Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1)(8) by Jeff Wheeler

“A Druidecht, is it?” he said, a little sharply. “What business have you in Kenatos? There are not many of your kind in the city.”

“What is your fare?”

“I will not even take a pent from a Druidecht, you may be assured of that. Some ferryman think it right to charge everyone, regardless of rank or station, but that is foolhardy in my reckoning. It is the Druidechts and Rikes that save us from the Plague. You ought to have deference.”

“That is kind of you. Please rest before you take me.”

“I may, but tell me your business.”

“What concern is it of yours?”

“I earn an extra pent from the Arch-Rike’s coffers if I bring an answer.” He leaned over and picked up the pole.

“So you take coin for my travel regardless.” Annon was riled. “I come at the bidding of my master. He is a Druidecht.”

The ferryman shrugged, grateful to earn the extra pent and not caring about the quality of the answer—only the lack of it. He motioned for Annon to board.

“Hold!” shouted someone coming up the road, a younger man than the ferryman, clutching a small chest in his hands. He was older than Annon but still quite young.

He arrived panting. “Thank you! I need to reach the city before nightfall.”

“Five pents,” the ferryman said, and the coins were dropped in his hand. “What is your business?”

“No business of yours.”

The ferryman shook his head. “Come on, lad. We aren’t going until you tell me.”

He looked askance at the ferryman. “I am seeking work as a scribe.” He patted the box. “My quills and ink. Do you need to see them too?”

“No, lad. Why the rush?”

“I didn’t want to sleep on the plains again. No offense, Master Druidecht, but there are noises at night.” He shook his head and shuddered. Annon smiled and shrugged.

They embarked and soon the skiff was maneuvering across the lake. Because of all the fires burning in chimneys and shops, there was a constant ring of haze around the island city. Swarms of gulls floated above, sending eerie shrieks ghosting through the mist.

“You loathe sleeping in the woods,” Annon said to the younger man. “But I dread sleeping in the city.”

“This is your first time to Kenatos?” the ferryman asked between grunts.

“Yes,” Annon answered. “Wayland is my country.”

“Mine as well,” said the young man. “My father was a gravedigger in Wayland. Busy work with the Plague, you know. But I learned to read and write, and I hear you earn more in Kenatos if you can. Always records to transcribe.”

The ferryman chuckled. “Gravedigger boy then. You must be good with a spade. Want to take a turn at the oars?”

“Want to give me my five pents back?” he asked archly, nodding to Annon at the man’s rudeness and offering a look of disgust.

“This is my third trip today, stripling. I can keep going all night too. My calluses are like rocks. Don’t be tart, or I’ll box your ears.”

The younger man rolled his eyes. “Friends call me Graves,” he told Annon. “When we reach the dock, watch out for the Preachán. They’ll try and sell you moldy bread or bruised apples. I used to come here once a year with my father. Watch your purse.”

“Watch your tongue, lad,” said the ferryman between groans.

“Pardon,” he said. “Where are you staying? Is there a Druidecht place in Kenatos? I didn’t think so.”

Annon shook his head. “I won’t be staying long. Are you a good scribe?”

He winced. “It helps if you know more languages than just one. I know Aeduan and a little bit of Preachán. Knowing Vaettir pays the most, but how can you learn that?”

The lake was vast and the waves rippled against the skiff. It was the island-city’s greatest defense. Kenatos possessed a fleet of sturdy warships that brought the food and grains from the mainland. Annon wrinkled his nose as they drew nearer to the smell of the city; he hunched down, pulling his cloak more tightly.

The ferryman paused to rest a moment. “Since you are new to Kenatos, remember that for every Preachán who will steal your purse, there is a Bhikhu who will chase him down and box his ears for it.”

“A Bhikhu?” Annon asked.

“You’ll recognize them when you get to the city. They dress in gray tunics and sandals. The men shear their hair down to the nubs. You’ll see them on the street. If you get lost or have any troubles, seek one out. They won’t take a pent from you. Good advice for a newcomer, and it cost you nothing.” The docks of Kenatos were hulking and swollen with people arriving into different slips and disgorging their cargoes. Annon thanked the ferryman and Graves and gritted his teeth at the commotion as he advanced down the docks into the throngs filling up at the mouth of the outer gates. He felt practically naked being so far from the woods. Not even a mutter from a spirit creature. He had not expected to hear any, though.