Chapter Four: All Along the Water



by

Josie Beaudoin







“That’s definitely a unicorn. Amazing. Morgan, that was incredibly lucky that you escaped this situation with your life. I’m truly impressed. You thought quick. Good job!”

Most of the group was gathered around the carcass in the dry riverbed. A few of the Ria had remained at the campsite due to injuries, but almost everyone else was gathered around the body. The baby had doggedly followed Morgan back to its mother’s side, whining its high-pitched pleading all the way.

“Coi, I don’t know what to say. That thing doesn’t look anything like any unicorn I’ve ever seen illustrated. Why is it all leathery and grey and fat? Is it sick? And its horn is misshapen and in the wrong place. And all its hair is gone. I just.... I don’t understand.”

“Morgan, there are no unicorns in Avyn. You’ve only heard descriptions of them. I’m telling you this is a perfectly normal unicorn.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Unicorns are horses with a horn. This is a huge, blobby, grey monster that doesn’t look anything like a horse.”

“Sure it does!”

“Are you blind?”

“Well how else would you describe that to an Avyshman? Is there any animal in your part of the world it more closely resembles?”

Morgan inspected the carcass critically.

“Well, no...” he admitted.

“So then what would you have us tell you? That there’s an animal that’s a huge, blobby, grey monster? Unicorns are amazing, really. You only saw a cranky mother, but they are great creatures. There’s only one animal on Fremere that’s larger, and that’s the elephant.”

“What is an elephant?”

“You know what unicorns are but not elephants? Well, considering what you thought unicorns were, I suppose that’s for the best. God alone knows what you would have made of our descriptions of an elephant if you didn’t see one first.”

“Aren’t unicorns supposed to be magical?” Galen asked.

“I wouldn’t know anything about magic, I’m afraid,” Coi said, “but if you want, we’ll help you harvest some of the more expensive parts of her. It’s your kill, Morgan, and unicorn horn is extremely valuable.”

“Is that why the Ria sell fake ones?” Morgan asked.

“It is indeed, my friend. What you’re used to seeing in the markets are narwhal horns. They’re long and slender, beautiful things. They’re also not at all rare or hard to kill. Actual unicorns, like this beautiful lady here, on the other hand-”

“-was easy enough to kill, once I let gravity do the work,” Morgan cut in. “Are you quite sure the fall didn’t distort that horn?”

“Positive,” Coi laughed.

“It’s just so broad at the base, it looks almost triangular,” Morgan said.

“Sure, but it’s still long and sharp enough to skewer a man.”

“Oh, no question she meant to skewer me,” Morgan said with a shudder. “Is it supposed to be on the nose, though? Are you sure this isn’t some sort of mutation or something?”

“Perfectly normal unicorn,” the Rian repeated firmly. “Now come on, let’s get that horn off of her. Real unicorn horn is worth double its weight in gold. You’ll be a rich man when you decide to sell it.”

“My father is a king,” Morgan said. “I don’t need money.”

“Everybody needs money,” Coi said. “It’s how you buy wine. Come on, the heart is valuable too, and if it has any kidney or gall stones, those are as precious as rubies. Not to mention I’m hungry. Let’s get through this hide and get some meat on a fire!”

“You want to eat it?”

“Why not? It’s fresh meat, the animal wasn’t diseased or anything. Let’s find out what unicorn tastes like. I’ve never tried it.”

“This has got to be the most surreal day I’ve had in years,” Morgan said. “And that’s really saying something.”

#

Holding onto her husband’s hand, Mjarni lowered herself one painful step at a time into the shallow pool at the heart of the pyramid. Nothing happened. Both magician and patient turned to look expectantly at the gathered priests.

“We must wait for the moon,” one of them said nervously. “The moon will come down the shaft and strike the pool. Then you may be healed.”

With a grunt of satisfaction, Baqeas nodded and exited, leaving his wife alone in the centre of the clear water. All eyes were upon her as she stood there, waiting. The water lapped at her legs though she did not move, as if it were alive, trying to work a lesser magic before the moon’s arrival. Baqeas was unsure whether he saw a faint luminescent glow to it or whether that was only his own imagination. Slowly, the moonlight crept down the wall of the great shaft towards his wife.

When the light finally crept into the pool, the water turned a bright white, as though lit from within. It swirled and streamed over and around Mjarni, then actually picked her up, lifting her towards the moon’s healing rays.

#

“He did what, now?”

“Morgan killed a unicorn.”

“Galen, that’s absurd. Unicorns are humongous. How could Morgan kill one all by himself?”

