View Full Version : Untitled Fantasy Novel - Part One

November 30th, 2011, 09:21 PM
I'm posting this in order to get some feedback on what I posted in the thread at http://www.writingforums.com/writing-discussion/126321-format-dilemma.html. General feedback would also be much appreciated. Before continuing I should note that there is some coarse language and sexual themes. At this point, it's already on the R-Rated level. If that bothers you, please do not read any further.

Chapter One

It was generally believed that men did not live anywhere except the island, even though Ghabus always said that they all came from somewhere else beyond the sea. Because it wasn’t relevant to any immediate concern, this precept was largely ignored, and eventually forgotten by all except for the daydreamers and others regarded as “touched”.

This being the case, when Rak cast off from shore, he didn’t even think about what he saw wrecked on the rocks of the cliff north of the docks. It was much larger than the small fishing boats used by any of the villages on the island, so even though it was so obviously out of place if given a second glance, the first glance didn’t even give him pause for thought. Besides, his thoughts were on the weather.

Rak glanced down at the hairs on his arm which caused tiny bumps to form across his flesh. He told himself it was nothing. He told himself that the older fishermen would surely be the first to point out his suspicions if they had any truth to them, even though he knew that the truth was that if he was right, the older men would be even less likely to say anything. To talk about early winter was to talk of bloodshed.

He shook his head and reminded himself that it was nothing, just goose bumps. It didn’t mean anything. But even as he told himself this, he made a mental note to spend an extra hour fishing that night. It didn’t help his worries that the oldest fishermen had left an hour early that morning. He remembered old Ianco the night before sitting on the dock watching the approaching darkness on the horizon. Ianco was the oldest fisherman still pulling in his own nets every day. He was always quiet, but in an easy way. Last night was different. None of the other men approached him, but all of them spent almost as much time casting sideways glances his way as they did tending to their various evening duties. Rak didn’t like it. He didn’t need to be told in so many words what was on everybody’s minds.

Rak blinked sharply, and frowned. Nothing was on anyone’s mind, he reminded himself and turned his attention back to his skiff. Once he was out a reasonable distance, he cast his nets. He sniffed as he sat down in his skiff. He promised himself that he would think about something else. His mind remained blank for a few minutes while he searched for a new subject to put his attention on. He thought back on that mess of wooden planks on the rocks he saw on his way out and wondered what it was. It was too large to be a skiff, but at the same time, it looked like something manmade. It was almost as if someone had built their house on the cliffs overlooking the rocks, and then just pushed it off, but that was ridiculous.

He started to wonder if maybe he should have checked it out before coming this far out and casting his nets. For a moment, he considered pulling his nets in and having a look, but decided against it. If it were anything to be worried about, one of the other fishermen would have noticed it and already checked it out on their way out. Besides, he had promised himself he would try to get as much fishing done today as he could. This thought brought back the worries about the weather. He ran his fingers through his light brown hair and thought to himself that it would be a long day until something else happened to ease his fears.

{Page Break}

Rak had lunch before pulling in his first net of the day. He opened a basket of cold potatoes and onions fried in fish oil left over from dinner the night before. Next to it was a large water skin he’d been sipping on all morning. Even with the chill in the breeze, the late summer sun could still cook a man who didn’t pay attention to how much water he was drinking. If he was lucky he might make it back to shore just to find himself kept in bed the next couple days before being let back out to resume his duties. More than one fisherman had lost his life to a calm sea because he wasn’t paying attention to his own needs and turned loopy. The thought made him chuckle when he remembered the first time he went loopy in the summer sun.

He finished his small meal, kneeled in the center of the skiff and stretched. Feeling renewed, he pulled in his net. Salty, cold seawater misted his face as a dozen herring struggled against the pull of his net. The net won as it cleared the water. He dumped the silver fishes into a chest at the stern of his skiff, then unfurled his single sail, and set course for the dock to unload his first catch.

As he approached the dock, he watched the sunlight play on the curves of the waves. For a moment he was lost in this visual display and was grateful for this moment of peace of mind. Not a moment after he recognized the moment as peaceful, he remembered the worries that plagued him on his way out that morning. He glanced off to the rocks below the cliff to the north at the wreck he had seen on his way out, wondering if anyone had checked it out yet. He felt goose bumps on his arms again, but this time it was not from a chill in the wind. Billowing in the wind behind the wreckage was what looked like a giant white sail. He had no idea what material it was made of, but the way it moved in the wind against the rocks made its purpose unmistakable. The wreckage was obviously too big to be a skiff, so he had a hard time admitting to himself that it was obvious what he was looking at because he’d never seen anything like it.

Rak thought for a long minute. Those rocks could easily tear a hole through the bottom of his skiff if he wasn’t careful, but the more he looked at the wreckage, the more he was alarmed by its alien design. He glanced back to the dock, and considered asking for the assistance of one of the older, more experienced fishermen, but he hated the idea of raising an alarm if it turned out to be nothing.

He thought a moment longer and decided that he had already made his decision. He turned the skiffs rudder to starboard to make a wide arc to bring him alongside the wreckage. Getting as close as he dared at the moment, he furled the sail and coasted by with the wreck a half dozen yards on his port side in order to get a better look. It looked like a ridiculously oversized skiff at first glance. It was about ten yards from bow to stern. It was hard to tell how high it was because it was propped up on an angle on the rocks, but Rak estimated that it would be six yards high at the bow and eight at the stern. The hull on the bow had collapsed and now carried the eerie appearance of an exposed ribcage. Its rudder had been ripped off, and its three enormous masts were snapped off as if they were branches on a tree after a strong wind storm. The sails hanging from its mangled masts were of a material that Rak had never seen before.

Rak pulled away and dropped anchor. He didn’t want to drop anchor too close because he might ruin his skiff on the rocks. There was only one thing to do, and that was swim. He ensured that the anchor was set, then blew some air into his water skin to provide some floatation before putting the stopper back in. He slung the skins strap over his shoulder, then dove into the water and waded to the wreckage, careful not to get too close too fast. It was a mild weather day so the waves were not too high. He navigated over to the North side of the rocks where he knew them to be smoother than that jagged rocks by the wreck. He carefully found his footing on the slippery rocks under the water and slowly hoisted himself up to the rocks above the waterline. He didn’t dare relax because he knew that one large wave would take away any traction he had gained from climbing above the waterline.

Carefully he made his way over to the cliff side of the wreck where the water was shallower and the waves didn’t hit so hard. Debris lay everywhere he looked. The starboard side of the structure was completely torn away from the bow halfway to the stern. He saw that there was just enough of an opening that he could make his way inside.

He paused outside the structure. His blood pounded in his ears as he considered the implications of this discovery. He had never even heard of a structure like this, but from what he could tell, it was not something newly built by some mad dreamer. This had to come from beyond the sea. He had always been told that there was a Land Beyond the Sea, but like everyone else, he thought that it was a metaphor, like when Phayas talk about the hunting grounds in the sky they go to after they die. It was a place of plenty, a paradise that men were cast out of for some transgression. But everything about this structure screamed that it came from a literal land beyond the sea. He hesitated a moment longer, knowing that if he took a single step inside, his world would become infinitely more complicated, and then he ducked into the structure.

It was sweltering inside. It was too dark to see at first, so his first experience with this world was the smell of rot. He coughed, then took a few deep breaths to get himself accustomed to the smell. He gagged as the effort nearly bested him, but eventually it wasn’t as bad. His eyes adjusted to the dark and he took in his surroundings. He found himself in a small room that from all appearances looked like a storage room. Wooden boxes were strewn haphazardly across the bottom of the structure, collecting on the starboard side due to the angle it was propped on. Many contained food that had spoiled in the heat and moisture. The floor sloped at an angle, which made it difficult to keep his footing.

Rak climbed to a doorway on the opposite side of the room. The door had been forced off its hinges by some jarring force. He climbed past the door and into a hallway spanning the length of the structure. Halfway down the hallway, a giant wooden pillar went from floor to ceiling. From what Rak had seen from the outside, he ventured that this must be the bottom part of the mast that he had seen. Doors opened on each side into rooms the same size as the one he’d just come from. At first, they seemed to be storage rooms filled with various tools, ropes, and massive sails. These gave way to living quarters as evidenced by the racks of mattresses they contained. Several were missing or destroyed, but Rak counted that the rooms must have been able to contain up to twenty beds in total.

Towards the stern end of the vessel, there was a stairway leading up. Rak made his way towards this feature, and upon reaching it, found that behind the up staircase, there was one leading down to a level halfway filled with water. His reflection on the surface of the dark, green waters looked like nothing so much as a corpse, causing him to shudder. The smell emitting was unbearable. Rak knew that he could not bear to brave those waters. Instead, he climbed the up staircase.

At the top of the staircase, there was a platform surrounding the opening the staircase created. The ceiling was broken apart in places, allowing jagged knives of light to show through to the walls. A particularly large slash of light fell across an ornately carved set of double doors before him. Rak had never seen such fine woodworking, which looked nothing like the exaggerated features of the wood carvings he was familiar. This door was instead carved in such a way as to capture the true features of the things which the carving was modeled after. The skill of whoever carved this door startled Rak only a little less than the image itself.

Depicted thereon was the figure of a large, fierce bird of prey rushing down on a monstrous creature Rak thought would be better placed in a nightmare forgotten upon waking. The simple fact of its image existing outside of the world of dreams seemed to him a terror and an offence. Demented and inhuman, the creature smiled a curling grin which showed gums without teeth. It’s gaping round eyes were blank and soulless. With one hand, the creature reached up to the bird which rushed on it, while the other hung down to furry legs turned backwards like an animal’s. In its free hanging hand, it held a small disk with strange designs depicted on its face. The designs were all angles and scratches. A similar disk with strange designs protruded from the center, along the seam between the two doors. The design on this second disk was different, however. It was made of flowing curves and circles. Its position led him to believe that this was the means by which the door could be opened, but he failed to test that theory after taking another glance down to the creature.

Rak looked to the other end of the room that he was in. On the other side of the stairs was another door, this one free of design. He made his way around the stairway to the other side and pushed on the door. At first it didn’t give, so he shoved. Sunlight filled the room from the open doorway. There was something soft and heavy obstructing the door, keeping him from opening it fully. Blinking in the light, he investigated and discovered the ashen foot of a dead man. Rak staggered back in surprise and fell back into the room he had come from, pulling the door closed in the process. Losing his balance, he fell with the slant of the vessel against the wall of the room, knocking his head on the wall.

Rak’s head swam for a moment or two. Once the swimming stopped, and all that was left was a throbbing pain, he emptied his head of thoughts and just counted the moments until the pain lessened to become bearable. He looked toward the door and thought of what lay on the other side. He regretted being in this position. In order to move forward, he was faced with death on the one hand, or a nightmare on the other. He considered going back for a moment. He would love to let someone else, someone much braver and more experienced, conduct this investigation instead. He had almost convinced himself when he became aware of a morbid curiosity working away silently in the back of his mind. He couldn’t think of any good reasons for feeling compelled to see this through, he surely didn’t want to, yet he knew that is what he was going to do.

So the dilemma presented itself. Should he choose the path to death, or the path to chaos? He absently philosophized like this for a moment, delaying the moment when he would be forced to act. Eventually he decided to move to the path to the dead body and come to the other door later. Taking a deep breath to steal his resolve, he stood back up and opened the door.

He looked the other way as he stepped through the doorway, pretending that the dead body wasn’t there. He was now outside on a floor covering most of the vessel. It was bordered by railings, presumably to keep one from falling off into the water. Between where he stood and the bow of the structure, there were several low structures, the purpose of which Rak could not guess. At the bow, the floor was raised about a foot and a half above the rest of the floor where more strange structures and devices were located. He investigated this floor for a time, finding little more than ropes and strange objects unknown to him. He found where the enormous mast had protruded from the floor. It had snapped off at a point approximately fifteen feet high. Rak thought that it must have taken an entire tree to build a mast that size.

Finding nothing else of interest, Rak looked back at the door he had come from. The body looked much like a pile of rags, and he pretended that’s all it was. He noticed that on either side of this door was a ladder leading to a floor higher still. He approached the one of the left as it was further away from the body. He climbed till he could see on top. That floor also had the remains of a mast protruding from the floor. Sprawled in front of the mast, like a damp rag thrown to the floor, was another body. This one was smaller than the first. Rak closed his eyes and grimaced, then hefted himself another two steps on the ladder to get a better look. It was a boy of perhaps fifteen years. He was shirt and shoeless, wearing only a pair of loose trousers of light material, torn off just below the knees.

Rak judged the floor to be in no condition to walk on and instead climbed back down. It was apparent that he would find nothing but death out here. The only place left to investigate was behind the nightmare door. Without looking at the body, he opened the door and stepped back inside. Observing the nightmare door again, the thought struck him that perhaps the bird was not rushing on the creature, but instead preparing to land on its outstretched arm. The face of the creature, now seemed not so much to be grinning in glee, but to be grimacing in sorrow.

Rak wondered how he had seen it has he had before, but was then further amazed when he continued to look at it and the attitudes changed again. The bird seemed ready to fly higher, rather than coming down, while the bizarre face looked nothing so much as jovial. Yet it was clear that nothing in the image had physically changed. The mystery of this door and whoever had crafted it so masterfully refused to yield any secrets, only more mysteries.

Left with nothing more to ponder, Rak focused now on the seal in the center of the door. Once more he considered leaving the door unopened, and going to retrieve someone much more qualified. He even considered pretending he had never made this discovery. This thought dwelled for awhile as he faced the door, his eyes tracing the lines in the carving. He blinked in the heat and realized that he was getting very sleepy. He wobbled a bit, then started as he was overcome with an inexplicable sense of urgency. He knew that he must open the door, and he must not wait any longer.

Without bothering to rationalize this feeling, he reached out to touch the seal, finding it warm to the touch, he was encouraged to proceed. He gripped the seal, than pushed in. Both doors swung slowly, but easily inward, contrary to how one would expect a door to open when at an angle. Rak heard a faint clicking sound under the floorboards near each hinge, but thought little of it.

Inside was a short hallway which opened into another room lit by a window on each side and two on the far end of the room. The room was very different from the others he had seen. The furniture was modest looking, consisting of a bed, a dresser, a long table whose chairs had fallen to the starboard side of the room along with other odds and ends. A smaller table had been turned on its side in the far side of the room. Red carpet covered the floor, muting his footsteps. Mounted on the far wall between the windows was a large disk with the same design as the one on the door to this room.
Rak was distracted from his observations by a sound which, although familiar, he would not expect to hear in this situation. He held his breath and listened again to make sure he had heard right. Behind the table on its side came the wheezing sound of a very sick or very exhausted man. With this realization, his chest began to pound.

Slowly, he tiptoed over to the pile of trinkets that had fallen to the starboard side of the room to look for something he could protect himself with if it came to that. Most of the items he saw were useless even as a clubbing device, but the glint of metal caught his eye. Protruding from a long, curved device was what looked to be a knife blade with a rather large handle with a metal bowl attached to the top and bottom of the handle. Whoever had fashioned this sparkling beauty certainly had a talent for blade forging, but he didn’t care too much for the handle, which looked much larger than necessary. Still, it would work. He took the blade in its device as quietly as he could and began to draw. To his surprise, the blade did not end at a foot. Pulling the rest of the way, he found that the blade was the full length of the device. Bright and wicked looking, it was the longest blade he had ever seen.

With the blade held stiffly before him, he approached the table, and the man he knew to be behind it. He approached and inched around the table. The man he found was barely conscious, and in very bad shape. Blond shoulder length hair spilled out around his head on the floor like a halo, and a beard of the same color adorned his face. His clothes were strange. They were dirty and worn, but the tailoring was magnificent. His body was that of an active man, although it was apparent from that he had lost weight from the way his clothes hung loosely from his limbs. His blue eyes would fix on Rak for only a moment before glazing over and lolling back again. His skin was dry, which along with his lolling eyes, told Rak that he was beyond loopy. If he didn’t get some fresh water soon, this man from across the sea would die.

In spite of his condition, the narrowness of the man’s gaze expressed an intense pride that was rare among the men that Rak had known, outside of his brother. Rak lowered the blade to his side, as this man obviously was nowhere near a threat. The man focused on the lowered blade then back up to Rak’s face for a moment. It seemed an understanding had passed between them, if not necessarily on a conscious level.

The moment turned awkward, so Rak broke the silence. “Can you speak?” The man said nothing, but his eyebrows raised a fraction, indicating that he had heard. Rak set the blade on the floor and approached the man slowly, so as not to alarm him. At first a hint of alarm crossed the man’s eyes and his body tensed. This passed to near frenzy when he saw Rak remove his water skin from his shoulder. He grabbed for the skin, but it was withheld as Rak cautioned him, “Slowly.” The man shut his eyes in despair for a moment, then nodded in understanding. This skin was passed to his hands, and he pulled the stopper and took a small gulp. The water was warm but revitalizing, and his rasping gave way to more healthy sounding gulps of air as his throat was lubricated by the life giving liquid.

Catching his breath, the man took another small gulp, savored, then another. Having restored a small amount of strength, he touched is forehead and murmured something. Rak cocked his head to the side indicating that he didn’t understand what the man said, and the man just waived him off in dismissal and laid his back on the floor. In moments, he was asleep.

{Page Break}

It was sunset by the time Rak’s vessel pulled into the docks with the stranger from across the sea in tow. Several hours had passed and the man was still unconscious. He breathed heavily, but when Rak tried to rouse him, he merely groaned. Even after water was poured on his forehead, the stranger slept. Rak knew that he would have to get him to his village healers quickly, or he may not last the night. There was no way of knowing how long he had gone without water so it was best not to take chances.

The dock was deserted when they arrived with the exception of Ianco who had resumed his vigil at the water’s edge. The chill remained in the air, and the wind, which had picked up since this morning in spite of a cloudless sky, made it impossible to ignore. Ianco saw Rak’s approach and came to greet him and catch his line, at which point he saw the stranger laid out on the bottom of the craft. Ianco hesitated before pulling the skiff in, staring for a long moment at this stranger, then another long moment at Rak. No words were said, but Ianco’s gaze said that he wasn’t entirely sure he shouldn’t shove him into the water, then let the currents take the skiff where they may. Rak waited patiently, meeting Ianco’s gaze, but offering no protestation against the hesitation.

Finally, the awkward moment passed. The old fisherman sighed, and pulled in the skiff and tied it off with a resigned look on his face. Rak passed the fish chest up to his friend, who set it at the end of the dock, and returned to help the younger man transfer the stranger from the boat to the dock. Then he spoke, “He needs water. When did he drink last?”

Relieved to finally share responsibility with one so much more experienced, Rak smiled in thanks, “He had a swallow or two just after midday. He’s been unconscious since.” It had taken Rak all day to construct a crude platform in order to safely transport the sleeping man from the wrecked vessel, over the rocks, into the water, and to the skiff.

Ianco looked off to the north, where Rak knew the wreck to be just out of sight, showing that he knew where the man came from and no explanation was needed. “We better get him up to Cherri.” He left the dock to enter a small hut on the beach, emerging moments later with a device made of a length of cloth attached to two poles used for carrying those who couldn’t carry themselves. The old fisherman laid it next to the stranger, and then both men lifted the third onto the device. They lifted the poles, then they set off towards the trail towards their village.

The path was steep, but both men had walked it more times than they could count, so they had no trouble. It wound back and forth up the mountainside. Birch trees rose on all sides, with ferns providing ground cover. The rising wind caused the birch leaves to crackle loudly, but the men remained silent. After the last of the sunlight had gone, they began to slow, picking their way carefully on the uneven trail. As familiar as it was, there were enough roots and stones embedded in the earth that could be hazardous if they moved too swiftly, doubly so due to the load they carried.

At last, the trees began to thin, and the ground began to level, signaling they were nearing the village. They could hear familiar voices through the birch trees and the smell of food wafted through the cool air. They passed Ianco’s home, and his son, Iama, was out in moments. Not pausing, or even offering an explanation, the old man told his son, “Go down to the docks, and get Rak’s fish chest. Bring it back to the smoke house as fast as you can.” Iama only wasted a moment narrowing his gaze on the strange cargo before rushing off to fulfill his father’s request.

Rak knew Iama well. They were the same age so they had grown up together, and remained friends since. They were closer than most because of Iama’s temperament. Rak had never been remarkable in any way accept that he had been especially curious as a child. This wore on the nerves of those older than him to the point where they would lose their patience with him, and as a result, he was particularly wary of invoking the criticism of others. As for his peers, they liked him no more or less than any of the others.

Iama, on the other hand, took much after his father, but not his easygoing ways. His hair and beard were so dark a shade of brown that it appeared black unless in direct sunlight. He was quiet, and his brow was always furrowed into a scowl. As a child, he would never play with the other boys, but would sometimes watch at a distance. {Note: Find a smoother transition to flashback. Also, necessary or distracting?} Rak had been the first to approach him and ask him to come play when they were children, and when he did, Iama looked away sharply, then ran off in tears in full view of all the other boys. They had been shocked, and denounced him as a coward and an outcast. They never again allowed him to play in their games.

Rak, however, was too curious to accept this verdict without further investigation. That same evening after dinner, he came to Ianco’s hut and asked about his son’s whereabouts. Ianco directed him with a gesture to a rocky outcropping overlooking a severe drop off behind his home. Rak was able to spot him through the trees sitting at the edge of the drop off, nudging small stones over the edge. Rak approached loudly so as not to startle him, but as he approached, the darker boy turned his body away.

When Rak arrived, and he took in the full view that was displayed before him, his breath left his lungs in one long exhalation. All the features displayed before him he had seen enough times to ignore them, but that had been up close. Seeing this panorama of the slopes of Gamas with all of the familiar features visible from this one point in space was almost overwhelming.

Rak remained silent for a moment until Iama demanded, “What do you want?”

Snapping out of his reverie, the boy replied, “I just came to find out why you didn’t want to play.”

“Why do you want to know?”

Rak was taken slightly aback by this question, but he thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, all the boys play except you. I thought maybe you didn’t know how, but we could have taught you…”

Iama cut him off, “I know the rules of the game. I’ve watched you play it enough to figure them out. But you don’t play by the rules, not always.” Rak gave him a questioning look, so Iama continued. “When you play your games, you all break the rules that you make up. And sometimes the others call foul and sometimes they don’t. I’ve figured out for myself what’s supposed to happen, but I can never really tell what’s going on. It’s too confusing. Why don’t you just play by the rules you make up?”

Rak shrugged, “That’s just how we play the game. I never really thought about it.”

Iama snorted, “Well, you should play differently, and you should think about it.” He was silent then. Rak waited to think of something to say, but nothing came to him. So instead he waited, and watched the light fade. Finally, after what felt like a very long time, he said, “Well, goodbye.” The dark boy didn’t react.

The next day, the boys got together to play, but Rak stayed off to the side. When the others asked him why he wasn’t playing, he lied and said he had a sore knee. They shrugged and kept playing. Rak watched the games in a new light. He started to notice the way the rules were being enforced or not enforced as the case may be. He started to wonder why a rule may apply in one case and not in another. Then without any warning, the leaves beside him crunched, and he found that he had a companion. Iama didn’t say anything, and neither did Rak. They just watched.

After the games ended, Iama left without a word. The other boys gave him questioning looks, but didn’t say anything about what had transpired. The following day, Rak again sat out of the games and watched, and again Iama joined him silently as they watched then left just as silently after the games were over. On the third day, the same thing happened, but then Rak broke the silence.

“I think the bigger boys are breaking the rules more than the smaller boys. The smaller boys never win, but whenever they break a rule everyone gets mad at them. The bigger boys always win, but nobody gets mad when they break a rule. When anyone else breaks a rule, whether someone else cries fowl depends on who notices.”

