Chapter Six: Water



by

Josie Beaudoin







“Land ho!”

“Oh, thank the Ya’Sret!” Brand said. The others stopped what they were doing and stared at him. He continued, completely unaware of the irony. “I’m so tired of this awful rationing. This meal is barely a snack!”

“I’ll be glad to hear the end of your whining about it, too,” said Jasper. “Though you’ve always got something to complain about, variety is nice. Let’s go see where we are, shall we?”

Brand, already halfway to the hatch, did not hear him. The others chuckled as Jasper followed him almost as quickly, but they too set aside their half-eaten meal in favour of feasting their eyes on dry land.

They found Jasper in the rigging, staring at a dark smudge through his telescope.

“Is it another island?” Morgan called up to him.

“Hard to be sure,” Jasper answered, “but I don’t think so. I think we’ve reached Zhamburrha. It’ll take a while to be certain.”

“What? What while? How long before we land?” Brand asked. The sight of land, vague as it was, had re-energized him.

“A few hours to identify it,” Jasper said as he swung down to land bare-footed on the deck. “Perhaps we can make landfall tomorrow. I’m fairly sure I saw mountains, which means it’s a good deal farther than it looks. I hope I’m wrong, but I think we’ll be landing south of the Merples.”

“Is that bad?” Morgan asked.

“Not really. It’ll just take a little longer. We’re off course slightly and have gone too far south. We’ll have to sail up the coast before we can continue east, that’s all.”

“Oh.” Morgan replaced his look of concern with one of content. “I suppose I’ll go finish my luncheon, then.”

As afternoon wore into evening Brand no longer needed Jasper’s telescope to see the mountains looming ahead. The setting sun threw stunning pinks and purples on the mountainsides, and there was a shining white on the peaks.

“I thought we were too far south for the mountains to have snow,” Paige said.

“We’re south of the equator, Highness,” Jasper reminded her. “Here, the further south you go the colder things get.”

“That’s so confusing. Why can’t thinks like that just work the same way everywhere?”

“Because God loves us,” Jasper replied with a grin, “and She doesn’t want us to get bored.”

The sun sank into the sea behind the ship, but the light stayed on the mountains a while longer before fading out altogether.

“Jasper?” said Paige.

“What is it, Little One?”

“Will we run into the land in the dark?”

“Have faith, Paige. We have done this sort of thing before, you know. Get off to sleep now, and tomorrow I’ll take you ashore to stretch your legs.”

“Do you promise?”

“I guarantee it,” Jasper said.

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


The next morning dawned dim with fog.

“Sorry, Paige, but it looks as though we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon,” Jasper said.

“But you promised. Aren’t Ria always supposed to keep their promises?”

“We do, but I didn’t promise you anything.”

“You promised me I could go ashore today. You did.”

“No I didn’t, I guaranteed an unspecified thing, that’s entirely different.”

The crew within hearing range was smiling and one of the children giggled.

“You can’t weasel out of a promise like that, with tricky words,” Paige insisted.

“I never promised you a thing, Highness. You’d do better if you paid more attention in the future. If you didn’t understand my words, that’s your problem, not mine.”

“We have to go ashore,” Brand put in. “It’s right there, and we’re almost out of supplies.”

“We’ll survive just fine another day or so,” Jasper said. “There’s enough food and water to get us through another week or so if we’re careful.”

“Stale water and hard bread,” Brand spat. “That’s not food!”

“What if the fog lifts?” Paige asked.

“It won’t,” Jasper said. “This is here for the day, believe me.”

Brand snorted and stalked off into the fog. They heard rather than saw him stomping down the steps below, invisible in the dim.

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


“WHAT?!?” Jasper’s voice carried to all parts of the ship. “How many barrels?”

“All of them, Sir,” Bartok said. “When I get my hands on that eel...”

“What happened?” Morgan asked, coming out of the main cabin.

“Your,” Jasper said between clenched teeth, “cousin. He’s contaminated our water. I’ve a good mind to make him drink it.”

“Contaminated how?” Morgan asked.

Jasper glared at him.

“How do you think?” he answered.

Morgan’s eyes widened. As he absorbed the information Emmy appeared, escorting Brand roughly by the arm.

“Hiding in Ruby’s cabin, Sir,” she said.

“Looks like we’ll have to go ashore now,” Brand smirked. “Can’t go without fresh water.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Jasper said. “You’re to be confined to the bilge. If you were one of my crew I’d have you beaten. We don’t know how far away land is, it could be miles off. There’s no guarantee we’ll find fresh water today even if we reach it – we’re up against a wilderness. You’ve just put the lives of my entire crew at risk, including the children. Including Paige! How can you possibly justify this, you miserable Inurri? I should have you beaten, Lander or not. Bilge! Now!”

Jasper’s voice rose during his tirade, and by the end he could once more be clearly heard by the entire ship. Emmy marched a defiant Brand away and down while Jasper went above where Bartok was already preparing the longboats.

“One boat,” Jasper said.

“But Captain – ”

“One. Where’s Kemen? Galen, come here. You’re coming with us. Bartok, put it away, I’m not risking both boats. Kemen, get over here. Lift those empty barrels into the boat, men. Emmy, get the crew busy gathering the fog. Children drink first. Alright, lower us down. The ship is yours.”

Everyone scurried to obey Jasper’s orders. Within minutes the longboat cast off and was lost in the fog with Jasper, Bartok, Thele, Galen, and a few other Ria aboard.

