THE STAR KILLERS
On the lower waters of the Kesh River near the wide estuary, lay the small, quiet community of Pebblewater Shade. It comprised of few more than a dozen buildings housing, amongst others, the bakery, a dairy and a blacksmith's foundry. One or two cottages at the rear of the town utilised the rich soil to grow vines which produced a singular grape known up and down the river as the Pebblewater White. Others chose to rear pigs and poultry while cultivating allotted patches for root vegetables and various fruit. Like every other river settlement, fishing was an important source of sustenance and revenue.
In the case of Pebblewater Shade, it was its rather unusual jewellery manufacture that gave it some distinction among the Kesh Brethren. Their particular inlet was such a shape that it gathered much of the material washed down by the mighty Kesh as it slowed at the end of its journey. One enterprising couple noticed that not only were the beds of freshwater pearls easily accessible from a small boat, but also fields of brightly-coloured stones and crystals were visible beneath the surface of the blue-grey water. With a passable knowledge of cutting and moulding as well as grinding and polishing, the husband produced a vivid range of glowing shapes that his artistic wife used to design elegant pieces that pulsed with a rustic river charm.
Elsewhere in the village, the schoolteacher doubled as the Mayor while the apothecary provided medicinal supplies in addition to medical expertise. One public house with stables was the social centre offering three extra rooms to the occasional overnight visitors. One boat builder and one glassblower were the other specialists of note otherwise it was all about barter and exchange of skills.
When travellers on the river sailed past this tranquil backwater they would often notice, standing slightly apart on the headland over the inlet, a thick-thatched sturdy cottage with light lavender walls that would reflect the morning sunlight like an estuary beacon. For the hard working boat crews that would go by each day, this welcoming radiance on the edge of the cliff would cheer them with thoughts of their own homes miles away. This cherished harbour sentry was the residence of Blaise Vodel and his wife Cloud.
Blaise spent much of his day on the river, sometimes with a rod in his hand watching the sun rise, other times with a cool drink watching it go down again. In between, he attended to lobster pots, repaired fishing nets and scraped the Kesh grime from the bottom of his boat. He was a river dweller now through and through like his wife who, when she wasn't providing piquant soups, bisques and shellfish broths for her neighbours, painted wildly romantic images of the waterway on planed-down pieces of driftwood. But it hadn't always been that way.
Once upon a time, Blaise and Cloud Vodel had been wanted. Not by the vaunted Special Police Forces of Mourn to the north of the continent or even the Oriental Guard of New Thebes who had never heard of anybody with the name Vodel. Certainly not by the insipid militia of bustling Metrokesh whose files were very loose and who were usually at full stretch coping with crimes committed within their own crumbling walls.
Fortunately, not by the warrior priests of Pelm either who only crossed the harsh desert from their oasis temples if the felon was heinous indeed. Of the coastal settlements to the west, the palace guard of the semi-submerged city of Greer would pursue transgressors with relentless vigour out across the Scattered Sea but showed little or no interest in events inland. Travellers on the roads that connected these five nation states recognised few if any of the city laws, observing instead a code of their own that did not include the harassment of urban refugees. The same went for the river folk who made their living and their homes around the mighty Kesh.
In fact, the Vodels of Pebblewater Shade were considered unremarkable by almost everyone who knew them. However, those very few people who might remember them from earlier times would have certainly remarked upon their new anonymity. For they would have recognised them as Myro Brass and Kim Helse, the Star Killers.