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  1. Randomness

    Somebody's Home

    Thank you. *bows*
  2. Randomness

    Road's End

    I agree, it was rough to do. 😞
  3. “We should just make it,” Revinn called from the other side of the boat. We were rowing hard to get away from the Inferno and back to shore. The stinging cold rain was getting heavier. This was the last group, the rest would weather the storm on the ship. Only eight had remained aboard to see the squall through. Considering the ferocity of the typhoon that landed us here, we felt it safer to have more of us on solid ground. The camp had been moved inland as well. Now rested between some hills along with food and some cargo from the ship, it would be secure enough. We were as ready as we could be. There would be no fish for a few days at least. It would be a much needed relief. Over a month of one-quarter rations, but as much fish as we wanted, had made meals a boring necessity. The alternative was the grass-bread the cook had made up for us. With no progress in getting the Inferno free, we were stretching what we could for as long as possible. “Cold enough for a round of snow,” Revinn called from in front. The light flakes had barely stuck, but I shuddered at the thought of actual snowfall. We finally hit the beach and set off dragging the boat inland to camp through the cold rain. Our party had explored most of the island. It was the same land of nothingness from one side to the others: grass, dunes, beach, marsh, trickling streams, and stale pools of water, nothing of value. The tree was mercifully left alone, as well as the ‘dragon bones.’ More than one person had commented on the odd coincidence the only signs of life and death here were on the same beach. Or were. A few of Urusulla’s trees appeared to be giving life a go. I was freezing and wet when I crawled into the tent. The fire, struggling for life, was out in the sputtering rain and would do me no good. I only wanted to not have wind and wet in my face and try to get some rest before the heavy stuff hit us. Two days of intense winds and water kept us hidden inside our shelters eating only rations. A more bitter cold began to come in with it. Most of us had seen this kind of cold and wet before. I felt a certain degree of sympathy for the little family nestled together under one of the skiffs. They knew snow as well as anyone in the party, though not this kind of storm. When the lighter rain signaled the worst had passed, a few of us made the trek in the drizzle to check on the Inferno. The long walk back to the shore brought some warmth back into my bones. To his credit, Leaf had done his best to keep us both warm, but we were still cold even after relying on each other for heat at night in the tent. The crew at camp would continue to have a hard time getting a fire going with all the wet brush now. The ivory sands had been scoured up to the dunes in some places. The Inferno did not appear to be in the same place. At first we thought it was an illusion due to the erosion we had experienced on the beach. One of the sails was partially up though, suggesting it had moved. It took some time, but when the lantern signals started coming back the news was good. “They arre frree!” Ususulla shouted. “Farther out though,” Revinn added. “We can finally leave,” Leaf sighed. Urusulla, the crewman Ozcollo, and a few others decided to go down to get a last look at the tree, bones, and seedlings he had planted. “Just to see iph they arre still grreen. Iph they surrvive the winterr, they will be alrright.” “To be known as Urusula’s Grove,” Ozcollo winked. They left early. The rest of us spent the day packing up the last of the supplies and finally sending the second boat out to the Inferno sometime in the afternoon. Other than the last skiff with us, we had only kept what we would need for a night or two at the most. All the remaining men would return, together, leaving nothing behind. Revinn, Leaf, and I sat together between the fire and the dune. I had felt no need to return to the tree again. Leaf and Revinn agreed to stay at camp with me. The tent gave a little bit of a break from the winds but the flakes of snow still came down around us only to be absorbed onto the wet sand or dried to nothingness if they drifted to close to the fire. Revinn and Leaf talked steadily about the return to the world, any world, somewhere other than the purgatory we were sitting on. I looked around us and wondered how long it would take for the island to erase our presence from its memory. I leaned back and closed my eyes. The copse of trees that Urusula had planted would be the only sign of this voyage. If they survived the winter that is. In truth I had mixed feelings about voyaging back to civilization. If it were not for the lack of food, this would not have been that bad of a place. It had been, and mostly still was, untouched. The flakes in the air meant winter was upon us. What would the island be like then? What would we have done in winter? I shivered at the thought. “Do you think we will ever come back?” Leaf asked. My eyes were still closed. I shook my head, not knowing if he was even speaking to me. I could think of no reason nor any wish to. The peace of the land was absolute and should be left undisturbed. “I hope the twigs take root,” Revinn whispered. “They might give some life to this place.” Eventually we crawled into the tent to sleep. I woke to a light coat of snow and only left the warmth of the tent to gather more for the fire. The wetness gave off smoke, but settled before too long and drove away the whiteness from the immediate area. I cooked fish for them but skipped eating yet another meal from the sea. I did eat in the afternoon. Not because I wanted to, I just knew what might happen if I skipped food too often. I had done that enough in the last week. “Do you think they will make it back tonight?” Leaf leaned closer to the fire. “The sooner the better. I want to get home.” Revinn sighed. “Thought you wanted to see the world,” Leaf chuckled. “If this is what it is like out there,” he gestured around us, “I would prefer to sleep in my own bed.” “Well you will get your wish, at least as soon as we get back.” “Do you think the others made it? All the way around?” “I do.” Leaf sounded so certain. I had my doubts. Huallpa and his crew seemed to believe in the other crews’ abilities. I had to leave it to fate. What had happened, had already happened. There had been so many I had left behind in life and death. Friends, enemies, so many. I suddenly wondered how many people thought I was dead. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. Far too many. “What are you grinning at?” I looked up to see Leaf with his eyebrow cocked at me. I shook my head and stifled my smile. “Well, whatever it is,” Revinn started, “it is good to see you smile. It has been too long.” The happiness was fleeting as we slept again on the beach waiting for the other team to return. The following morning, Revinn tried to signal the Inferno that we were going to go check on the crew. There was no signal back, but they were much farther out so it was possible they could not see him. “I am not sure if I am even doing this right,” Revinn sighed. “What if they miss us and get back here first?” Leaf looked done back the dunes inland. “Can any of them read? We can write a message.” I shrugged. Leaf drew, more than wrote, a message including a tree and a long arrow going to it in the sand. We prodded along on the seaward most dunes down the shore. The frost in the grasses was holding, making them crisp to the touch. We walked the first hours scanning the beach and inland looking for signs. The view held nothing but the slowly whitening landscape and cold water. We seemingly crested a hill at the same time they did. At some distance away, we waved to each other before our party stopped and waited from them to catch up to us. “Something is wrong,” Leaf whispered. I nodded. Their body language was all wrong for a hike such as theirs. “I could be wrong…” Revinn began slowly, “…but, by my count…” He did not finish his sentence, he merely studied them in the closing distance. It became apparent the closer they came, someone was not with them. Their faces were covered for the wind, but as made their final approach I could tell who was missing. “He’s dead,” Ozcollo said slowly. “Urusula.” I had guessed as much by now. He had said it slowly, resolutely, the relaying of a fact and nothing more. A comrade was gone. “What…” Revinn looked decidedly unnerved. “We phound him in the morrning. He must have went out while we werre sleeping nearr the strream,” Ozcollo explained as we started the walk back to the boat. Some of the others nearby nodded. “We phound him in the morrning, underr the drragon bones. They must have given way. He was crrushed.” Revinn looked like he was about to be sick, Leaf more resigned, like the crew. “He probably wanted to see that metal rod underneath up close,” Leaf sighed. “We trried to shipht some oph it to get it oph. The little parrts came away easy, the larrgest piece would not be moved. In the end, we rrestacked what we could over him.” We all walked in quiet silence for a time. “At least his trrees look grreen,” Ozcollo said suddenly with a long sigh. We returned to camp cold and sullen. They signaled the Inferno. It was too late to row all the way out now. We would leave first thing in the morning and never look back. Around the fire, the sailors sang together in their language. Even though I could not understand the words, I could hear the mourning for Urusula in the song. They tried to help Revinn with the words, but he fell silent not wanting to interrupt the rhythms. During a pause, Leaf left us for the dunes. I looked up at the moon visible in the drifting clouds. I knew where he was going and who he would be talking to. I walked to the water and stared into the inky blackness. The Inferno’s lanterns looked so far in the darkness. We had lost only one on this journey. One had been enough. I crawled into the tent to the sounds of the singing. They seemed less mournful now. More remembering, longing maybe. Most likely they were of their home. All sailors sing of home. The place they always long to get to, but always leave time and time again. I was asleep well before they finished. In the morning, the mood was different. There was a job to do, work ahead, and the long row to the Inferno. It was all business as we packed up, dragged the skiff back into the water, and readied the oars. Another light snow had begun to fall. Before pushing off, they gathered around the boat. One of the men led a small prayer in their language. “Phorr a saphe sojourn home and phorr Urusulla,” Ozcollo whispered to us. A light snow drifted down as we left the quiet, unnamed island. An unknown, lonely place, farther away from anything or anyone, anyone of us had even known before. The safest, closest place to winter was Harald’s Port. We had no choice but to head back. The icy winds of winter closed the sea to us for now. We rowed hard, taking us further from the farthest shore behind us into the other wind ahead.
