A Seusea story, featuring her relentless pursuit of Thenson Trowheald, though with a twist.
Wind and rain threatened the ancient harbour of Real Movier. The dry season of the south-western Three Rivers littoral was truly over, and six months of storms and heavy rain were on their way. Azeas of Unn Vergo sat under an overhanging awning on the dockside and watched the monsoon roll in. Along came the humidity, and Azeas flapped his loose cotton shirt in response. He ached to get back inland, and farther north, where the weather was more pleasant.
But he was on Archon Sisbana’s business today, and his desire to go home had to wait until that was done. An itch at the rear of his mind told him that momentous things were about to happen, and sure enough, a three-masted heavy frigate headed around the crags of Dynarch Head, confident and proud in spite of the oncoming ill weather. It was a magnificent vessel, a hundred yards in length with many decks, and now it lowered its massive sails, allowing the navigator wizard on board to safely guide it into harbour. Azeas felt the thin bulk of the poniard under his shirt, and watched the boat as it glided through the choppy waters of the harbour.
Although he knew not the name of the vessel, Azeas was aware of its recent movements. It had come from the Nain port of Logisorde, some three hundred miles to the north. Among its passengers and cargo, was one person his employer was very interested in. A young woman, ultimately from Myre, but more recently she had been in the company of four men, known to be former gladiators from the wild lands immediately southeast of the Khuyor Desert. The five of them had travelled extensively throughout the southern Three Rivers, even defeating a powerful sorceress somewhere to the east, if rumour were true.
Her name was Seusea, Azeas’s employer had stated, and she could be recognised by her dusky skin, her slender form and movements, and startling white hair that she kept concealed under a hat. That brief description didn’t help, Azeas noted, as having darker skin accounted for most people from this part of the world. It was the hair that’d make her stand out, but if it were under a hat, then the hat would be the thing to look out for.
It wasn’t her hair that attracted his attention. It was someone nimbly diving overboard, and swimming sidestroke through the choppy water towards the more deserted southern part of the wharf. Curious, Azeas crept along the quay, keeping one eye out for the swimmer, and the other for the progress of the ship.
His suspicions as to the identity of the swimmer were confirmed when she adroitly clambered up a piling and on to the old timbers of the pier. Then she froze as she sensed his scrutiny. Azeas silently swore and pretended to pay attention to the ship, all the while feeling the pressure of her eyes.
Movement! She had taken to her heels, and quickly. Azeas watched in admiration as she scaled a wall cat-like, threw him one last glance, and climbed over the far side. All right then, he thought, let Irtys be our judge today. The chase is on, and let the best scoundrel win.
He knew the alleys and lanes of Real Movier well. Better, he thought, than his quarry. But she was of Myre, where every street and byway held a thousand secrets. Intuition would guide her steps, and certainly guide them well. Hunting her down would be a challenge, and one Azeas of Unn Vergo was relishing.
The rain started to fall as he set off. This was another challenge before him, and one his prey would be at home in. It did nothing but rain in Myre. With this in mind, Azeas slipped on his special gloves, the ones with the tiny claws embedded into the leather. Wall-climbing became saliently simpler in these, and he sped off after Seusea.
The city of Real Movier sat in a wide basin bisecting the short Dynarch River, which originated in the rocky fells just inland. The basin was demarcated by two large sandstone bluffs to the north and south, and the Horchander, the palace of the Archon, occupied a prominent five acres on the southernmost bluff. Azeas wondered for a moment: was this Seusea’s destination? Her steps were leading southeast through the more affluent parts of the city, and at the beginning of his pursuit, Azeas needed all of his skills to avoid household guards, both man and beast.
Two miles from the wharf, he stopped in a hurry, for his quarry had also stopped. There she was, standing proud on the battlements of a parapet, one hand clasped around an abutment, the other waving at him with measured insouciance. Then she beckoned to him with a seductive curling of her fingers. Nettled by her casualness, Azeas leapt over a high stone wall, and swung gibbon-like through the branches of a cedar to the opposite wall. Underneath, a large guard beast ran crazily, hissing, spitting and barking. Someone yelled in protest, and then the arrows flew.
He got to the opposite wall just before being peppered by a fusillade of arrows. Keeping his eyes on the parapet, he ran speedily along the wall, ignoring both missiles and outcries. Let them fire! His fate wasn’t to be skewered by an errant arrow today, nor a meal for some beast.
He reached the foot of the parapet, and gazed up. She was still there, some fifty feet above him, recklessly hanging on with one hand, her other fluttering in the increasing wind and rain.
‘Smirk now, girl,’ he vowed. ‘But I swear on Chon’s right ball, I’ll be smiling last.’ He said this without rancour, as he wished Seusea no harm, In truth, he was in complete admiration of her. He’d heard of her reputation, and was now witnessing her skill, which vindicated all that had been said about her.
