Ghost Ship

“Sail to port!”

I waved to Xinu where he stood by the rail pointing off in the distance. I’d already seen the sail and thought I recognized it as the Frossial, one of Cradal’s ships, captained by Yavab last I’d heard. The other ship, apparently having seen us, changed course slightly to intercept. I did likewise: a meeting out at sea of two ships was uncommon, unlike the coasters that ply up and down the coast, and rarely venture out of sight of land. Such a chance to exchange news and perhaps trade supplies was rarely passed up.

As our courses converged, it was clearly the Frossial but something was wrong. I knew Yavab as a good sailor, but her sails were poorly set and her path was not as straight as I’d have expected. Eventually we were close enough to start running parallel and the appearance of the other ship struck home. Some of her sails were rent, either slit or burst and poorly set. Cordage was hanging free here and there, some of it trailing on the deck or in the water. Her deck was a mess with gear strewn all about. She looked as if she’d barely survived a massive storm or pirate attack. Even her crew were just as unkempt and disheveled as their ship, wandering about as if in a daze.

And Yavab? Seeing him was almost more shocking than seeing the Frossial. I had always thought of him as a sort of dandy but you’d never know it to see him now. You could put him in with a group of the scruffiest pirates and he’d fit right in. Frossial was one of the few ships with a proper wheel and he was more hanging off it than steering his course.

Even as I steered to get within range of tossing a line, I was suddenly reluctant to sail any closer. Gradually, I realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to steer Pa’adhe closer, as if she herself did not want to be any closer to the Frossial than she had to be. Uncomfortable as I was, I made no attempt to close the distance between the ships. Whenever they made a move to close the distance, I instinctively steered Pa’adhe to maintain the space between us. I couldn’t swear to it, but it seemed as if Yavab grew ever more desolate and pitiful with each attempt but eventually he, too, ceased trying to close the gap.

Motioning Xinu to take over the steering oar, I gave him explicit instructions to maintain the distance between the two ships then went to the railing. Cupping my hands, I yelled, “Hoy, Frossial!”

“Hoy, the ship!” Yavab made no attempt to hand off the steering and move to his rail. His reply had no enthusiasm in it either, as if it were just rote. Even more disturbing, Yavab knew the Pa’adhe, so why didn’t he use her name?

We could communicate, by shouting, but the distance was too great to transfer anything. To get a transfer line to the other ship, we’d have to shoot a lighter line by arrow first. Even as the thought occurred to me, I was again overcome with reluctance. I glanced at Xinu and saw him glance in my direction. He gave a slight shrug and a shake of his head, then looked back at the Frossial. I gestured for him to move us closer and watched as he put his weight on the steering oar. Just as Pa’adhe began to edge closer there was a sudden gust of wind that almost buried her downwind rail. Only Xinu’s instinctive reaction to turn into the wind and so spill the air from the sail kept us from laying over. Looking around at the clear blue sky with only a disintegrating white cloud off near the horizon, I briefly wondered where the wind had come from. Looking back at the other ship, I saw the maneuver had taken us further apart, and we’d fallen behind. Yavab hadn’t turned to look and no-one on board Frossial made any attempt to trim her as they turned back onto their original course, starting to cross in front of us. I went and took the steering oar back and just before Pa’adhe lost too much way, turned us slowly downwind to gather speed before turning back onto our course. Neither Xinu nor I said anything. From the corner of my eye, I saw Scarle make some gestures then spit in the direction of the other ship before returning to his spot in the shade. I glanced over my shoulder at the departing Frossial. Somehow, she looked so lonely and forlorn yet all I could feel was relief. Turning away, it felt as if some of the joy had gone out of the day.

* * *

Approaching the entrance to Loaver I was surprised to see signal flags run up the watchtower mast. In six trips to Loaver this was the first time I’d ever seen signals. I glanced around but there was no other ship in sight outside the bay. Warily, I continued on into the harbor and towards the main pier. As we approached, three men came hurrying out on the dock, the leader waving us to the end of the dock. I called out my orders and altered course to comply.

As we came alongside the dock, Xinu tossed lines to the dock hands while Cook and Scarle loosed the sail. By the time the three men reached us we’d been pulled tight and tied up. As Cook and Scarle flaked the sail and lashed it into place, I went to the rail to meet our greeting party. I recognized the harbormaster, but was surprised to see the two men with him were apparently the local guard.

Coming to a stop several paces away, the harbormaster took a few heartbeats to catch his breath before speaking. “This is the Pa’adhe, is she not?”

“This is indeed Pa’adhe. I am her captain.”

He gestured to the men behind him. One stepped forward and drew a parchment from his belt pouch. He offered it to me. Xinu jumped on the railing, took the parchment from him and handed it down to me. I looked at it, noticing it was sealed with three seals, the center being that of the Dode of Port of the Cascades. Surprised, I looked at the men on the pier.

“This came for you four days ago by messenger relay.” The harbormaster paused. “We were informed you were headed here and asked to house the messenger until you arrived. As soon as the signals indicated the Pa’adhe had been sighted, the messenger was summoned to the pier. The Dode of Port of the Cascades has asked our assistance ensuring you receive this message and your cargo is handled with utmost alacrity. The messenger,“ the harbormaster gestured to the man who had handed me the parchment, “will immediately take your decision to the Dode.”

I glanced at the messenger who gave a slight bow of his head. This time I noticed the rampant silver horse pinned to his cloak. I nodded and returned my attention to the parchment. Breaking the seals, I read the contents twice before I looked up again.

“My cargo…,” I began, only to be cut off by the harbormaster.

“At the urging of the local Lord, you will be given top price by the local merchant’s guild. They will also promise delivery of any dedicated cargo you have bound anywhere other than Port of the Cascades. Any fees from such cargoes will also be paid to you before you leave port.”

I studied the parchment in my hand, thinking about the consequences. It requested I come to Port of the Cascades immediately and take on a job to be explained after I arrived. That was unusual enough, though Pa’adhe was well known for taking the jobs no-one else would, or could, do. Even more unusual was the fee offered, apparently without bargaining, of whatever normal, full fee I asked. I unrolled the parchment slightly and looked at the bottom where there were two signatures. One was the Dode’s but it was the second signature that held my attention. It was that of Cyraie.

“I’ll head for Port of the Cascades as soon as my cargo is taken care of and we resupply.”

The messenger gave a quick salute and hurried away. The harbormaster gave the other man some instructions and he took off at a run. Turning to face me, he said, “I’ve sent him for the Guild’s representative so we can get you unloaded and on your way. Do you need assistance with supplies, repairs, anything?”

“I can’t pay for supplies until after my cargo’s sold. We need no repairs, but I do need some cordage.”

“Let me know if you need anything else or any help. If I’m not at the harbormaster’s office, my assistant knows where to find me.” With that he nodded farewell and left.

I turned to see Cook and Scarle watching nearby. As Xinu jumped back onto the deck, I shrugged. “Let’s start unloading.”

* * *

That had to have been the fastest I’d ever been in and out of a port. The sun had moved. at most, two hands from the time we’d tied up to the time we’d cast off again. Pa’adhe was running with a small cargo I’d managed to pick up for Port of the Cascades. That plus what I already had bound that way was enough to keep her trimmed. As we cleared port, I adjusted our course to take us to our destination as directly as possible. As soon as everything was stowed away and Pa’adhe was trimmed to my satisfaction, I called Cook and Xinu up to where Scarle was manning the steering oar.

Leaning back against the railing, I asked, “Did anyone hear anything about what’s going on?”

After a bit of silence, Scarle said, “I noticed most people wanted to get done with us. Kind of like we were…like they were in awe.” He gave the steering oar a slight nudge before continuing. “Maybe not awe, but more like fear…no, a sadness?” He looked around at the rest of us.

“Sadness?” Xinu shook his head. “I don’t know if it was sadness, more like they thought we were going to our deaths.” Scarle nodded agreement. “There were two sailors from one of the other ships that said something I didn’t quite catch as I passed by. They were watching me and looked away quickly. All I caught was ‘ghost ship’. At least I think that’s what they said.”

I looked at Cook. “Well, as I was getting meat from the butcher, I traded him some spices and we got to talking. Things were fine until I mentioned the meat was for Pa’adhe. At that point he went quiet. Then whispering, he asked if it were true we’d seen the Frossial just before she made her last port.”

“Her last port?” I asked with surprise.

Cook nodded. “His words. I said we had seen her and he said ‘Better you’d sunk her.’ When I asked what he meant, he said, ‘They had to burn…’ then apparently he saw someone behind me, shook his head, and asked if I needed help getting the meat to Pa’adhe. He wouldn’t say any more after that.”

“Did you see who was behind you?”

“No, sorry, Captain. I took a quick glance but whoever it was had already left.”

“Whatever it is about the Frossial, it must have something to do with the request from the Dode and Cyraie. The merchant’s guild was in a hurry to take care of business and seemed reluctant to chat any more than necessary. That was odd enough in itself, but with all the reluctance to let me have a cargo to Port of the Cascades…. I wonder what we’re getting into.”

* * *

The three day sail to Port of Cascades was uneventful. It would have been fine sailing if it hadn’t been for the cloud of curiosity hanging over us. No one actually brought it up but it was clear we were all thinking about the summons, since that’s what it essentially boiled down to: a summons to Port of the Cascades.

Our arrival at Port of the Cascades was similarly controlled. As soon as we cleared the entrance a small boat came out towards us, obviously having been alerted by the watchtowers to either side of the entrance. Happily, Avar, the harbormaster, was being ferried out to direct us. As soon as he was on board we were ordered towards the main pier, again directed to the end berth. On the way, Avar took care of all the documents and clearing us into port. As we came alongside and tied up, my escort was already waiting. I was happy to see the squad leader was the sergeant who had accompanied me to the Dode’s Palace during the assassination attempt in the lift. Avar had already informed us that I was to be escorted up to the palace while everyone else remained on board.

