A Blight of Blackwings | Chapter 7 of 32

Author: Kevin Hearne | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1200 Views | Add a Review

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Day 21 The Mistmaiden Isles

Fintan and I were informed after his tale that Pelenaut Röllend would like to meet us for breakfast in the morning, and when the sun crawled out of the ocean, a mariner arrived at my door and escorted me to the home of Tallynd du Böll, Pelemyn’s tidal mariner. Rölly and his lung, Föstyr, soon joined us.

We had a mess of peppered eggs and some sliced sausage from Tallynd’s seemingly never-ending supply of gift baskets.

“Enjoy this last bit of luxury,” she said. “I’m donating the remainder today to the refugee kitchen in Survivor Field. It’s starting to get dire out there. Found out from a hygienist that some kids haven’t had protein in a week. That’s unacceptable. After this I’m going to escort some fishing boats out to the Mistmaiden reefs and bring in a haul just for the people in the field.”

Fintan and I thanked her for that, and I was seized by the overwhelming desire to give her a gift basket for giving away all her gift baskets. Our cultural mandates can tie us up in knots sometimes.

Rölly frowned as he spoke to Föstyr. “I know food supplies were already on our list of things to revisit soon, but perhaps you could move that to the top of the list? I hadn’t heard about the protein shortages among the refugees, and I’d like to know why not but also make sure it doesn’t continue or happen again.”

We ate somewhat guiltily after that, and I wondered if I was pulling my weight; next to the crisis of basic needs some people were facing, I didn’t feel that my duties were more important than, say, joining a fishing-boat crew.

“Forgive me for not spending longer on pleasantries,” Rölly said after a few moments, “but I have plenty to do and I just wanted to speak to you, Fintan, about your story last night. I believe it made clear what’s to come, as you promised; the Nentian throne was not overthrown so much as suddenly left vacant and Melishev was able to seat himself?”

“That is correct, Pelenaut. More details to come, of course, but you have the essential drift.”

“So that was months ago, and we hadn’t heard because the Granite Tunnel collapsed and their capital was burned down. With all that going on, it’s little wonder they didn’t try to reach out to us on the other side of the continent. Melishev was ill when he took the throne, and I’m given to understand he must be even worse now?”

“He’s well-nigh buried.”

“Sending a hygienist will take weeks. He might be dead by the time they get there—or he might be dead already.”

“That is true.”

“Still, those Nentian merchants pulled at my heart. I wouldn’t want the families of Subodh, Ghurang, and Poudresh punished because I failed to act. Or Jahm’s family, for that matter. But I don’t like rewarding hostage taking, so I’m going to release one hygienist to each country—one to Rael, Forn, and so on—to deal with any dire needs as the leaders of each country see fit. I believe we have stabilized our situation here and are making excellent progress in the river cities, so I feel I can let a few return abroad.”

“I am sure everyone will be grateful.”

“What I’m wondering is if there is some other information in the stories ahead that I should know now. Any other new leaders in the west I should know about? Who took over for Winthir Kanek, for example, in Narvik and Tharsif?”

Fintan chewed thoughtfully and swallowed before answering. “I have no idea who the new hearthfires are. Numa hasn’t reported it to me, and so I assume for the moment that the Hathrim are occupied with internal affairs rather than making noise abroad. There are some surprises ahead—developments in both the north and the south—that I think will bear the stamp of revelation for many people, but nothing that affects your day-to-day business right now. We have spoken privately about some events in the north that we agreed can wait their turn, and what little else has happened you already know, as you’ve been getting reports from your quartermaster up there. What I’m going to share about the north came from people I was with, and the rest came from Numa, who reported extensive goings-on in Ghurana Nent before she presented me here to you.”

Rölly simply stared at the bard for a long while, holding his gaze, making it clear he didn’t truly believe there was nothing else he should know at the moment. I had no idea what they might be referring to, and it took a supreme effort of will not to break in and say, Hey, what are you talking about?

“Very well,” Rölly finally said. “If you think of anything later, Master Bard, that I might not know but might find relevant, please make sure you get word to me through Dervan or a mariner. I don’t wish to be surprised again. I’ll be quite displeased, in fact, if I discover you’re holding something back right now that can help my people.”

“Some of what’s to come will no doubt help your people, and mine,” Fintan said. “But not right now. It will only be helpful once the Raelech army arrives—plus the Fornish reinforcements and the Kaurian fleet—and we are still weeks away from that.”

“Yes, we are.”

“Then you can cease to worry, Pelenaut. The past cannot change and it won’t affect the present, and the future it will inform is still some distance away.”

Föstyr grunted. “The past always affects the present.” He waggled a fork at Tallynd. “The second könstad here has some information to share with you now that will have an effect, I promise you.”

I noticed that Tallynd’s eyes locked with Rölly’s at that point, and he gave her the barest of nods. Something was up, and I couldn’t wait to discover what it was. But Rölly placed his napkin over his unfinished breakfast and excused himself. “I have much to do—hygienists to assign and food shortages to address—so I hope you’ll excuse me. Dervan, if you’d accompany me, I’d like a word.”

My gaze dropped down to my unfinished plate. There was still plenty to be enjoyed, luxuries from Tallynd’s gift baskets, but that butter and jam spread deliciously on crunchy perfection almost sang to me that it could not bear to be left behind. “Can I…bring my toast?”

“Yes, bring your toast. I know how important that is to you.”

I salvaged it, grateful that it wouldn’t go to waste, and bid Fintan farewell, promising to meet him that afternoon for our daily recording session. We left him with Tallynd and Föstyr, and I supposed I’d hear about whatever they discussed later.

Once outside, the pelenaut waited for me to devour my toast and matched his pace to my slow one. Mariners preceded and followed us at a discreet distance.

“How’s the bard been of late, Dervan?”

“He’s been plagued by nightmares of the Hathrim.”

“That’s it? I know Numa just visited him. Did he behave differently afterward, say anything strange, ask you anything?”

I thought of sharing the intelligence that Clodagh knew we’d stolen her journal but remembered that I didn’t want to be a go-between or play their spy games. I didn’t want to lie either. “Apparently the Triune Council is aware that we’re writing the bard’s tales down. They relayed a brief message to me, but it’s nothing that concerns you.”

“Let me know if anything changes.”

“What are you looking for?”

“I’ll know it when I see it. Or rather when you tell me about it.”

That made me wrangle somewhat with my decision to keep quiet. What if the message from Clodagh was what he was looking for? Clearly he was expecting something from the Raelechs, or he wouldn’t be checking in with me. But, no, I firmly wished to keep myself and the world of espionage at a distance, and sharing that would only draw me closer to that world.