  4. When I woke, I was spread around in the tent as if it had been mine alone. I poked my head out into brisk air and gray sky. Leaf was standing barefoot in the water, casting a line into the bay. It was a little too cool for me to go without boots, I had no idea how he was even standing in the cold sea. When he caught sight of me he smiled and waved. I stoked up the fire for warmth and wished I had not left the tent. When he finally came back, he was wet to the knees and empty handed. “Nothing,” he sighed. “Nothing on or around this entire island.” He sat next to me and put his feet up near the fire. I handed him some food from our pack. “Still, it is beautiful in its own way. Unblemished. Serene.” He slowly took in the views around us. “To bad there is nothing here to live on. Nothing anywhere.” I looked out over the empty water. We decided to go a different route to get back to the landing site, one that would swing us around the hills. We walked along the shore the rest of the day and camped off the beach. I slept on my side and he, his. The following morning we went inland keeping the grassy mounds at our side. Late in the day, the sea appeared in the distance over a small rise. We continued until we reached the dunes leading to the beach. “We should be able to follow the coast back, I expect,” Leaf yawned. We had lit no fire, so we were sitting close. “Hopefully the ship is ready.” He lay back to look up at the sky. I nodded. We had plenty of food, at least for now. This island though, once we were through our supplies, there would be no replacements it seemed. We could probably get fish out farther, by the boat maybe. Fresh water we could find in a few places. A brisk wind brushed my face. I turned to see his eyes closed in sleep. Around the middle of the day, one or two places had a certain familiarity to them. For a time I thought it just my mind playing tricks on me. Everything would look the same on this island after all. Then I caught sight of the top of the tree. Leaf smiled. “Well, here we are again.” I nodded in response and we continued on. Well before sundown, we made it to the tree and bones. “We know where we are for sure now.” Leaf leaned down and refilled his water. A cold wind gusted through and then was gone. I looked at the setting sun. “Early night?” “I’ll make the fire.” He grinned. We set up beside the stream again, a warm fire in front of us. The moon drifted into the sky, partially hidden by the top of the tree. I lay back and closed my eyes. Not quite tired enough to sleep. I felt Leaf stand. “I’ll be back.” He left, most likely to relieve himself. I remained alone where I was. I hoped that there had been progress with the ship. We could not stay here forever. There was so much more for Leaf to see out in the world beyond. I rolled on my side. If the Inferno was sound, as had been thought, we could continue on. We had had a few nights where the stars were visible, so they should have been able to get our bearings by now. Something brushed my face and I opened my eyes. It was a little twig, a frond. One from Urusulla’s clandestine mission. In the low firelight, it looked to be still full of color. I could see another one down the way poking out of the ground. I turned my head to find Leaf, to show him. He was not there. I went back to studying the someday-to-be tree in the glow. “I hate to think of anything so alone… even a tree…” Urusulla had said that night in the dark. I glanced down further at the other sapling in the moonlight. Even this one had a partner it seemed. I rose to look for Leaf and found him in a shaft of light between the tree and bones. He stood alone in the darkness looking to the sky. Oddly, his hands were, once again, not up to his patron, maybe because the clouds partially obscured the moon’s face. Its light showed steady and clear on him all the same. I walked evenly to stand close and try to think of how to begin. He did not turn his head. “Do you know when I first saw you?” He asked into the sound of rolling waves. I thought about the night in the Boar’s ravines. “In Wild Crossing.” I turned to him. He still had not turned to me. “Oh, I did not know you yet, but I saw you with Foal and your niece.” My head must have moved in surprise. “Foal filled in more of that story for me later.” He shrugged. “You gave her a great gift and did your brother honor by getting her away from that profession.” He nodded to himself. “I had been asking for a purpose in my own life again. For rescue. Every night I looked up into the sky and I asked why. Why was I still here when she was not?” I felt a short shudder at the mention of his wife again, from both of us. “Horn brought me with him to trade in Wild Crossing to distract me from my pain.” His head bowed slightly. “She had died less than a year before you see.” I could not help but think about Thorn and what I had done and what I had become in the time following his death and who I was now. “We were in the same wagon train as you were when we went to the gates near Oxenajo. The first night there, I went out again into the fields and pleaded again.” He looked toward the pile of bones. I studied it in the shadows. “Please give me purpose, please help me not be so alone. Show me the way.” He turned his attention to the moon. “I got no answer and in fact the clouds drifted into the sky making it dark.” He gestured up to the clouds above us. “I walked back down to the town filled with my aloneness.” Slowly, he turned past me and faced the tree. Once of the limbs rustled in the wind. “Then I ran into you.” I could hear his wonderful smile through his voice. “You know the clouds actually broke and caught you in the moonlight? I can tell you, I was quite surprised.” So was I. I remembered a man in the field, I did not realize or remember it had been Leaf, my Leaf. The light had blinded me if I remembered correctly, and he had never told me. “The next night, I went out again. I asked if this was really a sign meant for me. A man I didn’t know. Was it our destiny to be part of each other’s lives?” We stood together now, in the half darkness, in the half light, between bones lying in death and a tree hanging onto life. We stood together on a barren shore, the farthest away from everything we had ever known before. “Then when you helped rescue Horn from the Boars and we were alone in the dark… we were answered again. We were shown the way out. Together. We were meant to find our way, together, in this life.” I studied him. He still did not face me. “My wife was my one true heart. You are my one true soul. As she will always be, so will you.” There it was. Somehow, I understood something about us, all of us. Leaf, his wife, Thorn, and myself. Thorn and I. He and She. He and him. She and I. He and I. He had understood everything faster than I had understood myself. It was clear to him. We belonged to each other in a way that they had not and they had belonged to us in a way we would not. I felt certain shame when part of me rebelled and screamed inside. It wanted it all. That piece of me was swiftly squashed by a stronger, much less selfish voice from within. I trusted that inner voice more than it trusted me it seemed. I put a hand on his shoulder. He nodded once and we both looked up searching for the sky for more signs. I saw none that I could recognize. Judging by the wry smile on his face, perhaps he had. We slowly made our way over the last hills to the boat. I think we both felt a certain peace and understanding between us now. I think we both were better for it. I had not realized how much of a strain it had been to keep things so unsettled. I felt lighter and was finally able to genuinely smile with Leaf again. A second skiff was ashore along with more men. I could smell the scent for roasting fish on the fire. “They brrought morre phood and phish! Good thing too. We could not catch anything from the shorre.” Urusulla laughed. I saw Revinn, by the fire, smile at Leaf and nod. Leaf returned the gesture. We came in to eat. Leaf sat next to Revinn and filled them in on what little we had seen. I got some fish and rested on the beach near the water. The feast, such as it was, went late. They had caught so much from the boat it was amazing we could not get anything at all from the island itself. Late in the night, I fell asleep against the dune, side by side with Leaf.