The sergeant gave me a brief nod as soon as I was on the pier then barked out orders. Three of the squad stationed themselves several paces away from Pa’adhe. The sergeant arranged the rest of his squad around us and we headed into town.

This time, however, there were no incidents in the lift to Upper Port or during the escort to the Dode’s Palace. During the trip I had exchanged some pleasantries with the sergeant and he obviously remembered my last visit as he kept an extra eye out. Arriving in the palace courtyard he handed me over to the Seneschal who would escort me to my meeting. I couldn’t resist a final jest.

“I think it’s getting a little tame here,” I said.

“Then we’re doing our job properly,” the sergeant said with a straight face. Then he grinned and added, “Shall I arrange for some Logarthi on your next visit?” As we caught a glimpse of the Seneschal’s horrified face we both burst out laughing. He punched me in the shoulder saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” With a brief salute, he headed off to attend to his duties.

I turned to the Seneschal and gestured to the open doors of the Dode’s Palace behind him. He recovered from his surprise and, once again the quintessential servant, led me to my meeting.

* * *

The room I was led to was in the back of the palace and from the looks of it obviously the Dode’s workroom. As the Seneschal announced me, he glanced up from the parchments on his desk and gestured in the direction of several comfortable chairs. While he looked through his parchments, I seated myself and looked at the other three men in the room. I nodded to each as I recognized them: the General in command of the city, Kelin, and Cyraie. The fifth person looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her at the moment.

Before I could say anything, the Dode tossed aside the last parchment and stretched. “Captain.” I gave a slight bow of my head as he continued. “I think you know everyone here. General Senal, commander of the city. Lord Kelin, my brother. Comort Cyraie. The Dreamer, Asedhe.”

I looked closer at the Dreamer as she was introduced, recognizing her now. She was dressed better than the last time we’d met, when she’d delivered Cook’s Dream. Before I could respond, another man entered, pushing his way impatiently past the Seneschal before he could be announced.

“And you no doubt remember Lord Gertig.” The amusement was evident in the Dode’s voice. The newcomer, the same young man who had been in charge of port security last time I saw him, looked irritated, whether at the amusement or something else, and nodded brusquely in my general direction.

“We must do something!” Lord Gertig announced as he seated himself. “It is absolutely not a ghost ship. Ghost ships don’t attack merchants.”

“We will do something. Now please explain who you are to the Captain.” The Dode’s tone brooked no argument.

“Very well.” Gertig turned in his seat to face me better. “I am the Dode’s Head of Intelligence.” When I didn’t react, he continued, a touch of irritation in his voice. “I have been gathering reports from throughout the lands. Multiple merchant ships have been attacked by an unknown pirate.”

“We don’t know he’s a pirate.”

Gertig looked at the Dode. Impatiently, he said, “What else could he be? A captain and crew that attack random merchantmen is nothing but a pirate crew.”

“Perhaps.” The Dode looked at me. “Other than the townspeople of Loaver, apparently you were the last person to see Captain Yavab, or so our intelligence reports seem to indicate.” He ignored the snort from Gertig. “Would you be so kind as to describe that encounter for us?”

I leaned back in my chair, remembering. Looking up at the ceiling, I described the encounter between Frossial and Pa’adhe. “After all that, I made landfall at Xysee. From there I made my way to Bolac where I started to hear some talk about a ghost ship.” Gertig grunted but I ignored him as did everyone else. “There was also talk about it being a pestilence ship. As I delivered cargo to more and more ports, things got quiet, people stopped discussing this with outsiders. In Loaver we did hear some things, enough to make me think it had something to do with the Frossial. From what you’ve said so far, I’m thinking that it’s related, but it’s not the Frossial that’s the ghost ship.” I looked around at everyone, then back at the Dode. “And at Loaver I got the summons to come here. I’m a Free Captain, so you know I don’t have to answer it. But I was curious enough when you summoned me, to come this time.”

The Dode looked at me, smiling wryly. “I know. I was hoping your curiosity would be enough to have you answer the…request.” He leaned back in his chair. “You are right. I have no jurisdiction over you. Lord Gertig here disagrees with my decision to involve you in this matter. All these men have not yet made their decision, save one. Comort Cyraie believes you will be the best for this…job.” He looked at Gertig and obviously saw some sign of impatience. “Oh, get it over with, Lord Gertig.”

“I object to bringing in any outsiders!” Gertig wasted no time setting forth his position. “Outsiders, especially Free Captains, and most especially this particular Free Captain, risk getting out of control. Unless we control this matter, we have to hope that things get resolved properly. Letting him,” Gertig gestured in my direction, “be involved is going to cost us more than using our own resources. It leaves us without trustworthy agents in place to act in our best interest. Finally, it risks us being able to learn valuable intelligence that would benefit us.” Gertig looked around at the other people in the room. “I insist this captain be removed and sent on his way right now. He is a security and intelligence risk that is not bound to our best interests.”

I grinned inwardly. In a way, Gertig’s words were a compliment. I looked around at the others, but I didn’t know them well enough to gauge their reactions. No one spoke for a while. The Dode broke the silence. “Comort Cyraie?”

“First of all, I know Captain…Free Captain Lliom. I know that he is resourceful, I know he is someone that I will trust. It is true enough he may not resolve the matter to our preference, but I have every reason to believe he will resolve it. I have dealt with him and I would…no, I have placed my life in his hands and I would do so again.” Cyraie looked at Gertig. “Sure, the Captain will likely cost us more than if we merely used our own ships and men that we already pay for, but at the same time, the ghost ship….” Cyraie smiled at Gertig’s reaction and continued, “The ghost ship, for lack of any other term, no doubt recognizes a military ship. After all, there have been only attacks on non-military ships. All ships attacked have been either free traders or merchant ships. Mostly merchant ships since there are far more of them than Free Traders.”

Cyraie paused, looking at each person in turn. It was Gertig that spoke. “Agreed. It has not attacked fishing vessels either, only merchantmen. That we are aware of, anyway.”

Cyraie nodded. “Therefore, we need a merchantman.” He gestured to me, “He is a merchant.”

Gertig shook his head. “It is not enough. By his own tale, he met up with the Frossial. We have nothing to support his version of it. For all I know, he is the so called…ghost ship.” Gertig made a face. “He would have access to the Merchant’s Guild and be able to see routes and sailing patterns and so know where to prowl.” Gertig looked at me, hard. “And as far as I can tell, no Free Trader ship has been hit. None.”

Cyraie studied Gertig thoughtfully, then similarly studied me. He shook his head. “Your argument has merit. Such a situation is possible, but no, not Captain Lliom. There’s a way to check that out.”

“Already doing so. I expect to have answers within four days.” He looked at the Dode. “Sire, I insist we wait, at a minimum, until I have my preliminary results.”

“Sirs, what say you?” The Dode looked at the other three in turn. “Lord Gertig and Comort Cyraie, I know how they will respond. They need not reiterate. The rest of you, any questions for anyone?”

Each shook his head in turn. General Senal spoke before the Dode could continue. “The Merchant’s Guild is in an uproar. I have the head of the Guild waiting. Should we bring him in?”

The Dode shook his head. “Not just yet. Lord Checaran, would you side with Lord Gertig or Comort Cyraie?”

“Comort Cyraie,” Kelin said with no hesitation. “I, too, can bear witness to the Captain’s character. I, too, have had my life in his hands, and would not hesitate to place it so again.”

“I expected no less. General Senal?”

The general was quiet for a long time. When he spoke, he spoke directly to me. “Unlike Lord Checaran and Comort Cyraie, I have no personal knowledge of you.” He shook his head slowly. “I have heard your reputation, but I prefer to go by knowledge, supported by proven facts and for the most part ignore hearsay. Your reputation is that you are trustworthy. You are unconventional, you take the jobs others don’t. Why?” He held up his hand, forestalling any reply. “It doesn’t matter, it’s just a point I’m making. In this case, the situation I see is six of one, half a dozen of the other. The solid knowledge I have right now can be arranged any way to support either side. So, without additional information I must side with Lord Gertig.”

I gave him a nod, understanding his decision. The Dode stretched in his chair and rose to his feet, gesturing for us to remain seated. After he took a drink from his goblet, he said, “There is one more voice I’d like you to hear. Dreamer Asedhe came to me with a Dream for…well, let her tell it.”

“It is an unusual Dream, which seems to be the case whenever you are involved, Captain.” She smiled at me. “Normally, a Dream is for one person, but in this case the Dream involves three specific people. Dode Macrom, you, and myself.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “The Dream directed me to come to Port of the Cascades where I requested an audience with the Dode.” She paused again, looking around thoughtfully. “Most Dreams, also, focus on the one person. This Dream…impacts many. It’s also somewhat unusual in that it does not specify any particular resolution but leaves it hanging.”

When no-one spoke, I asked, “I apologize if I am overstepping bounds, but where do these Dreams come from?”

“No need to apologize, Captain. Not even the Dreamers know for sure. Some theorize they are direct messages from the gods of the person involved. Others think we have the ability to see, somewhat murkily, into the future. Still others think perhaps the person involved has the ability, the opportunity, or by a happy accident is able to see a glimpse into the future as a dream. They somehow, perhaps unconsciously, share that dream but do not remember it on waking. We Dreamers are those people they are able to share those special…well, Dreams with. As to how that works, no-one has come up with an answer to that, yet.”

