I did not know whether to trust the little craft in the open water or not. Nevertheless, straight North I oared, hoping to be over the horizon before Gaal’s light betrayed my position.
Mercifully, the foodgatherers using the craft kept their tools and a store of water inside. Though weak I was not helpless, though grief at losing my companion of but a few passages weighed heavily on me.
I oared all that darkness hoping I was headed straightwise North. It was no easy task, for the lights of Gaal’s absence were covered, even the Wandering Lamdeel hid Herself.
I don’t recall falling asleep, but I must have, for the sound of the drifting watercraft made me shudder with pleasure in the light of the now familiar golden horizon.
–I am dreaming.—I said aloud. But I lay back in my craft, not daring to try to awaken, as I had many dreams before, for the fear of finding myself again in the Cauldron mines.
But then the light began to change, and I espied little sounds I had never before heard in dreams. The screeching of a distant skyling. The whispers of the wind, and a sudden chill as something new dawned upon my senses. It was the smell of the Long North, of frost on boughs, of fresh grass and even the frowzy stink of the Fadeel.
–Now I know I am dreaming.—I shook my head sadly and cried unabashedly for a long time. I leaned over in the craft to splash some water in my face, thus waking up. To my surprise, the water washed my eyes and face without causing a start.
I was not dreaming! It was so, and I had indeed escaped the Long South.
Without a second thought, seeing that nought but water surrounded my craft, I lifted the little craft’s windcatcher and we leapt forward in the gentle breeze.
The Gaalian design for watercraft is not bad, though it only befits the smaller kind. They can catch a forward wind and move almost in the same direction, unlike our heavier craft that must labour long distances back and forth to achieve the same feat.
So on that whisper of a promise sent by Klara I advanced, hoping to make long distances in spare time.
I wish it was all so easy. But I must make you all understand how it felt that brief moment of dreamfilling. Like a window, another moment of bliss that grasps and doesn’t let go for the while that it lasts. It is my hope in my elderhood that you all have this experience, though you must suffer long to truly enjoy it.
Two passages of Gaal passed in peace, I forced myself to merely taste the water and handle only bits of the food. Fortunately my long austerities in the mines made this possible, even easy. And so my pleasant outlook continued until the approaching darkness of the third passage.
As the darkness swallowed the sea and finally the sky I noted a shape bobbing in the distance, and sounds, which often carry so strangely in the open water.
I made haste to lower my windcatcher and even the mast holding it, so as to not appear as this craft did to me.
Long I belooked as I oared in the direction of the craft, silently gliding closer. Great lights flared from the craft and I had little doubt it held Gaalians, for the familiar sounds of the weed-revelry were strong on the wind.
I closed the distance quickly, listening and looking. The craft’s movement felt familiar, as does the heartbeat of your lover. I came ever closer to the craft, despite the danger. I had to know, and indeed saw when a great flashing light lit the sky. It was Hal in the full swing of wandering, with a group of Gaalians aboard, dancing and hooting to the beats of their distinctive dances.
I had just made my mind to turn away and continue my northwise retreat when I heard a voice shout above all others. He uttered Gaalian words, but his tongue was not Gaalian.
–Who cares to challenge your Watermaster to a feat?—
It was the voice of Fim. Even from afar I could belook his tall and willowy shape, covered in the golden armour of office.
A great rush ensued. Safe in the shadows and knowing that none kept a watch during the revelries, I made my mind to stay close and belook.
The feats were all the same ones I had seen performed many times before. Casting heavy loads far out, jumping into the water from the top of Hal’s mast, the Gaalians even held dancing feats. I waited in hope that they would have a distance swim, but unfortiunately they never did.
When it seemed that Gaal’s absence could not continue much longer, my body stiff from sitting so long, the Gaalian crew grew quiet and restful, the flames guttered low. Group by group they lay down for their rest. Fim, who was among the last to retire, made his way to the rear quarters, where a fine cloth covering, like a camp, had been made.
It was then that a bloodcraze rose up in me such as had never occurred before or since. Thinking of Kut and Brendar, I boiled insensate. But I knew it was nonsense to wake the crew up for a battle by raging in the customary battleways.
So I swallowed my rage, and found a foodgatherer’s knife, its edge cocked forward to help make clear cuts, like a skyling’s beak.
Silently I slipped into the water and across the distance from my little craft to Hal.
Longworn practice made climbing Hal an easy feat, though I took care not to make one part of her creak or groan. I knew well that the sleep of the weed eaters is a deep one, ere they fall into it. And so I settled a long score, from the front to the back, one by one, I butchered the entire crew.
It was a surprisingly easy job. I had but to hold the Gaalians’ mouth and slice, taking care that the seeping blood did not pour across the neighboring body.
My rage burned a cold heat as I progressed. I did not tire, but I did not revel in my work either. The blood ran sticky between my fingers, and so I had to wipe them clean to avoid waking the next Gaalian victim.
Soon I had reached the rear quarters, the cloth covering shivering vainly in the wind. Gaal was just rising, the morning silent.
I pushed back the cloth covering to find Fim asleep on a cushion, his head tilting back from the weight of his armour which he wore even in sleep. A cup of the sweet liquid was in his hand, though it had spilled down his sagging front.
–Wake, traitor.—I said calmly.—and belook what has become of your crew.—
Fim started at my voice, a groggy noperson. Then his senses came to him and his eyes grew wide. By the time he could have given battle, I had grabbed him by the back of his armourplate and thrown him onto his knees, my foodgatherer’s knife posied at his throat.
–Jonderen.—he began, a sob rising.
–Save your apologies for your meeting with our dead Karkin.—I said. I did not wait. I cut clean, just like the others.
