in the ground, so characteristic of the whole island, are wider and deeper the further east you go. Eventually you get one so big that it has water in it—that’s what it feels like, anyway. Perhaps the same event that created the Flurry is what cracked Trelaine like this. I wasn’t prepared for just how close they are to each other: the first few islands of the Flurry are within a stone’s throw of the end of the pier. They’re small and low—just a couple of buildings on each—but you can see bigger ones behind. It’s hard to tell from the shore just how many islands you’re looking at.
I remember thinking that navigating these waters must be an incredible pain and then seeing the dozens of identical coracles moored up and down the sides of the pier. Autoferries, waiting for passengers.
Inside the terminal, a gangly youth with lots of eyeliner was doing word puzzles behind an enormous desk. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I need to get to Currangle,” I told her.
She looked at the briefcase. “Where?”
I repeated the name. She looked confused.
“It’s an island?” she asked. “The only islands we serve are Tardish and Slabie. And Katra Down,” she added, dubiously. “But that’s in the Flurry.” From her tone it was clear that nobody with a briefcase would be going there.
“Currangle’s in the Flurry,” I said. I’m afraid I thought she was a bit stupid, and doubtless she was feeling the same way about me.
“Oh,” she said. “So for the rest of the Flurry you use the autoferries. You don’t need to come in here. You just put your obol in the slot, touch the crystal, and speak your destination. But I never heard of a Currangle, and I’ve lived here my whole life.”
To my shame, I didn’t believe her until I was in the autoferry myself. These things are weird. They’re almost perfect hemispheres with a bench around the inside of the hull, big enough to fit perhaps four people. In the centre is a column with a crystal ball on the top and a slot for coins just underneath. Mine had a bit of seawater swilling around in the bottom. I inserted my coin, touched the ball, and said the name: “Currangle.” Nothing. I said it again with my glove off, and a third time with both hands on the ball. Eventually, there was a tiny sound like the tolling of a bell, and my obol dropped back out of the slot and fell into the bottom of the boat.
At a loss, I walked back along to the shore. I had an idea of asking back at the inn, but I needed to recover before risking more humiliation. A path led upward north of the pier along the water’s edge, and eventually I found a bench cut into the rock, with a good view of the first part of the Flurry. Despite your descriptions, I was still taken aback by it. I could see dozens of islands now, some large, some tiny, stretching off out of sight to the south and east. How could anyone keep track of which was which?
Just as I thought this, I noticed a map of the whole thing posted on a large wooden sign beside the bench. Visit the Flurry, the faded banner read. A thousand islands—a thousand stories! I don’t think there were actually a thousand islands on the map, but it was still overwhelming. Each tiny island was numbered and shaded a different colour. It looked like someone had drawn a headache. But there was an alphabetical index in tiny letters along the bottom. I looked very carefully. No Currangle.
At this point I lost myself a bit. I wandered through the town, not really looking at anything, putting off thinking what I should do next. All this travel to a dead end. How could it have gone so wrong? Are there two Flurries? Had I misheard the name of your island for years? Then I thought: what if Stusan has done this to me deliberately? Is this some character-building exercise designed to shake me from my roots and help me Find Myself among the islands? Is the real Currangle the one I keep inside?
I confess I was mad at you. I should have known better, of course.
I retired to my bedroom early, began and then tore up several frustrated letters to you, and passed a restless night. In the morning, I knew I had to ask at least one more person before I gave the whole thing up—but I couldn’t face my landlady’s hospitable smile, so I bolted breakfast without saying anything and walked back out to the sea, gazing again at the edge of the Flurry as if that would help, watching boats come and go. By the evening I had paced every inch of East Trelaine, from the Wizard’s Guild HQ in the north to the hill fort museum in the south, but about the Flurry I had discovered, or attempted to discover, precisely nothing. I can picture you laughing as you read about my foolishness.
I went to a different inn for dinner. This one was called The Leaping Pheasant, and the food was delicious. No more imitation Mainland cuisine while I’m here. This was a local dish—brimed flats with herring. It was helping, but still I was so wrapped up in my gloom that I didn’t notice the figure approaching my table until it had already hailed me twice.
“Why, stranger,” it said. “That’s the grimmest face I’ve seen in the Pheasant since Autumn II at least!”
I looked up sulkily. I wasn’t in the mood for fahrensgift.
She was a human warrior, although not in full armour. Her biceps bulged beneath her navy and white uniform. Her long, braided hair was a deep blue. I daresay she could have crushed me with one hand.