The silence following her words was broken by the Dode. “Please tell your Dream again, Dreamer.”

She nodded and looked straight ahead. Once more I saw her lost to the far mists of…Dreamland? Are we bound there once more? As she began to speak again, I focused on her words, wondering what clues they might provide.

“Death roams the Northern Sea,
As Merchants wail and plea.
Hie to Port of Cascades
Seek Pa’adhe once more.

To the north along the coast,
There must the Dode send his crest!
Borne by famed Silver Horse,
Find Pa’adhe, bid her come!

With Pa’adhe, far asea,
Two must sail, you and he,
A role to play, so forth again…
She alone bears raider’s bane.

Unseen raider in Northern water,
Gives no mercy, gives no barter.
Cruel the fate, those who meet
Harsh the fate, those who serve!

Her Captain is the key,
Though he know not the way.
Doom his path, save the one
Where lies his salvation!

Search you shall, the Northern sea
Hunted, the hunter must see!
Tempest comes and battle fought
Drained shall you be, one and all.

Not yet forged be Fate’s Chain!
Beware the lure, O Captain!
Life or Death be thy choice–
Red be our doom, and white life.”

As her voice trailed off, I noticed everyone was staring at the Dreamer. As she regained awareness of her surroundings, the Dode poured some wine and handed her the goblet. She smiled slightly and accepted the drink.

“This, gentlemen, is why I have su…requested the Captain’s presence.” He looked directly at Gertig as he continued. “That Dream is the basis of my decision that we will send the Captain in search of this marauder.”

I watched Gertig, fascinated by the change in him. From being vehemently against hiring me, once he knew that the Dode’s decision was made he switched to implementing the decision, even though he obviously still disagreed with it.

“Very well, my Dode. We have scant information about this marauder, as it is. Captain Yavab and his crew were unable to provide any intelligence. They were…infant minds in men’s bodies and under questioning they…faded away, leaving behind just an animated carcass. That captain and crew did not long survive. My agents were able to sneak aboard the Frossial before the locals towed it out to sea and burned it. There were signs of intruders, we think, but no sign of any real attempt to defend the ship. Goods were missing, taken either by the attacker or the locals, but the ship was not overmuch damaged. Rather it was more as if it were let go to waste.” He turned to look at me. “That, Captain, is why we needed to hear your tale. We know he haunts the northern waters, we know he hits only merchantmen. None of the ships we’ve sent hunting him have been successful finding him. Those disguised as merchantmen never came back. Any military ships sent never encountered him.”

He paused, his eyes drilling into mine. “Why, Captain, did you avoid the Frossial when you encountered it? What did you see? Why did you not give aid?”

Without looking away from his glare, I answered, “It was more a feeling than anything. The closer I got to the Frossial the more uncomfortable I became. Their demeanor, the state of the ship, the whole encounter…instinct was warning me off.”

He continued to stare at me, as if he didn’t believe me and would wring the truth from me regardless. Before either of us could say anything else, Senal spoke.

“If he stays to the northern waters, why do we spend resources on him?” Senal took a drink from his goblet. “Why not let the Northmen deal with the problem?”

“That would be a reasonable choice, were it not for how many of our own merchantmen have been hit.” The Dode gestured to the parchments on his desk as he continued, “The Merchant’s Guild has asked our help. Not just the local branch, but requests have come in from between here and Bolac. Normally, I would instruct the coastal rulers to join together and deal with it, but the bottom line is that most of the ships hit have been ours.

“They have dealt with the pirates in their waters when we’ve asked. Now they, through the Merchant’s Guild, are asking us to deal with this ghost. So…we will deal with it.”

No-one broke the silence that followed his words. He remained quiet for what seemed a long time before speaking again. “I take it there are no more objections? No more information to share?” After each person in turn shook their head, he continued, “Then there is nothing more to be done here, but arrange things and settle accounts with the Captain.”

* * *

Two days later, we were waiting on the tide. Kelin and the Dreamer were on board, as was the sergeant and five of his men. I had argued against the Dreamer’s presence, seeing no valid point in her going on what was obviously a dangerous voyage. I had made my points and been supported on each point by, of all people, Lord Gertig. The Dode had finally told us outright he would brook no further argument and we had given up. According to him, the Dreamer’s words indicated she was to accompany us. There was still a hand to go before the tide would turn when I noticed four people hurrying down the pier. Before I could say anything, the sergeant grunted and two of his men moved to intercept. After a quick conversation, they all hurried to where Pa’adhe lay waiting. Well before they were near, I knew one was Gertig and another Cyraie. I had a sense of foreboding.

Gertig was the first to speak. “Captain! A word.”

I left Pa’adhe and we walked away from the group to the end of the pier where no-one could hear us. Pa’adhe had been assigned the whole end of the pier, and it must be costing the merchants agony not being able to dock four other ships there. Even so, Gertig looked around carefully, going so far as to look over the side and checking the water on all three sides before he would speak.

“I just received some additional information that may or may not help. We arrested one of the Prae’aer two days ago. In the course of questioning, he let fall that they knew who commanded the ghost ship. Realizing his error, he bit off his tongue to prevent telling us more, but not before we were able to discover he feared that commander. Working back over all he’d said, it’s been determined whoever commands that ship is powerful in the dark arts, enough that most high Prae’aer fear whoever it is. He died soon after without giving us much more than that. The Dode has decided we will send along some of the Virohan to protect you.”

“I was to sail in less than a hand. We only have supplies for the current party.”

“It’s arranged for. Additional supplies will be forthcoming before you sail.”

“No.” As Gertig started to argue I held up my hand. “A ship is not like an army, happily eating whatever they’re provided. Cook will determine what additional supplies are needed and we will sail on the next tide if need be. The tide turns soon, but the peak is still three and a half hands away. He will get the supplies.”

“Very well. I will send a man with your cook to arrange payment and delivery. Anything else?” The irritation at being countered was well hidden and I let it ride, knowing it was merely the nature of the man.

“You said ‘some of the Virohan’. How many is some?”

“Comort Cyraie insists on three and will not budge on that.”

I did a quick mental calculation. We had the room, especially with no cargo and only ballast, below decks to accommodate everyone comfortably. “We’ll need some planks for flooring and line for fastening. I’ll have Scarle handle that. We just need to get everything on board to make the tide and can rig and stow while under way. That and the supplies should be all.”

Gertig nodded and we hurried back to the group waiting by Pa’adhe. He gave orders to the sergeant who sent one of his men off at a run to fetch Gertig’s agents. I looked over the rest of the party.

“I had word three Virohan would sail with us?”

Cyraie gestured to the two men with him. “These two and myself.”

“One of these days you will go swimming.”

“I’m sure of it.” Cyraie smiled at the warning, knowing exactly what I meant. He ignored the concerned looks on the two Virohan with him. “Not this time, though. I will fill you in as soon as we are clear of the port and settled down.”

“Stay here. Where’s your gear?”

The two Virohan looked irritated at seeing their Comort ordered about by a mere Free Trader, but Cyraie merely smiled. “Here,” he said, hoisting the bag by his feet. “We each have a bag with our necessities.” His other hand gestured to a larger leather bag between the other two Virohan. “And that.”

“An Earthstone.” Seeing his faint smile, I added, “But not pure. Also water oriented, I’d guess.” I turned away before he could see the grin on my face at his startled look. By the Nine Tails, how did I know that? Then I chuckled to myself as a sudden thought struck me: A water oriented Earthstone…would that be a Mudstone?

Dismissing the resulting image, I went down the plank to Pa’adhe’s deck, waving Scarle and Cook over. I gave Cook instructions and sent him to the pier to wait for Gertig’s agent. Scarle and I disappeared below deck to survey the hold and determine what we needed to turn part of it into a lower deck for the Virohan and our seven other male guests. I had decided that I was going to put all the passengers except Asedhe there and let my crew keep their quarters forward. The Dreamer could have my cabin as originally decided. That would work better than the original plan of the sergeant and Kelin taking over the crew’s quarters with the sergeant’s men sleeping on the deck. It would also help keep the deck clear under action. We quickly worked out what was necessary to get them all below and I sent Scarle to the pier just as the two agents came running up.

Gertig gave them their orders, signed the two writs of payment, and sent one agent and writ off with each of my men. I turned to Kelin who was standing nearby at the rail watching events. “I’ll have Xinu help you move your gear out of the forecastle. We’re going to move you to roomier quarters.” Gesturing Xinu over, I had him help Kelin, the soldiers, and the Virohan move their gear near the rear hatch until we could get things squared away.

* * *

We made the tide with at least a hand to spare. As soon as we cleared port and were far enough offshore I set Xinu and Scarle to building the lower deck and getting everyone’s gear below. That was quickly taken care of and the four of us settled into our ship routines. I watched idly as Asedhe, the Dreamer, roamed the ship, renewing her acquaintance with the crew and the ship’s movements. She was careful to stay out of the way, and patiently waited for any responses from the working crew. Eventually she settled in against the railing by Kelin and the two were soon deep in conversation. The soldiers were all forward in the bow, doing what soldiers the world over do when they’ve nothing to do: sleeping, cleaning weapons, swapping tales, resting, and gambling.

The Virohan were all below and I wondered what they were doing. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to spend all their time below when it was so nice out. It wasn’t long, though, before all three came up on deck. Cyraie spoke to them briefly then left them to join me. He settled himself on the deck and leaned back against the railing, his long legs stretched out before him and his eyes closed against the sun. Eventually, he said, “I can see why you like this life.”

The silence passed comfortably and I began to think he might have dozed off when he said, “Well, I don’t want to swim from here, so let me fill you in. But first, a question….” His voice trailed off, as if he were lost in thought.

