The winds of Brsa

by BRK

 A traveling scholar unexpectedly finds a remote and unknown island, full of beauty in its people, its city, and its flora and fauna. Brsa is also full of secrets not to be shared with outlanders: some guarded, some lost to the ravages of time. Fortunately, the island of Brsa seems to like him.

Added: Nov 2017 Updated: 29 May 2021 7,543 words 5,812 views 4.7 stars (6 votes)


The fine old high-masted merchant ship on which I’d been crossing the Tsundering Sea as a passenger, the Mounted Basilisk, had afforded us a comfortable enough journey as we’d spent a few sunny weeks skipping along the well-trafficked ports of the far-flung Tortoise Archipelago; but once we ran out of islands we had the most atrocious luck, and ended up spending over a month all but lost at sea—becalmed one week, tossed like griddle-cakes by storms straight from a seaman’s nightmare the next. So it almost counted as a blessing when the Basilisk unexpectedly foundered one wet gray morning on the cruel, ship-hungry reefs that flanked a mysterious green island that wasn’t on any of Captain Darkbrand’s myriad charts—at least, by this means, our seagoing purgatory was brought to a belated, if ignominious, end.

When the pale, handsome natives of the unknown island rowed out to rescue us from our crippled ship, the swarthy mainlanders who manned the Basilisk eyed them with superstitious unease; and even Captain Darkbrand, who’d revealed himself to be a sage and learned man in our long evenings together after mess, discussing history and philosophy as we played various gentlemen’s card games or made idle gambles at dice, viewed the islanders askance, and did not look them in their gold-flecked ruby eyes if he could help it. I, on the other hand, was fascinated, having indeed embarked upon this journey for the very purpose of encountering new peoples and new places, and in the end I remained in Brsa, as the island—or its main settlement, at least—was called, long after Darkbrand had overseen repairs to the Basilisk and sailed over the horizon in search of harbors more mundane and peoples less eerily unfamiliar than were to be found in Brsa.

Darkbrand, of course, had urged me to come with him, his black eyes glinting under his ferocious brows with what seemed like heartwarming concern for my welfare. But I told him Brsa liked me, and when I added that I had found a library, his shoulders slumped, knowing he was defeated. He left before first light, he and all his men, and I prepared never to see him again.

I’d been speaking the truth when I said I thought Brsa liked me. As I strode its wide streets, sharing smiles with the well-favored men and women of the town, I can describe it no more plainly than to say that the breeze seemed to caress me as I walked, especially—and here I blush to speak candidly—my backside, that well-made portion of my anatomy which the winds of Brsa seemed particularly enamored with. The loose linen trousers that after a long season of maritime travel I was accustomed to wearing as my only garb were no barrier at all to the wind’s ministrations as it made bold to caress not only my buttocks but, as if to maintain some kind of balance, the equipment hanging loose and heavy on the opposite side of my abashed and grateful body, so that I felt as though I was wearing no pantaloons at all. The Brsan breeze stroked me in other places as well, the wanton thing: my square, bronzed shoulders felt its avid touch constantly, night and day, as the wind gaily rubbed my sun-toughened skin and endlessly ruffled my overlong, pitch-black hair like a besotted lover who cannot stop his fingers from carding through his beloved’s sweet, beckoning locks. Even the hairs on my long, hardy legs seemed to love this merry, shameless wind. Most startling of all, my work-thickened chest (there are no true “passengers” aboard the Mounted Basilisk, my friend!) and tight, newly stone-carved belly had developed a sensitivity I’d never known before landing here in this distant, forgotten place beyond the last horizon, so that the wind’s dalliance with my easily erected nipples felt almost as powerful a stimulation as its most favorite dance, across my ass in back and my tackle in front, and these, after only a fortnight in the city, seemed comically glum at the idea of being chastely covered when the rest of my wind-nuzzled body was naked to its best admirer.

I tried once, a few days into my sojourn there, to ask the comely natives, who never went about wearing less than short breeches made from the thick, leathery local tree and gossamer-thin white chemises made of a substance I could learn nothing about, if the wind always behaved in such a libidinous fashion; but it seemed an indecorous subject and I decided to set aside my questions for a more opportune moment.

My favorite part of my stay in Brsa, even including from the caresses of the wind, was the ancient library that seemed to occupy a large part of the city’s north quarter. I was given the run of the place by my patron, the wizened, blind loremaster Krilus; his only stipulation was a weekly rest-day brunch in which Krilus could quiz me on everything I’d learned. The old man seemed hungry for an outlander’s perspective, and I, who had found a polymath’s paradise in the unending trove of scrolls and codexes packed and piled in a million bristling niches and nooks, was more than glad to gratify his simple desire.