Iama replied, “You do it too you know.” Rak only nodded. Looking back at this memory, Rak could identify that observation as the beginning of the end of his boyhood.

As Rak approached the home of Cherri, the healer, he wondered if the discovery of this stranger would mark the completion of the end of boyhood. Rak had for a long time felt a growing restlessness. He couldn’t shake the impression that he had somehow missed some important step in growing up, a step that all the other young men his age had reached long ago. Maybe that was why he was the only unmarried man of his age with the exception of Iama.

Cherri exited her hut just as the litter carrying the stranger touched the ground. She was a small, slender woman, but carried herself with power. If a man twice her size caused her or her patients any trouble, she could silence him with a look and a low voice, a trait she had honed from raising six sons over the years. She had been called a great beauty in her youth, and in her advancing age, the beauty was dulled only slightly. Dark hair fell just short of her shoulders framing a face that was kind in spite of the jaw which looked as strong as those of most men. Coal black eyes surveyed the scene before her.

“Get him inside,” she said in a voice that was pleasantly gravelly. If she had any thoughts about this strange man’s origins, she gave no indication. Once he was gently laid on the patient bed in her hut, she shooed the men out as she began applying her craft. Ianco left in the direction of his home, and over his shoulder said, “You should eat and rest. Tomorrow will be a very long day for you.” Then he was gone.

It was dark enough that nobody in the village had noticed the strangeness of their deposit, and Rak was grateful for that, but he knew that once word got out of what happened, there would be those who would be outraged by Rak’s actions. He couldn’t be as certain if he would have any supporters. Cherri would advocate for her patient as long as he remained a patient, he knew. Ianco may possibly support him, but just because he had helped Rak carry the stranger up the mountain didn’t necessarily mean that he approved of his actions. Iama was a loyal friend, of course, but he carried his own opinions just like his father, and he could go either way.

Rak’s biggest challenge would be his brother, Wonen. His older brother was a Shaman, and although he had no other official role in the village, he had taken an unofficial advisory role with the village’s Witan. Rak could admit that Wonen was as intelligent and as capable as any, and he afforded his brother all the respect due to one in his position, though he felt that his brother was more critical than was needed. They had nearly come to blows over more than one disagreement over the years, both before and after Wonen was taken into the Witan’s confidence, and none of those occasions came close to matching the gravity of this one.

Rak crossed the village to his own hut. He had built it four years earlier when he had reached the age considered by the laws of the tribe to be the age of manhood. Tradition held that all men were to build their own hut when they reached this age, but in practice boys would usually supervise the construction by the tradesmen. What this amounted to was keeping the workers fed while the lead carpenter made all the important decisions. Rak, however, had been raised by a carpenter and was familiar enough with the trade to both supervise and do much of the work himself. Upon completion, his father told him it was a shame he didn’t follow his father’s trade, but Rak’s only brother was a Shaman, and he had no uncles, so there were no fishermen in the family until Rak. As a result, even though his father was well respected, the family went hungry on more than one winter when the generosity of neighbors grew sparse.

Stepping inside his home, he began working on building a fire. While he was grateful for the anonymity the darkness had provided earlier, at the moment he wished he could see what he was doing. After a great deal of fumbling, the kindling caught, and within minutes, a cheery fire lit the front room of his small home. Minutes later, the door opened and in came Iama with Rak’s fish chest. He set the chest down, then took the chair opposite from his friend without being asked. Each took a gutting knife from the table in front of them and began gutting the fish and throwing the entrails into a bucket meant for that purpose.

“So, who was he?” Iama was the first to break the silence this time. Rak slowly laid the story out without enthusiasm, but leaving nothing out. With his friend, Rak had to be careful not to mislead him in any way whether intentional or not. Iama had no patience for boasting, nor for avoidance of serious issues. Typically Rak could get away with saying less than was needed, but for things of this magnitude, he knew that if he left anything out, his friend would catch the hole in the story immediately and demand an explanation.

Once the whole story was told, they both remained silent for another minute, until finally Iama again broke the silence. “You better practice ducking now. Tomorrow, a lot of people will want your head.” For the first time since that morning, Rak smiled.

November 30th, 2011, 09:29 PM
Chapter Two

It had rained that night, so when Rak woke just after sunrise the chill in the air had increased since the night before. He dressed and ate a quick meal of fruits and potato bread, then stepped outside. Most of the men of the village were out getting ready for a day of heavy fishing. Instead of joining them, he headed for the center of the village. The Witan’s hut appeared in view before him. The Witan, an old man named Tharill, leaned against his hut smoking a long pipe. Wonen was predictably at his side. He smiled at the sight of his brother.

Tharill spoke first as he extended his arms to embrace the younger man, as tradition gave the leader of the village the right to first and last word in any conversation in the village as a matter of respect. “Young Rak, I was told I might expect a visit from you. Ianco was by earlier.” Rak hoped that the old fisherman had broken the news for him and had already begun smoothing things over, but he knew better. “What’s this about?”
Rak embraced the Witan, then his brother. Then slowly gathered his thoughts, “Witan, yesterday there was something on the rocks to the north of the docks…” He was cut off.

“Yes I was already told something about it. Nobody really knows what it is. Probably just some branches that built up at some point up the shore before drifting down here.”

Rak was shaken by the interruption, and simply wished to get the story out before he lost his nerve. “Witan, it was not just a buildup of branches.”

“Oh?” the old man replied, waiting for more.

Wonen cocked his head to the side and narrowed his gaze at his little brother. The shamen knew Rak well enough to know that he wouldn’t be having this much trouble unless he feared some kind of reprisal. “What is the matter, Rak? Out with it.”

Rak looked from one face to the other, then finally said, “Perhaps you should come with me. I have something to show you at Cherri’s home.” The seriousness of the situation beginning to become apparent to the two elders, they gave him a look of cold dread. In order to alleviate some of their fears, he amended, “Nobody from the village is hurt.”

Relief passed over Tharill’s face, then he said, “Well, enough with this mystery! Lead on!”

They followed Rak to the healer’s hut, and Rak knocked gently on the door. Cherri’s voice came from inside, “It’s a bad time. Unless it’s urgent, please come back later.”

The Witan replied, “Than I think you’d better let me in.” A moment later, the door opened, and a haggard woman stood before them. “Damn, love! You’re a mess. Have you been up all night?”

She nodded, “I’ve got a difficult case. You better come and see.” She motioned for them to enter. Tharill was the first to obey, and Wonen followed. Rak came last, with his eyes fixed on a point just in front of his feet.

The man on the bed was pale and sweating. Blankets were piled on top of him, yet he shivered visibly. Tharill turned to his advisor, “Do you know this man?”

Wonen shook his head, “I haven’t met him. He may be Phayas.”

Cherri said, “I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Kalayus then…”

“He’s not from the island,” Rak blurted. Tharill and Wonen looked at him like he had a loon on his head. Then Cherri handed them a piece of clothing she had taken from the sleeping man when she undressed him.
Understanding filled their eyes as they saw that the article was most definitely nothing like anything they’d seen before. Rak continued when they looked to him for an explanation. “He came from that thing on the rocks. It’s some kind of giant boat.” He paused. “He came from across the sea.”

There was silence for a long moment, then the two leaders started talking in raised voices at once, until Cherri cut them off. “EXCUSE me! But there is a very sick man here, and if you remain in my hut you will keep your voices down!” she hissed.

Lowering his voice only slightly, Wonen glared back at the woman, “Which raises the question of why are you treating him without consulting us first?”

The small woman took a measured step towards the taller man, until her chest was almost touching his. She tilted her head back to look him dead in the eye, and squinted, as if to reduce him to half his size by sheer force of will alone. “In the first place, Shaman,” she spat the word, as if it were an insult, “you would do well to remember that you are not the Witan of this village! You have no authority over me or any other mortal. In the second place, and this goes for both of you, no man, be he Shaman, Warrior, or Witan, will tell me who to treat and who to not treat in my home! Once he’s healthy, go ahead and throw him back into the ocean for all I care. But until I judge him healthy enough to survive this fever, this man is mine! The only voice that can dissuade me from this is Ghabas himself! Do you understand?!”

Both men held their mouths open in astonishment, but the edges of Tharill’s mouth raised slightly in amusement. “I’ll be damned if we didn’t just turn back into little boys, eh Wonen?” He clapped his companion on the back, but he was still to astonished to react.

“Fever?” Rak spoke up. “Yesterday he was just parched.”

“That’s right,” Cherri answered, “And lucky he was to reach me in time, too. I managed to get enough water in him for him to survive the night, but he’s been severely weakened. He hadn’t even begun to wake up before he started shivering, and that’s when I noticed the sheen of sweat on this brow. He’s hot to the touch, and he’s still unconscious, but I’ve brought men closer to death than this back from over the edge. Still, he’s a lucky man that you brought him to me when you did.”

Once again, both pairs of eyes darted back to Rak and both men started yelling at the same time. Cherri once again interceded, “That’s it! All of you! Outside, and don’t come back unless I call for you!” Then she shoved all three of them out the door.

Once outside, Wonen spun on his heel to jab Rak in the chest, and said, “Explain!”

He laid out the story, repeating everything he’d said to Iama the night before. Wonen punctuated key parts of the story by throwing his hands up in disgust. Tharill listened intently, and didn’t interrupt. His face was a mask of concentration, and Rak couldn’t tell if he approved or disapproved.

Once Rak was finished, Wonen was the first to speak, “What have you done?! Why didn’t you come to us the moment you realized where it came from?! What were you thinking?!” Each question was louder than the last, until he was nearly screaming.

Tharill held up his hand and said, “Now wait just a minute. Don’t you think you’re coming down too hard on him?”

Wonen didn’t take his eyes off his brother, “I thought you had outgrown this ill-advised compulsion you have to just go off and act when you would do better to consult your betters! I guess I was wrong. You’ve always been like this! Do you ever stop to think before you just go and do something? Or are you just think that you know better than anyone else?”

Tharill interrupted again laughing, “I seem to remember a certain boy with no beard to speak of coming to me and telling me exactly how he thought a certain crisis with Phayan hunters should be resolved.”

Wonen replied, “That was different! I didn’t just act, I consulted in you! And this isn’t just some skirmish over the hunting grounds, Tharill! This may be the biggest thing that’s happened to the island!”

The village leader replied calmly, “You only consulted, and I use the term lightly given the force of your convictions at the time, because you didn’t have the means to act. I know you Wonen, almost as much as Rak here, maybe even better. If you had the means to act then, you wouldn’t hesitate. You do think you know better than anyone else. As for this being the biggest thing that’s happened to the island, you are absolutely right, all the more reason why Rak acted appropriately.”

Wonen, his teeth grinding in frustration, said, “This is unbelievable.”

Tharill continued, “You should understand that although I wish I had known about this before now, I can’t fault him for his actions. If at any point he had stopped what he was doing and had come to me to tell me what happened, I would have told him to turn right back around and do exactly what he had done. I would have sent others with him, but the delay would have been too costly. I think Rak acted bravely and maturely.”

Wonen crossed his arms in front of his chest and said, “With all due respect, Witan, this situation is not really your place to be making that call.”

The old man, cocked his eyebrow and said, “Is that so?”

“This affects everyone Tharill, not just this village or even just the tribe. It affects all three tribes. That being the case, Ghabus needs to be contacted.”

The old man was caught between amusement at the ambition of his friend and anger at the disrespect of one of his fellow tribesmen. “And I suppose you would expect to be the one to speak with him?”

“Of course! That’s what Shamans are for!”

His tone turned menacing, “Then when you return in a week or longer, this stranger would be dead while we sit here and wait for your permission to do something about it. Well, with all due respect, Shaman, until I receive direct instructions from the cave, I will do whatever I deem necessary.”

Softening his tone, the Witan continued, “Don’t worry, friend. The gravity of this situation is hardly lost on me. Go and talk to Ghabus, and talk to the other Shamans at the cave too. I ask that you do not speak of this to anyone until we know more, but I leave that decision to you. In the meantime, I will take every precaution to make sure that nobody is put in any danger. For the moment, I see no threat from an unconscious man and a wreaked boat, but we will take care just the same.” Wonan continued to stare the older man down, but said nothing. Tharill continued, “Please trust me.”

Finally Wonen responded, “I leave this afternoon for Ghabus. I will return as soon as I can, and I will pray every day that I’m away that this man’s presence doesn’t put a single life in danger. To Rak he said menacingly, “I suggest you make yourself scarce until I leave. I have no desire to run into you while I get ready.” At this he left the two men, storming off to prepare for a long journey to the cave of Ghabus.

The Witan clapped his hand on Rak’s shoulder, “I don’t envy you for having his temper aimed at you.” He laughed, “Ha! I’m the Witan of this village and even I’d sooner avoid incurring his wrath. Still, remember that you did well. But I want you to finish what you started. Take two men with nothing to do, and go down to that wreck and bring me everything you find there that you can carry. Don’t take any fishermen, though. I don’t like this turn in the weather, and I want every man with a net out in the water until it improves. You are only being excepted because you are the only one to have actually gone inside this thing until now.”

“What should I tell them about where the boat came from, and should I tell them about…” then he thumbed in the direction of Cherri’s hut.

The Witan rubbed his temples with his eyes closed, then said, “I leave it up to you how much to tell them. Less is better. Make something up if you can, but only if it’s convincing. If possible, don’t tell them about the stranger.”

Rak nodded then left to follow the instructions. The Witan remained. He saw two men pass by and whistled to them. When they approached, he said, “Cherri has a patient inside. I want you two to make sure they are left alone so she can do what she must. But if he wakes up, you are to make sure he stays where he is and to send word to me immediately.” He then held his finger to his lips indicating he wished them to be discrete about it. Both men looked at each other in confusion, but nodded their compliance. Under his breath, he said, “While you’re sick, you may belong to the woman. But once she brings you back from the dead, I want some answers.” He waited a bit longer, lost in thought, then he left to attend to other matters.

{Page Break}

Rak found two young craftsmen with some boating experience to assist him with his task. He told them he had been instructed by the Witan to investigate the wreck everyone was talking about, and to bring back anything of interest. If they thought to ask why Rak had been put in charge, they didn’t act on the notion.

They approached the wreck in Rak’s skiff at the same distance that Rak had approached at before. Tracing his previous path, two of them entered the wreck while the third remained in the boat. The plan was place anything of interest into sacks attached to inflated waterskins and toss them over the side for the third man to retrieve and place in the boat. If he ran out of room in the boat, he would return to the beach to unload, then return for another load.

Upon entering the wreck, Rak’s companion, a man just two years younger than Rak by the name of Paus, made no comment, but the expression on his face at every feature showed that he was just as mystified as Rak had been. When, on the second level, they stood before the door to the chamber where the stranger had been found, Paus shivered visibly before it, then said, “What madman dreamed up such profanity?”

Rak didn’t reply. He was preoccupied by the uncanny feeling that the door was somehow greeting a familiar face. Disturbed by this sensation, he told Paus, “Let’s explore here last.” The other nodded in agreement, not knowing that Rak had been there before and knew what they would find on the other side.

They opened the opposite door, and the stink drove them back for a moment. Flies had accumulated on the body as it rotted in the sun. Rak could also see that some sea birds had feasted on the flesh of the body’s calf, leaving bone partially exposed. Paus retched, then swore, “We ought to burn the damn thing. It’s not right for this body to lie out here in the sun.”

Rak replied, “No way to burn it without burning this thing down too,” indicating the wreck.

Paus shook his head, “What is this thing?! I don’t like it here, not at all. I feel like there’s something here I can’t see.” Rak had to agree. There was a presence throughout the boat, like the feeling of being watched by an unseen pair of eyes. Somehow, he felt that this presence was somehow tied to that door.

They continued the search, discovering little of interest outside. Rak commented that it most of what had at some point been kept on this floor had probably been washed away during the voyage. Understanding dawned slowly on Paus’ face. They discovered the other body, but did not come close to it. It too had become bird food.

They returned to the door and paused outside it. Rak waited only a moment before touching the disk and pushing in to enter. Rak found it as he had the day before, with most of the items collected on the starboard side of the room due to the slant of the floor. They were mostly unrecognizable, but they bagged them just the same. They started taking turns running outside to pitch the bags over the side to be retrieved by their companion below.

As they worked, Rak thought about the door and attempted to puzzle out its mystery. Although it was just a piece of wood, the feeling that came from it was in some strange way that of a living thing. He thought of the island and Ghabus, the spirit that inhabited it, and wondered if maybe the principals behind it were the same.

Such thoughts echoed in his head as he worked. The heat was starting to make him sleepy, until his dizziness overcame him. He lost his footing and fell to the floor. Hitting his head on the floor, Paus rushed to his side and said, “Are you alright? Do you need water?”

Rak clenched his eyes shut against the pain in his head and replied, “No, I’m fine. I don’t know what happened, I just got suddenly sleepy…” He thought back to the first time he was on the boat and realized that the sensation was very similar to the one he felt just before opening the door. He had almost forgotten about it.

“I’ll probably just need a minute or two to rest before…” Rak stopped short as he opened his eyes. He was lying on his back facing up so that he had a clear view of the top of the cliff overlooking the wreck. What he saw would be impossible to see if you weren’t looking directly at it. It was the face of a man peaking over the top of the cliff, looking down at the wreck and the men working on it. His face and hair were painted sky blue in order to assist in camouflaging against anyone seeing him. The moment Rak saw the other man, he disappeared.

Rak spared only a moment to ponder the strange coincidence that his growing sleepy and falling had afforded him a chance to catch this voyeur in the act before Paus asked him why he had stopped. “There was a man up there watching us.” Paus looked up, and Rak told him, “Don’t bother, he’s gone.”

“Was it anyone we know?” Paus said hopefully.

Rak shook his head, “No, he was not there by chance. That was most likely a Phayus spy. I don’t know what they might hope to gain from spying on us, but I’ll bet it’s nothing good for us. Damn!” The younger man didn’t say anything, but instead waited for Rak to make up his mind. “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it. We may as well finish up here. If we stop now to go tell someone, it will only gain us a few minutes, and it would already be too late to find and catch the spy anyway. But we should hurry.”

As they doubled their efforts to get the last of the cargo from the wreck, Rak looked across the water and saw that storm clouds were gathering off the coast of the island. As though to punctuate this observation, a cool gust of wind came from the north-east. As if things weren’t bad enough, thought Rak.

{Page Break}

Tharill had been passing the word throughout the village that he wanted every able bodied fisherman out in the water before the storm he knew was coming hit that evening, when he was stopped by a villager letting him know that he had a visitor from another village waiting outside his hut. Tharill thanked him and returned to his home. As he approached, he saw that the woman who waited for him was someone he knew. She was the daughter of the Witan of one of their neighbor villages, a young woman named Palla.

She greeted him formally, “Greetings Witan Tharill. My father, Witan Doran, sends his wishes for the welfare of you and yours.” This told him this wasn’t a social call, though with Palla he knew that everything with her was all business.

He replied, “Greetings Palla. Welcome to my home.” Taking a more relaxed tone, he said, “What can I do for you?”

Palla replied, “The Witanagemot has been called for tribe Gamas.” She was referring to the gathering of leaders from all the villages of the tribe in order to settle some important matter. She continued, “I can see from how busy you have been that you have noticed the change in the weather. Well, it seems that Phayus has noticed too. There have been some small confrontations between their fishermen and ours in the border villages over the last few days. Then three days ago, Witan Gamora was attempting a routine trade of fish for pelts with one of their villages, they demanded twice the normal amount. When Gamora protested, the Phayman said, ‘If you think the price is unfair, you may take it up with Moholla.’” The insinuation behind this was clear, as Moholla was a Phayus Chief who had been for several years been instigating a more aggressive attitude towards their fellow tribes. Though Phayus was never on what you would call good terms with their neighbors, he had not enjoyed much influence in the tribe because of this attitude. Tharill judged from the news just delivered, that must have changed recently.

“Mohalla’s demands have only one aim, to instigate war. He knows that our fishermen will be hard pressed just to stock enough fish to feed ourselves through the winter, and this in the midst of several severe storms between now and then unless I miss my guess. The Phayus fishermen should be doing the same, and I have no doubt that they are. He also knows that we know that if we refuse to trade, his cause will be fully supported by the Council of Chiefs as they panic against the possibility of starvation. So his demands are baseless and only serve to force our hand. We should demand an audience with the Council of Chiefs. They have to be made to understand that this war serves no one except Mohalla’s ambition to dominate the other tribes.”

Palla said, “While I agree, Gamora believes that with winter seeming to be coming early, we may not have much time for diplomacy.” She paused in thought for a moment, then said, “His words do have some merit. He is the one who called the Witanagemot, and it is to be held at his home. I know him well. His village is on the border, and he’s had to deal with Phayan aggression his whole life. While he dreads war as much as the rest of us, I’ve no doubt he’s sharpening his axe as we speak.”

Tharill nodded his agreement, as he knew the man as well as she. “What of the others?”

Palla said, “Aside from my father, who reserves judgment for the Witanagemot, the only other Witan I’ve spoken with is Roxas. He feels that we should approach the Council of Chiefs with an offer of a small increase of payment for pelts, plus a token gift to the Council to show good faith.”

“So we are to decide whether to bend to Mohalla’s demands, making ourselves slaves, and potentially starving our people, or we go to war. Damn! When is the Witanagemot?”

The young woman replied, “In five days time.”

“I will leave in two.” Palla arched her eyebrow. She knew that most of the real discussion took place before the official convening of the Witanagemot. Because the journey up the mountain would take at least two days, that would leave him with only the evening before to gather enough information to take an official stance at the meeting. Tharill saw her confusion and said, “The weather isn’t the only thing keeping me busy, Palla.” She shrugged and dropped the subject.

“I must return to my father. He will need me to look after things in his absence.”

Tharill bade the young woman farewell. She turned to depart and was startled to see a young man staring intently at her. He was far enough away that she needn’t worry that he had heard what was said but it was unsettling in any case. The man had thick dark hair and a thick curly beard just as dark. He wore a goat fur vest and leather trousers that looked like they hadn’t ever been washed. His appearance gave him the look of a wild man, but something in his intense gaze spoke of wisdom and understanding possessed by the very few. She had seem some senior Kalayus Shamans with that same look, but even among their kind, it was rare to see one with such presence.

The man continued to stare at her, and she forced herself to keep moving in spite of his close observation. She felt herself becoming self-conscious under his gaze. She realized that in the last three days she had not bathed, and she must look awful, then immediately after this thought surfaced she wondered why she should care. She was always traveling between villages on her father’s behalf, and rarely in these travels did the opportunity present itself to pay attention to her appearance. She did her best to dismiss the feeling and hurried on.

{Page Break}

Rak and his companions had loaded the skiff with all the items they had taken from the wreck, and carried it up the mountainside to the village. Rak’s years as a fisherman traveling up the mountain with heavy cargo in tow paid off and while his two companions had to alternate carrying their end in order to give themselves a chance to rest, Rak was able support his end the entire way.

Just the same, they were all equally exhausted when they reached the Witan’s hut. The chill in the air had been replaced with sticky warmth, and the air had taken a slightly orange tint reflected off the storm clouds amassing off the coast to the east illuminated by the setting sun in the west. They knew that the storm was very close, so they were glad to have arrived when they did.

Tharill had been waiting for them, and when they arrived, he dismissed them. The two younger men left, but Rak remained. “There’s something else. We were being watched while we worked. I’m not sure how long, and I can’t be sure who it was, but I think it was a Phayan spy.”

