Pearls & Pottery: Tales of an Adventure | Damian Knutson

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Hidden among the birch saplings and large, looming oaks of Wellberry Wood, tucked away neatly within the meadow, lay the small region Tarveena. From a distance, lost within the meadow, one could see the little huts dotting across the valley, and the animals herded along by their shepherds. A sweet silence was cast over the valley, as the nomads here generally minded their business, as did the occasional outsider who passed them by. The hands of fate had worked to shift these once-stagnant people from their original home, at the very far edge of the valley; a terrible, terrible event had thrust them into moving along. By the passage of those ten years following, they worked their way up near the edge of the woodlands, all the way across the land. Now they’ve fallen stagnant once more, although if you were to tread through the paved gravel paths you could hear whisperings of another migration coming soon. Dwelling in a small hut of clay and wood, which always has its stove running and silk smoke pouring in a thin line from the chimney, was Kip.

Kip was no ordinary witch. In fact, as far as the witches of Tarveena were concerned, Kip was rather extraordinary, because of their sheer lack of prestige when it came to spells. Aged only thirteen, it might seem reasonable to not be quite skilled at such a thing, but Kip endured a continual struggle while their peers in the village advanced with ease. This could be attributed, perhaps, to the very large vase that is constantly slung across their back: Their prized possession, and their main vessel for spellcasting.

“I don’t know what you think that will do,” their grandmother chided occasionally. “A witch needs a staff, not a pot!” But Kip, a lover of ceramics, was persistent. It was the first of the season; a fresh spring wind was breathed into the valley, and many of the nomadic witches began working early in the morning tending to their gardens and livestock. Little Kip did not go out to play with their peers; instead, they found themselves quite busy in their small room, carefully and neatly placing cloaks into their bag. It was a simple room, but not quite plain; colorful vases lined the shelves. Some misshapen, some made quite skillfully; it was a reflection of their work over the years, ever since they were very young. They knelt on
the wooden floorboards as their grandmother fussed over them.

“Kip, you need more supplies than that. Etheleon is far, very far from here…” Kip glanced up at their map that was nailed to the wall panel across from them. A hand-drawn, beautiful illustration their grandmother purchased from a traveling merchant some years ago, detailing every town and city of the land. Far from Tarveena and the valley, along a winding path of long routes and small towns, was the region’s grand capital city- Etheleon. Tall, looming towers, alleys of merchants clamoring to sell their wares; it was the perfect place for a struggling witch to learn magic properly. The witches of Tarveena were skillful, but not such that they could relay the information to someone; it came easily to them, so easily that it was impossible to educate anyone. Though that was never a problem in the past; to children, magic also came easily. Kip seemed to be the only exception. Desperate for knowledge, they had begged and pleaded for a year until their grandmother finally agreed to let them go.

“You’re young, but there shouldn’t be any issues…” The travel would only take a small handful of days if they moved fast. So, loaded up with supplies crammed into a bag and a large sack of coins, as well as their beloved vase, Kip was ready to depart and say farewell to Tarveena. They stood in front of the scratched mirror in the living room, a thin layer of dust having settled over it. Pointy ears stuck out from curtains of soft hair, and when they tucked their hair back, a pair of dainty pearl earrings could be seen; something they had traded a particularly pretty vase for a few moons ago. The sun was low; it was just barely dawn. It was time for Kip to leave for Starvana, the next town over, just out of the woodlands.

“My grandchild,” their grandmother rasped, cupping their face in her wrinkled, nimble hands, “you’re the only family I have left. Please, be careful, and send a letter home in every town you get to.” With dewy eyes, Kip nodded, embracing their grandmother. Having lost their parents when they were only three, their grandmother had raised them; she was the only family Kip had, too.

“I’ll be very careful,” they promised. Their grandmother nodded solemnly, then carefully hobbled to a shelf, grabbing something from its dusty surface: An old staff. A long, wooden rod that curled into a spiral at the top, hand-carved and made of birch.

