Episode 1: All The World's A Fish


"The Lhem have been fishing for as long as recorded history can recall,"' Amos read aloud. '"When the gods returned to their celestial palaces, the Lhem were already living off the bounty of the sea."'

"I do not understand why you read those books," Victana said. "You already knew we fished for a living."

"But the words are so much more interesting," Amos said.

"I prefer real words, not the dusty musings of some stranger," Victana said.

"This morning, you said, 'we should go fishing.' In fact, every morning you say, 'we should go fishing.' Have you ever said, 'let's go live off the bounty of the sea?'" Amos dipped his hand in the water, his hand forming a tiny wake as their duvkanan drifted in a cove.

"No, I didn't," Victana said. "Because that sounds strange. I wanted to go fishing, so I said, 'let's go fishing.'"

"Don't you ever feel like some words are more powerful than others?" Amos asked in the same dreamy voice.

"No," Victana said. "Words are words."

"That's not what the elders say," Amos said.

"Well," said Victana. "I wasn't always paying attention when they were talking."

"Maybe that's why you can't throw a cantrip," Amos said.

"Have we reached this marvelous spot you were bragging about?" Victana asked. "My arms are getting tired."

"The fish keep on telling me they aren't ready," Amos said.

"Are you entirely sure you aren't just making this up?" Victana asked.

"Ah," Amos said. "They found the worst of their kind and are ready for justice. We're to rid their population of this entire haul at once. Throw in the net!"

Victana shrugged. They had been fishing together since she had been old enough and strong enough to handle a duvkanan on her own. She had gotten used to Amos saying all manner of strange things, but he always found the best fishing spots. She threw in their weighted net.

Amos had his eyes closed and was murmuring in the wordless song. After a moment, he smiled. He lifted his hand and made the sign that called fish. Victana grunted as the net suddenly got heavy.

"Help me pull it in, chief pupil," she grunted.

Amos lifted his hand and curved it to one side. The net floated into the boat, dumping twenty wriggling fish into the wicker basket. The boat rocked, the low gunwales nearly reaching the water's edge.

"Would you quit it?" Victana demanded. "I don't even know why I bring you out to fish."

"Because you like having the most fish to deliver to market," Amos said. "For the least amount of work. And because I don't demand more than a half share."

"True," she said. "But some days I wish you also knew a cantrip to power this boat back to shore."

"I've told you," Amos said. "If I could carve just one little pathway into the hull, I could fill it from the ocean and push us to shore. But the elders say that violates the Prohibition."

"We are Lhem," Victana said. "And I will not be propelled back to shore on a blasphemy."

"Other people use pathways," Amos said.

"They are not Lhem," said Victana, seizing a paddle and beginning to heel the boat to port. "Grab the paddle and give me some power, lazy bones."

They paddled in silence. The Lhem were born with a paddle in their hand and the salt spray on their lips. Their duvkanan slid through the surf, slicing breakers and trough.

"The surf's high today," Amos grunted after one particularly tricky pass.

"Stop talking," Victana said. "I think we're going to miss the inlet. Couldn't you have asked the ocean to smooth itself a bit?"

"There were other complications," said Amos. "I bargained for what I could, but the ocean has another storm coming. You should have seen what it was planning before I negotiated us down to this."

They missed the inlet, running aground on a sandbar. Amos leapt out, his hand flicking a beaching sign and the duvkanan rumbled up the beach. When they reached the high tide mark, they grabbed the prow and dragged it into a small thicket. They were drenched in saltwater and sweating by the time their craft was stowed and they were ready to return to the village.

"One of these days," Amos said, "I'm going to remember to get permission from the grasses."

"Don't bother," Victana said. "I like pulling every muscle in my body wrenching the duvkanan through them. I would hate to pass up on that."

"You are the most insultingly determined person in the village," Amos said.

"Be careful, friend," she said. "I'm still the only person who puts up with you."

They lifted the basket between them. Amos' spells were renowned for finding the largest of the closewater fish. It had made him famous, in his own way, although the elders muttered. Still, until he learned an active permission for levitating dead wicker baskets, they had to carry that haul over the causeways and up to the village gate. It was slow going, even though they knew the way. There had been a storm the night before and the brackbogs were filled higher than usual. Several times they had to pause while Amos blew the worst of the swamp clutter off Victana's smock.

"How do you manage to walk through here every day and never get any mud on yourself?" she asked once as he summoned up air to dry her clothes. They had stumbled on storm leavings and she had fallen into a pool of particularly murky water. He was standing in a clear puddle, and his boots were quite obviously dry.

"The water knows me," he said. "It trusts me and would never do such a thing."

"Have I ever told you I find mages as insufferable as midges?" she said.

"Midges don't trust me," Amos said. "They enjoy biting me. That's why I keep those around me." He pointed to a small cloud of sea dragonflies flitting above the brackish water.

"Let's get going," Victana said. They lifted the basket and began the long stumble home. As they left the inlet behind, they began to climb uphill. The Lhem fish the sea, but they do not live in the swamp. Swamps are the home of disease and evil. They preferred to actually sleep and eat on solid ground. Perhaps it was because of this that neither Victana nor Amos noticed the column of smoke until they were already most of the way up the hill.

"Did they finally decide to burn out that stand of dead wood?" Victana asked.

"No," Amos said. He had stopped walking and was frowning in the direction of the smoke, and their village. "I hear the screams of living trees. Someone is burning the common."

"But why?" Victana asked. The common was an orchard in the center of every Lhem village. It provided what food the sea could not. Setting fire in the common was strictly forbidden.

"I hear other things too," Amos said. "I hear the screams of geese and dogs and goats. Something is very wrong."