In this particular week I had made an unparalleled find. Determining that the levels of the library were more or less chronological, I had tried my luck traveling back, figuratively, in time, descending by winding stone staircases and long-disused passageways to tour, eventually, a sprawling, randomly chosen subterranean level seven flights down from the more current stacks I had been haunting the week before. There, in book-catacombs that would have been all but airless for anyone but me (for gentle, caressing tendrils of my lover, the wind, found me even deep beneath the earth!), I found, on an otherwise empty row, a broad cache of books written both in, and on the subject of, a language I had never heard of before: an ancient, forgotten loremaster’s tongue called khtouhalye—or, roughly translated, scryspeak.

By the time I reluctantly surfaced into the world for food, I realized with shock that in my inattention to my own comings and goings the recent days had slipped past like water, and I was already due for my weekly brunch—indeed, judging by the sun, I was risking arriving late! Quickly I hastened from the library’s great, marble-colonnaded entrance across the ruddy flagstone plaza to the sweetwater fountain at its center, taking a few moments to gulp a few handfuls of its refreshing liquid and hastily dash my exposed pits, just in case, all while the eager breeze played delightedly with my almost elbow-length hair and still-hard backside, and the pale, handsome townspeople gaped in amusement at the bizarre practices of the Studious Stranger (as they had taken to calling me in their own tongue).

My sham toilette completed, I walked quickly—it was impolite to run in Brsa—out of the library’s dominions and through the honeycombed plazas and terraces of the town, from north quarter to east where the elites raised their tall and elegant abodes, until I found my destination: the Dappled Grove, the bucolically named restaurant and tavern where Krilus liked to meet.

He could have chosen to entertain me in his own splendidly grand home, which I had visited more than once in my weeks on the island; but Krilus liked the Grove because it had an outdoor upstairs terrace that looked out over the east quarter’s vast, twenty-acre main square on one side and, doubling as a sort of mezzanine, over the main floor of diners and imbibers inside, on the other. Krilus liked to be surrounded by people, in whose sounds and lives he delighted; and as the men and women of Brsa—particularly the men—were no hardship to look at, especially in large, happy numbers as they went about their business in the square or relaxed and dined inside the restaurant, I was more than satisfied to leave our meeting place up to him.

A group of handsome young island guards—the same men, I’d learned, who had come to investigate the Mounted Basilisk and had ended up ferrying its sodden, temporarily shipwrecked crew to land—had taken to practicing hand-to-hand combat in a corner of the great square not far from where we sat, and, most unusually for Brsans if not myself, had lately been doing so shirtless, making me very glad of the excellent view from the table I shared with Krilus on the upper tier of the Dappled Grove.

I hurried nimbly up the steep steps to the terrace and quickly located my patron. The old man was already seated at his favorite table, situated near the narrow “stern” of the terrace/mezzanine, so that the sounds of both places below might equally well be heard. I quickly crossed the distance between us and fell into the seat opposite my benefactor, across the round, stone table, and offered a smile to his attendant: a sweet-faced slip of a grandson named Jonid. By his height and the breadth of his pale shoulders, I judged that Jonid must surely have passed his twentieth year, but he was as shy as a sheltered toddler around me, and at my smile be blushed and ducked his head, russet brown hair falling over his face and obscuring features worthy of sustained admiration.

In the center of the table there was already a pitcher of sun-brewed local tea, made from some plant or root that yielded a brew both earthily delicious and slightly intoxicating, and there were large cups in front of all three of us as well, already filled with the heady beverage. I knew enough of local custom to be certain that neither of them would have partaken of any without me, and also that, as guest, it was my responsibility to raise my cup and toast the health of my host and his grandson, which I did. Krilus returned the compliment, Jonid bashfully murmured his thanks, and we drank deep and sat back, enjoying the sun and the gently frolicsome wind.

Below us, I watched attentively as the island guards filed into the square, soberly doffed their shirts, and began training. Jonid watched them with me for a moment, then turned his handsome face to me, watching me from under long eyelashes, mirroring, with his burning interest, the lust with which the brazen wind was touching my hard chest and shoulders and diving greedily into my loose, thin trousers after my thick, heavy attention-glutted manhood.