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


As the white mist closed around them and the ship disappeared, Galen shuddered. It was more than the chill, more than the uncertainty; unbidden, his mind returned to that ghostly morning in Erlaya when their campfire visitor had vanished without a trace in the morning fog. Jasper had laughed off Galen’s fear then, and he would certainly do the same today. He glanced over at Jasper, barely visible at the other end of the boat, illuminated by a lantern. Best to keep one’s fears to oneself.

Galen sat in the bow. He knew he had been brought along more for his tracking abilities on land than for his skill as a seaman. The empty barrels clonked hollowly against one another as he shifted his weight.

“Shhhh!” Jasper said. “I’m trying to listen.”

They rowed on without speaking, the slap of the oars in the water and the creaking of the oarlocks the only sounds. Water swished gently by the bow, but there was no sense of movement. Galen shut his eyes. It seemed they had always been rowing through a white dampness, the past nothing but a dull memory. The sun was invisible, and time lost its meaning.

After a long, monotonous time of fog and rowing, Jasper ordered the men to stop. Galen felt a slight lurch as the boat ceased the motion he had grown unaware of.

“Inurri!” Jasper called into the whiteness. There was no answer, but Galen imagined he heard the faintest echo. A single drop of water plinked off the end of an oar, magnified in the silence.

“Closer,” Jasper said. One hundred strokes.”

The boat began moving again. Galen counted the strokes in his head. The longboat stopped again.

“Inurri!”

This time the echo was definite, though still faint.

“Again,” Jasper said. Again the boat moved, again it stopped, again Jasper called and again the echo sounded nearer. They repeated the process several times and gradually a scent came to Galen that was not the salt sea, but the tang of pine. Without warning a black shape loomed up out of the white. A few strokes closer revealed a tree-covered hill breaking out of the water. Behind it the land stretched unseen into the fog in either direction. Jasper turned to the magician.

“Alright, Galen,” he said, “now it’s your turn. We’ve found land, but no water. Do we go north or south?”

Galen’s mind flew back to the day Jasper had been shot by the highwaymen. Morgan had told him what to do, how to feel the landscape and find a safe hiding place. Galen reached out now with his Vada, searching, asking, sensing...

“South,” he said, “but it’s a long way.”

“South, then,” said Jasper, and the oarsmen turned to follow the coast. The same feeling of motionlessness returned if Galen shut his eyes, but it made him uncomfortable, and he kept his eyes on the coastline drifting past them.

After several miles Jasper turned to Galen again.

“Are you quite sure?” he asked. “We’ve been at this a while now.”

“I’m sure,” Galen said. “A few more miles. Trust me.”

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


Paige watched the longboat disappear into the fog. Morgan’s presence at her side was a comfort as the two of them stood alone while everyone around them was suddenly very busy. A few drops of water fell on her from a sodden, limp sail over her head.

“I’m going to go see Brand,” she decided.

“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea right now, Shadow,” Morgan cautioned her. “I’m not even sure they’ll let you.”

“Shavi, get those barrels up here,” Emmy bellowed. “Throw them overboard. I’ve more than half a mind to kill that filthy animal!”

“See what I mean?” Morgan murmured to his sister. “Now is not a good time to be a Lander on this ship. I think we’d best stay out of everyone’s way.”

“They wouldn’t hurt us,” Paige said, shocked. “It’s not our fault what Brand did!”

“Strong emotions can make people irrational,” Morgan said, “and our cousin just endangered these peoples’ children. Look at them. They’re all upset, and rightly so. Unless you feel like joining him in the whatever-it-is, I’d stay quiet and out of the way.”

“Bilge,” Emmy said, coming up beside them. “He’s in the bilge for now. He’ll be back in Ruby’s cabin soon enough.”

“Really?” Paige asked.

“I guarantee it.”

“Well that’s a relief.”

“Not really,” Emmy said. “He’ll be returned to the bilge after she patches up his wounds.”

Paige paled.

“Thank you, Emmy,” Morgan said. “I think we understand you. May we go below, to stay out of the way?”

“I think that would be a very good idea, Your Highness,” Emmy said, her voice chilly. “I’ll take you there myself.”

They made for the stairs, but paused to let the barrels pass, hefted by sweating, cursing Ria. The barrels were not emptied out but simply rolled overboard. Descending, they could hear Brand cursing and bellowing somewhere below them, demanding to be released.

“Can’t we just-”

“No, Highness, you can’t,” said Emmy. “Leave him to discover what he’s netted on his own. I imagine it will take awhile to sink in, especially if he keeps this yammering up.

“Tural, get the scrapers and channels up on deck. Heaven only knows when this fog will lift, we haven’t time to waste.”

“Halfway done now, ma’am,” Tural replied.

Emmy only nodded, and wove through the crew toward the Captain’s cabin. Morgan and Paige trailed in her wake as angry voices murmured around them.

“There’s work I’m not hearing,” Emmy said. “Someone should be doing it.” The mutters dropped in volume and most of the Ria filtered up on deck to begin harvesting the fog.

“Where’s Ashia?” Paige asked. The ex-slave was soon located in Ruby’s cabin tending to the man from the Drum. Emmy gathered her into Jasper’s cabin with the others. She found and confiscated a pitcher of water and left. The Landers sat together in silence, waiting for they did not know what. Below them they could still hear Brand pounding on the wood and shouting threats and curses.

Once the Landers were safely stowed Emmy made her way back up on deck to supervise the harvest. Ria were attaching shallow troughs to the undersides of each sail. Once those were firmly in place, others began scraping long bars down the fabric, pressing the water down out of the sails, into the channels and finally to waiting cups, bowls, pots and pans. The sails held a surprising amount of water, but Emmy knew it would not last long. The fog could burn off at any time, and land was an unknown distance away. She dared not raise anchor blind. The Captain would be back as soon as he could, and would not return without water.