Tharill swore loudly, then calmed himself and said, “Tell me what happened.” Rak told him what had happened, and how it had been merely a chance of fate that afforded him the opportunity to glimpse their observer. “Well damn me if this isn’t turning into a disaster of a day! Help me get all this junk inside!” and he roughly grabbed the bag on sitting on top of the pile loaded into the skiff.

Once everything was inside, they started observing each item and attempting to evaluate its purpose. There were more of the long curved blades that Rak had found the day before. Rak selected one and carefully experimented with its movement and balance. He imagined it would be hardly effective for any kind of stabbing attack, but given the long sharpened edge, he surmised that it must be meant for slashing. He liked the feel of it.

He set the blade down and continued his observations. He found another blade even longer than the first, but this one was perfectly straight, and was sharp all the way to the handle on both sides. It did not have the bowl attached to both ends of the handle like the first did, but instead had two short spikes attached to the top of the handle pointed at an angle towards tip of the blade. This one was rather ornately decorated on the handle and a glyph was imprinted on the metal of the blade. Rak tested its movement carefully.

Tharill was inspecting a piece of cloth like material with some design depicted on it. As far as he could tell, it was nothing but a collection of dull green splotches on a tan background. He tossed it aside in frustration, just as a particularly loud clap of thunder peeled overhead. There was no rain yet, but they could both smell it. The wind, which throughout the afternoon had died down into a spooky calm, was now picking up again in force.
Tharill said, “You better stay here tonight. That storm’s going to unleash a fury any minute now, and we haven’t gone through half this junk.”

Rak nodded and they continued their investigation.

{Page Break}

Cherri was woken by her youngest son, Wilk, who had been assisting her with the stranger since that morning, hearing that she had not slept all that night. She refused to retire to her bed, but she allowed herself to sleep in a chair lined with soft animal pelts with strict instructions to her son to wake her if there was any change.

Cherri saw immediately what had caused her son to wake her. The stranger was still unconscious, but was becoming restless. He was rubbing his hands on his chest and moaning pitifully. She reached out and felt his neck, which was much hotter than it had been earlier. The blankets were forming dark spots where his sweat had soaked through.

Quickly, she filled a small bag with various herbs while her son poured water from a kettle suspended over the fire into a cup. She tied the bag off, then brewed in the cup to make a strong tea. Taking the bag out of the cup, she placed it on a plate and held it under his nose. The aroma of the herbs rose with the steam for the man to breath. This calmed the man slightly, but he continued to moan.

Outside, the wind picked up further, and thunder peeled again. The first drops of water started to fall.

{Page Break}

Wonen arrived at the outpost and breathed a sigh of relief as he shut the door behind him. He was alone, as he expected he would be. He knew that there would be few travelers who would allow themselves to be caught on the open mountainside during a storm like the one that was building outside.

He began building a fire, when the door opened again, allowing the shrieking wind in. The door shut a moment later, and Wonen saw a woman in the doorway. He nodded in greeting, and she returned it as she removed a coat of leather she had been wrapped in. She was about the age of his younger brother, and she was very disheveled. Her hair was a medium brown with red tints to it. It seemed to be sticking in every direction, with leaves and twigs buried into the tangled mess. Her figure was slender, but hard at the same time. Her skin was pale and seemed stretched over firm muscles.

The fire was beginning to get cheery, so Wonen left it to fill a pot with water from a basin. He placed the pot on a table and placed two dried fish into the water. “Do you have any vegetables?” He asked the woman. She dug into her pack and fished out a potato, a carrot, and some mushrooms. Wonen smiled in satisfaction. He was accustomed to eating flavorless fish meals while traveling, but the vegetables would make the meal much more enjoyable.

He placed a lid on the pot and place the pot on a hook suspended over the fire. He settled into a chair in front of the fire while the woman did the same. He smiled at her and said, “I have not met you before. I am Wonen.”

The woman replied without emotion, “I am Palla.”

Wonen continued to try to make conversation, “What brings you here?”

Palla was reluctant to participate in the conversation. “Official business.”

Wonen smiled and nodded, “As am I.”

Palla didn’t respond. They were silent a few minutes longer, then Wonen reached into his pack again, and pulled out a bottle. One of the benefits of being a Shaman was his frequent visits to Kalayus, where wine was made. Most Gamas tribes men may only taste wine a few times in their lives, whereas for Wonen it was a guilty pleasure he indulged in frequently.

Hoping to lubricate some conversation, and other things if he was lucky, Wonen poured two measured cups of wine and passed one of them to his stoic companion. One side of her mouth curled into a slight smile and she accepted the cup. She smelled the drink, then pressed the cup to her lips and tasted. She nodded as if in approval. Clearly she knew what she was doing with wine, and Wonen tried not to show his disappointment in that observation. Still, it was progress, he thought as he sipped his own cup of dark liquid.

At that moment, thunder peeled again outside, only a moment after the flash, indicating that the storm had arrived on their doorstep. Less than a minute later, the noise of the wind was almost overcome by the sound of heavy drops of rain pelting the roof of their shelter.

Both of them looked towards at the ceiling, then settled back down into their chairs, preparing for a long night. Wonen took another sip of wine, then said, “Do you have brothers?” Palla didn’t reply, but instead rolled her eyes. “They can be very stupid sometimes!”

As Wonen proceeded to complain about the faults of little brothers in general, the storm continued to build in intensity outside.

{Page Break}

The wind was creating high, white-peaked waves, which pounded against the beach, the cliffs, and the wreck still on the bottom of the cliffs snagged on the rocks that met the waterline. Inside the wreck, the wooden planks it was composed of groaned and creaked under the pressure of the wind and the waves. Doors opened and shut as the wind increased and abated in regular rhythm.

A particularly strong gust of wind buffeted the side of the wreck, and moments later a wave came rushing in to crash against it. The force of the wind and the wave lifted the entire structure about a foot for just a moment, but this was long enough to dislodge it from the rocks it had snagged itself on. Once the structure was loose, it began to right itself, then overcorrected, leaning to its port side rather than its starboard. Another large gust of wind, coming from the north, pushed hard on the stern end, causing it to swing out towards the open sea, while at the same time preventing the vessel from righting itself.

If either of the two bodies on the outside of the wreck, or any of the dozen bodies found below in the water, were alive to see the spectacle, they would say that it shouldn’t have been moving the way it was moving. Yet had they been alive, they might have gotten a strange unexplained sense of purpose in its movements, as if it were by a guiding hand.

That would explain why, propelled by this sustained gust of wind, this wreck found its way to the beach before settling into the sands for the duration of the storm.

November 30th, 2011, 09:38 PM
Chapter 3

“What was that?!” Rak exclaimed.

At the sound of his voice, a rustling sound quickly made its way to the door of the darkened hut, but before the source of the sound could reach its goal, a large hand was laid on the door, and the big Witan grabbed the shirt of the intruder, and pulled his face close. Lightning flashed at that moment, and Rak beheld the face of the normally jovial Witan turn into as menacing and cruel a face as he had ever seen. The intruder, shrieked in terror. His hands clawed at the fist that held him fast, to no avail.

Rak quickly struck a flame to a candle to provide some light in the blackness, then approached the grappling pair with candle in one hand, then one of the long curved blades he had begun to favor in the other. The blade was leveled against the intruder’s neck, causing him to cease struggling. Rak’s eyes went wide when he took in the sight before him. The intruder was Paus!

“What are you doing!?” Rak asked accusingly.

Without letting the younger man speak, Tharill growled, “Considering the circumstances, I’d say he’s providing information to Phayas Tribe. Wouldn’t you say?”

Paus shrieked again, and said, “No sir! I would never!”

In measured tones, Tharill said slowly, “Then start explaining.”

The man, hardly more than a boy, started shaking uncontrollably as he looked from one of his captors to the other. Rak pressed closer so the blade rested on the soft flesh of Paus’ neck. At the feel of the cold metal, he shrieked again and exclaimed, “I don’t know!” Then he burst into tears and between sobs he said, “I don’t know how I got here, I just woke up a second ago and when I saw where I was I was scared and I ran! I’m not a spy! Please you have to believe me!” He continued to tremble and cry with his head held high against the sharp blade. Rak looked to Tharill, who nodded. Rak released the blade, and Paus collapsed on the floor.

Rak looked back up at Tharill and said, “What the devil?” Tharill just shrugged in confusion. Neither of them had seen someone in such a pathetic state. Rak looked down at the younger man and noticed something in his hand. He made no attempt at hiding it, and in fact held it in plain sight. “What’s that you got there?”

Paus blinked through his tears, then wiped his eyes with his wrists. Then he noticed the item in his hands, as if for the first time. He looked taken aback. It was a thin metal disk with designs engraved onto the surface. Rak knelt and reached out, but didn’t take the disk by force. Instead he waited for Paus to give him the item. Paus hesitated at first, then handed Rak the disk. Rak stood up again and inspected the disk. “I’ve seen this before.”

Tharill leaned in to look closer. Rak continued, “You remember the door I told you about?” Tharill nodded. “Well the creature on the door carried a disk just like this one, with the same design on it. This was one of the things we brought back from the boat. I saw it earlier, but after sorting through so much, I didn’t even recognize it as anything but another piece of junk.”

Tharill helped Paus into a chair. The young man hiccupped and sniffed, but he seemed to be settling down. Tharill said, “What is the last thing you remember?”

Paus’ face constricted in concentration, then he said, “After I dropped off all the things from the wreck and left, I started feeling sick. It was getting late and the storm was coming anyway, so I figured I would go to bed early and get a fresh start in the morning. I remember walking back to my hut, but the closer I got, the worse I felt. I remember opening the door, but nothing beyond that. It feels like a lot of time has passed, but it’s just empty. Then suddenly I was here.”

Tharill shook his head, saying, “Well that doesn’t tell us much.”

Rak persisted, “Is there anything else?”

Paus concentrated again, “I can’t think of anything.”

“What were you thinking about when you started feeling sick?”

Paus thought, then said, “I remember thinking about the rhythm of my footsteps, and I remember it being hard to concentrate on anything else.”

Rak exclaimed, “Was it hot?”

Tharill shrugged and said, “It was very hot before the storm.”

Rak said, still to Paus, “But do you remember thinking about how hot it was?”

Paus nodded. “I think it was the heat that was making it hard to think. And it was making me sleepy.”

Rak leaned back and looked Tharill in the eye. “I believe him.”

Tharill looked impatient, and said, “What are you talking about?”

“Twice while on the wreck, I felt the same thing. Once when I was getting ready to open the door with the creature carved on it, and that’s when I found the stranger. The other time, I collapsed and saw the Phayan spy. If I hadn’t collapsed, I would never have seen him.”

Paus was confused, “What does that mean?”

Rak didn’t say anything for a moment, then finally said, “I don’t know.”

Tharill said, “I think you should go back to the wreck and see if you can find out anything else.”

Paus said, “Um, I think I remember something else.” Both the others looked at him expectantly. “Well, I don’t know if it means anything, but I think I dreamed. I sort of remember the wreck being on the beach instead of on the rocks.” The others were taken aback. “Like I said, it could be nothing but a dream.”

Tharill said, “Could be…” He paced the floor, lost in thought. He seemed to forget that the two young men were there.

Rak said, “As soon as the storm lets up, I’ll go to the beach and see what I can find out.” The old Witan didn’t seem to hear. Rak shrugged, then handed Paus a blanket, indicating the space on the floor next to where Rak had spent the first part of the night. He left the candle burning for the Witan and he wrapped himself up in the blankets and closed his eyes. He listened to the sound of creaking boards as the storm buffeted the hut, then fell back to sleep a few minutes later.

He slept for the remainder of the night, but dreamt of strange and alien creatures and strangers from foreign lands. They were all speaking to him at once with some urgent message, but they all drowned each other out so that none could be understood.

Just before dawn, he was woken by pounding on the door. Before Rak could even sit up, Tharill had the door opened. Rak couldn’t see outside into the dark, but he could hear the voice clearly. It said, “He’s awake!” Rak leapt to his feet, and dragging Paus by the wrist, he followed Tharill out into the storm.

{Page Break}

Palla’s eyes snapped open, but she didn’t make a sound. The shaman she had shared a drink with earlier that night, and who now shared her bed, was snoring peacefully, having gotten drunk on the wine. The storm still raged outside, causing the walls of the outpost to groan under the pressure of the high winds while rain pounded the roof in sheets. But in addition to these sounds there was something unexpected moving around inside.
She silently reached out to her travel roll and found a knife, then she stood up carefully and peered into the darkness. There was a shadow in the far corner of the room that seemed to be hunched over something. What it was doing, she couldn’t tell, but it was clear that it was attempting to do it without their knowledge. Her bare feet padded against the wooden floor and made no sound. Step by step she edged to the side which she was fairly certain belonged to its back. Then she began the careful journey across the room to where it hunched.

When she was close enough to touch it, she paused, concentrating on taking silent but deep breaths to prepare for the inevitable struggle. Then when she felt ready, she slipped the knife under the chin of the figure crouched in front of her and said, “Don’t move.”

A hand snaked up as fast as lightning, and separated the knife from the young woman’s hand, while at the same time the intruder’s back pounded into her chest, knocking her backwards. Before she could recover, the intruder dove through the shuddered window, breaking the shudders off their hinges. Palla ran to the window and watched the man disappear down the mountainside.

Wonen startled awake from the noise of the storm coming through the now open window. He looked around, blinking the sleep from his eyes, and exclaimed, “What the devil?”

Palla lifted one of the unused mattresses and propped it against the window to keep the storm out. She returned to the bedside and lit a candle, then started dressing in the candlelight. “We had an intruder. A Phayan spy, no doubt.”

Wonen replied, “Why would they want to spy on us?”

Palla replied as she finished dressing, “Maybe you can tell me. They left my roll untouched, but they were looking through yours rather intently.” She pointed at the Shaman’s travel roll, which had been emptied onto the floor. “What’s going on?”

Wonen looked at the young woman with whom he had spent the night under a new light. He had thought her a simple woman and easily won last night, a bit reserved at first, then quickly, almost eagerly submitting to his desires. This new commanding tone she was using showed a stark contrast between that side of her and the one he faced now. He said, “Maybe you should inform me why it’s your business to know why we might be spied on. What did you mean last night when you said you were on official business?”

She looked at him carefully, as though attempting to judge his trustworthiness. Finally, she said, “Tell no one what I am about to tell you. I am a messenger from Witan Doran. I came to tell Tharill that the Witanagemot has been called to determine if we are to go to war with the Phayus tribe.”

Wonen’s eyes went wide with surprise. There had not been a fully fledged war with another tribe in his lifetime. There had been an occasional skirmish between villages, but the fighting was short lived as tempers died out, then the matter was brought to more diplomatic action. “Is it because of the early winter that’s likely to be coming?”

Palla nodded once, solemnly, then said, “Unless there are other factors I am not aware of. Factors that might cause a spy to be more interested in what a Shaman has in his travel roll than a political messenger might have in hers.”

Wonen explained what he had learned from his brother. He explained the presence of the stranger, and the strange circumstances surrounding his appearance. He explained the argument he had had with his brother and the Witan before leaving the village, and he explained the purpose of his journey to the cave of Ghabus.

When he was finished, Palla said, “That answers many questions, but raises many more. I take it this is the very stupid thing your brother did that you were ranting about last night?” Wonen nodded. “Well, there is nothing we can do about that now. I expect that Tharill will have more to tell at Witanagemot. In the meantime I need to return to Doran.”

Wonen brightened, “Good, that’s on the way to the mountain of Kalayus tribe. We will travel together.”

Palla eyed his skeptically, “If you will keep up. I intend to reach my destination before nightfall, whether the storm lets up or not. And considering this new information and the fact that apparently the Phayans know about this stranger, I seem to have even greater need for speed. I really should leave at once.”

Wonen did his best to hide his disappointment that he would not get a chance to spend another night with the young woman, but he tried not to dwell on the matter. He expected as much. Even if they had been forced to spend another night alone together, something told him that she would not be as free with her affections as she had been the night before. Something had changed in her since then, something that killed his confidence yet at the same time added depth to what he had thought would be nothing but a chance encounter with a pretty young nobody who he wouldn’t even remember in a few days time.

Trying to ignore the feeling, he said, “I won’t slow you down. I have traveled this path many times.”

Palla nodded in approval and said, “Good. Then get dressed. We should be gone as quickly as possible.” Wonen dressed quickly while Palla packed his roll. Hers was already packed and ready, a habit from years of traveling with speed being of the essence. Once the Shaman was as ready as she was, she shoved a hard potato biscuit obtained from the outpost pantry into his mouth and one into hers, then she opened the door and stepped out into the storm with her companion close behind.

{Page Break}

Upon reaching the hut of the healer where the stranger had been kept, Tharill stopped the two young men, saying he would be speaking to him alone and that they should do what he had asked earlier and return to the wreck to see if Paus had been correct, and that the wreck was now beached. Rak was frustrated, but he expected as much. He had enjoyed being involved in the investigation, but he understood that the Witan couldn’t afford to let the young man interfere with the much more delicate matter of questioning the man from the wreck. Rak knew that there was little left to discover from the wreck, and such an order was meant to keep him out of the way.

He still had the metal disk in the pocket of his leather trousers, so though he held little hope that he would find anything from the wreckage that he hadn’t already found, if it was in fact beached he could at least confirm that his memory of the likeness between the metal disk and the design on the door was correct. Making his way down the mountain path to the beach in the pouring rain, his spirits continued to sink in the conviction that his part in this mystery was now nearly through.

The moment that Rak and Paus cleared the forest and were standing on the beach, they both stopped in their tracks. Just as Paus had suggested earlier, the wreck was now beached. The storm winds lifted the waves high and pounded them against the stern of the wreck, which faced out to sea, with the bow pointed inland.

The hole in the starboard side of the hull was now entirely exposed and above water as it was on the bow end of the structure. This caused the stern end to bob up and down in the turbulent waves, which gave the young men a rough idea of how the structure might move in the water. Just thinking of such a journey so far away from land made Rak’s stomach twist into knots and from Paus expression, he likely felt the same.

Rak said, “How do you think you knew it would be beached?” Paus only shrugged, but never took his eyes off the spectacle before them. Rak continued, “Well, let’s get going anyway.”

They approached the wreckage cautiously. The lower level that Rak hadn’t explored before was now exposed and drained of most of the water that had filled it while still on the rocks. The stench of death was not as pronounced as it had been before, but it was still rank. Rak peered inside. There were several bodies strewn about the floor.

Pulling his head back from the opening, Rak gathered his resolve. He had never seen so much death since this ordeal had begun, and he wondered if there was a limit to what he could cope with at arm’s length before death became something more familiar to him than he would like.

Before he lost his courage, Rak entered the vessel. He looked back at Paus, who shook his head, indicating that this was becoming more than he was prepared to handle. Not allowing himself to hesitate, Rak didn’t question the decision, he just hurried on.

In this lower level, Rak discovered more than just the bodies of men, but also the bodies of several animals that he did not recognize. It was hard to imagine what they might have looked like when alive, because after spending so much time submerged underwater, the flesh was bloated on both man and beast until it burst in places, like an overcooked sausage.

Some were the size of the goats that lived on the upper slopes of the islands mountain peaks. Most were smaller. But one was much larger than a man, larger even than a deer. Rak had never seen any animal larger than a deer, and the thought of such an enormous animal walking about bothered him. But then it was beginning to seem like everything from beyond the sea was much larger than anything Rak was familiar with. Their beasts, their blades, and their boats it seemed were created with extravagance, and Rak wondered what other wonders existed on the other side of the water.

Rak spent very little time on this level, hurrying instead to the up staircase at the stern end of the vessel. He didn’t bother with the middle level either, as he knew what he would find there. He knew that the only thing that mattered in this investigation was the door. He climbed the last stairway to the top level and faced the door. He reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out the metal disk. He held it up to the door next to the creature depicted holding its disk. True to his memory, the designs matched.

He wondered at the meaning behind this new clue, but nothing occurred to him. He sat down and allowed himself to think. He first emptied his mind of all thoughts then calmly voiced a question in his mind, “What does this all mean?” He waited for an answer.

The wind whistled through the cracks in the boards, and deep below the movement of the waves caused the whole structure to groan painfully. The waves caused one end of the boat to rise and fall in a rhythmic motion. Rak yawned in the heat, then suddenly realized what was happening. It was the same thing that had happened to him twice while investigating the wreckage and once to Paus.

He looked up at the creature engraved on the door. The creature seemed to look back at him it a way that made its wishes understood. It wanted Rak to allow it to speak, but Rak must let it into his mind. He looked at the disk held by the creature, and then looked at the disk held in his hand. Inspiration came over him and he placed the disk on the floor before him. He stared intently at the design, leaving all other thoughts behind.

In minutes the disk was all that he saw. He seemed to be floating in a vast black expanse of nothingness with an enormous replica of the same design before him. Having no point of reference, it was difficult to tell, but it seemed to be several times taller than Rak was, but then again Rak got the impression that he had become infinitely small as well. The design glowed a deep indigo color, and Rak was propelled towards the point in the very center. When he reached the center, at what seemed to be an incredible speed, there was a blinding flash as he passed through.

Upon reaching the other side, a series of images presented themselves to him very rapidly, too quickly to reflect on, so that all Rak could do was observe passively.

{Page Break}

Paus leaned against the side of the wreckage, too afraid to enter, but equally afraid of leaving. Rak had been inside the wreckage for much longer than it should have taken to conduct even the most thorough investigation. Paus had called out to him, but had gotten no response. He considered that he may not be able to be heard over the storm, which continued to rage around him.

His worry growing, Paus readied himself to enter the wreckage one more time, as he had perhaps a half dozen times since Rak had entered. He waited outside, gathering what courage and conviction he could muster. Then just when he thought he might be able to enter, his shoulders sagged as his courage failed him. He cursed himself for his cowardice, then started shouting Rak’s name again. Hearing no reply he again leaned against the vessel and waited.

Lifting his gaze momentarily towards where the beach met the forest, something caught his eye. The morning was still very young, and the storm made the morning darker still, so he wasn’t sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him, but as he peered into the rain and the darkness, he confirmed that he was correct about what he saw. Iama was calmly walking across the beach from the forest to the wrecked boat where Paus waited. He wore no extra protection from the storm, just the same goat hair vest and leather trousers he always wore.

Reaching the younger man, Iama said, “I saw Rak go inside.” His voice was eerily calm in spite of the chaos of the storm around them, as though he didn’t notice.

Paus shouted back, “How long have you been watching us.”

Iama replied, “I can see this beach from my home. Is he still in there?” Paus nodded. Iama continued, “Why have you not followed?”

Paus dropped his eyes in shame, then said, “I’m afraid.”

Iama looked intently at the younger man for a long time. Paus got the impression that the look was one of harsh judgment, yet there was no emotion behind it. It was as if Iama judged Paus as inferior due to his cowardice, yet felt nothing about this summation. Then suddenly, it was as if Paus didn’t exist at all. Iama looked away from him, and instead turned his attention to the wreckage. Saying nothing to the other man, he entered the boat.

He didn’t stop when he saw the bloated bodies strewn about the lower floor. Rak had told him of the rank stench coming from the lowest level, so Iama had expected as much. Besides, a vessel this size must require many men to sail, much more than the two dead and one alive that Rak had counted when he had given his friend his account. While it was reasonable to assume that some of them had been lost to the sea, he found it unlikely that all but three had met such a fate.

Iama continued his search. It took very little time to find his friend. He was lying unconscious on the floor in front of the door he had described the night before last. Iama shook his friend’s shoulder in an attempt to wake him, but it was to no avail. He knelt down to scoop Rak up, then turned around to carry him down the stairs.

Upon exiting the wreckage, Paus shouted, “What happened to him?” Iama didn’t even acknowledge the question, but instead motioned that Paus should follow him up the trail.