Rölly made excuses—the very good excuses that he had a country to see to—and left me alone soon after that, and I found myself abruptly with nothing to do. I no longer had any classes to teach at the university. I’d have no work to do with Fintan until that afternoon. It was time to find an occupation, for I’d be presented with more such moments in the future.

Thinking of Tallynd’s promise, I took myself down to the refugee kitchen on Survivor Field and volunteered to work however they could use me. I was chopping vegetables soon enough and a bit later was slicing up sausages and cheeses from Tallynd’s gift baskets into portions for children.

Noon arrived all too soon and I promised I’d return as often as I could. There was plenty of work for volunteers there.

Fintan was beaming when I met him for lunch. “Tallynd told me the most amazing story,” he said. “People are going to learn a lot today.”

I asked what he meant by that, but he told me I’d have to wait.


“Today you’ll see a familiar face and two new ones,” he said hours later from atop the wall. “But first, an original song for you all today based on a true story: This is ‘The Tragical, Lamentable, Entirely Preventable Swamp Duck Death of Jahm Joumeloh Jeikhs.’ ”

I want to tell you a story of a bootmonger

Who isn’t with us any longer;

He was rude at the table and ate too fast

So now we must speak of him in the past.

It wasn’t just a case of bad luck

That made him choke on a glazed swamp duck;

It was his poor manners alone

That made him inhale that fatal bone.

So please slow down and chew your food

Or you’ll be short of breath, my dude;

You’ll turn blue and asphyxiate

And fall facedown into your plate.

(Chorus)

For safety and propriety

Please tell your little tykes

Of the tragical, lamentable, entirely preventable

Swamp duck death of Jahm Joumeloh Jeikhs.

Jahm grabbed a breast and a leg and and thigh

And crammed them in, I don’t know why;

Perhaps it was the rich fire glaze

That tempted him to end his days.

But there hasn’t ever been a sauce

Rich enough to justify such a loss;

The extreme high speed at which he fed

Caused him to choke and then drop dead.

The proper thing to do at table

Is to enjoy each bite as long as you’re able;

You sure don’t want a glazed swamp duck

To be the end of all your good luck.

(Chorus)

“I can’t believe you did that,” I said during the break.

“I told you it was too good to pass up,” the bard said. “Jahm will serve as a warning to generations. And I wanted those Nentian merchants to hear it before they left town with their hygienist.”

After the break, Fintan pleased everyone by taking the form of our national heroine, Second Könstad Tallynd du Böll, and I grinned with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to hear what she’d shared with him that morning.

When your time is running out, that which you normally view as mundane can become a treasure. A flowering weed in the garden, a thing to be despised on most days, can become a beauty of the world—a miracle of life!—if only you believe that such a flower might never be seen again. Noting what may be the last time for everything infuses every moment with poignance and sentiment. And even the sentiment gets its chance to be cherished, because when might one have the luxury to feel that again?

The pelenaut’s orders had me feeling that way. I was to scout the Mistmaiden Isles up close, a deed not undertaken for many years. In fact, I could find no records that they had ever been truly scouted at all. Delving into the archives, I found no records but maps, and even those were suspect, since no one could tell me when last they were surveyed. I was privately informed by the pelenaut’s master of charts that cartographers just copied what had already been done years ago, and accuracy was not a priority. After all, why worry about charting coastlines accurately when no one would dare to sail there?

“How long since the isles were last surveyed?” I asked the master of charts.

She shrugged. “I don’t know when the last survey was completed, Second Könstad.”

“Ten years? Twenty?”

“Oh, much more than that. Long before you or I were born. It might have been our great-grandparents’ time.”

My jaw dropped, and she waggled a finger at me.

“That’s being optimistic, mind. If someone who knew the answer for sure told me it was three hundred years or more, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Three hundred? Do you know what three hundred years of tide does to a coast? The coastlines are going to be entirely different now!”

“I understand, Second Könstad, believe me. But no one wants to sail near the wraiths. Those islands are left alone for good reason. I do have a record of a survey ordered by the pelenaut from one hundred twenty-seven years ago, and the quartermaster of Festwyf was supposed to recruit a company for the task and outfit a ship for that purpose.”

“Oh? And did the quartermaster follow through on that?”

“I have no record of it—perhaps some records in Festwyf’s archives can break through this dam we find ourselves up against. But since we have no completed survey from that time, we may deduce that the quartermaster either failed to send out a crew or did send one out but they never returned.”

I closed my eyes and sighed, trying to let my frustration hiss out of me. I have often envied the Kaurians for their ability to breathe peace. I usually find my own peace in the currents of the ocean, in keeping pace with whales migrating through our coastal waters, but those seasonal moments of bliss were far away from me right then. The master of charts had an excellent point: I, too, would leave the islands alone if I had a choice. But now it was clear these islands were a huge blind spot for the Brynts—one we all knew was there and had willfully avoided, as if nothing in the isles could ever harm us so long as we left them alone.

I hugged my boys tightly before I left and told them I loved them and always would and that they should never ever forget that. Which of course scared them. My own fears were flowing into them, the tears in my eyes telling them that I was about to do something dangerous. They didn’t want me to go. Neither did anyone else, especially me. But I knew that I needed to go.

So I set out from the Lung’s Locks with a waterproof carisak full of paper and ink, just in case I found a safe place to take down some notes, along with an oilskin and a bedroll. I sleeved myself through the waves to the Mistmaiden Isles at the fastest pace I could comfortably maintain. My plan was to never set foot on any of the isles—a reef, a crag, maybe, but never where I might come face-to-mist with a wraith. All we really knew about them was that they didn’t like the living and couldn’t swim.

But though they couldn’t inhabit or cross the water, I didn’t know what my kenning could do against them. Certainly no weapon could harm them, since they lacked substance, but would a squirt in the eye do them any damage? If I walked on the isles wreathed in a swirling shield of water, would they be able to penetrate it to do me harm? It sounded like it might work in theory, but I wasn’t willing to experiment.

In the old tales, wraiths were said to have some power to lure people to their doom. If the tales held a droplet of truth, it would be better for me to remain unseen. If I didn’t return, the likelihood of anyone ever coming after me, much less finding me, was incredibly small. It had taken a hundred twenty-seven years after the last expedition to send me out, after all. If that expedition had ever actually been sent.

What few reliable records the master of charts could find indicated that perhaps not all four of the islands were inhabited by wraiths, but there was no solid information on which ones were safe and which were not. I must therefore treat all of them with the same excess of caution. And the wraiths were not the sole danger: I was going there to locate a Bone Giant fleet, after all, and perhaps something that could conceivably be called the Seven-Year Ship, possibly crewed by men with pale skin, if the information we had from the Kaurian scholar was correct. And, of course, there were krakens. Always krakens, once you got away from the coasts and into open ocean, preventing us from finding out what might lie beyond the edges of our maps.

