Blue Cost Part 1
Clouds ringed the valley, swallowing the trees and rocks of the upper slopes in a grey mist. Even at noon the sun could not cut through the dense cover, leaving the valley in cold shadow.
The statue Emma leaned against was damp and cold, but she paid it little mind. With her eyes closed she took deep breaths, letting the cold air linger in her nose and throat before slowly exhaling. It felt clean, fresh, like she was the first being in the whole world to breath in that particular gulp of air. She thought about nothing as she pressed her back into the statue and breathed.
When she finally opened her eyes she looked to the line of clouds moving further down the sloping edge of the valley. It created the illusion that there was nothing more to the world than the green valley walls and the city that rested in its center. There was no sky, no sun, no hint that anything lived outside of the dwin city of Paulderain.
That thought brought her mind back to the moment, filled her head with her anxieties and fears. She pushed away from the statue, noticing for the first time the damp marks it left on her red dress. She expected the dress would suffer worse when it finally started to rain.
Without the sun it was hard to know exactly how long she'd been waiting. If she stayed out too long she would risk a confrontation with her mother when she returned home. If she was gone longer than her allotted free time she would be subjected to an interrogation about where she was and what she had done. But she had all afternoon before that was a worry, and she was only five minutes from her family's estate.
The Laudriel Estate, like the statues that dotted the field where Emma waited, was dwarven, and one of the oldest structures in the valley. From the field the estate was completely hidden. It appeared as if there was nothing more down the sloping valley walls than fields and rocky hills, but ringing the upper slopes where over three dozen Dwarven homes, all hidden beneath the ground.
The Velshin Field where Emma waited was the only outward sign of Dwarven habitation in the upper valley. Uneven rows of statues honored some of the dwarves and dwin who had built the city of Paulderain. Dwarves alone would have never built such a monument, but the influence of their dwin cousins had made those in Paulderain more sentimental.
Emma was blind to the statues, having spent what little free time she had as a child walking the field, studying the faces - she had long since lost interest in them. Life in a noble estate was strict; it was only two years ago, on her twenty-fifth birthday, that she'd been allowed to go past the fields without an elder family member escorting her.
For the first time she’d been able to walk unaccompanied down the long roads that lead to the valley center and wander on her own through the streets of Paulderain. It had been exhilarating at first, and almost overwhelming. The squat buildings of the city were always in the shadow if the Ardent’s statue. The massive construction dominated the scene so completely that Emma had spent many days simply sitting and staring at it.
When the novelty of the city began to wear off, she took to wandering unfocused around storefronts and homes. It was on one of those aimless explorations of the city that she had met Rilen, the friend she waited for now.
Rilen was late, but Emma didn't mind. With a rainstorm impending, Emma was more than happy for an excuse to stand outside and enjoy the cool, damp air. The stuffy halls of her family estate felt more confining with each month, and she longed for the day when she might leave them for good.
The rocky hills covered her view of the road, so Emma did not see Rilen until she rounded the bend that brought the path alongside the field. She wore simple linen clothes and a floppy blue hat that hid what Emma knew was a braided head of black hair. Rilen was darker than Emma by virtue of many more days spent outside in the sun, but both women had the naturally tan skin of dwin.
She carried a large sack, the strap slung over her shoulder. The curved wooden tip of a bow poked out from under the flap.
Emma waved and gathered her red skirt up in her hand, cursing the garment. Her own brown hair was done in a tight bun on the back of her head to keep it out of her eyes. She ran, quickly covering the distance between them, and wrapped Rilen in a hurried hug.
"I'm sorry to be so late, Deem's partner finally made it today, and Parien could talk all day and into the night if you let her. If all human merchants are like that it must take a week just to buy groceries."
"So is he still planning to start shipments to Blue Coast?" Emma asked.
"If he wins the contact. He hasn't won a bid at the Assembly since partnering with that woman." Rilen rolled her eyes.
"Well Blue Coast is a human city, it makes sense to give the contract to someone with a human partner."
