Chapter Eight: The Seventh Stranger



by

Josie Beaudoin







“Ruby! Just the person we wanted to see,” Morgan said.

“No. Whatever you want, Lander, the answer is ‘no.’”

“What’s wrong?”

“Your cousin is a monster.”

“Well, yes, sort of. But he wasn’t always like this.”

“He thinks he is not human, and I am beginning to agree with him.”

“Oh Quphic. Would you like me to talk to him?”

“I would like you to throw him overboard! I tried to talk to him, and he won’t be reasoned with. I want him out of my cabin.”

“We can probably arrange that, at least,” Morgan said. The outburst of this patient, gentle holy woman was more than a little disconcerting. Brand must have said some fairly horrible things to have her so upset. Conferring with her on the transfer failures would have to wait.

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


Brand awoke to searing pain. Someone was touching him.

“No, stop that, please!” he begged.

“‘Stop that,’” a voice at his side said. “I imagine you heard those words a lot in the last five years. ‘Stop that,’ ‘let me go,’ ‘don’t hurt me.’ Did you ever show mercy, or is that not what a Sutari does?”

“Ruby.”

“No, but she told me what you said.”

“Who...”

“I’m Emmy. Emerald. The first mate? You’d know me if you got to know the crew at all, but I suppose we’re beneath you, eh?”

“What do you want?”

“To get you out of Ruby’s cabin before she hurts you,” came the quiet reply. “You really angered her earlier. One of the men killed was her son, you know. If I were you I’d steer clear of her waters from now on.”

“How am I supposed to do that? I’m wounded. She’s the healer.”

“Galen will take care of you. I don’t think your health is uppermost in Ruby’s mind right now. At least not your good health. Come on, can you walk?”

“Are you insane? No, I can’t walk. You’ll have to lift the bed.”

“The bed is built in to the ship. It doesn’t move. I’ll get some of the crew to lift you. We’ll try not to hurt you more than we need to, God knows we’ve already done that. This is going to hurt like the Depths, though. Brace yourself. You’re a wreck.”

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


They got Brand settled into Jasper’s bunk after a lot of cursing and swearing on everyone’s part. Galen administered him a drink with herbs to make him sleep, which he did soon after he drank it. Once he was asleep, Galen examined his back.

“There aren’t actually that many lashes that opened the skin,” he said, looking it over.

“I couldn’t see mine at the time,” Kemen said, “but this looks milder. I’m sure it doesn’t feel it, though. I’ll never forget that.”

“Why were you whipped?”

“Insubordination. I told the Sutari Erris he was wrong.”

“Brand had you whipped?”

Kemen nodded.

Galen whistled. “Kind of appropriate, then, don’t you think?”

“No. I wouldn’t wish this on ... well, nearly anyone. Not on Brand. He earned it, and I accept that, but a whipping is a horrible punishment to endure.”

“I’ve witnessed a few in my time,” Galen admitted. “I’ve never tried to heal one afterwards, though. This should be interesting.”

“No,” Jasper said, coming into the room, “it should be painful and drawn out. He escaped worse, he’s going to experience this in thorough detail. Don’t give him too much of that soothing herb, Galen, just make sure he doesn’t get an infection or gangrene or something.”

“That’s harsh, Jasper.”

“You’re a healer, you have a gentle heart. He doesn’t deserve gentleness right now, he deserves suffering. I want you to not interfere with that, understood?”

Galen sighed.

“I understand,” he said. “No healing spells, no pain killers. It’s just... hard to see him like that.”

“Imagine how Ruby is feeling,” Jasper said.

“I’m trying to, and that’s why I’ll obey. Ruby is a ... well we’re close.”

“We’re going to be making landfall in a few hours,” Jasper changed the subject. “Would you like to go ashore, or have you had your fill for awhile? There’s a city up ahead, my maps tell me it’s most likely Old Ilsho. It’s a civilized place, away from the Merples. It should be fairly safe.”

“No, I think I’ll stay here. I’m not in a hurry to see land again just yet. Why are we even stopping, this close to... that place?”

“Because we had to throw out six water barrels,” Jasper said. “We need replacements, as well as regular supplies. Even the Ria can’t eat fish all the time.”

“I was beginning to wonder about that,” Galen said with a smile. “I think everyone will enjoy a change of diet.”

