|This is my daughter Hannah's cover.|
Sneakatara Boatman was abandoned as a child by parents she never knew. She grew up at the orphanage within Apollo's temple down in Wanderhaven's Docks District. It was a tough life for a tiny girl with few ways to defend herself, and she lit out as soon as she was able. But life on the streets is no safer than it was back in the orphanage, and now the loathsome street criminal Russitan Lassiter has Sneax at his mercy.
The Adventures of Sneax & Elaina Emboo
Part 1: Sneax & Elaina Emboo and the Fire Elf
Elaina Emboo tried to pay attention to her tutor, the distinguished arcanist Master Alistair Marconi, but he was droning on about the fundamental properties of Matter Transmutation in N-space, and that made it difficult. Magical theory was painfully dry even at the best of times, but on a beautiful spring day when the sun was out and the city’s gardens were in full bloom, Marconi’s lectures were even more painful than usual. Elaina wished heartily that she was one of the city’s many wanderers and not one of its wealthier but more sedentary studiers.
Unfortunately, Elaina had little choice in the matter. Her father was a successful merchant-factor who wanted more for his favorite daughter than the struggle that he himself endured daily in the city’s Trading Square. What exactly her father’s vision of more entailed was something of a mystery, however, at least as far as Elaina was concerned. She knew that her father would eventually force her into a marriage of station to one of the Kingdom’s noble Houses, but thank Athena, he hadn’t yet started vetting actual suitors or begun planning the specifics of her dowry requirements. Instead, he'd settled for apprenticing Elaina to Master Marconi as a means of improving her education and, presumably, her marriageability.
This was infinitely better than being forced immediately into a loveless political union, but it wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t exciting. Elaina liked magic and knew that she had some facility for it, but it took quite a lot of study, and unfortunately, studying didn’t always hold her interest. She could perhaps have accepted her studies had she felt that they could make a difference in her life, but in truth, her apprenticeship merely delayed the inevitable. Elaina’s father would marry her off someday. In fact, as far as her father was concerned, her primary function was marriage to improve House Emboo’s social standing. When the day for that marriage came, whatever freedom Elaina had known would vanish in an instant.
As grim as this was, Elaina knew that she was far better off than her brother Marcus, whom their father had forced into vows at the Blackwater Monastery at the age of twelve. Marcus had made peace with his fate, Elaina knew, but he didn’t like it, not that their father cared. At fifteen, Elaina had already done better than Marcus by some three years, but she was still painfully aware that her reprieve was only temporary. Her freedom was a tenuous, ephemeral thing, and she therefore needed to make every day count for as much as it possibly could.
This did not make grasping the fundamental mechanics of arcane transmutations in N-space any easier. That was doubly true on a day when the sun was out, and Elaina’s mother had packed a pair of sweet rolls for Elaina's lunch. The afternoon would have been perfect for a picnic, but Elaina was stuck inside, listening to her tutor drone endlessly on about some obscure magical theorem that she could barely comprehend.
Elaina sighed, and Master Marconi pretended not to notice. But when she started staring out through his tower’s window, he stopped. “Am I boring you, Miss Emboo?”
Elaina sighed again, and it sounded theatrical even to her. “I'm sorry, Master. I know that I must strive to commit your lessons to memory, but… Is there not some way we could take this lesson elsewhere? It is so very drab and stuffy in your tower.”
“I should think not,” Master Marconi replied. “The Goddess Athena only knows what you would get up to once we got outside. If you are to succeed as a wizard, Elaina, you must learn to find your focus. Distractions such as these—a warm spring day or the call of that hooligan, Sneakatara Boatman—can have no place in your—”
“Sneax is not a hooligan!” Elaina cried. She colored. That had come out louder than she'd intended.
“The girl is a penniless urchin and an influence that, frankly, your father fears on your behalf. Now, you know that your father and I do not always agree, but in this, I think him correct ten parts in ten.”
“But Sneax doesn't have anybody else to look after her!”
“Tsk, Elaina,” Master Marconi replied. “Your argument does little to disprove my point. Besides which, your so-called ‘friend’ is not your responsibility in any logical sense of the word.”
Elaina took a deep breath. Master Marconi's logic exercises could be vicious, but practicing logical arguments was a profound improvement over Matter Transmutations in N-Space. She considered a moment and then made her case.