I shook myself free of such thoughts even as my host spoke up for the first time. “So, my friend, Doran Ekoyuma,” Krilus said, sounding gruff as always, “what has you so ensconced in your work that you keep an old man waiting for his redroot tea?” He held his face stern as he said this, as ever, but Jonid chanced a wink at me, letting me know they hadn’t waited long at all. The point was moot, I knew. Once I’d uttered the first word of my tale, Krilus would be netted like sun-crazed dancerfish, and all other matters would be instantly forgotten.

I pursed my lips, pointlessly given that my audience was a blind man, and spoke the fateful name. “Scryspeak,” I said.

“Scryspeak!” Krilus gasped. He sounded delighted. “Why, I haven’t heard talk of scryspeak since I was a whelp dandling at my learned grandfather’s knobby knees. Scryspeak!” he repeated in wonder. He learned forward, all trace of hauteur gone. “What have you learned?” he asked eagerly.

Krilus knew of my gift for language, and so he was not surprised when I said, “I have spent the whole of this week mastering it, Krilus. I think,” I added, more guarded now, “I think I know it well enough to speak words in it.”

Krilus nodded. “It is a language of beauty, is it not?” he asked.

“Undoubtedly.” In immersing myself in the roots of this forgotten tongue—a tongue so old that only the final ending fringe of its long history must have been known to Krilus—I had indeed become aware that it was a language that was both achingly beautiful to read and speak, and that it was a language about beauty, steeped in what was elegant, or glamorous, or bewitching about the world. It was also a language of almost palpable potency, a language that wanted to be shared to between living beings, living intellects—a work of craft that was both a technology of communication and an invocation of the essential nature of the universe of which men were only a tiny part, a speck in a thrumming. unimaginably formidable cosmos. It was a language made for describing not what was, but what was possible within the human imagination, and, so great was its puissance, beyond.

Krilus took a long draught of his redroot tea. In politeness, Jonid and I did the same, and I enjoyed the rare treat of its slight exultation as its earthy liquor seeped into me. “My great-grandsire knew something of the scryspeak,” Krilus observed fondly when he was done. “He would speak it sometimes. But rarely, much to my regret. Only hearing it, even without understanding, filled me with pleasure,” the old loremaster said fondly. He turned toward his grandson, who looked at him with smiling respect. “He did say one thing to me,” Krilus went on. “He said it to me in scryspeak, and then, when I laughed in joy at his words, he condescended to translate what he had said into the island tongue—he said, ‘You are a beautiful boy’.” He was still facing Jonid as he said this, and it was clear he wanted to pay the young man the same compliment. Jonid dipped his head bashfully.

Krilus turned to me, his cataract-white eyes gazing sightlessly at me. “Say something,” he commanded, imperious but kind.

What could I do but obey. I searched what I had learned. My heart was light. Krilus’s joy at my discovery and Jonid’s bashful beauty was tonic after the pleasant labor of plumbing the depths of the dusty tomes that described morphology, phonology, and syntax of a tongue not only specialized but long-forgotten. I was moved, almost unaccountably, to the lyrical. I framed my thought carefully, for scryspeak has a superfluity of beginning and ending transformations, all governing subtle shifts in intent and desire. “I would caress the dulcet Brsan zephyr,” I said, in the slow, mellifluous tones of scryspeak, “as sweetly as he has me.”

Krilus laughed, delighted, and Jonid stared in awe, as if I were become a vision, rather than merely speaking one. “What did you speak?” Krilus asked, as excited as a child.

“It was naught,” I said. When it seemed my patron would not be so easily satisfied, I elaborated slightly. “I merely stated a desire to touch the wind,” I said.

I believed this would sound innocuous enough, but Krilus’s silver brows climbed his tall forehead. “The wind, you say?” Krilus said, and something in his tone told me that he understood far more about my peculiar relationship with the airs of Brsa than I did myself.

Jonid, more callow, was not so circumspect. “Friend Doran!” he said, turning to me, his gold-and-ruby eyes bright. “Does the wind touch you?”

“Jonid!” Krilus cautioned, his face stone-carved and his tone uncharacteristically forbidding. Jonid subsided, ducking his head. I watched them both, but posed no questions. So sure of my talents as a researcher was I, no doubt troubled me that I would disinter, later, or sooner, the Brsans’ strange reticence to discuss the phenomenal proclivities of the island’s airs. Krilus recovered his solicitousness. “I apologize, friend Doran,” he said. “Scryspeak should not be greeted with anything but beauty complementary to its words and meaning.”

