by A. Melchor and N. Kolm
Niriko raced through the packed streets
around the docks. One of the good things of living near the port was
that she was lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea. One of the bad
things was that she lived the furthest from the dock district's school
and, after performing some chores for her father in the very early morning,
she had to hurry to get her utensils and run back to get in on time.
So she skipped through the crowds of people that slowly began to fill
the streets. She was used to dodge or shove people out of the way and
thus made good time as she always did.
She went trough the gates and crossed the courtyard as the wind itself.
The docks district school was not large by any means, counting with
only three classrooms, one for the boys, another for the girls and one
for the common classes.
Seeing that she did make it on time again, she slowed down a bit and
allowed herself to walk the last few steps to the school, keeping an
eye out for her friends.
"Niriko!" Her friend Zintzi waved over a group of girls.
Boys were playing ball in the inner courtyard. "You are so lucky!
All the teachers are late today!"
"Ah, but I was not so late. Not much later than usual."
she said as she headed over to the girls, grinning broadly.
As always, Niriko had a pang of doubting as she approached her classmates.
Her skin and hair color clashing almost violently with those of a normal
Solernian girl. She dismissed the feeling as usual and joined the little
group. Zintzi was the tallest, and her calm demeanor made her look like
an adult sometimes.
"So, any idea why the teachers are late?" Niriko asked after
all 'hi's had been exchanged.
"Yari says they are all in a meeting." Zintzi pointed at
one of the girls.
"I saw old Sprucehead." The girl referred to one of their
teacher's nicknames. "He was walking quickly, and I think all
the teachers are in a meeting at the palace."
"At the palace?" Niriko inclined her head and narrowed her
eyes gently. "Then it must be something important."
"Ball!" One of the boys screamed as Niriko noticed the hard
rubber ball heading straight towards her face.
Taking it as a challenge, Niriko leaned sideways and whirled, slamming
her fist into the ball as to send it back to the boys.
The boy received the ball with a twist of his wrists, sending it towards
"Good one, Niriko, but you hit it with your wrists, hips or legs,
not your hands!" He stuck his tongue before re-joining the game.
"Boys..." Niriko muttered and shook her head, chuckling softly.
"Whoooa!" That was so cool!" The girls giggled and 'oohed'
at Niriko's feat. Her knuckles stung a little from the impact, but nothing
she couldn't ignore.
"I bet Niriko could play in a team!" Someone in the group
said. There were very few dedicated female ball players in Solerne,
and none in Beldatz.
"Maybe, but one girl doesn't make a team." Niriko grinned
and shrugged faintly.
The entrance gong sounded, which was the signal that all students should
enter their classrooms. There were no teachers yet, but all the children
and teenagers began to trickle inside, assuming their places in the
large open rooms according to their grade.
Niriko sat down and wondered how they would have classes without teachers
and, better yet, what the teachers had been discussing at the palace.
The first class was one of the segregated ones, so the girls and boys
were each in a separate room. Over the entrance, they saw the school's
headmaster walk by in anger. He gave a brief look inside the girls'
classroom, but did not pause. Soon after, he was followed by three of
the teachers, all of whom looked inside with a strange look, but also
said nothing as they passed by.
She raised a brow in question at the other girls, but did not speak,
waiting for whatever it was that had been discussed to be presented
to the students, or dismissed.
A man entered the classroom... which was odd because the girls' classes
were always imparted by female teachers. He was wearing rich robes and
hat, and carrying a small codex in his hands. Behind him, a fully-armed
Watchman entered too.
"That's a mercenary, not a Watchman." Zintzi leaned over to
whisper; her boyfriend had joined the Watch last year after graduating
Niriko nodded slightly and looked at the two men who had entered, wondering
what was going on.
"By order of the Governor and the council of Beldatz." The
magistrate read. "In their infinite wisdom, they have decided that
the resources of the Beldatz school shall be focused on the most useful
endeavor of training the future productive members of our society. Therefore,
all school resources shall be concentrated on raising boys into proper
men. Girls shall receive proper education as housewives in their own
"What?" Niriko almost jumped up, but refrained and kept to
simply exclaiming that one word out loud.
There was a growing commotion amongst the girls.