  5. Randomness

    No Man's Land

    "...snuggling under familiar, warm, covers" makes me all happy and blush-y. Thank you, I appreciate that more than you know. Hopefully, the next chapter(s) gives a better feel of what I was aiming for in the relationship. This is a prime example of why it does take me so freaking long to write. I plant seeds for so long hoping that I am being subtle and I still think that I am bashing people over the head with what is going on. LOL To answer in another way, I tend to work in arcs and each spends sooooo much time in my head that by the time I get to the laptop, I have to exhaust it onto the screen. Additionally, now that Talon has a written past to refer to, I often have to refer to and research his own memories. On average, the current arc is plotted, the next chapter or so is drafted, life gets in the way then everything grinds to a halt and has to be restarted. IS this TMI? lol THe short of it is... Talon will continue on as fast as he can manage. 🙂 Thank you and big hugs.
  6. The skiff landed easily on the barren beach. From the ship this looked like a small desolate shore, once on it, the enormity of the nothingness increased. It had been hard row into shore. Longer than what would have been normal. Indeed, the Inferno was farther away from beach than what would be considered normal. At least this was not in the middle of the night like when we had sent the men out into the bay by Rag Post. We pulled our boat up away from the waves. Tall grasses, almost all shades of ochers, with hints of green hidden within, waved behind the ivory sands and opposite the waves of the sea. After some easy talk, we set out in groups to explore and search for supplies, food, or anything “worth putting this land on the maps” as Huallpa had said. Four of the eight of us traveled along the shore in one direction. The crewman Urusulla, joined Leaf, Revinn, and myself as we proceeded the other way. “You look betterr phorr being on land my phrriend,” Urusulla chuckled and nudged Revinn. I recognized him as the man who helped Revinn with his seasick stomach. We put the sand behind us and climbed the dunes to a grassy ridge running roughly parallel to the water. On the other side lay brackish marshland, brushwood, then more tall grasses and hills. “Nothing, just nothing.” Urusulla said looking around us. “Yeah, nothing.” Revinn scanned the distance. We kept walking along the division between land and beach, hoping to find anything. There was a vast nothing. Empty sands and the rolling sea on one side, empty fields and hills as far as we could see on the other. We walked a long time, mostly in quiet silence. Even the most talkative of the party only spoke in infrequent whispers so as not to disturb the undisturbed country around us. “What’s that?” Revinn pointed far ahead. We looked where he had gestured. Part of the ridge hid it in the distance, but it appeared as though a dark green tree top was barely visible. “A trree? Therre?” Urusulla’s brows were raised. “But would that not be in the waterr?” “The land must jut out that way. Let’s see.” Revinn angled us toward it. Once over the next hill, we could see one tree completely alone. The sand appeared to slide itself out into the sea all around it as well as around a large pile of white stone even farther out. We continued on our way towards the tree and stones. As we got closer, we could fully see the peninsula we had been approaching as well as the sand and grass dune blocking it from the greater plains inland. The trunk sat on the ivory sands exposed to the sea. When we reached it, we could see how stubborn the tree was. It was rooted in the beach and looked hard pressed to be even growing at all. There were fallen fronds on the ground below it. “We have a trree like this back home.” Urusulla picked up one of the fallen pieces and looked at it. “The berrrries arre poisonous.” He shrugged and gently set it down again. “Amazing that it could even grow here.” Leaf looked up into the scrawny limbs. “Yeah, there no soil here. How could it even get roots down to live?” “Hey, look at this!” Revinn shouted from near the white rocks. We slowly filed over and across the beach sands. They weren’t stones at all. “Bones…” Revinn shook his head. It was a great pile of them. “Like a from whale maybe?” Leaf looked at one of them. “No, whales don’t have limbs. These look like legs. Look at the size of those.” Urusulla crouched down and pointed. Revinn began walking around the mound to look in and among the great pile of bones. “Whales don’t have anything like this eitherr.” Urusulla said while indicating a row of triangular plates coming down the side. “What is that?” Leaf pointed. Underneath what I presumed to be an enormous ribcage, was a long black metallic rod leaning on one of the larger ribs. “It looks like it has symbols on it.” Urusulla leaned in and tried to reach it. “To far underrneath.” We looked at him. “I’m not crrawling underr therre.” He shook his head and chuckled nervously. Revinn appeared from the other side. “Come over here. Tell me what you make of this.” We followed him around to the other side and a large field of bones. It was laid out from the side of the beast. “Does this look like a wing to you?” Revinn shook his head. I cocked my own head sideways to get a better look. The others walked around it. Long, thin bones spread like a fan far out across the sand. “If I did not know any betterr…” Urusulla whispered, “I think this might be a drragon.” We looked across at each other on all sides of the thing. The expressions seamed mixed. Urusulla suddenly searched the sky. So did Leaf. “You’ve been at sea too long if you believe in things like that.” Revinn chuckled. We came back to the tree and looked inland to the large dune. There was brush all along the seaward side. “It looks like the tree has been trying to send out seeds for years, but they never make it over the dune and better land.” Leaf brushed some with his boot. We came over the top to see more grasslands, and a boggy looking marsh. “I think I see a creek! Or at least water. Come on.” Revinn scrambled down towards it. We all followed, Urusulla and I were last through the tall grass. “It’s fresh!” Revinn called from the side of the trickling stream. He brought another handful to his mouth. The sun was beginning to set so we decided to bed down near the creek. Urusulla and Leaf slept across from Revinn and myself. Although cold, it was not unbearable without a fire. I woke late in the night. Erratic shafts of light from the moon behind the clouds shown down on the land around us giving it a lost, shadowy feel with little to no color. To my side I saw the sleeping form of Revinn. I stretched and sat up fully. Opposite from us, I did not see the other two but was not worried. I drank some water and glanced at the small hill, the top of the tree caught a shaft of light beyond it. Quite suddenly, a man crested the top and came down nearby. When the cloud shifted, I could see it was Urusulla, he appeared to be carrying something. When he got to the creek, he knelt, set it down, and appeared to dig with his hands. I got up and crossed to him slowly so as not to startle him. He looked up and smiled before continuing what he was doing. I stood and watched. When he judged the hole satisfactory, he dug in the pile he had brought with him. He pulled out a group of berries from the tree, put it in the hole, and began refilling around the frond. “Helping naturre a little,” he whispered. “I hate to think of anything so…” He studied my face for a moment. “…alone…” He shrugged. “Even a trree…” He lowered his head to finish then took his pile farther down the stream and started again. We woke to dull, overcast skies. Before continuing on, we refilled out water and munched a few of our rations. I caught the sight of a few of the fronds sticking up from Urusulla’s work in the night. Down the coast was more of the same before the tree. Nothing but grass, sand, and sea. “Not even a bird,” Urusulla whispered. “No animals at all,” Leaf said looking around. “All day, since we arrived.” “Well, except the dragon,” Revinn said matter-of-factly, before grinning broadly. Urusulla looked up again. We turned around well after our midday. Because we needed to meet up with the other group at the boat, we could not go any further. We hoped they had found something, anything. As far as we could tell, there was nothing more to see along the coastline except more of the same under the increasingly cloudy skies. Coming this way, this far, felt like a dead end without and an actual end. The sun had been long gone by the time we found our way back to the stream near the tree. We ate our rations and prepared to bed down for the night not particularly concerned with keeping watch considering how barren the land was. Although cool, we decided to live without building a fire once more, it would have taken time to find enough brushwood to keep it going anyway. A few of us informally dozed off to the muffled sounds of the sea and the rustling of the grasses. I still did not sleep next to Leaf, but I rested nearby in the dark. I remained boyishly fearful of what would happen or be said or not said when we might lay in each other’s company once more, as I knew, without doubt, would happen again. He did not ask me to join him anyway, so I let him sleep undisturbed by my thoughts. In the middle of the night, I slowly stood and made my way up the dune to the trees. I had an idea where to look. He sat on the ground between the tree and the bones in a meditative pose. His hands were not raised to his patron however. I changed my mind and returned to our little camp and fell into a restless sleep. We started the trek back to the boat using a wider swing inland to top some hills and get bearings. Only more of the same. “Those look like larger hills.” Revinn pointed. “We might be able to see more from the tops of them,” Leaf