“And so it has,” I said courteously. Krilus smiled. The rest of our meal passed without incident. I told of the complex nuances of scryspeak, its cases and declensions, the breadth of its capacity for expression even beyond its simple vocabulary, and Krilus and Jonid listened raptly, the elder man fascinated as only a loremaster could be at new knowledge, the younger man with a demeanor that might have been called worshipful were I so incautious as to apply such sentiments to a young man’s regard for myself.

At length I took my leave, draining my mug to the health of my host as was the custom. It was indeed a heady brew and generously poured, and I felt myself lifted almost from my feet with lightness of mood as I all but danced out of the Dappled Grove and into the great square. No sooner had I done so than the inexplicable occurred. As I strode across the vast square, my face no doubt betraying my serenity in all things at that moment, I felt the movement of many men about me, and heard the pattering of soft boots on stone. The contingent of shirtless guards, perhaps thirty in number and every one of them as beautiful a specimen of masculinity as I had ever seen even in this haven, was forming around me, each of them in motion, as if they were practicing some form of complicated quadrille. The group of men undulated and shifted around me in a pattern I could tell was of exquisite beauty even if I could not follow it, and I watched, dumbfounded and wondrous, as the assemblage tightened around me, until the bulging thews of the lovesome men nearest me were within reach of my itching, but idle, hands. The sounds of their movements, especially their footfalls, served as a gentle auditory accompaniment to the spectacle, and I was impressed and, I blush to say, aroused by the display.

The dance shifted, suddenly, and the men were moving close around me in complex streams, now sliding this way, now that, their training-hardened, sweat dampened bodies passing so close to me that increasingly their pale shoulders and sides brushed against mine, and I had my wish of touching them even without raising my hands from my sides. Soon they were all brushing against me as they slid past this way and that, buffeting me gently from one direction, then another. And the suspicion struck me even as the dance dissipated and the men scattered, and no sooner was alone in this part of the great square, the sounds of normal life cascading gently around me (the rushing and spattering of the great east fountain, the hawking of merchants with their sweetmeats and fabrics in the farther corners beyond the fountain, the bustling of Brsan citizens passing through gabbling amongst themselves), did I understand what had just happened to me: the Brsan wind, answering my scry-spoken request, had made use of the guards to allow me to touch, as I had been touched.

I could still feel the brushing of those hard, finely honed bodies against mine, shirtless as I was, damp with the sweat of exertion as they’d trained in the noonday southern sun, and crafted to exquisite beauty by years of devoted diligence. My shoulders were bristling with sweat that was not my own, and I wished, suddenly and with chagrin, that I had done more to show my deep appreciation of this remarkable gift, and that I had dared to respond in kind.

Some instinct caused me to lift my eyes, back toward the elevations of the Dappled Orchard overlooking the north side of the plaza. At a distance I beheld, still seated and in profile, the stony face of my benefactor, and leaning eagerly over the wall of the high terrace, the grandson, Jonid, beguiled by the spectacle of what I had just experienced to the point of bewitchment. I could read wonder in his eyes even from this distance, and admiration, and—there was no denying it—a deep-rooted ardor focused entirely on myself.

I lifted a hand, acknowledging his stare, but he seemed transfixed, and did not respond. So I turned and strode at hazard, only seeking to be away from the restaurant and the plaza, though I had no destination in mind. It was some relief that I found my feet had brought me to the doorstep of the teal-washed boarding house that was my home here, pondering the locked and impassible mysteries of Brsa… and the unlooked-for chance of a comely key called scryspeak.

In the course of my studies and travels my lexical facility has allowed me to learn and absorb many languages. Their complexions and complexities have seemed in some ways almost infinitely varied to me, so much so that acquiring new tongues had become like a series of revelations, every new parlance a newly illuminated section of a vast and intricate fresco I was coming to see in a way few had or could. Each had its peculiarities. Captain Darkbrand, I remembered, was in unguarded moments prone to muttering grumpily in the tongue of his birth: a flat, prosaic speech whose conjugations had no means of discriminating past or future from the enduring present, as befit a dour, fatalist fisherfolk for whom naught had changed in thousands of years, nor ever would, so they reckoned. In the dark, climbing woodlands of the mountainfeet of Nap I discovered a language with a vocabulary so slender it had been entirely inscribed on a set of burnished wooden tablets reverently mounted in the public chambers of the first matron of every settlement; every nuance of speech and meaning was conveyed through an intricate and flexible system of inflections, tonal shifts, facial expressions, and posture. Their central myths, I was delighted to learn, all involved darkly comedic ramifications of their particular method of communication; the one I most often heard told of the war between ancient demigods started by a single swipe at an errant fly that turned a compliment about a meal into a vituperation on the host’s ancestry.