It occurred to me that the Bone Giants might have had some secret colony hidden in the Mistmaiden Isles for centuries and we obviously had never figured it out because we had never explored them. Or, more implausibly but still inescapable to my paranoid mind, perhaps the infamous ship was in fact crewed by wraiths, a sort of ghost ship. That possibility chilled me.

The churning of my mind was not echoed by the sea, thankfully. It was a calm day, and as I traversed the deep channel between the continent and the islands, I sensed nothing large moving beneath me. The krakens, if they were out there, were still for the time being, or perhaps not interested in something as tiny as me.

The southernmost island, according to our out-of-date maps, was a smallish one, shaped like a kidney bean with the inner curve facing north. When I found the island, it proved to be both bean-shaped and empty of wraiths, so far as I could tell, as well as unoccupied by a fleet of ships. It did have fantastic fishing; its populations had never been touched by a net.

I moved on to the neighboring island located to the northwest, which was also uninhabited and its shoals also blessed with extraordinary schools of fish. I found some rough rocks offshore on which to set up my bedroll and an oilskin for the night. I could technically sleep in the ocean, since I’d never drown, but that was an outstanding way to get caught and slowly digested by a nocturnal bloom of stalking jellyfish.

I slept poorly but did appreciate waking with the dawn and witnessing seabirds dive for their breakfast. I dove for mine as well, spearing a sandy flounder with my glass knife and returning to the rock to cut off some fresh fillets and eat them raw. It was a clear, sunny day, even finer than the last. An auspicious morning on which to encounter wraiths, if such a thing had to be done.

Taking the time to write down a report of seeing nothing on the southernmost islands was an exercise in procrastination. I wanted to do my duty but didn’t especially want to find anything either.

Of the two islands left, the one to the northeast of where I’d slept was the smaller, so I went there first. The big island was so large I doubted I’d be able to complete a circuit of it in a day. It then occurred to me that it might be convenient to name the islands. Bean for the smallest one. Bolt for the second, since it was a bit of a zigzag shape. And the drawings I’d seen of this third one looked like the silhouette of my boys’ least favorite vegetable—it had a small stalk and floret, anyway—so I named it Broccoli. No doubt the master of charts would disapprove, but it gave me some comfort to exert this small measure of control.

The big island looked like a mess on the map and I toyed with the idea of calling it Barf, just to really outrage the master, but decided to reserve judgment on that until I’d scouted it.

Broccoli, like Bean and Bolt, was free of habitation but lush with wildlife on its shores and in its depths. Living in the reefs on the eastern side were fish I’d never seen before—many new species, in fact—and if I’d had the leisure to watch and document them, I would have gladly taken it. But I kept circling Broccoli until sometime in the late morning, when I was in a strait between it and the big island.

I was traveling south at that point and periodically looking west, to my right, to see if I could spy the big island at all across the strait, and I could. A low, gently undulating ridge of dark green. And then, suddenly, patches of white.

Were those sails?

I stopped, treading water and squinting to be sure. There was just enough distance and glare that I couldn’t be certain, so I first pushed water beneath me and then pulled it up underneath, shooting myself high into the air as if I’d been ejected from a whale’s blowhole. At that height I could confirm that, yes, those were sails, quite a lot of them, and that I’d most likely found the fleet I’d been sent to find. When I dove back into the ocean, I immediately abandoned my circuit of Broccoli and sleeved myself toward the fleet, taking note of the currents and vibrations in the water.

I found quite a bit of activity underneath those boats. The vibrations might be normal, because these waters were full of creatures whose purpose was to consume and be consumed. But it also might be a feeding frenzy of bladefins and other creatures reacting to a new abundant food source.

The flat bottoms of the boats, when I reached them, were familiar to me. These were definitely Bone Giant vessels, the same barely seaworthy craft they’d employed for the invasion. What were they invading here?

I surfaced cautiously near one of the boats and checked to make sure there were no sentries with spears guarding them. Satisfied that the boat in front of me, at least, was anchored and abandoned, I hauled myself aboard to search for intelligence. I found nothing of significance on board—no convenient letter announcing what they were planning to do there—allowing me to depart without further ado. But I did stand up in the boat and count all the rest of the ships that I could see.

The fleets that had attacked our cities comprised one hundred boats carrying one hundred giants each. Ten thousand. These boats were the same size as those in the invasion fleet, but there were only thirty-five of them anchored in the inlet. It was a sizable inlet and could have held a full hundred boats easily. But either this force was a fraction of the fleet sent to the islands and the other sixty-five boats were anchored elsewhere, or it hadn’t been the same size as the other fleets to begin with.

Why had these boats come here? I squinted at the shore, covered in thick forest, and saw no buildings. But I did see a ship of a different design moored at a weather-beaten dock extending from a small sandy beach. Perhaps there was a path leading into the forest and then to some settlement or habitation hidden in the trees, but I could not see any details from where I was. I’d have to swim to the shore for a closer look.

But all that feeding activity I had sensed was right underneath that boat at the dock. My kenning kept me safe from the water but not from the creatures in it; I could of course kill anything quickly by pulling water through its nervous tissues, and I could move quicker than most anything that might want to eat me, but I had to see them coming first. My ability to scramble brains would do me little good if a bladefin managed to chomp me in half.

I dove off the edge of the boat and sought the bottom of the inlet, letting my eyes adjust to the gloom of the deep water. It was clouded with the sediment being thrown up underneath the ship.

Slowly, my senses alert for vibrations in the water that would warn me of danger far in advance of sight or sound or smell, and keeping low and searching for threats from above, I advanced toward the dock.

There were at least two bladefins, some smaller scavenger fish, and a whole army of blue crabs crowded around a churning mess of blood and sand underneath the keel of the strange boat. The crabs were responsible for most of the suspended debris in the water, for they were tearing at a buffet of bodies. Bone Giant bodies—or Eculans, as the scholar Gondel Vedd told us they call themselves. In a strange moment that echoed the night the Bone Giants attacked Pelemyn, I saw a crab sidestep across the bottom of the sea with a severed hand grasped in its claws.

I moved forward until the water was so cloudy I couldn’t see a length in front of me. Going in there blind would be unwise, and it was unlikely I’d find anything beyond what I already knew: The bodies of a whole lot of dead Eculans were being eaten. I could feel that there were plenty of teeth and claws in there. I rose to the surface, slowly, so as not to alert any creatures of my presence. Whatever they felt of my passage in the water, it wasn’t the cavitation or flailing of prey. I moved inside the currents of the water itself.