The afternoon progressed without event, the Ria scraping water from the sails and into every container they could find. Rationing continued as it had, and the sail water, though unpleasant tasting, was clean enough to drink.

As the fog turned from white to grey, then slowly to black, there was no sign of the longboat. Lanterns were set at the bow and stern as well as along the sides of the ship, but there was little likelihood that Jasper would set out at night. Few besides the children slept that cold, blind night, and those who did had restless, uneasy dreams.

The fog burned away late the next afternoon. There had been no sign of the boat, which had been gone more than a day. As soon as land was visible through her glass, Emmy ordered the anchor raised. The Eleli Rei swept free and headed to the shore as though drawn by a magnet. As dusk approached they reached the shore at last, and finding no harbour or sign of the longboat and its inhabitants, Emmy reluctantly ordered the anchor dropped for the night.

Dawn silhouetted the mountains in black and sprinkled the water with jewels. The crew were up at first light, and well before the sun topped those mountains there was a group assembled on deck ready to go ashore. Manty headed up the heavily armed team that climbed into the second longboat and cast off, as agreed, to the south. The Eleli Rei turned north. Emmy flatly refused to allow Morgan to go with the longboat.

“Are you out of your mind?” she asked when he brought up the subject. “Morgan, my ship is eating itself up over this water business, and nobody trusts any Lander right now.”

“But Kemen -”

“-is going along because he’s the best tracker on the ship. With the Captain gone, his promise becomes my promise, and I will not risk losing you now of all times. You’ll stay in Jasper’s cabin and you’ll keep your sister and your other friend quiet.”

Reluctantly, Morgan had been forced to agree, though the idea of keeping Ashia quiet was almost laughable. The woman rarely opened her mouth except to eat or apologize for something. The slave collar and chains were gone, but the scars would never disappear either from her flesh or her heart. Ashia was born a slave, and had been badly abused. The merest suggestion that she not make noise would be enough to stop her from breathing, Morgan thought.

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


The second longboat skimmed along the shore, following after the first one. The track was two days old, and they saw nothing. As more miles passed, the further hopes sank. They were about to turn back to rendezvous with the ship when Kemen, using the glass, spotted something.

“I think it’s there,” he said. “There’s something that looks out of place, at least.”

“How do you know?” one of the Ria asked.

Kemen thought about it for a moment, then shrugged.

“Training? Instinct?” he said. “It’s only a shade over a half-mile further on and it’s the first thing we’ve seen at all. I think it merits investigation.”

“A half-mile. How can you be so precise?”

“I’m a tracker; it’s my job.”

“Let’s go,” Manty said.

A shade over a half-mile further on they found the first longboat. It was drawn up on the shore beside a small stream that flowed out of a forest and across a short beach of sea-grass. One barrel had been filled and placed beside boat, the others lay waiting on the grass. There was only one man to be found, a Rian, lying dead on the sandy soil, staring up at the sky.

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


The Eleli Rei sailed north, dozens of eyes glued to the shoreline. In Jasper’s cabin Morgan paced while Ashia watched him and Paige looked out the window. Morgan rubbed at the scar on his palm, fretting. Paige gave out a low moan, and Morgan turned to his sister. She looked decidedly pale and very worried.

“Morgan,” she said, “I don’t feel very good.”

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


It was growing again. Delling stared at the thing in disgust, scowled at the green shoots and tiny leaf buds rising from the soil at his feet. He had chopped the damned tree down last fall, yet here it was reaching up to the sky again. What was he doing wrong? What had he done right in the first place?

And now he would have to go home and listen to more of her I-told-you-so’s. He was not up for it. She had been the pessimist since before they were married, and had yet to be proved wrong, but he could never believe her. There was a solution, and he would find it. Just... not today.

With a snarl, Delling ground the stubborn little tree under his boot and stalked away.

“Why won’t you die?” he growled.

Behind him, the tree said nothing. It patiently straightened itself and continued its climb toward the clouds. It had no intention of dying.

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


“Hello, neighbour,” Delling said.

“How do you always know it’s me?”

“I smelled you. Next time you try to sneak up on someone, consider bathing first.”

Buck laughed.

“You can’t smell a thing through that manure you’re spreading,” he said. “How can you stand to do that, anyway?”

“It helps the crops grow, Buck.”

“You still believe in that superstitious nonsense?”

“It’s scientific fact which I have proved repeatedly for years. Why should I limit myself to satisfy your ignorance?”

“Come on, Dell, stop for a moment and talk to me.”

Delling sighed and turned to his friend. Buck stood a head higher, a huge man. He had a friendly smile planted on his face, but Delling could see something was bothering him.

“Well?”

“It’s Fawn,” Buck said. His large hands fidgeted and his smile turned apologetic. “She’s not getting any better.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Please give her my condolences. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

Delling turned back to his mulching. He stabbed at the dirt with sharp thrusts of his hoe.

“Please, Dell, you’ve known her all her life. You delivered her, by the Gods. How can you turn your back on her when she needs you? How can you refuse to help?”

“I’m not touching her, Buck. You know what they’ll do to me if she dies. And if she recovers she’ll be tainted by suspicion all her life. I’m through with helping, those days are over. When I try to make people’s lives better I get accused of witchcraft again and again. No matter that what I do is good. The moment anything unusual happens it’s always my fault. They’ve got nothing better to do than harrass a simple farmer, and I’m done with them.

“Do you remember what Honey said to me after I saved - saved, mind you - her husband? Unnatural, she said. I’m not going through it again.”

“Dell, I’m not them. You know I don’t feel that way, and no more does Vale. Our little girl is sick and nothing we do is helping. We need you.”