“Apparently, he stampeded it over a cliff, and it broke its neck at the bottom.”

“Wait just a minute. You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Jasper sat up from his reclined position on the bank of the creek to look the magician in the eyes.

“He sent me to ask if you would please come back to the main camp, Sir.”

“What for?”

“He’s your brother and he’s concerned about you. Also, he appears to have imprinted upon a baby unicorn and would like advice on what to do with it.”

“He really killed a unicorn?”

“A mother. The infant followed your brother back to camp.”

“Oh, this I’ve got to see! Will he come here?”

“He thought you would ask that. He wants me to tell you that under no circumstances will he come to you. Please, Sir, he wants to talk to you. He hates this unfortunate situation that has made you set yourself apart from the others. He says nothing has changed, that you are still brothers.”

“Of course he does. And he’s right, we still are. It’s just his unfortunate luck that his brother is a criminal.”

“I can’t speak to that, Sir, I’m not qualified to discourse on Rian law. But he misses you, this I know.”

“Oh, dear God, Galen, what am I going to do?”

“Come back to camp. Everyone who survived has made their way ashore, and they are all anxious to get moving. They’re only waiting for you.”

“Why? Why not just leave me?”

“Do I really have to answer that? Despite the severity of your offense, these are still your crew. They are still loyal to you. They want to help you fulfil your oath. And Morgan will never leave you anyway.”

Jasper groaned.

“You’re not going to leave me here to die, are you?”

“No, Sir.”

“Damn you all to the Depths. So I guess I’ll just have to get on with it then.”

“As you say, Sir.”

Jasper looked hard at the Erlayan, but Galen was as noncommittal as always. Jasper held out his hand, and Galen took it and helped him to his feet.

“Alright then, lead the way,” Jasper said.

“Yes, Sir.” Inside, Galen smiled. Outwardly, he knew that if he gave any reaction, it could spoil the whole thing.

#

“Feeling better, brother?” Morgan asked as Jasper and Galen returned to the beach.

“Not really, no. So, catch me up. A unicorn, eh? Where is the…. by God, you’re right, Galen, it is a unicorn! How did you manage to pull that off, Morgan?”

“Sheer terror and desperation.”

“Always good allies.”

“I’m finding that’s true.”

Jasper looked around while he bantered with Morgan. The Rians were, as Galen had said, staying right where they were when he approached. None of them would look him in the eye, but they were not going out of their way to keep their distance from him, either.

“So, uh…”

“Your crew and I have been talking,” Morgan interrupted. “You have a job to do, if you recall, and they are most eager to see you finish it. They have agreed to follow me as your next-of-kin and would like you to know that they still support you, though for some reason known only to Rians, they won’t tell you themselves. At any rate, we’re still all a team here, more or less, and the team would like to keep your promise. I think that’s the gist, anyway.”

“Ah. Is it? Good to know.”

“To the best of my knowledge, yes. Unless anyone here would care to correct me?” he added, raising his voice. No one said a word.

“So what I want to know, Jasper, is what exactly is your plan? What’s our next move?”

“Why are you asking me, oh august leader?”

“Because you always have a plan and I’m flummoxed. I don’t even know where we are.”

“Really? No one told you?”

“Told me…?”

“We’re in Fremere.”

“Oh, well, yes that, but that’s pretty vague isn’t it? I mean Fremere is a continent. How do we leave? How do we get back to Avyn? You know, a plan.”

“Right. Well as I see it, there are two options. One, we sit here and wait for someone to come rescue us because the ship has sunk and Zirah will know that already. She’ll be able to find us using my tattoo, and she’ll be along at some point to see what’s wrong. Or, two, we travel overland until we get our bearings and make our way to a port city where Zirah will meet us because reasons enumerated.”

“Why overland? Why not follow the coastline?”

“Because we can’t all fit in the longboats, and I can’t get in one at all.”

“No, on foot. Follow the coastline on foot.”

“I said that already. Go overland.”

“We must be using the word differently. Yes, that seems like a reasonable plan to me. We can set out in the morning. We have almost nothing to carry, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“What, if anything, was salvaged from the ship?”

“Clothes on our backs, a few books and papers. I saved your log if you care. Some of your crew thought it might be helpful. Other than that, just our weaponry and our lives.”

“Well, the lives are the most important part, certainly. And it’s good to travel light.”

Jasper sat in the sand by the bonfire and began picking at the unicorn meat rotating on the spit. Morgan sat beside him.

“I’m delighted you’ve decided to join us, but why the sudden change of mind?”