The more I studied, the more oddities I discovered. In the distant land of Mupanm they have no dental consonants: all of their words are pronounced by tongue, palate, and lips alone without touching the teeth in any way, though they do use a sort of voiced ‘wh’ where an ‘s’ might have stood in another tongue, so that their discourse seems punctuated by random whistle-bursts. (A fellow scholar of jocular disposition, on hearing me tell of this people’s particular linguistic peculiarity, proceeded to construct a farcical and spurious creation-legend for the Mupanmi involving a fugitive who’d had his teeth punched out by an enraged Kalakian tavernkeeper.) One of my favorite finds was the language of the Omoneraimad of the sultry savannas decorating the southern reaches of Further Suara, in which meaning is conveyed through the stringing together of simple concept-syllables mixed with infixes denoting time, number, and mood, forming words that in themselves each told a tale. Even the name of their people meant something like “the naked storytellers of the boarlands”.

The Brsan language bore many superficial similarities to the tongue of the Ua island-chain several day’s journey north by tallship, riding the long tail of the Tortoise Archipelago. My mastery of that tongue, begun even before my adventures aboard the Mounted Basilisk and perfected among the Uans themselves while the ship sojourned in port engaged in lucrative trade, eased my insinuation among the pale, comely natives of the lush and hidden haven we had latterly discovered in so unfortunate a manner, though as a seasoned linguist I was alert for all the intriguing deviations that made Brsan distinct and characteristic of its people. It was a fluid tongue, even more so than Uan, lending itself so easily to song than simple conversations about the weather or the taking in of crops might spontaneously accrue a kind of melody and rhythm, almost of their accord. I looked forward to the Longday Festival, which involved not only feasts of varied breads, cheeses, meats, and all kinds of sweet fruits and pastries but also a culminating night of bonfire tellings of what they called “new legends,” spontaneously invented by those most gifted at regaling audiences with word-crafted vistas and the doings of us hapless mortals. My patron, Krilus, had already smilingly hinted that, owing to my well-known skills and my status as an honored guest (and, no doubt, the great curiosity among the folk who knew me only as the Studious Stranger), I should expect to be enlisted among the story-spinners at the feast. I was, of course, duly honored, though in all honestly I would just as soon have sat back and let the Brsan tales wash over me like surf made into song.

Brsan was lyrical and evocative. It was distinctive and peculiar in a manner that to me was consonant with the garden of diversity that was all human language. Scryspeak, on the other hand…

Scryspeak was unlike all the other tongues I had learned. More than that, it was unlike in a fashion that was itself unique.

When immersing myself in the study of a new language, my approach had always been first to commit to memory its vocabulary and rules of usage as best I could discover them, and then, using that stored repository of data as a constant resource, like a self-replenishing mine, I would seek its living, breathing animus within the speech and literature of its practitioners. Brsan was no different: I built its library in my mind and then, through daily conversation and voracious reading, the language took on a complex, evolving life that seemed physically to reside in the streets and squares and stories of Brsa.

With scryspeak, it was different. Scryspeak came alive within me, like a flower digging into fertile soil and putting down its own roots.

That my relationship with scryspeak would be different from with any other tongue should have been clear to me from the outset. I had spent a week in its company, in ancient catacombs that must have challenged the Brsan winds’ desire to reach me and caress my bare, shipwork-hardened shoulders and ruffle my long, black tresses, and came out sure I had imbibed its secrets, all but boasting fluency to my startled patron. Now, as I lay in my bed in the airy, sunlit boarding-house I’d been staying in since my arrival in Brsa, I looked back on my time with those dusty, forgotten tomes in perplexed wonder. Confident as I was in my talents and skills, which I could say without arrogance were as formidable as any linguist I had ever known or heard of, still… how could I believe I had mastered an arcane and long-lost loremaster’s tongue in a mere seven days of study, however zealous? And yet I could not doubt that I had. Staring up at the smooth plastered ceiling above me, my hands laced behind my head, I could feel the curlicues of my understanding of the ancient tongue still coiling and twining and propagating within me, while my conscious self looked on in wonder and excitement tinged with a kind of primal fear.