{Page Break}

“So what do we do now?” Tharill lamented. “Every time I feel like I have a lead to an answer to this mystery, I come against another barrier.”

He had been Cherri’s hut all morning attempting to communicate with the stranger, but it had been useless. When the stranger spoke, which was rare, the sounds that came out were gibberish. Mostly all he did was watch the Witan as he paced from one side of the room to the other asking further questions and receiving no answers.

Cherri sat in her chair that she kept by the bedside used by her patients, her head rested in her hands. She was exhausted from several days of very little sleep while she cared for a man whom before two days ago she had no reason to think had any possibility of existing. Her son, Wilk, the youngest and the only one still living with her, had remained with her the entire time assisting her efforts and keeping vigilant while sleep overtook her. He now slept in an adjoining room.

Cherri said without opening her eyes, “Well, sometimes when you can make no progress, it’s because it is out of your hands, and you must trust to fate.” She now opened her eyes, leaned forward and looked at Tharill pointedly, “I’ve fought against many diseases and injuries for days at a time, and making no progress, I could do nothing but wait to see how it would turn out. When it reaches that point, sometimes my patients live, and sometimes they die. Healers have to learn to live with that or they won’t survive.”

Tharill replied, “Well, that’s very wise of you, but at least you know what the stakes are. This man shows up from a place that until a few days ago I half believed was imaginary, and I can’t even ask him why he’s here!”

She shrugged, “The way I see it, one of two things will happen. Either you find out why he’s here or you don’t. You have no control over which way that goes.”

“And if we don’t find out, what exactly am I supposed to do with him?”

She smiled, “That, my friend, is something you have complete control over. You will do whatever you want with him.”

Tharill looked at the man. He sat on the edge of the bed sipping water from a cup and watched the exchange without any indication of any understanding. The effect was enough to send chills through the old Witan. Tharill turned and pulled a chair from the hearth and brought it close to the bed and said, “Fine. Here’s what we’ll do with him. We’ll wait right here until he starts answering my questions.” He rested his elbows against the arms of the chair, interlocked his fingers, and rested his chin in the net they formed. He stared at the man, who stared back.

Cherri rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, this is ridiculous.” She stood and started preparing a small meal from some fish and several vegetables she pulled from her pantry cupboard. “While you to imbeciles sit and stare at each other, I’m going to do something productive.”

Tharill ignored her.

{Page Break}

It was nearly black as pitch when Wonen and Palla left the travelers outpost, but dawn was only minutes away, and although the sky was entirely covered in storm clouds, these clouds began to lighten from black to a dismal grey. This provided enough light to allow the two travelers, well familiar with the path, to find their way easily.

The challenge then became the strength of the wind knocking them off balance and the pouring rain causing their clothing to hang heavily on their limbs. The forest thickened however, which gave them some relief from the wind. By about mid-morning, the storm began to lose its strength, and blue skies could be seen over the sea far to the East.

By mid-day, the storm had ended. The sky directly above was still dark grey, but the rain had stopped, and they began to dry out, which they were glad of because the higher they climbed, the colder the air got, and there was not any chance they might find some dry wood for a fire if it was needed.

Little had been said during their journey. Palla kept a furious pace, and Wonen found that although he was as fit as any he knew, he struggled to keep up. Somehow he managed, but by the time Palla announced that they would rest he was completely out of breath. He dropped his travel roll on a felled log, then removed the stopper from his water skin and took a long drink. Palla produced some dried fruit and salted fish, and they ate silently for several minutes.

Palla seemed to be ignoring Wonen, lost in her own thoughts. Wonen’s thoughts however were squarely on the woman who sat across from him. She seemed a mystery that he felt compelled to unravel. She made him feel like a fool in her presence. Yet strangely, he couldn’t tell if he liked the feeling or not. The one feeling that nettled him more than any other was the feeling that she felt very little regard for him.

For her part, Palla’s thoughts were also on herself, although she didn’t hold herself in as high a regard as her companion did. Rather she scolded herself for acting the way she had. She had never given much thought to romance or sex. She had given herself over to duty to her father and to the tribe. She had no brothers, and so many roles that normally would fall to sons fell instead to her. The few encounters she had had were clumsy ridiculous affairs that ended as quickly as they had begun. She had never encouraged the advances of the men she had slept with, even up to the act itself. The first time and been with an older boy, and the only reason why she allowed it was because she got the impression that it was somehow expected of her. The next time she had allowed it because she saw no reason not to, but afterwards she didn’t like how vulnerable it made her feel.

In the case of last night, however, it was different. She had sensed from the moment Wonen had begun attempting to make conversation with her what his intensions were. She had judged him a self-important fool and her opinion of him changed little in the course of the night. She normally had little patience for fools, and usually made it a point to avoid them if possible. Yet before long, she found herself slowly accepting his advances, then even encouraging them as the night grew late, even going so far as to take the more active role in their lovemaking. She had enjoyed it at the time, but now she felt ashamed.

Since leaving the outpost, her opinion of him had slowly changed, but not in any way that made her feel any better. She began to see him less as a fool, and more as a man with a heavy sense of responsibility, though she suspected that his sense of responsibility was one of his own creation, and not one placed on him by others. She felt that he must be very frustrated by this, and by his lack of ability to control the outcome of events that were beginning to spiral out of control before his very eyes. She had guessed that he was starting to become overly attached to her, and she pitied him for it because she could not return the feeling. She knew that she had treated him unfairly with her actions last night, and the guilt increased her feeling of foolishness.

Then Wonen broke the silence by asking the very question that she knew she must ask herself, but had been avoiding. “Why did you sleep with me last night?”

She didn’t look up, or respond in any way at first. Then she said, “I don’t know.” She paused for a long moment, and Wonen was starting to think that was the only explanation he would get when she continued, “I think I needed to remember that I am not merely a servant of the tribe, but a woman as well.” Then she finally looked him in the eye, and said, “I regret to tell you that I had my own reasons for doing what I did last night, reasons which had nothing to do with you. I am sorry. I treated you unfairly.”

Wonen looked away bitterly and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then he said, “I should apologize as well. Last night, I had a mind to use you for my own pleasure, then forget about you. You are not the silly girl I thought you were.”

Palla replied, “Thank you Wonen. Your words are more comforting than you can know, I think.” She smiled at him.

He did not smile back, but instead said, “We should continue if we are to reach your destination before nightfall.” He didn’t wait for her response before he shouldered his roll and began walking. It was clear that he had been humiliated to be used and discarded by her. Palla sighed and thought to herself that she should have expected that real forgiveness would not come easily.

{Page Break)

There was an urgent knocking on the healer’s door, and Tharill yelled, “Come back tomorrow!”

A pitiful voice from the other side of the door yelled back, “We need a healer!”

“Oh, of all the…” Tharill grumbled as he stood and went to open the door. He had hardly reached it when the door swung out, and in rushed Paus and the son of Ianco. The former looked about ready to fall apart and immediately began showering the Witan with apologies for barging in. Tharill ignored him, and looked past, seeing the latter carrying Rak in his arms. “What the devil!? What happened?”

The man on the bed leapt to his feet to allow the dark young man to lay down his friend on the patient bed. Cherri rushed to his side and started feeling and prodding to determine what ailed him. Tharill repeated his question and Paus said, “We don’t know. We just found him like this.”

Tharill looked at him incredulously. “Well, you seem to find yourself suddenly in the middle of a right mess quite a bit, don’t you?”

“Rak entered the wreck on the beach alone,” Iama offered. Pointing to the other, he said, “He waited outside until I came along.” He explained his recollection of what had happened.

Once Iama was finished, Cherri interrupted before Tharill could ask any questions, “If you boys are finished, I think you should leave. I can’t seem to get rid of this old man here, but the two of you are making my home rather crowded. If you please…”

Paus apologized, and left the hut as quickly as he could. Iama nodded and went for the door, but on his way he gave the stranger a good long look before Cherri piped up again, “If you please!” Iama looked back at her and nodded, then left the hut. Tharill wondered what that look was all about. He had seen that look before from Ianco’s strange son. It seemed to Tharill that he used that look to size a man up, assess his worth. It was always chilling to be the recipient of that look, but as Tharill had watched the man across the room, it seemed that he didn’t seem bothered at all by it. Indeed it seemed that the man had returned kind with kind in a look just as intense. Although there didn’t seem to be any hostility that passed between the two, something had happened that the Witan may never understand. He was old enough and had seen enough to know that Witan or not, there were men who’s souls were deep enough that he couldn’t even begin to fathom. Tharill could plainly tell that the son of Ianco and the man from across the sea were among the most unfathomable souls he had ever encountered.

Tharill returned his thoughts to more urgent matters. He moved to the bedside, and asked Cherri, “So what’s the matter with him?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, Tharill. He seems to be in perfect health. He has no injuries or fever, he’s got good color and he’s breathing normally. He even still has his reflexes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was sleeping, but I can’t wake him. Watch this.” She dipped a rag into a basin of cold water, then she wrung it out on Rak’s forehead. He clenched his eyes shut against the cold water, and his hand raised to his face to wipe the water away, but there was no other reaction in evidence. Cherri shrugged in confusion, “It makes no sense. You can see this reaction in people sleeping deeply, but not in people unconscious from some injury or illness. And no matter how deeply a person sleeps, they can always be woken with enough persistence.”

Tharill laughed. Cherri frowned and said, “What’s funny about this?”

Tharill said, “Sorry, my dear, it’s just that the mysteries continue to pile on top of each other until there seems to be nothing left but mystery.” Seeing her lack of humor at the situation, he said, “My apologies.”

Cherri ignored him and said, “I’m going to try something to wake him.” She mixed several liquids together into a cup, but when she brought the cup over to the bedside, the stranger stopped her and said something incomprehensible. “Excuse me?” She said, looking offended.

The stranger sighed, then attempted to pantomime his meaning. He placed his hand on Rak’s chest, then brought the hand up to point at his own eyes, then paused as if trying to think of a sign, then he gestured away as if to indicate a nonspecific location.

Cherri and Tharill looked at each other blankly. It had been the first time the man had made any serious attempt at communication, but his meaning was completely lost on them. The man huffed in frustration, then brought his fists up to each side of his face, then opened the fists and spread the fingers wide while at the same time opening his eyes wide. Then he closed his eyes tight and screwed his face into a look of extreme pain.

Cherri said, “I didn’t catch the first part, but I think he’s trying to say that if we manage to wake him, it would hurt him.” Tharill nodded, indicating that he agreed with her interpretation.
Tharill shook his head in frustration. “It looks like we can’t do anything about anything today. Still, I’m not leaving here until I have no choice. I need… something.” He sat in the chair heavily, then muttered, “Damn it!”

{Page Break}

Images presented themselves to Rak in rapid succession, each seemingly unrelated to the one that followed. Some of the things he saw he was familiar with, but most were beyond his experience. Occasionally, instead of an image, what was presented to him would be a sound, or an experience with one of his other senses. Many times, it would be a thought or a feeling that would rise up unbidden then die away moments later as something else replaced it. Each time a sense was presented to him, a word would accompany it.

Rak was not allowed to dwell on any one thing he saw, as each thing lasted for only a moment. In spite of the brevity of each thing showed to him, it seemed that it continued for hours. Although, having no point of reference, Rak admitted to himself that this display could have equally lasted only minutes or possibly days, and there was no way to be sure.

Without warning, the display suddenly ended. Confused, Rak reached out with his mind for something, anything to capture his attention. The nothingness was very alarming. Then he heard a voice speak to him. “The next phase is most uncomfortable, but necessary.”

Something reached into Rak’s mind and started grabbing and moving its contents around. While there was no physical sensation, the mental agony was unbearable like his brain was being scrambled. Rak attempted to scream, but no sound came. The scrambling continued at a furious pace in spite of his agony.

Rak stiffened on the bed, and began to convulse. Cherri and Tharill jumped to their feet and rushed to him. “Restrain him!” Shouted Cherri, and Tharill rushed to obey. Tharill held Rak’s shoulders in place, and the stranger followed his lead by holding down his legs. Rak vomited and Tharill was covered with the filth. Cherri said, “Put him on his side quickly, before he chokes!” The two men struggled to obey. They were both large men, and heavily muscled. Yet the force of Rak’s convulsions proved almost too much for them.

Cherri cleaned the vomit from Rak’s face, then cupped her hand under his chin to keep his teeth from rattling and potentially biting his tongue off. Then there was an awkward silence as the three exchanged worried looks until the convulsions began to die down minutes later.

As he began wiping away the vomit from his shirt with a rag that Cherri handed him, Tharill said, “I’ve never seen anything like that! What just happened?!”

Cherri didn’t respond at first, then said, “I don’t know what causes it. I’ve never seen anything like this myself, but my mother told me about them when she taught me the craft.” She looked up from the young man and looked into Tharill’s eyes intently and said, “She made me swear never to let anyone see someone go through that if I could help it, but especially a Shaman. They tend to assume they are possessed by evil spirits. They don’t talk about it, but people have been killed. Some even before they regained consciousness.”

Tharill nodded in understanding and said, “I won’t say anything. I’ve seen enough in the last two days not to discount the possibility, but nobody has kept a more level head than Rak has, and I owe him a chance to shed some light on what happened before we leap to any conclusions.” He looked down into Rak’s face with frustration at not being able to reach him. The face he beheld was no longer peaceful, but contorted into an awful grimace. Sweat glistened on his forehead, and his head lolled from side to side. He had started to groan quietly.

Cherri responded by filling a small cloth bag with some dried herbs that she kept in jars on a table against the far wall. Once the desired mixture was completed, she dipped the bag into a bowl of hot water for several moments until it was completely saturated, then she tossed the bag into the fire. The bag hissed as steam was emitted and filled the room with a soothing fragrance.

Tharill blinked sleepily, then noticed that Rak’s groaning had stopped, and his face looked slightly more relaxed. Cherri said, “That will help some, but before you ask, I have no idea when or even if he might wake up.”

Tharill sighed, then said, “I need some air.” He pulled his pipe from the pouch on his belt, the opened the door. Leaning back inside he said pointedly, “I will be back in a moment or two.” Then he exited the healer’s hut and shut the door behind him.

The night was cool again. The rain had soaked the soft ground, and cool air radiated from the moisture, but Tharill could also feel a distinct chill in the breeze that didn’t come from the wet undergrowth. It was a slow, winding wind, not violent like that of a storm, but more of a gentile settling into a new way of things, like the slow, quiet death of a very old man.

For the first time in Tharill’s many years of life, he began to feel old. His own mortality washed over him as he silently puffed on his pipe. He thought back on his youth and his old loves. He thought of the insecurities born of inexperience, and the fierce determination to prove himself in spite of them. He thought of the plans he had laid over the years, and the way they had been dashed to pieces by fate. He thought of the plans that had gone right in his life. He thought about his triumphs over his enemies, and he thought about the friends he had made.

He thought about the time he had left and the challenges that lay before him, and he silently wished that another could carry that burden.

A shout came from the doorway, and the old Witan turned to see what had happened. The stranger stood in the doorway, and gestured emphatically for Tharill to return to the hut. Tharill emptied his pipe of its embers, and stamped them out on the ground to extinguish them. Then he ran to the hut and bolted through the doorway.

Rak sat up in the bed and was drinking from a cup of water that Cherri had given him. Tharill grinned, and said, “Well, pup! You got some explaining to do!” Then he rushed over to the bedside and hugged the young man until he gasped for lack of air.

Cherri punched Tharill in the side and he let go quickly, but when he looked at her, prepared to accept her wrath, there was mist in her eyes, and she laughed. She hugged Tharill in relief. When his face betrayed his surprise at her emotion, she said, “Oh, lay off! Just because I accept fate as it’s given doesn’t mean that I’m not glad when it’s kind to me!”

Rak was bewildered at all this emotion showered over him, but even more so on what he had just endured. He had been given no explanation for what had just happened, so he wasn’t sure what he was going to tell the others. After such a long sleep, he knew they would want one soon. He could tell that he had been asleep for a long time, as it was dark out. For all he knew he could have been asleep for days or longer.

As if reading his thoughts, Cherri said, “Now, old man, before you go interrogating our young friend here, you should let him get some rest. And you should get some too. You’ve been pacing around my home all damn day and you’ve hardly eaten anything in the meantime.”

Doubt clouded Tharill’s expression, and he looked at Rak expectingly. Rak said, “Don’t worry. Come by in the morning before you leave, and I’ll tell you what I can.” He looked relieved and he clapped the younger man on the shoulder, then said good night and left.

Cherri gave Rak a bowl of fish stew that she had made earlier, and suddenly Rak realized he was ravenous. She said, “Don’t have to tell you twice, do I? When you finish that, get some sleep.” She unrolled a blanket on the floor and gestured to the stranger that it was for him. He nodded in understanding, but didn’t move from his position leaning against the wall. Cherri left them where they were and left into her own bedroom to get some much needed sleep for herself.

Rak finished his stew and drank a long gulp of water, then lay back down in the bed. He was surprised at how exhausted he was considering he’d slept all day. He looked across the room at the stranger smiling at him from across the room, and considered saying something, but couldn’t think of anything to say, so he pulled the blanket over his shoulders and closed his eyes to sleep.

Before falling asleep, he heard the stranger say, “Well, I’ll be damned!” Then he lay down on the floor and wrapped himself in his own blanket, then he blew out the candle and they were plunged into darkness.

{Page Break}

Wonen had left Palla at her village. She had urged him to stay the night, reminding him that a Phayan spy was in all likelihood following him and would try again to find out what he knew. Wonen refused, saying that there was an outpost not far away he could stay at, and he had to make the most of his time so that he could reach his destination as quickly as possible.

They both had known that was a lie. Wonen had been humiliated by the young woman, and his anger at this humiliation had grown silently the entire journey. By the time they had reached her village, his rage had festered into a toxic knot in his heart, and he decided that he would prefer to see her dead than see her again at all. He was no murderer, and he admitted to himself that this was an idle fantasy. Still, when she had stood on a rock ledge over a severe drop off waiting for him to catch up, it was a pleasant thought for him to imagine shoving her over the edge and watching her body dashed to pieces on its way down to wherever it might end up. She had asked what made him smile like that, and he had only shrugged in response.

Although he admitted to himself that her advice to stay the night in her village was sound, he did not regret his declining her offer. He knew very well that he would not reach the outpost for another hour at least, and it had already been dark for hours. In spite of the danger, he was surprised to find himself reveling in his dark journey. He heard wolves howling in the distance, and other unseen animals moved among the trees.

He knew that sometimes Phayan Shamans would use their abilities to contact spirits other than Ghabus. Although officially they denied such blasphemy, they would use such rumors to make veiled threats when tensions rose between the tribes, so there was little doubt in Wonen’s mind that such a practice was not unheard of in their tribe. He smiled as he imagined the sounds he heard were vengeful spirits wandering between the trees, offering their services to him; to exact revenge for his humiliation upon that hated bitch who had fucked him the night before.

Seeing no reason not to give in to self-indulgence in the privacy of his own mind, he played with his feelings of having been wronged like a child might play in a puddle of mud. He imagined her laughing and sweating on top of him, her hair swaying back and forth to her movements. That hated woman! He imagined beating her. He imagined her crying helplessly. He laughed and sneered in contempt. He imagined fucking her again, and his member throbbed in excitement.

These thoughts built on top of each other, altering his memories of the night before, giving them a much more sinister hue. His excitement grew until he thought he might burst, and almost before he realized it, before him a spirit sat on the ground with legs crossed. It appeared as a young maiden just beginning to bloom into a woman, but he recognized it for what it was because of its transparency. She didn’t say anything, but just stared at him.

He spat, “Devil…” and the girl tilted her head back and laughed a wicked laugh that seemed to echo throughout the forest until Wonen thought there may be a hundred women laughing around him. He covered his ears at first, but then he hesitantly lowered his hands, when he saw that the young maiden had changed her appearance. She now appeared in the image of Palla. Her cloths barely hung on her exposed flesh, and her eyes were wide and wet with terror. Wonen smiled at this, and the terror left the spirits face, and she stood and began to caress the Shaman seductively.

The spirit spoke, “The pride of some men, to call me a devil,” she grasped his member through his trousers, and said, “when they dance my dance so expertly.”

Wonen pushed the spirit to the ground, who was becoming more solid with each passing moment. She fell into the undergrowth, and rolled a few feet away before coming to a stop. Even this movement seemed graceful and seductive.

When she came to a stop, Wonen could see that she had resumed her former appearance. Now that she was solid, he could better make out her features. Her hair was long and black as the night that surrounded them. It curled into tousled locks that reached all the way to her buttocks. Her eyes were an icy blue with black rings around the irises. He couldn’t be sure, but they were so bright that they seemed to emit their own light. Her skin was pale and firm. She wore a slip of green silk that concealed, but at the same time hugged her curves closely. Wonen’s eyes lingered on the curve of her neck and on the deep recesses above her collarbones, and his excitement grew.

He advanced on the spirit, and she retreated smoothly, holding up her hand and she said, “Oh, no, my pet! We must have a bargain first.”

Wonen cocked his head to one side in confusion. “Bargain?”

The spirit tilted her head to laugh again. Wonen wondered if the whole island could hear that tinkling laughter. It was as bright as bells and seemed without end. The echoes seemed to multiply upon each other until there seemed to be nothing else.

Finally the sound of the laughter ceased and she said, “Yes, silly man! That is what you brought me forth for!”

Wonen grinned in understanding. He had gotten this deep, and to reject her now seemed a very foolish thing to do. He said, “What do you propose?”

The spirit’s appearance changed again to resemble Palla and she fell to the ground. Her eyes were wide in terror and tears streaked her face. Her bosom heaved as she sobbed heavily.

Wonen said, “And how far will this vengeance extend? Just to her misery, or to her death?”

The spirit smiled. The smile on such a tearstained face was as lovely as it was horrible. She said, “As far as you wish, my love.”

Wonen played with the idea, rolling it around in his head as though it were wine he was savoring in his mouth.

The spirit stood, and she was her natural appearance again. She said, “I require sacrifice.”

“I offer you Palla’s pain,” Wonen said, thinking he had outsmarted the spirit.

She smiled seductively, and stepped closer. She placed her hand on his chest, and said, “Not that kind of sacrifice.” Then her lips touched his, and her hand slipped inside his shirt. She pressed further forward and her other hand slipped inside. She passed her hands over his chest to his shoulders and his shirt fell to the ground.

Wonen looked at the spirit, and smiled wickedly. Then he kissed her hard on the lips. He pulled away and said, “We have a bargain, devil.”

November 30th, 2011, 09:52 PM
Chapter 4

When Wonen awoke the next morning, he found himself sprawled on the ground. The morning light had just begun to peak over the horizon out to sea, and the light was more than he could bear even with his eyes shut. He lifted his head groggily and blinked his gummed up eyes. As soon as he could focus, he saw that all the undergrowth surrounding him within several feet had been scorched. Even the earth had been blackened. There was a stench lingering in the air that he couldn’t place, though he didn’t give it much thought because it hurt to think.

He attempted to rise to his feet and on his first attempt he failed. He tried again, and succeeded only after a great deal of effort to remain upright. He looked around and saw that he no longer had any of his supplies, and it was becoming apparent that he needed water desperately. Having no idea where he was, and seeing no indication of a trail, he began walking in a random direction.

He listened for sounds of water, and after about a half an hour, he was rewarded with the soft tinkling of a mountain stream coming from a split in a wall of stone several yards high. He half ran, half stumbled to the stream and drank deeply. He lifted his head when his belly was full, then he turned around and retched all the water he had drank onto the ground. Apparently he was a lot sicker than he had thought at first. He waited until his stomach settled down, then he turned back to the stream and drank again, this time more slowly.

