Chapter Two: The Storm



by

Josie Beaudoin







Despite - or perhaps because of - the Emperor’s hopes, I was unable to continue. Smiling down at me from his truly inconsiderable height, Laric spoke with gentle understanding.

“Perhaps I am asking a bit much of you. You’ve been through so much in the last few days, not to mention that you’re still in mourning. How careless of me to have forgotten, I do apologize.

“Come along then, I’ll show you to your quarters. I hope you find the accommodations satisfactory. Help him up.”

This last was to the guards, for I had refused to stand. Not only my body but my heart & mind as well were drained even as he had said. I was neither able nor willing to force my body up from the flags. The guards hauled me easily to my feet &...”

“Morgan, I need to talk to you.”

“Not now, I'm busy.”

“Yes, now. I need my cabin. And you really should be working with Galen, not sitting in here moping over your journal like this. Either way, you'll have to go elsewhere. Pearl has waited long enough, and it's time to do this.”

“Your barbaric little ritual? Really, Jasper, how can you? She's less than half your age!”

“I'm not asking you to understand our ways, and I'm not asking for your approval. What I am asking is that you obey my orders while you're on my ship. Pearl has a right to this, and she's waited nearly a year. It's time she became a woman, and that's exactly what's going to happen. It's going to happen here in my cabin, and it's going to happen now, so I want you to leave. This is a private moment, and you're not a part of it.”

Morgan said nothing, but only gathered up his papers. He cleaned his pen, stoppered the inkwell, and left. As he opened the door he paused and looked back, crease lines furrowing his brow.

“Don't hurt her,” he whispered.

“Morgan, the whole point of this is to not hurt her. Why can't you understand that?”

“She's too young, she's just a child.”

“Not for long. Go.”

Morgan left, his head hung low and feet shuffling on the wooden boards. He heard the door close firmly behind him, but did not look back. He went into what had been Emmy's quarters before she gave them over to Paige, who sat there now, staring blankly out the porthole, one hand on her rounded belly. She did not turn when she heard the door, but only spoke.

“Has it begun?”

“Soon. Jasper kicked me out.”

“Hmm.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Up on deck the entire crew was gathered, except for the captain. They stood in a loose circle around Ruby, the ship's priest, who was anointing a young girl in a blue gauzy gown. It fluttered in the wind, whipping around her legs like waves.

“Pearl, for twelve years your body has held the promise of a woman. For ten months further your body has been ready to fulfill that promise. I myself have witnessed this and know it to be true. I have searched this girl's soul and attest unto you all that she is innocent of a man's touch. Please join me in blessing her.”

From around the circle the ancient benediction flowed in the words of the Rian tongue, We bless you and bid you farewell with love. We await with joyful expectation the one who follows after you. May she be strong, may she be brave, may she be a True Child of Tschari. Go and meet her now, that you may bring her to us.

As the blessing ended, a woman stood forth from behind the young girl in the dress. Tears shone in her eyes.

“I love you,” she said, embracing the girl from behind. “My child dies today, and I love you.”

“You're not afraid, are you, mother?” Doubt crept into the child's voice.

“No, only sad that you'll no longer be my little girl.”

“I'll be alright,” the girl said, half defensive and half questioning.

“I know you will,” her mother answered. “I'm glad you waited. You couldn't have made a better choice than this.”

“It's time to go,” Ruby said, gently interrupting. “Finish your farewells.”

Pearl turned and faced her mother. The two kissed, and then parted. Ruby led Pearl to the stairs that led belowdecks. At the top of the stairs, she reached out and undid the knot at the throat of the blue dress. The gown fell away, and as Pearl stepped out of it the wind picked it up and carried it overboard.

“Naked you came into this world,” Ruby told her. “Naked you shall leave it. Return below, into the darkness like your mother's womb, and go to him. He shall guide you through your second birth.”

