The Headland

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The waves broke on the shore.

Despite the apparent capacity of the human brain to adapt to new environments, Kirya had never entirely got used to the sight of an ocean stretching to the horizon, nor the sound of it breaking against the sand. The lake at Treydolain was quiet, inert, disturbed only by boats and the slow meanderings of the river as it arrived from the west; here, at the very edge of the continent, the water was alive in a way she had never been able to imagine.

She snipped at the flowers hanging from the balcony's railings, enjoying the late afternoon sun as it began to drop towards the sea. The top floor apartment was quiet, as it tended to be these days. Everything was slower, quieter. The balcony overlooked the winding streets that led down the terraces towards the harbour. The calls of sea birds rang out across the rooftops.

Looking down at her hands, she marvelled at how they were still able to move with elegance and precision and strength, despite the all-too-visible wrinkles and sun spots. She balanced the stem of the rose on her palm, keeping it perfectly still. On a finger of each hand still rested the rings she had received from Pienya. Always ready; always waiting.

The rose rested steadily, only the wind causing it to rock lightly back and forth. She thought of her father and his desires to hold the valley in perpetual stasis, never changing, never risking. Never progress. Change had been forced upon him, at first by malevolent forces and then by his own weaknesses. He was gone from the world, thirty years hence, but rarely a day went by when she didn't see his face and think of the days at the court in better times. The face she always remembered was the one lit up by a smile of excitement, when he used to listen to her ideas and schemes and, for a brief moment, imagine that something different were possible. He had never truly believed, and that lack of foresight had led him to a luxurious, well-equipped house in upper Bruckin from which he was never allowed to leave, until he left the world entirely.

Ships rang their bells as they returned to the harbour, bringing in their hauls of fish and crab. Within the hour they would be offloaded, prepared and served to diners along the promenade. Hollanhead had its problems, as did anywhere, but it acknowledged them, dealt with them, handled them with a calm, relaxed but determined integrity.

They'd arrived with nothing, but being even an abdicated, exiled princess still garnered respect and opened doors, especially when hailing from a distant valley thought lost and semi-mythical. She had travelled - oh, she had travelled! - all along the Headland, until the coast hit the mountains and went no further; across the Winfast Gap to the southern continent, across the vast deserts to the tropics. The world was more vast than her mind could encompass, even having seen it, and more varied in its people and customs and aspirations.

She had stayed for a time in Lagonia but had known from the beginning that her position was untenable. The line of Telladors was broken in all but blood, their reputation stained by the actions of her forebears, and she held little interest in being the next to wear the mechanical crown. It had been found after the battle, having been retrieved by an opportunistic servant during the evacuation, its levers and gears still ticking over despite there being no head for it. The Avii had scattered to the world, having escaped from their own form of enforced isolation, once it became clear that Tarn held no interest in being their political or spiritual leader. The coalition in the valley formed slowly, painfully, suspiciously - but it held even to the day. All the guilds united, with Tranton Seldon to keep them in check. He had proved an invaluable liaison and ambassador for the newly opened trade routes to the Headland.

Kirya smiled, as she always did at the thought of Tranton. In his prime he'd been formidable, unstoppable, unreasonable. Even now he kept going, somehow, even in his eighth decade, maintaining the office once run by Fenris, always working on preparations should visitors from another world ever return. Tarn had helped, unlocking more of the knowledge that crouched in his mind, leftover from Aera's lodging, year on year. She only wished that Tarn had been able to know Fenris for longer; indeed, that she'd had more time with him. Every year it struck her anew that she had now lived for longer without Fenris Silt in the world than she had with him alive. Twice as long, nearly, though the memory of him burned as brightly as it might if he had died the day before. That Tranton had continued his work, after a fashion, would no doubt have irritated and amused Fenris.

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