“Perrin!” she called to the landlord. “A couple of flagons over here, please!”
“I really don’t—” I began.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not some idler out for chitchat. You’re a Mainlander, right? I’ll get straight to the point. I can help you! That is—” she took the drinks and passed one over to me, “—assuming you’re the guy who’s lost an island in the Flurry. Long hair. Big hat. Odd briefcase.”
With her toe she prodded the case at my feet. I was stunned, and it must have showed.
“Occult Islander magic!” cried the warrior with a laugh, emptying her flagon in a single draught. She wiped her lips. “No, my daughter works in the ferry terminal. She mentioned you. I wish she’d been a bit more helpful, actually, but she’s at that awkward age. Does too many puzzles. Doesn’t know her history. So when I saw you sitting over here, I thought I’d come and see if you’d found it.”
Still speechless, I gestured for her to sit. As she did so, she looked at me as if seeing something for the first time.
“Goodness, you haven’t even asked anyone, have you?” she said, amiably astonished. “It must be so difficult being a Mainlander. Were you just going to go home?”
I found my voice. “To be honest,” I said, “I hadn’t decided what to do yet.”
Without further ado, she reached out and offered a hand. “Name’s Danï,” she said.
“Horviss,” I replied, taking it.
“Horviss,” she repeated. Then, she leaned in. “Did you know that the Sundering is still going on? Everyone talks about it like it happened a thousand years ago. Which is true, in a way. Angry sea god, arrogant king, wealthy island—bam! Forever shattered into a hundred blah blah blah. The Flurry.” She gestured dramatically; then, serious again, tapped the table for emphasis. “The god was really angry. It’s still happening. The islands move. All the time. Channels get wide and thin. Safe passages become unsafe. It happens over years, decades—slow compared to a human life. But compared to Trelaine, the Flurry is moving constantly. Sometimes, very rarely, islands come apart. And when that happens—” she leaned back, “—they get new names.”
“So Currangle—” I began.
“I don’t know,” she said, triumphantly. “But I can take you to the person who does.”
So, Stusan, it sounds as if your home won’t be quite as you left it. And as if I still need to get better at trusting you, after all these years. I certainly still have some things to learn about the Flurry, and the fahrensgift. But tomorrow, Danï’s introducing me to some local historian I should have had the wit to find by myself. And then—well, hopefully, we’re nearly there.
I’ll report back.
16/2, 95 Before.
It happened in 120 Before, over three decades after you left. I would have been twelve.
Early in Spring, a chicken farmer named Jain noticed a crack running through his front yard towards the cliffs. It was so thin you could only see it if you stood in exactly the right place. At first, he thought it was damage from a late frost. All through Summer I and Autumn II the crack grew, a thumbnail’s width at a time, and as it did it became clear that it stretched across the whole width of the island, just under a mile north to south. By Summer II you could fit your hand in it, which children from the nearby village of Dryne occasionally did as a dare. There was no way to tell how deep it was.
Flurry Islanders know all about these cracks, but they’re rare, they often close again, and complete disaster is a once-in-a-generation sort of thing. So Jain stayed on his farm until one night in Autumn I, when there was a big shaking of the ground, long and slow, and the middle third of Currangle slipped into the sea. There was a moon, and the shaking gave everyone plenty of warning, so no people or animals were hurt. But there was still a mess in the newly created sea-channel. A spinnet ferry, the Evening Soiree, diverted from its normal route to Slabie, its passengers helping to fish wreckage, personal belongings, and a single chicken—Alex—out of the waves.
Now there were two islands. The larger and more sparsely populated one to the west they ended up calling Langlen, and the smaller one, where Currangle’s only real settlement was, took that settlement’s name—Dryne. The quake had missed the outskirts of the village by a hundred yards. In the end, the destruction amounted to a handful of fields, three or four farmhouses, some outbuildings, and the name ‘Currangle’.
I know all this from a mildly eccentric elf called Hyll, who trained as an historian all the way up at NnGeffen University but has lived on Trelaine almost since Valghast’s defeat, documenting how the famine changed the island. I suppose she probably arrived around the same time you left, and for the same reason. She looks old, so she must be really old, but she has that same bearing as Moonrose in the Beigewater arboretum, both remote and right there at the same time. You know elves.