“Vmaa, would you like to go ashore?” Jasper asked the little girl in her own tongue. Vmaa seldom ventured far from Galen’s side since they had been unshackled. The language barrier had not stopped her from developing a close bond with him.

“Do I have to leave so soon?” she asked.

“You don’t have to leave at all, Little One,” he answered. “I just thought you might want to.”

Vmaa shook her head and held fast to Galen’s arm.

“That’s alright, Willow, you can stay with me,” Galen said. He had trouble pronouncing her name, which she found amusing, and so had latched onto ‘Willow’ as a substitute. She was willing enough to answer to her new name after Thele explained what it meant while he worked on teaching her Avysh. She did not quite know what he had said, but his words were calm and comforting, and she took them to mean that he would not force her to leave.

“Well I, for one, would like to get my feet on solid ground again,” Morgan said. “Ruby’s done miracles with my motion sickness, but I wouldn’t pass up a chance to stand on something that isn’t moving for a change. I haven’t set foot on land since Barkarnas. When do we go?”

“About another hour or two, I’d guess. We’re pretty close. You can see the harbour from here, it looks like there’s a lot of ships in port today.”

The port was busy indeed, at least a dozen ships sidling up to the docks. The Eleli Rei could not get to a dock herself, and they had to go ashore by “overplanking,” laying planks from ship to ship and walking over them like bridges. The Lady had no cargo to unload, so this was convenient enough.

As they passed, they were recognized and hailed by many of the ships. Jasper had decided to fly the Rian banner that day. He was in high spirits after having escaped the slavers, and the birth of Reina only raised them higher. Now he had a chance to show his sheltered brother a bit of the world as it was supposed to be, the bustle of a foreign marketplace, the different ships with their many cargoes and peoples. As they crossed the planks they were greeted in several languages, and Jasper answered them all in kind.

“Spoiled princeling!” someone called. “What are you doing so far from Far Ganel?”

Jasper gave them a mock bow.

“Just on a pleasure cruise,” he answered. “Buying some lavish decorations for my walls! You know how dull life gets. Must have something new to look at or I get dreadfully petulant.”

They reached the pier and wended their way through crates and boxes being loaded and unloaded from ships much larger than the Lady. Morgan had not realized until he saw other ships just how small the Lady was. She was built for speed and stealth, not transport. The crews aboard those ships must be quite large indeed, he thought. I wonder how big ships get?

“You left Kaihiri before we did, Captain!” another voice called. “What took you so long getting here?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Jasper said with a grim shake of his head. “I was there and I don’t believe me. Let’s just say a storm knocked us off course and leave it at that.”

There were nods all around. Fast ship or not, a storm could cause anyone trouble. Everybody knew that.

They reached solid ground and headed for the nearest marketplace. A wide avenue led between taverns and houses to an open area where booths and stalls were set up. Everywhere Morgan looked were exotic goods from all parts of the world, from carpets to statues to herbs and spices and strange devices.

Well, almost everywhere. Looking at one booth, Morgan saw something that sent an ache through his heart. It was a little statue of a knight on horseback in full armour and regalia, right down to the banner on the knight’s lance, two rivers and a castle. Krisadon. Home.

It was only a toy - children in Krisadon played with them all the time. Morgan himself had played with them, moving armies about in mighty battles in his imagination. They were common toys, nothing fancy or elaborate, yet here they were, a small Krisadon army covering a tabletop in a strange land on the far side of the world. Looking about he saw jewelry on racks behind the table which were clearly Geitan construction and style. Blankets of Feryn wool hung at the back of the booth.

“Greetings to you,” the merchant said in thick, heavily accented Avysh. “May your day be pleasant.” He continued on in another tongue which was unintelligible to Morgan.

“He’s asking you how well he’s spoken the language these trinkets come from,” Emmy said. He had not realized she was standing by his shoulder. “I don’t think he realizes that you’re not Rian. Well, no reason he should. Only Rians sail, and there’s no other way a real FreeLander could get here.”

“Greetings to you,” Morgan repeated in a daze. His eyes filled with tears at the words, and the goods spread on the table before him.

“These sell very well,” Emmy told him. “They don’t have horses here, only llamas and camels. The horses are a novelty. The jewelry as well is very exotic. He says he hopes we bring more soon.”

“How did these things get here?”

“We brought them. Morgan, what do you think we do with the goods we buy once we leave the FreeLands? We sell them overseas. Do you remember the statue we brought you for your twentieth birthday, the one with all the carvings on it? Where do you think it came from?”