Delling paused, though he did not face his friend.

“She was a sweet child,” he whispered. “Tell her I loved her, and tell Vale I’m sorry.”

“Please, Dell.”

Delling resumed his tilling, deaf to his friend’s plea. When Buck reached out to touch his shoulder, Delling said, “Don’t. Just leave.”

With shoulders slumped, Buck turned and walked back across the field, back to the road and his waggon, back into town. When he had gone, when the rumbling of wheels faded into the distance, Delling at last stopped and turned, staring after his friend. A single tear wandered down his pale cheek.

“I’m sorry, Fawn,” he said.

Again he returned to his work, but his movements were slower, and eventually he stopped, unable to lift his hands or his head.

“Damn it,” he said. “Damn it!”

His hoe slung over one shoulder, Delling strode across the field to his small hut. Inside, he looked around at the simple furnishings. Bed. Table. Chair. Single cookpot, bowl and spoon. Nothing but what he needed to get by. I was able to conform to the standards of their ignorance once, he mused. Why did I lose patience and try to live up to my own?

Making a pass in the air with his hand Delling opened a portal and stepped through it back to his tower on the river island. He changed from his manure-spattered clothes into the finery he preferred. He ran his hands through his long black hair to clean the smell out of it before stepping out of the changing-room. She hated it when he came home smelling of the fields.

“That was fast.”

“I didn’t finish.”

“Because...?”

“Fawn is sick.”

“Don’t do it. They’ll turn on you again.”

“So I should let her die?”

“They’re all going to die anyway. When are you going to learn to distance yourself from mortals, husband?”

“When they no longer hold the answers.”

Before she could say anything further he sped down the stairs to his workroom. Fawn was sick, and he didn’t know of what cause. With haste he gathered the things he most likely would need, placed them in a bag. He returned to the stairs.

No. If he went back up she would resume the argument, would glare at him from her spot by the fire. He shrugged and opened a portal directly where he stood.

Delling appeared in shadows just beyond the edge of the village, sack in hand. He hurried along the road on foot, paying no heed to the locals. He did not notice that they all stopped and stared as he passed. He did not notice them filtering into the open space that separated the blacksmith’s home and forge from the rest of the town. He did not notice their grim expressions as he knocked on Buck’s door. He did not notice their sullen murmuring. He did not care. Fawn was sick, and her father’s plea had found its target.

The door opened to reveal a very haggard Vale. It took her a moment to recognize the finely dressed man on her doorstep as her friend Delling, but the crowd of villagers behind him were unmistakable. At once she drew him by the arm inside, closing the door behind him. In the dim interior she drew him towards a small pallet in the corner where rested her daughter.

Delling knelt down beside the beautiful child. Her skin held the unhealthy pallor of those nearest death, her face grey and waxy. The only light in the room came from the hearth, which threw dancing light on Fawn’s face, but it was only an illusion of animation. Her only real movement was a very soft lift and fall of her breast which betrayed her shallow breath.

“Open the windows,” he said, never taking his eyes off his patient’s sleeping face.

“Dell, the chill will kill her,” Vale protested.

“It’s this gloom that will kill her, Vale. Open the windows.”

“Do what he says.”

Buck stood in the doorway. He came into the house and began pulling open casements himself.

Through the open door Vale could see villagers gathered in their yard, scowls on faces. She hurried to the door and shut it before joining her husband’s efforts. Light and a gentle breeze filled the small house, and the fire seemed to pale on the hearth.

“I knew you couldn’t stay away, Dell,” Buck said. His wife shushed him, but it made no difference. Delling ignored them both.

As he bent over the sleeping child, Delling felt her brow first with his hand, then with his cheek, his black hair blending with her blond and covering her face like a veil. In years past Fawn would shriek with laughter when he tickled her with his hair, but today she lay unmoving. He scowled at her stillness as much as at her fever. She was barely breathing. Under the curtain of his hair, with their faces pressed so close, Delling felt her shallow breath on his face, and smelled a sickly-sweet odour. He drew back with a hiss.

“Hot water,” he said to Vale. “I need to brew her an infusion.”

As the goodwife hurried to comply Delling began rummaging in the sack he had brought. Out came herbs and flowers which had been carefully collected and dried last autumn. Fresh would have been better, but it was too early in the year. He would have to make do.

When the water began to wulm Delling added a handful of this and a pinch of that until he was satisfied with the result. Checking his patient again, he returned to the pot and doubled everything.

“Eggs,” he said. “Bring me eggs.”

Without a word Buck went outside and returned a few minutes later with four brown eggs still warm from their nests. The townsfolk had not seemed pleased, but they had let him pass. Delling selected three of them, and making holes in both ends of each he blew the contents into the brew. As the pot was now at a full boil the eggs rapidly swirled about and cooked into wispy tendrils around the softening leaves and flowers. Delling took the pot from the firehook and set it on the hearth to cool while her returned to Fawn’s side. Though she was clearly unconscious, her parents heard him speak.

“Fawn? It’s your uncle Dell come to see you. Can you hear me, little one?”

Delling raised her to a sitting position. The girl opened her eyes and looked at him a moment before her head fell back in his hand. He leant her forward so that she slumped against him. He beckoned to her mother.

“Bring some of the brew,” he said. Vale scrambled to obey. She brought a mug of the steaming concoction and placed it by his knee without a word. Without a word Delling took it up and raised it to the child’s lips. The scent of it brought a grimace to her face and she tried to turn away but was too weak to resist. Reluctantly, Fawn drank.

