His Majesty’s Service, A Dark Tide Chapter 1.1

She had come on a dark tide.  

The worn bow of the vessel struck the pale rounded stones of the shore. Slipping her feet over the side, the sole passenger slid waist deep into the frigid water of the bay. A brief image appeared to her, blurry in rippling water. As it had since she had begun her voyage, the face which looked back at her startled her momentarily. How long does it take to become someone. The passenger  felt as though she should have known that–but she seemed to feel this way about everything.

 

Like the face, the water was strange too. She couldn’t have known that it had grown much colder than in years past, nor that the stones, which were made famous in a ballad by Tuatha Ulrecht himself, had until recently, always been dark, black as a moonless night.  But somehow she did.  Impatiently wading towards the shore, she left the tie-off rope curled like a snake in the bowsprit. When I leave this place, she thought, it won’t be in a little boat, and it won’t be alone. 

She hadn’t known how she knew that–because she hadn’t known a lot of things. But she knew that she knew it, and that seemed to be the most important thing–except of course for the hunger.

 

For the first time in days, Onyx stood facing forward, wondering what lay in store, instead of looking over her shoulder, wondering who was coming. Here, on the shores of the city’s grand harbor, seeking nothing more than to fill her hollow belly, Onyx would regroup. She had lost her way–not that she had ever found it.

Not that there was a way. Not for her.

Before nightfall, Onyx would find herself, not a way, into the great city. A small chance, had given a small step, just a step towards a meal, but it was a step, and that was still forward. She’d take it.

With the afternoon sky already dim and growing more so with every step she took, she rounded a corner into the Grand Bizarre in the heart of Cillandar’s wares district.  Her footfalls from the unfamiliar boots she wore fell far too heavy on the stones. Her garments, and the armor over it fit perfectly and yet strangely, and she found herself stopping and starting again trying to figure out what her gait and pace should be. A dark curl of hair kept falling into her face. This greatly annoyed her and each time she moved to swipe it away it would simply fall back to it’s last position. She finally gave up, and accepted that she’d be looking out from it, like an animal peering out through the vines in some jungle. Under her skin, as with her clothes above it, there was an equal uncertainty in the way her heart beat, as if it too fell and rose in a way that it shouldn’t. 

She hadn’t liked any of her choices for the next meal.  This one wasn’t the worst, but it was far from the best. “Just get this done,” she breathed through gritted teeth. “You aren’t a thief. You’re a paid mercenary. A rogue. There’s a difference.”

Is there? She asked herself.  Maybe. Maybe not.

“Is that all I am?” she said aloud. Around her, she became acutely aware of the merchants, huddled close to their wares, watching her and hoping she might be someone with coin, even though she knew she didn’t look the part. Each sat just a little too close to their goods for sale–guarding them. When lives were at stake, people took fewer chances. And Onyx could already tell that here in Cillandar, like the hamlets and villages she had just come through, people were not taking any chances these days.

The bizarre that day was filled, but to the trained eye, it was also deserted. Pudd had told her it would be that way, but Onyx could have figured it out on her own. Even though she had never spent a night in Cillandar, she had already seen it these last many days. Here though, it was even more pronounced. She knew why, and had for some time. It was all that anyone spoke of, that wasn’t speaking of what they all feared.

It was a diamond in the filthy soil of the heart of the realm. Maybe the last, she wouldn’t harbor  a guess, although others would. It was the light in the darkness of a new age, and like moths to a flame, the people had come. Today, if you could call it a day at all, was the coronation of the King. Rumor had it, and rumor was often right Pudd said, that the Queen would be crowned too, even though she no longer had a head to wear a crown–nor a body for that matter.

Training her ears towards the south side of the city, she could almost hear the roars and eruptions of the crowds cheering as the parade from the lord’s tower made it’s way through the city. Eventually, it would end at the temple mount, but it wasn’t in a rush. A realm in such times, needed a guide to light their way, and they needed to see that guide, hear him, be near him. The parade would give them that, despite the pains in their bellies, and the worries in their hearts, their eyes and ears would see and would hear that which could heal organs elsewhere. And so they had come to be healed–in a fashion.

And when the parade ended, there at the temple mount, the Keeper of the Flame would be waiting. All of Cellinor would wait, because that was all Cellinor could do. Wait for the King to be crowned, wait for the crops to grow, wait for the sun to rise higher in the sky, and not lower. Wait for the seven to return and save them all from Ket itself!

Waiting. They would all be waiting. Waiting in the streets, and in the shops and along the parade route. And waiting with them would be the guards and watchmen that normally would be stationed in the ware’s district.

And that’s why Onyx was here.

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