Once he was satisfied, he lay on his back and rested. The light no longer hurt his eyes so much, but they were still sensitive. So he threw his arm over his head so his forearm covered his eyes. As he regained his breath, images from the night before trickled in slowly. At first he thought it may have only been a dream, but as the memories gained sharpness, he knew that everything he remembered had happened in truth.

Upon remembering the cause of the strange events of the night before, he was surprised to find that he had no feelings one way or another towards Palla. The rage itself had become an elixir to him. It lowered his resistance to its effects and allowed him to further delve into the depths of the hatred he was capable of.

He hadn’t been prepared for the thrill that hatred had given him. If he had, he might have been more cautious. He might have forced himself to let go of his humiliation and focus on his mission. Instead, he had imagined how he had been wronged and had imagined his revenge over and over, just to increase his excitement. His memories had been altered by the repetition so that the sex began to take a violent shade, and the violence of his revenge carried a sexual flavor as well.

Then when the spirit had appeared to him, the hatred and the lust had mixed into a deadly poison that ran through his veins, lending power to the black rite that had taken place. He wondered for a moment why the spirit had appeared so suddenly, but he didn’t wonder long. Clearly the mixture of hatred and lust, coupled with the unspoken wish to commune with dark spirits, had been a beacon for the spirit to draw itself to.

As the horror of what had occurred the night before unfolded fully in his mind, a terrible fear rose in his chest that left him near breathless. He gasped, and slowly exhaled, whispering her name, “Icara…” He shivered at the name. She had told him her name amidst the blasphemy and told him that it was a word of power. As he spoke it, tiny pin pricks of hot pain rose on his back and along his arms and legs where she had punctured him the night before. He looked down and saw tiny droplets of blood rising from his injuries like little gemstones. Although he could not see her, he could feel her presence, and he shrank in fear.

He dismissed his fear and instead attempted to focus on what he should do about this. He was filthy, so the first thing he would do was bathe. He took off his clothes, laying them beside the river, and he waded into the cool water. This served to wake him fully, and he felt better. He submerged his head and came back up gasping for air, then he found took his clothes and began washing them as well. Once most of the dirt and sweat and smell had been rinsed away, he stepped out of the water and laid his clothes on a large, flat rock to dry. Selecting an equally large, flat rock a few feet away, he did the same with his body.

As he dried, his thoughts returned to what he would do. He knew that he could not allow this spirit to settle on the bargain they had made the night before, but to summon it back was beyond what his courage would allow. He thought about informing his brothers in Kalayus, but that was only a little less terrifying. His actions marked him as a foul blasphemer. They would be sure to at the very least remove him from his office as Shaman and banish him from Kalayus permanently, and that was if they were merciful. The truth was he had no idea what his brothers would do if they found out. Nothing like this had ever happened before beyond the whispered rumors of the Phayus Shamans conducting dark rites when the authority of Ghabus didn’t suit their purposes. Even they were wise enough not to admit such practices openly in spite of their being composed of more than a third of the population of the island.

His deliberations went back and forth like this for a while longer, and before he knew it, Wonen began to feel himself drifting off to sleep.

{Page Break}

At the same time that Wonen was woken by the morning light, Rak was woken by Tharill at his bedside. He was smoking his pipe and sitting in the same chair he had been sitting in most of the day prior, though Rak wasn’t aware of that fact. He was aware that the Witan had an impatient expression on his face and was dressed for travel with a travel roll sitting on the floor next to the chair.

“Rise and shine!” Tharill exclaimed. “The sun is out, the fish are biting, and birds are singing. About time for this bird to sing me a song about what the hell is going on.”

Cherri hurried over from the other side of the room and said, “Oh good! You’re awake. Nevermind him, you should eat first. He won’t miss the whole damn thing by waiting a little longer,” Tharill looked at the woman as if he might ask who exactly she thought she was, but she didn’t give him the chance, “but missing breakfast when you’re not well will ruin your whole day, trust me.” She gave the Witan a look that left no question in his mind as to her opinion on the matter.

Rak tried to tell her that he was feeling fine, but before two words escaped his lips, she shushed him and placed a hot bowl of milk and soggy chunks of potato bread with two runny eggs sitting on top. After she walked away to do the same for the stranger who had also just woken up, Tharill looked back at Rak and raised an eyebrow expectantly.

Rak filled his mouth with a large spoonful of food, not wanting to upset the healer. Being equally reticent to irritate the old Witan, he didn’t take another right away. Instead he said, “I’ll tell you what I remember, but it’s not much.”

Between mouthfuls, Rak told him about how he had determined that the disk and the door were somehow connected and how one or the other seemed to have the ability to influence people. He told him about the sleepy feeling that would come over someone when they were about to be influenced. He told him about his experience before the doorway, and the decision, admittedly rash, to embrace this influence in order to attempt to discover something new.

He explained how he had entered into some kind of trance and how he had seemed to travel through the disk, then arriving on the other side the series of seemingly nonsensical visions he saw.

He trembled as he explained what happened next; the voice he heard, then the torture he experienced as his mind seemed to be violated. He was quiet then for a minute as he stared down at his half finished breakfast. He realized that he had no appetite, and he gave the bowl back to Cherri, whose hands trembled in empathy for the young man.

Nobody said anything for several minutes, then Rak said, “The next thing I remember, I was awake. I don’t know if any of that helps you make sense of all this.” He was quiet for a little longer, then looked up and said, “I hope he was a better help at that than I.” He indicated the stranger.

Tharill frowned. He said, “Well, actually he’s been no help at all. He doesn’t seem to speak.”

Rak looked confused, “What do you mean?”

Tharill shrugged and said, “Sometimes he can get his meaning across by acting it out with his hands, but when he tries to speak, it’s all gibberish.”

Rak looked from the Witan to the stranger then back again. “What do you mean he can’t talk? He talked last night just fine!”

Tharill and Cherri both leapt to their feet at the same time, and shouted, “What?!”

Their sudden excitement startled the stranger, who had just spilled his breakfast. He swore and said, “Damn!” then looked at the others like they had lost their minds.

Rak said, “See?!”

Tharill looked at the stranger then back at Rak and said, “See what? It’s just gibberish.”

Starting to get upset, Rak replied, “What are you talking about? He said, ‘Damn!’” Then a look of confusion came over him. He repeated himself softly, as if to hear the sound of the word. He realized that the sound was different. His eyes went wide, and he looked back at the stranger. He concentrated for a moment, then carefully said, “Can you understand me?”

Now it was the stranger’s turn to leap to his feet. He cried, “You speak Elanian!?”

Rak replied, “I don’t know what ‘Elanian’ means, but it seems we understand each other.”

With emotion, the stranger said, “My name is Asander.”

Rak smiled and said, “My name is Rak.”

Asander laughed and replied, “Rak, it is extremely good to make your acquaintance.”

Rak felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned and saw Tharill looking him in the eye. Tharill said slowly, “Rak, what the devil is going on?”

Rak said, “I understand what happened to me.” He looked back at Asander, who was doing his best to control his relief. “I think I was being taught how to speak like he does.”

The whole group was quiet for a moment, then Tharill said, “Well, you two should get packing, because you’re coming with me to Witenagemot.”

Cherri was taken aback in surprise and said, “They’re what?”

The Witan cut her off before she could say anything further. “No you don’t. I’ve been sporting this whole time and let you do your job. I did it because I respect you and what you do. But now I’m owed an explanation. Now you will let me do my job.” He turned towards Rak and the stranger and said, “You two, let’s get going before we miss the whole damn thing!”

{Page Break}

Rak packed quickly, then the three men went back to Tharill’s hut. After being told about the nature of their journey, Asander insisted that he have several items that had been taken from the wreck. Rak had learned on the way that the oversized boat wrecked on the beach was called a ship or a caravel. When Rak indicated he didn’t understand, Asander explained that there were different kinds of ships, one of which was the caravel. Rak was fascinated as Asander began speaking about the diverse kinds of ships and what they were used for. He was astounded to hear that the ship wrecked on the beach was a smaller variety.

Upon reaching the hut, Asander started collecting an assortment of items while Tharill watched impatiently. While he worked, Rak picked up one of the long curved blades. Asander saw his selection and smiled. “That, friend, is a cutlass. They’re favored by sailors and pirates because they are good for close quarter fighting that occurs when boarding ships,” he explained as he helped Rak fit a case for the blade into a strap he could fasten around his waist.

Rak frowned, ignoring the terms he didn’t understand, he said, “Does that happen frequently? The fighting I mean?”

Asander said, “All too often. There is an entire fleet dedicated exclusively to hunting pirates. And our merchant ships have enough encounters of their own that to take to sea without arming their crew is unheard of these days.”

Rak replied, “And these pirates. What are they?”

Asander didn’t reply. He had laid out an array of items on a table, and now he stood holding the long straight blade that Rak had seen earlier. He seemed to be in deep thought for a moment, then said, “I fear I know the answer to the question I am about to ask before I ask it. But I must ask.” He paused, then looked Rak in the eye, “Did any of the ship’s crew survive?”

Rak looked down and shook his head.

Asander suddenly looked very tired. Then he said, “Too many good men.” He shook his head suddenly, as if to rid himself of the sadness, then found what he was looking for. It was the case which held the long straight blade that Asander was holding. He drove the blade into the case, then he threw the blade over his shoulder putting his head and arm through a piece of dark brown cloth attached to both ends. Embroidered on the cloth was a small green wolves head. Something about the design made Rak’s heart quicken in excitement. Asander said, “I’m ready.”

They left the village just before mid-day. The minute they left, Tharill told Rak that he wanted him to find out what had brought Asander to their shores. Rak asked, and although breathless from the steady upward journey after several days of convalescence, Asander began to explain, while Rak translated for Tharill as best he could, although many of the terms he didn’t understand.

“I come from Elenia. Elenia is the name of the Kingdom, but it is also the name of the city that presides over it, the city where I was born. The City of Elenia sits in a valley with a large mountain range to the south, called the Spawen Mountains. What I’ve seen of this place reminds me of those mountains.

“South of those mountains are several cities which fall under the rule of Elenia, then south of them is the Molt Wilderness to the East. The Phoston River to the West flows out of the Molt Wilderness and into the sea. The wilderness and the river serve as a border between the Kingdom of Elenia and Kheph, a kingdom larger and older than Elenia, and much more sinister.

“They have a tradition that says that their kings rule over all life, and not just those of the citizens of their kingdom, but all life. They have a complex religion which goes hand in hand with their politics, so the King is also their High-Priest. They believe that their gods have endowed their kings with their power and placed them at the top of the world to act as their representative in the world of mortals. To them, their king is the voice of the gods.

“When my people first came to the land that was to become Elenia, they ruled all the land they knew about, and according to them, all the land they didn’t know about as well. We were proclaimed the subjects of their King immediately upon being discovered by their Governors. Those who contested this rule were slaughtered on the spot, and the rest of us were made slaves.

“This didn’t last long. We know little about our people before they came out of the mountains to the north, but we are told that they were great warriors. As more and more of us were captured and enslaved, they made the mistake of keeping us in large camps all together. In less than a year, we overthrew our taskmasters, one camp at a time. Soon, what had been a migrating people became an invading army which declared war on the Kingdom of Kheph.

“This war raged for thirty years until my people had conquered the lands that now make up the Kingdom of Elenia. Kheph abandoned the lands to us, and we became our own people. We established cities, and at first, each city ruled itself without any interference from other cities. Then a new King assumed the throne in Kheph, and he attempted to take back the lands that were once theirs, one city at a time. If they couldn’t defeat the whole people, then they intended to defeat us piece by piece.

“In response to this, my people united. A great warrior named Sojak organized the divided armies, and led them against the armies of Kheph. He took back the cities that had been lost, and he drove the invaders to the other side of the wilderness. For years to come, the armies of Kheph continued to try to push north only to be driven back.

“Eventually, the King who had rekindled the war died, and his son who ascended to the throne, was only a young boy. The driving force behind the war was gone, so the armies eventually just stopped coming, and the war ended.

“When that happened, Sojak was named King, to rule over all the people who he had led in battle. The Kingdom was called Elenia, as that was the name of Sojak’s wife, who had been killed during the war. He remarried and had many children, but he had one son from his first marriage named Elenvine, and it was this son who succeeded him. Ever since then, the royal line has been called the Sons of Elenia.

“Over the years that followed, Kheph still maintained that Elenia was not a Kindom, but they did nothing to enforce it. There were occasional wars, but it was never in the name of conquest like it had been in the beginning. It took several centuries but eventually the Kings of Kheph recognized us at a Kingdom in our own right, although they never regarded us as equals.

“Only one other time in history did Kheph attempt to conquer our lands. Three hundred years ago they invaded our lands and nearly destroyed us. But by this time, our roots were deep, our armies were strong, and we had powerful allies on our side. We drove them out.

“Although there have been minor battles since then, that was the last time full scale war has been waged between the two Kingdoms… until this spring.” Asander began to tremble with powerful emotions.

“King Altus was on the throne. He was a good King and very kind to his people. His father, King Polluck, had died when Altus was only nineteen years old. In spite of his youth, however, he proved a very capable ruler for more than forty years. Then this spring, agents planted in his palace staff assassinated Altus and his wife in the dark of night. They then proceeded to kill every member of the royal family and the household staff. At the same moment that they began this slaughter, the palace was attacked from without by Khephan soldiers who had infiltrated the city disguised as ambassadors and merchants. Thus, the royal guards were busy fighting the agents on the outside while the ones on the inside continued their bloody work.”

Asander paused for a moment, his fists clenched into tight balls of fury, then he said, “They murdered every single member of the royal family. Every member, except one.”

He looked at Rak in the eye and said, “I am Prince Asander, Son of Elenia.”

Rak didn’t completely understand what it meant to be a prince, but it was clear that he was someone of great importance.

Asander continued, “I was warned at the last minute of their attack, so I was able to escape the palace, but only barely. I fled the city into the Spawen Mountains and made it to the Spawen River where I took a fast boat down to the sea. A friend of mine who lives at the port there gave me his ship and a small crew. We intended to sail to Shisa, an island nation who is allied with Elenia, but Kheph had been hard at work trying to capture me. They occupied Shisa and set up a naval blockade in an attempt to capture me. We outmaneuvered the blockade, but we found ourselves with nowhere to go.

“When I was a boy, I was with my father when a report was given to him from a sailor that there was a string of habitable islands heretofore undiscovered along the coast of the North Country as it lead West out to sea. We knew that sailing unknown waters was of the utmost danger, but after much discussion with the captain, we knew that there was no other option. That is what brought me here?”

Rak finished translating for Tharill, who responded with Rak’s assistance, “And what happened to the men you brought with you? Rak tells me they were all dead.”

Asander didn’t respond at first, but instead began to shiver. Rak reached out and held his shoulder, and their eyes met, bringing Asander’s attention back on the question, “I told you. Sailing unknown waters is dangerous.” He smiled weakly.

Lifting out of his reverie, Asander’s eyes narrowed on Rak, “Now I have a question for you. How is it you speak Elenian?”

Rak explained what he could remember of his experience the night before. Upon hearing of Rak’s encounter with the door, the Prince’s eyes lit up in surprise, but a slow half-smile crept up as the story unfolded. When Rak was finished, Asander said, “I am sorry for your pain, my friend, but you may find that what happened to you with be as rewarding as it was painful, and not just because you can now speak with me. What do your people know of Magic?”

Rak was unable to translate the word for Tharill, so he said, “I don’t know what that is.”

“Let me explain. What happened to you on the ship would be a form of Magic. It can also take the form of unnatural occurrences, creating something from nothing, or superhuman powers. Sometimes people might have visions of the future, or they might see the spirits of nature or of the dead.”

Rak nodded at the last example, “Our Shamans speak with the spirit of the island.”

Asander said, “Exactly, but Magic is much greater than just speaking with a spirit.”

Rak hesitated before translating to Tharill, knowing that he wouldn’t approved. When he finally told the Witan what the Prince had said, the old man frowned, “Be careful who you discuss such things with if you plan to stay long here. Shamans take their role very seriously, as do the people they serve, and diminishing that role as insignificant tends to bring their harsh disapproval at best and at worst…,” he trailed off for a moment, then said, “The only people who dare to disrespect Ghabus, even indirectly, are the Phayans, and they are not well loved even in times of peace. At the moment, we may be facing war with our neighbors, so to be cast in their light would be very dangerous.”

Asander pressed his hands together in apology. “Please forgive me. I did not understand that your spirit was sacred to you. I only meant that with Magic, incredible feats may be accomplished if one is able to grasp its tenuous concepts.”

Tharill’s expression softened only a little. “Your apology is appreciated and accepted, but you still speak dangerously. You may share such things with Rak and myself, but to speak of this ‘Magic’ to any others is to invite disaster. People fear what they do not understand, and you, sir, are enough of a mystery without the aid of the unnatural.”

Asander smiled, “Thank you. In my country, there are many magic users, and they sometimes peddle their craft like an artisan. Even so, there is a great deal of mistrust towards the practitioners of the unseen arts, especially among the uneducated and the priesthood. Those who walk that road are likely to be cast as a witch to those whom they offend. Most practice in secret, or they will pool their resources for protection.

“My reason for mentioning it is this. Magic is a mystery. One can teach a boy to become a butcher or a blacksmith or a warrior. Men and women have their natural talents, but they are not bound to them. With hard work, one can learn almost any skill, regardless of talent. Yet despite the assertions of our more philosophical magicians who claim the ability is available to all who have the will to apprehend it, what we have seen is that it is beyond most people. They keys to Magic are usually the providence of those who were born with the gift.

“The door to the Captain’s Quarters of the ship is inhabited by a spirit named Decus, a Borali spirit. He was created to protect the commander of the ship from harm, and to serve him in whatever capacity it can. He is likely the reason why I survived and my comrades perished. Decus, like any spirit, may show himself to whomever he wishes, but Rak, to do what he did to you can only mean that you were able to receive it. He could not have entered you the way he did, had you not opened yourself to him. You have the gift my friend, although I would caution against letter strange spirits into your mind in the future.”

Rak had been translating for Tharill automatically throughout the explanation, but by the time it was over, Rak was speaking barely above a whisper. When Asander was done, Rak didn’t say anything, or look him or Tharill in the eye.

It was eventually Tharill that broke the silence, “So what does this mean? Rak can breathe fire or tear down trees with his bare hands?”

Rak shook his head in anger, but translated anyway. Asander chuckled, “Perhaps, if he ends up a sorcerer or perhaps a mantic. There are many schools of Magic to pursue. Some more powerful than others, but all have their uses. Rak, though the gift may bring you pain from time to time, you should know that I have never known a magic user to wish to be free of its burden.” Rak looked at him incredulously.

Asander continued, “It’s true. I asked a friend of mine whether he felt that the costs of his powers were ever too great. He said, ‘If you ever glance at the sun and your eyes become overwhelmed by its brightness, you might look away, but you would not cut out your eyes. The powers you wield, whether a magician, a tradesman, or a prince, are a part of who you are. The pain is not meant to punish you. It is there to protect you and to teach you. It will be your greatest ally, for those with power without the temperance of pain are truly lost.’

Rak was silent. Asander laid his hand on Rak’s shoulder and said, “To wish to be free of this gift would be like wishing to be a fish. You are a breed apart.”

Rak shrugged away from the Prince’s, then murmured, “You don’t know what it was like. It was like being torn apart.” Then he walked a short distance away.

Asander hesitated, as if deciding whether to share a secret or not, then approached him and said, “Perhaps you’re right. The difficulties of being a Prince are not the same as those of the Magician. Still, I would remind you that I know a thing or two about pain. Altus was more than the King I serve; he was my father. Elenia is not just a city; it is my home. Both were taken from me, and I was powerless to stop it.”

They were both silent for several minutes until finally Rak said, “Is Magic always like that was? You say it’s a part of who I am, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like something foreign forcing itself into me. Is that always how it is?”

Asander answered, “If that is normal, the magicians I’ve know hid it well. I’ve never actually known someone who was taught an entire language with magic, but I can imagine that would be fairly traumatic. Different types of magic bring different consequences, and usually they are manageable. It is not likely you will have to endure anything like you endured yesterday.”

Rak stared at no particular thing for several seconds, then looked Asander in the eyes and said, “I’d like to know more.”

The Prince smiled and said, “I thought you might.”

{Page Break}

Wonen woke as the sun reached midday. He had a moment of disorientation then remembered where he was. He had fallen asleep before dressing, and his skin had turned a dark pink, which he knew would very soon become a painful burn. He could already feel the burning in his lips. He rose to his feet and dressed slowly, feeling defeated, then he again drank deeply and rubbed the cold water against his face in a vain effort to extinguish the burning pain which was quickly increasing in intensity.

Taking refuge in the shade of the stone from which the water from the spring flowed, he contemplated his plight. He had lost all his supplies the night before, so he had to return to Palla’s village. The thought made him wince. He wondered if the pact he had made had already taken effect, and Palla was already being assaulted.

The spirit’s name again sounded in his mind, and the pain from the burns on his flesh took on a new dimension as the welts all over his body created from their diabolical lovemaking puckered sharply. They no longer bled, but the holes remained in his flesh. His memories of that dark rite were blurred, so he could not quite place what had caused the sores.

The fear of that encounter lingered, but there was a certain flavor to it that Wonen couldn’t place. He breathed her name again, “Icara…” and he got goose bumps. The fear remained, but he was forced to admit that he was also excited. He remembered her glistening flesh and her seemingly endless locks of midnight black hair spilling from her head. He remembered the promises she made. He remembered how he had transformed into the image of Palla, ill-clothed and trembling in fear. Fear mixed with lust and violence, until each gave way to the others in his mind.

Wonen shook his head sharply. He could not allow this. He now knew that for him there were consequences to those dark thoughts, although he suspected that his consequences had only just begun. He resolved himself to return to Palla’s village for supplies, and to see what her condition was. He had no idea what course of action he would take after that, but he hoped that the answer would present itself. He estimated that once he found the trail again, he would be back to her village within an hour. He began walking in the direction he thought he came from when he had found the spring, shading his burned face with his arm when trees gave way to open sunlight.

Within an hour he began recognizing features of the forest which surrounded him, and another half an hour after that, he found the mountain trail that lead from Palla’s village to the tribal lands of Kalayus. As the trail to Kalayus wound around the mountain, it veered to the left and went downward for a short while into a valley where the mountain that composed the tribal lands of Gamas met those that composed the lands of Kalayus. At this point the trail split in opposite directions.

The right path eventually started zigzagging up the steep mountainside, touching three Kalayus villages along the way before arriving at the highest point on the island which could be reached by men, where the cave of Ghabus cut into the mountain. The left path remained nearly at the lowest point of the valley, until it opened up into a gently rising pasture which ended in a forest of conifers as the incline of the land began to increase into a dome shaped mountain. This pasture marked the beginning of Phayus lands.

Each of the three tribes controlled one of four mountains on the island. The fourth mountain, whose peak was the lowest, was wild land which was reserved as a hunting ground for the three tribes, although the only tribe to hunt regularly was Phayus. It was located in the joint formed by the mountains of Phayus and Gamas, which had the next lowest peaks on the island, Phayus’ peak being a little lower than that of Gamas. Kalayus’ mountain had the highest peak on the island, which was where Wonen had been traveling when he had left his village two days before.

Taking the road to the left towards Palla’s village, he once again considered what he would do about his situation. The obvious solution would be to call up the spirit again and call the deal off. However, that presented a number of other problems. First, even if he had the courage for such a bold action, it was unlikely that the spirit would simply do as he asked. A pact had been made, and breaking it would not be easy.