Danï led me to the historian’s attic room above a fishmonger, just a few streets away from my inn. Books floor to ceiling, of course. Hyll knew the Currangle story instantly, and we sat awkwardly in armchairs with chipped mugs of tea while she fished around for accounts.
“I wasn’t actually here when it happened,” she said, rummaging. “There was a twining of constellations that year, so I went back to the eternal forest to see it. Very rare and magical, you know. Even the humans were impressed! But you need somewhere with clear skies—too unpredictable here. Wind changes, and everything from Young Stuart blows right over to us. Still, weather’s good at the moment. Should be a nice Spring, eh?”
Danï nodded. I was trying to find a polite way of making her come to the point.
“Ah,” Hyll said, recalling herself. “So I get back from the twining and the Flurry’s moved around a bit. Well, it’s always moved around a little bit. Then I started hearing about Jain and his chickens.” She put a newspaper clipping down in front of me. It was from the Blackrock View, the big regional paper, and described the adventure of the Evening Soiree. “Poor man,” she said. “He moved out somewhere in the Leeann archipelago in the end, I think. Didn’t trust the ground here any more.”
“Why don’t more people know about it?” I asked when I’d read the article. I’d been thinking about how odd it was that word hadn’t reached you.
“Oh, as to that,” said Hyll, “you have to remember the size of these places. Most islands in the Flurry only have four or five buildings on them. Currangle was a bit bigger, but—ah, let’s see!” She found a huge ledger underneath some empty cups and pawed through it. “The 129 census. So: nine years before the disaster, the island had a population of—” she slid her finger down a column, “—forty-eight. A tiny island with a handful of residents became two tiny islands, each with a handful of residents. No casualties—only a few buildings damaged. They were lucky it missed the village. Then it might have been a bit more memorable.” She grimaced. “Would you like a biscuit?”
We sat by her fire a little longer. “It amazes me that you keep track of it all,” said Danï. Her broad figure looked out of place in the historian’s parlour, but neither of them appeared uncomfortable.
“I don’t, really,” said Hyll. “To be honest, the further east you go, the fewer people there are—anything could be happening out there. People don’t usually write stuff down. And they won’t always talk to me—East Trelaine’s like the Mainland to them. Oh, no offence,” she said quickly, looking at me. “But my point is I’m just an oddball from Highhold who sits in East Trelaine with her books. I should have moved out there, become part of the community properly, if I wanted them to confide in me. But there’s so much history on Trelaine as well—I thought I could get at both.”
“But no other splits like Currangle have happened since?” asked Danï.
“That I know of,” said Hyll. “But there could have been one last year, and there could be one tomorrow. It’s a problem for a wizard, really, or a geologist. I did try to get someone from Windspere interested a few years back, but the stakes aren’t high enough. The movement’s too slow, disasters are rare, and there aren’t enough people. You have to remember the emigration. Things were hard after the famine. Most people left. They’ve only really recently started coming back.”
I thought about the little you’ve told me about those days: the darkening of the sky, the failing crops, ferry lines disrupted by the war. This place must have felt so different then. But even with that in mind, it’s still hard to see why you left. Everything here is so you. You’d get on with Hyll, I think. Why did you never come back? Jeremh would have come, you know, if you’d really wanted.
I think you were worried that the islands would have moved, and the people would have forgotten, and that it wouldn’t be home any more. And I suppose you were right.
As Hyll chatted to Danï, I wondered whether she would be interested in your story. The emigration from the Flurry seems to be one of her chief subjects. But before I could say anything I was struck with a new problem, one which the particulars of the Currangle situation had, until then, overwhelmed. How could I get to the place you grew up now?
“It’s two islands,” I said, interrupting them. “Which one did she live on?”
They both looked at me. “She?” asked Hyll.
“My friend.” I only realised then that neither of them had asked why I wanted to find this place. Really! They were accommodating and friendly and I was a horrible rude Mainlander. I composed myself.
“A person called Stusan,” I said. “Stusan Inkwater, she would have been before she married. She left the Flurry in around 154, and I need to find the island she lived on. So which side of Currangle was it? It seems to me that there’s no way to know without her address, which I don’t have. And I presume there isn’t another census that far back?”
Hyll shook her head. “The famine,” was all she said.
“Can’t you ask your friend?” Danï asked.