added. “Maybe, but they arre too pharr to make now. We have to meet the otherrs so they do not think something happened. Hopephully therre is news from the Inpherrno.” Urusulla shook his head. “Let’s get back.” They all looked at me. I shrugged and led the way towards the sea. We heard the breakers before we saw them. When we came over the last dune, we could see the other group around the boat. One was flashing a lantern at the ship. The Inferno was returning the signals. “Looks like we stay here tonight,” one of them said. We gathered brushwood for a fire. This night we would have one. We bunched closer to the dunes to get out of the increasing winds and clouds. We sat and ate our rations while listening to the sparse news relayed from the ship. Talk was the Inferno was indeed stuck on a large bar. They had hoped a high tide would dislodge it. So far there had been no luck, but they were still hopeful. Minor repairs were going well. The small amount of water it had taken on seemed of little to no consequence. Between those of us on the shore, it was agreed that the land we were now sitting on had nothing of value. The tree we had found would do little good by itself and ‘dragon’ bones were of no practical use. The other team had found nothing other than the grasses, marshes, and hills. Leaf and I slept on either side of Revinn. Urusulla on the other side of Leaf. The morning was a misty and bleak. Behind the Inferno more black storm clouds hung in the distance. More rain was coming. Presently, there was no reason to go back to the ship. With nothing to bring with us, the effort to row all the way out was impractical. Some of the men decided to try their luck at fishing to stretch our food supply. I walked in away from the sea. “Nothing to do but wait,” Leaf said from my side. I scanned the distant hills looking for the highest. I nodded. “Revinn saw you walk off this way.” He looked at the hill I was looking at. “Do you want to try to make it out there? We might make it before nightfall. Some of the others were going to go out again as well.” “Something to do.” “I’ll tell Revinn and grab a few things.” I nodded and he left me to myself to wait. The hill was far but hopefully achievable before sundown. I looked up at the sky. If it did not rain, we would be fine. “Here.” Leaf handed me a pack. “Some more food. I got the stuff for a quick shelter.” I took it from him and he smiled. I smiled as well. He had come alone. This was to be our trek. We continued at a regular pace all day. The wide sea of prairie kept us concentrated forward to our goal, the tallest hill we could see. It seemed to grow higher as we got closer. The sun was nearly down by the time we made it to the first part of its rising flank. “We should rest,” Leaf gently whispered. I nodded. There was brush so we made a quick small fire for warmth, nothing elaborate. It would keep us warm and delay relying on each other for the same. Dawn came with clouds, always with clouds. We ate and did a quick pack up around the dead fire. The walk started the same as the day before, but before long the hill became steeper. It was not quite a climb, only a slower advance up the side. “Do you think anyone has ever been this way?” Leaf puffed. “Ever?” I slowed to make it easier on him. The top of the hill was flat and all but hidden from below. There was less grass and more scrub than I had expected. We stood a few moments and looked back the way we had come. Beneath the black clouds was the blue slash of the sea consumed by the grasses below us. The other direction, the land was hidden by the flatness itself. The sky was bleak and gray. “Do you want to keep going?” I nodded. He readjusted his back and we continued on. There were a few scattered shallow stale freshwater ponds among the brush. They were most likely trapped rain that was too slow to absorb and too little to find a way to run away and down. It seemed they were as lifeless as the rest of the land. After another hour or so, we were rewarded with another sight. When the other, steeper side of the hill came into view, so did that of water and more lands below. “It’s a lake,” Leaf whispered. I shook my head and pointed to the dark line of the sea behind the land on the other side. “A bay.” He studied it for a second. “We are on an island then after all,” he sighed. I chuckled as I was not sure what he had thought we might have been on in the first place. He grinned and nudged my shoulder. “Come on, let’s go down and see for sure.” The rest of the day was spent making our way down and to the water. The sun just begun to set under the sky as Leaf trotted across the thin line of sand to the water ahead of me. He reached down to get a bit to taste and promptly spit it out. “Salt.” He shook his head. “Too bad.” The wind whipped along the water and caught me for a second. The gust had been cold. “Let’s set camp.” It did not take long. Leaf set up the tent quietly and I put together a fire. “It has been a while since I have seen the stars.” Leaf looked up from his food. I looked too. The night sky was partially clear. “I don’t recognize them.” He looked across the water to the crescent moon making, in my mind at least, an early appearance. “Now that I recognize.” He smiled. We sat by the fire to keep warm in the cool and occasionally brisk air. He nodded at one point and I could see he was tired. “Go sleep.” He roused himself and crawled the small distance to the tent. Just before sliding in, he turned to me. “Don’t stay out here too long. It is too cold and you need your rest as well.” He smiled with sleep in his eyes and went in. I sat for a little while longer, alone under the sickle moon. When I finally chided myself enough, I crawled in beside a dozing Leaf. I did my best not to touch him while we slept.
  7. I was jerked sharply awake. I felt disoriented with no reference of time or even how long I might have slept. I knew the sea and storm were rougher when I was thrown to the side. It was impossible to ignore it now and I once again made my way up deck. It was slow going. I fell onto a crew member and tossed into the walls. Through the opening to the deck was white rain and black sky. I kept my head just inside but was promptly hit with a large wall of water thrown sideways from the sky into my face. Then a man fell onto me. “We advised everryone to stay below,” Huallpa gasped and shook the water out of his beard. “Worrst parrt. Steerring with the waves now and waiting it out.” “Captain!” Another man came out of the torrent. “Ozcollo is caught in the rrigging! We need to get him out!” He shouted over the wind. Huallpa wiped his face with his hand, stood up straight, and pushed back out into the storm. The other man stumbled after him. I did not think other than to follow. I was blinded at first for the water. Unfortunately, once I could see, I was staggered to the side with the force of the next wave. I made out the retreating back of the man who had come to the captain and I tracked him across deck. The crewman in question was practically woven into the ropes at the side. Part of the sail whipped violently above him. Huallpa was already grasping on the line around the man’s face and neck, another man was grabbing at the man’s legs. The hand who sounded the alarm grasped at the ropes in a vain effort to untangle them. The ship hit a wave, the entire deck dropped, and we plummeted to the slick boards. The man caught in the ropes swung round and half over the side. I grasped out and caught his hand before being blinded with water and slammed against the rail. I felt someone fall on my leg and clasp down hard on it. I shook my head and squinted to see Huallpa and another man working the ropes. The other man tried to stand but was swept down onto me again. I gripped the tied man with both hands, braced my feet on the rail, and pushed with all my strength, pulling him further back in and over the ship again. I hoped that causing the slack would loosen the ropes. The man who had fallen over me was finally up and grabbing at the man’s other hand. The next thing I knew, we all fell backward, to the middle of the deck, the man from the ropes mostly in my arms. “Hold on!” Huallpa bellowed. I shut my eyes and held tight. Without warning, the man came loose and we slid all the way across the deck and rammed the opposite rail. Someone else slid into us. I pulled at the man, now free from the ropes. Water obscured my vision. I tried to stand with him in my arms when another wave hit us and I fell on top of him. I did not attempt to stand again. I dragged, half crawling, half falling, the man to the hatch. I collapsed inside and struggled for breath. Huallpa fell in and onto his knees next to us. “Arre you alrright?” he gasped out. I nodded. “The others?” “Strrapping down the sail and going for the wheel.” He leaned against the wall and was thrown forward on the next wave. I looked down at the man in my arms; he was bloody but breathing. “We must get him to LLoque.” I nodded and together we dragged, fell, and staggered our way to LLoque’s quarters. To his credit, LLoque helped get him on the bed and strapped in place quickly, quietly, and with an efficiency I had only seen previously on the battlefield. Before we parted in the hallway, Huallpa turned to me, grabbed my arm and clasped my shoulder. He looked exhausted. “Thank you,” he gasped. “You should have stayed below deck, but I am happy you did not.” He managed a ragged smile then staggered into the opposite wall before being tossed forward. He fell down between my legs. I could feel his heated gasps on my crotch. He grabbed my legs and pulled himself up against me before standing back and bracing for the next surge. He looked me up and down and grinned wolfishly. “Sometime laterr maybe…” He winked and smiled warmly. “This may well be a long odyssey across the sea after all.” He staggered quickly away and left me alone in the passage steadying myself for the next