Her back straight, Pearl nodded, and started down the steps. She had trod these stairs every day since she had learned to walk, but now they were not the same. As she passed below the deck the wind ceased tickling her with her own hair. She heard the hatch thump securely into place, and she was alone in the darkness. The Landers were all behind closed doors and would not come out just as they had not blessed her above. She walked with a steady, even pace to the back of the ship and knocked on the door to the captain's cabin. The door opened at her knock, and Jasper ushered her inside, himself as naked as she.

“Pearl, welcome,” he said. “Would you like to sit down?”

His voice was so soft and so gentle Morgan would scarcely have recognized it.

“Sir, I thought that-”

“There's no hurry.”

She said on the edge of his bed, fidgeting with the blankets. Jasper brought the chair from his desk across the room and sat directly in front of her. He cupped her chin in his hand and lifted it up until she was looking him in the eye.

“Pearl, I want to apologize for making you wait so long,” he said. “I also want to thank you for honouring me like this.

“Now I know you've talked with the other women, and especially with Ruby, but I want to reiterate what they've told you. Yes, it will hurt, but only for a moment. I am going to ask you to make me a promise. I want you to promise me that if it hurts any longer than that, you tell me right away. This is not a game. I don't want you to be stoic, this is not supposed to hurt for more than a few seconds. Will you make me that promise?”

Pearl's eyes opened wide as he spoke, and she gulped, looking away. After a pause, she looked him in the eye and spoke.

“Captain, I promise you that if this hurts me too much for too long, I will tell you.”

“Good, then we can get started. Are you hungry at all, or thirsty? Is there anything I can get you, anything you need or want?” Jasper stood and walked across the room to a bowl of fruit on the table. Pearl shook her head. He came back and sat next to her, and she could feel his body heat so near to her, but not quite touching.

“You know,” he said, “I remember my first time. I was terrified. It's different for boys than for girls, I know, but still a first time is a first time. I understood the mechanics of it, as I'm sure you do, but the reality is quite different. It's all new and waiting to be discovered. This, for example,” and here he turned to her, cupped her face again in one hand while the other reached around, pulling her close, and he kissed her deeply, passionately, but gently, “is nothing like any kiss you've ever had, is it?”

Pearl's breath caught in her throat and her heart was pounding. It was all she could do to shake her head. Jasper smiled at her reassuringly, caressing her with gentle hands.

“Nor should it be,” he told her. “No one should ever touch a child like that. But you're not a child anymore, Pearl; your body says you're a woman.”

“It feels like a storm in the air,” she said. “Like lightning and thunder and wind tossing the ship like mad.”

“That's very well put,” Jasper said as he stroked her hair, “but does the storm frighten you?”

“No it's not fear, not exactly. I don't know what it is. Your hands...”

“The touch of your lover, no matter who he or she may be, will always feel like that storm: indescribable and exciting.”

“Show me more,” she said.

“Slowly, little one. There's plenty of time, and many things for you to learn. We're in no hurry at all.”

“Don't stop.”

He did not.

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


Morgan and Paige listened in silence as the girl's footsteps moved past their door and back to Jasper's cabin. There was a knock, and the door opened, then closed.

Too young, Morgan thought. She's too young for this. It's obscene.

There was a long silence in the room which the waves and wind and slapping sails only made more profound.

“When did you know?” Out of the near trance-like stillness, Paige's bold question was jarring. She reached out for her brother's hand, and placed it on her rounding belly. Shocked, he tried to pull his hand away, but she held it steady until he relaxed. Looking him square in the eyes, she saw tears tracking down his face, but did not relent. “When?”

“When you started to show,” he whispered, barely able to get the last word out.

Paige's eyes widened. Morgan bowed his head, stifling sobs. His hand, still on her belly, was shaking. After a few minutes, it stilled, and he was able to go on.

“Looking back, I can see now there were signs before that. Morning sickness. All those temper tantrums. You just didn't seem yourself, but I had no idea you were pregnant. I just attributed it to the stress and constant travel.”

“Well you weren't wrong,” she said.

