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The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay

Storyworld: The Shaper’s World | Series Name: The Outsider Trilogy
Reading Order: 02 | Stand Alone? Yes
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Literary | Editions: Audiobooks, E-Book

In this literary fantasy novelette, three exiled travelers, Kug, Agane, and Dennick, have traveled across the continent of Kaebrith, far from the home from which they’ve been exiled, searching for the healer who can cure Agane of a devastating illness.

But an unexpected development forces difficult choices. Can they face the consequences of the past in order to have any kind of future?

“The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay” is a character-driven, literary, low fantasy set in The Shaper’s World, the original storyworld introduced in the novel Light of the Outsider.

“The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay” includes characters featured in Light of the Outsider, but you don’t have to have read that novel to enjoy this novelette… although your experience may be enhanced if you have.

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An Excerpt from
The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay

The common room of the tavern was built in the round, with several long tables ringing the central fire pit and smaller tables and benches around most of the perimeter. Kug craned his neck and grunted in appreciation at the clever system of shutter blades set into the ceiling, each presumably adjusted throughout the day to let in an optimal amount of tahlight.

It seemed to him rather quiet for the tahigh meal: just a dozen or so people, locals, by the looks of them. Conversation dwindled as Honen led them in, Agane leaning heavily on her heartfast’s arm.

One of the locals, a weather-lean, elderly female dressed in a sleeveless gold and green tunic, rose to greet them. “Honen brings us travelers.” Her face was open, if neutral.

Kug doffed his hat. “T’yer day. I am Kug, and this is Dennick and Agane. You’re Mehanik?”

She spread her thin arms. “Asha’s fortune to each of you.” She shook her head with a small smile. “I am Falnin, Ward of Old Mound, so I’ve enough to do without also keeping this place together.”

A door in the curve of the common room wall swung open, through which came a big, ruddy-faced magn wrapped in a leather apron. He wiped his hands on a towel before tucking it into a pocket. “That honor is mine.”

He spread his arms. “I am Mehanik.” He indicated one of the tables where Falnin had sat with three others. Several empty places remained. “Please. Take your ease.”

Kug tentatively spread his arms. “Thank you. Nice place.”

One of the older locals smiled broadly, bright eyes almost lost in his round face, and pulled a cushion from under his flanks. He gestured for Agane to take it herself as Dennick helped her sit.

“A kindness,” she said to her benefactor.

The magn laughed. “I’ve padding of my own, enough.”

Mehanik’s voice carried a lilt of good-natured teasing. “Clearly travelers,” he said to Kug, “and polite as well. But! Guests don’t open their arms.”

Kug lowered them. “Ah! What’s the custom?”

Falnin said, “You sit down, you drink, and you eat.” That brought laughter from the locals. There was a little jostling and reassigning of seats so Kug could settle with Agane between him and Dennick. Falnin sat next to Dennick. Honen, Kug noticed, lingered by the door.

Mehanik turned to leave the common room. “On my return!”

Dennick said, “Mehanik, if you please… We’re grateful for your hospitality, but my heartfast is in sore need of a bed. Perhaps…”

The tavernkeep pivoted without breaking stride. “Of course.” He seemed to see Agane clearly for the first time. His complexion blanched, but Kug appreciated how quickly he recovered his smile. He dipped his head. “No stairs; it’s just beyond.” He gestured toward a different door on the far side of the room. “With me?”

As Dennick helped her to her feet, Agane said, “It’s been a lovely journey, if trying. You are a gracious host, Mehanik.”

He smiled and addressed the room. “You hear that, you bench polishers?” He waited for Dennick and Agane, then matched their necessarily slow pace to the exit. “You’ve a refined tone, travelers,” he said to Dennick. “Aenik?”

Dennick said, “And you’ve a good ear. Aenikantag itself, though that was some time ago, now.”

Kug heard Mehanik’s “It would have to be,” as he turned his attention to Falnin, who said, “It’s custom here to trade food and drink and a bed for stories, at least at first. Come tomorrow, though, you can expect Mehanik will take your Aenik tokens, if that’s your tender.”

“More than fair,” Kug replied.

