The Calhoon

Letter to the Archpriest at Korsk

Father Dolenei;
I want to tell you the story of my life. I have been silent on the subject until now, meekly accepting the guidance of the church as my one opportunity for salvation. Again, the winds of my soul are shifting, and I feel I must be more forthright. Have mercy on me in your reading, as yet I am young, but I pray for the guidance of the Ascendants and Morrow Himself.

Although it is clear to me that I am no Khard, I was nonetheless raised in the port city of Vladovar. I have few memories of my early childhood, pinned to my mother’s chest or back in a sling as she spun thread and string in our tiny hovel on the spinning wheel that took up most of our living area. My mother smelled like wool and sweet milk and spoke Khadoran with an accent I now recognize to be Cygnaran, though I never heard her speak that tongue. She called me Nana, a pet name short for something which I have forgotten. When I was old enough to walk, she procured employment for us both, manufacturing ropes and cloth in that city’s great factory of looms and wheels. Because I was too small to operate the machines, I stood in the loading docks beneath a great chute, collecting premeasured lengths of cord and tying them in bundles. I have no memory of a father, or even an idea of fatherhood as I now know exists for many lucky children. My only education concerning men came from the factory overseer and his patrons – men of every kind and shape that examined my coils of rope and hauled them away to be used on boats and farms and prisons and any number of professional pursuits. They were stronger than I thought should be allowed and I found them quite mysterious, altogether different from my gentle mother. She was also a devout parishioner of the Morrowan church and we attended services whenever we were able.

But all things must come to an end, isn’t it so? One day at the factory, there was some accident. It is likely I will never know what really happened, because I was quickly ushered into the streets before I was able to ask any questions. I stood at the gate of the loading dock for two days before I began to believe the stories of the men who came and went: that a foreign woman had died a terrible and painful bloody death in the factory, leaving her child an orphan. Even after I accepted this fate, I stood there, not knowing where else to go. Then the kind-eyed man approached me. He smelled like salt and sweat and copper and steel. I had seen him before, examining my bundles and buying them in cases that had to be wheeled to the docks by his assistants. He stood at the other side of the gate, arguing quietly with his men, and finally shouted, “Hey! Little sister! Look sharp!” When I lifted my eyes a bundle of rope beaned me on the forehead. His companions snickered, but he looked sternly to them. When I met his eyes they were again kind. “Did you tie this?” he asked, moving his boot to indicate my rope. I nodded. “Untie it.” I did ask he asked. “Can you tie other knots?” It happened that I could, ropes and strings being my only playthings. I could make a doll with nothing but a length of yarn and tie any of a hundred different knots. I nodded again, slowly. The kind-eyed man smiled and looked meaningfully to his men, then back at me, “Show me.”

I tied all the knots I knew: some for sailing, some for line-tying beasts, and some for binding up captives (his accomplices stood in to demonstrate, to the kind-eyed man’s great amusement). Finally, at the end of the rope, I tied a noose, and at this he frowned. But thoughtfully, he nodded, and without another word hoisted me upon his shoulders and carried me to the sea, dragging his crew behind him, still bound by my knots.

This is the story of how I became the pirate Little Sister. With great patience Captain Kind Eye taught me many things: the Ordic tongue, how to fight with a cutlass and pistol, how to mark the ships with the most cargo and plunder, which of my knots to use for what, how to swim in the cold salty ocean and how to climb the rigging to the crow’s nest and keep a lookout for enemies and land. He was a good captain. The rumours said he’d lost a daughter, and that was why he kept me as a pet. We had too few adventures. I must have been twelve when our sloop was boarded and commandeered by an enemy captain, who keelhauled poor Kind Eye for the entire length of the Immoren coast.

After that my life at sea became more desperate. I learned through hardship what it meant to be a woman of the water. Without the captain to protect me, my innocence was lost. But I grew strong. I learned what men find value in, how to protect it, and how to use it to protect me. I never took coin for favors, but I lived drunkenly, debaucherously, taking lives and fortunes on a whim and squandering them for momentary pleasures. Yet still they leave their scars, as I’m sure you glimpsed my tattoos when I came to you. There is much I do not remember, for the wine and liquor ran thick in those times. What I do remember, it would be imprudent to share with you, a holy man. It could only have ended in disaster.

And so it did, some years later when the ship to which I had pledged service was capsized by squalls that seemed a hundred yards high. By some miracle of Morrow I washed ashore unconscious within a league of a tiny Cygnaran village. I found a small house on the outskirts of the village and watched its darkened windows for many hours, hungering and thirsting, but the cottage was as silent as a grave. Finally I stole inside and set myself upon a few gourds from the larder. But just then the man of the house seemed to return home, alarmed, there was a deal of scuffling behind me and I fired my pistol into the darkness. And then I heard the child scream. One loud cry, and then she fell silent, except the sounds of our breathing. She looked upon the corpse of her father with a despair in her eyes so familiar that it chilled me to the bone. I pointed my pistol at her, but it was I that was moved. She waited silently for death, but I could not kill her. I cast the pistol to the floor and have not touched another.

She did not speak Khadoran, nor Ordic, but I managed a few Cygnaran words. “Hungry” I said, and then the word for sorrow. She shook her head and showed me her tiny broken body. The man I had killed was her father indeed, but also a torturer. I knew his kind, and had bedded with them many times, if you will pardon the imprudence of such a detail. So together we travelled silently for a long time, and she brought me to the cathedral in Caspia, where I left her and with the help of a scholar who translated, devoted my life to the priesthood in service of Morrow. They sent me north by boat to Ohk, and then by rail to the Khardic monastery cathedral in Korsk, as you know, where your kind servants taught me of my gift, and began to help me refine it. I took the name that you suggested and devoted my life to the study of medicine. I made my former skills useful by tying prayer ropes to give and sell day and night. But at the monastery when you asked for volunteers for a mission of mercy to the region of Port Vladovar, I knew that I must come. We began administering our salves and prayers among the poor in the city where I was once a child. But it, too, was changed. I was able to visit the looms only briefly to purchase woolen yarns, but I recognized no one, and the story of accidental death was too common to be remembered, I am afraid. While praying our simple vespers with a group of fishermen at sunup I was inspired, drawn by the scent of the salt and sweat. My hands ached to tie another knot to secure my way forward for the greater good. Surely as a fellow seaman, you must understand. I am sorry, Father, I must continue alone. I must return to the sea.

I have advised my accompanying fellow priests of my decision and have found passage to Ord with a fishing vessel crewed by pious simpletons. I will seek a more permanent arrangement of employment there. I will make payments for the girl, which I will send directly to the Synod in Caspia, where I hope she remains in good care. These fisherman largely speak Cygnaran amongst themselves and I find myself hanging on every word in hopes of writing the child a letter of encouragement and perhaps one day making pilgrimage to Caspia for the purpose of collecting her. Of my earnings I will keep only what I need, distributing as much as I can to the poor, and the remainder I will send on to you, Father, with what prayer ropes I can make. Please distribute them as you see fit, and pray for my strength amid these tempests of my heart. If you wish to offer me a missive or any advice, please direct it to the parish in Five Fingers, which I will check as often as I am able. The words you spoke to me at our parting, Father, I will not forget. I will heed them with all my will.

Yours Ever,
“Little” Sister Solovia


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