“I wasn't right, either. I didn't know. I couldn't tell. If you were anyone else, if I were anyone else, that might not have been surprising. But I always knew with you. I would wake up if you had a fever in the night, even before you knew. But this I couldn't sense, couldn't feel, didn't know. Can you imagine how horrifying that is to me? Paige, it's worse than the fact of the pregnancy itself. You're sitting right next to me, and I feel nothing. My nephew is lying right under my hand, and I can't sense him at all.”

“What makes you think it's a boy?”

“It is his child, isn't it?”

Her silence was all the answer he needed.

“Simple logic: he only has sons,” Morgan said. “But that's not the point, Paige!”

“Then what is, exactly?”

“The point is that I had to figure that out through logic. I can't feel him. He's not real to me.”

At that moment the baby kicked. Morgan pulled his hand away as if stung.

“Is that real enough for you?” Paige asked.

“No,” Morgan answered. “You're still not getting it. Do you even remember why Galen is with us, why Jasper let him live?”

“Because he's helping us.”

“And why do we need his help?”

“Because we need a magician. You're training him to help us. Morgan, I understand you might be bitter about losing your power, but surely you've adjusted to it by now.”

“Adjusted to it?”

“People do that, Morgan. People go blind, or deaf, and they adjust. It's not the end of your life. You still have all this knowledge, and it doesn't have to go to waste just because you can't use it yourself. You're teaching Galen, and I thought that was good, that it was helping you adjust. You're still helping, still protecting people, just in a slightly different way.”

“I haven't gone blind, Paige. By Quphic, I wish I had. I'd trade this for blindness in a heartbeat. But your analogy doesn't hold. Try this one instead. Instead of losing my sight, I've lost all sense of touch. Everything. No cold, no heat, no pain, no pleasure. I can't feel the ground under my feet when I walk. I don't know I've been cut until I see the blood. How do you adjust to that?

“And don't forget this is only an analogy, Paige. This hasn't happened to my skin, it's happened to my soul. By the Gods, I don't even know how my words are affecting you. Why won't you make an expression? Show me something I can react to, give me a hint, a clue, of what you're feeling. Is what I'm saying making any sense to you at all? Or do you even care? I used to know what you were feeling on the other side of the castle. Now I'm in the same room with you and it feels like there's no one within a thousand miles of me.

Morgan's voice was rising as he warmed to his subject. He had risen and was now pacing the small room.

“And that,” he continued, “Is only the beginning. Because it's not just you, not just my Shadow that's gone missing, it's every living thing in the world. Humans. Animals. Plants. Did you know that even some rocks are alive? I did, because I felt them. But I can't feel them now. I can't feel anything now.

“I'm not sulking because I can't cast spells anymore. I'm going mad because the universe is slipping out from under me. Your brother is insane, do you understand this? Everything I look at is dead. I'm surrounded by the bodies of people – they walk like living people, they look real and sound real, but I can't find their souls. It's terrifying, walking through a world filled with corpses. Where are the people? I cannot recall a time when I felt more alone than now.

“You can sneak up on me. You! It's the most preposterous thing in the world, but it's true. I can't feel your soul. It's like you're not there. I knew you and loved you before you were born, but I can't feel you now. I so desperately miss you, I want my Shadow back, and I see you but you're not here.” He put his hands on his chest.

Morgan slumped against the wall and slid down it to the floor. His head bumped against the wall, and he threw it back, thudding it hard a few times before slumping forward, his face hidden in shadows. Paige could only stare at him with brimming eyes.

“Is this what the real world is like?” he whispered. “Life without the Vada? How do you bear it, Paige? Tell me how to adjust, because I can't figure it out. How can you stand to be so alone all the time?”

“But I'm not alone, Morgan,” Paige said. “I've got you.”

*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*


“This would be a good day for you to stay below decks, Morgan. All of you Landers, in fact.”

“Why, are you going to do something else obscene?”

“Will you let that go? Your laws and ways seem insane to us, ours to you. No, we're not going to do anything 'obscene,' there's a storm coming. I don't want you to get swept overboard after all the effort I went through to get you here.”

“I don't see any storm. The sunrise looks beautiful.”

Emmy came up behind the two men who were standing in the bow looking into the rising sun.