He decided against following her up the parapet, as he saw where she would go next, and thought to intercept her. He smiled up at her, then dashed around the parapet and on to the roof of the Temple of Elesmis, the largest such fane to the sky god south of the Khuyor Desert. Sure enough, Seusea had come down the parapet and was mere yards ahead of him now. He got gratification from seeing the surprise on her dark face, and sprung at her.
She vaulted over the edge of the Temple, landing in a thicket of syzygium bushes. Azeas followed, bringing his knees up to his chest to buffer against the fall. His hands instinctively went out for his quarry, but got leaves and branches instead. Seusea was already on her feet, rushing past the temple guard who’d come to investigate. Azeas rose cursing, and dodged the man-catching net that was thrown his way by the incensed guard.
Now Seusea had forsaken the idea of going through yards and over fences, and ran up the steep Way of the Etten, past townsfolk, merchants, pack beasts and others, all trying to get their business done swiftly, and be out of the burgeoning rain. Azeas pursued her, wondering what craftiness she had in store. There was no doubt this was but a respite from her chicanery.
The answer came soon. Seusea turned off the Way of the Etten, accelerating in pace. Azeas took in a deep lungful of humid air, and gave fervent chase. He knew where she was bound, and felt that he would have his prey in hand quickly. The sewers of Real Movier were nothing like the tenebrae of her native Myre. These were no easy road for the accomplished footpad. No, these were tunnels, constructed with the simple purpose of transferring waste from city into the waiting waters of Mialta.
Yet, he had doubts. So far, Seusea had shown knowledge and tenacity in avoiding him, and to falter now would be a serious misjudgement on her part, and his estimation of her abilities. He remained confident that if he was to catch her anywhere, it’d be here in the sewers.
After following her through a myriad of crooked back-alleys, he caught sight of her lifting up a sewer cover, and dropping into the tunnel below. He swore she flashed him a smile as she fell. He grinned in spite of all, and uttered another oath to Chon. He slipped into the sewer after her, his nose assailed by the stench of human detritus. Immediately, the light of the day vanished, and Azeas now had to rely on his other senses.
His quarry was ahead of him, slithering snake-like through the old tunnels. He could hear her wriggling as her clothes rubbed against the pipe walls, and the soft grunts of her exertions. He lashed out with a free hand, and brushed one of her boots. The air whooshed as she reflexively kicked back at him. Azeas laughed harshly. ‘You made a mistake, lady. This is no place for the Hallilan. No place for you.’
Seusea never deigned to respond. It was clear all of her mind was on traversing the pipes. Azeas could hear her efforts as she squeezed through these passages that were never built to accommodate the likes of them. And while Azeas could not be described as a fastidious man, he loathed getting his clothes and hair soiled from the muck.
Seusea evidently shared this sentiment, as he heard her mutter uncomplimentary words on the subject of Real Movier’s folk and their sanitary habits. Azeas chose this lapse on her part to redouble his efforts to get her. He grabbed with a gloved hand, and succeeded in netting an ankle. He was rewarded with her panicked cry, and then wore several hard blows to the head from her kicking. Grimacing, he hung on, wearing her hits as stoically as he could.
Then he reached a constriction in the pipes he could not fit through. Alarmed, he let go of her ankle, and was only peripherally aware of Seusea moving away from him. He had other concerns now. He took in a deep breath and made his body as narrow as he could. No luck there. He could not move forward no matter what he did. Anchoring his arms at his side, he lurched backward. He slid back an inch, if that, and grazed his arms.
Had Irtys deserted him for good? The Goddess of Luck was by her very nature a fickle and mercurial being, never fixing her eyes upon anything for more than seconds. If Azeas had lost her favour down there in the reeking dark, he was doomed.
He refused to believe that fortune had fled today. Mastering himself against fear, he carefully thought out what was needed to be done. Against the rising tide of panic, he made a decision. Using the pointed toes of his boots as anchors, he flexed his legs and eased himself backward, inch by inch. His body came free again, and he gave thanks to the panoply of gods.
With that done, he could concentrate on his pugnacious quarry. He had a good idea of where she was headed, and he knew these pipes well enough to devise an alternative route. Azeas crept backwards until he sensed an opening to his left. He took that, crawling as quickly as possible to make up his prey’s advantage. These pipes were known to him, but he fretted deep within his mind that Seusea had gotten the better of him.
Ahead, he heard something metallic being pushed, and there came a glint of daylight. Seusea was out of the sewers, and he slithered as hurriedly as he was able. He emerged from the sewer in the depths of one of Real Movier’s gardens. He also emerged to the full force of Seusea’s roundhouse kick, which laid him out on the turf in a daze.
Her face appeared in his wavering vision. ‘That’s for grabbing at me,’ she said in a surprisingly soft voice. ‘We can’t have both of us getting stuck in those accursed pipes.’ She giggled and sped away, leaving Azeas sitting on the ground, rubbing his doubly bruised jaw.
He recovered in moments, shaking off both the rain and his ire. Azeas set off after Seusea once again, following her tracks through the lush growth of the garden. Through the trees and vines, he could see the bulk of the Horchander, sitting proud in its prominent place in the southeast of Real Movier. If this was Seusea’s destination, she had chosen the wrong way to get there, as Azeas was sure she would soon learn.