I couldn’t face that question just then. “Letters to the Mainland take weeks,” I mumbled. “And besides, I want to do this myself. She—” Another similarity between you and these people struck me. “She never really asked me for anything. Over a decade of looking out for me. She and her husband, Jeremh, they—the usual thing is to say they were surrogate parents, because of the age difference—that’s what everyone assumes—but that wasn’t it. They were friends. Real friends, not surrogate anything. Like you don’t get many of. And I wanted to get this right. Jeremh died a few years back and—”
Danï handed me a handkerchief. We sat for a while, then Hyll spoke.
“You need Hågsken,” she said.
“Not who,” said Hyll.
“It’s an island in the Flurry,” said Danï.
“It’s where the Community Records Office is,” said Hyll. “They have documents going back nearly to the Sundering. Nobody really knows about it because it’s intensely boring.” She grinned over her mug. “I like it there. When I said before that people don’t write stuff down—well, if they do, that’s where it ends up. No promises. But if you want to find a specific person, it’s your best bet.”
So I’m off to find you. Yet another ferry journey, of course. But I admit I’m excited to get into the Flurry proper—I’ve heard so much about it now. And I’ve been three days at the edge, and it hasn’t felt right. It’s time to press on.
The Splintered Cowrie,
17/2, 95 Before.
The autoferry: you get in, put your obol in the slot, place your hand upon the crystal, and speak your destination. What could be simpler? They’re surprisingly fast—I had to take off my hat and sit on it—but the water was smooth and the sun was shining and it felt good to be moving again.
Hågsken isn’t all that far out from Trelaine. For the first bit of the journey you’re in a fairly wide seaway, with dozens of islands slipping by on either side. This big channel—I missed its name—eventually turns northeast towards Katra Down, the last island. Was it so when you were leaving, I wonder? Was this channel your route away from Currangle, or has it only widened and become useful since? Was Katra Down even the last island, or has something beyond it sunk into the waves?
Someone on Hågsken will know. But that’s not why I’m here.
Shortly before the northeast turn, the autoferry lurched south away from the main channel, diving down a cleft between two islands. You could almost jump between some of these islands, they’re that close. Some of them are just seagull rocks, house-sized or less. Others are comparatively large. There are tall and cliffy ones; others, right next door, barely break the surface of the water. The channels between them are sometimes shallow—the bottom was often visible as the ferry jack-knifed left and right—but sometimes impossibly deep and dark.
It’s chaos. Everywhere you look you see the Sundering, more than eight centuries gone but with its indelible trauma still etched onto the landscape. And then you look again. The wind and sea have worn natural curves onto the fractures. Weird lichens and mosses are spread out on the rocks. Between some of the islands are strung rope bridges; little towns with fishing boats puff white smoke. The tall islands have grassy uplands, the low ones gritty beaches with secret caves children dart between. And over the sea glide the autoferries, reconnecting the shattered world.
I know you know all this, but I thought you’d like reading how it seems to me.
Our autoferry—Danï has decided to accompany me, supposedly because she has a cousin on Hågsken but actually because she is a good warrior who can tell when innocent civilians need help—knew its route perfectly, and I soon got over the strange feeling of having no pilot. Here, in contrast with the Stuartswell, the many islands calm the seas, and the ride was smooth and even pleasant. We passed several other autoferries zipping about. Danï told me that the tradition of waving at others when they get close is inviolable. To my surprise, I got into it within a few minutes. It’s fun watching people wave back.
Hågsken is big for a Flurry island, big enough for to have a little fishing village, where I am now, and a few rolling hills with sheep farms behind. Trompfest , the village, is one of the Flurry’s administrative centres, so it has an official-looking town hall as one of its twenty-odd buildings, and there are a couple of shops. The one inn is small and cosy, with perhaps four bedrooms. But we didn’t go straight there. We walked through the town, as Hyll had told us to, and followed the only road out up into the hills. I say ‘road’, but it swiftly became more like a path, rising slowly behind the town and wending around the island’s coast. This was the way to the records office. I wondered if you knew it.
“Everyone in the Flurry is here occasionally,” Danï said, apparently reading my thoughts. “There’s a big book festival in the summer, and you have to come to the town hall for official documents, marriage certificates and such. I don’t know if it was always like that, but the town hall is pretty old—your friend might well have been here.”
I didn’t quite feel like talking about you just then, so instead I mentioned something Hyll had told us: the town hall’s old paperwork gets carted out to the records office every two years or so. “Why do you think it’s so far away from the town?” I eventually asked, slightly winded from the climb.
“No idea,” replied Danï. “But look!”