He opened the nearest eye and studied me for a bit. “How did you know about the Earthstone?”

I shrugged. He closed his eye again. “You were right, of course. On both counts.” He was quiet for a bit, as if weighing what to tell me and what not to. Shrugging slightly, he resumed, “One of the Prae’aer was arrested by Lord Gertig’s agents. I’m not certain why but it’s not pertinent. Someone relatively high up in their hierarchy, he let it slip under…questioning…that he and possibly others of the upper Prae’aer know, or think they know, who’s ship the ghost ship is. Not much else was gleaned from him, but before he bit off his tongue three things became very evident.”

I wondered if I should tell him that Lord Gertig had already mentioned this. I decided not to say anything since, after all, he might have some additional information.

“One, he, at least, is very much afraid of whomever it is. Since the Prae’aer only fear those stronger than themselves, and this particular Prae’aer was known to be strong by their standards, then that person must be very powerful in the arts.

“Two, the Prae’aer believe this person is on board the ship, seeking something. What, we couldn’t discover but usually there’s only one thing such people seek: power or the knowledge to gain more power. Since he hunts merchantmen, we think he’s hunting someone or something being transported by sea but not by the navy. Since the attacks continue, obviously he’s not found what he seeks yet.

“Three, the Prae’aer bit off his own tongue and drowned in his own blood rather than reveal any more about this mysterious person. It is highly unusual, almost unnatural, that such a high level Prae’aer would sooner die than reveal more. I have never encountered such an act. Normally, a Prae’aer in this situation would try to make some kind of deal against his enemy, hoping to gain ever more power and rank.”

Cyraie paused to let me take all that in before he continued. “I think this particular Prae’aer was an exception because he had actually met this…wizard. I believe he was under a powerful spell not to reveal anything and that is the driving force for his death. And that concerns me, that such a high ranking Prae’aer could be put under such deadly compulsion. People generally cannot be forced to kill themselves by the arts yet this Prae’aer apparently was. Perhaps it was possible exactly because he was Prae’aer.”

He drifted into silence as his thoughts pursued that idea briefly. Shaking his head, he quickly resumed talking. “Lord Gertig has his agents and his intelligence service is very good, indeed. We Virohan likewise have our own sources. Neither of us has ever come across this link between Prae’aer and wizard. That worries both of us.”

Cyraie turned his head to look at me. “So why am I here? You are hunting this wizard. I know Pa’adhe is blessed somehow, and I don’t mean by me at Caerl Headland. I know you are a Wilding…,” he held up his hand to forestall what I was about to say. “I know, you don’t believe so, maybe you think Wildings are a folk tale, but I believe it and that is the basis of my preparations. At any rate, you are hunting this wizard and I believe you need all the help you can get. Thanks to you, we are now aware of and able to use the link between Earth and Water and develop Stones that bridge the two elements. I insisted, therefore, that we Virohan still owe you and that we be allowed to join the hunt to provide what protection we might, including one of the first Earth-Water Stones. You will need that help, that much I know…I absolutely know it. Will it be sufficient? I have no idea.

“That, Captain, is why we Virohan are here at the last minute. Now can I stay on board?”

He waited patiently while I thought through everything he had told me. I believed I knew, even if he didn’t, what Pa’adhe’s blessing was, though not who, how, or why. After a lengthy silence, I merely said, “You can stay.”

He grinned and closing his eyes again, rested his head against the railing. I continued thinking about what he had just said as I steered Pa’adhe over the featureless ocean toward her future.

* * *

Seven days later we were sailing off Point Hanobe’e, between Loaver and Bolac. I called Kelin and the sergeant to join me at the rail. Seeing Cyraie emerge from belowdecks, I waved him over as well. When everyone was present, I spoke.

“We’re in the waters where the ghost ship is usually active. I’ve been thinking about how to find that ship and had an idea. Instead of just hunting for one ship in the middle of the sea, you’ll have better luck hunting two. So, while we hunt that ship, let’s have it hunt us as well.”

Seeing their confusion, I elaborated. Gesturing to the cliff we were approaching, I said, “That’s Point Hanobe’e. About a day’s sail past that is a small beach and beyond that is Xysee. I propose to put Kelin, the Sergeant, and his men ashore at the beach. We’ll rig up a pole with a bag hanging from it, to be carried by two men. We’ll put your food and some gear in it to provide weight and appearance. You’ll go overland to Xysee, approaching from inland. Once you leave the beach, we’ll sail out and take our time getting to Xysee. We need to put in for provisions, anyway, so that’ll be our excuse and if anyone asks, we’re merely taking cargo and the Dreamer to Bolac. We should get there before you, so when you arrive, you should be able to head for the dock. If I remember right, you should be able to see the port from the hills behind the city so if necessary you can hide out there until we’re actually in port. Once you verify we’re there, head to the dock and check with some ships to see where they’re headed. Work your way to us, and if anyone gets too close to what you’re carrying, you warn them off, hands on your swords. Be arrogant and loud, we want everyone you meet to know you’re there and hired Pa’adhe.”

“That could work,” the sergeant said. “And if another ship is bound for Bolac, we could just not like the looks of the ship.”

“Right, and obviously we’ll haggle a bit over the price to reinforce the idea. Then I’ll send Cook into town for additional provisions and some complaint dropping.”

“What if instead of being headed to Bolac, we’re headed to the Unknown Islands? That way, we could increase the appearance of a vital cargo by trying to get you to go there first but having to settle for going to Bolac then on to the Unknown Islands.” Kelin paused, then grinned. “I can play the arrogant nobleman easily enough.”

“That’s a good idea. That’ll give the ghost ship more time to find out about us and narrow the search area.”

Cyraie asked, “What if the ghost ship finds you before you make Xysee?”

“That is the one risk I can’t see how to account for. If that happens, I can try to run, which will make me late to Xysee. If so, you may have to figure some way to make your wait for us believable.” I looked at the others, shrugging. “I don’t think it will happen, but I can’t say it won’t.”

“I can see why Gertig didn’t want to rely on you,” Kelin said still grinning. “Just like up in the Toes, you want all the fun for yourself.”

* * *

Late the next afternoon we sailed into the small port at Xysee. I’d timed it so that we were just able to get all our provisions before the shops closed for the night. Cook and Xinu, shopping for provisions, made sure to let it slip we were bound for Bolac. They were able to order the provisions, but the merchants refused to deliver before tomorrow. That would give us an excuse to stay overnight, with the sergeant’s men standing guard and making everyone give Pa’adhe a wide berth until I rein them in. With any luck, word would get to the ghost ship about the cargo. There was a risk of encountering a pirate ship as a result of all this, but I felt confident we’d be able to outrun any pirate ship we couldn’t fight off.

Seeing the grin on my face, Cyraie asked, “When you grin like that, I’m glad Lord Gertig can’t see you. What’s got you so happy now?”

“Oh, I was thinking that if word doesn’t get to the ghost ship, it might get to a pirate or two. We just might have some fun.”

“I have to remind you, you’re under commission to the Dode to find this ghost ship, not to have fun with pirates.”

“It won’t be my fault if pirates come after us and I have to deal with them.”

“Actually, it will be….” Cyraie’s voice trailed off as we turned to look down the dock at a sudden commotion.

We could just hear the argumentative voices from the town end of the dock as the sergeant and his men encountered the crew of one of the berthed ships heading into town. Things quieted down as the sailors gave them the space they demanded, albeit with some jeers and catcalls. We leaned on the rail and watched the party make their way down the dock, pausing briefly at most ships, but holding a longer conversation at some. Eventually, they reached Pa’adhe.

“You, there! Where are you bound?”

I looked at Kelin, my grin carefully hidden. His voice was a little higher than normal and his attire would delight any nobleman trying to impress the women at court. A sailor approached the group a little too closely and two of the guards put hand to hilt. The sailor got the hint and walked around them with plenty of space to spare.

“YOU! I asked where you are bound!”

Mildly, I asked, “Who wants to know?”

With more a growl than an understandable voice, the sergeant interrupted. “You’ll keep a civil tongue talking to my Lord Kelcheck!”

Warming up to the game, I said, “Lord Kelcheck? Never heard of him.”

“You have now,” said Kelin, irritably. “We seek passage, and for the last time, where are you headed?”

“Bolac.”

“Give us passage to the Unknown Islands and we’ll make it worth your time.”

“I have cargo for Bolac, and a passenger bound there.”

Kelin waved a limp hand in dismissal. “We’ll buy the cargo. The passenger can enjoy a longer voyage.”

“It doesn’t work that way.” I turned away in dismissal. “I’m headed to Bolac. Find some other ship.”

I got two paces away from the rail before Kelin spoke, anger evident in his tone. “We haven’t dismissed you yet! No other ship is headed our way and we must have passage. How long to Bolac?”

Turning back to lean on the rail, I said, “Three days, with good weather.”

“Your fee to take us to the Unknown Islands by way of Bolac? We’ll pay well.”

“Well, now. I don’t have a cargo past Bolac.” Gesturing at the group, “This your entire party?”

“Yes. Myself and my escort. We expect to be properly fed.”

I named a high price, as if hoping to get him to leave. “Two gold apiece. Take it or leave it.”

“That’s all?” Kelin’s voice was dismissive. “We’ll take it.”

“Done! We sail in the morning. You can sleep on board or find room and board in town. Cook, Scarle, get their gear aboard.”

As Cook and Scarle headed down the plank to the dock, the sergeant blocked their way. “No one handles this,” he said, gesturing at the sack hanging from the pole. “No one but us.”