While he pressed the cup to her lips, Delling continued to speak. To Vale, hovering nearby, it sounded like chanting, and she shuddered. Her daughter’s life was precious, but everyone knew the penalty for witchcraft. Delling was risking his life for the girl.

The rumours were true after all, she thought. He really is a witch. The realization both comforted and frightened her. This man whom she had known for so many years was much more dangerous than she had credited him with being, but if he could save Fawn... that was all that mattered.

After what seemed like forever the cup was at last emptied. Delling laid Fawn back to the pillow and examined her again. It was hardly necessary. The colour was returning to her face and her breathing was strong. Delling grunted in satisfaction.

“She’s going to be alright,” he pronounced.

There was an inaudible sigh as both parents released pent breath. The tension began to drain out of the house.

“Dell,” Vale said. He cut her off.

“See to it that she finishes this,” he said, pointing to the infusion. “Give her some tonight and again in the morning, and mind it’s not just the broth. Make her drink it all down.” He was all business.

“Dell,” she said again.

“What is it?”

“Thank you.”

“Oh. Well, yes.”

“We... can’t repay you for this. Not ever.”

“Of course you can. Take good care of her, make her drink the infusion, and promise to summon me again if she doesn’t improve within the week.”

Delling packed up his bag of herbs and headed for the door. He patted Buck awkwardly on the shoulder and raised the latch. Then he stopped cold.

Several hundred people - more than half the village - were gathered around the blacksmith’s home, with more arriving every moment. They did not look sympathetic. A murmur arose when they spotted him and several men moved towards him.

Delling stepped back inside and threw the bolt on the door.

“Pick her up,” he said, indicating Fawn.

“Dell, what’s happening?”

“You’re coming with me, all of you, but you have to trust me. Pick her up and follow me.”

With that he closed his eyes and began to chant once more. A portal back to his tower was their only option now. The air began to shimmer in front of him as he focussed his mind and his energies.

Buck hefted his daughter from her sickbed. She weighed almost nothing in his arms. Even Delling could have lifted her. She murmured in her sleep but did not waken.

“What is he doing?” Vale whispered to her husband. “How can he get us out of here, where are we going?”

“Wherever he leads us,” the smith said trustingly.

There was yelling outside and pounding on the door which soon fell inwards with a crash. Through the open doorway an arrow leapt straight for Delling. His eyes snapped open and with incredible speed he leapt out of the way. The shaft streaked past him only to bury itself in Buck’s chest. Buck stood dumbfounded for a moment before falling to his knees with a whimper. Fawn tumbled from his arms unnoticed as he crumpled backwards to the floor.

The crowd roared as the foremost among them surged through the doorway after Delling. His unfinished portal faded away. The tower, twoscore leagues away, might as well have been on the moon. There was nowhere to go. Delling and Vale were seized and dragged out of the house, Vale screaming for her husband and child. Delling was silent, thinking, concentrating, a distant scowl on his face.

“Dell, do something!” Vale begged.

He looked over his shoulder at the struggling woman.

“I am doing something, Vale,” he said. His voice was so quiet that even the men dragging them to the town square did not hear it. Delling closed his eyes and concentrated again. He focussed his energy and released it with great control.

“Pain,” he whispered.

With a sudden lurch one of his captors released Delling’s arm and clutched at his stomache. With one hand he clawed at his ear, a frightened look on his face. His hand came away bloody, shining wetly in the afternoon sunlight. He wheezed and coughed as more blood came pouring from his mouth and nose. As he looked around, he saw that much the same was happening to his companions. Then he saw nothing, as the blood seeping from his eye sockets blinded him. Soon he fell to the ground, mercifully dead at last.

All around Delling was panic, and he was the calm centre of the storm. The dead at his feet had been the bravest to have dared lay hands on him at all. Their gruesome deaths were all it took to send most of the villagers running in all directions. Some few advanced, determined to stop him, but they fell in quick succession.

From behind, Delling felt someone pull his hair, dragging his head back. He pried the fingers loose and sent the man flying through the air with his mind. His assailant crashed into the side of a house with a sickening crunch, then fell to the ground twitching.

He spotted a woman running furtively from house to house. The midwife. His most vocal accuser. The anger rose up hotter than before, and he sent a blast of pure hate at her. She never had time to scream before her skull split open, brains spattering on the children she had been taking to safety. They had plenty of time to scream though, for Delling was struck through the arm with an arrow and turned away from them. He stared at the barbed tip in front of him, the feathers tugging the back of his sleeve. His tunic was ruined.

Delling looked for the unknown archer, but they had disappeared behind the baker’s house. What had not disappeared was Vale who was lying in a pool of someone’s blood. She struggled to rise, but it was clear her back was broken. Nor did all the blood belong to others. The blow which had broken her spine had also opened a huge gash in her side, and there was no time to put her insides back where they belonged. He simply turned away, powerless to help, but not to avenge.

The archers - there were three of them, he noted - loosed at him again, but he brushed the arrows away in midair. They were beginning to annoy him more than the other villagers, but again they ducked away and ran. Delling shrugged. It was of no consequence. He would get them sooner or later. He would get all of them. Everyone would pay for this. They would all learn what it meant to challenge a sorceror. With a wave of his hand he set several houses on fire. Those hiding inside would either come out and be mown down or stay and burn. Delling did not much care which. They would die either way.

Hours passed.