“Nothing’s changed. Everything’s pretty much hopeless. But that doesn’t mean I get to stop doing my best, does it?”

“No. But you did.”

“Briefly. Now it’s time to get back to work.”

“As you say, brother.”

#

The water spun like a whirlpool as Mjarni was lifted into the air. She was glowing in the moonlight, and Baqeas could feel panic coming off her in waves, but it was hard to see her clearly. When at last the moon moved away from the pool, she dropped back into the water with a clatter. Baqeas raced to the edge of the pool to help her out of the water, but he could not see any sign of her. He had to wait until the water stopped moving before he was able to clearly see the bottom of the shallow pool and behold the result of the magic.

Mjarni was reduced to a small pile of bones at the bottom of the pool, completely white and clean. Not a bit of flesh was to be found, rotting or whole. Frantic, he reached out with his Song and felt her reassuring presence as he always had. Her consciousness, it seemed, was centered in her skull. He picked it up tenderly and turned with a snarl on the priests.

“What have you done?” he demanded. “What is this?”

Baqeas, stop. It’s not their fault.

Mjarni’s voice sounded clear as a bell in his mind, but he paid her no heed.

“What have you done?” he repeated, “I’ll tear you to shreds, every last one of you!”

Baqeas, I’m fine. I’m alright.

“I assure you, we have done nothing. The water-”

“Killed her! The water killed her, and you knew it would. You had to have known this would happen when you led us in here!”

“The water is manifesting the will of Ilop, who heals those who come with a pure heart.”

“Are you saying this was her fault? That her heart is not pure?”

“Not in the least. But you are a magician, like myself. Feel her essence. She is not in pain. She is peaceful now.”

Baqeas, he’s right. I’m fine, and you need to calm down.

But he would not be swayed. Concentrating his rage, Baqeas ignored his wife and struck down the priests where they stood and chased the remainder up the stairs as they fled the room with the healing pool. None made it to the surface.

#

Morning found the Landers and Ria moving north along the beach. Almost everyone was armed, and they stayed together in a tight cluster. Jasper walked on the inland side of the group. The baby unicorn trotted along at Morgan’s heels, quite content to follow its new ‘mother’ wherever he went. They found and crossed the dry riverbed where Morgan had killed the adult unicorn and continued up the coast.

It was less than a week later when they spotted a sail on the horizon. Morgan and the other Landers had seen other ships besides the Eleli Rei during their travels, but as this ship neared, it grew bigger and bigger to everyone’s astonishment but the Ria.

“It’s the size of a city, a big city,” Brand said. “How does it stay afloat?”

“Landers, you are looking at the Ipar Izar, the largest ship in the world. It seems Zirah herself has come for her brother.”

“It’s enormous,” Morgan said. “Jasper, you told me it was big, but I had no idea, not really.”

While they stood staring at the ship, they saw it launch two longboats which made their way towards the group of refugees. In very little time they ran aground, and Ria began climbing out, swarming onto the beach. They were heavily armed with swords and bows. A tall redheaded woman stepped from the back of the group and strode towards Jasper. The group parted before her in deference.

Jasper wanted to bolt, but knew it was pointless. Instead, he stood where he was, slouching and wishing he could sink into the sand, his head bent in resignation and shame. As she approached, he tried to speak.

“Zirah, I…”

“Don’t,” the woman held up her hand to cut him off. “Just come with me.”

Jasper ran fingers through his hair and followed his sister as she strode further inland up to a nearby low hill. No one said a word as they moved beyond hearing range but not out of sight. At last the Rian Queen turned and faced her brother.

“What in the Depths happened, Jasper?” she demanded in a furious, low voice.

“Zirah…”

“Your ship goes down, but you sent no signal for help, no messages, nothing. I was half afraid you were dead.”

“I am.” The words squeezed out of his tight throat as he choked back rising tears.

“Come again?”

“I am…. dead. Zirah, I broke a promise.”

You?” the Queen’s eyes widened.

“Please, Zirah, take Morgan home. In memory of the man I was. You know how important this is, it’s so much bigger than my failure.”

“You’re serious.”

“What’s the point in lying now? The damage is done.”

“But Jasper, how?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’d prefer not to talk about it.”

“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong, brother. It does matter, and you’re not getting out of it that easily. Neither of us is leaving this spot until you tell me what happened, how it happened, and why it happened, so you’d better start talking.”

As if to emphasize her point, Zirah sat down, crossing her legs and staring up at her brother. Jasper half sat, half collapsed in front of her. The watching Ria, both from the ship and the shipwreck, followed suit, though only half of them knew why.

