Stormwatcher

He climbed to Ferline’s Point, and sat on one of the stone benches.

Below him Raeval lay, its rose-tinted marble buildings pouring from the gorge, washing up around the valley and then down to the sea. All was towers, spires, pillars. Windows glittered in the sun. The white sand of the bay narrowed as it curved away, then almost looped back on itself to form a harbour. Three ships rode at anchor, another tied up at the quay. Sails glinted at the horizon.

Soon it would be autumn, and the trees would turn gold, then red, and from up here it would look as if the buildings were on fire. The sea would turn grey and wintry, and as it grew colder the houses would become caves of warmth and light. And he wouldn’t be here to see it.

‘It is beautiful.’

The voice made him jump. He glared at the speaker, a thin man in charcoal jerkin and trousers, who looked back at him without resentment.

‘The Rose City,’ he said. ‘You live here, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ Caedun said unwillingly. The man wasn’t a Sealander. His face had a strange angularity to it, and his green eyes were narrow and slanted. He had long brown hair, unbraided, tied at the back of his neck with a strip of leather.

‘You’re very lucky. Most of the world knows only life in a hovel. Not many have the knowledge of a birthplace like this to sustain them on their travels.’

‘On their trav—who are you?’

‘A friend.’

‘I’ve never seen you before.’

‘No,’ the man agreed cheerfully.

‘I—’ he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He turned away, looking down at the city, his vision blurring.

‘You’ve been thinking about running away,’ the man said. ‘Or refusing to play music for them. You’re looking for a way out.’

‘I don’t want to go,’ he said without turning round.

‘You must go. Caedun, there are so many things that rest upon your going to the Northlands.’

He looked back over his shoulder. ‘Like what?’ He thought about asking the man how he knew his name, but then realised he must have been at the duke’s celebration.

‘It’s difficult to explain. Do you know that sailors can sense a change in the weather long before it happens? Something, some tiny thing that passes most people by. They notice it. And then they start to look out for more signs, in case a storm is on the way.’

The stranger looked down at his hands, rubbed at an odd pattern of calluses on his right palm. ‘Well, I’m like that, only what I see is a change in…history, if you like. Small things, things that others ignore. But I’m looking for them, so perhaps that’s why I see them sooner. So then like a sailor, when I see those tiny signs of an approaching storm, I look around for things I can do to the ship to make the storm pass more easily. I might try to sail away from its path, or I might decide that’s not possible, and that I need to make preparations for when it arrives.’

Caedun frowned, trying to understand. Without intending to he had walked back to stand in front of the man.

‘I’ve seen a storm coming. I need to move people to places that they might not otherwise go, to make it easier to survive the storm. You’re one of those people.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

‘I don’t know. Why shouldn’t you?’

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