It was the silence that drew him at last out of his frenzy. Though the burning houses still roared, the screaming had stopped. The village lay quiet. He shook his head to clear it, then looked bemused at the carnage around him. At his feet lay the last villagers he had killed - a mother holding the mangled form of her child - the bodies already losing their warmth in the cool evening. When had the sun set? He could not remember. He started to walk away, but his boots squelched in the mud. He did not remember it raining either. Oddly, the ground was dry a few yards away. Summoning a ball of white light Delling examined the mud. It was slippery and sticky and... red. He glanced back to the piled bodies nearby. Some distant part of him knew he should be horrified, but he felt only a mild curiosity at the results of his handiwork, mixed with a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. That would teach them not to interfere anymore. He had, after all, only been trying to help. If they had only let him leave in peace, if they had...

Delling broke into a run, dodging around crumpled bodies and collapsing houses. He tripped and tumbled headfirst, falling beside a small child clutching a doll and staring vacantly up to the sky. He knew her. He had known nearly everyone in the village, and it had not mattered. Delling staggered to his feet and continued on, still hurrying, but picking his way more carefully through the darkness.

He reached Buck’s house and rushed inside. Everything was just as it was when he and Vale had been hauled away. Buck lay on his side, the arrow still protruding from his chest and his open eyes staring at nothing with an expression of bewilderment that would have been comical under other circumstances. Near his outstretched left hand was Fawn, who seemed not to have moved since she had fallen from her father’s arms. Delling dropped to his knees beside her to see if she lived. She was still breathing, and with clinical detachment and no small amount of personal pride he noted that her fever had gone down somewhat. That was a relief. At least something was going well.

Delling climbed back to his feet and his left arm screamed at him when he tried to support himself on it. He had no memory of removing the arrow, but he must have, for it was no longer there. He wanted nothing more than to collapse, but one thing at least remained to be done: he must get Fawn to safety. He lifted the girl onto his right shoulder as best he could and began again the chant he had tried to use earlier to escape. This time he was uninterrupted and he carried his young charge through the portal and back to his tower.

Once home Delling carried Fawn to his bed and settled her in. He completely ignored his wife’s questions, only grabbed a blanket and curled up by the fire. His clothing was torn, blood-soaked and filthy, but he paid it no heed. He was cut and bleeding in a dozen places, the arrow wound being the worst, but he did not care.

Fawn was safe.

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


Up on deck the crew consulted, at last reaching consensus.

“They can’t have come this far,” Emmy said. “Not with a boat. Besides, we’ve passed two streams already. They must have gone south.

“Helmsman! Bring her around. We’re going back.”

A silent nod, and the ship swung away from shore, turning in the deep water to follow her longboats south.

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


“Everyone get back,” Kemen ordered. The Ria looked at him indignantly.

“What are you talking about? Reilia is hurt, maybe dead.”

“He’s dead, and you can see to him after I’ve inspected the area. You want to find out who did this, right? Let me do what you brought me here to do. If you go tramping in here with all your footprints in the sand you’ll confuse the tracks that are already here.”

Very reluctantly the Ria retreated, leaving Kemen to his work.

“Are we really taking orders from a stinking Lander?” a man muttered, but Manty shushed him.

“Yes, we are,” she said. “This Lander, at any rate, if he can help us.”

Kemen barely heard them. He examined the ground, the boat, the water barrels, and the body. Several weapons were scattered about as well, and the grass was heavily trampled. In a few places the grass was scorched as though there had been a fire, but there was no wood or other flammable material at hand apart from the grass.

The body had several deep puncture wounds. Kemen had lived long enough to recognize arrow-wounds when he saw them. There was a sandy footprint on the chest where someone had braced and pulled at an arrow while retrieving it. The eyes were closed, the brows set at a worried angle. The body was quite cold, and the insects had been at it for at least a day, but no animals.

Tracks led both to and from the forest. On their way to the boat they were spread wide, as though the people were running. Returning to the forest they were all in a huddle, and two sets stood out as being particularly deep. They did not match any of the incoming prints, so Kemen concluded they were carrying something quite heavy - perhaps another person. More tracks led away than led toward the boat.

“They’ve been taken into the forest,” he announced to the waiting Ria. “At least one of them was being carried, a man by the depth of the prints. He won’t be dead, considering they left a dead man behind, so probably unconscious. If he were struggling they’d have dropped him once or twice, but they haven’t. So: shall we follow the living right now, or do you need to see to your dead immediately? Forgive me, but I’m not familiar with your customs.”

The Ria did not spare him a glance, but ran to the dead man’s side.

“Let’s make this fast, people,” Manty said.

They lifted him into the first longboat, which they then pushed out into the water and tied with rope to a stake pounded into the soil. A few large rocks served to anchor the stake securely. When they were satisfied that he would not drift, they turned back to their Lander guide.

“Alright,” Manty told him. “You got us this far. Now where are the others?”

“Follow me,” said Kemen, and he headed inland, following the very clear footprints of the missing group. As they neared the forest, he slowed. Something was not quite right. A leaf fluttered without a breeze, and a twig snapped under a foot.

“Careful,” Kemen said, “there’s someone waiting for us in there. Maybe we should-”

His sentence was cut short as he was struck and went down, an arrow sprouting from his shoulder. This is the second time I’ve been shot approaching a forest, he thought.

Manty saw the Lander go down and she drew her sword. An arrow knocked it out of her hand as their assailants stepped out of the trees. They were dark-skinned, with long shining black hair and black eyes. There were at least a dozen of them, each armed with a bow and arrows, with flint knives in their belts.

“We have your men!” one of them called in a thick South-Zamburrhan dialect. “If you want them to live, lay down your arms.”

“Where’s our captain?” an oarsman shouted.

“Shut up!” Manty barked, but it was too late.

“Oho,” the man smiled. “So it’s ‘captain,’ now is it? Did you scared little Floaters lose your daddy?”