"This means." The man folded the codex back, addressing them
directly. "That you are no longer required to attend school. You
can go home now."
"But....what of OUR education?" Niriko now did stand up,
quite outraged at this new government rule.
"As the edict says, you shall receive whatever education your
parents deem necessary. The role of housewife is better learned at a
house, after all."
"That is... that is ridiculous!" A girl from a grade ahead
of Niriko's also stood up. She was famous as the class bookworm and
was the best at calligraphy in all the room.
Niriko nodded vehemently.
"Indeed. Most ridiculous!"
"You are in no position to contest an official edict. Go home
now." The man walked off, leaving the soldier to leer at the girls.
Several girls, particularly the youngest, where laughing and cheering
about not having to go to school anymore, while the older, who understood
what this order meant, were still paralyzed with shock.
"And you! What are YOU leering at?" Niriko snapped at the
watchman who had remained behind as she angrily stuffed her bag.
The soldier just chuckled, as a stream of girls of many ages flowed
out of the room. The girl who had also stood up was shaking, her grademates
trying to calm her down.
"Oh, dear." Zintzi said, also shouldering her school bag sadly.
"That was what the meeting was about..."
"Indeed." Niriko growled and shouldered her bag and made
her way out of the classroom.
There were two other soldiers outside the school's entrance, and the
headmaster was standing inside, looking at his female students leave
the grounds in a mixture of sadness and barely contained outrage.
"For god's sake!" Niriko nearly fumed as she stalked out
of the building.
"What about our teachers?" Niriko saw the bookworm girl almost
assault the headmaster when she reached the gate. "Miss Taxli,
and Mrs. Kirani...."
"I'm sorry." The headmaster answered. "Their posts have
"Well this is just great! I knew the government had their heads
somewhere up in the clouds, but this is...is..." Niriko balled
her fists and shook her head.
"Calm down, Niriko." Zintzi put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm
sure this is temporary. I mean.... the governor has a daughter doesn't
"Well, then obviously he has forgotten about that!" She humphed
and growled lightly. "What am I supposed to do at home???"
"I'm sure your father will find something for you to do."
Her tall friend patted her. Niriko was almost dreading telling her father
"As if." Niriko shook her head. "He's glad he has me
out of his feet for the most of the day."
"I can get you a job at my parents' store." Zintzi smiled,
although it was clear that the situation also bothered her. "I'm
sure I'll end up working there too."
"Thank you Zintzi." Niriko nodded and smiled weakly. "Well...I
have to go and tell my father."
Her friend nodded. "I have to tell my parents too... see you later."
"Yes..." Niriko nodded and then hurried off towards her father’s
work place, wondering how he would react to this.
The docks were even busier at this time of day, as sailors had cleared
the effects of the previous night's drinking and ships arrived with
the high tide. Niriko went directly to look for her father, rather than
stop at home to drop her bags. She usually enjoyed walking around the
piers, seeing the people from all around the empire; skins of all shades...
Sighing deeply, she looked down for a moment. Her father had already
had quite some trouble with her and now she was not even able to go
to school anymore.
"Iin! Valpu hatri mabashabhda?" A woman turned Niriko around
by the shoulder. Niriko was spooked as a first reaction; she didn't
notice her approaching. Her second reaction was surprise, for the woman,
barely a feet taller than her, had even less fabric covering her body
than Niriko's admittedly daring -but comfortable- clothes. And third
was puzzlement, for the woman was an elf from the Viryuni clans, her
slanted eyes looking at her with amusement, framed by cascading bright
green hair held by a handkerchief over her head.
"Ah...uh...excuse me?" Niriko said almost timidly. "I
umm....do not speak elvish."
"No? A pity, a beautiful language if I do say so myself."
The woman switched to Solernian without problems, although with a rich
and exotic accent. "You look troubled, little girl, do you want
your fortune read? My magic is from the seas, but I see that you are
touched by the winds and waves."
"Well...I don't know." she sighed softly. "My future
looks pretty grim at the moment and um...I have no money to pay for
"Ah, you look at the clouds of the storm, but what about beyond
the clouds?" The woman's laugh was... contagious. "And don't
worry about the money, I'm not a professional fortuneteller, I will
give you a freebie just because you are so pretty."