wave. The typhoon continued for days and I did keep myself below deck. The tossing and turning both outside the ship and inside my head continued to deny me good rest. The only times I did go up was to eat and relief myself. I did not see Revinn at all. I felt somewhat sorry for him, he had to be sicker than a dog. I only saw Leaf briefly. He smiled at me. His eyes were sad, but hopeful. I could not help but feel his warmth, but I also felt my shame. I continued to sleep in the hold alone or at least to. During the restful-sleep deprived hours, I had been slowly coming to realize Leaf felt the same way about his former wife as I did about Thorn. There would be no others. Each were unassailable. We were loyal to a fault. This is one of the things that made us who we were. One of the things that made me feel the way I felt about him and most likely, how he felt about me. We cared about each other and that would have to be enough. I was thrown, hard to my side, then rolled back to where I had been. I was out of breath for a moment, listening to my own gasping breaths and for the sounds of the storm outside. I did not hear it. There was a blanket around me. Someone had found me. Someone who seemed to understand me in spite of myself. Someone who I had a great deal of affection for. I needed to realize and accept that understanding and compassion in a different way before I lost what we had, and hopefully still, shared. He was so caring, forgiving; I wished I was more like him. I hoisted myself up to stand and dropped the blanket to the floor. A group of crewmen with lanterns rushed past me to get to the ladder leading the lowest deck. Before I had a chance to ask, they disappeared below. I made my way to the hole and leaned down to listen. “Some spillage there.” “Rear is damp, but no major leaks.” “Puddles along the midsection.” “Let’s check the bow.” I heard them retreat underneath and to the front of the ship. Some puddling was normal on ships like this and not a reason to worry. Still, there were concerns if men were sent down to check. “... I don’t think so...” “Huallpa will want to take a look.” I pulled back from the edge as they came up. One stopped and turned to me. “Not too bad sir.” I could not tell how much he believed himself. “Go get Huallpa.” He nudged the second man who scampered away. “Nothing to worry about, just checking on… the stores… making sure nothing shifted in the storm.” He could tell I knew he was not giving me the complete truth. “Need help down there?” “No sir.” He shook his head. “Minor movement.” He moved to stand between me and the ladder down. “Storm over then?” He nodded. “Yes, well for the most part. Regular rain now.” “And the waves?” I felt like I was getting nowhere with this one. “Better, evened out…” No more games. I feinted like I was headed for passage back up and when he made to move that way, I crossed to the ladder behind him. “Sir!” He grabbed my arm. “Let him be.” Huallpa and the other man came in to the room with us. I was released. “Let’s go then.” Huallpa directed the two to go down. I stood to the side as they descended. “It does not sound all that bad, my phrriend.” He smiled at me. “We washed onto a barr or rreeph. When the sun rrises we will know morre.” He went over to the ladder. “Want to come look?” I waved him to continue without me. I trusted his word when it came to his ship. “Suit yourrselph.” He winked and dropped below, leaving me alone. Angry black skies in the direction we had escaped from and a dark gray blanket of clouds hanging in the other. I was thankful the torrent had turned to a light drizzle. Some of us made it out onto the deck to catch the fresh air and look out over the water not minding the remains of the storm. Revinn said it just as I noticed the same thing. “Where are the other ships?” There were a few mumbles from the assembly on the deck and the shaking of heads. No lights on the water in any direction. “Storrm drove them ophph,” one of the crewmen ventured. The sudden quiet between us grew uncomfortable. A number of things could have happened. Things were being thought that no one wanted to say out loud. Our ship was still in the water. The only sounds were the waves slapping at the sides. If it were a reef we were stuck on, it could not have been that mighty for it did not tear the ship’s hull. If it were a bar, there was land to be found. Releasing the ship could be as easy as waiting for the tide or as hard as prying us loose by manual labor. Everything would be dependent on the condition of the hull. “Land!” The call sounded from above us. There was a dark smear at the water line under the overcast pre-dawn sky. It was hard to see at this point, but once the sun was up we should be able find out what we were looking at. The time passed slowly and the drizzle stopped while we waited. Huallpa appeared and pronounced the ship sound although some repairs would need to be made to insure it stayed that way. Once off whatever we were stuck on, more might be necessary to make us safe for the voyage home. “Once we get ourr bearrings, we can plot a prroperr courrse.” He looked up at the clouds. “No help phrrom therre yet.” The sun finally began to show its face between the clouds and water and we could see the land. It was closer than I had expected, though still a long rowing distance. It seemed relatively featureless. A long shore of sand and grasses, all varying shades of browns and yellow and ivory set between the gray blues of the sea and sky. I could not see any peaks, only hills running inland. “We should send a boat in,” Huallpa said while he studied the shoreline. “See iph therre is anything out therre worrth putting it on the map. While that is going on, we can see what needs to be done to phrree us up. Rrepairrs and time to set our courrse.” I caught sight of Leaf coming out of the hatch. The rising sunlight caught his face and he blinked several times while his eyes adjusted to the brightness. He glanced around himself searching. When his glance stopped my way, for just that moment, I fought myself and my resolve to surrender myself back into our intimate friendship. He saw me and started to raise his hand to wave or acknowledge, but stopped himself short. The smile faded from his lips. His eyes betrayed him. I nodded but could not help the smile aching from my lips. He brightened in response. “We will send eight to land. Do we have any volunteerrs?”
  8. This was a very angst-y part to put in. I was/am not sure if it should be, but it seemed like it needed to be. Hoping not drive anyone away. I do value your thoughts Revinn Trevin! :-) Thank you. Hugs.
  9. The days ‘aboarred’ were quite unremarkable. We sat or paced or played dice or did whatever we could to pass the hours. Revinn was doing his best to fight his sea-sickness, but still looked pale most of the time. He took the teasing in good humor. Scarlet overcast skies at dawn and gray overcast skies during the day provided nothing to look at. These long, confined trips were always restful but boring. We heard the scream all the way from our cramped little storage room. Leaf and I raced down the passage. The child of the young family we boarded with stood outside LLoque’s door shaking. Leaf knelt down to her. She backed a step. “What is it?” Leaf was level with her eyes. “Mommy…” She did not get out any more before we heard her mother call out again from behind the door. Revinn appeared behind me and a few others behind him. The little girl collapsed into Revinn’s arms. He looked up at me. “Where is your father?” Revinn whispered. “With mommy.” She shifted to cry on his waist. “Is the doctor with them?” Leaf asked gently. She nodded. There was another cry from inside the room. All of us looked among ourselves. Some of the others began to disappear already. “It may be her time,” Revinn whispered over the girl. Nods and shrugs from two remaining onlookers. “It would be early from what I gathered,” Leaf frowned. The girl continued to sob. “Come little one.” Revinn tried to hoist her up into his arms, but set her back down on the wood. His face looked green. He took a few moments to settle his stomach. “Let’s go see what is going on up on deck, maybe get you a snack. And some air.” Finally, the others disbursed. “Mommy won’t be able to find me.” More sounded from behind the door. “She knows you can’t go far on a ship.” Revinn patted her hair to calm her. “I will let her know you are safe,” Leaf said. He looked at me, nodded, and turned to the door. “Come.” I led the way topside with the sounds of life being brought into the world echoing below. I daresay the entire crew acted like expectant fathers. Some even paced while waiting for word. To pass the time, Huallpa, Revinn, and other crewmen told the girl tales of places she would never visit and which I was fairly sure did not exist at all. There were lands far past even Bald Cliff where enormous creatures from ancient times still stalked the ground. There was the isle of women, only women, hidden to the eyes of men. They were immortal with powers greater than any man. There was domain of an old god who had been thrown out of the heavens for some offence. There was another island where wingless dragons hunted and killed any who dared step foot in their realm. There was even a sorcerer living in a great castle he created by merely drawing the walls on magical parchment. Her father found us next to the wheel. A few spare crew silently gathered nearby. When she saw her father, she ran into his arms. He looked drained. His wife had to be exhausted, indeed the day was now nearly over. “Is mommy alright?” “Yes, sweetheart. Shh…” He held her close and still. “Mommy is fine. You have a baby sister.” “What?!” A few of the men shook hands and clapped each other’s backs. “When she gets older, she will be able to play with you.” The girl squealed. The father smiled. The crew began to leave to go about its duties, all smiles. He stood and