Cook and Scarle looked at me. I shrugged, waving them out of the way. “Show them where to put it. Let them deal with it, then. If they don’t stow it properly, that’s their problem.” I looked at Kelin. “If you’re not going to let us stow whatever that is, we’re not going to be responsible for its safety. Plus you’ll pay for any damages.”

Kelin gave another limp wave of dismissal. “You’ll stay clear of my property.”

“Going to be another gold, then, to cover any damage to my ship.”

Kelin shrugged and gestured to the sergeant who came up the plank and pulled out a pouch. He dropped several gold coins in my hand for show. I examined them and nodded, dropping them into my pouch. With a jerk of my head, I indicated for him to follow Scarle. He gestured and the two guards with the pole came aboard, the other three taking up positions to prevent anyone else approaching Pa’adhe. Kelin sauntered up the plank and looked around. “Where will we sleep?”

“Follow me.” Without waiting to see if he would or wouldn’t, I turned and led the way into my cabin.

When I came back out, The two guards that had carried the pole were stationed by the rear hatch and the sergeant was wandering the deck, looking the ship over. Xinu choose that moment to return from town and, attempting to board Pa’adhe, found his way blocked. He tried to push his way past the guards who promptly drew their swords.

“Belay that!” I shouted. “That is my man, let him on board!”

One of the guards looked at the sergeant, who nodded. The other guards moved out of the way at his grunt, sheathing their swords and allowing Xinu on board. He gave them a dirty look as he passed.

* * *

The tide turned two hands before mid-day. Just as we cast off, Kelin came out of the cabin, stretching and loudly demanding his breakfast. I told him he’d have to wait as we were getting under way and leaving port. He raised a fuss and I simply turned my back on him and continued giving orders, taking us out of port. He continued to complain shrilly, walking off to express his displeasure to the sergeant. I glanced at the anchored ship we were passing, seeing the captain grinning. I rolled my eyes and shook my head, getting a nod of sympathy in return.

As I watched the port disappear around a small peninsula Kelin came to stand by me. “If court is like that, may I never have to deal with it! I seriously wanted to throw you off my ship.”

“Oh, it can be worse than that.” He grinned at me. “That was nothing compared to some I’ve seen at court. There are days I wish I were back up in the Toes or living in Bolac. Or here, voyaging on Pa’adhe again.”

“Well, now we’ll find out if that worked or not.” I turned around and leaned back against the stern post. “When we reach Bolac, I’m going to have to put up with Lord Kelcheck again.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that,” Kelin said with a grin. “Look at it this way, maybe we’ll get lucky before then.”

“I can only hope.”

* * *

As expected, the three days to Bolac were uneventful. I’d have been surprised, indeed, if word had already reached the ghost ship in time for it to waylay us. The goal, after all, was to give word time to spread, and hopefully reach the ghost ship before we left Bolac for the Unknown Islands.

As the landmarks above Bolac came into view, I remembered a previous trip to Bolac and its possible consequences for this visit. I was about to call Cook to have him fetch Kelin when a strange sight met my eyes, stealing my words.

Climbing out of the rear hatch was a Kelin I’d not have recognized in passing. His eyes were surrounded by red, his eyebrows were extended by paint back almost to his temples. On his head was a brilliant blue cloth cap trailing three yellow braids reaching half-way down his back. Beneath a flowing knee-length tunic of gold, black and brilliant reds, belted at the waist with a maroon belt a hand in width, his trousers were an equally distracting mix of bright greens and silver. Even Scarle, working by the mast, stopped to gawk and I heard a snort from Xinu on the steering oar beside me. From my other side I heard a gasp then a stifled chuckle as the Dreamer choose that moment to come out of the cabin.

Lord Kelcheck paused, turning slowly. The soldiers on deck had quickly turned away to hide their grins. The sergeant was struggling to keep a straight face but his eyes kept darting to Kelin. Facing me once again, Kelin said, “What? Do I have a button out of place?”

His foppish tone and pitch was too much. I heard strangled laughing from Xinu before the entire ship rang with laughter. Kelin grinned as he came to stand nearby. When the laughter died out, he said, “I’d lived in Bolac for a few years and haven’t been gone all that long. It occurred to me that someone might recognize me. I think this will be distracting enough to divert suspicion.”

Trying not to laugh again, I said, “The same thought occurred to me. I think this will do admirably. They’re going to remember you for a long time in Bolac, but I doubt they’ll be able to describe you beyond your clothes!”

Chuckling, I added, “I’m glad you came out now. It’s still some time before we’ll be within sight of Bolac and we’re going to need that time to get used to…Lord Kelcheck.”

A sudden thought popped into mind and I studied Kelin closely. Before he could speak, I asked, “What is all this? Do you really wear this in court?”

“This? No, it’s a slumming outfit for when I visit the Lower Port.” He grinned, shaking his head. “Actually, Gertig sent along some stuff in case we needed to use a disguise. This isn’t even the most garish outfit possible with what he provided.”

I shook my head. “Lord Gertig has certainly thought….” I let my words die out. Kelin looked around then at me, his face puzzled. I drew him over to the far rail, away from everyone. Quietly, I asked, “Would you even tell me if you worked for Gertig’s Intelligence Force?”

Kelin was quiet, obviously thinking. Finally he said, “I would. I owe you that much, at least.”

I nodded slowly. “I won’t ask. It doesn’t really matter, anyway.” I grinned again. “At least I got to see this!”

* * *

Three days later we left port, no doubt to the relief of the good people of Bolac. If the ghost ship doesn’t hear of this…. Lord Kelchek had certainly made an impression on the town. I had no doubt that if it weren’t for always being accompanied by the sergeant and at least one other guard, we’d be sailing without him. There had been one instance where we’d almost been attacked by angry crewmen from the other ships tied to the same dock. I’d had to threaten the sergeant and out-yell Lord Kelcheck before they’d pulled the guards closer to Pa’adhe and let the crews have room to pass freely up and down the pier. All in all, not a bad performance, I just hoped it didn’t bode ill-will for Pa’adhe when we returned on future voyages.

The Dreamer had enabled us to stay longer than just a day by requesting we bear her to the Unknown Islands as well after she delivered the Dream she had for a woman in the countryside beyond Bolac. I had thought she’d come up with that idea to help, but apparently she’d actually had a Dream the night before we docked in Bolac. After a tantrum from Lord Kelcheck had no effect getting me to leave her behind and take him to the Unknown Islands immediately, he’d gone off to an ale house to sulk. Kelcheck had done some loose talking about the value of his cargo, until the sergeant had hauled him back to Pa’adhe, apparently almost too drunk to walk. Two days out and back for the Dreamer was the best we could work without looking like we were trying to stay in port.

At the merchant’s guild and inns, talks and visits with other captains sympathetic to my plight provided some word about the ghost ship. Most had been in the form of dicsussion as to what the ship was, ghost or pirate, and how many ships had been taken lately. One recurring theme was that I should swing north before heading for the Unknown Islands rather than sailing direct, as that route seemed to have lost more ships than others. I had joked about tossing Kelcheck overboard for the ghost ship in return for free passage. That had brought a round of free ale for our table when the innkeep heard about it.

When the Dreamer finally returned, we were all happy to leave Bolac as soon as possible. It was becoming dangerous for Lord Kelchek and there were grumblings ashore that the Pa’adhe should leave soon if she wanted her passenger to remain alive. I was just glad all the grumbling and threats were against Lord Kelchek and not Pa’adhe and her crew. Waiting for the tide had forced us to wait an extra night and we’d left with the rising sun the fourth morning.

Despite everyone’s attempts, though, there was no firm word about the ghost ship itself: what she was, her size, anything. No-one, save the crew of Frossial, had survived an encounter and they’d been unable to provide any information. We left Bolac without much more information than we’d arrived with.

As Bolac fell behind, I had to decide whether to try the direct route or to swing north as suggested. Were we a tempting enough target? Would the ghost ship expect us to skirt the direct route for the potentially safer northern passage? In the end, I decided that Pa’adhe’s reputation was such that we’d be expected to take the direct route, if only to get rid of Lord Kelcheck as soon as possible.

* * *

I was on the steering oar the morning of the fourth day out from Bolac when I heard a whispered “Run” and felt the oar jerk, as if someone tried to make us turn. I looked over the rail, wondering if we’d hit something, but saw nothing. Thinking it was just a large fish, I turned Pa’adhe back on course. In just a few heartbeats, I felt the jerking turn us off course again. Calling Scarle, I handed the steering oar over to him and moved to the rail. Keeping my eyes where the oar entered the water, I bid Scarle return to the original course. Sure enough, shortly after he set us back on course the oar twitched, but there was nothing visible in the water. As I studied the water about Pa’adhe’s stern, something a little ways off caught my eye. It vanished when I tried to look at it, but when I looked away, it was there again.

Every time I tried to look at it, I lost whatever it was in the seascape. Finally, I looked away and when I again saw it from the corner of my eye, I resisted looking at it. Instead, keeping my focus in front of me, I mentally placed it in my field of view, marking it as just so to the right of the sternpost and just so far behind. With that co-ordinate fixed in mind as if I had my finger on a spot on a map, I kept my mind focused on that point and slowly moved my head to bring that point into the center of my field of view. It was difficult, since the sea was constantly changing, but in the end it was a successful ploy. Once I had been able to look at it, I was easily able to look away and back several times to verify what I was seeing as long as I didn’t look away too long. Studying it for a while, it finally dawned on me what I was looking at. Without taking my eyes off it, I passed word to Scarle to change course closer to downwind and to call Cook to me.

