At Windmawr Market you can buy anything from crypsid-sized copper saucepans to slaves from a dozen species and specialties. Windmawr is where the worlds meet. North of the market live the regular townspeople. South of the market, through Poisoner’s Gate, are those who dwell in darkness - the thieves and murderers, the free shadows, the spirit-whores, the priests of the outlawed gods, the chemists of dreams and nightmares, and the Kyth Sareia. And the girl with the golden eyes.

Through Myrmidon’s Gate, on the north-eastern side, the Palace is but a few minutes’ journey, and west of the market is – what’s that? The girl? No, forget about her, she means nothing right now. I was talking about Windmawr Market. This is where our tale begins. Now, then –

Who is she? I can’t tell you that. The girl with the golden eyes is one of the great mysteries of Charcoal’s adventure. I can’t tell you who she is until I’ve told you about Charcoal himself, and the young wizard, and Calico and the Chief Crypsid. This is the traditional way, and not lightly should it be altered. Now, as I was saying –

You have no respect for tradition, do you know that?

All right, all right. The girl. She was beautiful, that goes without saying. But she was Kyth Sareia without a doubt, and you know what that means. The young wizard first saw her when he was an apprentice, buying herbs for his Lady in the oldest part of Windmawr Market, where the walls of the houses lean so close together they become vaulted ceilings over stalls and alcoves selling cloth, and spice, and ornaments and animals. She was the same age as him, but she carried herself so regally he thought she must have been a princess from some faraway land. Only the fact that she had no guards, no entourage or minders made him doubt her royalty. That, and she wore no shoes. He saw her several times during his apprenticeship, and wondered about her for years, and his dreams were filled with golden eyes on many a night.

She aged slowly, if at all. Every time he saw her, she looked exactly the same. Her robes would be different, and she might wear her hair differently, but she always seemed the same age and she always had that same faraway look in her eyes, or perhaps it was only that he could read no emotions in those alien eyes. They were more than a little disconcerting, but detracted not one bit from her beauty.

The mystery, the beauty, the faraway expression – Kyth Sareia from head to foot, at least the parts that could be seen. But perhaps not all of her. You might think that her destiny was as inalterable as the war that is coming – it doesn’t matter if it comes this year or the next, no one can doubt that it is coming. But people and wars are more complicated than you think, and their fates can swing on things as small as snowflakes. There was more to this girl than mystery and beauty and faraway looks.

She liked to steal apples. She would walk through the market wearing that faraway look like a cloak of invulnerability, and everyone knew what she was and glanced away, watching for thieves. And she would stop at a farmer’s stand, and gaze around like a woman who lived in dreams, and snatch! Her hand went under the folds of her robes, and there was one less apple in the pile nearest her. And she would drift away as if she had all the time in the world, as faraway as ever, crowds melting away before her.

The young apprentice’s Lady was more generous than most, and he had never been hungry since entering her service. But in the society of apprentices it was traditional to learn something of thiefcraft, and a good deal of prestige came with the claims of having stolen such and such from this merchant or that one, whether you needed it or not. If one of his fellows had done what she did, he would soon reappear, jauntily munching the stolen fruit and grinning to his mates in the crowd. But the girl with the golden eyes did no such thing. She wandered on, stopping here and there at a rugseller’s stall or a spice merchant’s alcove or a crack in the wall with a pile of rubble heaped around its base, as if she was going to repeat the larceny or transubstantiate before his very eyes, but she didn’t do that either.

He followed her as closely as he dared, and still lost her from time to time but always found her again, until he came to the crack in the wall. There he stopped. The crack ran from eye level down to the piled rubble, widening into a little hole just before it disappeared under the rocks. And there, sitting improbably on a flat stone right by the hole, was as shiny and ripe an apple as you could ever wish to see. She had not even taken a bite.

The girl was just about to disappear into the crowd, heading towards a tall arched side corridor with never a backward glance. Then the apprentice glanced down at the apple once more, and it was gone, simply gone.

He knelt and peered into the little hole. But there was nothing to be seen there, no sign of an apple or anything that might have eaten it. And when he looked up again, there was no sign of the girl either. He stood up, shaking his head with a broad smile at the audacity of his golden-eyed dream, and reluctantly went back to his Lady’s business.

What does it mean? Ah, you grow impatient again. People your age make the second to worst audiences – always what does it mean, who is that girl, get to the point get to the point old man! I told you to let me tell the tale in the old way, but you wouldn’t hear of it. Well, that’s too bad. If I told you now what it means, it would ruin the story and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Now, attend and be silent, and I will speak of scarabs and salamanders.

I will speak of the Great Fire of Shaltan.

I will speak of Charcoal.

But my throat grows dry. You wouldn’t have a few coins to buy an old man a drink, would you? Ah, wonderful. Go on then, I’ll wait for you.

There is at least a partial explanation for some of this. - DM