held her hand. “Thank you all for seeing after her. We had hoped to be landed before…” “We can never choose the time,” Revinn grinned. “A phirrst on my ship,” Huallpa laughed. “A gipht to us as well as yourr phamily.” “Thank you.” He tugged the girl’s hand. “Come let’s go see Mommy.” They started to walk away. “Can the baby talk already Daddy?” The remaining men laughed together. Leaf sat in our room with the lantern low. He looked tired, yes, but there was something else. His eyes were down. I did not like to see him like this. I could not remember the last time I had. Deep introspection did not suit him at all. I sat myself at his side and handed him bread. “Eat.” He took it, pulled off a chunk, put it in his mouth, and chewed slowly. I rolled on my side behind Leaf and brought the blanket over us. He was warm, I was cold. I scooted closer to him, rested my arm across his side, and closed my eyes. Sleep would come soon. I let my mind meander away as I felt his body next to mine and smelled his individual scent. I recalled a night at Fin’s when he had gently brushed past me. The night on the ridge over the desert, together under the light of the moon. His knowing grin to me while he worshiped his patron above us. We had slept this close often enough, it was a comfort. He seemed to find it a comfort as well. We trusted and knew each other. There surely was affection there, genuine. Although Thorn and Leaf were different, each made me feel something. The times with Thorn, together, alone, in each other’s arms… his legs, his waist, his chest, his body. I had known almost every inch, almost every crease, and almost every sigh. I had let Thorn know me in every way I had known him. I thought of Trajan and, what was his name, his mate. To be able to kiss out in the open. There was the pair in the inn, the passion-filled romancing in the darkened hallway, an uncaring secret. They had enjoyed each other in that way as well. The soldiers in the barracks back at the gates had been lustful and had taken every advantage they could with each other. I wished for Thorn, to be able to kiss him now, as we had never done then. We had never thought to, everything else had been enough. Sometimes it was passionate, sometimes lustful, sometimes just plain fun and a good laugh. Still, what would it have been like? A real kiss? Why couldn’t I have it all? I pulled Thorn tightly to my chest. I leaned into him. I hesitated. I brushed the side of his neck with my lips. I felt his body stiffen in my soft embrace. “Talon…” Leaf. I froze where I was, my mouth still agape. “Do you remember when you brought me bread, after…?” I did not move to nod. “And when you came to me after Sage was born…” I finally closed my mouth, slowly. I felt disconnected as if our physical closeness existed only in my mind. “Sometimes it is all too much. It reminds me of a long time ago…” He sighed and though I could not be sure of it, he shuddered. “My… wife died giving birth to what would have been our daughter.” My mind stopped. He had never talked about that kind of past. It had not occurred to me. I had had no one to ask. All these years… It had been so deeply sealed away, unspoken. “To lose them both that day… no one could reach me for a long time.” I did not know why he was telling me this right now. I did not even know what I was doing. “Other women tried to… console me. One even wanted to take her place. I couldn’t.” I slowly rolled onto my back, releasing him from my touch. The pain was too much. “She was the light of my life. She will always be.” His voice wavered. “There will be no other... no other to fill my heart the way she did.” So there it was. So polite a rebuff. So very, very Leaf. I felt myself redden. I rearranged myself to stand. “Talon…” he whispered. “Rest…, rest now,” I managed to say before I left for the passage. I was a fool. I paced for a time, trying not to wake any of the sleeping men scattered about below deck, and came to realize I what I truly needed was air. Once topside, the cold but the gentle wind cooled my emotions. What I had thought, our time together, all of it… I had been wrong and I was not happy about it. My face flushed then drained then flushed once more. The stars and moon were not visible through the overcast sky. I paced a little more gaining the attention of few of the crewmen. One of those who had stood by Revinn telling tales to the girl nodded, but let me be. His wife. Leaf’s wife. Doubt and anger washed through my mind, but I could not understand whom they were for. Surely our time together had meant something. I had done this to myself; Leaf did this to me; longing for Thorn did this to me; age had done this to me. The more I thought the more tired I became. I sat among a few barrels and tried to grab the reigns on my runaway mind. Had everything been an indifferent lie or a twisted joke? I woke to the noise of the hands working on the rigging above and the first drops of rain on my cheek. I don’t know what they were doing but it was enough to annoy me to consciousness. I was chilled to the bone and wet due to the cold mist around us. There was no sunshine to warm me in the grayness. I went below and started for the room that we had shared and I had fled from. I wanted to be warm, but it would be too cold for me in there. “…no other to fill my heart…” I staggered past and around the corner, down to a lower deck. An open storage cabin would be cold, but not for the same reasons. I unbound and pulled some very expensive looking tapestries onto the floor. My only other roommates would be the crowded crates and barrels stacked against and lashed to the hull wall. Enough room for me and not much else hidden away deeply in the cargo. No one would willingly want to insert themselves by me. I almost barked a laugh. No one would willingly insert themselves into my life. I slept through a restless day and well into the next night. My stomach woke me. I stumbled up to the galley to get some food. “Nothing warm right now.” The cook yawned. I grabbed what I could and made my way up to the deck. It was nighttime, overcast once again and gloomy, just like my mood. I sighed to myself and ate a piece of fruit. The other ships were visible by their lanterns. It seemed those beacons were the only light in the darkness. If only I was able to sit with Blade right now. To share in his different kind of light. I tried not to think about what a fool I had been. Leaf did care; I believed that. He had returned to me time and time again. I had let myself get carried away thinking someone could replace Thorn or even wanted to replace him. In my heart I had hoped. Still why could it not be Leaf? “We missed you yesterday,” Revinn said quietly. I turned as he leaned on the rail. “You feeling alright?” I nodded. “You hear? They named the baby. Inferna.” He chuckled and gestured around us to the ship. “Huallpa was pleased, though had it been a boy, it probably would have been named Harald. A whole bunch of those since Harald became king. Such is the way of it.” He grinned and looked at the nearest ship. There was a shadow of someone on deck. Someone looking back at us. “Well, I am for bed, still getting used to the waves you know. I was sick again all day.” He smiled and stood. “See you tomorrow.” He started to walk away, after a few steps he turned back to me. “Leaf was looking for you. You may want to let him know you are not ill in any case.” He smiled weakly, turned and left me. The shadow figure on the other deck remained. I thought about talking to Leaf, but did not feel ready or able or willing. I would need to talk to him, eventually. It was not his fault. I turned to the horizon to search for anything other than the clouds. Pitch black, angry skies hung in the distance all around us. When I turned back, the shadow man across the water had disappeared. I went below deck and curled up alone in my hiding place to sleep the day away and try to dream of something or someone other than Leaf. I dreamed of Maritimus. He was happy or at least content to live as he did. Alone. He had his goats to dote upon; he had his home; he had people to check in on him. “My road ends here,” he said now as he had then. I suddenly wondered if he had someone waiting for him, someday. We made stew and sat by the fire. We did not talk, we did not need to now. He knew enough about himself and myself to know what was important. Everything we needed was already around us. There was an affection, a friendship, in that knowledge and between us. A truly rare and beautiful understanding. “You will find your way. That I know.” He smiled at me. We walked together in silence through the trees and when the storm clouds rolled in, we danced together, naked in the rain. Thunder woke me. It took a few moments to leave Maritimus behind in the gentle drops and sit up alone to the real torrent outside the ship I was on. I staggered along and up to stand in the passageway onto the deck. Darkness and rain. Nothing more. I sighed and went to grab some food. Revinn was with one of the crew members. “…bad one, but Huallpa is good. He will get us thrrough. Herre have morre it will help.” He handed a bottle to Revinn and looked up at me. “Arre you pheeling alrright?” I nodded. Revinn’s bloodshot eyes slowly looked to me. He was definitely feeling the waves. I crossed and grabbed some bread. “Hopephully the squall will pass quickly.” I nodded and sat for a long while watching different men come and go. The sailor helped Revinn get up and gotten to his quarters. LLoque appeared and retrieved the same kind of bottle Revinn had drank from and disappeared. “Gonna need a lot more of that,” the galley-man quipped to me before returning to his duties. I returned to the passage to watch the rain for a little while before I made my way back to the hold and my sleeping spot. The water outside was loud and hard, but not enough to worry about. I fell asleep hoping to dream more of Maritimus.