Upon breach, I saw that I was only ten lengths or so from the ship. It was not like the Eculan ships at all, nor like any ship I’d ever seen. It possessed elements of Brynt design in that it had a finely carved bowsprit and a deep-keeled hull, but it also had fine carvings along the deck rails and the main cabin in the Fornish style. Its sails and rigs looked as if a Kaurian had advised the shipwrights. But the lower boards of the hull were smeared with a black substance that was unfamiliar; it wasn’t pitch or tar, precisely, which was occasionally used as a water repellent, but something like a varnish. The black substance came about halfway up the hull, and then it transitioned to a different varnish, which brought out the green in the wood and gave the whole thing a wet sheen even though I was sure the boards were perfectly dry.

And there were bodies on deck. Eculan ones. There were more on the dock and the beach, which I hadn’t seen from a distance. But these few didn’t account for the whereabouts of three and a half thousand troops on those ships. There might be something close to that number underneath the ships, however, and scattered about the lagoon now, albeit in pieces. They would have died weeks ago if they died at the same time as the ones on the shore, and the crabs would have plenty to eat for a while.

What had killed them? They weren’t riddled with arrows, and I saw no obvious wounds from spears or swords. Were they bitten by poisonous insects, perhaps? Or was the boat itself cursed?

The boat had to have something to do with it, or else their corpses wouldn’t be grouped underneath it and the dock.

I scooted a little closer to the shore, circling around the churn of the feeding grounds to get a better view of the trees. Something about them looked strange to me. The canopies were fine, leaves gently undulating in the sea breeze, but something bothered me about the trunks. They were blurred or indistinct somehow, which was strange considering that it was such a clear day. I blinked and wiped my eyes to make sure there wasn’t salt or something impairing my vision, and I looked again. The trunks were still hazy.

It wasn’t until I was five lengths from the beach that I understood what was happening. The trees were perfectly normal. But their outlines were blurred because underneath their canopies, taking shelter from the sun, was a haunting of wraiths, just waiting for me to set foot on dry land.

Once I knew what I was looking at, I could make out some individual shapes. The wraiths were gaunt, translucent creatures with mouths yawning in an eternal scream—and I wanted to scream myself, they were so horrifically twisted from anything human. As one of Bryn’s blessed, I’m not affected by the temperature of the ocean, but I shivered nonetheless. How the wraiths could ever be considered alluring, as the old Drowning Songs taught us, I could not fathom. Unless their allure was actually some kind of magic they worked across the land, and the water was protecting me. Or perhaps they simply hadn’t seen me yet.

I ducked underneath the waves and sleeved out to the Eculan ships, protecting my ears from any songs of temptation they might sing to get me to come ashore. Once I surfaced behind the stern of a flatboat in the middle of the fleet, I peered back at the strange ship moored at the dock and tried to make sense of it.

The wraiths certainly could have killed the Eculans without weapons. But there weren’t any wraiths on the dock or on the boat—a strange boat that was, in all likelihood, the Seven-Year Ship for which the Eculans had been searching. There would be no reason for their bodies to be on it, around it, and mostly underneath it unless they had tried to board it and perhaps sail it away. Someone or something had methodically slain them all.

But who? The wraiths? Possible. Even probable. But who owned the ship, and where were they? Why was the ship docked here? Had it been here all along? And what, if anything, did this island have to do with the Seventh Kenning?

That Kaurian scholar had said the faithful would be taken on the Seven-Year Ship and shown the truth of the Seventh Kenning. Did that mean the Mistmaiden Isles were the source of that kenning?

Was this inlet, in fact, the source of it? And all those dead Eculans on the boat and underneath it were seekers who hadn’t been blessed? If so…where were the people who did get blessed?

There were too many questions and not enough answers. But I did have a few important facts to take back with me.

The Eculans had found their Seven-Year Ship. But none of them survived finding it, so the rest of the Eculans weren’t aware that it had been found. That meant the Bone Giants would continue with whatever they had planned.

I stopped and reconsidered: unless sixty-five boatloads had survived finding it and moved on. All the other Eculan fleets had been a hundred ships.

But that theory didn’t make a lot of sense to me; I couldn’t believe the Eculans would just leave the Seven-Year Ship behind after they’d mobilized such huge resources to find it. Greater minds than mine would need to solve the puzzle once I gave them the few pieces of information I had.

To be thorough, I searched the island’s circumference to ensure that there weren’t sixty-five more boats anchored somewhere. I didn’t find any, but I saw plenty of wraiths. Once I knew where to look for them, I saw them everywhere, waiting among the trees.

And then, on the northern coast of the island, when I surfaced to check the shore, one of them saw me. I did not realize it at first. I heard no irresistible call, felt no yearning in my chest for some ethereal beauty. But I was sleeving closer to the shore anyway, a casual, unthinking detour, and a wraith was emerging from the trees, its form shimmering and wobbling in the sunlight, to meet me where the water lapped at the sand.

And I wondered why I was moving forward, why in the wide deep blue I would ever think it might be a good idea to swim up to one of these nightmares, a ghastly spectre that clearly intended to consume me or my spirit, its mouth yawning ever wider for me to step in, yet I could not stop my progress, could not even slow down.

Panic rose within me as it became clear that I had been snared, not with any song or beckoning gesture but by some invisible, unheard magic, and if I did not figure out a way to turn or reverse course, I would crawl dripping onto the beach and into the wraith’s ravenous embrace.

I tried to use my kenning to spray water at it, but that didn’t work. I could do nothing but propel myself closer. I tried to blink and that didn’t work either: My gaze was locked upon my target, my eyelids glued open.

Could I move my arms, I wondered? Yes! But only in certain ways—not, I discovered, to swim backward or tread water. But I could move them forward and accelerate toward my doom. Not that it made much difference, since I was moving well under the propulsion of my kenning.

Desperate as I entered the shallows—I’d hit the sand soon and have to stand up—I shot my arms forward as if to perform a breaststroke, then flipped my hands palm up and convulsed my fingers, thereby splashing some water into my face, directly into my unblinking eyes.

Freedom! My eyes closed and I kept them shut, ducking my face down into the water and feeling my kenning return to my full control just as my hands ran into the ocean floor, the wraith only a length or two away at the water’s edge, silent and hungry. I turned and sleeved myself away from there, remaining underwater and safe from any further enchantment.

I shook and shivered, my physical revulsion coming late. The legendary power of wraiths to lure people was real. Terrifyingly real. But water’s ability to defy their powers was also real.

I paused and floated in place once I’d achieved some distance, my heart hammering against my ribs. I remained there for a while, taking deep breaths, until I calmed down and felt safe again. Then I resumed my circuit of the island, peeking up from the surface only briefly to check for ships before dipping underwater. I did not want to be snared again, even if I knew how to break their enchantment.

