Chapter 1: Old Thieves Make a Discovery Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name. She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river's language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening skyroiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there. Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man's memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners"I dove into that ragin' river and caught her by the toe!" "I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!"he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why or how. The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expansethe whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. "The River Girl"that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all. This is how the spark was struck. A ruckus of crows caught Krawg's attention as he groped for berries deep in a bramble. He and Warney, the conspirator with whom he had been caught thieving so many years ago, were laboring to pay their societal debts to House Abascar. The day had been long, but Krawg's spirits were high. No officers had come to reckon their work and berate them. Not yet. Tired of straining for latesummer apples high in the boughs of ancient trees, they had put down their picker-staffs and turned to plucking sourjuice and jewelweed bushes an applecore's throw from the Throanscall. Warney was preoccupied, trying to free his thorn-snagged sleeves and leggings. So Krawg smiled, dropped his harvesting sack, and crept away to investigate the cause of the birds' cacophony. He hoped to find them eying an injured animal, maybe a broad-antlered buck he could finish off and present to the duty officers. That would be a prize grand enough to deserve preparation in King Cal-marcus's kitchens. Such a discovery might bring Krawg closer to the king's grace and a pardon. "Aw, will you look at that?" Krawg flexed his bony fingers. The feathered curmudgeons flapped at the air over the riverbank, their gaze fixed on a disturbance in the grass. "Now, hold on!" called his even bonier friend. "Whatcha got there? Wait for me!" Twigs snapped and fabric ripped, but Warney made no progress. "Speak up now, what're them flappers squawkin' over? Are beastmen coming to kill us?" "Stop spookin', fraidy-brain," Krawg growled, and then he gusted air through his nostrils. "There won't be no beastman savages out here in the afternoon." "What is it then? Merchants?" "No merchants." "Is it a swarm of stingers?" "Nope." "A fangbear? River wyrms? Bramblepigs?" "Don't think so." &aOverstreet, Jeffrey is the author of 'Auralia's Colors ', published 2007 under ISBN 9781400072521 and ISBN 1400072522.