“I suppose... I never thought about it, really,” Morgan said. “I guess I thought since all foreign things come from the Ria that all our things went to the Ria. I guess I never really sat and gave it any thought.”

“Well you were a very busy man,” Emmy said. “Not everyone has as much work to occupy their time and concentration as you did.”

“I still do,” Morgan whispered.

“Yes, I suppose you do at that. Would you like one of these horses, perhaps for your little niece?”

“What? Oh, she’s much too young for a toy like that. But maybe...”

“Yes?”

“A necklace, for Paige. Geite isn’t Krisadon, but it is a FreeLand.”

“Well lucky for you I just happened to bring a coinpurse. Let’s pick one out for her, shall we? Let’s see what - ”

There was a sudden shout and a great commotion. People ran in confusion away from two men standing in the middle of the square, facing each other. One was an olive-skinned man with slanted eyes, a long braid down his back and a knife in one hand.

The other was Jasper, bleeding from a cut on his arm.

Jasper tried to draw his own belt knife, but he fumbled. The knifeman stood watching with malicious glee. Jasper dropped to his knees, still clutching at his belt, trying to reach his knife with increasingly clumsy hands.

“Captain!” Emmy was at Jasper’s side in three quick strides, trying to hold him up. Morgan stood rooted to the spot, unable to understand what he was seeing.

“Thought you could get away from him without paying, didn’t you?” the man sneered. “Thought he would forget about her. I knew I’d find you.”

Jasper tumbled to the ground with a whimper and the strange man turned and swept through the crowd which closed behind him.

“Stay with him! Stay with the captain!” Emmy shouted. Dimly, Morgan realized she was speaking to him. He nodded, but she was already gone, into the crowd, chasing the assailant. Numbly, Morgan moved to his brother’s side. Jasper was unmoving, clutching the knife he had finally managed to draw. He lay on his back, his blue eyes staring unblinking into the sky, his body stiff and unmoving, the back arched as though in pain, one hand clawing at the cobblestones.

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


“It’s unnatural, father.”

“Well of course it is; it’s magic. That doesn’t make it a bad thing.”

“People are uncomfortable.”

“They’ll get used to it.”

“It’s been five years, father, and they’re not used to it yet. How long do you think their patience will last?”

Baqeas looked at his son. They boy had grown much since that fateful night of his mother’s funeral. Father and son were of a height now, and the young man’s beard was beginning to grow. Baqeas’ own beard had never grown back - after five years his face was still as smooth as a child’s. It was the least of the changes he had undergone that night.

“The answer is no; I won’t tell her for you. You’ll have to do it yourself.”

“Please, father.”

“I said no. It’s your wedding and your mother. If you’re going to be a husband you need to be a man; face your problems head on. I won’t let you hide behind me. If you don’t want your mother there, look her in the eye and say so. Don’t expect her to forgive you anytime soon though. You know no one holds a grudge better than your mother.”

The younger man squirmed at the truth of that. He knew his mother only too well.

“Doesn’t it bother you at all?” he asked after an uncomfortable silence. “I can hardly bear to look at her, but you...”

“... sleep by her side every night,” Baqeas finished. “Of course it bothers me. It terrifies and sickens me even to touch her, but it’s not her fault and she shouldn’t be punished for it. Another thing you need to learn about being a man and a husband is loyalty. My wife - the woman I love more than anything or anyone, the mother of my children - is suffering, and I would sooner cut my own throat than add to her pain. Do you think she doesn’t know how she looks? Do you think she doesn’t hear peoples’ whispers, feel their stares? Do you think she doesn’t lie awake at night crying? That it doesn’t bother her? What she needs right now is our love and support whether we feel revulsion or not, but if you can’t give her that then be a man about it and say it yourself. I am not going to tell my beloved that she’s not welcome at her own son’s wedding.”

Baqeas turned and began to walk away, unable to continue and unwilling to let his son see it. The youth followed after him, stepping in front of his father.

“I didn’t mean it that way. You know I love her, but...”

“But? But only in private? Only sometimes? Love isn’t sometimes, you don’t get to love her only at your convenience. She’s your mother all the time. If you love her, show it. Stand by her, be proud of her. Don’t shame her in public like this. Don’t tell her she’s not good enough to be your mother just because she’s dead.”

“You say that as though it were nothing, listen to yourself. She’s dead, father, she shouldn’t be walking around as though nothing were wrong. When people die they’re supposed to stay dead.”