When the sun sank in the west, I was too exhausted to travel all the way back to Pelemyn. I spent another fitful night on the crag off the coast of Bolt. I didn’t see wraiths among Bolt’s forest—I looked—but I couldn’t be sure they weren’t there somewhere.

When I headed home on the third day to report, I knew what I’d name the big island: That one would be called Blight, and I’d argue with the master of charts until she accepted it. She could call the other islands what she wished, and the pelenaut might want to fully explore them and establish a small seasonal fishing camp on one of them someday, but that big island should be named after its nature.


The murmurs and conversation at the end of that tale continued for a while, and Fintan let people talk a bit before he moved on to the next. The Mistmaiden Isles have always been spooky for Brynts; as Tallynd suggested, we tried not to think about them, and if we did by accident, then we’d actively try to think of something else infinitely more pleasant, even if that was damp underwear, creeping mold, or reading aloud an entertaining story to one’s parents and suddenly running into a steamy sex scene. But now we had actual names for the islands and knew about the prospect of plentiful fishing and maybe even settlement on three of the islands. And we had the possibility that the Seven-Year Ship had been found, which might prove pivotal to securing our safety. There was more than a little wondering aloud at why we were learning about Tallynd’s discovery only months later. Obviously the pelenaut had seen fit to keep that information close, just as he now saw fit to release it.

“Next I have a new narrator for you,” Fintan said. “You have met her before, briefly, in some of Abhi’s tales. But now you’ll get to hear her story in her own voice. This the hivemistress, Hanima Bhandury.”

The young woman who took shape in the smoke looked a little bit different from many Nentians—frail and malnourished, I suppose, with well-defined cheekbones. Her clothes didn’t fit her and didn’t even seem like they were hers; she was practically swimming in a hooded tunic, and her boots were too big and looked like a men’s style. Her hair, while straight and black like that of all Nentians, was cut short about her head and something of a tangle, which I was fairly certain meant she was the poorest of the poor, because she couldn’t afford to keep it long; when one lived outdoors and the next meal was uncertain, baths and brushes and shampoos would be luxuries. Still, her eyes were alive with light and she smiled easily, her voice musical. With apologies to Fintan, I am not sure I’ve met anyone with more personal charisma.

The city blats before me, rude and smelly like old Khamen Chorous soon after he gulps down his borchatta soup, and if you wrinkle your nose and curl your lip in disgust, he laughs hoarsely, showing you his three brown teeth, amused that you have no choice but to smell the fruits of his ass. Yes: That is the city of Khul Bashab.

The city has always been this way, but only recently have I begun to suspect it doesn’t always have to be. That certainly seems to be the opinion of foreigners who visit Khul Bashab; they comment on its smell as if cities should be fragrant. They look at the desperate people living by the docks and wonder aloud how the government can let it happen. I never thought much about how Khul Bashab got this way, or what could or should be done about it, until I left the city to seek a kenning. Now that I’ve been blessed by the Sixth Kenning, I’m experiencing the world much differently and imagining how it can be better, and you know what that feeling is like? It’s the best!

I mean, apart from making me a hunted fugitive, it’s the best. Hiding from the viceroy’s muscle-y military guys gives me plenty of time to think about how to get rid of the city’s stench, I suppose, among many other problems I need to solve.

What does the viceroy do all day up in his tower, I wonder, instead of solving the city’s problems? I bet he shouts at people for things to be done and then slips marinated eels down his jiggly throat.

That thing! Do it now! Om nom nom! Shout and chomp. Shout and chomp. Except he never shouts about how many of his people are going hungry or makes sure that they have something to chomp on. He works to keep us down, not lift us up. That is, if he works at all; mostly he’s letting people with money exploit the people without it and directing his soldiers to protect the money.

I am probably being unkind, and I should stop. But I’m forced to think of him up in that tower since I have to hide from him in the daylight.

Adithi is feeling sorry for herself because she didn’t do anything wrong and yet she has no choice but to ride in our wagon now. Sudhi has left us, horrified and guilty and thinking he’s somehow unfit to be around other people. And I get it, I do, especially the horror if not the guilt.

All right, all right, I guess I have to face it, but here’s the thing: Killing the guards at the gate was an accident! Though I doubt anyone will believe that. We are in a churning pond of poo, and Tamhan had warned us we’d probably be in one no matter what once our kennings became known, but we didn’t think it would get so skyboned so fast.

When I arrived at the Hunter Gate with Sudhi, Adithi, and Tamhan, the guards acted like we were criminals, because we were riding horses no one was using anymore. We hadn’t killed the cavalry guys—that was Abhinava who did that, and he wasn’t with us. What were we supposed to do, just leave their horses out on the plains to be eaten by wheat dogs? I think if we had left the horses behind and simply lied, saying we’d never seen any cavalry or anything, no, sir, we could have entered without incident—or at least without more than the normal level of harassment. But Adithi wanted to make sure those horses were taken somewhere safe, which was fine, except the guards fixated on what had happened to the men riding them. We did lie about that—or, rather, Tamhan did. He told the guards we’d just found those horses on the plains and didn’t want them to die. We dismounted and held out the reins and I even smiled at them, which is something I’d never done to someone working for the viceroy.

Maybe my smile wasn’t very convincing. Or maybe they didn’t believe us because we were covered in blood. It was our own blood, from the seeking where the bloodcats had bitten us, and I had lost a nipple to one of them, but the guards weren’t concerned for our welfare or grateful that we’d been thoughtful enough to save those horses and return them. Instead, they came out of the gates with spears pointed at our bodies and threatened us with angry voices, and I thought maybe I was going to die, because I’d seen soldiers kill folks like me before. And my hive, which had followed me the whole way from the seeking in a sort of dispersed swarm, just…acted. I didn’t tell them to fly into the face of the guard coming at me and sting him until he died screaming, but they did it anyway. And Sudhi didn’t tell his kholeshar viper to strike out and bite the face of the guard coming after him either, but that’s what happened, and we were left standing at the open gate with five cavalry horses and two dead guards and a growing crowd of ogling spectators.

I am glad Tamhan was with us. He’s not blessed with a kenning but instead with a keen mind and a treasury. His father is a crony of the viceroy’s, so Tamhan knows something of how their games are played.

“Inside,” he told us, and we entered, stepping over the bodies. He asked Adithi to tell the horses to return to the garrison stables on their own, and then we had to go into hiding while Tamhan went home to his protection and privilege and a bed made out of fine soft cheeses, probably, I don’t know. I would totally sleep on cheese if I were him.

Tamhan said he was going to clear our names and help us get a beast callers clave established. I’m not sure that those things are possible now, but I’m hanging on to that hope like a cheek raptor with two fresh scoops of someone’s face. Hope that tomorrow will be better is how I survive each day.