Niriko blushed fiercely at these words and chuckled softly. "Well
then, if it's free, I'll take it."
"Give me your hand." The elf woman didn't wait, but took
Niriko's right hand. "Oh... working hands.... human hands.... odd...
well, well... ask me a question now."
"Um....what can I do now that the schools are closed. I mean...what
is there for me now?"
"That's easy." The woman closed Niriko's index upon her palm.
"You have a full life ahead of you." She closed her middle
one. "You will make a difference." She closed her ring finger.
"You will inspire others." She closed her little finger. "You
will grasp every chance you find." And finally she closed Niriko's
thumb. "And you will get to kick some butt."
Niriko had to chuckle at that last comment of the elf woman.
"You are nice lady. Thank you very much."
"Say hello to your father." The elf woman winked. "Tell
him that a pirate ship will dock at night. We followed them here and
sailed ahead when it was clear they were headed this way."
Niriko smiled and nodded. "I will, thank you again!" She
bowed lightly and smiled, then hurried off to find her father.
She found him as he finished dealing with the captain of a cargo ship,
giving back some papers. He leaned on his cane as he directed the large
skrii'qek runner towards another ship being towed into the Maze of Entry.
"Father!" she called and approached slowly, remembering what
she was actually going to tell him and looked down.
Gaizko Zarranz, the port master turned around in surprise upon hearing
his daughter's voice. Niriko had heard a lot of talk about his father
from many sailors and captains, and all of it was spoken in respect,
sometimes even fear.
"Niriko? What in all the blasted hellpits are you doing here?!
What did you do now?"
"Nothing father, I swear!" Niriko said defensively.
"But the government has cancelled all school for girls and... and
they told us to go home." she said quickly.
The man, not far into his forties but already sporting a white mane
of hair, looked at Niriko with surprise.
"They did... what?"
"They said that all lessons for girls have been cancelled."
Again, she looked down to the ground.
"They said that it was to ensure that the boys grow to be proper
men and girls learn household skills at home."
"That's just dumb." Her father scowled. "And besides,
a dogfolk cooks better than you, and they can stomach anything."
Niriko felt the sting even if she knew it was his rather rough attempt
to lighten the mood.
"I...I don't know what to do now." she sighed and looked
down to the ground again.
"I mean...I can't just stay at home!"
"Of course not." The port master agreed. "We won't have
any pottery left in a week. Hmm... what do you want to do?"
"What I...I don't know." Niriko said, shoulders slumping.
"I'm no good at household and well...shopkeeping is not anything
for me, either."
"Well..." Her father scratched his chin. "Go home for
now. No, wait... you have been helping the fishermen to sell their cargo
at the market, right?"
"...and you can read, write and count..." He pondered
more than asked.
"Um...what are you thinking about father?” She asked quietly,
wondering what her old man was up to.
"I guess you can help around here at the registries." He
concluded, still talking to himself.
"Really?" Niriko looked up suddenly, smiling brightly. That
would be wonderful, because the port was full of interesting people
from all over the lands.
"You can be of use there, I've always suspected that Karat is
pocketing bribes and miscounting cargo." He looked at her. "It's
decided; you will work here; that way I can keep an eye on you too."
"Keep an eye on me?" she said incredulously. "I am the
best daughter you could ever wish for!" she said, back to her old
"You're chaos incarnate, girl." He knocked her lightly over
the head with his cane, about the warmest gesture of affection he had
in his repertoire. "I don't want you destroying some poor shopkeep's
"Ah... there's another thing. I met a Viryuni elf at the port.
She said to say hello to you and to tell you that a Pirate ship is going
to dock tonight."
Gaizko looked at his daughter incredulously.
"Was this elf a woman, long and wavy green hair, wearing a fishing
net as a skirt?"
"Yes, that's her! She read my fortune, too...." Niriko smiled
happily and nodded.
"She's a sea witch; and a very strong one." Her father frowned.
"Be careful next time you meet her."
"Why? She was very nice to me!" Niriko looked at her father
"She's an elf witch!" The man frowned deeper. "They
are very nice, and that is what makes them doubly dangerous!