“Captain,” she said, “we should get the Landers below decks with the children before the storm hits.”

“I haven't been away that long, Emmy.” Jasper turned to Morgan. “Come on, let's get you stowed safely in the hold. It looks like this is gonna be an exciting one.”

Mothers were already ushering their children to the hatches. Jasper gestured his brother to follow them, then went to speak with Kemen.

“I know you're enjoying learning all this,” he said to the former Eraso, “but you won't be able to help today. I need you below. You need to look after Paige. The storm might frighten her.”

“There's going to be a storm?”

Jasper rolled his eyes.

“Just get below,” he ordered. “There's going to be a storm.”

“Aye, Captain.” Kemen nodded and followed after Morgan, who was just disappearing down the stairs. When all the Landers and children were safely out of harm's way, the men and women of the Eleli Rei prepared themselves for battle.

Below, the Ria who had joined the children were lighting lanterns that swung on chains from the rafters. Others were busy tying things down and putting away loose objects in chests. The ship began rocking. Infants and a few of the youngest children were tied into their hammocks. Some cried, and most of them squirmed in irritation. Morgan stood looking at all the bustling activity in a daze.

“Come along, Your Highness,” Ruby said, coming up behind him. Morgan jumped with a start. “You'll be most comfortable in the Captain's cabin. Please follow me and I'll help you get settled in.”

Morgan followed after her, uncertain. Ruby stopped briefly in her own quarters to secure Brand, tying him into his hammock as the children had been tied. He muttered in his sleep, but did not wake. Brand had refused medical treatment, and Ruby had respected his wishes. His headaches were lingering, and he spent most of his time resting.

Once she was satisfied with her patient's safety, she led Morgan back to Jasper's cabin. There, he found his other companions already gathered. Kemen stood at the windows staring out at the frothing water. Ashia clutched a handful of fine cloth to her chest, a gown she was sewing for Paige. Along the wall hammocks had been hung, their limp ends dangling on the floor, ready to be attached to hooks on the main pillar in the centre of the room. The swaying of the ship increased and the wind howled.

“I'm going to go back and sit with your poor cousin,” Ruby said, “but I'll be right down the hall if you need anything. This might get a little shaky. I'd recommend you use the hammocks, but I doubt you will.”

With that, Ruby closed the door behind her, and the Landers were left to themselves. Galen was the first to speak.

“Well,” he said, “It seems we've got nothing to do for awhile but wait. Magister, should we continue with lessons? I've been - ”

At that moment the ship yawed wildly, and there were shouts from above. Everyone staggered to keep their footing. The storm had hit suddenly, and hard, and the ship began tossing in earnest.

“I don't think that's going to be possible,” Morgan said, raising his voice to be heard over the battering wind. “I think we all need to just find something to hang on to and wait this out.”

“Should we try the hammocks like Ruby said?” Kemen asked.

“They were tying their children up like butterflies in cocoons out there,” Morgan said. “But I think it was just to keep them from running around. I think if we all just sit down and wait, we should be fine. How bad can a storm be?”

Paige was sitting on the edge of Jasper's bunk with Kemen kneeling beside her. She was looking decidedly green, her eyes clamped shut, one hand in both of Kemen's, the other bracing against the wall. Morgan settled himself sideways in the chair by Jasper's desk. Galen took one opposite him and Ashia sat on the floor in a corner. Everyone waited in silence as the ship rocked back and forth and the waves pounded outside. The cabin grew dark as the clouds rolled in overhead and rain lashed down. Through the windows, the world seemed to be made of water.

The little ship pitched on the sea for what seemed an aeternity. The minds of the Landers grew numb with the monotony of the storm, each in their own little world. Eyes stared glassily ahead, or were tightly shut, blocking out the howling chaos. Kemen, unheard over the storm, was whispering a prayer over and over.

“Everyone hold on!” he heard Jasper cry from on deck. Answering shouts and whoops answered him as the Ria braced themselves.