“Why you filthy-”

“Shut up!” Manty repeated, but in Avysh. “Hold your damned tongue.”

“He’d best be alive,” she continued in Zamburrhan. “Where are they?”

“How much are you willing to pay for them?” the leader of the group asked.

“Oh, shit,” Manty said. They were outnumbered and outmaneuvered. “Put your weapons down, lads. Don’t argue.”

The spokesman of the Zamburrhans laughed.

“That’s right, little Floater,” he said. “Drop them and you won’t get hurt. Fight and we’ll put you down like your friend back there. We’d rather not kill you, corpses aren’t worth a thing, and you’d rather not die, am I right? So let’s do this like civilized people.”

“What about my man on the ground?”

“He’s alive; bring him. It’s only in the shoulder, make him walk.”

Manty nodded. She went over to where Kemen lay on his back unmoving.

“Come on, Lander,” she said in Avysh. “Let me help you up. We’ve got a bit of walking to do, and there’s nothing wrong with your legs.”

“What’s going on?” he asked. None of the conversation had been the least intelligible to him.

“Slavers took the first boat, and they’ve taken us too. There are too many to fight our way free, and besides, they’re taking us to the Captain, which is exactly where we want to be. We’ll escape later.”

“No spy talk!” one of the Zamburrhans said. “You speak a civilized language only.”

“This man doesn’t speak your tongue,” Manty said patiently.

“Liar. You Floaters speak every language in the world. If I catch you speaking anything but Zamburrhan I will cut your tongue out to keep you silent, do you understand?”

“I do. He doesn’t.”

“Too bad.”

Manty looked at Kemen and put a finger over her lips. Kemen nodded. He would keep quiet.

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


Kemen and the Ria marched under the canopy of the trees. They were not bound, but offered no resistance. As Manty had pointed out, they were on their way to find the Captain, and the idea of becoming slaves was set aside while they dealt with more serious matters. Time to cleanse the abomination later.

They walked for several miles before they came to a heavily armed camp of about fifty or sixty, with a high-sided enclosure in the center. Thrust through the gate of this pen, they found themselves locked in with a dozen or so native Zamburrhans and most of the crew of the first longboat.

“Captain!” Manty shouted.

“Manty? My God, is the ship alright? Do they have water?” They both spoke Opillabe, a Djanaran dialect.

“I don’t know, sir. We were sent in the second longboat to find you. The Lady went up the coast looking for you, and we went down it. That was this morning. We found your boat and followed the tracks inland. They were waiting for us. We pretty much let them take us. Figured they’d lead us to you, and sure if they haven’t. Now we’re all together I suppose it’s time to start working on escape.”

One of the Rian sailors behind Manty vomited by the fence.

“Oh God,” she said. “Don’t give up! We’re getting out of here, there’s no need to be panicking. We are Ria, we are not slaves!”

“We’re in a slave pen,” he moaned. “Trapped like animals, to be sold like animals. We are slaves, it’s unbearable!”

“If you think you are a slave, then you are one,” Jasper said, “and no Rian. But I don’t believe that. I don’t crew my ship with slaves. Stand up. Wipe that off your face. We’re getting out of here and that’s all. We just have to find Galen first.”

“Galen? You mean the Lander? We don’t need him!”

“Normally I’d be inclined to agree with you, sailor, but remember that Galen is now an extension of Morgan himself. We have to treat them as the same man unless Morgan gets his power back. He is Morgan’s apprentice, and we do need him, Lander or no.”

“Where is Galen? Why isn’t he here with you?” Kemen had understood nothing except the two names, but it made him look for the magician, and he did not see him in the pen.

“He did some magic when we were captured,” Jasper said in Avysh. “They had to knock him out to stop him. I think they’ve decided he’s either too dangerous or extremely valuable – or both. They took him into one of the tents, and I haven’t seen or heard anything of him since then. If they decided he’s too much of a danger they may have killed him. If that happens we’re sunk.”

“So that’s what those scorch marks were,” Kemen mused. “I’d wondered about that.”

“Well we have to try to rescue him,” Jasper said. “Escaping would be much easier if we didn’t, but that’s the way it is. Like it or not, we need Galen, and we need him alive.”

“Alright, Captain. What’s the plan?”

“Well having Kemen here’s going to help a lot,” Jasper said.

“Me? I don’t know anything about these people!”

“No, but you know land. You know how to track, how to hide, how to move. Ria can track across an empty sea, but land is different. It’s both simpler and more complicated.

“Now these folks won’t help us escape; in fact, they’ll hinder us if they can. Anyone who sees someone sneaking out and doesn’t raise the alarm will be killed themselves, so we can’t count on the native slaves to be of any use. Think of them as the enemy too. Still, I need you to go find where they’ve got Galen. I’m not leaving here without him unless there is absolutely no choice. If needs be we’ll escape and I’ll come back and have Morgan buy him! We’re not leaving Zamburrha without him.”

“You want me to get out of this pen unseen and wander around camp until I find Galen? How much time will you give me? What should I do once I find him?”

“The Lady will have found the boats soon if not already. They know the drill. They’ll wait one week for us, then come ashore searching. I’d like to prevent that if I can. When you find Galen you come right back and report his situation to me.”

“As you wish, Captain. Who is not expendable?”

“My people. You. Galen.”

“No one else?”

“No one else.”

“Very well. I’ll begin at dusk, so don’t wake me before then. Now if you’ll excuse me...”

Kemen made a circuit of the enclosure. The walls were a good ten feet high and solidly built. He could not see outside, but had a fairly good memory of the front when they had been brought in. His shoulder still ached some where the arrow had struck, but the slavers wanted their catch to be healthy, and their magician had cursorily healed him. His arm was sore and stiff, but he thought he could use it. Well, he would find out tonight one way or the other.