How had I even discovered the rooms in which I found the books, alone on a shelf apart. Had no one else ever happened on these books and sought to plumb their mysteries? What had—

My thoughts were interrupted by a rapid knocking on the heavy door to my rooms. I looked up, surprised—I was seldom sought for at home during the day, as all knew I was likely to be found at the libraries between the morning and evening meals, or roaming the city seeking conversation. I was quite comfortable, however, so I decided not to get up but instead called out a friendly “Enter!” to whoever was without.

Jonid, the slim and pretty but quite manly grandson of my patron, burst into the room and stopped short a few feet away. His lightweight shirt was slightly damp against his chest, and he was breathing deeply, both of which drew my gaze to the wisps of russet hair that could be discerned through the sheer white fabric where it touched his sweat-prickled, firmly carved chest. I lifted my eyes to his and saw that my distraction, at least, had been matched by Jonid’s: the young man had been diverted by my own half-dressed form from whatever mission brought him running across the city to my quarters, his gold-and-ruby eyes raking over me as I lounged in my wide, cozy bed.

I arched an eyebrow. “Friend Jonid?” I asked.

Jonid started and met my gaze. “Friend Doran,” he said, remembering himself. “You are invited to converse with the Rella.”

I sat up, surprised and excited. The chief magistrate of this city and the surrounding lands was sort of like a king, though in the Brsan language rella was less-common word for seed-sower, and I tended to think of him that way in my head. The conceit of the name appealed to me, positioning the community chieftain as one who guided the beginnings of things but had no sway over the fruition, and acknowledging, as one who only sowed seeds must, all the forces beyond his control that might prevent the bountiful harvest those seeds might or might not portend. I had been wanting to meet the Rella, but somehow we had not encountered one another despite our sharing a penchant for roaming the city and sharing words with all and sundry. He remained one of the few Brsans in the harbor city I had not yet met or conversed with.

Something had changed. It could be merely that my sojourn in Brsa had endured long enough by this point that the Rella was at last comfortable proposing an encounter with the Studious Stranger. Perhaps it was his way, allowing me to get to know his city before a formal first meeting. My instincts, however, mistrusted an explanation that did not take into account what was different about me, in that moment, compared to a week before, or even this morning.

“For when has he set the meeting?” I asked Jonid cautiously.

To my surprise, Jonid stepped forward quickly and grabbed me wrist, pulling me to my feet. “Now!” he said, wide-eyed, and before I could protest he pulled me from my dwellings and out into the still-sunny rest-day afternoon.

Brsa doubled as the name of both the lushly verdant and apparently uncharted island whose sharp-toothed reefs had so cruelly rent the hull of the Mounted Basilisk, beyond the Tortoise Archipelago in the far fringes of the Tsundering Sea, and the friendly, bustling city I had adopted as my new home. Brsan maps depicted the great green island as long and tapered, like a root vegetable, with the main Brsan city clustered around an excellent natural harbor set into the northeast shoulder; to the south and southeast wide, hard-packed roads passed through gently rolling grain fields and pasturelands, while to the west the habitations climbed an undulation of low, wooded hills known for their many varieties of savory nuts and fragrant herbs, as well as an olive-like fruit that I was surprised to find in such a remote clime. The Rella’s House, which, I was told, served as his home as well as the repository of records and a gathering-place of the island’s elder-council, was built partway up the first of the sloping western hills. As I soon discovered, this location offered the magistrate an impressive prospect from his balconies, encompassing the harbor and most of the city, while placing him near to wide swaths of wild sweet-herbs that gave his open and breezy home a most gratifying redolence.

The entranceway consisted of two wide-set square columns painted coral-pink with no door between them, breaking not a high rampart but a low, waist-high wall separating the outer courtyard from an inner, more sheltered one. There I was momentarily left to my own devices, as Jonid, still full of urgency, rushed inside to inform the Rella’s aides of our arrival. I leaned on the balustrade of the outer courtyard and looked out over the city, the harbor, and the limitless blue-green waters beyond. A dark smudge in the riffling sea marked where the Basilisk ran aground. Had the Rella observed our plight from his balconies, wondering what these copper-skinned strangers might portend for them? How many outsiders had they encountered before? Though Brsa had an outstanding natural port, the ship traffic I had observed was mostly fisherfolk and coastal craft trading with settlements on the southern shores of the green island. Still, there were indeed larger ships anchored in mid-harbor—not mighty enough to be ocean-going tallships like the Basilisk, but of a size and sturdiness suited to regional commerce. Did the Brsans trade with the Uans, a week’s sail away, on the last fringes of what I would once have called the known world? The common origins of their respective tongues suggested some kind of relationship or past migration, but so far I had not uncovered whether the Brsans of these days ever sailed over that horizon. Maybe the ships sailed the other way, and there lay, to my back beyond the tapering green isle, a myriad of worlds no scholar of my kind had guessed the existence of, and of which no ship captain, if he encountered them, ever told tales around the tavern hearths of our own faraway homelands.