“Her death doesn’t change anything. She’s still my wife and she’s still your mother.”

“It changes everything. Your love has made you blind to how wrong this all is, you’re living a lie.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I thought I’d raised my sons better than that.”

The wedding was perfect, the bride radiant and the groom handsome. The skald sang the lineage of the newlyweds, blending the two together into one song. It was everything a wedding should be. At dinner the groom’s father toasted the bride, wishing her a long life and many children. His wedding gift to them was a cradle he had made, he told them with a wink and a smile, in anticipation of it being used by his grandchildren. He recommended they get to work on filling it as soon as possible if they had not done so already, a statement which was received with suggestive laughter from the drunken guests. The celebrations lasted far into the night despite the early departure of the couple to their new home.

When the last of the revellers had staggered off to their own beds or passed out in front of the bonfire, Baqeas made his way home where Marli sat waiting for him. It was fifty-three years before he spoke to his son again.

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


Emmy raced through the crowd which parted before her, running in the wake of the assassin. He headed, as she had feared, right for the docks. Overplanking several ships, the man jumped aboard a ship which drew in its planks and headed out almost before he had landed on the deck. Emmy was forced to pull up short and go around.

“Eleli Rei! Go, go, go! Up sail! Up anchor! Go!” she shouted as she ran back to her own ship. Ria around her scattered to stay out of her way.

The crew acted as it had been trained: fast. The ship responded as it had been built: fast. Bartok had the ship ready to lift the overplanks by the time Emmy got to her, and they sailed in pursuit of the larger vessel making its way out of the harbour. It helped that they were not near a dock and that The Eleli Rei was faster, but the other ship had a head start.

“What happened? Where’s the captain?” Bartok demanded. Emmy was panting from the chase.

“We’ll come back for him, for everyone back there. Right now we have to catch that son of a Lander and kill him and every soul on that ship.”

“What happened?”

“Poison. The captain was poisoned.”

“Is he alive?”

“I have no idea, but if he’s not dead, he was certainly intended to be. This was an assassination attempt, clean and simple. I intend to kill that man and everyone who helped him.”

“Do you know who it was?”

“No. Pyria, I think. I mean it has to be Pyria, doesn’t it? Who else would do this?”

“Let’s go find out. Who’s left back in the city?”

“Jasper. Morgan. Geleth is with them, I think. Ruby went ashore, but she went off her own way. I don’t know where she is. Obrad and Kiya are with her, I think, getting supplies. Don’t worry, we’ll go back for them. Right now we have to have that ship.”

“Aye,” Bartok said. “We’ll get her.”

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


Jasper lay in the market square and stared at the sky. He could not blink. The cut on his arm burned and he could feel it spreading up and down his arm, the poison moving into his body. The knife in his hand scraped uselessly against the stones as his body still fought to retaliate against his attacker. He wanted to scream, but no sound came.

“Stay with him! Stay with the captain!” he heard someone yelling. It sounded vaguely like Emmy, but coming from a great distance, or under water.

This can’t be it, he thought. I’m too busy to die. I haven’t got Morgan home yet. There was a slow, sinking feeling in all his limbs, and his heart began slowing.

“Captain? Captain! Can you hear me?” A frantic voice, probably Geleth, sounded in the distance. So he was not alone. Someone had stayed. Jasper tried to turn his head in the direction of the voice, but could not move.

“Tell me he’s going to be alright,” another voice sounded dimly. Morgan’s face flicked into view and out again, a scowl of worry on his face. Jasper could not move his eyes. Geleth, too made a brief appearance, then disappeared. Morgan returned, looking Jasper in the eye and speaking to him.

“Jasper, can you hear me? Can you move at all?” He wanted to scream, to jump up and run, but he could not even blink.

“He’s stiff as a board,” Geleth said. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Wait, there he goes, he’s moving.”

I am? Jasper thought. He could feel nothing but the sinking feeling and the pain in his arm.

“He’s fading. Where in the Depths is Ruby? Captain, hang on. Hang on, we’re going to get you back to the ship. Everything is going to be alright, just don’t give up. We’re here, we’re with you. Captain? Captain!”

They were the last words Jasper heard as he sank boneless to the ground, his breath stopping, the light fading from his eyes. The dagger dropped from his hand unused as every muscle in his body went limp. There was no movement. Jasper lay still and quiet where he fell.