Their fellow slaves were all natives, the only Ria being the ones from the Eleli Rei. Some of them already bore the scars of chains on neck, wrist or ankle, while others seemed lost and frightened, but they were all, as Jasper had said, the enemy. Kemen wished again, as he had so many times that day, that he spoke their language. It would make this task so much easier.

His examination complete, Kemen lay down in one corner and composed himself for sleep. A good scout will sleep whenever he can.

Kemen was awakened by a rough kick at his leg. It was Jasper.

“Dusk,” he said, and walked off.

Dusk was, in fact, nearly over. It was dim, and rapidly growing dark. Kemen stood up and looked around at the situation. He nodded. It would do. He drew a dagger, one of three their captors had missed when they searched him. Time to get to work.

People were just bedding down for the night. As one man lay down, Kemen approached him with the knife, intending to cut his throat quickly and quietly to avoid alarming the others. With skill, he was confident he could kill all the native slaves without raising a cry. He would then be free to scale the wall without interference. It was an unsavoury but necessary first step. After all, Jasper had said they were expendable.

He had just bent over the man and was reaching towards him when footsteps approached with much clanking and rattling, and the gate opened. Kemen stepped quickly back into the darkest shadows and concealed his knife again. He heard orders being shouted out in the strange, native language. Those bedding down groaned and got up.

In came a dozen guards, armed with swords and torches. More men followed, carrying long chains which they proceeded to shackle around the prisoners’ necks.

“No! I won’t! Get off of me!” one of the Ria was shouting.

“Geleth, calm down. This is only temporary.”

“I won’t be a slave! It’s unclean! I won’t!”

“We’re going to get out of here, but not if you throw a fit. Now calm down, sailor,” Jasper put on his best authoritative voice, “and that’s an order!”

It was no use. Geleth would not be calmed or comforted. He thrashed around, striking out at anyone who came near him, friend or foe. The Zamburrhans grew angry, but were reluctant to kill a slave. Instead they rushed him en masse and bludgeoned him unconscious. He was then chained and they moved on to the next Rian.

It was Jasper.

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


“There they are!”

The lookout atop the mast announced the discovery of the two longboats. The Eleli Rei dropped sail and dropped anchor. Down in the bilge, Brand lost the meager breakfast he’d been given, and in Jasper’s cabin Paige moaned. Up on deck there was much whooping and hollering from the Ria. Morgan excused himself and went up to see the excitement. He was just in time to see three women and a man dive from the ship into the surf.

The longboats were there, but the occupants were not. One boat lay in the current, and contained a Rian corpse. Barrels lay about, one full the rest empty.

“He died ashore,” the Ria whispered among themselves. “How awful.”

The longboat was cut free from her moorings and sailed back to the ship. Reilia was left in it, awaiting proper burial. The water barrels were filled, placed in the second longboat and brought back to the ship. Everyone drank their fill. Even Brand was allowed a full ration. Morgan took a pitcher of clean, fresh water to his sister. Ruby encouraged her to drink, but she did not want it. Ashia drank gratefully.

“Where are the others?” Morgan asked Emmy as he came back on deck.

“I have no idea,” she answered. “Alteri says it looks like there are signs of a struggle, but the tracks are at least a day old. They wouldn’t deliberately leave the boats, so something must have happened to them. We’ll follow procedure and wait.”

“Wait? We’re going to wait? What about going to rescue them?”

“And risk getting caught by who or whatever happened to them? Not permitted. Captain’s orders. We wait one week, then we go after them. No, Morgan, those are the rules, and I’m in charge of this ship now. I know you’re the Captain’s brother, with as much authority as he in most things, but not when it comes to running my ship. We wait.”

Morgan slouched below with ill grace and went to talk to his cousin.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “Every minute we wait the further away they get, yet Emmy insists on waiting a full week. They could be anywhere by then.”

“They’re all insane, the lot of them,” Brand spat. “Look at this, what they’ve put me through. I’m a Sutari, and I’m imprisoned ankle deep in a ship’s watery basement. It’s foul, smelly, unsanitary and indecent. I’m fed hard bread and almost no water. Is this any way to treat a god, I ask you?”

“Cousin, I don’t think --”

“That I’m a god? I am, you know. The Ya’Sret himself declared it to be so. These Py-Ria should bow down before me and not dare to lay a hand on me. Instead they banish me to the most disgusting, filthy...” Brand trailed off in incoherent rage.

“Prove it.” Morgan said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Prove that you’re a god. Do something godly. A miracle of some sort.”

“You really don’t understand how these things work,” Brand insisted. “I don’t work miracles, I am simply miraculous by virtue of my very being.”

“Well that’s very convenient, theologically speaking, but it certainly won’t protect you from the Ria, or from anyone else for that matter. The only people on this ship who respect you are... well actually only myself and Paige. Kemen fears you, Ashia fears you, Galen hates you and the Ria simply don’t trust you. You’ve given them no reason to, and every reason not to. Respect needs to be earned, Cousin.”

“Respect must be given at all times,” Brand replied. “A god does not need to earn respect, he is given it because it is his due.”

“You peed in the drinking water, Brand! How is that respectable? You may be a god in Erlaya, but you’re not my god and you’re not their god. They only have just the one, you know?”

“Hmph. Explains a lot about them, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does, rather. Well I’m going to leave you if you don’t mind, this water is sopping my trousers. Do take care, Cousin.”

“I’m not your cousin.”

“No, of course not. Take care anyway, Brand.”

“My name is not Brand!”

“Take care.”














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! :-)