When Cook arrived, I bid him stand on the other side of the post. It took some doing, but eventually I was able to direct Cook’s attention to the proper spot on the water behind us. Cook’s gasp was enough for me to know he’d seen it, also.

“Describe it.”

Cook was silent for a bit, studying the object. Finally, he said, “It’s the shape in the water where a ship should be. As if someone lifted the ship out of the water and the water hadn’t flowed back in to fill the hole yet.”

“That’s what I see, too. But notice where the bow would be?”

“That’s a bow wave!”

“Aye! I think we’ve found our ghost ship.” I was quiet briefly, thinking. “Stay there, and keep an eye on it. Feed where it is to me, so that I can keep it behind me. I don’t like it and I’m going to run.”

Moving over to Scarle, I said, “Get Xinu and stand by to handle the sails. We’re going to run, and run hard. I’m going to want everything I can get from Pa’adhe! Send everyone else below and Asedhe into the cabin, immediately and take no argument.” I took over the steering oar, and as he headed off I called to Cook, “Where away?”

Using Cook’s directions, I soon had the sails trimmed and Pa’adhe was soon running on her fastest point of sail. Eventually, Cook indicated the ghost ship was falling steadily behind and it was becoming ever harder to locate the invisible ship. After a hand and half of sailing, he called out that he’d lost the other ship. I continued on our course, for quite a while after that, using Pa’adhe’s greater speed to get us as far away as I could. I had no idea if the other ship were still following us, and didn’t care. Now that I knew what we were hunting, I had to figure out how to hunt it.

While all this had been going on, Cyraie had joined us on the steering deck. When I didn’t send him away, he’d been quiet, observing what was going on and staying out of the way. Now that it seemed things were under control, he came to lean against the rail nearby.

“I take it you found the ghost ship?”

“Aye, and ran from it. Something, and I think I know what, told me to run.” Cyraie said nothing and we stood there in the silence of our own thoughts.

He finally broke the silence to ask, “How do you fight something you can’t see?”

“I have an idea for that, but first we’ll have to find him again. How do you find something you can’t see?” I looked at Cook still watching our wake. “How long will he continue chasing us? Will he even bother?” I looked at Cyraie. “Were you aware of him at all?”

“No, but then I wasn’t looking for him.” Seeing my look, he explained. “I was expecting to be able to see the ghost ship before I had to deal with it. I was expecting a ghost, you know? One you can see. So, I wasn’t hunting with my skill like you mean. I was looking with my eyes, and you saw how effective that was. When I came up here and watched, I didn’t realize what you were doing until just before Cook said he lost it. Now that I know what we’re up against, I can try hunting him in other ways that hopefully won’t be too much a risk to us.”

“You know what we’re up against?”

“No,” he said slowly, “not exactly.” He was quiet for a bit. “That was maybe a poor choice of words. I know now that we have to hunt him with other than our eyes, but besides that I can only guess.” He looked at me, then out over the ocean behind us. “I would guess whoever it is is a powerful enchanter to be able to keep an entire ship invisible, yet not kill the ocean around it, like the Prae’aer did long ago against us when first we met. I can look for traces of such power use.”

“That ship, going by the size of the hole in the water, as best I can tell is at least half again as big as Pa’adhe.” I looked forward where the sergeant and his men were, having been released from the hold when the other ship began falling behind. “I count six fighters plus his five. Ten since someone has to steer.” I looked at Cyraie. “Thirteen if you three fight as well. Twelve actually, since I’ll have to have one guard the steersman. By size alone, the ghost ship can carry at least twenty fighters.” I was silent for a few heartbeats, then I asked, “Were you able to detect anything at all?”

“No, I hadn’t realized the enemy was in range until too late. By the time I realized what was going on and that you were running from him, I feared to probe in case it might give him a way to track us. Without knowing what you planned…,” he shrugged helplessly. “You better not count us, we’ll most likely have to counter the enchanter.”

I nodded. “We need a storm. A good storm.” Seeing Cyraie’s confused look, I explained. “If we can find him during a storm, then the rain and blown spume or perhaps the storm god’s fire might outline him.” I grinned mirthlessly. “What I can see I can fight.”

“Maybe there’s another way. Smoke? If I can generate the right kind of smoke, it might stick to them. Or mist from the sea.”

“We don’t have to see them perfectly, just well enough to see that ship and the people on board. Anything that will help that is what we need.” I looked behind us. “I wonder what he’s going to think of our sudden running?”

“Could we have given ourselves away? If they know we’re running, then they know we’re aware of them. If they see us again…?”

“I don’t think it’ll matter, or at least not enough. We know they’re looking for something, and they know we’ve got Lord Kelcheck and whatever he’s transporting aboard. Or at least that’s the plan. What we need now is some way to see them before they realize we know they’re there again. There’s also this…they don’t know, I hope, that there are Virohan aboard.”

“I hope you’re not putting too much faith in us.”

I looked at Cyraie. “Maybe you should, what was the word you used…plant? Maybe you should plant the Stone.”

“Planting it would reveal our presence, so it may be best we don’t do that until the time comes. What we can do, though, is start sharing your watches. There’s three of us, so if we rotate we’ll each have two watches off and one on. Now that we know he’s using the arts to hide his ship, we should be able to detect some evidence of those arts. The trick will be to do so without revealing our presence. That’s impossible, but if he’s not expecting it, there’s a small chance we can detect him first.”

“As soon as you detect him, or even think you do, you stop and let whoever you’re on watch with know.”

Cyraie nodded and left to instruct his fellow Virohan. We sailed on our course for a while longer, then I gave the orders to turn about and return to our path to the Unknown Islands. As I did so, I saw one of the Virohan approach as Cyraie and the other Virohan brought their Stone out of the hold and positioned it on the deck near the center of the ship. I sent the Virohan that approached to stand near the steering oar. First, though, I explained to him that whomever was on the steering oar was essentially the person on watch and he was to report any suspicion of the other ship to that person. With everything possible taken care, there was nothing left to do but wait and see what would happen.

If we reach the Unknown Islands safely, we’re going to have to get Lord Kelcheck kicked out so we have an excuse to return. I shook my head, it was too early to worry about that. By my dead reckoning, we were three days out from the Islands. Time enough then to deal with that.

* * *

The Virohan were doing their job well. As soon as they thought they detected something, they would inform the steersman who would then send for me. After the fifth false alarm, I knew we all knew our roles and was confident no-one would give away that we’d discovered the other ship, if it happened.

We were eating the evening meal when the Dreamer came out of the cabin and approached our group. Accepting a plate from Cook, she settled down on the deck and waited for Cyraie to finish explaining to Kelin what they were looking for. I found it interesting listening to Cyraie explain to Kelin that they were looking for a discrepancy in the world around them but being unable, when pressed, to properly put into words just what that discrepancy was.

“No, it’s not something you see with your eyes and feel with your hands. It’s like when you…”

“But if you see it, or feel it, whichever you’re really doing since you keep hopping back and forth, but it’s not seeing or feeling, what IS it you’re doing?” From the slight grin on Kelin’s face it was obvious he was enjoying egging Cyraie on.

It was just as clear, too, that Cyraie was enjoying the debate. “You don’t necessarily see a storm coming, do you? High up in the mountains, yet you know it’s coming, right?”

That grabbed my attention. Many times I had known a storm was coming at sea before any sign of it were present to others. I listened carefully to Kelin’s reply.

“Nope. I smell it.”

“You…smell it?” Cyraie looked nonpulsed for a moment and I relaxed, since it was obvious Kelin was more interested in baiting Cyraie at the moment.

In the silence while Cyraie tried to think of a good comeback, the Dreamer spoke.

“Tonight in the time between day and night, that is when we’ll be attacked.” All eyes promptly went to the Dreamer. When no-one said anything, she explained “I was meditating before I came out of the cabin and I received a Dream, of sorts. It seemed meant for the ship, which I found odd, rather than for anyone on board.

Found is she, found is Pa’adhe —
Beyond the swells follows the hunter.
Her path is known, and both sail true…
Betwix light and dark the hunter strikes.

Defend yourselves, for war comes
Would you live, victory your only choice!
Else Pa’adhe dies and with her all,
For none will survive if she does not.

She cannot live, save one rises
And Storm Runner, Stormer’s Daughter,
Lives or dies at his will, at his skill.
Deep shall he delve and stone shatter.

Death he faces, that she may live,
Love is the key, that all may live,
But one false step and both will fall,
And with them, all shall fall.

Should they win, two choices remain,
The hunter’s life or his…her choice.”

Everyone was quiet as she returned to herself. I glanced around quickly. Cyraie was thoughtful and the rest were intent on the Dreamer. I thought I knew what she was talking about, but I wasn’t sure anyone else did. I wasn’t about to try to explain any of it, even if asked. I couldn’t, anyway, make sense of the middle stanza and I knew well enough that if any part of such a revelation be misunderstood, then the listener’s interpretation of the whole could be easily, and deadly, wrong.

* * *

We were one day out from the Unknown Islands, with the sun dropping below the horizon, when we once again made contact. Cyraie was on watch and alerted Scarle who was on the steering oar. Scarle promptly sent Cook to fetch me.

When I reached the stern post, Cyraie oriented me on where the other ship was. As before, nothing was visible, and though Cyraie was insistent in what direction the ship was, none of us could see any sign of the ship in the water. Cyraie thought a moment then summoned the other two Virohan to him. They briefly discussed something I couldn’t hear then positioned themselves around the Stone.

They hadn’t chanted long before there was a boom and a flash off to port. When the glare dissipated, a ship was visible with a cowled figure struggling on the stern deck of a vessel easily twice the size of Pa’adhe. Several soldiers ran up to the trapped figure but seemed unable to approach any closer or to help. Others formed between that group and us, weapons at the ready. I had already counted twenty-two people including the trapped person.