Secondly, he was forced to question his conviction as much as his courage. The truth was, he could not be sure he could resist the lure of this spirit once summoned. He, a Shaman, meant to be the voice of Ghabus to his tribe, and Ghabus was the voice of wisdom, had been so easily swayed and seduced into consorting with devils and making infernal pacts. He was ashamed, but he was alarmed to find that he was also thrilled by the memories of the night before. He could call to mind almost every detail of the spirit’s perfect body. In spite of the fact that Wonen knew that to be an illusion, the soft flesh in his hands, and the hard press of her pelvis against his were fresh in his mind.

He shivered and whispered her name, “Icara…” Her image danced in his mind. Her slight frame flickered like a candle’s flame, and her skin glistened with sweat. She was barefoot, and with each step and turn of her dance, her toes traced arcane symbols in the dust on the ground. He sighed and indulged in the enticing vision, closing his eyes to shut out distraction. She wore the a sheer green fabric which thinly concealed her body underneath. On her forehead was a copper disk just a little larger than his thumbnail. A green ribbon fastened the disk to her head as well as held her midnight hair back away from her neck and shoulders.

In his mind’s eye, she smiled and slowly danced away from him. Frustrated, Wonen began to follow. She slowed, allowing him to catch up to her as she spun slowly on one foot. Her other knee was raised high in the air, and her toes pointed to the ground sharply. As he reached her, the lifted foot stretched out to stop him. Her touch thrilled him to no end, but she shook her finger in playful reprimand. Her foot lowered to the ground, and she stepped close to him. His heartbeat quickened at her closeness, and he bent down to kiss her.

She tilted her head up, as if to return his kiss, but barely had their lips touched before she stopped him, saying, “Open your eyes.” Wonen snapped his eyes open in surprise, and found that he had followed her in body as well as in mind. He had walked some distance in the opposite direction of Palla’s village, towards the fork that split between the tribe lands of Phayus and Kalayus. He was also alarmed to find that the trail before him led sharply downward towards the valley below. One more step in that direction would have led to a nasty fall had he expected level ground before him.

The thought of the danger passed quickly from his mind when the breeze picked up. Wonen couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as if the spirit’s voice was on the wind, whispering enticing suggestions into his ear. Wonen shuddered again as fear of the spirit mixed with desire and anticipation.

Again he breathed her name. “Icara…” He smiled wickedly as he began walking down the trail, following the path the spirit had led him down.

{Page Break}

Tharill and his companions arrived at the village of Witan Doran while it was still light, but he told the others that they would be staying here for the night. Rak had never traveled to any village outside his own, but he had heard stories from his brother, Wonen, who was very well traveled. That was how he knew this to be a farming village. The side of the mountain had been shaped into a series of flat steps hugging the mountain allowing for cultivation in level soil. The farmland was on the South-East side of the mountain, and was one of the areas of the island that received the most sunlight. A river ran down the mountain alongside the farming steps which could be redirected for irrigation purposes. In spite of the inconvenient location, it was the best producing farms on the island.

The homes were built directly into the mountain and were few and far between. Most were several stories high, and were home to several families. Tharill explained that because there were so few locations suitable for building homes in this steep area, they were always attempting to maximize the space available to them. As an unexpected result of these close quarters, the Witan explained, the people tended to take a guarded attitude to each other, especially outsiders. “I suppose when there is very little privacy it becomes even more important to keep ones thoughts to oneself.”

They reached the Witan’s private home, and Rak asked, “Are we staying with Doran?”

Tharill replied, “No, Doran is already at Witanagemot, no doubt. We’ll be visiting his daughter Palla. She serves as a messenger for her father, and also takes on some of his duties while he is away. She was the one who delivered the message that the Witanagemot had been called. She’s spoken to several other Witans on her way as well. My hope is that if we tell her about our friend here,” he indicated Asander, “she might be able to give us an idea of how well received we can expect his presence to be from the others. I am well liked by Doran because he shares my level head, but most of the others irk me with their extreme views.” He looked at Asander intently for a moment and said, “No doubt if you had been discovered by anyone other than me, you would be dead or held captive. My hope is that hearing your story under the auspice of Witanagemot where every Witan must be given full hearing before a decision may be made, your life may be spared. Who knows, perhaps we can find a way to return you to your home.”

Hearing Rak’s translation, Asander stood erect and said purposefully, “I appreciate your forethought on my behalf. You should know that I intend to do whatever is necessary to return to my home. In any case,” at this point he changed his speech to Tharill’s and sounded the words that he had learned from Rak, “Thank you.”

Tharill bowed in approval, then said, “Come on, I suspect we have a long night of explaining to do.

They were all surprised when upon being escorted by the Witan’s daughter into her home, she looked Asander in the eye and said purposefully, “So, you are the stranger then?”

The others were silent for a long moment, before Rak found the presence of mind to remember that Asander couldn’t answer for himself. “He cannot understand you. He has a speech of his own that only I understand.
His name is Asander. How did you know about him?”

A sorrowful look came over Palla, and she said, “I met your brother on my way here. We traveled together.” She looked away from Rak as she said this and turned toward a fire where a kettle was suspended, and she seemed very interested in what was brewing inside.

Tharill spoke next. “So he decided to go ahead and tell. I warned him to keep it to himself. I wonder who else he’s blabbed to. If any of the other Witans hear about this before we have a chance to explain things, they’ll have their minds made up before we even arrive no matter what we tell them.”

Palla shook her head, “He was careful not to say anything to me until he had a good reason to, although he had a lot to say about you.” She indicated Rak before continuing. “So, who is he?”

Tharill deferred to Rak, who told the story from the beginning. He glossed over explaining how he learned to speak Elenian, but Palla noticed immediately, and teased the information out of him. Once he told her, she said, “You know, with all the strange things I’ve heard since I came to your village, you shouldn’t worry about sounding strange, although I agree with Tharill that you should be careful about who you tell.”

Rak nodded obediently, then continued, with Asander’s help, to tell the story of how the Prince from across the sea came to arrive on their island. Palla listened intently. When he was finished, Palla looked at Asander for several minutes without saying anything. Nobody seemed to want to break the silence, even Tharill. It seemed that Palla was deciding her own opinion on the matter. Then finally she turned to Tharill and said, “So my guess is you want to know how the other Witans might react to the news of his presence.”

Tharill nodded. Palla said, “Not well, as you probably guessed. The Border Witans are ready for war and will tend to mistrust anyone not of our tribe. Theles and Roxas are cowards but that will not work to your advantage this time Tharill. They will fear him more than Gamora and the others.”

Tharill said, “Will none offer support? What of your father?”

Palla leaned forward in her chair, “What is it that you want Tharill? Is he to be made a member of the tribe?”

Tharill replied, “I feel like we should help him, but he cannot stay here. We should find a way to return him to his land.”

Palla’s laughter rang out and startled all who were there. She gave the distinct impression that she was completely humorless before this outburst. Even more intriguing, her wall remained lowered once the laughing subsided. She sighed and leaned back in her chair. She said, “On the first point, Witan, none could argue with you. On the second point… sure, let’s just return him home like a lost child. Never mind that his home is a place that before yesterday morning I never knew existed and you only learned about the day prior. Never mind that we have no idea how to get him to his destination, or how dangerous it might be…”

Rak interrupted, “We could repair his vessel.”

Palla looked incensed at the interruption, but didn’t say anything at first. After a moment of thinking it over she said, “You mentioned that there were others with him, others who had died. How many people would it take to operate that craft?”

Rak relayed the question to Asander, who gave a reply that made Rak’s expression turn hopeless. Rak gave the answer to the others, “He says at least half a dozen, and a full dozen would be better.”

Palla looked at them all sternly, “Neither of you have thought this through. Unless you do, you will have no support, even from my father.”

Tharill nodded, but his face was twisted into a scowl, “You are correct. I haven’t thought this through. Tell me then what you suggest. Shall we kill him now? Shall we throw him into the sea? Perhaps we could exile him to the hunting grounds. That way he may even survive to see nightfall when either the wolves or the Phayans will find and kill him for sure. Damn it, Palla! We’re not Phayans; we are Gamas! And while I understand as well as anyone that difficult choices must be made for the sake of the tribe, we are not murderers!”

Stunned at being spoken to so forcefully in her own house, Palla exhaled sharply, but she didn’t reply. Tharill lowered his voice and said pointedly, “I think it is you who has not thought this through.”

Palla sat upright and said, “Consider this, Tharill! His days on this island are numbered no matter how you look at it, but to get him back across the sea you will have to convince at least six people to abandon their home for his sake, never to return. And judging from the state of his companions, they will probably be killed along the way. What of when they arrive at their destination? The man is a fugitive. If he is found, those who travel with him will most likely be killed as well, all for the sake of a stranger!”

Palla and Tharill stared intently at each other, as if they may at any moment come to blows. The silence was broken when Tharill spoke. “I cannot control what happens to any of us. All I can do is try to do what I feel is right and hope that others will do the same.”

Palla’s shoulders noticeably relaxed, and her expression was one of resignation. She rested her head in her hand and said, “Rest for the night, and help yourself to what is in the kettle. I find myself without an appetite today, and I think I will retire early.”

Tharill said, “You do not look well, Palla. Of course you should rest, but you should eat something first.”

She glared at him and said, “I am fine, Tharill. I simply haven’t been sleeping well. Good night, Witan.” Then she climbed a staircase to the next level where the bedrooms were undoubtedly located. At the top of the stairs, she stopped and looked down at her visitors. She was hidden in shadow, so they could not see what she was looking at. Only Asander noticed that she was looking directly at Rak. Then the moment passed and
Palla retired, leaving her guests to their meal.

{Page Break}

Wonen arrived at the bottom of the valley where the path forked to the left and the right. To the right was his original destination, the peak of the island and the Cave of Ghabus. To the left was the low meadow and the lands of the Phayus tribe, who would most likely begin their assault on his tribesmen any day now. Both choices before him were bold, and would likely end in his death, yet he felt oddly resigned to whatever fate that lay before him.

I could still try to fix this, he thought to himself. The High Shaman may know how to deal with something like this. Besides, the Phayans aren’t likely to welcome me with open arms just cause I fell victim to temptation. They’d just as soon kill me as look at me.

Still, he hesitated. The truth was that the High Shaman would know that Wonen brought this on himself, and he would be sparing with his mercy.

Paralyzed with indecision, he sat on a large, flat stone that sat between the paths, and waited for the answer to come to him. When none did, he laid back and stared up at the night sky. The sky was cloudless, allowing the brilliance of the stars above to dazzle the stargazer below.

He waited for hours, and watched the moon appear over the crest of the mountain to travel directly overhead. It was nearly full, perhaps two or three days away from being full. Wonen remembered that as a child he liked to imagine that the crescent of the moon was a cup, and as it waxed, the cup was being filled, then just when it was ready to overflow, some great giant in the sky would come in and drink the cup empty. He used to think that when it rained, it was water from the cup spilling on the poor people below, ruining their fun.

In his training as a Shaman, he had learned to pay attention to the moon and her cycles. He knew that when the moon was full, certain things could happen that otherwise couldn’t. He knew that the full moon carried power. The Phayans may try to capitalize on the strength of the full moon to support their attack.

“It also makes it easier for me to appear.” Wonen jumped to his feet in fright. Next to where he had laid moments before sat Icara, although her demeanor had changed so much that he almost did not realize it was her. She did not look at him; she only stared at the moon as intently as he had. She wore a pale green dress, more modest than any he had seen her wear before. While her shoulders were bare, the dress was long and reached down to her feet. On her forehead was the same copper disk she had worn in his vision earlier that day. He saw now that on the disk was engraved a seven pointed star. There was nothing provocative in her posture. Instead she seemed at peace. Her ankles were crossed, and her hair was tied with a green ribbon in a ponytail. In her hands she held a flower which Wonen had never seen before.

As though reading his mind, she said, “It is called Jasmine. I am not a daughter of the moon, but the Jasmine flower is sacred to us both.”

Wonen wasn’t sure which question to ask first, but ultimately said, “You honor the moon, spirit?”

She smiled gently and nodded. “All spirits honor the moon for her powers. It is her kingdom in which we live when mortals cannot see us.”

Wonen nodded as though he understood, though what she said made little sense to him. He then asked, “Were you reading my thoughts?”

The spirit smiled peacefully, and replied, “I can read your thoughts because I have become a part of you. I know you wish to end our arrangement. You should know that it is a useless wish. The deed is done, and the woman is cursed, and we are now connected in a bond that cannot be broken.”

Wonen replied hopelessly, “So she cannot be saved?”

The spirit shrugged slightly and said, “There are powers stronger than mine I admit. I am but a servant, after all.” She then took Wonen’s hand and stood, pulling him to his feet as well. She then said, “I require sacrifice.”

Wonen stiffened as fear and desire raced through him, quickening his heart until it thumped against his ribs and made his ears ring. Summoning courage he didn’t no he had, he whispered, “No.”

The spirit’s smile was almost as sympathetic as it was cruel. She tilted her head back to laugh her terrible laugh as her appearance changed before his eyes. Her modest dress that before reached her feet, shortened to expose slender legs, the material began to hug her form and the color deepened. Her hair fell into tresses, and she sneered wickedly. She looked now the same as she did when she first appeared to the Shaman the night before. Despair filled Wonen’s heart and he understood that his will was no longer his own.

She then began kissing his face hard and clawing at his chest until blood ran freely. Tears streamed down his face as he gave in to lust. Desire mixed with despair until he couldn’t tell the difference as he moaned the spirit’s name, “Icara…”

November 30th, 2011, 10:00 PM
Chapter Five

Palla did not sleep well that night. Her dreams were tumultuous and threatening. Like all dreams, there was little of substance to hold on to. The man from across the sea was there, and someone she felt she should know but couldn’t place. The first man stood over her menacingly while the second stood behind the first, speaking words she had never heard before. The second man laid his hand on the first’s shoulder, who then drew a long, glowing blade from a case strapped to his back. On the strap was embroidered a green wolf’s head.

As the man drew the blade, a grey wolf appeared behind him. The wolf snarled and snapped in the air. Turning smoothly, almost slowly, the man raised his blade over his head and slew the wolf, who vanished into vapor. The man turned back to face Palla and said, “I slay my enemy every night, though one day he will slay me.” He then took a long drink of amber liquid from a glass flask in his empty hand, then he fell to the ground asleep.

Palla then could see behind him was a swooping valley of grassland. The ground began to tremble under her feet and the earth opened up in the center of the valley. From this chasm came a hoard of walking corpses. All were armed with weapons, some with axes or bows, some like the kind the man before her had carried, and some which she had never seen before. Then, from their slack mouths, a chant rose, rising in intensity with each round, “Elenia! Elenia! Thou violated maiden!”

At this moment, a hand settled on Palla’s shoulder, which caused her to whirl around in surprise. Before her stood three figures dressed in brightly colored clothing. Two were women. One had the look of a dancer. She had pale skin and very dark tresses of hair tied back in a ponytail. She wore a green dress that revealed almost as much as it concealed. On her forehead was a copper disk fastened in place with a green ribbon tied behind her head. The other had a plain figure and a stern expression on her face. She wore robes of violet and dark blue, and on her head was a circlet of gold with a blue gemstone affixed on her brow.

The man she did not recognize at first, but he wore the blue robes of a Shaman. The reason why she didn’t recognize him was because his expression was so wild as to be almost animalistic. His eyes were bloodshot and his lips curled in rage. His sandy brown hair, although soaked in sweat, was recognizable enough to make Palla gasp in surprise. This was the man she had slept with in the outpost the night of the storm. This was Wonen!

He advanced like an enraged animal, in short bursts, as though goading her into running, though she found that she could not move or take her eyes off of the man. Then finally, he leapt at her and landed on her chest, driving her to the ground. He tore at her chest and face. She could feel preternaturally long nails dig channels into her vulnerable flesh as fresh blood covered Wonen’s face and arms, lending to his animalistic appearance. She felt bones snap between his jaws. She sensed that she was slipping into death when suddenly he and the women were gone, and she was uninjured.

She stood up slowly and saw that she was surrounded by darkness. There was a dim light just above her which illuminated the ground on which she stood, which was hard, black, and had been polished to nearly a mirror surface. She did not have long to contemplate her surroundings when she heard a groan nearby. She whirled around to face it.

A face appeared in the darkness. It was Wonen again, although the wild expression was replaced by the mask of a corpse. His mouth was slack, and a hideous groan emanated from it. He rushed her and took hold of her throat, which he began to throttle violently. He drove her to the ground, which she was surprised to find was soft. She struggled with him and found herself entangled in blankets, until she fell off of her bed fully awake. She looked around her in panic, vigilant for any source of danger. Her eyes fell on a glyph in glowing orange floating above her headboard for a moment before fading into the ether.

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Palla did not sleep for the remainder of the night. She would begin to succumb to exhaustion, then she would feel cold fingers on her neck and come fully awake again. As dawn approached, she gave up and rose to get dressed. She stepped outside into the darkness and tried to forget about the dream and focus instead on the impending Witenagemot and the issues that would be addressed at that meeting. Yet every time she thought of Asander and the dilemma his presence created, she thought of the dream.

“Elenia! Elenia! Thou violated maiden!”

The chant echoed in her memory as she thought about the coming conflict with the Phayas tribe. The description Rak had given of the foreigner’s enemy had reminded her of Gamas old enemy, the Phayans. Back in antiquity, they had been one people occupying two different mountaintops. Kalayus had already separated themselves from the others to devote themselves to Ghabus completely.

The tribe had lived comfortable lives, but those destined to become Phayans lived in excess. Thus when shortages occurred, such as during an early winter, they would come to rely on their brothers on the other side of the island for support. Eventually, tribe Gamas was formed and they told their brothers to fend for themselves. The Phayans refused to acknowledge such an act and demanded Gamas support their brothers. War broke out resulting in Gamas enslavement.

Ghabus sent his Shamans to the Phayan Chiefs commanding them to release their brothers. Infuriated that Ghabus would side with those they believed had broken their sacred trust, the Phayan Chiefs killed the Shamans and broke off all contact with the Kalayus tribe.

Gamas lived in slavery for four years before they were freed by the Kalayus tribe. The Phayans regarded the Kalayans as mysterious and alien, but they never predicted that they might have warriors among them. Then out of the snowy slopes, a savage army decended. The Phayans were powerful warriors and hunters, but they could not comprehend or compete with the precision and efficiency of this unexpected army. They surrendered that very season. Tribe Gamas was released from bondage, and both tribes were instructed that they would offer their own Shamans as emissaries to Ghabus, that his voice may be heard by all tribes and not just one.

Gamas enthusiastically agreed, and pledged their devotion to the strange spirit of the mountain. Phayus, however, claimed that Gamas should be returned as members of their tribe, that while they may not be slaves, they still had a responsibility to their brothers. Ghabus ruled that Gamas would be its own tribe, and must be allowed to conduct their business as they saw fit. Phayus never agreed to these terms, but instead announced that their fellow tribesmen would be allowed to conduct themselves independently until such a time when their duty to their brothers demanded their loyalty to Phayus. Those who would oppose Phayus would be considered traitors to the tribe and their lives forfeit.

Every war since that unsteady truce had been a result of Phayus calling their distant brothers to serve the father tribe and Gamas refusing in order to maintain their independence. The story Rak had told of Elenia was remarkably similar.

She repeated the chant in her mind. “Elenia! Elenia! Thou violated maiden!” Perhaps this land of Elenia was not so different from her own.

It was at that moment that Palla decided that if she could find a way to help Asander return to his land, she would devote every effort to that end.

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Rak had slept very little that night. His mind was occupied with the things that Asander had told him about magic the day before. The Prince had not indicated that he himself had any first-hand knowledge of the subject, yet Rak was forced to wonder.

He thought back to one of the lessons that had stuck with Rak throughout the evening. “Magic is limitless, which we know from the legendary Magi. However, the lesser magicians separate into types according to their talents, just like normal men and women form trades. There are healers, priests, sorcerers, alchemists, and many others. Their abilities are very different, but their power is rooted in the same substance that makes up the whole of the universe.” Asander pointed to a waterfall they had passed and said, “Do you know where the rainbow comes from?” Rak shook his head, and Asander continued, “There was a small group several years ago who called themselves Hodos Chamelionis. They were a type of specialized mantic who used the powers of colors instead of the four elements. They discovered that all the colors that come from the rainbow are the result of pure white light passing through the water in the air, breaking it into the seven colors you can see. So even though each color is different from the others, they are just different manifestations of the white light.

“The order died out before very long because their magic was very limited and had few practical uses that couldn’t be accomplished by the larger schools of magic, but their discoveries were groundbreaking in magic’s relationship with the gods.”

Rak pondered for a moment, then said, “So there’s a different kind of magic for each color?”

Asander laughed and said, “If only it were that well organized. There are dozens of schools of magic, some that everyone has heard of, and many that nobody has ever heard of.

“The reason why it is groundbreaking is this. Once people believed that magic was limited to the environment one found oneself in. Mantics, for example, need to draw elemental energy from the elements they find around them, or if it’s lacking they must generate the energy from within themselves. Both of these sources are finite. Sorcerers are fairly adept at taking advantage of every resource available to them, but they still have limits.

“Magi, on the other hand, have always been known to have no limits. Either that or their limits are so distant that there is little chance they will ever reach them. Until the work of the Hodos Chamelionis group, there was no explanation for this phenomenon except a small clue in our creation myth. It says, ‘And the God of Life, who has no name, created Man, that through His guidance, Man might accomplish his will. And Man became Magi and governed himself and sought the God of Life.’”

Rak was puzzled. He said, “I don’t understand. How does that give any clue about why the Magi are so powerful?”

Asander replied, “Because that is right smack in the middle of the part where The God of Life is creating the other gods. What’s more, the end of that lists the Magi as one of the Gods. ‘And the number of the Gods under the God of Life was seven and their names were Thaya, Keshed, Pachad, Magi, Dalia, Borali, and Gist. And all hope to return to the Limitless Light, but only the Magi can redeem them.’

“The work of Hodos Chamelionis concluded that the reason why the Magi have no limitations is because they have overcome the illusion of limitation. The colors, to which the gods are associated, are all simply manifestations of pure white light. By the same token, all different types of magic are manifestations of the same energy source. When one becomes trapped within a certain mindset, even one as powerful as the mindset of sorcerer, you convince yourself that you can do anything a sorcerer can, but nothing more. A Magi, on the other hand, can do almost anything.”

Rak asked with wonder in his eyes, “Are there many Magi in your land?”

Asander replied, “Fortunately, no. At least that we know of. It has been suggested that most work entirely in secret, but that is merely conjecture. In any event, history has recorded only a handful of people who could rightfully be called Magi. When they do show up, however, they tend to change everything.”

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Rak had learned a great deal that day, and now, the following morning, he was having trouble sorting it all out. It seemed so strange and foreign to him, and yet somehow he was a part of this force of nature called magic. He wished to know what he was capable of, yet Asander only spoke in general terms. He never mentioned the specifics of how to access this strange power. Perhaps that was because Asander was not a magic user himself. Yet if that were the case, how was it that he knew so much else about the subject, the theory and the history.

He had mentioned the what, if not the how, of several magical techniques. He had told of the Mantics who could control the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. He had talked about healers who could remove illnesses and mend injuries with a simple touch. Conjurers could summon spirits of nature or the dead to physical appearance and could cause them to do their bidding. Sorcerers could harness the power of storms, lightning, ice, and fire. They could also create magical weapons or talismans. He had spoken of many other things, much of which was beyond Rak’s poor ability to imagine.