With no more warning than that, the ocean dropped away through the windows. Morgan felt the empty hollowness in his stomache just as he had as a boy when his father would throw him in the air and catch him, both of them laughing. He knew the ship was rising rapidly. What giant hand could lift a ship?

They rose up and up into the sky, and then seemed to hang there unmoving. After a few seconds they began to drop down and Morgan wished for his father's arms to catch him, but there was only the floor. From above, the Ria seemed to be cheering.

Paige, on the other hand, was screaming. Galen crawled on his hands and knees over to where she had rolled off the bunk. She was curled around her belly, her breath coming in gasps.

“Contractions!” Galen said.

It broke Morgan out of his terrified stupor, brought his attention rushing back to the rest of the room. Though he could not sense his sister's pain, he knew Galen could, and knew he would not dare exaggerate or lie. If Galen said Paige was having contractions, she was.

But it's too early, Morgan thought. It's not time yet!

“It's too early,” Galen shouted, echoing his thoughts. “Morgan, go get Ruby! Get her here now!”

Kemen tried to lift Paige back onto the bed, but Galen stopped him.

“There's no point,” he told the Eraso. “She'll only fall out of it the next time the ship rocks too hard. Pull down some of the pillows and blankets, the floor is the safest place for her to be right now.”

Morgan staggered down the hallway, bouncing first off one wall, then the other. He met Ruby in the corridor heading towards him, her senses having already told her about Paige's distress. He followed her back into the captain's cabin where Galen and Kemen were making a makeshift bed on the floor. Galen looked up as Ruby entered.

“It's too early!” he said.

“Obviously,” Ruby answered, unperturbed. “So we need to stop her labour.”

“You can do that?”

“It's not easy, but I've done it before, yes.”

“Morgan!” Paige gasped as the muscles relaxed their grip. “Morgan, where are you?”

Ruby swayed a little, but Morgan fell to the floor as another massive wave rocked the ship. Spreading his long limbs out, he crawled into the corner where Ashia braced herself against the walls. Curled on the floor much like his sister, he buried his face in his hands.

Kemen rose to stagger over to Morgan and help him, but Ruby pulled him back down with a curse that made his ears burn.

“He's no use,” she said. “We have to do this without him. You stay here with her.”

The contraction over, Paige was whimpering.

“By Quphic, that hurt!” she said. “What's going on?”

“The baby is trying to be born,” Ruby told her, “but it's too early. Stay calm, and we'll take care of you.”

“I'm having the baby now?” Paige asked.

“No, sweetheart, not right now. The baby will be weak if it's born too soon. We're going to stop the contractions. I need you to relax as much as you can, and - ”

Another contraction hit Paige and she drowned out the sound of the wind with her howl. Kemen gripped both of her hands while Galen and Ruby put their hands on Paige's belly.

“They're coming far too fast,” Ruby said calmly. “Galen, help me here.”

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Help me with – oh for God's sake, you've never done this, have you? Alright, look at me.” The old woman took her hands off Paige and took Galen's instead. The two of them stared into each others' eyes, oblivious to the rocking and swaying of the ship, oblivious to Paige's panting and crying, oblivious to everything but each other. A huge crack of lightning ripped the sky open, yet neither flinched.

The whole world disappeared as Galen fell tumbling into Ruby's mind. At length he found himself standing on a solid surface, facing a young woman he knew to be Ruby. There was blackness all around them, and the two seemed to be lit from within. We're all the same inside, she said to him. I need you to work with me here inside, not out there. We're stronger as one. Reach out; can you see the girl and the baby?

Faint flickers of light appeared between them. It was Paige on the floor of the cabin. For a moment, the darkness wavered, but Ruby pulled him back. No, don't look with your eyes, she told him. Look with your Vada. Can you see her light?

Galen frowned, confused. Relax. Ruby reached out a hand and smoothed his brow. You're trying too hard. You know what Paige's soul looks like. See her now, not her body but only the soul.

Again the flicker of light appeared, glowing white but with streamers of red pain washing through it. I've got her, he said. I see her now. What do I do?