“We don’t get many travelers, but they do come from all over Kaebrith. Helps us paint what’s beyond the horizon.”

“We’ve seen quite a few horizons,” Kug said. “We left from Aenikantag last Istatha.”

Falnin leaned back, eyes wide. “Three alone across nearly all of Kaebrith, and in these times? That ax of yours is cleaner than I’d expect.”

“It has some new nicks.” The locals, save Falnin, grinned. Rather than say more about that, he added, “We try to stay on the caravan roads.”

The magn who had given Agane his cushion returned it to where it could best serve him. “Old Mound trades with the Alliance sometimes. We hear it’s getting bloody on the border.”

Another said with a gossip’s delight, “The Alwarden’s paving his path with skulls.”

Kug smiled noncommittally. “There was certainly some ugly business in Aenikantag, not long before we set out,” he allowed. “Thankfully, most of our encounters along the way have been hospitable as this.”

Falnin cast an eye at the ax by his side. “Most.”

“Those few times I’ve had to season my ax had more to do with… economics. Not politics, so much.”

Falnin, a politician of a kind herself, redirected the conversation. “What horizon next for you, then?”

He gave her a slight nod to acknowledge the deft shift in topic. “Eventually, we hope to see Kwaanantag. Agane…”

Falnin’s brow creased and she looked down, nodding once. Kug recognized this variety of pragmatic sympathy, having received it himself when certain magn, usually those old enough to have some breaks in their path, heard his own tale of loss. “I understand,” she said.

One of the locals across the table, a wiry, wrinkled magn with small dark eyes, said, “Old Mound’s not on the most direct road to Kwaanantag. Someone gave you poor counsel.”

Mehanik emerged from one door and called across, “Longbread, finger meats, and gralla soon. You’ll understand if I attend to your companions first?”

Kug raised an arm. “I would do the same in your place. Thank you.”

Mehanik nodded quickly and disappeared through a different door Kug assumed led to the kitchen.

Kug wondered aloud, “He has no help?”

Falnin said, “This is a quiet village outside of harvest, or festival years. We’ve learned to pay for our meals with patience, in part.”

The small-eyed magn demonstrated being a bit light of that particular coin. “Anyway. I was saying: Your map needs new lines, Kug. You’re far off your path.”

Kug said, “Oh, Old Mound is very much on our path. Even more than Kwaanantag.”

Falnin’s eyebrows rose. “Indeed? Now this, it seems, is a tale you may be willing to tell, traveler.”

He sighed and looked around the table, bringing them in. “You can see Agane is infirm. It’s… the Wasting.”

Affirmative nods; clearly, some recognized its effects.

“She and Dennick are my truest friends. Dennick and I, neither of our paths would wind this far without the other. We are blood-bonded. Agane is his heartfast, and so, as close as a sister to me.”

The grim affair that brought them together played out in his memory, and for a blink or two, he let it.

“My own kin are gone. Those two are all I have of family. So when I learned of Agane’s plight, and knew I could help…”

One of the locals blurted, “Help with the Wasting..? What help is—”

The small-eyed magn muttered, “There are those who might…”

Kug noticed him glance at Falnin. A ripple of apparent discomfort passed across the locals’ faces, none moreso than Falnin’s.

Once, Kug had been master of a room like this. He still knew how to chart the mood. There was a history here.

Shunting aside his own vague unease, he continued.

“In my youth, I was a caravaneer. That’s how I first came to Old Mound.”

The older magn with the round face clapped his hands. “I see you now!” He laughed, pleased with himself. “Lots of dust and less hair, and you wear a longer belt around your trousers, but yes, I see you!” He shook his head; his voice, all mischief. “Your caravan left, but you remained for a hatala, or more. I remember that, too.” He shook a finger at Kug. “Warden of one, you were, weren’t you?”

Kug squinted at the magn. “Do I know your name..?”

“I’m Varanik, but I wouldn’t expect you to recall. Your attention was…” He seemed to remember where he was and, if his own furtive look toward Falnin told Kug anything, with whom. “Well.” More somber, he finished with, “Your path loops, eh, Kug?”