Curious, he began to concentrate on the air around him. Asander had said that some gifted with magic could create wind from stillness. He set his jaw and narrowed his eyes to a point half way between his bed and the ceiling. He pictured in his mind the air moving slowly around in a circle, gradually picking up speed.

Nothing happened.

He tried again, and again nothing happened.

Frustrated, he sat up in his bed. There must be some trick to it, he thought. He lifted his finger into the air, and made a circular motion as if to stir the air. He strained to feel any change in the movement of the air in the room, but he remained disappointed.

He cursed under his breath. If only there was someone who could show him the technical aspects of this gift the Prince had assured him he was blessed with. Sadly, the only people Rak knew of with any otherworldly abilities were the Shamans of Ghabus, and for all he knew, they might brand him a demon and kill him outright. No, any help he might receive was not likely to come from anyone on the island.

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Once dawn had broken and all were awake, Tharill informed Rak that he would be continuing to Witanagemot alone. “I admit that I am still at a loss as to how to convince the other Witans to agree to help our friend here. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention his presence at all. I just don’t know. I will have to decide when I get there. That’s why I have to go alone. Having you two in tow will raise to many questions before I will be ready to answer them.”

He then turned to Palla and said, “Will you look after them for a few days until this business is over with?”

She replied, “I expected as much. They are welcome here.”

Tharill nodded and said, “I will be back as soon as I can, though who knows how long it will take for us to sort this mess out. Stay out of sight, especially you.” He pointed at Asander.

Within the hour Tharill was gone. Palla had retreated into her own quarters, leaving Rak and Asander alone. Asander had offered to show Rak how to use the cutlass he had brought with him on their way up the mountain, and now they took advantage of their new found free time to do just that. Asander demonstrated how the cutlass was more effective at slashing than at stabbing as he made several arcs in the air while advancing with his feet in a shuffle motion. He also showed how the sword could be used as a defense as well as an offence, by deflecting the weapon of one’s opponent. This made it the favored weapon of both Elenian and Kephan armies. They drilled until Rak was exhausted and begged to stop.

Asander chuckled and said, “I was only twelve when I began studying swordsmanship with tutors hired by my father. My first tutor was a sergeant in the army who decided I would learn best the same way he would break in new draftees, yelling abuses at me while I was made to beg for more punishment. After the first day of training, I complained to my father who smiled and merely said he would speak to the sergeant.

“The next morning, I was rousted from my bed before dawn, and literally dragged out to the training field screaming for my life. He threw me into the dust, then threw a sword at my feet and told me to fight him. When I rose to my feet, I said some sorry defiance and turned back towards the palace until my father’s voice cut across the field, saying, ‘The good sergeant gave you an order!’

“That was the first time in my life I knew my rank would not protect me from everything.” He rubbed the back of his neck in discomfort, then said, “He beat the hell out of me until I thought he meant to murder me. When he finally let up, my father approached me and said, ‘The first time you can best our friend here, well I’ll throw him in the stocks for a week if you like, and I’ll even join him to sweeten it. Until then, you will show him the respect he has earned. And you will obey his orders for as long as it pleases me.’

“Since then, I have managed to beat every tutor assigned to me, and a fair portion of my generals. But I have never beet that first sergeant in a match of swords or anything else you can name. “

Rak looked at him suspiciously. When Asander noticed, he laughed and clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry yourself! I have no plans on drilling you to the extent that I was. I’m a Prince after all, and that means commanding armies when the time calls for it. I have responsibilities that come with my rank which by the grace of Keshed you’ll never have placed on your shoulders. What was done to me was a necessary lesson in humility. I only brought it up because you reminded me how difficult it is the first time. Rest assured, tomorrow, you will feel twice as awful.”

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Palla listened to the alien speech penetrating the walls into her quarters, and absently marveled at the phenomenon. Palla knew nothing of otherworldly things. Such things were the domain of the Shaman, not the only child of a Witan. Yet she easily recognized that what had happened to Rak was unprecedented. She wondered at the casualness of this unlikely pair in the face of such enormity.

Suddenly she remembered that this young man was Wonen’s brother. She wondered how the Shaman would respond if he discovered what had happened. She thought of his ranting disapproval of his brother’s recklessness the night Palla had slept with him. The reminder caused her to cringe rigidly in guilt and embarrassment.

For the first time since Wonen had asked her why she had slept with him that night, she asked herself the same question. She found no answer forthcoming. “I must be completely worthless,” she muttered to herself as she stared into the fire built to stave off the chill that had arrived with morning.

Left with nothing to distract her from her self-recriminations but the flickering of the fire casting long shadows across the floor, she attempted to push all thoughts of any kind from her mind. Her face twisted into a knot of concentration as she listened as attentively as possible to the snapping of the firewood. She was successful for a short period, and encouraged, she opened her eyes, only to be greeted by flickering shadows cast against an amber colored wooden floor which to her eyes reminder her of nothing less than the firelight playing across the Shaman’s bare chest in the midst of their intercourse.

Frustrated, she cursed out loud and wished for all the world that she had shown better judgment. A little startled at her unexpected outburst, she calmed herself and gazed further into the fire. Her eyelids began to grow heavy, but the hypnotic effect of the fire held her gaze fixed forward. For the first time in several days, she managed to let all thoughts fade away. Then when her mind was completely empty, like an ember being gently fanned into flames, she saw herself again in the midst of lovemaking. This time she did nothing to reject these memories. Instead she followed them and the feelings they created in her with detached observation.

In her mind’s eye, she rocked back and forth while straddled on top of the Shaman. Her hands rested on the muscles of his chest, which burned under her touch. Somewhere in the distant recesses of her mind, she felt there was something terribly wrong being done here, though what it was she could not name. Instead, she increased the tempo of her rocking in order to stave off the guilt she felt even then. Her eyes locked with his for only a moment then she shuddered in climax, and the thought which had risen to her mind at the moment their eyes locked was immediately banished.

She opened her eyes, and realized that she had been breathing deeply at this memory, as though it had been happening at that very moment. In spite of her excited state, she was able to recognize that whatever it was that she had felt when their eyes had locked may give a clue as to why she had given her body over to him so eagerly. Still, whatever the feeling was that she had felt before climax continued to elude her conscious observation.

The ache in her middle forced her to realize that she would pay for her allowance of this memory in more than simply guilt, and she stood and began to pace in frustration. At last, she moved to a window and opened it to the brisk chill. The effect calmed her somewhat, and she was grateful, though the feeling of breathlessness lingered.

At that moment, there was a knock on the door that startled her, “Yes?!” she said, feeling embarrassed for some reason.

The voice on the other side was Rak’s. “We’ve made something to eat,” he said cautiously.

She realized that she had no appetite, though she had not eaten anything yet today. “I won’t be joining you. Go ahead and eat without me.”

The voice on the other side of the door hesitated, then said, “May I come in?”

The request irritated her, but she felt it best not to increase his concern. “Yes, Rak, come in.”

The young man opened the door and leaned inside to look at her, but made no motion to enter the room. He said, “Are you feeling well? You haven’t eaten yet, so you must be hungry by now.”

She attempted to disarm him with a warm smile, though her distress showed around the edges. She said, “I am fine, just an upset stomach. Thank you, Rak.” In her mind she pleaded for him to leave.

Instead, he stepped through the doorway and said, “Can I get you some cool water or anything to calm your stomach?” The moment she caught sight of his full figure, she realized how similar Rak’s appearance was to his older brother’s. The ache in her middle became a knot of yearning which took her by surprise.

She gasped, then her expression became a mask of anger. “No thank you, Rak! I’d like to be left alone, if you would.”

The young man flinched at the reprimand. He apologized and left, closing the door gently behind him.

Palla sighed in frustration, feeling guilty for returning his thoughtfulness with anger. She sat again before the fire and watched the movement of the flames. Conflicting emotions churned within her like a pot of thick soup, and as they simmered, her eyes once again began to feel heavy under the entrancing effect of the flickering flames. She traced her collarbone with the tip of her middle finger, indulging one last time in desire before sleep overtook her.

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As she dreamed, she again found herself in the midst of intercourse with the Shaman. Firelight cast an amber glow across everything in the room. The timbers of the walls creaked against the force of the wind outside, and rain pelted the roof overhead. She rocked endlessly back and forth, struggling for a climax that refused to come. Every moment, although deeply pleasurable, only served to increase the tension within her instead of releasing it. She increased the pace in desperation.

She heard a voice across the room. She opened her eyes and struggled to see through the fog that had settled over her eyes. Willing herself to see what had called out to her, she saw a figure watching her. It looked like a man, portly and balding, and dressed in animal skins, but it was still too difficult to see. “Father?” she whispered between breaths. She was ashamed to be seen in such a state, but desperation drove her to continue.

The voice spoke again. It was whispered, so she could still not be sure who it was. “Why did you sleep with him?” She had no answer to give, so she remained silent, struggling for release. She thought, If I could only finish, I could think clearly.

The person watching stepped closer. It no longer looked portly, but looked fit and young. She thought that it might be Rak, but she couldn’t focus her vision. Again it whispered, “Why did you sleep with him?”

She looked down at the man beneath her. He twisted back and forth, as if having a nightmare. Even though he was directly underneath her, she couldn’t make out his features. She was unbelievably hot, and the sweat steamed off Palla and her lover like a rising mist, making her dizzy.

The person she had thought to be her father, then later thought to be Rak, stepped forward again. “This was not meant to be!” it hissed. “Why did you sleep with him?”

Palla cried out in frustration. Please! She clenched her hands into fists and pressed them into her temples. Please! I need it! She began to thrash, desperate for the climax that eluded her.

Suddenly, the voice was inches away from her face. She could see the silhouette, but the face was obscured in darkness. It seemed now to be a female figure with long dark tresses flowing about her figure. She leaned close and spat, “Cowardly bitch! Why did you sleep with him!?”

Confused, she looked down again. The man beneath her twisted in some sort of internal torment. She had not seen his face, as it was buried in the sheets on the bed they shared. Then he was facing up, and Palla realized in horror that the man possessed no face.

Her accuser leaned back, and suddenly she could see its features. It was a man, dressed in animal skins, with a thick dark beard on his face. His eyes were wild, as if they had silver just inside the pupils, so that a terrible gleam shown down from the center of the deepest blackest eyes. Yet his expression was not that of fury, but of deep sadness and heartbreak.

She turned her eyes away in shame. Then the man said softly, “This was not meant to be.”

The member inside of her pulsed slightly, and she quivered, feeling that now, at last, her release was imminent. She cried out in desperate anticipation, then in horror, she saw and felt everything that surrounded her fade away. She could no longer feel the man beneath her, and she clawed franticly to feel something beneath her. She felt the anticipated release die within her, leaving only a knot of terrible longing inside her.

She screamed as she fell through empty space until she found herself on the same polished black surface as the one from the night before. She sobbed, naked and alone, on the floor, watching the sweat and tears mingle on the brilliant blackness. Once again, she heard a groan, and she jerked her head up to see the source of the terrible sound. Two pale hands reached out of the darkness and into the light. She wanted to scramble to safety, but she was paralyzed. The hands fastened around her throat and forced her to the ground. The face above her was blank as a corpse. There was no rage in them, only empty, soulless intent.

She struggled to breath. Some distant glimmer of awareness told her that she was dreaming and that if she could manage to wake she would be safe, but her panic would not allow her to focus on anything but the lack of air in her lungs. She tried to kick at her assailant, but her legs would not respond. The slack mouth of the dead face above began to drool cold saliva onto her bare chest, and her desperate panic increased.

With one last desperate call for strength, she raised her leg and kicked out at the stomach of her attacker, which dissolved into smoke at the impact. Her quarters came rushing back and she found herself on the floor in front of the chair she had fallen asleep on. She lay face up, dazed and gasping for breath. She saw the same orange glyph as the night before hovering over the chair in which she had sat, then it faded into nothingness almost before she was aware enough to notice its presence.

She rolled over, then clutched her stomach, where the empty yearning ached within. She looked around for a moment, then she felt tears brimming in her eyes and she clutched herself as she sobbed into the floor.

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“Nothing’s happening,” Rak complained.

Asander said in as encouraging a voice as he could, “Give it time. It might happen tonight, or tomorrow night or next spring, but it will happen. But it will not happen the second you close your eyes. It doesn’t work like that.”

Rak looked doubtful, “Seems like an awful lot of work for with nothing to indicate that you’re even on the right track.”

Asander replied, “The trick is not to think of it as work. Just because you’re not making contact doesn’t mean that these exercises don’t have their own benefits. Learn to enjoy them for what they are, not for what they could give you somewhere down the road.”

They had been discussing magic for the last several hours. Rak had confided his attempt at making something happen the night before and the frustration he felt at his failure. When Rak had mentioned his desire for someone to teach him what he wanted to know, Asander had suggested finding a teacher in the spirit world. Failing to answer why he might know that such teachers might exist, he began coaching Rak on entering trance states in order to explore the spirit world. “I feel silly. Like I’m asking myself a question and expecting an answer.”

The exercise Rak was working on entailed imagining a place where Rak felt powerful, and waiting calmly for someone to come into that place of their own accord to introduce themselves to him. The place that Rak imagined was the edge of a high cliff overlooking the sea.

Asander coached him gently, “Make it as real as possible. Feel the air around you, and smell it too. Feel the earth underneath you. Hear the sounds. Lose yourself in these sensations.”

Rak focused. He felt the wind whip his hair. He smelled the salt in the air from the water below, which crashed against the rocks of the cliff in his mind creating a distant, gentile roaring sound. He admitted to himself that this was exhilarating, but he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. “My neck is starting to cramp.”

“That’s because you are still here, not where you should be.”

Rak didn’t know what that meant, but he didn’t bother to ask. He instead tried to ignore the pain in his neck. For his trouble, he noticed that his leg was starting to fall asleep. He shifted position, and found that his new position was no improvement over the first.

Asander noticed and said, “What good does it do to try and eliminate your attention to your body by paying more attention to it. Forget where you are, and be where you wish to be.”

Rak tried his best, but all he could think of was the need to move around. The cliff was far from his mind. He opened his eyes and said, “It’s no use. I can’t do it.”

Asander laughed and said, “If that sergeant I told you about was in my place, he’d make you find a rock as big as your head, then carry it a mile, just for saying the word ‘can’t’. Instead I’ll just tell you that I know from experience that there is no such thing as ‘can’t’. Trust me. There is only things that you are not willing to pay the price to do.

“As for the pain in your neck and your sleeping leg, there are a few remedies for that. Most important is that you get plenty of exercise. When your body is as near to perfection as possible, it will obey the commands of your mind more readily. But that will come in time. For now, the best thing you can do is try to teach your body this one skill in spite of its resistance.”

Rak said, “You talk as if my body is separate from me.”

Asander replied, “There is more truth to that statement than you realize. I won’t get distracted by explaining why that is so, but it may help to understand that the pain you feel is only your body complaining against the conditions you have placed it under. However, you must be in control, not your body.

“Why don’t you take a break. You don’t need to do this all at once. It will take time, but it will come.”

Rak stood and began stretching his legs. He suggested they make dinner, and Asander agreed. They found some potatoes, mushrooms, and a large dried cod in the larder. Rak soaked and fried the cod while Asander sliced the potatoes and mushrooms, then threw them in the pan with the cod.

When the food was prepared, they sat down to eat. But before either of them could serve themselves, Rak blurted, “How are you planning to get back to your land, Asander?”

Asander sat back, stunned by the abruptness of the question, then he said, “Well, that’s just the crux of the matter, isn’t it. I need my ship repaired, and I need a crew to man it. If either of those things were forthcoming, we wouldn’t be in this position, would we?

“There’s no getting around it Rak, so I won’t lie to you. The only way I am going to be able to return home is with the help of you and your people. To further complicate matters, those who come with me may never return to this island, and once we get where we’re going, we will be fugitives.

“Rak, would you be willing to make such a sacrifice? The fact of the matter is that I need you. I won’t be able to speak to the crew without your assistance, and they would be helpless once we arrived. I can’t force you to agree to this, but you should know that I depend on you completely. By the grace of Keshed you have become the key to my return. And I must return, Rak, for the sake of my people, I must return”

Rak of course knew that all this was the case, but he had hoped that there might be some other option. “I wish that it could be someone else, someone older or more experienced. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Rak, I’m going to tell you a secret. No one knows what they’re doing, especially when it comes to matters like these. We’re all for the most part making it up as we go along. Can you name a single person who would know what to do in your situation?”

Rak didn’t have to think about it, “My friend Iama would be a thousand times better suited for this than I am. He understands things clearly. He sees beyond what is obvious. I don’t think there’s anything he couldn’t do.”

Asander replied, “He sounds like a remarkable man, and those are admirable qualities. But there is one thing that tells me that you are still more qualified than he is.” He leaned forward and pointed a finger at Rak’s chest. “You are the one it happened to. You can’t change that. If there were someone else better suited for the job, it would have happened to them. So have faith in yourself, because these things happen for a reason.”

Rak tried to accept what Asander was telling him, but he felt no better. All he could feel was fear and inadequacy. He said nothing for the remainder of the meal, then when he was finished, he excused himself and went to bed.

Asander remained, as he was feeling restless. He felt guilty for placing Rak in such a demanding position, but he had little choice. He knew that should he fail to return to Elenia and recover the throne, his people would remain slaves for perhaps generations. They were no longer the warriors they were the first time they were enslaved. Elenia had not known war on her own soil for three hundred years. Her people had thought themselves untouchable, and had become weak as a result.

Thinking of the beauty of his home land, he went to the window, which faced the sea in the East. It was dark out, but the moon was full this night, and reflected on the black waters below. Asander had no idea how far he had traveled, and he wondered if that moon which was just peaking over the waves now was directly overhead in the palace, or perhaps it had already set in the West. He wondered if maybe the sun might even be rising in Elenia.

At that moment, he knew that in spite of everything, the one thing driving his need to return home was simple homesickness. He sighed, then followed Rak’s example and went to bed, though he lay awake for a good long while before sleep overtook him.

{Page Break}

Rak was startled awake by something warm and soft pressing against his mouth. He wasn’t sure what it was until he opened his mouth to protest only to find a tongue that was not his own had entered. Rak had never kissed a girl before, and in his confusion the only thing he could think was that this was not what he imagined it would be. He found her forcefulness alarming, and there was a sour taste in her mouth and a heaviness to her breath that he found overwhelming.

Before he had time to wonder what had come over his host to cause her to behave this way, he suddenly felt a hand feeling around in the blankets. He knew instinctively what she searched for, just as he understood that she would find it waiting eagerly for her if he allowed her to continue one second longer.

In a panic, he shoved Palla off the bed, then rolled off the bed himself to the other side, wrapping his midsection in sheets as he did so to hide his embarrassing response to her attentions. Palla jumped to her feet the moment she hit the floor and punched the wall in frustration. Then she began to weave as though she was trying to balance on a beam before falling onto the bed like a felled tree. She didn’t move from that spot, but instead seemed to be trying to catch her breath. Rak wondered if she had forgotten he was there, and was too afraid to remind her of that fact. Instead he waited to see what she would do.

After several long moments, she lifted her head and looked around with bleary eyes, as if she had been asleep, then she lifted herself until she was sitting on one hip with one hand down and her legs bent behind her buttocks. Her hair fell into her eyes and she tried and failed to brush them away with her free hand. She took a deep breath and sighed audibly, “Mmm…” She leaned forward until Rak thought that she might lose her balance and fall off the bed. Then she said with slurred speech, “So now you’re too good for me? Well, I’m not going anywhere, Shaman! So if you want to sleep tonight, you’d better give me what I want.” At that moment, her arm that was supporting her gave way and she fell back onto the bed and laughed for a moment, then was quiet.

Rak remained perfectly still, as though he were a small animal caught in the lair of a predator, and he prayed that she had fallen back to sleep. She had called him Shaman. Was she talking about Wonen? Had she confused him for his older brother Wonen? He waited for some sign that this might be the case for several minutes before he grew impatient and took a few tentative steps forward to see if he could tell from closer up. He froze again when she began writhing on the bed and moaning softly. His heart pounded in his chest and he wished he was anywhere on the island but here in this room with her at this moment.

She rolled her head over to face him and opened her sleepy eyes. She smiled softly and said, “It’s all right, Rak. I know you’re not your brother. He was too full of himself anyway. You don’t need to be afraid. I’ll show you how.”

Growing confused and increasingly alarmed, Rak took several steps back towards the door, which seemed to distress the woman on his bed. The smile vanished and her eyes went wide. “No, please!” She reached for him, but it appeared that she was unable to move from the bed. Then, seeming to give up, she let her head fall so her face was buried in the sheets.

Rak groped for a candle and flint, sure that if he could have more light, he could sort out this situation peacefully. Striking a flame, the room became dimly illuminated whereas before he could only see by moonlight. That is when he saw the smoke collecting over his head. He looked around frantically to find the source, but it appeared that the smoke was coming from another room.

He rushed to Palla’s side and shouted, “Come on, Palla! There’s a fire!” She lifted her head slowly, and he realized she had been crying. She made no move to get off the bed. Becoming suddenly angry, he shouted, “Damn it! Get up! You can act crazy all you want once we’re out of this building! Don’t you understand? There’s a fire!”

She shook her head, as though trying to clear her head, then she looked around with eyes that were much more aware than minutes ago. As if realizing for the first time that she was in danger, she rolled of the bed holding the footboard to steady herself. “Help me walk, Rak.” She held one arm out for him, while steadying herself with the other.

Rak put Palla’s arm around his neck, and slipped his arm around her waist to help her balance. They stumbled together to the door. Rak tested the doorknob to see if the fire had reached the other side of the door. It was warm, but not hot. Just then, they heard Asander’s voice on the other side of the door. “Move away, I’m coming in!” They stepped back, and the door opened long enough for Asander to rush through then shut the door behind him. While the door was open, Rak saw that the wall opposite the door in the other room was engulfed in flames. “No way out that way, that’s for sure,” Asander said as he moved to the window. Rak tried to follow until Asander held up his hand to indicate that he should come no closer.

Asander watched outside before finally he found what he was looking for. “Damn! Archers! They’re trying to smoke us out. I assume that this would be your Phayans. Looks like they’ve decided to make a move before your leaders have a chance to.”

Rak translated for Palla, whose eyes went wide. “The spy! He knows about Asander!”

Rak was confused, “I saw him too, but I don’t see…”

“The Witanagemot! They assumed we would be with Tharill at the meeting. They didn’t do anything about us until we were separated. If they planned to kill us, why did they wait until Tharill left?”

Understanding dawned on Rak, “Because they didn’t want any warning to reach Witanagemot before now. They were planning on killing us at Witanagemot. Which means…”

Palla finished the thought, “… they’re attacking the Witans tonight!”

Asander didn’t understand anything being said, but he had reached the same conclusion that he assumed they had reached. He cut them off saying, “Before we worry about anything else, we need to get out of here before either the fire or the archers kill us. Any ideas?” None were forthcoming, so Asander said, “Ask her if she has a bow and arrows around here.” Rak translated, and Palla ran on bare feet across the floor to a trunk at the end of the bed Rak had been sleeping in. She opened the chest and fished out a long hunting bow and several arrows. She brought them to Asander who said, “Not necessarily ideal for our purposes, but it will do.” He pulled on the string to test its spring, then laid the arrows across the window sill before notching one onto the bowstring. He pressed against the wall and closed his eyes. He took several deep breaths, then seemed to murmur something inaudible to Rak.

Suddenly, he pivoted into the window and released his first arrow in one fluid motion. The second the arrow was released, another was notched and drawn. He shifted his weight back and leaned in the direction from which he had come lifting one foot inches above the ground, just in time to allow an arrow shaft to sail through empty space and bounce against the wall to Rak’s left. The instant the arrow had entered, Asander’s foot came down again putting him in the center of the window, and the second arrow was loosed. He rolled to the ground as two more arrows came whistling through empty air.