“Father always says that giving alms to the poor is a blessing to the giver. We know that Sneax is poor; even she would not deny it. Indeed, some days I think I am her chief source of food. Ergo, my abandoning her would be, by my father's logic, a sin rather than a service, either to duty or to the gods themselves. It is therefore important that I stay friends with her, both for her good and for my own.” The fact that she is my only escape from Father’s tyranny is but a happy accident, Elaina thought but did not add aloud.
Master Marconi smiled. “Well. That is at least logic after a fashion. But given what you say, would you not do better simply to lead Miss Boatman back to the Temple of Apollo where she was raised? She is poor, yes, and even hungry at times, I'm sure. But if she were to take holy orders with the Sun God—or even just commit to doing honest work in his temple—Apollo's faithful would see to her well-being, and you know it.
“Your argument, Elaina, points out correctly that being an orphan is unfortunate. But one's birth-station does not have to be a life-sentence, as your father would tell you, I’m sure. Therefore, you can simply continue to give alms to your friend, and this is better perhaps than doing nothing. But would it not be better still to lead her to a better way of life? Were you to attempt such, I have no doubt that your father would approve.
“However, the current state of affairs is such that Miss Boatman does most of the leading, and you do most of the following—straight into constant mischief. Given all that your father has done to provide for you and your future, this is no way to repay his trust.”
“Yes Master,” Elaina replied. But what Father doesn’t know won’t hurt him, thank the gods.
There was no way to argue this point to Master Marconi, however. He launched straight back into his lecture on N-Space Transmutations, and Elaina could do nothing but sit there and take it.
It seemed like a week had passed before Master Marconi's lecture concluded. Eventually it did, however, and Elaina found herself wandering out of his tower, still dazed by what he had said about Sneax. There was little question that he was right in nearly every respect, but Elaina couldn't bring herself around to the idea of trying to force Sneax into returning to Apollo's temple. It was impossible to imagine Sneax following orders from anyone, much less actually working, but there was more to it than that.
Sneakatara Boatman was unlike anyone Elaina had ever met.
Elaina had friends among the children of her father's business associates and even a few whose parents were from the lower ranks of the nobility. None of these would run barefoot across dockside rooftops in the rain, though. Nor could they teach Elaina how to nick a pie from a sleepy baker's wife or how to pick the lock to her father’s study. None of them would have even considered stowing away aboard a merchant trader docked at the wharf. But Sneax did all of these things and more, and best of all, Elaina didn’t have to talk her into any of it. Most of the time, that stuff was Sneax’s idea!
Elaina didn’t want to spend the rest of her life cooped up in Wanderhaven, living the life that her father wanted her to live. When she was with Sneax, she felt like maybe she didn’t have to. Still, there was little doubt that what Sneax did was wrong. Fun? Yes. Upright and trustworthy? Not a chance. This was what bothered Father, Elaina was sure of it.
Startled, Elaina jumped. By the time she saw Sneax, her friend was already seated on a low stone wall some three long paces away. While Elaina watched helplessly, Sneax unwrapped one of Elaina’s mother’s sweet rolls and bit into it.
“Hey! Those are mine!”
Sneax shrugged. “Finders keepers.”
“I brought one for you, you know,” Elaina said. “All you had to do was ask.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Sneax replied. She never looked up from her sweet roll, and after only a heartbeat, Elaina could see that her friend was starving.
Elaina’s anger melted. “You’re welcome,” she said. She unwrapped her own sweet roll just as Sneax was finishing.
Sneax licked her fingers and then wiped them on pants that were already filthy. “You got plans tonight?”
Elaina shrugged and tried to talk around a mouth full of sweet roll. “Gotta study. Matter Transmutations and—”
“Wrong,” Sneax said, cutting her off. “We got a job.”
“A job? I don’t know, Sneax. I’m already in trouble from the last time, and anyway, Master Marconi gave me a lot to do tonight, and—”
“But I need your help!” Sneax said. She was trying to hide it, but Elaina could see that her friend was worried. “Seriously, Elaina. I need you.”
Elaina felt herself wilting. “What do you need?”
“We gotta meet Russitan Lassiter up by the Old Church at moonrise. He’ll give us the details once we get there.”
“No,” Sneax said, “I’m not crazy. Just desperate. Can I count on you?”