You alone will do nothing. We must work as one, not two in unison. The young Ruby stepped closer to Galen, drew him towards her, and they both stood in the light of Paige's pain. Their hands merged, and as they drew closer their arms also. When they stood chest to chest, Ruby took one last step, and she and Galen became one being.

The world jumped into sharp focus. Morgan in the corner was a jagged riot of anger, fear, and hatred. Above them, the Ria were awash with fear and joy. The creature that was both Galen and Ruby looked down at Paige, watching her muscles quivering, feeling her fear and confusion. The baby was clear beneath her skin, also afraid, not understanding the pressure and mother's racing heart.

Galen-Ruby reached out a hand and caressed the taut muscles, relaxing them, bringing the current contraction to an end. Sleep, it said to mother and child, and they slept. I know you're afraid, it said to Paige's body, but this is doing more harm than good. You must wait for the proper time. Continue to nurture the child until then. It needs you.

Kemen watched anxiously as the two magicians locked eyes and hands. They appeared to be doing nothing to help ease the Aiyana's pain, only staring at each other. It was all he could do to hold his peace, not daring to interrupt. It was not many minutes later that Paige gave a relieved sigh. The tension drained from her body and she looked up at Kemen. She yawned deeply, and fell asleep with a gentle smile on her lips.

Galen and Ruby continued to hold hands a few minutes longer, then broke contact. Galen's eyes were wide. Never had he shared such a moment of intimacy, soul to soul. It was nothing more than wizardry, easily learned, yet Laric would never have deigned to share his mind in such a fashion, and Morgan was unable. Ruby, once more the wizened figure he was used to, gave him a wink. She looked down at the sleeping girl with satisfaction, and smoothed the rumpled hair on her forehead.

“Will you help an old woman to her feet?” she asked Galen. “ I really should look in on the boy. I'm sure he must be quite cranky by now.

“Lift her up into a hammock, she'll be much more comfortable there,” Ruby said, and when it was done and the sleeping woman was secured with straps, Ruby turned to Galen. “Will you walk me back to my room, handsome?”

Galen returned a few minutes later. He lay in one of the hammocks himself.

“You really should try these hammocks,” he said. “They're better than you think.”

Morgan and Ashia stayed resolutely in their corner, and Kemen sat near Paige's swaying bed, keeping a worried eye on her. The princess slept without a care in the world, no sign of her recent distress showing in her face or form. The raging storm tossed the ship with unceasing vigour, and the sky grew darker. Somewhere high above, the sun had set.

The Ria rotated their time on deck, some coming below for food and sleep while others went above. The Landers, holed up in Jasper's quarters, could not eat and barely slept. Jasper never came down.

The next day came and went, and when the sun had finally set again, the skies were clear and the ocean began to calm. Stars shone down upon the sea with gentle benevolence, and the moon rose, brightening the night. Exhausted Ria staggered below deck and a fresh crew replaced them.

Jasper finally came into his cabin, his eyes glittering and a huge grin on his face. Behind him came Bartok and Obrad, the ship's cook, carrying trays of hot food.

“Can you believe it?” Jasper said. “That was amazing!”

“I thought you were lost when that rope took off like that. Damned if you didn't hold on to it and land right back on the deck!” Obrad answered. “I thought I was lost, too. Would have been if you hadn't grabbed me at the last minute.”

“I needed that rope,” Jasper said with an impish grin, “and I need my cook, too!”

Emmy came in a moment later carrying more food.

“Well I, for one, am glad to have you back, Captain,” she said. “I would have had us on the bottom of the sea within a day. I thought for sure we were capsizing, but you pulled her right back onto her keel. That was a beautiful ride!”

The Landers could only gape at them.

“You thought that was... fun?” Galen asked.

“Storms are always fun when you live through them!” Bartok laughed. “And that one we wouldn't have lived through without Jasper! He never slept, never came below, never ate.”

“Well I'm eating now,” Jasper grinned. “Pass that bread over here!”














This web page and all it's contents were written by J.C. Beaudoin, who is solely responsible for it, for better or for worse. Copyright 2005 and 2006. Hands off. Lookie, no touchie! :-)