The girls linked arms and continued walking down the road. Rilen cast a few nervous glances at the cloudy sky, but Emma did not notice.
"There are plenty of dwin in Blue Coast, and some of them will have representatives at the Assembly presenting bids."
Dark spots formed on the road before them as small drops of rain stained the packed gravel. Rilen sighed and pulled her jacket closer around her.
They chatted more as they made their way around the field, Emma asking many questions about Rilen’s brother and his work, some of which she had asked before. She was lost in thoughts of Blue Coast and how exciting it would be to have a job like Deem's that took him so far from the valley. She did not notice Rilen's discomfort, or even the rain which grew heavier each moment. It was only when they reached the treeline that she stopped her rapid series of questions long enough to notice their surroundings and her friend's mood.
"Oh, Rilen! We don't have to do this today, you're already soaked." She looked into her friends red eyes and saw for the first time just how distracted Rilen was. She assumed it was caused by the weather. "You hate this kind of rain. Let's go back. We can wait at my house until this passes."
Rilen forced one corner of her mouth up in a smile, "You love this sort of weather, Emma," Emma smiled and held one hand out to catch the falling water, "besides, you mother can barely tolerate that we are friends, she would throw a fit if I stomped into her fine dwarven home and dripped rainwater all over her carved floors."
"She wouldn't throw a fit," Emma paused, staring at her friend, "she would sit in the corner and silently fume until you were gone. Then she would throw a fit."
The girls laughed and Rilen took Emma's hands in hers, "We've come all this way, let's go on. It will be good for you to practice in different kinds of weather."
Emma nodded, her orange eyes gleaming brightly, clearly happy with Rilen's choice.
Under the trees the steady drizzle of rain was replace with large splashes of water that ran off the leaves. They walked a short distance to the same clearing they came to each time, and Rilen took the bow out of the sack. As she attached the tight string, Emma looked up to the treetops and breathed in the smell of rain.
"I don't understand how anyone could hate weather like this,” she commented
"How many rainstorms have you been in?"
"Counting this one? Eleven."
Rilen laughed, "And you're still this enchanted with them? Someday you'll have to get sick of them."
"Nonsense, I'll still love this even after a hundred rainstorms." Emma opened her mouth to let the water splash on her tongue.
"If you are about done, we could get started. My tolerance of this won't last forever."
"Of course, forgive me."
Emma hurried over and took the bow from Rilen. The smooth wood felt good in her hand, familiar after only three practices. Emma considered asking Rilen if she could keep this bow and give her friend the money to buy herself a new one. But she would wait until they finished their training to do that.
"It will be very different with everything covered in water. You will need to pay close attention to the grip."
"That's alright, it was getting too easy."
It was not a jest. Rilen had been amazed at how quickly Emma took to archery, already better than Rilen at aiming after such little training. Emma was not the type to be satisfied with being good enough. When she liked something she didn't stop pushing until she'd mastered it; Rilen knew that she would soon have nothing left to teach her friend.
At first the rain proved a challenge for Emma, her arrows slipped as she released, missing their mark by a wide margin. But soon she learned to flick the string dry, and to dry her dextrous fingers as best she could before handling the string. This improved her shots greatly, but rain still ran down into her eyes, hampering her aim.
Rilen loaned her the floppy hat, and though it keep her eyes dry, the wide brim interfered with her draw. She made a mental note that a good hat would be necessary for serious hunting in the rain.
She went through all the arrows Rilen had brought, then gathered them up to shoot again. Two had broken when they struck trees, Emma set those aside. She insisted on paying Rilen for any that broke so her friend did not waste her own money on Emma's pursuits.
After she spent through the arrows again she smiled broadly to herself, pleased with her own improvement.
“I think I’ll be ready to hunt game next time. What do you think?” She turned to Rilen and guilt wiped the smile from her face. Her friend sat with her arms wrapped tightly around herself, her dark braids hanging limply down the sides of her face.
"Rilen! Here," she tossed the hat back and hurried to her friends side, "let's been done now. You've humored me more than enough."