  10. Thank you for re-reading and sticking with it. I keep asking myself why do people put up me me? But I truly appreciate they do! Because I write so sporadically, I worry about continuity, hopefully I have managed to keep Talon intact for you. ;-) Thank you again. More to come!
  11. "I didn’t know enough French yet to read Cyrano, but that didn’t stop me. That’s when I learned you can read a language you don’t know if you love it enough." - Ursula Le Guin
  12. We stood on the dock in clusters waiting to give the King a formal greeting. He had arrived, but we had not seen him yet as he was getting cleaned up privately, in town, after his ride. Our small groups were designed for proper representation. Phaetheon, Galehault, and a few other men talked together as did Blade and his group of brothers. Revinn and dignitaries from town seemed pleased not to have been overlooked in favor of the King’s presence. Lanterns lit the entire end of the dock and the canvas draped ship. The smell of food wafted to us from the shore over the quiet lapping of the waves against the wood. I stood with Leaf and Marius who talked softly. We were, by far the smallest group. “We thought it would look better if a man of your stature had at least two retainers,” Marius chuckled, “…so I volunteered.” He did a quick bow. “Don’t worry,” Leaf winked. “I won’t let Marius get me drunk.” Marius began to protest, Leaf stopped him with a short laugh. A small group of men approached followed by a larger contingent from town. A few of us looked to Phaetheon for what we should be doing. For his part, Phaetheon passed us and approached the King. The townspeople stopped on the shore and waited. The King came forward. Phaethon bowed, then the men behind him did the same followed by the rest of us on the dock. The King extended his hand to Phaetheon. Together they talked quietly. I could not hear them, nor really see them for the people between, their faces were completely lost to me. They both appeared to be making pleasant conversation. I heard Leaf inhale next to me, as if to say something, when Phaetheon turned on his heal and gestured the King forward to the ship. Once they were aboard, we followed in our own clusters. Suddenly, Teucer approached us. “I can guide you through the courtesies and show you to where Phaetheon selected for you to sit. As one of ‘your men,’ Marius will stand behind you and should not.” He smiled and appeared fine, though his tone definitely conveyed he was playing a part for the evening. “First you are to be presented to the King. We are going to stop in front of him and Phaetheon. I will say who you are and you give a bow and then we move on. Just follow me.” He nodded and smiled. Once up the plank, we entered through a flap in canopy. The deck was lit everywhere with lanterns. It had now taken the guise of a well-appointed dining hall. We followed Teucer to the head table. Phaetheon and the King were already seated. As Teucer began to announce us, the King’s face caught mine and was immediately recognized. “Talon?” He interrupted before Teucer could finish. I think Phaetheon registered surprise in his expression, but covered it well. The King paused and the shock passed. “It is Harald. Do you remember me?” It was indeed he, the man in black I had met so many years ago. He had called me a brother then. “King Harald.” I bowed a second time, and felt multiple sets of eyes now focused on me. When I looked back up, he was smiling. “My old brother in arms. You come in fine company.” He nodded to Phaetheon. Not knowing what else to do, I began to bow again. “No, no,” he laughed. “We are well past all that. Please. Enjoy the night. We will talk later.” Teucer tugged at my arm and led my group to the side and toward a rear corner, the farthest from prying eyes, except of course, those already around me at my own table. Marius’ eyebrows were raised. Teucer, his duty done for the moment, resumed his shy demeanor but glanced at me. Leaf chuckled while looking directly at my face. “So…” Marius said slowly, “…is there anything you would like to tell us about?” Leaf coughed to deny the laugh that threatened in his belly. “I seemed to have missed that story too…” he continued suppressing his laughter. Others came in and were presented to Harald and Phaetheon. After everyone was seated, Phaetheon and Harald each spoke about each other’s great country and the prospects which lay ahead of them. With great pomp, the canvas parted and the trays of food came in and were presented in front of the head table. From the corner of my eye, I saw Phaetheon give a slight nod. Revinn stood up, tankard in hand. Harald acknowledged him, and the room went quiet once more. He made a quick bow to our hosts. “As we enjoy this feast of friendship, we…” he gestured to the townsfolk around him, “…wanted to acknowledge the provider of this meal, a man who brought prosperity to this kingdom once before and hopefully has once more. We feast tonight on the flesh of the Midnight Stag provided by Talon from across the sea.” He turned to me, as did all the eyes in the room. “The only man in history to twice win the prize. Good fortune follow you Talon, and prosperity follow us all!” He raised his drink high to the cries of “Hear, hear.” I nodded, we all drank, and finally our meal was served. When prodded, I gave the barest recollection of meeting Harald those many years ago. When they realized I was done and not elaborating any further, our table talked of the town and possibilities of trade and the hopes Phaetheon had for the future and how the High King Ambrosius would be pleased. When the time came to relieve myself, I left the boat, crossed the dock, and used the temporary privies set up on the shore. Afterward, I lingered along the rocky sands. The shadow of a man appeared and approached me. Harald gestured and I nodded. “The last time we met it was beside the sea in the darkness as well wasn’t it?” I could see his grin in the night. “Back then you had just killed a Midnight Stag and then went on to help save a town… one of Father’s, mine now. This time you manage to get another Stag with Phaetheon waiting for me. What are you to bring us next then?” He looked out over the waters not waiting for a response. I did the same. “My father did not like change. He thought that our small country could stay as it was forever. Our simple, happy lives could always be the same. It was a comforting notion. One that still makes me happy. Like visiting my grandmother and sitting by her feet as she spun. Here we support each other, village and town, man and woman, king and fisherman.” He sighed. “Change can only be kept out for so long. The world has changed and we must change with it or be left behind or even conquered. We need to be part of life outside of our borders. It is not just trade and prosperity being offered… it is an alliance with an even greater and growing power. A people who do not appear to come to us with malice aforethought.” He looked at me. “Is that your experience with them? This empire from the across the great seas?” I nodded. From our very first meeting, I had no reason to believe there was anything in Phaetheon other than a deep seated mission to learn from and unite all of us. It was the following of a vision greater than all of us. I nodded again. “This is an invitation to take our rightful place among other kingdoms. We will be known. With that new conflicts will arise, but, or better or for worse, this is an invitation I think we should accept.” I nodded and wondered at the larger picture, not just Phaetheon’s, but at Harald’s as well. There was a light in him, a cautious flame waiting to become a fire. “Terms will have to be made of course,” he continued. “My people must do well by this. Regardless of why I feel the deal should be done, my terms will be only for them.” I turned to look at him. He was worthy to be a king. He turned back to me and extended his hand. “Thank you for coming to us once again and thanks be to whatever god or gods you believe in. You and the Midnight Stag assure me that good things will be accomplished over the next days.” I shook his hand. He put his other on my shoulder. “If we prosper, you will be revered as the hunter of the Midnight Stag, bringer of fortune and prosperity; if we crumble, I will be blamed as the king who made a bad deal.” He chuckled. “Doesn’t seem fair does it?” We stood and let the question fade. “Well, best get back before they think we are the term makers, though I think Phaetheon wouldn’t mind you taking the credit for that as well.” He laughed again. As we walked back toward the light of the dock, I felt calm, or relieved, I could not be sure. Harald had a way about him that made him indeed feel like a brother. I thought of Blade. “Did you know, that before you, I was the last one to get a Midnight Stag?” I shook my head. “Had to be about ten years or so ago I think. I’m a little jealous. You are ahead by one.” He laughed once more. There were a few stares from other guests, including my actual brother Blade, as we crossed the dock together. There were more when we crossed onto the deck. Phaetheon stood from his temporary seat next to Revinn at the table with the townspeople. His mouth curled with a wry smile and nodded to us. Harald resumed his seat at the head table and Phaetheon returned to his at his side. My table was quiet for a few minutes before Marius finally broke the ice. “What did you two talk about? Do you think…” “He will deal fairly,” I said to curtail further questions. Smiles, nods, and peace were their replies. Later on, Harald and Phaetheon stood. “The