Both ships remained on their converging paths until they were a hundred paces apart. I turned Pa’adhe to sail alongside as we studied the other ship, seeking a way to board and capture with our smaller crew. Fortunately, we were upwind of the other ship so we at least had the weather advantage. Cook and Xinu had already set out our bows and bundles of arrows alongside the port rail. The sergeant had placed his men along the rail and joined me to discuss tactics. His men were all fairly good archers as well, and actually had been selected for that skill among their combat abilities. As we talked, they deployed their own bows and laid out their arrows.

We looked over at Cyraie and his two Virohan. They were obviously concentrating and apparently the reason the magician was trapped. We would have to count them out of the coming fight and try to protect them. It definitely was not going to be an easy battle, and this time we had to try and capture the raider. We agreed to station one of my crew nearby, both to keep an eye on the ship and to protect the Virohan. That would leave the sergeant and his men, skilled fighters all, free to focus on the fight. With everything agreed upon, we separated to give our crews their final instructions.

Once everything was ready and both the sergeant and I signaled we were as ready as we were going to be, I went to the rail opposite Scarle, who was now on the steering oar. I nodded and he began easing us closer to the other ship. As soon as we were fifty paces away, all of us at the rail quickly picked up our bow, knocked an arrow, and as quickly let fly.

The sudden attack took out two of the enemy and wounded several others as they leapt to protect their trapped leader. Even as we let loose the second flight of arrows, the Virohan increased their chanting and several more of the enemy fell.

The cowled figure stood up straight and looked around. Even as we drew for a third flight, he raised his arm and moved it as if backhanding someone. As he did so, from the corner of my eye I saw Cyraie go flying and fetch up hard against the far rail. One of the other Virohan was similarly thrown across the ship and the third fell where he stood.

I didn’t have time to fully register what had just happened. One thought and only one thought flashed through my mind: We’ve been played! The ease with which the magician had thrown off the Virohan was ample evidence of that, and now we were in for a battle for our lives.

Even as I turned back, I was dismayed to see the Dreamer stumble out of the cabin and wander out towards the Stone. I started to move towards her and saw Kelin move back to be by her. That will have to do. I turned back and released another arrow, seeing it hit home in the thigh of one of the men around the wizard. Another quick glance showed that half their men were down, but so were half ours. Even as I targeted another of the guards the mage made a gesture directly at the Dreamer. This time I saw the air shimmer as he pointed towards her.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one as Kelin lunged in front of her just in time to intercept the attack. He slammed back into her, knocking the Dreamer down and didn’t move as she climbed out from under him, seemingly unaware of the attack. I leapt to the main deck and rushed to guard her. I reached her just as she reached the Stone and put her hand on it. Before I could do anything, Cyraie was there, gently taking her hand off the Stone. I looked around and was shocked at what I saw.

Scarle was on his knees, barely held up by the steering oar. Only one of the sergeant’s men was still standing, the others, and the sergeant, were strewn about the deck like dolls tossed aside by a petulant little girl. Xinu and Cook were both down as well. Only Cyraie, the Dreamer, and myself were still standing, though Cyraie was weaving and the Dreamer was more sleepwalking than anything.

The other ship wasn’t much better. Their steersman was draped over the wheel, two soldiers were still guarding the witch, three other soldiers, one of whom was staggering, and one drunken sailor was trying to control the jib of the other ship.

Witch?! How did I know she was a witch?

She laughed, tossing back the cowl of her cloak. “Surrender! Surrender and you may live!” She spread her arms wide. “Look around you. You can barely stand, as it is. Yield!

The command in that last word was powerful. I looked at the Dreamer. She was smiling, bemused, and again she reached out to the Stone. This time Cyraie didn’t stop her, instead he, too, reached out and put his hand on the Stone beside hers.

The witch laughed again. “That’s not going to work, Virohan! You can’t protect the woman. She will be mine!” She began a gesture, her mouth moving but no sound carrying to us.

Before she could cast whatever conjuration she was creating, Cyraie acted. With a quick chant, Cyraie released a blast at the witch, causing her to break off her attack in order to block his sending. She did so easily, then scornfully said, “Weak. You’re weak.” She gestured and Cyraie went flying once more, to lay still against the mast.

She moved to the railing of her ship, motioning her guards aside. “And you, what of you? That Virohan couldn’t stand against me, couldn’t protect her. What makes you think you can? Surrender or die.”

Her voice was raised just enough to carry, no more, no less. I moved to stand in front of the Stone and Dreamer. “I am the Captain and she’s on board my ship. I’ll protect her the best I can.”

She laughed once more. “Your best won’t be enough against me! I am too strong!”

I took a gamble. “May I at least know who I fight?”

She cocked her head to one side as she looked at me thoughtfully across the ten paces between the two ships. I studied her in return. She was tall, well-shaped with long brown hair, fair skin, and long slender hands. “It won’t matter, I guess. You may call me Bri’ier.”

With that, she gestured scornfully in my direction, a brushing away. As she did so, the Dreamer stepped in front of me.

She slammed into me, and I caught her. I lowered her to the deck and stood up slowly, looking all around Pa’adhe. Somehow, Scarle still managed to hold onto the steering oar but was clearly unaware of his surroundings, barely able to stand and steering by instinct alone. The sergeant and his men were scattered, unconscious or dead. The three Virohan were likewise scattered. Cook and Xinu were laid out flat at their stations. Kelin was nearby, where he fell, rigid as a board.

As I turned to face Bri’ier once more, she started to speak. “As you can see, Captain, there’s no-one to help….”

She tilted her head, studying me. Surprise crept across her face and she began to chant, making passages with her hands as she did so. Surprise quickly changed to concentration.

She stopped her chanting and was silent for a few heartbeats. “You! You are even more powerful than she is! I will have you both!” She made a flurry of passes and thrust both hands in my direction.

At my feet, the Dreamer reached out and touched the stone. Faintly, I thought I heard her say, “Help us, O Lady!”

At that same instant, the witch sent bolts from each hand, one to me and one to the Dreamer. Somehow, the one sent to me got misdirected, but the one sent at the Dreamer made her jerk away from the Stone. I looked at the witch and as I did so, I became aware of someone standing next to me. I didn’t need to see the sudden change in Bri’ier’s face to know Pa’adhe was standing next to me. In truth, I didn’t care.

My crew and my passengers were down…dead or about to be, or worse. I was about to die, myself, perhaps, but that was minor compared to the fate of my beloved Pa’adhe and all aboard her.

I felt a rage build up inside me, one so powerful that it was overwhelming. My vision narrowed and the witch’s face became clearly visible. She was beautiful, but I brushed that aside. No matter, she’s full of blackness. Before me, the world now seemed to become tinged with red. I heard a voice, but could not make out the words. I only knew, somehow, it was telling me to be careful.

Around me the world was suddenly brighter and the witch seemed to gasp. Her face went white with fear which was quickly replaced by a look of lust. I barely noticed her chanting and gesturing, all the while staring intently at me.

I pointed at her, intending to warn her. Briefly, my rage cooled. My hands were glowing and I looked around. From the sky, from the water, from the Stone on my deck, from Pa’adhe herself were numerous thick flows of brilliant white of all sizes, all flowing to me. I looked at Pa’adhe, standing nearby. She was smiling slightly at me, but there was concern as well. Her mouth moved, but I heard nothing. I looked back at the witch.

As I looked at her, the witch let loose two dirty lines of power. Slowly they arced from her hands towards my chest. When they reached me, they tried to blend into the white pouring into me. The black arcs fought to force their way into the white surrounding me, slowly turning where they touched dirty.

“ENOUGH!”

As I roared, all the flows of power flashed blood red and the entire world went red. The lines from the witch to me snapped apart like broken glass and she stumbled backwards. Time slowed to a standstill. In that moment I knew I had the power to destroy anything and everything: the witch, her ship, my own ship, and, I had no doubt, even Tenalpa, the very world itself. I remembered Pa’adhe’s look of concern and looked at her.

Her face was calm, but I could sense fear. She looked at me with hope in her eyes.

In a flash, I understood exactly what the Dreamer’s words meant…

She cannot live, save one rises
And Storm Runner, Stormer’s Daughter,
Lives or dies at his will, at his skill.
Deep shall he delve and stone shatter.

Death he faces, that she may live,
Love is the key, that all may live,
But with one false step they both fall,
And with them, all fall.

I looked at Pa’adhe, standing there frozen in time, composed with understanding and hope in her eyes, beautiful beyond compare. I could not bear to lose her, nor was I ready to lose Pa’adhe or the world I lived in. I looked all around, seeing everything with a strange, red-tinged clarity, and I knew that right then and there I would give everything up if only Pa’adhe lived.

I saw the start of a power flow forming around me and beginning to reach out towards the witch. Instinctively, I knew that if it stayed red when it hit her, my world would end. Not just me, but everything including…Pa’adhe, my Storm Runner. Time began to move again, faster and faster as I struggled to turn aside my rage. I knew I had to control that rage, but it was difficult. I kept remembering what had happened, how the witch cared nothing for anything but what she wanted and was perfectly happy destroying what I loved to get it.

The rage pulsed, and with it the red in the world pulsed. I ignored the huge arc of power extending from me to the still stumbling Bri’ier. I concentrated on the rage and felt it fighting me, growing stronger with every passing moment. Thoughts flashed through my mind as I sought to win this battle.

She cannot live, save one rises.

I fought, as I had never fought before, and my rage fought back, matching strength with strength, counter with counter.

Lives or dies at his will, at his skill.

