I found a vantage point on an iron weathervane, a sail-finned marlin, and waited. Before dawn, fisherfolk began to leave gray-washed homes, heading toward the docks. A bell rang, brassy and demanding. The wind shifted to blow from the sea, warm and moist and gray. Spying two men, I flew to investigate. Feigning a preoccupation with preening my glossy wings, I peered from a fence post in the blue light before dawn. Surprisingly, I knew them from visits to Ruski. The blond occasionally played his lute for pay in a tavern, and the younger, the dark-haired man, went along.
At the shore, I flew high overhead, circling the boats with the morning gulls. At the Rascal, the two men began work, freeing the boat from the pier. I landed on her railing to eavesdrop. The captain, shouting orders above the moisture-laden wind, called them Aetref and Gem.
Though overwrought, Tanuvia had not exaggerated Gem’s brawn. Both men were molded by the physically demanding labor of hauling the nets on a sparling boat. The resemblance ended there. Aetref was a blue-eyed hawk. Piercing eyes, narrow nose with a vague hump and hook. The sun at sea had bleached his hair and tanned his skin. Gem was born dark, his hair black and long, held bound in a tail. Pale gray, his eyes startled. Fringed with dark lashes, feathery as a mare’s.
Fighting the brave wind, I clung to taut rope to see what Tanuvia had. The young man’s soul? His past? His wounds? I didn’t and flew to investigate their house in a low-rent neighborhood with dirt streets. One room with two windows, open in the heat, burnished to silver-gray by the winds and fogs of the Minor Sea and raised on wooden posts. It smelled of fish. Their porch was a wooden box. A shed behind the house served them—and their neighbors—as privy. Inside were a fireplace, two beds shoved against opposite walls, a table, one chair, and a cupboard. There were a few baskets, one with dirty clothes, and a tin pail. No fish oil lamp and no tallow candles. The only signs of food were crumbs and mouse scat. The fireplace was equipped with an iron truss, a kettle, and a pot. Under one bed, I found the leather case holding Aetref’s lute. There were two, small, leather satchels, which resisted my spying, and that was the whole of their belongings and squalid life. There were no signs of female habitation or visitation.
It was a puzzle. Why did two men, gainfully employed, one an able minstrel, live like this? They hardly had a pot to piss in unless they used the pail. But their poverty was not as troubling as the possible reasons. Were they hiding something? Or simply hiding? Though the mystery might make a good story, I had no desire for Bragi and Tanuvia to be hurt.
I worked the probabilities of various outcomes while flying back to the produce farm and kept my arrival to myself. Bent at the waist, Tanuvia dragged a bushel basket while picking peppers to fill it. Her shirt was soaked, and she flicked at sweat stinging her eyes. She harvested when preparing a load for sale, which suited my idea—if I decided to share it. Meanwhile, I fluttered into her room through the window, perched on the lower bedrail, and brooded over the data.