“Every witch needs a staff,” she said softly. “Even if you think you don’t. You’re better with this than that vase. Please, take it. So I can sleep at night.” Kip accepted without hesitation. Despite the anxiety welling up within them at just the notion of traveling alone, the excitement of getting to see Etheleon in person outweighed the fear. Standing in the little doorway, wearing their favorite velvety purple cloak and clutching the map tightly, they waved to their tearful grandmother.

“Good-bye! I promise I’ll be careful! And- And I’ll send you something in the post by tomorrow!” Excitedly they hurried out of the hut, down the small stone steps and into the paved streets of the small, rural village. Nearly tripping a few times, they scurried off, down the way into the clearing of Wellberry Wood. The woods were an easy stroll, despite the venomous bugs that skittered along the branches of nearly every tree. Having spent the last few years wandering these woods alone, Kip had grown quite used to it. They walked along, trying to suppress the anxious weight in their stomach. The route they were taking to Etheleon was nearly completely safe, according to the past few merchants that had stumbled across Tarveena, but Kip still couldn’t help feeling a little afraid. It wasn’t common for young people to leave the valley in search of more exciting adventures elsewhere; it happened every now and then, but typically those people were older. Still, letters always came from them following their departure, and they always came back eventually. The idea of finally becoming skilled at magic was appealing enough for Kip to leave and embark on this journey. Their grandmother wanted to come with them, but she had become increasingly frail over the years. So Kip went alone.

They cleared the woods rather quickly. However, as soon as they stepped out into the open trail- a soft dirt path that led across a small meadow into Starvana- they began to move at a slower pace; weighed down by all the items slung over their back, and growing parched, they found it a bit difficult to hurry. They decided to combat this by thinking of how exciting it’d be to finally see Etheleon in person.

As the capital city, and home to the region’s king and queen, it was a famous, prestigious place. Home to the royal family, beloved by nearly everyone, it quickly became a popular tourist site. It was also home to the royal guards, and their captain, Gretchen Caldwell. Gretchen, aged thirty-six, was something of a war hero to the city. In the wake of frequent monster attacks, he had risked everything and lost his arm in a great battle. He was so popular that his tales surpassed even those about the royal family; even Kip and the other witches of Tarveena- distanced from most of the region- knew of his great feats. What Kip really wanted was to explore the city’s mercantile; alleys upon alleys of busy, bustling stalls, filled with artists from all walks of life, and the wares they had to sell. Starry-eyed travelers who passed through Tarveena
occasionally would describe it as a place of their dreams, and Kip could only hope they were right. Lost in thought, they didn’t even realize they were crossing the small wooden posts with lanterns, holding a sign that read, “Starvana: Town of Taverns.” They realized their boots were on cobblestone now rather than paved dirt, and a cluster of people were moving leisurely along the streets, bartering and chatting amongst themselves. Dressed in bright, colorful Tarveena clothing, Kip stuck out among the dark hues of brown and gray that the people of Starvana typically wore, with aprons covered in soot from blacksmithing work. Kip knew a decent amount about the town, mainly that it was famous for its taverns. The people who resided in the small brick homes and inns were generally of the gruff, strong sort; the type of person Kip thought Captain Caldwell most likely was. Despite their trembling hands and general fear of the unfamiliar people, they found themselves wandering into the town’s most popular tavern, in need of something to drink.

“Excuse me!” they squeaked, slipping in between the large, looming figures of muscled barbarians and bounty hunters. They hoisted themselves up onto a stool, although their head just barely peeked out over the edge of the bar. Across the bar was a grand wall of assorted drinks, tended with skill and grace by a tall woman, with piercing blue eyes and white hair swept up into a neat bun. Despite her formidable appearance, she regarded Kip with kindness as soon as her eyes fell onto them.

“Hello there, little traveler!” she cooed, leaning across the bar, a smile playing across her cherry red lips. “What can I get for ya?” Still a bit shaken from having to maneuver their way around so many people to get to the bar, Kip carefully pulled a handful of coins from their bag with trembling hands.

“Um,” they mumbled, their voice quiet, “I’d like a juice, please.” The woman smiled, and within seconds presented Kip with a cold glass of apple juice. They bowed their head, thanked the bartender, and sat sipping their juice quietly. The rowdy energy within the tavern had seemed to die down a bit; the barbarians seated at the bar, all towering over little Kip, seemed to actually be quite conscientious of the child, keeping their distance and giving Kip space, even quieting their banter just a bit. That is, until a crimson-haired man strolled into the place.