Fim’s Long Northern blood seeped out a dark purple as he attempted to speak, but found he could only gurgle. Then he died.
Here on my waist I have scratched 35 marks for the lives I took that day. The one completing the fourth octave is missing, for we do not remember traitors to Gaal. I poured each body overboard, loaded with an object to make them fall, but I soon ran out of good objects. It took the better part of a passage. By the time I finished, the watercreatures had swarmed around Hal to enjoy the feast.
Then I took all the vile purple plant I could find and cast it into the water, uttering the best curses my lips could enword.
With Hal back in my possession and cleansed, with all the food and drink I could need to make several trips, I continued my wander straightwise north.
Directing a watercraft made for an octave of men with only four limbs and one set of wits is no easy task. But with time and a steady wind, I soon mastered the challenge. Every waterwanderer should know my manner of handling, which I am happy to show to the one who asks. The trick, I can say now, is to install guide posts for the rigging in the forecraft.
But let me finish my tale.
I wandered straightwise north for three octaves, moving forward when the wind permitted, drifting when it did not. I could not redraw that wander on a map, though I tried to keep measurements of the Lesser Lights.
Every passage, Lamdeel’s presence grew more prominent. I had not noticed how little She seemed to be seen in the Long South, but it is true. Our home in the Long North might well be called the Land of Lamdeel as that of the Long South is called the Land of Gaal… Strange we pay more homage to Gaal than to Lamdeel.
But my musings again take me away from my story.
On the end of three peace filled octaves of passages, I spotted a shroud of mist afore. The mist was as long as the horizon, and this caused me great concern. So I turned Hal towards the rising Gaal, hoping to keep away from rocks, fearing I might have wandered to a dangerous shore.
But one part joy also beat in my heart. For I had left the Long South behind, and met the shores of my land. From this shore, so I thought, I could walk on two limbs all the way to my Folkin.
It was not to be so. For as soon as I had wandered in the direction Gaal rises, I saw the end of the misty wall and the opening of the sea again. Rounding this point, I turned straightwise north and soon enough espied land, but not a vast land that led to my home, but a narrow island.
It was beautiful beyond belief; As beautiful as the havenlands were before they were tarnished by Gaalian hands. Every measure was a bright green when not lit by the colour of some flower. Such untended glory seemed impossible, and I cautiously held watch for the beings protecting this paradise. But long as I looked, I saw nought.
Then with great desire I turned Hal to come near the land, so that I could wander in its glades and gaze at the beauty, up close.
I had got very near when on the wind I heard a sound, a kind of groan. This sound sent a chill right up my limbs and down my back, for it was surely Brendar’s voice sounding in my ear.
Closely I listened, but the sound had ceased. All that remained was the silent look of the land and a gentle padding of water against Hal.
Brendar’s voice had seemed a warning; a message I could not mistake. So painfully I heeded the warning and forced my face forward, so as not to look back at that wondrous place. I pointed Hal straightwise East, where Gaal rose and left the isle.
I wandered where Gaal rises another octave, well fed and drunk, but homeweary. Every passage my desire for the Long North became stronger.
We of the sea do not call ourselves soft or sentimental, loss being so much a staple of our wanderings in life. But I am old. I can enword my mind without fear or care of youthful mockery. For hearth and kin, a good pot of Jonderail on the table, peace within, trouble without and a strong craft sitting in the water ready to take us wither we would wander, we are indeed sentimental. Who dares speak otherwise?
I recalled how a great flow drug Hal towards the Long South in the deep Eastern waters, so fearing it would find me again, I continued my wander North, knowing somewhere near was the Shinse coast. Death by Shinse blades seemed a mercy compared to the chance of returning to the Long South.
As it happened I sat awake in the depths of Gaal’s absence, lit by the light of Lamdeel, having caught a good wind from the West by South when I espied a shimmering glint over the horizon. It was the golden towers of Kunazem!
They were white and pale, like tear drops, as beautiful as anything I had ever imagined. In the dark of Gaal’s absence, everyone in that great city was asleep and at peace. I had departed the Long North to make war here, but now such thoughts were far from my mind or heart.
With silent cheer I praised Gaal and all the Authorities for having delivered me into familiar waters in the darkness. I swore never to swing my axe against that city. I have lived long under that oath.
The more quickly I left Kunazem the less likely any Shinse would wish to draw a fight or come near enough to note I alone directed the craft. Nevertheless I hung weapons wherever I could and set up empty suits of armour to sit in the oarbenches. I saw a few foodgathering craft, but they swiftly turned back the way they had come when they belooked Hal’s windcatchers.
It was only a few octaves later that the Karkin of Hildren espied Hal coming stiff in that same favourable wind. They found me asleep, my good hand on the till, my bad wrapped in the rigging, my hair white as winterwater, my face burnt beyond recognition. I’ll never forget being so soundly shocked as when they woke me with great joy and much thumping.
The rest of my life is no mystery. I settled my hearth, sealed my bond with the Good Folkiness Kilain, and fathered an octave of your Karkin. Waterwandering I left off, except for the odd journey into the Long North. Hal now wanders the waters by the direction of Kut-dorin and Brendarin his Kin, both my seed.
My song is now woven, rough and ragged though it be. I Ask the Authorities for it to serve you all well. Remember our Folkin who lay there to rest. Perhaps some still see with sightless eyes and work the mines of the Cauldron. Perhaps some others don false gold and title for traitorous acts, as did Fim. Whatever be truth, know this: A deadly enemy waits sleeping in the Long South. If ever it woke to wander North, we would be in for a disaster none have before dreamed.
So end the words of Jonderen Bloodba, Master Mariner, a testament to his Kin and Karkin, lone survivor of the Long South.
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