Chapter Eight

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THE TOWN OF Drivel was poorly named by a man who was unburdened both by foresight and a merchant's enterprising spirit. The first explorer to discover the horseshoe-shaped bay was a pessimistic soul who saw only the mudflats and pathetic fishing huts speckling the sheltered coast, evidently lacking the imagination to give a proper name to what would eventually become the largest port on the Isle of Wise Ones.

While there was no comparison with the elegance of Whitemount, Kambe's capital, the town certainly had its own charm. Numerous docks stretched from the curving shore like thin fingers, reaching into the calm, deep waters that allowed massive merchant vessels to drop anchor. Along the curving shore, wooden shanties littered the mudflats, tilting in the shadows of the solid piers and rickety planks that led to stout warehouses, stores, taverns, and cobblestoned streets lit with blue, ever-glowing lamps.

And farther up, dotting the surrounding hillsides, were sprawling palaces owned by merchants, ship owners, and officials who clearly had more foresight than the fool who had first named the safest harbor on the Isle. They greedily reaped the rewards of the Wise Ones who enchanted and sold their goods for exorbitant prices. While travelers poured in from the farthest reaches of Fyrsta, trading, selling, and partaking of all the sordid splendor that could be found in the bustling port.

Isiilde was treated to an unrivaled view of the city as their wagon crested the final hill leading into Drivel. The city was much as she remembered it from the year before, still huddled in its haven, safe from the turbulent seas of the Fell Coast.

A gust of sharp wind swept up the hillside and buffeted their wagon as they navigated the final, snaking road. Isiilde tugged her cloak firmly about her and leaned into Marsais, trying to focus on the gulls that circled over the harbor while he worked the brake and kept a tight rein on the horses.

It never failed; whenever she rode down the final stretch of steep roadway, fear seized her, sending her heart racing. And as always she wished that she had decided to walk down the hill, promising herself that she would the next time.

"You look worried, my dear," Marsais observed, sparing a glance at the shivering nymph.

"Aren't you?" she squeaked.

"Aye, he's worried what's gonna happen when he tips over my barrels of brew. Ease up on the bloody brake before you snap it, Scarecrow," Oenghus warned. With those ominous words, the wagon lurched. Isiilde grabbed onto Marsais' sinewy arm for support, squeezing her eyes shut.

"By the Pits o' Mourn," Oenghus swore. "It looks like every bugger on the Isle has come today." Curiosity triumphed over fear, and she cracked an eye open.

A long line of travelers stretched along the road, waiting and hoping to pass the guards' inspection to enter the formidable gates. When Marsais eased the wagon to a stop at the back of the line, Isiilde stood, peering over heads and through the distant gates, eager for her first glimpse of the festivities beyond.

As with most port cities, half the population consisted of travelers and drifters, so inns were plentiful and always full. But today they had emptied out, as the festival brought everyone into the cobbled streets. There weren't many inhabitants on the secluded isle who would miss a performance by a Xaionian troupe.

"Why are they stopping everyone?" Isiilde asked. Generally, the gates were manned by two bored-looking guards who waved everyone through with admirable indifference.

A number of eyes from the line drifted towards the nymph. When she noticed their lingering stares, she quickly sat back down.

"With a crowd like this they're probably confiscating weapons," Oenghus said, reaching up to unclasp the long folds of his kilt from around his shoulder. He gathered the billowing cloth and tucked the folds into his belt to conceal the warhammer hanging from its belt hook.

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