As I stood there, arms folded on the stone railing overlooking the city, the winds of Brsa wrapped themselves around me, and I reveled in their embrace. Pleasant airs slipped around my bare, tight-muscled torso like loving arms, tossing my long dark hair lightly this way and that as they fondled my back and buttocks. More little gusts rippled the loose fabric of my light trousers, tickling my legs and happy genitals as though, as ever, my meager clothing meant nothing to the saucy wind. I felt brushes of air across my cheeks and lips and along the little growth of beard I had let emerge through neglect during my week of intensive study in the library’s lowest vaults. I drew in a long breath, taking the air into me, and savored the mingled scents of sea and spice. I realized I was smiling wide. Never before had a place been so determined to make me feel welcome and content.

I thought back to the encounter with the guard earlier that day. I had no doubt that their surreal dance was the Brsan wind reaching out to me, responding to the wish I had expressed on the terrace above at the Dappled Orchard, and with chagrin I remembered I had been too stunned to respond or even to express my gratitude. So, with the scented wind caressing me, I spoke aloud one of the first phrases in scryspeak I had met in the oldest of the tomes, one I had been glad to see because I had known I would have use of it. “Winds of Brsa,” I chanted softly in the ancient loremaster’s tongue, “I thank you for your sweet blessings.”

The wind twisted elatedly around me, and even as it churned I felt it fleetingly press against me here and there all over my body like kisses—cheek, lips, chest, back, ankles, buttocks, plums… I laughed aloud, and the wind seemed to laugh too, settling back slowly into its playful, sliding cuddles that expressed its interest up and down my entire body. I was content to let it. It felt good, of course, but more than that I was honored, and moved, by its steady attentions.

“A noble sentiment,” said a pleasant voice.

I turned my head and saw a handsome, tawny-bearded man not much older than myself approaching, Jonid trailing deferentially behind him. To my surprise the newcomer was shirtless, like I was, his alluring, defined chest and the center line of his subtly chiseled abdomen brushed with the same golden-brown hair that lined his firm jaw and curled, cropped close, above wise, Brsan-red eyes. I made a move to straighten and face him properly, but before I could do so he was settled in next to me on the balustrade, arms folded on the stone railing as mine were, and I resumed my previous pose. Jonid did not join us, and for the moment I forgot about him.

“You know scryspeak?” I asked him in Brsan, watching him curiously.

“Sadly, I do not,” my companion said. “None have learned more than a taste of our ancient tongue in many centuries,” he added, casting me a sidelong glance before returning his gaze to the city below. “But certain well-worn phrases have been passed down to us from earlier times,” he continued. “The wind-thanksgiving is one. I speak it often.” He then repeated the words I had uttered, though his cadence seemed not quite right to me, as though he were an untraveled newcomer to a Kalakian port haltingly inquiring after the nearest inn. Of course, the idea that I knew scryspeak better and more intimately than the very Rella of Brsa—for my companion could be no other—was clearly absurd. I reminded myself I only knew the speech from books and could not truly be more its arbiter than a native descendant of its original speakers. My gut did not believe me, but I ignored it.

One thing I could not help observing, however: the wind made no play around the Rella in response to the words as it had with me. I knew the wind had a special affinity for me—it was still caressing me as we spoke. But surely it listened to the gratitude of its own people as well? I licked my upper lip. “Perhaps—” I began. Just in time I realized that I, an outlander, was about to offer to teach scryspeak to the chieftain of Brsa, and amended what I was going to say. “Perhaps we can… plumb its mysteries together sometime.”

The Rella looked directly at me. His ruby-scarlet eyes held many thoughts, as befit a man with his responsibilities; but I fancied I could discern affection and curiosity among them. I dared hope we were experiencing the beginnings of friendship.

The Rella seemed as though he might be about to say something like, “I would like that.” Instead he responded with a soft, “May it be so.” These were words of authority and of affinity, both.