I don't want you picking up any ideas from an elf witch, understand?"
"But father...." Niriko said, looking slightly stubborn.
"Niriko." He said firmly. "If you are going to work here,
you will be my subordinate. If you are not going to obey my orders as
your father, you will obey them as your superior, get it?"
"But..." Niriko began again, then sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Now go home." He ordered. "I will tell Karat to expect
you tomorrow, first hour."
"Yes, sir." she said again, turned and left towards her home
On her way, she passed along a small ship, dwarfed by some of the merchant
vessels docked nearby, but having a majesty of its own. There were people
unloading boxes from the ship, while someone else oversaw the whole
operation from the deck.
"Heru da, Maev-ivada." A man called from the ship's bow. Niriko
recognized him as another Viryuni elf. He waved with a friendly smile.
"Uh..." she remembered her father’s word and quickly
turned to see if he was looking, but, not seeing him anymore, smiled
back to the elf and nodded. "I still don't understand your language,
but I take this as a hello."
"Indeed it is!" The man laughed. "I've seen you... you're
the port master's daughter, are you not?"
"Indeed I am. Niriko Zarranz, at your service."
"And what is your name if I may ask?"
"Narmati." He answered, leaning down on the railing. "Humans
call me 'captain' but that is mostly a matter of convenience."
"Hehe...this is a day of meeting elves it seems." she smiled
and looked up to him. "Is a witch with green hair and little clothing
part of your crew?"
"That's my wife and navigator you're describing." The elf
grinned. "She said she had to meet someone in the docks and went
"Ah...I was just wondering. You could relay my greetings and thanks
to her." she inclined her head.
"Say, is elvish difficult to learn?"
"Not really." The elf said. "Elf children have no trouble
learning it, neither do dolphins, but they speak with a funny accent."
"Could I...I mean could someone teach me?" she asked carefully.
She knew she'd spend much time at the docks for the time being and maybe
she could use the time to learn the language.
"Sure! Sail with us in the next trip and you'll return to Beldatz
speaking as well as a full-blooded Viryuni, little cousin!"
"Ah damn....I can't sail with you, I have to stay here."
she said with a light hunch to her shoulders.
"Elvish is like the wind; you don't learn it sitting down."
The Viryuni captain grew a little serious, but then recovered the cheer
he had displayed earlier. "Too bad, then! It would have been interesting."
Niriko looked a bit saddened for a moment. "Damn...I wish I could....I
mean...it's not that it's easy being what I am. But then at least I
could learn something of my...elf half."
"Then you are speaking with the wrong elf." The man grabbed
a rope and jumped, landing a few feet from the girl. "You have
no Viryuni blood, that is for sure."
"It seems so. I don't know who my mother was though. At least
you have pointy ears like I do..." she said with a mild chuckle.
"You have violet eyes." The elf raised Niriko's face by the
chin. "Fair skin, sun-like hair... my best guess is that your mother
is Maevindra. They do have their lands north of here, but I've never
visited. They have little love for the sea and we are uncomfortable
in their forests and jungles."
"Maevi...what?" Niriko asked, inclining her head rather cutely.
"Maevindra." Narmati repeated. "They don't like humans.
Your father must have been one handsome man to catch the fancy of a
"Well, he never told me of that. Actually, he never told me of
anything about my mother." she said, an edge of sadness creeping
into her voice.
"He must have his reasons." The elf patted her head gently.
"He is a wise man. Gruff, he is; bad temper too, but wise. I might
enquire when my ship trades with Maevindrans, but I can tell you one
thing from the start: your father probably saved your life. I will not
say more, that is your father's prerogative and I will respect his wishes."
She nodded slightly and smiled again.
"Well....I have to get back home."
"Vihra-mazhi, miss Niriko." He said. "You cannot translate
that, but the closest meaning in your tongue would be 'good luck and
a good life'."
"Vihra-mazhi, to you, too then." Niriko said, trying to repeat
the words the elf had said.
The elf winked and returned to his ship in a less spectacular way than
as he left it; he gave some orders in elvish to the other Viryuni sailors,
and work continued as usual.
So, Niriko went back to go her way towards her home, taking her time,
since she had nothing better to do really.