Sudhi took off after that, very upset, his face scrunched into lines of distress. He said he had a place to go and he’d contact Tamhan as soon as he could. And once he was gone, Tamhan led us down a six-brick street—an alley, really—and said we’d need to disappear. And I’d need to keep my hive dispersed or someone would use the swarm to find me. Adithi was not supposed to do anything with the horses from that point on; Tamhan wanted to cast some doubt about her abilities and spread different rumors.

“I’m going to be watched and won’t be able to get messages to you for a while,” he said. “So I need you to find someone you trust—someone who can’t be bought—to contact me.”

Adithi and I exchanged a glance.

“How? We’re poor and we only know other poor people, who can easily be bought or threatened. Plus, no one we know would ever make it to your door. We would never make it to your door.”

Tamhan stopped. “Good point. That’s a truth, isn’t it? Something we need to change.”

I snorted. “Add it to the list.”

He grinned at me. “It’s getting long, isn’t it? Well, how about this: My father has a stall at the River Market. Khatri Meats. You know it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll go down there early every morning when it opens, then browse the market afterward before leaving. That should give your messenger opportunity to find me. Just tell them to be careful—they might get questioned afterward.”

“We’ll use a beggar,” I said, thinking quickly.

“There are lots of beggars.”

“He or she will ask for money to buy bread and honey. Then you’ll know that they can speak to us.”

More than a week passed, and we heard nothing in all that time. We recruited old Khamen Chorous to look for Tamhan in the River Market, but he didn’t show up. Adithi and I worried but got by with a little help from my hive.

The bees spread out over the city, looking for little gardens and window boxes and so on, but I also had them note dwellings where humans didn’t seem to be currently living. That told us where we could steal some clothes that weren’t caked in blood, and where we might find some food from the pantries or root cellars. After a couple of days living on rooftops, we found a place that had been closed up for an extended leave and we were able to break in, quietly, and become silent residents, safe from the searches being conducted by the city watch. It was comfortable and cozy and ridiculously luxurious for me. Whoever owned the house probably thought it wasn’t good enough; that’s why they weren’t there. But it had a roof and the floor wasn’t muddy. They did not understand how precious those very simple things were to someone in my circumstances. I slept well for the first time in years.

The property was near the Fornish enclave, which was full of flowering plants, and it had a huge old tree in the backyard, and I told the queen if she built her hive up high, no one would probably even know she was there.

She and the girls got to work right away. They needed to start making honey for the winter. Planning ahead for lean times.

I was sitting outside in the twilight of dusk, my head thrown back with a serene smile on my face, watching my hive come home with loads of nectar, when Adithi emerged from the house to join me. She’d brushed her hair out and looked like a proper swell.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she replied through a yawn, folding her legs underneath her and grunting.

“Sleep well?”

“Yeah. Those bed things sure are better than rooftop shingles or alleyway bricks.”

“So true. Beds are the best. You know what else is the best?”

Adithi sighed and covered her face with her hands, then spread a couple of fingers and peered at me between them. “You’re going to say bees, aren’t you.”

“That’s right! Bees are the best. I’ve been thinking about how they do things and how we do things and I think we can learn from them.”

“We’re not insects, though, Hanima.”

“I know. We’re not horses either, but I imagine you’d say we could learn things from them, right?”

“Well, yeah. We should all probably get more fiber. Oats are really good for you.”

“Granted. So hang with me on this: Look at how bees organize themselves. Everybody works, including the queen. And everybody is taken care of until they die. And you know what you don’t have? Poor bees!”

“Well, no, but they don’t have an economy or currency or a political system—”

“Aha! But they do have a system! And that system is organized so that all bees are valued. Same goes for termites and ants. If you want evidence of some kind of natural law, I’d say that’s it. If you’re alive, you’re worth something. The system we have says you and I have no reason to exist, because we don’t have jobs or husbands or children, and for some reason—a reason they just made up, not a real reason—that’s not natural. That’s the way somebody decided it should be, and it’s the worst.”

My new friend blinked. “Your blanket statements always surprise me. How do you know it’s the worst?”

“Because we’re miserable—or we were, until very recently. Desperate enough to walk into the plains and let some bloodcats bite us, right? The people we know down by the river are all still miserable. And it’s not because it’s Kalaad’s will or mere chance. It’s because that’s the system we have. It was created by folks at the top and it’s enforced with muscle they pay for, and there’s nothing about it that’s natural. They are actively choosing not to help those who need it. Letting people starve and die of exposure? Abusing poor folk for daring to exist? How is that natural? Or right?”

Adithi shrugged. “You’re not going to get any argument here. But you are going to get a question about what you think we should do about it.”

“I don’t know yet. But I agree with Tamhan that things have to change. If we don’t hear from him soon, we should start thinking of what we can do on our own.”

Another shrug. “There’s nothing.”

“I don’t believe that. We can do something.”

“Hanima, look, I love your optimism. It keeps me going, you know? But do you think Viceroy Senesh is going to change how he does things because we ask him? No. As soon as we reveal ourselves, he’s going to throw us in a dungeon and let the rats nibble on us.”

“Rats won’t bother us anymore. We’re blessed.”

“You know what I mean. We can still starve and get chills and things. Swords still cause ouchies. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have to sleep during the day and skulk around at night.”

“True enough.”

Once the sun was down and the temperature started to cool, Adithi and I dressed in new hooded tunics we had bought with some money Tamhan had given us. We pulled them over our heads, effectively hiding much that would make us recognizable to others. They obscured our hair and faces, and we had found some used men’s boots, so we passed for men in the darkness. We weren’t the filthy, bloodstained urchins everyone was looking for. We were men doing manly things.

We stayed out of the swell neighborhoods and took the alleys and back roads to the River District. They were unpatrolled and therefore dangerous in one sense but safe from being discovered by the city watch, which was more important. Besides, thanks to our blessing, we were both stronger and faster than we used to be, and we knew enough about the streets to recognize when someone had chosen us as a mark. So we sneaked, but with confidence.

Confident sneaking is the best.

We found Khamen Chorous in an alley near the riverside wall, sitting on an upturned crate outside his tent, nursing a tin cup of weak tea he’d made from thrice-used leaves. He’d boiled it over a grate stretched across a garbage fire in a metal pail. When we caught his eye—unlike on the previous days, where he’d shaken his head and we moved on—he waved us over. He flashed his three brown teeth at us in welcome and spoke in a low voice. There were a few other people in the alley, but they were spaced apart, their territory agreed upon in advance and privacy guaranteed, except for what one spoke aloud and bounced off the walls.

“Saw your boy today, I did, I did. Much hair, very shiny, super swell he is. And look at you, all cleaned up and looking like you’ve been sleeping indoors.”

I kept my voice low as well. “We are, for now. What did he say?”