night grows late,” Harald said loudly. The room quieted. “Tonight we rest. Tomorrow the real discussion begins. I thank emissary Phaetheon for his hospitality, and my…” he glanced my way, “…friend Talon for honoring me so. I thank you all for honoring me. Good night all.” He bowed to the room. He and Phaetheon shook hands as we all nodded and bowed. Phaetheon bowed after us, then Harald left followed by a few of his men. Quietly, Phaetheon disappeared into the ship. Others drifted out, some seemed intent to drink until they dropped. Leaf and I wandered into the town and quickly realized that with Harald and his men to accommodate, there were few options left for us. The innkeeper seemed embarrassed for only having a small alcove left. It seemed similar to the original ones that Thorn and I, and Kjartanei and Joachim had used years ago. Leaf and I crawled in behind the leather door coverings, shed our outer clothes, and lay down to sleep. The next day was spent about the town among various company. Phaetheon and Harald kept only a few men with them and kept to the ship and the town master’s home. Blade and the brothers walked among the people of the village and talked to anyone and everyone about the Artifex Pater. They had a growing audience as people from all over Harald’s kingdom arrived. Word was that a trade deal was imminent and everyone wanted to profit by being in the right place at the right time. Leaf and I had to sleep on the boat again for the lack of available rooms. The day after, Revinn, a few of his men, and I went out for an early morning hunt. Upon our return when the sun was high, Revinn clapped me on the back again. “Well, we could not expect three times from you now could we?” In truth, I felt I would be happy to never see a Midnight Stag ever again. It was announced that Harald and Phaetheon had come to terms. Goods, money, and support would be exchanged between them and then by their kingdoms. It was further announced that Phaetheon’s party would bring the good news back to Ambrosius: the mission was a success. We would be leaving. It was terrific news for the travelers who had spent so long away from home. A final evening feast would be held and the day was spent in preparation of it. It would be less formal, but meaningful all the same. The entire town was invited to not only prepare, but to attend. Some of the foreign goods stored on board were off-loaded to be shared. A taste for the people of the town of what would come through their port from all over the world. Harald and Phaetheon once again sat together, this time in the town square. The mood was much less formal and filled with laughter. Everyone wandered and ate and sat and drank. Singers sang, people rejoiced. For myself, I wandered back to the fields. Leaf saw me go and part of me wished he would follow. He smiled broadly but remained behind. The pastures were peaceful. I found a solitary place and lay on my back to watch the stars. I woke in the middle of the night feeling the cold through to my bones. My teeth chattered as I made my way back. The two sleepy men at the gate gave respectful nods as I passed. Only one or two fires were still lit and they were dying. The rest of the village were in their homes it seemed. I went to the closest pit to get some of its heat before finding my way out to the dock and finding a place to sleep. As I finally was getting my trembling jaw under control and the feeling back into my feet, I saw Revinn. He saw me, waved, and walked over. “You still awake?” He yawned. I involuntarily yawned in response. “Here come with me, I just finished patrol, you don’t need to go all the way out to the ships, you can sleep in my house.” He pointed. It was invitingly close. I nodded. We went in and found a warm hearth with several people sleeping around it in the main room. He held up a finger to quiet any questions and proceeded carefully across to a closed door grabbing a small lantern on the way. I followed him across and in. The lantern illuminated a single room, not dissimilar to the one in Fin’s house at the cove. A large bed sat in the corner. He closed the door behind us. “It may not be what you were expecting, but it is home.” He smiled and began removing his gear. “You take the bed. This wall is the back of the neighbor’s fireplace. It is warm enough for me.” I began to protest. He raised his hand. “You are my guest. Please accept.” I nodded. He continued stripping down and I started on my own. My hands shook as I tried at my straps. “Here then,” he said and helped get me undone. “You are like ice. Where were you?” When I was undressed enough, he pointed at the bed. “You will be warm in no time.” I got in and slid over. “Enough for you,” I said. He shook his head but smiled. I shook my head in return. “Not a man’s bed.” He looked hesitant. “Not for the floor.” I beckoned him to accept. He yawned, nodded, and turned down the lantern before crawling in. The bed was more than large enough, even for my size. I wondered how he rated this big bed alone when there was a room filled with people nestled around a hearth on the other side of the door. I felt him roll on his back. “Goodnight my friend, may your dreams be worthy of you.” It had the sound of something old and passed down, and somehow calming to my mind. I fell asleep in the warmth of Revinn’s generosity and in the comfort of his wishes. Through no fault of Revinn, I slept merely adequately. It was not the same sleeping in a strange bed with a well-meaning stranger. Warm, yes. Safe, yes. Undisturbed, yes. Completely restful, not quite. “There you are!” Leaf and Galehault trotted up to us. “Here he is, safe and sound,” boomed Revinn, having slept well. Galehault turned to him. “Are you still coming with us? Phaetheon granted permission for as long as you like…” “Of course!” Revinn laughed. “Gather your things, we leave with the tide.” He left us and quickly made his way away toward the docks. “What fortune!” Revinn clasped my shoulders. “I must tell everyone.” He ran back down towards his home. “How exciting!” Leaf grinned. We walked together to the same inn, found a space, and had a hearty, readily available stew before we began the walk to the dock as many of the villagers were. Phaetheon was going to have formal send-off by Harald. “Wait,” Leaf stopped us. “The Midnight Stag, come.” We turned the corner and went into the tanner’s. He was also preparing to go to see Phaetheon off. “I am sorry sir,” he shook his head. “With all what’s been going on, I just did not have enough time to get it done. I am so sorry.” We hesitated. “I could hold it here for a time of course if you think you would be back. Or try to send it on if you knew where I should send it to…” He shrugged and looked uncomfortable. “Harald,” I said slowly. “He killed one. He told me so.” I looked at Leaf. “A gift for Harald?” He and the tanner looked at each other for a moment. “Actually, I think it would be a splendid gift for him,” Leaf ventured while trying to gauge the man’s reaction. “Very generous of you sir,” the tanner said after a moment. Leaf nodded enthusiastically. “The coat would stay with someone who has gotten one. The chain would stay closed. The luck would not be diminished,” the tanner went on. “Well that solves that,” Leaf grinned. Crowds choked the around the dock, put parted for us as we came through. We made our way down the wharf and found Marius with Revinn. “There you are. You will be on Huallpa’s ship again.” He pointed out past the boat at the pier, down to local skiff waiting for us. Blade caught me on the way. He was accompanied by two of the brothers. “It looks like we will be apart once more,” he sighed. “Phaetheon is keeping us close.” He grabbed hold of me in a bear hug. “May the Artifex be with you until we land.” He let me go and looked at Leaf, perhaps deciding what to say. “Safe travel to you,” he said without reaching to shake Leaf’s hand. Leaf seemed not to have noticed. “Good and safe travels to you, all of you.” He nodded his head to Blade and the others. Revinn, Leaf, and I finished making our way to the end of the dock to Teucer helping a young family in ahead of us. “I am with Phaeheon this time.” He smiled and shook our hands. Revinn boarded followed by Leaf. “See you on the other side.” He hesitated, unsure of himself, then he strongly hugged me before averting his eyes and turning to the ropes. I carefully boarded the boat that was to bring us across to the Inferno. I sat between the young family and Leaf. When the mother scooted the child next to herself over to make room, I realized she was very pregnant. The little girl smiled at Revinn. I watched the dock glide away from us. Teucer stood and watched. I smiled and waved back when he waved to me. As we were helped up, Captain Huallpa came to meet us. “Welcome aboarrd my new phrriends! I am Huallpa, Captain of the Inpherrno,” he boomed. “I underrstand you will be my guests for the next parrt oph the voyage. RRest easy and have no carres.” He stepped toward the woman. “Ourr ship’s doctorr is at yourr serrvice ma’am.” He bowed to her and gestured to LLoque. “And you my phriends, back again? Good to have you aboarred!”
  13. Agreed, it is not always about the physical, it is different things to different people. I still continue to struggle with the line... for me it is not merely about tense, but about possibilities. Which implies what or more? Heads: he 'gave you immortality' Tails: he 'gives you immortality' Thank you again for continuing to follow and commenting. Your thoughts are truly appreciated. Hugs.
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