The path had curled around a headland, and we suddenly had a view of most of the south Flurry. From this height, it was harder to see the channels. There were patches of sea, some of them large, but especially towards the horizon it was like you were looking at one island, albeit a very strange one with a jagged profile. The colour of rock and foliage changed a little too often, preserving the sea-level sense of patchwork chaos. But you could also see that it was one place, that the catastrophe which had interrupted the land had not interrupted the story. The bustle of towns, the lowing of a cow or two, the cry of a gull all came faintly to our ears.
It was a clear and calm day. Winter II still has its teeth back in the Stuartswell, but here Spring has begun. Magrobok, the noon comet, was sailing parallel to the sun—at least, I think it was Magrobok. The comets all look different out here.
I didn’t notice at the time, but with hindsight I think this was the moment where I understood—that even though you never went back, what you left wasn’t a shattered land starved and depopulated, or at least, not that only. I see how the place could stay with you in spite of yourself, in spite of Jeremh, all those decades. It will stay with me.
“You haven’t asked what’s in the briefcase,” I said to Danï as we walked down the slight incline towards the community records office. It was long and low and of grey stone, set in a hollow with its back going into the hillside. A huge groak tree spread its branches over the north side.
“When you’re ready,” Danï said, gently.
In the office we found a map that told us—ah, but I’ve exhausted myself, and the next bit is difficult. I’ll write tomorrow.
18/2, 95 Before.
My Very Dearest Stusan,
This will be my last letter. It feels odd to write that down, to make it real. Of course it could have only gone on so long, spending all these evenings writing letters I’m never going to send. It’s helped me, I think, and it’s made me wish we’d written more before—real letters, with replies. But with you just a few streets away, it never seemed necessary. It was always easier just to drop in, to interrupt you at your puzzles or in the middle of a game of spider bridge with Jeremh. I don’t think you were ever too busy for me—certainly, I never minded hearing the creak of my own gate when I was trying to catch up on bookkeeping, finding the two of you at my door.
We saw each other so much, there was no need to write. I wish I’d known then that letters are never just about communicating—that they’re also a way you figure things out about the world, about yourself. They have to be for someone, though, even if it’s someone who won’t ever read them.
This letter will go in the briefcase once I’ve finished, with the others.
In the community records office, I found that the house you grew up in was one of the buildings which went into the sea when Currangle split. There’s an Inkwater—Bryce Inkwater—in the ledgers, paying an incomprehensible estate fee back in 168 Before. You’d have been fourteen, I think. Was Bryce your father? Perhaps an older brother or uncle? You’ve never mentioned him by name, but there were no other Currangle Inkwaters to be found. I presume that whoever he was, he died in the famine, or just after it.
There was a street address on the estate paperwork, so I found an old map and some newer charts of Langlen and Dryne, and there it was—your house, right in the sea. It looks like it was on high ground outside the village, with a view towards the Blackrock, which matches what I remember of your description. There’s even a small outbuilding on the map, which I assume was the chicken shed you spoke of once. Apparently chickens were popular on Currangle. Jain must have been a neighbour.
It could all be wrong—and maybe you moved elsewhere between 168 and 154 when you left for the mainland. But my best guess, after seeing all the evidence that’s likely to exist, is that the green field you talked about, the one you sent me here to find, is ocean floor now.
It was a sobering realisation because of how slowly it came. I won’t tell you the details about the cavernous interior of the community records office, cut into the very hillside, infinite shelves of runelit document folders stretching off apparently forever—nor about the archivist, a helpful dwarf named Merryle with pencils stowed behind her ears. You can easily imagine these details yourself. You’ll imagine too, very easily, my growing anxiety as the end of my investigation gradually became clearer and clearer. I’ll skip to the end, back to the inn, where I was telling Danï the news.
I’ve met warriors who would be good in archives, but Danï, who isn’t one of them, had gone off to see her cousin after about ten minutes of politely watching me go through documents. So at the inn, I told her everything I’d found, much as I’ve just written it here.
“All this distance covered,” I concluded, “and for what? Another dead end.”
Danï stretched in her chair. “What I still don’t understand,” she said, “is why you had to find the exact place. If you wanted to see where she grew up, you’re still close enough. Why is she so set on you finding it after so many years? And without contacting her! Is it a test of some sort?” She leaned closer. “Did she bury something there? Some secret or treasure—”
She broke off as I brought the briefcase up onto the table, flipped open the clasps, and spun it round. Her face changed as I pulled it open enough for her to see the urn.