“Two whole words! He said, ‘For Hanima,’ and dropped some coins and a triangle of paper in my bowl.”

“Keep the coins,” I said, and Khamen laughed until he coughed up something and spat to the side.

“Already spent them. Bought bread and honey with it, just like I said. That was the best I’ve eaten in weeks.” His fingers fished into a pants pocket and reappeared with a curious wedge of folded paper shaped like a hunk of cheese. Maybe Tamhan had slept on it.

“Did the city watch give you any trouble?” I said as I took it from him.

He shook his head. “No more than usual. I got told to move along before lunchtime, as always. But after I pocketed what he gave me, some other swell comes over and asks what was in there. I showed him two coins and left the note in my pocket. He gave me another coin! Then he asks if your boy said anything, and I told him he said, ‘For Kalaad,’ and then he says I can earn more coin if I let him know if I see either of you or that other kid with the stripe of yellow hair.”

He meant Sudhi. “Have you seen him?” I asked.

“No.”

“If you do, will you let him know he can stay with us?”

“Of course.”

Adithi said, “Did this man give you a name?”

“No. Said he’d be back to check with me later.”

I shook my head. “He works for the viceroy, Khamen. Be careful.”

“I know, girl, I know. Anything you want me to say to the kid if I see him again?”

I scanned the alley in either direction. No faces looking our way. “Maybe we should read this first.”

“Sure, sure.” He regarded his garbage fire doubtfully. “You probably want a candle for that, though. Think I have one in my tent.”

“All right.” As Khamen lumbered to his feet, I backed away and gestured to Adithi that she should do the same. She looked confused but moved with me and soon knew the reason for it. A minor explosion of flatus from Khamen’s backside detonated as he dropped to all fours and crawled into his tent. He giggled until he coughed again, but eventually he emerged triumphant, holding a small taper.

“Sorry about that!” he said, though he clearly was not. He lit the candle over his garbage fire before handing it to Adithi. I unfolded the note, which said “Burn after reading!” at the top in a neat hand.

“What’s it say?” Adithi demanded. I glanced at her—she was close enough to see if she wished.

Softly, I asked, “Can you read?”

She pressed her lips together and gave the barest shake of her head. “Only a little. Some shop signs. Not fancy handwriting like that.”

“I’ll teach you, then.” To Khamen I said, “Excuse us a moment,” and pulled Adithi a little way down the alley, halfway to the next garbage fire, where someone was boiling borchatta soup. I read aloud, quietly:

Hanima & Adithi—

I am being watched constantly, so do not attempt to see me. Also stay away from Abhinava’s family home; they are watching that too.

The viceroy wants you very badly but is trying to keep your existence a secret. We need you to be known but unseen and safe. The city needs to know the Sixth Kenning is real and that you are not doing the viceroy’s bidding. Do what you can for the river folk and they will protect you, but beware of new faces—they may be spies.

I have a group of friends who will post broadsides about the beast callers clave and your vision for a life outside the walls. This will provoke Senesh. He will search openly for you and not be gentle and it will be dangerous. But it will stoke resentment as well as demonstrate that you are not on his side. I will not do this until you are ready, however. Are you safe? Let me know.

It was unsigned, which was smart, in case we didn’t actually burn it. “I don’t think we should write back. It will put Khamen at risk. Too much can go wrong.”

“I agree.”

I lit the note with the candle and hurried back over to Khamen to throw it on his garbage fire. He grunted at the brief flare of illumination.

“What should I tell the swell lad if he comes back?” he asked.

“Tell him, ‘Message received. Proceed.’ That should be enough. Thanks, Khamen.”

“Glad to do it. Good to hear you talking.”

“Thanks.” Of the many benefits to being blessed, I prize the return of my speech above all else.

“Say. If I got blessed, you think I’d get my teeth back?”

I winced and sucked my teeth. “I don’t think so, and here’s why. During the seeking, we were bitten by many bloodcats. One of them actually bit off my nipple. Everything that could heal is healed now, but that didn’t grow back. I’m permanently disfigured. So I think the blessing is a repair-but-not-replace kind of thing.”

“I see. I’m not anxious to try it, you understand. Just curious.”

“Khamen, if you had a safe place to squat, would you go there? Nothing fancy, but basic shelter and a bed?”

“Beds are pretty fancy for someone like me.”

“Me too.”

“Well, sure, I wouldn’t mind if I knew of such a place.”

“Good. Maybe we can arrange something. We’ll see you soon, all right?”

“All right, Hanima.”

Once we are out of earshot, Adithi asked me, “What do you think we can arrange?”

“I have a plan, Adithi, and it’s the best. All these people without a roof over their heads?”

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to put a roof over their heads.”


The last line of that tale made Hanima an instant favorite out on Survivor Field. They openly applauded when the bard dispelled her seeming. Many of the refugees had tents and whatever few belongings they had managed to accumulate since arriving, but little else. Fintan promised them more soon.

“We’ll be back to Hanima in three days’ time,” he said.

I wondered how Rölly and the city’s powerful and well-off had received the tale. The pelenaut is nothing like the Nentian viceroys—he truly cares, and I know he’s working to help as much as he can—but I can’t imagine anyone with power is ever comfortable hearing an open discussion of systemic change.

“And now I introduce you to not only a new person but a new people. I had the great privilege and honor to meet Koesha Gansu myself. How and when and where—I’ll let that develop naturally. But I hope we all may see more of her people in the future. From what I understand, they live on some islands across the ocean, albeit a bit north of here, parallel with the Mistmaiden Isles. They are a seafaring people who have been seeking to cross the Northern Yawn for many years. So I take you back now to the beginning of her journey to our lands.”

The seeming that Fintan took was definitely of a different people. Koesha Gansu might look at least somewhat like the Nentians, but she didn’t dress like them. She was in a navy-blue uniform trimmed in maroon. Her hair was black and piled or braided underneath an interesting hat like a two-tiered cake embroidered with some gold thread. The hat was perched high up on her head, perhaps pinned to her hair, allowing us to see that Koesha had expressive arched eyebrows and a forehead as yet unwrinkled by age. She wore polished leather boots that nearly reached her knees, and they matched her belt, into the front of which she had tucked two long knife scabbards, their hilts crossing so that she could draw them at the same time to either side. Her skin tone was close to that of a Nentian, sort of a sunbaked sand but with cooler undertones than the coppery hues of the Nentians.

Fintan had her speaking Brynt with an accent that must provide hints at her native language, using shortened vowels and chopping off consonants sometimes.

I paused a moment before giving the order to sail and beamed a smile at my crew. We might return someday to glory, having circumnavigated the globe with our reputations cemented in history, and we might die far from home and wind up food for some dark beast of the deep, but regardless of what happened in the days ahead, we would most likely never be so well scrubbed again. Ocean voyages were not conducive to personal hygiene, and I just wanted to fix the image of spotlessness in my mind.