I felt myself losing control, becoming overcome by the fear of losing Pa’adhe, of being the cause of her death. I could not stand that happening. If she died, I knew, on some level, so would my entire world. Somehow, too, I knew that was literal. The rage became stronger as I struggled for answers.

Death he faces, that she may live,
Love is the key, that all may live;

Through my mind flashed a technique of a certain warrior caste from my homeland. When all else failed, they would cast aside all qualms and accept what happened to themselves as inconsequential, knowing that even as they died, they would win that fight. They would cast aside all defense for a full offense that would break through to the enemy, even though it meant their own death. I realized suddenly that I would have to risk death itself to win this battle.

The Captain is the sole key
Though he knows not the key.
Bound through victory, lost to all loves–
Save one, where lies his salvation.

Not yet forged be Fate’s Chain!
Beware the lure, O Captain!
Life or Death be thy choice–
Red be doom, and white life.

Suddenly, I understood. With that understanding, all fear left me and I was calm. Against that calmness, my rage surrendered and the world turned white again, a brilliant, blinding white. That huge arc of power from myself to the witch suddenly erupted upwards, arcing outward and all around us. Behind me, I heard a loud crack. Instantly we were in the middle of a titanic storm, its eye centered tightly on Pa’adhe and myself as the winds blew outward from us.

Bri’ier leapt into the air, somehow, her voice full of fear, desire, and excitement, managing to scream, so that I could hear her, “This doesn’t end here!” I watched as she was quickly lost to sight and returned my gaze to the other ship, now in dire straights.

The other ship had been hurled away from Pa’adhe, slammed by the huge waves and winds blown outwards from us. Even as their full sails caught enough wind to snap her masts like kindling, those same sails blew apart, the still attached canvas shreds streaming stiff as a board. She was forced under by wind and wave and was quickly gone.

As suddenly as it arose, the storm was gone. The skies were blue and the seas quickly calmed. In the sudden calm I heard a thud and turned to see Scarle had finally collapsed to the deck, spent. Looking around, I was amazed that we’d suffered no damage from that storm. I looked at Pa’adhe standing nearby but before I could say anything, I, too, collapsed to the deck.

I watched as if in a dream Pa’adhe went to the steering oar and stroked it, steadying it and Pa’adhe’s course straightened out as if skillfully guided by a steersman. She returned to kneel by me. Smiling gently, she stroked my forehead. “Not yet, O My Captain. Not yet. Peace for now, and remembrance when the time is right,” she said. She continued to stroke my forehead a bit, murmuring beneath her breath. Satisfied with her work, she looked around the ship once more before fading away.

And with that my world went black.

Controlled only by Pa’adhe’s power, Pa’adhe sailed on over the lonely sea, for now a ghost ship herself.

* * *

Cyraie and I recovered first and spent some time just sitting there and looking around. After quickly checking the ship, I lashed the steering oar into place to maintain our course. As I did that, Cyraie started gathering all the unconscious people into the shade of the sail and tending to them. Satisfied with the ship for now, I joined him in his work. Gradually the others woke and those who could pitched in to help, but it was obvious everyone was exhausted and weary. Cook and the Dreamer headed off to fix food for everyone as Scarle and the sergeant gathered the three dead and prepared them for burial at sea. Xinu and I scoured the ship to find what needed fixing, and started repairs. Cyraie and the remaining Virohan tended to the wounded. After all critical things had been taken care of and everyone was eating, I joined Cyraie as he stared at the shattered remains of the Earth-Water Stone.

“What happened?” Cyraie asked, “To so shatter such a stone would take immense power!”

I stared at the bits and pieces of what used to be a small statue. “I….” I was silent for a bit, a frown developing on my face. “I have no idea. All I know is that a sudden storm arose and drove off the witch’s ship. There was a sudden explosion of light all around and a storm the like of which I’ve never seen was suddenly raging. Her ship was driven off and the world went black.”

“Witch?”

“Aye. She was a witch, not a wizard. I saw her. She actually told me her name: Bri’ier.”

“That name is familiar somehow. I’ll have to research it when I return to Port of the Cascades. But how did you win the battle? I remember seeing a hand reach out and tear me away from the Stone. The last thing I remember was seeing you near the rail, facing the witch.”

“I….” I seemed to recall most of the events up to where Asedhe collapsed but beyond that I wasn’t sure what I remembered. “I don’t remember. I know there was more fighting, but…,” I shook my head. “But I don’t remember much of it.”

“Perhaps it’s a result of the powers involved in this battle.” He shook his head, as if trying to clear it and remember, then shrugged. “I’d like to know how he…how she was defeated. A sudden storm, powerful enough to blow her away and we survived unconscious?” He looked at me curiously. “That takes some believing.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what else to say. I fell when the storm cleared as quickly as it came. She was gone by then.”

“Hopefully, she was lost in the storm.”

I looked at him, shaking my head. “I remember the storm pushing her ship on it’s beam and it turtling, but I would swear I saw her or something rise from the ship and be blown away in the air. She’s one that, without a body to hand, I think we’d best believe she survived.”

Cyraie grimaced. “So, we haven’t really solved the problem yet.”

“I have no idea. We’ll have to wait and see.” I stretched again, feeling my joints pop. “For now, we need to get back ourselves.”

* * *

Cyraie and the other Virohan had gathered up every part of the former Earth-Water Stone they had been able to locate and disappeared below. Asedhe had busied herself helping Cook with the wounded: the remaining Virohan had a nasty gash on his head that had been cleaned and bound. Kelin was bruised all over his upper body and had arrows removed from his thigh and arm. Xinu had pulled an arrow through his side and bound it, but Asedhe had insisted on checking and treating it. The rest of us were bruised, battered and bone tired, but otherwise no worse the wear. Xinu, Cook, Scarle and I had done all the necessary repairs and except for a few lines and needing a new main, Pa’adhe was as good as new. Kelin, the sergeant and his remaining three men pitched in wherever they could. By the morning of the third day, there wasn’t much for anyone other than my crew and myself to do.

I was on the steering oar when Cyraie approached. Apparently he had been waiting for a moment when things were quiet and the two of us could speak in relative privacy before he approached me. Asking if we could talk, I shrugged, gesturing to indicate this was as good a spot as any.

“Screndan and myself have been studying the remains of the Stone, and as best we can tell with our limited resources, it was shattered by an outpouring of power and not from being attacked.”

I looked at Cyraie to see him studying me intently. “You think I had anything to do with that?”

“I would say yes, but…I don’t know. I’ve talked with Asedhe, as she’s the only other person of power on board. It had to be one of you two.” He shook his head. “She doesn’t remember much after Kelin fell and you stepped in to protect her. She remembers Bri’ier saying something about how you couldn’t protect her and she would have Asedhe. Beyond that point, she just doesn’t remember much of anything.”

“I’ve shared all I can with you.”

Cyraie was silent for a long time, making me wonder if I should have phrased that differently. Finally, he asked, “Can? Meaning you know something more than you have shared?”

I looked at him, studying him as he was studying me. “I said can. I remember a little more than what I’ve told you. Not much, but it doesn’t make sense. Until I can make sense of it, I’d rather keep it to myself. There is a part of my memory blocked off that until I know why it is blocked off, and until I have the time to explore it properly, I am assuming it’s blocked off for a good reason.”

“We have ways to help you…”

I shook my head. “Why is that memory blocked off? To protect me? To protect someone else? Is Bri’ier trying to hide something? Until that part of the mystery is resolved I have no intention of probing what lies behind that veil.”

“This is so frustrating. Asedhe said virtually the same thing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the two of you were hiding something.”

I grinned at him. “You can’t stand having a puzzle in front of you that you can’t touch, can you?”

“No, I can’t.” He suddenly grinned back at me. “Maybe it’s a test of my patience.”

I laughed. “Your patience or your ability to swim?”

He laughed at that. “Oh, I can swim, just maybe not THAT far.”

* * *

The remainder of the voyage to Port of the Cascades was uneventful. As soon as we were tied up we were escorted to the Dode’s Palace to give our reports. As expected, Lord Gertig attempted to void any payment since we had not accomplished what we set out to do, namely capture or kill the marauder. This time, though, everyone else sided against him, including General Senal. It took longer to agree that it was best to consider Bri’ier alive until proven otherwise. Again, it was not surprising that Lord Gertig argued on my side. He was, after all, an intelligent man or he would not be the Dode’s Head of Intelligence. What was surprising to me, though, was how vehemently he agreed for this premise with no trace of his usual animosity towards me. The others, though, accepted it as a matter of course. I was beginning to find Lord Gertig an interesting man.

It had taken most of the day to deliver our reports, sort the amount of payment due, and resolve the various questions and finer points of the mission. I was standing at the railing along the edge of the cliff waiting for my ride down to the Lower Port. As I gazed out over the harbor far below, I suddenly realized that in a way, we had indeed accomplished our mission. I knew, beyond a doubt, that there would be no more marauding such as had triggered this adventure. How I knew that I had no idea. Oh, Bri’ier would no doubt continue raiding, but not like she had recently been doing. She had been searching for something, and found it even if she hadn’t been able to obtain it. I knew, too, that she wouldn’t stop until she did. I wondered if I should send word to Cyraie about what I had just remembered. In the end, I decided not to, at least for the time being. After all, we had accomplished our goal, for now.

I had just remembered that as Bri’ier had been blown away I had clearly heard her screams that it wasn’t over. With her voice full of fear, desire, and excitement, she had screamed more than just “This doesn’t end here!” She had also screamed, “I shall have you, if not now then later. I shall seek you out and find you! In the end you will be mine!”

No, there is no need to share that, not right now.

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