“I can’t feel his heartbeat. Quphic, he’s got no pulse!” Morgan moaned. “What do I do?”

“Here she is! Ruby, get over here! Jasper’s hurt.”

“He’s dead,” Morgan said. “He’s not moving. It’s too late.”

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


“Uncle Delling?”

“What is it, child?”

“Have you seen my scissors?”

“Tell the silly chit she’s dropped it in her lap,” his wife remarked.

“It’s in your lap, beloved,” Delling said without looking around.

Fawn lifted up her embroidery and found her scissors just where he had said it would be. She snipped a length of thread, put it on her needle and resumed working.

“You always know everything, don’t you Uncle?” she asked awhile later.

“Not everything, my dear,” he said, “just more than most folks.”

“You’re too modest. You’ve never failed to answer any question I’ve put to you.”

“Only because she’s a pampered and dullwitted child who can’t think of anything difficult to ask you,” his wife said. She was ignored as usual. “I don’t understand how you can put up with such a simpleminded creature. There’s nothing in her pate but fluff.”

And there’s nothing in yours but air, Delling thought. Fawn is a flesh and blood woman.

“You inspire me, Fawn,” he said aloud. Laying aside his quill he firmly stoppered the ink bottle and dusted the page of the codex he was illuminating. He stood and went to the young woman, pulling her to her feet.

“I know all the answers when I look at you,” he said as he danced her about the room. Fawn laughed with delight, and he kissed her deeply.

“Can you make me immortal like you, Uncle, so you won’t have to be alone anymore?”

The swirling dance came to an abrupt end.

“Oh now you’ve done it, child,” Delling’s wife smirked.

“I’ve had just about enough of you, woman, I don’t want to hear another word,” he snarled back. Fawn shrank from the harsh words of his sudden transformation, and Delling turned on his heel and disappeared down the stairs to a lower level of the tower.

“He changes so quickly,” Fawn said. “I never know when I’m going to make him angry.”

“He never changes at all,” his wife replied.

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


“Far Ganel! What happened here?” Ruby was at Jasper’s side, holding his hand, opening his eyes and looking into them, rubbing his wrist.

“He’s dead,” Morgan repeated, his panic increasing. “That man poisoned him and he just fell down dead. It was so fast, and he’s gone. It was just so fast.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ruby said. “He’s not dead, at least, not yet.”

“How do you know?”

“Trust me, he’s not,” Morgan stiffened as he remembered how she knew, “but he’s close. He may be soon if we can’t reverse the poison. Obrad, you and Geleth will have to carry him back to the ship. The rest of us will clear the way. Come on, get him up. Careful with his head, he’s still got a need for it. Alright, stand back, people. Come on, clear the - where’s the ship?”

Looking across the bay they saw the Eleli Rei sailing away, following a much larger vessel.

“It’s Laric...” Morgan murmured. “He’s after us, he’s following us.”

“What?”

“The man said we couldn’t escape without paying. Then he ran away. Emmy ran after him. Somehow Laric has sent a ship after us.”

“Impossible, Morgan. The Ria would never allow it, and we’d know the moment we saw it.”

“Unless he hired a ship,” Morgan said.

“He couldn’t. No one would take him.”

“Not him personally,” Morgan insisted. “But hired a Rian assassin. Well who else would say something like that? Then he went back to his boat and the Lady went after him. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Then why attack Jasper? Why not you?”

“Laric wants me alive, always alive,” Morgan answered. “But the more he can make me suffer, the better he likes it.”

“Pyria might have done it, though they’d have to be insane as well as... well... insane.”

The two Rian men had set Jasper down carefully on the pier. Ruby turned her attention back to her patient to examine him further, but there was no change. Jasper was, as far as anyone but Ruby could tell, dead.

“Insane,” she said. “It makes no sense. What Rian - what Pyrian, even, would consent to do a thing like this?”

“Assassination is that rare among your people?”

“No, but hiring themselves out to a Lander is, and Laric at that,” Ruby answered. “But you’re right, if what you tell me is true, it seems unlikely he’d be talking about anyone else. What exactly did he say?”

“I don’t remember exactly,” Morgan said. “I was just so surprised.”

“He said ‘Thought you could get away from him without paying, didn’t you? Thought he would forget about her. I knew I’d find you.’ Then he turned and ran, and Emmy ran after him, ordering us to stay with him,” Geleth said.