“I want you all to look around and lock this in your memory,” I called out, “so that when weeks from now one of you inevitably asks, ‘Remember when we were clean?’ you can all say, ‘Yes!’ ” The women laughed, musical and light, like wind chimes in a soft summer breeze. It was truly good, a moment of pure hope.

“Ready to set sail, Zephyr Gansu,” my first mate reported after hearing the same words from the bosun.

“Take us out of the harbor and tack around the island,” I ordered. “May Shoawei bless our journey.”

The bosun ordered lines cast off, sails rigged, and reeled off the myriad other commands necessary to get a ship under way. The women jumped to it with glee. In that moment we were breathing the fresh air of adventure and anticipation, an intoxicating cocktail like no other.

Friends and family of the sailors waved and blew kisses from the quay, and we all had opportunity to wave back at least once.

My little brother was there, weeping, and my parents were putting on a good show of looking unconcerned and happy for me because they knew it was what I needed, and they were nothing if not the best parents. They looked the same when they bade farewell to my sister, Maesi, two years ago. My sister who never returned, and whom I was determined to find.

I was also determined to find the elusive passage across the Northern Yawn. To have the keel slice through ice melt, navigate the globe, and come back to safe harbor. To sail into the unknown and return to the known: That is a journey few have accomplished.

Once we cleared the northern shore of Joabei, the full force of the westerly wind smacked into us as we tacked into it. Then I engaged my kenning, asking those prevailing winds to swerve around my ship, curl back on themselves like a whirlwind, and billow my sails east, so that we were at once sailing against the wind and with it.

This decision was a bit fraught, and one could argue it had not ended well for Maesi and I was blowing ill wind over a grave—in fact, it had been so argued. By my cousins, by the relatives of the women on my crew—by most everyone who heard about my plan to sail east against the prevailing winds of Shoawei. Sailing with the wind—heading west—was the pious and righteous direction to explore, even though far more people had died going that way than going east. The krakens must think of our shipping lanes as a buffet.

There were some distant uninhabited islands that way—great fishing, supposedly—and once, long ago, someone had tried establishing a village there, but it didn’t take hold. When the resupply ship arrived the next year, the villagers had all vanished. It was safer and more profitable to focus our trade with Omesh to the south during the summer months than reach for more-distant shores.

I was leaving exactly two years after Maesi had left. Systematic record-keeping of courses, time of year, and disappearances had revealed that fewer ships got lost in the hottest summer months—almost none; the krakens retreated somewhere during that season, most likely to some unholy spawning grounds, and thus it was the best time for exploration. We knew that there was a landmass—a large island or a continent—to the east. That had been confirmed in the past few years by a number of cautious explorers who sailed out and back. But the more adventurous—those who had tried to map its coastline, perhaps, or set foot there—never returned.

My crew didn’t know I wanted to map the coastline or find my way through the Northern Yawn to come home again from the west. They thought we were going to reconfirm the eastern continent, maybe map a tiny bit of it, and return before the krakens stirred in the deep again. That made for a very tight schedule.

It took us most of a month to cross the ocean, to get utterly filthy, and for the lookout in the crow’s nest to shout that she spied land ahead. We’d have to turn around soon to avoid the krakens.

My first mate, Haesha Laejeong, reminded me of this fact. She was a friend of mine from school days, who’d not been jealous when I had sought a kenning and found it. A true friend happy for the happiness of others. She admired what she called my “graceful eyebrows,” and I admired her gifts: high cheekbones and perfect skin and a voice to either beguile or command.

“Some of the crew have asked when we’re going to turn back,” she informed me over a glass of wine in my cabin. That was the acceptable way for the crew to question me: Approach the bosun or the first mate with their concerns, and they would then play go-between. My officers acted as both bubble and test audience for me.

“Not yet,” I said.

“Aye, that’s fine to say right now, but still: when? They’re going to keep asking, Koesha, and forcing me to ask you.” When we were alone, she dropped my title, and it was a relief to us both. “So if you can name the date of our return, that would be wise.”

“I can’t put a date on it. I’m looking for something, and when I’ve found it, we’ll return.”

Haesha blinked. “All right. Can I share with the crew whatever it is you’re looking for?”

I circled the rim of my wineglass with a finger, considering. It was a sweet white vintage, because if I’d wanted early-stage red vinegar, I’d have just bought some.

“I’m looking for my sister,” I admitted.

“You think she’s alive?”

“No. I mean…I hope she is, of course. But that is not what I expect or what I seek. What I’d like is to chart some of the coast and travel inland a bit, see if we can determine whether it’s this mysterious land that’s responsible for missing crews. If it seems safe, then it was the sea. One or the other had to have killed her, so which was it? If we find something on land, then…we can report that. If not, then…”

“It was the krakens.”

“Yes.”

“But taking time to investigate might only ensure that the sea takes us before we can make it home.”

“We won’t stay long. And I’ll add my kenning to the western winds to speed our journey back. That should give us a couple of weeks to explore.”

“Two weeks? You’ve done the math on this?”

I pursed my lips. “You’re right. Fifteen days instead of sixteen. Play it safe and stay ahead of the tentacles, as they say.”

“Timeless advice.”

I paid painstaking attention to the stars and the time and made copious notes of the coast but directed the helm to skirt the northern shore rather than drop anchor. It was all cliffs and rocks anyway; we would need to find a more hospitable stretch for a landing party.

On top of the cliffs, a dense forest of trees stretching for leagues north and south brushed the sky and swayed in the wind. There were also some soft hills carpeted in evergreens, but no true mountains that I could see. We saw no evidence of settlements, likely because we saw no fresh water. We’d need to find some for ourselves soon and stock up for our journey back.

Once we found a river or a stream emptying into the sea, I’d go ashore personally to investigate. And because Maesi would have needed fresh water too, I also hoped to find some sign that she had been there.

If I found nothing, I might let Haesha convince me to turn around. If I found evidence that Maesi had survived the crossing and was somewhere in this new land, however…I’d sail on by myself if I had to.


Fintan enjoyed his cup at Master Yöndyr’s that evening, listening to people talk about his tales and noting whether they seemed most excited about Tallynd’s discovery, the Sixth Kenning in Ghurana Nent, or Koesha Gansu obviously sailing toward the Nentian coast with more knowledge of krakens than we had. We had never heard that the krakens retreated in the summers before.

But we both limited ourselves to a single drink before heading home. It had been a long day and our minds were exhausted.

“I’m so tired I doubt I’ll dream at all tonight,” Fintan said as we parted. “Which would be perfect.”

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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