IN MIRANOV, IT WAS SAID that on a night when the sky seemed determined to meet the sea, Ashua was weeping. Tonight she deeply grieved, and it was easy to see how imagination could turn the wind whipping the waves into the goddess’s moaning. Cobbled streets glistened faintly in the distance; a dark space between water and oil lamps was the only indication of the harbor square.

Then, laughter. Piercing the storm, deep voices called out as a crush of men jostled and pushed their way down the gangplank, oblivious to the danger of the rain-slicked boards. A baritone voice cut through the general noise, and heads turned in response.

“Darren! Where are you running to in such a hurry, lad?”

Someone jeered and friendly shoves were exchanged, dark shapes mindful not to knock anyone off the narrow gangplank.

“Is ’e hiding a woman from his mates, then? Go on, Darren! Who is she?” an anonymous voice called from amidst the sailors, cheered by its fellows.

A month at sea is a long time, and the reward of a night spent on dry land made jests come quick and easy. A dark shape, lithe and tall, separated from the group as it reached the bottom of the gangplank, turning to plant its hands on its hips in a defiant pose.

“A better sort n’any o you will see, that’s for sure!” he said. Yelling to make himself heard over a rush of jeers and expletives, he put on a mock high-class voice and pranced a few steps sideways. “Got herself a little shop, she does, just on the corner of that there market square, right beside the baker.”

A few men answered that with inventive ideas about just what Darren and his well-to-do lady friend would be up to so late in the evening. The group transformed back into a mass of bodies as someone dragged Darren back, launching bodily atop him.

The baritone voice from earlier spoke up again, laughing. “I never saw you as the kind to have a girl, my lad—I always saw you as the kind to have a hundred!”

Everyone devolved again into laughter, and for a moment it was impossible to pick out individual words or shapes as they wrestled and played. A few men fought others to the ground, and one was launched almost into the water before a helpful hand dragged him back.

“Go on, then! It’s not what you think, and that’s for sure,” Darren yelled from the center of the group, which was followed by more lewd examples of just what they might have been thinking.

After a few more pushes and another near-dunking, the group dissolved, heading for the nearby taverns and inns that would be their refuges for the next few days. Darren stayed in the center of the square, trying to fix some of the damage done to his already threadbare clothes.

The large baritone man and another smaller form shadowed him, still needling him. “And just what is it, if it isn’t what I think, then? Go on, lad!”

Darren struck a pose, staring off into the darkness of the market in front of them. His hair hung damp against his face, making what little of him could be seen in the dim light a rather sorry sight. “What it is, is—”

His words cut off abruptly, body staggering back like a marionette. For half a second he tottered there, shocked, unable to process the reality of the arrow embedded in his shoulder. Even as he took his first step back, falling, the other two men were in front of him, ready to block the next missile with their own bodies. Down Darren went, a puddle of blood washing away even as it formed beneath him, the beat of the rain and the dark square suddenly ominous.

In total silence his crew mates hunched over him, scanning the streets for a sign of the hidden archer. The faint creak of leather and the gentle touch of their hands against the ground were the only sounds they made. Darren moaned, barely audible over the rain, but the large man put a surprisingly gentle hand against his mouth to silence him. The small man drew a blade and with one quick motion flicked it out, letting the momentum carry his body forward. An unlikely shot in the dark and the rain, but like the impossible arrow, the dagger found its mark, a grunt and rattling gasp announcing its success. Quickly, moving with the surety forged in battlefields, the two men hoisted Darren up.

“Where?” the