The man’s name was Ragoro. With lilac eyes, crimson hair that fell halfway down his back and spilled over his forehead and fell in between his eyes in messy, unkempt bangs, and skin as pale as a sheet and covered in scars, he had quite a unique appearance. Flashing a toothy grin, his canines were most noticeable, being rather sharp. One of his ears seemed to be missing a chunk; his clothes, while vaguely nice, were ragged and had a thin layer of soot, or perhaps dirt. Yet despite his ragged appearance, he wore a few strings of dainty pearls on his neck, and a couple bracelets on his wrist as well. He carried a briefcase. However much he stuck out, though, he didn’t seem to keep the attention of anyone around him very long; in the rowdy, rag-tag taverns of Starvana, strength was what made someone valuable, and while Ragoro had a rather lean figure, he was small compared to nearly everyone else in the room. So, it took him quite some effort to get the attention of the second-scrawniest man in the tavern, who, unbeknownst to Ragoro, was nicknamed “the shredder.”

“Hello there, my fine young fellow!” Ragoro exclaimed, raising his eyebrows and gesturing theatrically.

“Would you be interested, perhaps, in a bet?”

“What bet?” the man huffed at him, more occupied with his drink.

“We-ell…” Ragoro lifted up the briefcase, swaying it a bit and grinning as a soft clink came from inside it. “Y’see, in this briefcase is a lot of gold… If you can open it, you get all the stuff inside.”

“Mm? Easy.” The man reached forward, but Ragoro quickly snatched the case away.

“Ah-ah-ah. There’s a catch.” The man narrowed his eyes, and Ragoro quickly stammered, “well- well, you see, you’ve gotta pay up to do the challenge. Twenty coins per try.”

“Fine.” The man slung a small sack of coins to Ragoro, then grabbed the case. But try as he might, it wouldn’t open. Ragoro cleared his throat and carefully plucked the case from thebewildered man’s hands.

“Turn’s up. Gotta pay again.” The man, growing frustrated, tossed another sack of coins into Ragoro’s arms and took the case. The whole scene repeated a few times until Ragoro found himself a hundred gold richer.

“What the… Hey! Is this glue?!” The man got to his feet, slamming the briefcase against the ground. He slung a large, sharp blade from behind his back, wielding it and advancing onto Ragoro.

“Hmm, huh? I don’t… I haven’t a… Um…” Ragoro swiped the briefcase, creeping backward with wide eyes, his gaze darting back and forth. That’s when he noticed the small, brightly-dressed witch seated at the bar, sipping apple juice. Bingo. “Oh, my gods! My child! That’s- That’s my child!” He scampered over to Kip, leaning in and whispering, “just go with this for a sec, please.” Kip- bewildered and occupied mostly with their juice- stared at him with wide, confused eyes. The shredder was still stepping forward, his brows furrowed in anger, and Ragoro spun Kip’s stool, whirling them around to face the towering man. “Thank you so much for helping me find my child. I was looking everywhere for them. Everywhere!” He leaned in,
his eyebrows downturned and his eyes shiny with tears. “You have no idea how grateful I am to you. Here, take this.” He carefully handed his briefcase over to the man, nodding in earnest. The shredder, seemingly satisfied with this, sauntered back to his table to finally pry open the suitcase. Ragoro whipped around, his eyes slightly wide with fear. “We should get out of here,” he told Kip. “You’re involved now.” He quickly lifted them off the stool and guided them along gently, hurrying out of the tavern just as the shredder, much to his surprise, was able to open the suitcase quite easily, but he found nothing but a handful of pebbles inside. “Sorry, kid,” Ragoro said as he paced quickly down the cobblestone path, occasionally glancing behind them. “You helped me out!” He cleared his throat as a quiet clamor began to raise from farther back. “Here. Gold for your troubles.” He tossed a coin at Kip and looped around them, rushing off. Kip, a bit bewildered, was none the wiser until they realized one of their pearl earrings was missing.

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