Eiyodar is a young human swindler who hails from Lanodin, a large town bustling with entrepreneurial merchants and what many regard as the finest cuisine and the most bizarre entertainment of Hinn, nestled in the deep forests bordering the river valley of the Deloni. Among the many jobs Eiyodar worked in and around Lanodin was that of a “Catfish,” a fetcher of goods fallen from ferry-goers to the bottom of the River Deloni. A capable–and rarer, willing–swimmer, Eiyodar was often tasked with locating precious items dropped overboard by wealthy, drunken passengers riding the notorious midnight ferries between riverside towns. Eiyodar speaks the common tongue with a choppy Delonian lilt. Indigo-black hair frames a bronze, jeweled circlet on her forehead. She has a habit of swaying back and forth and walking in sweeping steps while speaking and is often accompanied by a feline companion she calls Meera.
I was a Catfish. That’s what they call the scum swimmers, the acrobats scouring the depths of the Deloni in search of the lost belongings of the debaucherous wealthy from Lanodin. It’s not an honorable job, it’s not even a respectable one, but it brings good coin if you don’t bring back everything you find–and if you don’t get caught. Many Catfish don’t have hands anymore, but I’ve been at it for five years. I probably could have gone on longer if it weren’t for my last go.
Paturile was my gopher for the past 10 months. Crass, with a scruffy goatee more salt than pepper, and a great pouch around his midsection. He spends half of his earnings to keep growing the thing. Paturile liked to give me the really tough jobs, so when a blue-robed roundface from the city center wanted him to get back a priceless heirloom, I was the Catfish he called. Either the noble didn’t know how to describe the heirloom to Paturile–or he was an idiot–but I was given a parchment describing the thing. It looked like a scholar’s scrawl, but on the front there was pictured a beautiful circlet as well as a bunch of words not familiar to me.
“Find it, quick as you can,” Paturile bellowed in my face, in his matter-of-fact fashion. This is usually the time I start to negotiate my cut. But when Paturile interrupted me with “–Quick as you can!” a second time, I knew someone was pressing him. This either meant more money–lots more–or it meant I needed to find it before the Peacekeepers do. So I nodded, got in his longboat, and sculled the river.
Sartrik, The Blissboat’s ferryman, favored the placid point in the widest part of the Deloni. From out here, you can scarce hear the sounds of the cities on either shore. We Catfish tend to be good swimmers, but we still need weights to get us to the bottom of the Deloni. I can hold my breath for a good two minutes–usually enough to scour a fifty-foot area before I have to move my boat again. Took me three anchors, but then I found it. It was glowing at me, pretty easy to grab. Quick as I could. Paturile is going to have to pay me double…. There’s something else over there, too. I have enough time to grab that, and so I did. But I spent my fourth anchor just to grab a piece of glass. Dumb luck. I smiled and thought it was best to head back. Won’t have to fish for two weeks after this one.
Takes two hours, or so, to get to Sartrik’s placid point. I got back in an hour and a half. When I got close I could see the docks were in chaos. Peacekeepers lookin’ around for someone. So I sculled into the North Rock where the teenagers like to go fishing. I got some dirty looks from the fishing boys, but none of the Peacekeepers saw me sculling in Paturile’s longboat. Tucked my goods in my satchel and snuck to the docks to find Felneth, see what the fuss was about. Felneth was another gopher, a nasty little twit with a mean temper. She was in her usual hole. She looked up at me with a crooked, pleased grin.
“You haven’t heard?”
“Been on the water,” I said.
“Paturile’s skipped town. Peacekeepers looking for ‘im.” She leaned in close, smelled of seaweed and tobacco. “You don’t know who he is… and I don’t know who he is. They arrested some doey noble Paturile was talking to. A real round-faced bluerobe.”
My bluerobe? “Paturile didn’t say where he was going? He owes me the day’s wages.”
“‘Fraid not. Best forget that job, and make a few runs for me instead. More honest work, anyway.”
She wasn’t wrong. But I’m not taking a job today. I need to catch my breath and figure out what this paper said. Why were the Peacekeepers after that bluerobe? Something to do with this. I need to learn what it says. I smirked at Felneth and took my leave.
I’m no scholar, but I’ve learned a trick or two as a Catfish. A cup of julip clears my mind. After three mugs, I had a good handle on what the parchment said. It looked like an apology. And a Dalvern address, a five hour scull away past Satrik’s placid point to the city across the Deloni. I was too curious not to follow it. After all, whatever this was, and whoever it led to was enough to get the Peacekeepers all sweating and squirming. I had to at least see for myself. I went back to the fishing hole. Shit, those little fuckers with the fishpoles took my boat.
Without Paturile’s longboat, I needed a new charge. I’ll see what sort of honest work Felneth has for me. And so I do.
“Changed yer mind, eh?”
A couple of dry smiles later, I’m supposed to follow the Lazy Sister, a boat that rivals Sartrik’s but likes to drift out through Loon’s Crossing. Easy enough.
“Be back tomorrow,” I said.
“Aye, you will,” she gurgled. Gross.