“I’ve given up predicting its turns,” Kug said, “and I don’t doubt I was as you say. The more of Kaebrith I saw, the more I believed it sprawled out for me and my whims. Now..?” He sighed. Sitting in a tavern like this always made him a little maudlin. “Experience paves where I’ve yet to step. Perhaps my time here, then… was in service of now.”

Mehanik burst from his kitchen and strode to the table, a wide platter laden with food and drink balanced on his heavy arm. “Break your fast, Kug! How long since you’ve had anything other than roadtack?”

Kug’s mouth watered at the sight of the carved meats and stringy, warm, fragrant bread placed before him. He swallowed. “Seeing this has me forgetting what came before, Mehanik. My thanks.”

“It’s our way.” Mehanik put a mug by Kug’s arm. “Be delicate with that; gralla‘s kind to a sipper—”

The locals finished in unison, “—but woe to the tipper!”

Kug brought the mug to his lips and did as recommended. The drink was warm and tangy. Mild heat followed it down his throat. “Sensible advice.”

Mehanik grinned, nodding. He and the others hovered over their own food, watching him. Falnin caught his eye and glanced at his plate: They were waiting on him, their guest.

Kug needed no further encouragement. With his first swallow of longbread, the table came alive again, though, Kug noticed, with slightly more reserve. Was everyone distracted by their food, or was it something else?

Mehanik said, “I cut your thread; please, go on.”

Kug was struck by the turn of phrase; he thought of Rajen and her Science of threads and braids and raw possibility. If he could only see that magick weave of maybe-futures as well!

“As Varanik recalls—” At the mention, the old magn looked at his plate. “—I had struck up a friendship here, and was… inspired… to extend my stay. That magn is the reason for my return now, and, as faint and narrow a path it may be… the object of our hope.”

Falnin regarded him with a questioning frown over troubled eyes. Kug felt as though he was running toward a cliff that wasn’t on the map.

He could not stop.

Perhaps there would be a river to catch him.

“Her name is Nakanin,” he said. “Does she still reside in Old Mound..?”

No river. Nothing but dry, sharp rocks and brambles off that edge.

The magn with the dark, small eyes said, “I knew it…”

Falnin stood up and strode, stiff-shouldered, from the table.

Varanik said, “That one doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Do you know where—”

“We don’t know where she is.” Varanik was curt. “Or care to.”

He looked over his shoulder and saw that Falnin lingered on the far side of the common room, her back to them. “I didn’t mean to distress anyone. It seems there’s history I couldn’t know.”

Mehanik took Falnin’s seat and gave Kug a level look.

“A dark chapter for Old Mound,” he said. “Here’s all you need know: Nakanin killed Falnin’s daughter, and who might have been her daughter’s daughter.”

“What? That can’t—”

Varanik said, “Not with her own hands… not as such…”

The small-eyed magn growled, “As well as.”

Varanik shook his head. “Baragnik, you can seed the path with weeds; it doesn’t change how it’s paved!”

Mehanik cut the air with the flat of his broad hand. “Enough from both of you.” He said to Kug, “Nakanin was exiled. Her pages have been burned. That’s all.”

Kug’s gut fell away from his heart. He looked around the table; around the room. The locals, sullen and uncomfortable, avoided his gaze. He sought the boy who’d led them here, Honen, but he had gone.

“Is there…” He closed his eyes and opened them again. “Is there no one who…”

The tavernkeep’s eyes were softer than his tone. “There’s no more to it.”

Falnin returned to the table with measured steps. Kug could see her jaw clenching. She deliberately smoothed the front of her tunic; a self-calming gesture, perhaps.

“Kug, Old Mound cannot provide what you seek.” With apparent effort, she put her hands at her sides and kept them still. “I understand your disappointment. For the benefit of your ailing companion, I welcome you to rest in your rooms a day or two as wardenguests, but after that… there is no reason for you to remain.”

They could pay their own way; the Warden of Old Mound knew that. Falnin’s meaning was clear: as a mercy toward Agane, let her get back what strength she could find, then take your troublesome ghosts and go away.

He nodded, standing. “You’re generous and kind, Warden Falnin. I…”

What could he say to her?

Mehanik filled the awkward gap.

“You’re welcome to take your meal in your room.”

It was more than a suggestion.

Name Your Price!