To the south, the garden ended in a high wall. Beyond that, as Azeas knew, was the monkey-house, where the Archon kept the small macaques that ran errands and messages throughout the city for her. The small, spry animals were protected by a decree of the Archon and to interfere with them was to incur a severe penalty. Logically, Azeas wondered what Seusea hoped to achieve by coming this way.
The macaques started screeching as Seusea ran amid their cages. Azeas vaulted the wall and went after her, ignoring the strident questions and hostile faces of the monkey handlers. He believed he had Seusea trapped, as the land here ended in a steep cliff overlooking the southernmost bluff of Real Movier. Five hundred feet below was the surging waters of Mialta, and an equal distance across this gulf was the high ground of the Horchander.
In between these two juts of land were strung a number of steel guy wires, and it was along these the macaques went to and fro. Even in the wind and rain, the small animals were not perturbed, as their hands and feet could find purchase on any kind of hold, no matter how minute. With a backwards glance at Azeas, Seusea took up a long wooden pole and carefully climbed on to the wire stays, and as Azeas watched in mute wonder, began to carefully walk across the swaying wires.
‘By Zail’s mud, you are kidding me,’ Azeas said. For a good minute he watched Seusea’s efforts to remain aloft, the pole out horizontal as a balance. Lightning flashed in the purple clouds, and thunder rumbled across the old city. Azeas figured if Seusea survived this, he would get to his knees and abase himself.
But he could not relinquish the chase and give this Societor woman victory. Going around the inlet, following the rocky coastline, would take a good thirty minutes, by which time Seusea would have made to the far side, if she survived. Azeas mulled over his options, then cleaned his gloves under a trough. He went through some limbering exercises before taking the guy wires firmly in hand. Behind him, one of the handlers quietly called him a fool.
Crooking his legs over the wires, he hung underneath them and began the perilous journey across a five hundred feet drop to a sure death. Seusea was a good hundred feet ahead, keeping her balance, and stopping judiciously to allow the industrious macaques to pass by. Then she’d set off again, as sure as if she’d done this her whole life.
Azeas had little time to watch her though. His concentration was needed wholly on his own task. His arms began to ache horribly about a third the way across. As an added slight, a macaque stopped to piss on him. He vowed a terrible vengeance on all manner of things, if he lived through this climb, monkeys being foremost of those targets.
Gusts of wind threatened to undo the efforts of both of them. Seusea crouched low to the wires, holding her pole out at arm’s length each time a blast came through. Rain made the wires slick too, and Azeas knew that without his special gloves, he’d be with the fishes below. But, on they went, persistence paying off for both scoundrels.
Seusea reached the far side twenty minutes after setting out, jumping to the cliff-side and joyously throwing the pole over the edge. She sat on the ground before the wire stays and jokingly encouraged Azeas’s progress with sly gestures and pouts. When he got near to the end, she rose and ran up a little pathway toward the loom of the Horchander. Azeas pulled himself across the last few feet to the edge, and gratefully climbed on to solid ground. There he sat, willing life back into his tormented arms and feet, panting like a dog in the hot sun.
He followed Seusea along the path she’d taken, knowing it’d bring them out to northern side of the Horchander, where the servants were housed. There she’d be challenged by guards and her jaunt would come to an end. The Archon did not tolerate trespassers. This naturally did not account for any surprises the Societor woman may have in store. She had been replete with them to date.
The path opened up to a small lawn, where a metal gazebo was erected. Seusea made straight for that, and Azeas could see the flowing colourful silks of the Archon standing there, sheltered from the elements. There were several other people with her, including some he did not recognise. They all watched Seusea’s approach coolly, and when the young woman arrived, she bent slightly, and gave Archon Sisbana her best curtsy.
Still somewhat out of breath, Azeas came in to the gazebo, and bowed grandly before his employer, which Sisbana acknowledged with a slight nod.
‘You re as good as I’ve heard, lady, and you Azeas my servant, are better than I thought,’ the Archon said.
‘Archon?’ Azeas asked. ‘You were expecting her?’
‘Of course. I was expecting both of you.’ She gestured to her companions. One was a swarthy man attired in a formless ochre robe, the other a taller, squarer man wearing a companionable grin. ‘This is Clanmaster Thenson Trowheald of Myre, and beside him is the redoubtable Omis, principal of the Ursith River Soldiers. Your quarry is the equally estimable Seusea of Myre.’
Seusea startled Azeas by giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. Then, with an equally arch expression, she stood by Thenson’s side, quietly taking one of his hands. ‘Sorry if I smell, Clanmaster.’
‘Not the first time you’ve dredged a sewer to get to me, is it?’ he asked.
Seusea blushed but said nothing.
‘Now that we’ve all been introduced, I hope Azeas, you’ll join us all for a luncheon.’ She sniffed and looked him up and down. ‘After you’ve cleaned up, of course. It seems Seusea has led you – what do they call it – on a merry dance down the garden path.’