Tansy Rayner Roberts
1. With Snow Comes Beginnings.
Part 1 of 4
There are only three truly important questions in the universe. The first deals with why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. The second is terrifyingly simple, concerning what true love really means, and why nearly true love is so much healthier for all concerned. The third most important question in the universe is about pirates.
In the little Empire of Mocklore, from the troublesome and hairy town of Axgaard to the scholarly and puddlesome Cluft, from the bleak, crime-ridden streets of Dreadnought to the gold-paved avenues of Zibria, from the enigmatic mysteries of the Troll Triangle to the blatant impossibilities of the Skullcaps, every now and again a Pirate of Note is born. No one knows why.
Anyone can be a pirate, of course. The most ordinary of farmboys can buy himself an eyepatch and run away to sea. But a Pirate of Note is always marked in some particular way. They might have a magnificently jutting brow, a surprising beard, or a third eye in the most unexpected of places. For instance, the daughter of Vicious Bigbeard Daggersharp had hair the colour of old blood and a birthmark shaped like a decapitated skeleton.
The third most truly important question in the universe is this: why is it so important that potential Pirates of Note be marked in such a melodramatic way? What would happen, what could happen if such a person ignored such a sign, and chose to avert that destiny? What if a Pirate of Note did not want to be a pirate?
In the Whet and Whistle Tavern and Grillhouse, the music started throbbing. It rose and fell and then rose again, just because it could. Then it faltered and went away. Half a dozen clumsily-carved harmonicas were cast aside. She hadn't arrived yet, and no one saw any point in making music until she was there.
Finally, the door scrunched open. They all looked up hopefully, but it was only the Captain of the Dreadnought Blackguards. He stood for a moment in the doorway, dripping melted snow on the floor. The Captain was a hunched man with weary eyes, sagging shoulders and a personality that only lasted for thirty seconds at a time. He said gloomily, "We've got a new Emperor."
"Ar," said Sparky the barman.
"It's a woman," added the Captain as he slouched on to his usual stool.
Sparky raised an eyebrow. "Ar?"
"I want a drink," said the Captain.
In the corner, an old man said, "The winds, they are a changing," but this was the sort of thing he always said, and no one took any notice.
The woman with hair the colour of old blood scurried through the first snow of winter and the damp streets of Dreadnought. She was late for work, and she had a suspicion that a pigseller had been following her for the last half hour. She stumbled on the slippery cobbles, and a familiar voice loomed up behind her. "Wanna buy a pig, lady?"
She lost her temper, good and proper. "I don't want a pig! I don't want to roast one for a dinner party, I don't want to tether one to my apple tree and keep it in my garden and I don't want to put one on a shelf to look at all day. I don't care if it does tricks, wears hats or sings a wonderful harmony! Will you leave me alone, you repulsive little merchant?"
"Only tryin' to do my job, miss," said the old man dejectedly. "There is a recession on, you know."
"You might sell more if you didn't stalk your customers!" snapped Kassa Daggersharp.
The pigseller's eyes lit up at this glimpse of encouragement. "Like to buy a rabbit, then?"
"Goodbye," said Kassa, turning on her heel and trying to keep her balance as she hurried along the slippery streets. The merchants were getting worse.
It wasn't much of a dungeon. The ceiling was not a very grisly shade of grey, there was no raw sewage trickling down the walls, and it was too well insulated for the screams of other prisoners to be heard.
Nevertheless, Aragon Silversword did not want to be there. He certainly deserved to be there - he was probably the only prisoner who was genuinely guilty of the exact crime he had been charged with - but that didn't make the accomodation any more appealing.
He had been waiting for three years. He was not waiting to be let out. That implied hope. He was just waiting. Waiting for the heavy hour chime of the palace to seep down to him. Waiting for his daily visit by one of the wardens, to bring him food and water (after spitting in it). Waiting to sleep so that he could wake up and start it all over again.
The door opened. Gordage stood there, a chicken bone hanging in the thick bristles of his beard. He was Aragon's least favourite warden. Gordage peered at the prisoner, trying to figure out what was wrong. "Why you on yer head?" he said finally.
Aragon was standing on his hands, his long legs folded up against the wall, so he chose not to shrug in reply. Instead, he broke one of his cardinal rules by actually speaking to a warden. "I thought I would try it for a month. Perhaps two. There's nothing like a new perspective on life. I imagine that chicken bone in your beard feels the same way."
Gordage grunted. "Come on, then."
That was not something Aragon had ever expected to hear from a warden. "I beg your pardon?"
"Yer being let out."
"The fourth this year," said Aragon acidly. "None of the others saw fit to release me."
"She wants to see yer," grunted Gordage.
Aragon's interest had been aroused. His legs unfolded. He pushed lightly off the floor with his hands, landed on his feet and stood up straight. "She?"
Chapter 1 of Splashdance Silver|
originally published by Transworld Publishers,
September 1998. Appears with the kind
permission of Transworld Publishers and the author.
©1998 Tansy Rayner Roberts