“Oh, Horviss,” she said, after a moment.
“I know,” I replied, very quietly.
We sat for a while. Danï’s eyes were damp. Mine probably were too.
“Mainlanders are so strange,” she said eventually. “You could have told me.”
“You helped me anyway,” I replied. “And I think I have not been ready to talk about it yet. I’m writing Stusan letters, still. About my trip. I think of her reading them and... But I always assumed the last letter I wrote would have a good ending, whatever I got wrong along the way. I knew I’d struggle with the islands and the ferries and the people and it would all be very ridiculous and heartwarming, but I did think the place I was spending all this energy on would at least be there.”
I knocked back my drink. “Can’t be helped. Listen, I’m so grateful for—”
“It is there,” said Danï. There was something new in her voice.
I stammered: “What? Well, yes, but it’s underwater, I can’t even get to—”
“Water is the soul of this place,” said Danï, firmly. “It’s over when it’s over, that’s what my weapons master used to say. Listen, I’m a warrior. You have a quest, that was obvious from the start. We’re not finished.”
She spoke as if I were betraying her by giving up, even though she never knew you and only just found out why I’m really here.
“I don’t see how—”
“We hijack an autoferry,” she said, leaning back. “Very basic magic. Totally forbidden by the company of course, but everyone does it occasionally. Not all destinations are ports. And they make money on it because you have to put in a second obol to get back—so nobody looks too closely.”
“Hijack a ferry?” I was not thinking clearly.
“We just need a copy of that map,” said Danï. “And a wizard. Happily I know a good one on the next island over. And then, you see, we can take an autoferry over to where Currangle was, and make it stop over the exact spot. It will even move against the tide to hold the position until we’re ready to leave. Until we’ve done what you came here for.”
It was all making sense.
“This is illegal?” I asked.
“Yup,” said Danï. She drained her glass, and we looked at each other. After a while, we both smiled.
So that’s what we’re going to do, Stusan. We spent today preparing: I went back to the records office for the map while Danï found her wizard friend. Then we travelled to Dryne, where we are now—your nearest village. It’s too small to have an inn, but a lady on the main street has given us lodging for the night. In the morning we’ll climb into yet another autoferry and Danï will use the wizard’s spell to make it take us a short way around the coast, to the channel between Dryne and Langlen that was formed that night in 120 when the Evening Soiree worked so hard to save Alex the chicken. Danï, I imagine, will stand in the ferry as she always does, wide-stanced, eyes to the horizon. I will be sitting stiffly behind her nervous, unsure of things—of course. There’s no hiding that I’m a Mainlander.
The forecast is for a clear day. The ferry will stop right where your field was. The two islands either side of us will form a cleft through which the spring breeze will whistle. I’ll stand, hesitantly, the ferry rocking under my feet.
I’ll unclasp the briefcase with the wind at my back and take out the urn. And then I’ll open it. I imagine I’ll get something wrong at that point, that the top will be stiffer or looser than I expect. But at least Danï will be there to stop me dropping it over the side.
And then we’ll say goodbye to you. I’ll lift up the urn and tip it gently, and your ashes will drift out across the land that made you. Not over the green grass you asked me to find with your final breaths, but over rocks and water, through the cracks in a world which carried on moving after you left it. Gulls will soar. Langlen and Dryne will loom on either side. Maybe a fish will jump, or a rooster crow—something to acknowledge your return.
I’ve figured it out, you know. That you don’t really care where this happens—that you left the Flurry behind long ago. That this trip is your parting gift to me. But in spite of that—because of that—I’m going to do this properly.
And then Danï and I will both sit down in the ferry and be quiet for a few minutes, the warrior and the innocent civilian. Quest accomplished—sort of. “Do you think she’d have liked it?” Danï might ask.
“I hope so,” I’ll say. “She’d have liked that I did it a bit weirdly. She’d have liked that I made it. She’d have liked you, too.”
There’ll be a pause, and then we’ll chat about this and that, not quite ready to put in the second obol yet. Magrobok will slide over the sky. Eventually, there’ll be another lull. Then: “So, what now?” I expect Danï will ask.
So. What now? Home to the Vaguemarch? Back to the dry, unsplintered land? No whirlpools, no chatty locals, no insane ferries?
I’ll have to go back eventually.
“Maybe one of the islands near here has something else worth seeing on it,” I’m going to say. “Do you have any suggestions for a traveller from the Mainland?”
I’ll have to go back eventually.
Yours, with love,