I gave him a small nod and repeated in the same, intimate tone, “May it be so.” It felt like a lover’s promise, as though the two of us were weaving Brsa’s future in this cozy moment at the courtyard railing. It is a superstition among my people that promises always come in pairs, and I wondered what the other half would be. I sensed the rudder of my life turning, but what now lay ahead I did not know.

The Rella smiled, and rather than leaning forward and kissing him, as I was unaccountably tempted to do, I fell back on pleasantries. “I am glad to finally make your acquaintance,” I told him truthfully. With a glance at his bare shoulders I added, “Though I had expected our first meeting to be more… formal.”

The Rella, too, glanced at his pale, well-made shoulder and then met my gaze with a wide smile, splitting his short, well-groomed beard. “It is my custom to greet my friends as equals and set them at their ease,” he said. Then, as if to make sure the words had been properly spoken to me at least once, he said, “You are welcome to Brsa, friend Doran.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I have never been more pleased to be anywhere than here, in this place.”

“A generous compliment,” the Rella said, impressed.

We turned back the view before us for a moment, and I considered what the Rella had told me. No one had learned more than a taste of scryspeak in centuries, he had said. Had no one found the room with the ancient tomes in all that time, or tried their hand at fathoming their contents? My patron, Krilus, had spoken of a great-grandsire who had “known something” of scryspeak. Had that been the mere taste the Rella had spoken of, or had he hidden his learning from all but his scholarly scion—and if so, why?

After a moment, the Rella, still looking out over the trawlers as they returned from mid-day fishing, spoke again. “I also hear, friend Doran,” he said, “that you are touched by the wind.”

He said this so nonchalantly that it could not be more obvious it was a matter of considerable significance. I twisted my neck to look back at Jonid, who immediately dropped his head in shame. The Rella chuckled. “Do not blame the boy,” he said. I looked at the leader and he continued, “The dance of the guard has been much discussed in all the squares and corridors of Brsa. I was not the only one to recognize its significance. And there are other things I know that most do not.” He raised an eyebrow dramatically but kept his lips quirked in a small smile. I smiled at his deliberate equivocation, though I hoped to discover what he meant at some point. Did he have access to records or traditions others didn’t, by virtue of his office or lineage? Was his intelligence network subtle and extensive enough to inform him of even the most minute details of what occurred in the city below? Or was there, perhaps, some supernatural resource that told him things that others did not know?

Abruptly the Rella turned serious, leaning closer and speaking candidly to me in a low voice, as if confiding information that was for my ears alone. “A time of trials lies ahead,” he said quietly, his scarlet gaze locked on mine. “I admit I had been finding hope difficult to sustain, but now, friend Doran, that is no longer the case.”

I narrowed my gaze. “Please do not tell me there is a prophecy of a copper-skinned scryspeaker who helps the handsome Rella save the green isle of Brsa from certain doom,” I said.

The Rella laughed. “Nothing so lurid!” he said. He cast a glance at me, as if allowing himself to look at me as a man for the first time, and I felt a tickling thrill in my belly—he hadn’t missed the “handsome” I’d slipped in there after all. “No, not a prophecy,” he continued, still smiling. “A treaty, let us say. A treaty with an elemental force, a nemesis of Brsa and the wind that has befriended you.” He met my gaze steadily and finished, “A treaty that will soon… expire.”

I understood at last. I did not have an explanation for my unique role in this land, neither wind’s affinity for me nor my uncanny union with the potent and many-tendrilled spirit of a long-lost tongue, and me an outlander with no ties to this hidden and unknown land. But it was clear that the Rella, and Brsa, needed my help, and the whys were, in the end, immaterial. I pulled back from the railing and faced him, arms at my sides, feeling the thrilling touch of the wind as it curled around my body. The Rella did likewise, standing before me chest to chest, mere inches away. He was of a like height with me, though he stood in a way that felt tall, like a man who knew what it was to need to be stalwart for others.

Cool, pleasant air slipped between us, brushing our chests even as its arms stroked my limbs and belly and my firm, wind-beloved ass. Did the Rella notice? I wondered. What did he feel of the caresses the winds were giving me, even now, in this fulcrum-moment in both our tales? Did he sense their intent as they slid past him, or did he just feel the ordinary turnings of a spice-laden breeze in this high place overlooking the sea? This, too, I was curious to find out.

First things first. I met his bright gaze again and spoke as solemnly as I could. “Brsa,” I said, “can count on me.”

The Rella smiled beautifully, and unaccountably—had the wind pushed me?—our lips did meet this time, and we sealed my second vow with a sweet and lingering kiss.


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