“Go ahead and sit down,” one of them told the confused Landers. “It may be a while. Anyway, we’re not walking any further.”

Jasper was oddly calm as he told his sister the story. He was drained of all emotion, and his eyes were dead. He dared not look Zirah in the eye, staring instead over her shoulder at the distant trees while he recited what had happened. When he was finished, there were tears streaming down her face.

“You should have sent for me. Jasper, you should have sent for me. God, what are we going to do?”

“I’ve racked my brains, but the law is clear,” he answered. “You know it as well as I do.”

“Better, actually,” Zirah said, “and we’re not beat yet. Stay here, I need to look something up. Don’t you even think about moving.”

“Where would I go?” Jasper asked as she stood up and wiped the dirt and grass from her clothes.

“Well don’t, anyway,” she said as she started down the hill towards the beach. As she came to the group, she said, “Which one of you is Morgan?”

Morgan stood up and towered over her.

“I am,” he said. “What’s happening, Your Majesty?”

“I require your assistance, Archard,” Zirah said. “I have no time for formalities. Come with me.”

“If you don’t mind, may my apprentice accompany us?”

“This is no matter for strangers,” she replied.

“I assure you, Galen is both necessary and trustworthy.”

“Fine. Let’s get going.”

The two men followed the Rian Queen back to the longboat, and they were rowed back to the Ipar Izar in silence. Once alongside the ship, Morgan recalled that day he had first boarded the Eleli Rei. The tiny ship had seemed enormous to him then, but this truly was. The longboat was raised up to the deck, and they all exited onto the planks. Morgan was unsure where the opposite end of the huge ship was.

“Follow me,” Zirah said, and Morgan and Galen fell into line behind her as she made her way to a nearby hatch and down into the hold. She led them through winding corridors until they came to a door which she unlocked and they all went inside. When she closed the door behind herself, Zirah walked straight to a bookshelf built into a wall and began pulling down volumes.

“Can I help at all?” Morgan asked.

“In a moment you can,” she said. “I need to find the right books. Here, these should be a good start. Take those, will you, over to the table?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

“Oh look, don’t let’s stand on formality, shall we? Zirah will do just fine.”

“Then please just call me Morgan. And this is Galen, my apprentice.”

Zirah stopped and looked hard at Galen a moment.

“I thought Cara was your apprentice,” she said at last.

“Is this room truly private?” Morgan asked.

“It’s warded, if that’s what you’re asking. No one will overhear us here.”

“I assume you’re familiar with the nature of Jasper’s quest?”

“Obviously.”

“There have been a few… wrinkles in the plan,” Morgan said, “and Galen is an integral part of keeping that a secret.”

“Talk to me,” she said.

“I’ve lost my power,” Morgan told her. “If the reason you wanted me here was to do some form of spellcasting, I won’t be able to help you, but Galen will.”

“I see. Well, you two definitely need looking after, don’t you? What else do I need to know? Have you learned to fly? Is up suddenly down?”

“Some days it feels that way,” Morgan said. “But I only meant that you can speak to Galen as you would to me. No secrets.”

“I’ve called you here on a matter of law, not magic,” Zirah said.

“Rian law?”

Zirah nodded.

“Then I doubt either of us will be able to help you.” Behind Morgan, Galen nodded in agreement.

“I’m counting on that. I want you to see what I don’t see. I know you’re trained in your own laws, but you’re a Lander. You won’t be familiar with these laws. You may be able to find a way to get Jasper out of trouble.”

“You’re the Queen,” Morgan said. “Can you not simply…?”

“Not if I wish to remain Queen,” she said.

“I thought your rank was hereditary.”

“It is. But I still have to be worthy. I can’t just go breaking laws as it suits me. No ruler is above the law, that would be anarchy. I can always be removed and replaced by my daughter, who would have a regent until she came of age.”

“None of us want that to happen,” Galen said. “Let us see what we can.”

With a nod, Zirah gestured the two men to sit at the large, oak table that dominated the centre of the room. She began piling books in front of them.

“These,” she said, “Are in Avysh. Believe it or not, that is the preferred language of the scholars, so you shouldn’t have any trouble reading them.”

“A welcome change, I’m sure. We’ve had our share of foreign languages on this trip.”

“The Ria are polyglots. We have to be in order to conduct business wherever we go.”

“I’ve seen so much more of the world on this voyage than I ever imagined I would,” Morgan said. “It has some beautiful places, but I’d rather be at home.”

“Help me save my brother, and I will deliver you there,” Zirah said.

“Let’s get to work then, shall we?”














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