Over the course of the year I’ll be sharing short pieces of fiction set in the world of Death of Magic, some of which offer insight into the characters of the game. This story lets you find out a little more about Safelor and her thoughts about life in the city.
“Look, Safelor, you know times are hard. I can’t just -”
“Yes, Torstar, I do. I also know that you know times are harder for some than others. And I know that you have need of another courier.”
The orc glanced again at the small filly standing a little way off, her ears turned politely away. He wrinkled his nose. “She’s not from around here. I need a courier who knows the area.”
Safelor’s voice was firm. “She can learn.” She watched the grocer’s face as he thought. “Have I ever brought someone to you who wasn’t worth hiring? Has any of my herd ever shirked their work, ever stolen from you?”
His heavy brow furrowed as he mumbled, “No.” He looked up at her again. “But this girl isn’t your herd, Safelor. How could she be?”
Safelor turned her head slightly, looking again at the bay filly. Llaysinh was fourteen but seemed barely out of childhood, all legs and bright eyes, watching the traffic of the street with fascination. Of course, growing up as she had, all this was new to her. This close to the docks everything was warehouses, carts, raw goods moving through the streets on the backs of a multitude of workers. Across the street a cluster of goblins scattered to make way for an elf struggling to steer a heavy wheelbarrow over the uneven cobbles. Suddenly, the wheel caught in a gap between the stones. The barrow teetered –
Llaysinh broke into a canter and hurried across the street, leaning down to catch the edge of the wheelbarrow.
Safelor looked back to Torstar. The grocer rolled his eyes at her theatrically.
“Alright, I can see she’s a good kid. How’d you find her again?”
“That’s a long story,” Safelor smiled slightly, “it suffices to say that she’s of my herd, now. And she’s in need of a job.”
He sighed heavily scratching at his beard. “You know, on the one hand my staff are great – reliable, hardworking – on the other hand it’s a little embarrassing that most of them are yours. You’d think a proper businessman could hire his own workers…”
She put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her.
“We’re in this together, Torstar. Herdmates, family, friends, neighbours, what’s the difference? As you sazid, times are hard. There’s no shame in making it easier for each other.”
He lifted his large hand to hers, squeezed very slightly. “Very well. I’ll see if someone can find her a map.”
Safelor turned, “Llaysinh,” she called.
The girl looked up from her conversation with the elf, her ears pricked.
“Come and meet Mr Torstar.”
She pranced toward them, her smile radiant.
Safelor trotted back to the commonage, her ears flicking at the busyness around her. She could hear merchants calling from their stalls in Market Square several streets distant, the clatter of hooves and cart wheels on stone, and several tengu cawing at each other from attic windows on either side of the narrow street. She reached behind her to adjust the sit of her backframe, trying to balance the load of grain sacks that lay heavily against her flanks. Torstar had overfilled them, again. He put up a show of being a shrewd businessman, but his generosity got the better of him every time. Just as well. Llaysinh was just the latest in a long string of people who’d needed a job, either from Torstar or from someone he knew. And with so many living at the commonage who couldn’t earn a wage, the more that could find work the better.
Safelor knew the other herd matriarchs talked about her when she wasn’t there. She knew that the people she took into her herd confused them, even upset some of them. But their confusion made no sense to her.
All herds cared from those who were ill or injured or elderly. All herds would take in an orphan, a widow, a distant cousin who’d fallen on hard times. So long as someone could vouch for them, the herd would provide, and no-one in need would go hungry.
So why then had no herd taken in Enotia, orphaned and scarred by the fire that took her family? Why had no-one vouched for Oseos, who’d lost his shop and home to debtors when his wife’s merchant ship had been lost at sea? Why had no-one cared about Dovy, unable to work since she’d lost an arm in a factory accident?
Because Enotia and Oseos were minotaurs, and Dovy was an elf. And apparently that was enough to make them unimportant.
It made no sense. And it was stupid as well as cruel – centaur herds relied on orc grocers, minotaur cartwrights, elf seamstresses, even on the goblins who collected the nightsoil. No herd was truly independent of other races. As she’d said to Torstar, there wasn’t really much difference between herdmates and neighbours. Yet the other matriarchs gave her sideways glances and muttered about her when they thought she wasn’t listening, gossiping about Safelor’s motley band of strangers and outcasts. Let them take care of their own kind, they’d say.
So it was crueller still how they’d shunned Llaysinh, centaur though she was. It wasn’t the child’s fault that she was born to such parents. Her mother had abandoned her own herd years ago, disobeying her matriarch and pairing with a rogue stallion. Mother and daughter, a herd of two, had lived for some time in the grain fields on the far side of the island, until her mother was arrested by autos. For loitering, Llaysinh had said. The child had spent weeks scrounging to get by before the captain of one of the dwarf cargo ‘plins had taken pity on her, and delivered her to Safelor’s care.
Did you ask the matriarchs in your district for help? she’d asked.
None of them would speak to me.
How could they not see it? Such stubborn, unthinking adherence to tradition was beyond cruel. What good was the custom of honouring your mother if it meant deserting a mother who needed help? What good was the custom of caring for your own if it meant ignoring a child who had done nothing wrong? What good was the law “for the family first” if your definition of family meant leaving your neighbours and friends to starve?
Safelor looked around her. Across the street a goblin was having an intense conversation with an orc shopkeeper. A stallion hurried by with a merwoman on his back, following the directions she called out to him.
“Safelor!” A young elf waved to her, a basket under one arm and a huge smile on her face.
She slowed as the girl hurried up to her. “Good afternoon, Ky, how goes it?”
Ky grinned, her ears fluffed upright. “It’s going excellent! The grocer down on Weigher Lane that Mr Torstar introduced me to, remember her? She’s given me a raise, an extra two shields a week, and I’m allowed to take home some of what can’t be sold – ” she nodded to a collection of oddly shaped and aging vegetables in the basket – “there’s even tea, it had fallen down behind a shelf months ago but because it’s in a tin the pixies didn’t get to it.”
Safelor smiled. “You must be working hard, there. I’m glad you’re doing well.”
“It’s thanks to you, Safelor,” Ky shifted the basket on her hip, her ears dipping a moment. “I didn’t know who else to talk to about a job – ”
“It’s no trouble, really.”
“Well, thank you anyway. Also, Aunt said to tell you that she’ll be by with a few currant loaves this week, she wants to say thank you too.”
“That’s very kind of her. I’m sure she’ll be pleased about the tea.”
Ky grinned again, sharp teeth flashing. “She absolutely will! I should get this home to her. Have a good evening, Safelor.”
“And you too, Ky.”
The elf skipped by, her tail swaying. Safelor smiled as she turned away and continued down the street. The other matriarchs were fools if they couldn’t see the truth. Yes, they were of different races. But more importantly they were neighbours, co-workers, friends. They were of one city. They had to look out for each other.
Rounding the corner, Safelor looked up at the outer shield wall. It was a long way off but at this time of the day the sun glinted off it just right, shimmering like light through a soap bubble. Beyond that was enclosed the inner city, where the air was thick with ambient magic, where the streets were patrolled by mortal protectors instead of stone autos, where bread was made with fine wheat flour instead of rough milled hay, where probably even the beggars were well fed.
They were of one city. Even if it didn’t feel like it.
Safelor thought of Llaysinh’s bright smile, and sighed. You protected who you could. What more could you do?