“Perfect memory,” Ruby said. “I forgot you could do that. What else do you remember?”

“The assassin was Djanaran, with a long braid, nothing remarkable about him except that he was Djanaran, which means he must be Rian. The captain started for his knife but was very clumsy, and then he fell over trying to fight back. He convulsed for a few moments, then went limp like you see him now. As Morgan said, it was very fast.”

“Let’s go back and ask around,” Ruby said. “Perhaps someone there knows something. Morgan, you stay here with Jasper. Kiya, Obrad, stay with them. Geleth, come with me.”

People in the square had resumed their shopping when the two Ria returned. They began circulating among the shoppers and the merchants.

“Did you see what happened?” they asked repeatedly. People had, indeed, seen what happened, but were unwilling to discuss it. Two Ria had fought, one was poisoned and died quickly - that was the general consensus. More than that was unclear.

“Your friend was lucky,” someone said. “Most poisons take much longer to act. This was merciful, he died quickly.”

Others within earshot nodded agreement.

“He’s not dead,” Ruby informed them. “He just looks it. He’s unconscious, but he’s not dead. Now I am going to find an antidote for this, and you had better help me.”

“If he’s still alive as you say, it sounds like yarorgero. There is no cure, just a lingering death. I’m very sorry, but yarogero is fatal.”

“The Lost Temple of the Moon...” a thin voice said. The crowd laughed, though some looked about nervously and shifted their feet.

Ruby found the speaker - an old blind woman sitting in a pile of rags between two booths.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“The Prophecy of the Lost Temple of the Moon,” the old woman repeated. “You laugh at old blind Lidisz, but I know. I see it. I see so much.” Ruby extended her Vada, reading the old woman. She was unsurprised to discover the woman was a mage.

“What is the prophecy?” she asked.

“Only one whose heart is true, only he can see it,” Lidisz said. “But the Temple is invisible. Only the blind can see it. I saw it once, in a dream. In the Temple of the Moon is the cure for every illness known to mankind. If you wish to save the seventh stranger, you must find the Lost Temple. Only there will he be healed. This is the prophecy.”

“Far Ganel,” said Geleth. “The woman speaks fog. It’s probably all she has in her brain.”

“No,” Ruby said, “I believe her. Tell me, one old woman to another, where was the Temple of the Moon?”

“Lost, lost, the Temple is lost,” Lidisz repeated. “There shall be seven who seek it, and only there will the seventh stranger be healed.”

“Yes, I heard that part,” Ruby said, “But if it’s lost, its location must have been known once. Where was it before it was lost?”

“It has been swallowed by the jungle,” was the answer, “and cannot be found. Once it was a mighty Temple, carved with pillars and visited by peoples from all over the land. Then the wars began, and the jungle reclaimed the stones.”

“The war. Damn that war, anyway,” said Ruby in Avysh. “More lives have been lost to that war than is humanly decent, and for so petty a matter.

“Does it yet rage?” she asked the seer.

“Oh, the war shall rage forever,” Lidisz answered. “For neither side is right. They battle over that which can never be solved, for the Temple is lost and so gives no answer.”

“It’s probably right on the border if they fought over it,” Geleth said.

Ruby sighed.

“Dear God, let’s hope so,” she said. “I don’t relish the idea of sending anyone in there, but at least it’s a place to begin looking. Let’s get back to the docks and see if the ship has come back for us.”

It had not. Across the harbour there was no sign of either ship.

Ria from every ship had gathered around the still form of their prince, many grieving. Ruby pushed her way through the crowd to where Morgan and the others sat guard over the body. Once again she repeated the news that he was not dead, only ill. The captain of the Blue Swallow had her priest read Jasper, and announced the same verdict, at which point many of the Ria were relieved enough to disperse back to their work.

“Captain Necio,” Ruby said, “may we take his Highness aboard the Blue Swallow? He should not be lying on the wharf like a box of goods.”

“Of course,” she answered. “But now he owes me twice over. You did say he’s going to recover, didn’t you? I’d hate to be unable to collect on his debt.”

“He’ll recover, though you may have to wait awhile before he’s free to repay you.”

“Life’s full of burdens,” Necio answered.

“That’s very true,” Ruby replied.

They brought the captain aboard and settled him into Necio’s cabin.

“Well I always did want him in my bed again,” she said, “but I wanted him awake. Ah well, this will have to do for now.”














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! :-)