But determined, I was. First time in a while, as a Catfish. In Dalvern by midday, I started asking around for how to find this strange address. Never liked Dalvern, so I don’t come here much. It’s the smell, I think. They have gophers over here, too. And shrieking fireflies. And blue-robed roundfaces. But there were none to see when I got off the docks. I grabbed a darkplum for a dooley and took a juicy bite. The fruit vendor told me where to hide Felneth’s boat, and where I could find Teshili Street. So I made my way to the address and saw a curio shop for the first time. I’ve heard people talk about these places, but I’ve never been interested enough to check them out myself for as long as I’ve lived in Lanodin. I need to travel around the city more.
“Hello?” No one answered. I asked it three times. I stepped into the shop to have a look around. Maybe there was something else that was like the circlet in my satchel. I thought it best if I said hello a few more times. Half dozen more times or so, it became less of a question and more a mask for the sounds of investigating the items I saw around the shop. “Hello?” Pick something up. “Hello?” Put something down. That’s when I saw it. An eight-pointed singing stone that glowed. Actually, I can’t rightly describe what it looked like, exactly, or how it made me feel. Maybe I could say it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. I had to pick it up.
“Hellooo.” It glowed in my hands like a firefly in the night. I felt a tingling and the stone seemed to vanish into a thousand glass mosquitoes that burrowed into my hands. Then my hands began to feel as if I had thrust them into the fire. For a second, I thought Paturile was playing a trick on me. Is this punishment for dropping my fourth anchor? “Quick as you can,” he’d said. What did that mean?
I started to feel light-headed and I turned around to walk out of the shop. The last thing I remember is falling through a display of pungent herbs, dried flowers.
I didn’t know how long I was out, at first. It was just black. What death is like, I reckon. But the Burned Man said it was four days. He was kind. Said that he’d saved my life. That he would have been curious too, if he were in my place. Said some other kindly things as well, but I was still getting my bearings. After a few minutes, the room stopped its spinning, and I sat up.
I told him the truth of it straight away. Figured it wasn’t worth lying to somebody in his line of work. But he said he knew. He had already taken the circlet out of my satchel. He left it on the table next to me. When I told him about the round-faced bluerobe, he noted that it was impressive I was able to decipher the parchment and seek him out. And he said it was impressive that I survived his stinging stone. What does he mean, impressive?
“The Eye of Jorall was taken from me long ago. A curious thing, really. More of a paperweight than anything else. As long as I’ve had it in my collection, it’s never done that before.” He pointed to the circlet on the table beside me. The orange gem in its center was still glowing faintly, pulsing, perhaps. Or maybe it was more like shimmering. The glowing pulse made the tarnished old bronze of the band waiver like the clouds make shadows dance on a summer day.
“It seems to like you,” the Burned Man said. “I believe… you were meant to have it.” Immediately I protested with all the Lanodine pleasantries I learned as a child. The Burned Man only smiled crookedly with his tough leather skin. “You were meant to have it,” he said.
He never asked for my name. And I never asked for his. But I did thank him for saving my life. He seemed convinced that we were meant to meet each other. “You’ll seek me out when you’re ready someday. We’ll have a proper meeting then, you and I. And I’ll tell you what intrigue led the noble to steal The Eye of Jorall. But it’s not the right time for that now.” He poured me some shite julip and packed a bag. “Things are too risky in Dalvern, so I should leave. See that you take care of yourself until we meet again.” He left me and the bronze headband along with some poundroot chapan.
Fuck me. Four days? Felneth is going to kill me. I took a peek at the wounds beneath the bandages on my hand. They looked pretty bad. But I was feeling well enough to get dressed. I put on my vest and leathers and shouldered my satchel. The Eye of Jorall. I slipped the bronze circlet on, too. It felt comfortable… Comforting. “You were meant to have it,” he’d said. As soon as I put it on, I didn’t feel alone. I took one last look at the empty curio shop and made my way back to the docks.
The fruit vendor’s information was good. Felneth’s boat was right where I left it. I scared the shore rats away and sculled into the Deloni. Was just past midday when I approached the Lanodine docks. I tied up the boat and headed down the plank way. I was still thinking on how I would explain this to Felneth when she emerged from her hole with two sewer rats who looked like they spent the day greasing the underbellies of shitwagons. Glaring at me, all of them. Seemed like they were out for blood.
“Think you can steal my boat, do you?! You’re fucking dead.” Her sewers rats started to run toward me. I had no place to go, and I didn’t have any weapon to defend myself. I grabbed a boat hook from the side of the docks but I had no idea what I was doing with the thing. The first sewer rat, a bald man with no neck, lunged at me. I was lucky enough to strike him in his pudding chin with the thick end of the boat hook. He fell to the side, crashed through a crate, and suddenly we had an audience. The thinly sewer rat growled and cursed as he started toward me. Shit. My hands started to throb. And then, just before he reached me, the crowd erupted in screams. The sewer rat tumbled into a flurry of claws and fur. I heard a guttural growl, then the great cat sunk its teeth into the screaming rat’s throat, quieting him.
Warm, orange eyes gleamed as sewer rat blood dripped down the thick chestnut fur of her chin. She stood off the docks as high as a longboat rests on the water, and she moved just as smoothly. She and I are connected, I feel it. I know it. It was the circlet, The Eye of Jorall. I reached out my hand in greeting and she stroked her face along the outside of my knuckles. Her name is Meera. As I stroked Meera’s speckled fur, she purred as we watched Felneth run away from the docks. City patrol will be about. We probably ought to run, too. And so we did. I never did like Peacekeepers.
And that’s what brought me here, to the Borderlands. A few years and a few places between here and there. But I’ll tell for you those another time.