Rilen put the hat back over the limp braids. "You're already better in the rain than I am anyway, so it's not like I can teach you any more today. Maybe next time we should try for game."
"Thank you so much for doing all this," Emma hugged her friend and started to unstring the bow. "Should I do anything to dry it before you put it away?"
"No, I'll dry it at home. It's getting old anyway, I should just throw it out and get another."
Emma's eyes went wide, "No, don't do that I'll take it, or, I'll buy it from you."
"You can just have it if you want. Deem can get me another one."
"No please, let me pay for it."
They watched each other for a moment before Rilen consented. Coin was tighter than it used to be because of her brother's hardship finding good clients.
Together they gathered the arrows and put them back in Rilen's sack. With the excitement of practice over and the novelty of the rain vanishing, Emma truly looked at her friend for the first time all day. There was a heavy look in her eye that clearly went beyond the weather.
Emma took up her hands and asked, "Is everything ok."
Rilen sighed and shifted her eyes, "Yes, it's just Deem," she looked back into Emma's orange eyes and stopped, looking embarrassed.
"Is something wrong? Is it his partner, I know you don't like her much."
"No, nothing with Parien. It's only, this bid he is working on, he mentioned it might have more weight at the Assembly if he had a nobel Patron."
Her last few words seemed to trail off, and she looked away again.
"Who..." Emma paused as she relalize what Rilen was implying, "Does he want me as a Patron?"
"Since he teamed up with that human he's lost a lot of friends in Paulderain," Rilen explain, "right now you are about the only noble who will even talk to our family."
Emma squeezed her friend's hands tightly and smile, "Rilen, I would love to help you and Deem!"
Rilen pulled her right hand away but still held Emma's hand with her left. Both girls started out of the trees and toward the field, heavy drops of rain still pelting down.
"Being a Patron is such a huge responsibility, I wouldn't want to make you -"
"You wouldn't have to make me do anything, I want to help. Besides," she smiled and squeezed her friend's hand, "if I were Deem's Patron, I'd have to take the trip with him at least once to ensure it was all done in accordance with dwin law and the will of the Ardent." She said the last bit with slight mockery in her tone.
"You might not think much of the Ardent, Emma, but if you were a Patron you would have to take it seriously. Failing your duties as a Patron is a crime,” she shook her head, “The whole thing is just a bad idea."
"Do you think I can't do it?"
"What? No! I just don't want you to take that kind of risk for me and my stone-willed brother."
"Rilen," Emma stopped and turned to look her friend in the eye, "I would love to do this. It's just what I've been looking for, a reason, a real purpose to leave this stupid stone city and see someplace new. And you are going to start traveling with Deem's crews, right?"
"Maybe in a year or two,’ she shrugged.
"Or maybe now. If I were his Patron I could insist, and then we could see Blue Coast together."
Rilen smiled meekly, "That does sound pretty amazing."
"So will you tell Deem I want to do it?"
Rilen walked a short way before answering, they passed out of the treeline and onto the road beside the field.
"He'll need to meet with you, go over the specifics. And you'll have to meet Parien."
"So that's a yes," Emma smiled, already knowing what her friend would say.
"I'll tell him you are willing to talk, but you really should wait until you hear all the details before you make up your mind."
Emma wrapped Rilen in a hug, "This will be wonderful. Oh, can you imagine what Blue Coast must look like in person, blue sand beaches and the river rushing into the sea?"
All the way back down the road the girls talked about the city, and about what they knew of the route that lead there from Paulderain. Rilen could not muster as much enthusiasm as her friend, but Emma did not notice as she let images of the city and its human inhabitants dance around her mind.
When they reached the branch that took the road back to the Laudriel estate Rilen had to interrupt her friend before she kept on down the road toward the city.
"You'll let me know when Deem wants to meet?"
"Of course. It will be soon, the contract goes up for bid in six days."
The girls hugged again and parted ways, Rilen hurrying her pace once on her own, splashing through the puddles that formed on the road.
Emma continued home, oblivious to the water that matted her hair to her head and dripped heavily from her dress.
Continue to Part 2