Asander pressed against the wall under the window as more arrows sailed in. He smiled at Rak and said, “That was the easy part.”

By this time, all three of them were coughing from the smoke collecting above their heads, and the heat was making them sweat. Rak could see flames licking the top of the doorframe, indicating that the fire had reached the wall on the other side and would soon be inside the room they were crouched it. “Asander, we need to get out of here, now!”

Asander nodded, and he reached up for another arrow from the window sill. He shouted over the roaring of the flames. “There are three more out there, and they won’t make easy targets since I picked of two of them already. Now they’ll be expecting return fire.”

He jumped up to fire a shot, but he hesitated to find his targets. They had moved from the spots he expected them. He found one and loosed his arrow. He dodged the instant his arrow was loosed, but he was only fast enough to take the arrow meant for his chest in the arm. He swore and sat down, holding the wound.

“Damn! It’s in the meat. I won’t be able to aim anymore. Still, made them pay for it. There’s only two left.” Asander closed his eyes and leaned his head back. “If either of you have any ideas, now’s the time.”

Rak didn’t need to tell Palla their situation. She crawled over to the window and took the bow from Asander and notched an arrow. As she leaned over Asander to take aim, he coughed and said, “You stink of wine! You’re drunk!” At that moment, she loosed her arrow and collapsed to the floor as two more arrows sailed in. Rak heard a strangled scream reward her shot.

Palla’s breath was heavy as she gathered her strength for a final shot. She notched her arrow, then leapt to her feet. She located her target and let the arrow fly, then she lost her balance and began to lean forward.

Rak heard one final scream as a single arrow sailed through the window. It swiped Palla across her forhead causing a small red cloud of mist to blow into the room and settle on Rak, who watched in horror as he crouched on the floor. She sighed and collapsed like a felled tree. She would have hit her head hard if Asander wasn’t waiting for her. He caught the falling woman in his arms, then put his hand over the wound on her head to stop the blood flow.

Asander rose to his feet, still holding Palla in his arms. He shouted, “Jump through the window! Now!”

Rak did as he was told and leapt through the window, rolling through the weeds before coming back to his feet. Asander said, “Now take her so I can get through, but be careful.” Rak came to the window and accepted the wounded woman into his arms. Asander helped Rak position her so that he could support her weight with both arms while still putting pressure on her forehead. Rak then moved away to allow Asander the room he needed to make his own escape from the burning building.

Once outside and a good distance from the flames, Asander ripped off a piece of cloth from the hem of Palla’s nightgown and bandaged her forehead. He whispered, “There are more of them, but they’re in the village. Do you hear the sound of fighting?”

Rak listened. He nodded when he heard women screaming and men shouting. There were scattered bellows of rage from time to time, and Rak could see smoke rising in the moonlight from several other locations. “We need to go back and help!”

Asander stopped him and said, “No! This is a ruse. There are only half a dozen in there at most. The rest are with their main force at your meeting. All this is meant to do is to terrify the villagers, but they won’t kill any who surrender because they need them. You’ve told me that this village provides most of the vegetables for your tribe, so if they are waging this war for food resources, they’ll not want to damage anything important or kill any workers.

“Meanwhile, we need to get out of here. They intend to kill us no matter what the cost, and besides, our friend here needs a surgeon sooner rather than later. So my young friend, where is the closest village from here?”

Rak was about to say that they should continue down the trail in the direction Tharill had gone, but then he remembered that was not an option, so he said, “We need to go back down the mountain. Cherri is the closest healer that can help her.”

Asander didn’t like that there was nothing closer, but he said, “Well, at least it’s downhill. Let’s go.”

November 30th, 2011, 10:03 PM
Chapter Six

Rak was the only one of the three who wasn’t injured in some way. Asander was able to walk, but he could only carry Palla for short distances to give Rak a rest. As it was, Rak’s strength was draining fast. Asander had assured him that if they did not reach Cherri by midday, then she would be beyond saving. That left about seven hours to complete a journey that usually took a full day to complete.

Palla drifted in and out of consciousness. She said nothing when awake, but while she was unconscious, she would moan and writhe in Rak’s arms. She had broken out in a cold sweat and was growing paler. From time to time, she would claw at her neck, making gurgling sounds as if gasping desperately for air.

They spoke little in their decent down the mountain and they took few rests. Asander warned that when it was discovered that the archers had been killed without accomplishing their task, others would follow. Asander would occasionally fall behind to cover their tracks, but he had no illusions that they would slow their pursuers down for long.

It was mid-morning when they were overtaken by the Phayan hunters. An arrow grazed Asander’s left cheek, leaving a line of blood that fell down to his collar. He shouted for Rak to take cover as he himself collapsed in the lee of a moss covered boulder overhanging the trail. Rak found shelter behind a tree felled by the storm from several nights ago.

Asander drew his sword and indicated to Rak to stay out of sight. He waited and listened to the rapid footsteps thudding through the soft undergrowth as the first of their pursuers drew near. When one Phayman, dressed in hardened leather and his face and hair painted black with soot, rounded the stone with an ax held high, Asander swung his sword into his middle. Rak peaked over the stump and marveled at the carnage his companion had exacted with his weapon.

As the first fell to the ground, the second and third engaged the prince, but having little defense against his weapon, they were dispatched without striking a blow. At that moment, two others came around the boulder and two more leaped down from above, surrounding the prince. Rak drew his cutlass and prepared to go to the assistance of his friend, but he hesitated, his courage having failed him.

Asander felled one of his opponents with a quick lunge to the throat, but another, who carried a spear instead of a clumsy ax kept him on the defensive. The other two used his hesitation to their advantage by sidestepping to each side and behind forming a triangle around him. One was overconfident and swung his ax, which Asander ducked under while sweeping his sword up, cutting him from left hip to right armpit.

The man with the spear again launched an offensive, keeping Asander off balance while the other repositioned himself for a killing blow. The man with the ax swung, but Asander managed to dodge, while maintaining his defense of the rapidly moving spear. He hefted the ax for another swing, which Asander dodged again, but the prince paid for dividing his attention by taking the spear point across the ribs.

He cried out in pain, and for the first time since he had met the stranger in his wreaked ship, Rak saw fear in his eyes. Rak knew that he was going to lose this battle without help, yet he sat paralyzed with fear of the wild Phaymen. They were heavily muscled, and their long hair combined with their painted faces made them look like mad devils. Even when dying, their eyes were wild with fierce animalism.

Asander stumbled, holding the sword in front of him defensively, but his legs seemed to lose strength. He fell to his knees and his head bowed in exhaustion. The Phayman with the spear leveled it at his chest while the one with the ax stepped back, seeming to defer to the authority of the other. Rak watched from his cover and trembled in fear. The Phayman drew his spear back for one dramatic blow that would impale his opponent, then he thrust forward.

Rak watched stunned as Asander leaned to the side as the spear impaled only air. With his left hand he grabbed the shaft of the spear and pulled the off balance Phayman towards him, while driving his sword through his opponent with his right hand. They Phayman roared at having his kill reversed in such a way. Releasing the spear, he clasped his hands and hammered them into Asander’s back, dropping him into the undergrowth. The Phayman’s wild eyes began to dim and glaze over. He stumbled, then fell to his knees and then collapsed, sword still imbedded in his abdomen.

Asander retrieved the fallen spear and stood. He leveled it at the remaining Phayman and waited. The Phayman hesitated, too stunned at this sudden turn to react properly, his ax held limply in his hands. Then he began to shake. He bellowed and raised his ax over his head. He ran at Asander full speed, his shriek cutting through the air. Then when the spear was thrust through his chest, he went silent.

The next moments for Rak were the most unreal he had ever experienced. He was noticing details that had never crossed his mind as having any significance. He heard birds overhead chirping. He saw ants crawling on the felled log before him, focused on some unknown task in some equally unknown location. Suddenly, Rak realized that his trousers were warm and wet. He crouched down a little lower, embarrassed that he had soiled himself.

Asander turned and faced his companion. “We need to go,” he said before falling to his knees. He put his hand to his ribs, then looked at his blood soaked palm. He laughed, as though such a thing was ironic, although the irony was lost on Rak. He looked at Rak again and said, “Well, maybe I could rest a moment.”

{Page Break}

Rak was too tired to wonder at Asander’s ability to keep going. He had bandaged his ribs with Rak’s assistance, then they had continued with Rak carrying Palla and Asander supporting himself by keeping his hand on Rak’s shoulder. Nothing was said the rest of the morning, as the effort was much too great for either of them, but Rak did notice that the amount of pressure Asander was putting his shoulder was steadily increasing as his own strength started to give out.

By the time Rak started recognizing landmarks close to his own village, Asander could go no further. He collapsed into a heap, breathing heavily and eyes glazed over. Rak laid Palla down next to him and said, “I’ll go get help!”

He ran full speed through the now familiar woods to his village. He grabbed the shirt of the first man he encountered and forced himself to speak over his breathlessness. “Help! Two injured! In the wood! Follow me!” The man nodded, then tapped the shoulders of two others nearby to help. The three of them followed the exhausted Rak through the woods where his companions waited. Once there, Rak tilted and collapsed in exhaustion next to his companions.

{Page Break}

Rak dreamed that he was standing on the beach in the dark. There was a thick mist on the water so that Rak could hear the waves crashing on the shore and he felt the cold spray on his face, but could not see it. He heard voices out in the water desperately calling to him. He ran to the water’s edge, but discovered that the water was ice cold, so cold that he could feel the life drain out of his legs the moment they came into contact with it. He leaped out of the water in horror, and the voices called to him with renewed desperation.

He turned around, and saw two figures walking towards the water on either side of him. On his left was Palla, and Asander was on his right. He attempted to warn them that the water was deadly, and to enter it would mean death. However, he found that he could not produce a sound. He attempted to scream, but it was as if he was cut off from his voice. He flailed his arms in warning, but his companions paid no heed. They continued their doomed march towards the sea as Rak collapsed on the beach and wept in desperate powerlessness.

{Page Break}

Rak woke to find himself in his own bed. His head throbbed in rhythm with his heartbeat, and the light from a single candle at his bedside proved too bright for his liking. He tried to roll over, but he found that his muscles protested movement. He didn’t think he had ever felt so awful before.

“Welcome back,” a voice said, causing Rak to cringe from the pounding headache, “though it looks like not completely.”

Rak managed a pathetic groan, then covered his head with his blanket, then he remembered his dream and said, “Are the people I came with still alive?”

The voice, which for the first time since he woke up Rak realized was his friend Iama, answered, “Last I knew they were. Cherri told me to tell you that you are not to go see them until she says so. She thinks she can help them, but not if she has, as she put it, ‘a bunch of idiots standing around getting in the way.’”

Suddenly Rak bolted upright, fighting nausea. “Iama! Phayus attacked us, and Asander thinks that they attacked the Witans at the same time!”

Iama’s expression darkened. “We knew you were attacked by Phaymen. That was obvious. So we sent runners to the Witanagemot to warn them. But why do you think they were attacked?”

Rak explained about the spy, and about how the attack came the same night they separated from Tharill. “They followed us up the mountain then chased us half way down again to try and kill us. It was very important to them. So why did they do it when we had the minimal protection of the village around us? They were planning on taking us and the Witans out in one blow. So when we were separated, the only way they could keep the advantage of surprise was to attack us at the same time.”

“What if they wanted to take you out, but didn’t want to alert the Witans by allowing Tharill to be absent?”

Rak thought for a moment then said, “I think they would have used a larger force if that were the case. They only had a dozen men from what we saw, but they were trying to make them stretch up at Palla’s village to create as much chaos as possible. I think that if they had the men to spare, they would have taken the village with a larger force. So where were the others? They must have been at Witanagemot.”

Iama nodded and said, “Then you have no firsthand knowledge that the Witanagemot was attacked? Well, your reasoning is sound, but let us hope that you are wrong.”

Just then there was a knock on the door. Iama answered and a young man leaned in to speak to Rak. “Cherri needs you. The stranger you were with is awake and she wants you to come get him.”

Rak replied, “What about Palla?” The runner shrugged to indicate he didn’t know, then he disappeared. Rak stood on wobbly legs and waited until his balance came back, then he found his trousers and boots and motioned for Iama to follow him.

On the way to Cherri’s hut, Rak explained everything that had happened since they had spoken last. He took his time and spoke in hushed tones, especially when relating what Asander had told him of this mysterious thing called magic that apparently Rak was somehow a part of. They reached Cherri’s hut just as Rak was finished with his narrative. They knocked on the door, and Cherri said from inside, “Wait a minute.” A few moments later the door opened, but instead of Cherri, it was Asander that stood in the doorway. His left arm was in a sling and in his right hand he carried a crude cane, which he leaned on heavily. No sooner was he through the door when Cherri shut the door behind him and said, “Take him somewhere else to rest and get him fed for goodness sakes!”

Rak was about to ask about Palla, but Iama stopped him. “If she had anything to say about her, she would have said it. Let her do what she needs to do. But for now, you should see my father. He’s been looking after things since you left with Tharill. He should know what’s going on. From what you are telling me, there’s nothing left to decide, and war is inevitable.”

Rak and Asander followed Iama to his father’s hut. When they arrived, Iama told them to wait outside. He ducked into the home and shut the door behind him. Rak said, “Well, this is unusual. What could he want to talk to his father about in private?” Asander shrugged with his good shoulder.

Several minutes passed before the door opened and Iama motioned for them to enter. Once inside, Iama showed them to a table at which Ianco sat. They took two chairs facing Ianco, while Iama sat next to his father. Then Ianco spoke.

“Iama tells me that we may be already at war. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on, and please, leave nothing out.” Rak looked at his friend, confused. Iama only nodded reassuringly.

So Rak revealed everything that had happened. The father and son opposite him did not interrupt for the most part, but when Rak was forced to backtrack to the events on the ship in order to explain why he was able to speak with Asander while no others could, they questioned him repeatedly about his experience after he fell unconscious. Rak was not comfortable speaking at length about magic, even with his friend’s father. He somehow felt that he was condemning himself by his admission and would soon be outcast as a devil or even killed. However, while Ianco and Iama were both very interested in what he had to say about it, they never expressed any indication of judgement, so Rak explained as much as he knew.

He continued his explanation by describing their escape from the house, but he was interrupted by Ianco when he said, “What was Palla doing in your room in the first place?”

Rak was suddenly ashamed. He hadn’t even told Asander of Palla’s strange behavior, and somehow he couldn’t help but feel like he was admitting some terrible transgression. Finally Rak began to explain, “Nothing happened, but she was acting really strange. Asander said she smelled like she was drunk. I woke up and she was kissing me and touching me. I didn’t know what to do at first, but then I pushed her off the bed and I got off on the other side. She got mad and punched the wall, and then she fell back on the bed. Then she started talking to me and I lit a candle, that’s when I noticed the smoke.” Rak realized that he was staring very intently at a knot in the wood of the table.

Ianco said, “You have nothing to be ashamed of Rak, you acted honorably.”

Rak continued, “There was something else. I think she thought I was Wonen at first.”

Ianco replied and said, “I’m not surprised. You look very much like your brother, and someone who had been drinking could easily mistake the two of you. It sounds like she has some sort of private relationship with your brother.”

Iama crossed his arms and smoothed the folds of his vest in irritation. “Well, as interesting as this woman’s sex life is, you should tell him what you told me about why you think the Witanagemot was attacked.”

Rak, glad to change the subject, did as he was asked and explained the suspicious circumstances surrounding the attack. “That’s why we came straight here instead of following Tharill.”

Ianco leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temples. He closed his eyes and didn’t say anything for a long moment. Finally he said, “So our Witans are either under attack or they are already dead. This was at the home of Witan Gamora, yes?” Rak nodded. “Gamora will have taken precautions that others would have overlooked. It may be that they have held off the attack, or perhaps even repulsed it already. However, the fact that we have received no messengers suggests the former is more likely.”

Nobody said anything for several moments as each was trying to come to terms with the war they would face over the coming months. The only sound was the wind against the walls of the hut causing the wooden planks to groan under the strain. Ianco broke the silence, “We’ll have another storm by nightfall I’m sure. The wind has been picking up since last night from the north-east.”

After another short moment of silence, Rak said, “Ianco, how are we supposed to fight a war? Asander knows how to fight, and Palla was amazing with the bow even though she was drunk. But I can’t think of anyone else who could fight those Phaymen.” His eyes had gone wide, bordering on panic. “I saw them, Ianco. They don’t fear death, like we do. They revel in it! How do we fight against something like that?”

Ianco stood and started to pace. He said, “I am not a warrior like your friend Asander here. That is a question you ought to ask him as he was able to face them and come out victorious. As for myself, I believe there is no mysterious secret to courage in the face of death. You must simply do what is necessary to survive and to protect those who depend on you. That isn’t something that can be taught in words, it is something that must come from facing your own fears.”

Rak said, “When Asander was fighting the Phaymen, I could see that he needed my help, but when I tried to help him, I couldn’t move. It was like I was dreaming and I had no control of my body. What if I can’t fight? What if all I can do is watch the people around me die while I can only stand and watch?”

“You must look inside for answers Rak. I can’t tell you how to conquer your own demons. That’s why they are your own.”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Ianco said, “Enter!”

The same young man who had summoned Rak entered the hut, but this time he spoke to Ianco. “Cherri asked me to get you.”

Ianco smiled and said, “I will be there shortly.” The runner thanked him and left, shutting the door behind him. Ianco turned back to Rak and said, “Talk to your friend about your fears. If nothing else I think he will understand your fears better than most because he himself is a warrior and has faced the men you fear. Ask him to teach you to fight like he does. If you have confidence in yourself, you stand a better chance of overcoming your fears in the future.

“You are welcome to stay here for awhile and help yourself to the larder until you are ready to return home.” Then Ianco left.

{Page Break}

Palla was lost. She wandered aimlessly through a forest of birch trees. It was night and a fog permeated everything she could see. The moon was full and luminous overhead, and it illuminated the fog around her so that she could see only the movement of the vapor around her, decreasing visibility rather than increasing it. She was wearing only a nightgown and she was barefoot. The moisture of the fog caused her nightgown to cling to her like a clammy second skin.

She could not remember how she had gotten there, and some sinister voice inside her told her that she had always been there. Her head was as foggy as the air around her, making it difficult to remember anything that had come before.

She began to hear voices coming out of the fog, whispering inaudibly. Even though she could not tell what they said, she could feel their enmity towards her. They threatened and accused. They illuminated her weakness. They exposed her shame. She wanted to hide, but there was no shelter to be found. She felt naked and vulnerable under their penetrating observation.

She heard one voice stand out from the others. It was calling to her urgently, but was almost too distant to hear. Embarrassed, she shrunk down. Since she had nowhere to hide, she tried to make herself as small as possible. Still the voice drew nearer. It was the voice of a woman. Palla could make out her distant silhouette in the fog. She shrunk further down, too ashamed to be seen.

Despite Palla’s efforts, the woman found her. She stepped through the fog and towered over her. She looked familiar, yet Palla could not place where she had seen the strange woman before. She was beautiful beyond belief. Her body was pale and lithe, and her dark hair fell around her in a cascade of shimmering ebony that seemed to chase the fog away. She was dressed in a soft green cloth that hugged close to her figure. When she spoke, her voice rang like silver bells. “Come, Palla! You must come with me!”

Palla looked at her face. Her mouth was turned up into the most disarming smile she had ever seen, but her eyes were cruel and flashed like polished knives. She repeated herself, “Come Palla, you must hide! Everyone will know what you’ve done. I will help you.”

Palla shrank further towards the ground. The woman’s smile turned into a sneer. “Pathetic bitch! Do you know what they will do to you when they find out about you? Do you know what they do to whores like you?” Palla began to sob, and when the woman saw her tears, she reached down and grabbed Palla’s hair. She twisted it around into her fist and lifted her head. She slapped Palla across the face, and her long, painted nails drew lines of blood as they grazed her face. Palla’s eyes were wide with terror, and she began to shake uncontrollably.

Suddenly, the woman pinched Palla’s face, then pressed it to her own in a kiss that had more to do with cruelty than lust. Palla struggled to free herself, but the woman was overpowering. Palla felt razor sharp teeth tear into lips and tongue, and when she finally wrested herself away, blood was flowing freely from her mouth. Palla collapsed to the ground and sobbed uncontrollably. The woman said nothing to her. She simply stood over her gloating.

Palla opened her eyes again, and she found herself on the polished black surface she had found herself on so many times before. She knew immediately what was coming and scrambled to her feet to escape even before she heard the inhuman groan from out of the darkness. Yet her desperation was not enough to save her from the dead hands that throttled her endlessly.

{Page Break}

Cherri opened the door to admit Ianco into her home. Without saying a word, she showed him to the bed where Palla lay. She said, “Since this craziness started I’ve seen more people out cold on this bed than I care to count. Now, I’ve cleaned and bound her wounds and treated to prevent festering. As far as I can tell she should have woken up by now. Her wound was not so serious as to be a danger after what I’ve done to her. But take a look at her!”

Ianco observed that the young woman writhed about on the bed. Her face contorted into a mask of terror and pain interchangeably. He looked at her hands, which were bound up with cloth. “What did she do to her hands?”

Cherri sighed in frustration, “Oh, that! Every time I turn around, she’s clawing around at her neck. She was about to injure herself further until I bound them up. See? There she goes again!” She pointed as Palla’s hands crept up to her neck where she seemed to struggle with an unseen enemy. “The wound to her head is no trouble for me. But these otherworldly matters are far beyond me. Rak was equally puzzling, but not this troubling. Frankly, Ianco, I fear that she will not survive, and I will have no explanation for her death.”

Ianco nodded and said, “Which is why you sent for me, yes?” Cherri nodded. Ianco puzzled over the tortured woman, then he said, “Will you excuse me for a while? I will send for you when I am done.” Cherri looked at him quizzically, stunned that she should be asked to leave her own home. Yet she trusted and respected the man more than any she had ever known. She found a cloak to protect herself from the weather and wrapped it close around her body. She opened the door and stepped outside into the wind, which was steadily growing in strength. Once outside she shut the door behind her.

Ianco pulled a chair up to the side of her bed and sat himself in it. Once he was comfortable, he folded his hands under his chin and closed his eyes. Several minutes later, his closed eyes began to flutter rapidly as he concentrated on the task at hand.

{Page Break}

Palla lay contently submerged in the ground cover of a lush garden. It was early summer, and the flowers were large and fragrant. Pollen floated in the air illuminated from above by the sun breaking through the canopy formed by the trees above. Palla could not remember how she had gotten there, but she gave it little thought because at this moment she thought she had never been so content. She felt the rich, black earth between her fingers. She smelled the intoxicating fragrance of the vegetation around her. Bees buzzed above her, collecting pollen from the flowers.

She reached up lazily with one hand and allowed a bee to land on her fingertip to rest. A second bee landed on the tip of one of her bare toes. She sighed, “Mmm…,” as the buzzing of its tiny wings tickled her toes, making her smile wider. Her intoxication was so complete that she failed to notice the silhouette of the small old man observing her.

She sat up suddenly and cried out in pain when the bee which had landed on her finger stung her. She gripped her finger in her other hand instinctively and inspected the hurt. The bee still sat on her finger until she pulled it off. The stinger had imbedded itself into her flesh, too deep to remove. It throbbed painfully. She put her finger to her lips to ease the hot pain.

At that moment, a shadow passed over her, causing her to look up. A young, beautiful woman stood over her. Palla felt as though she should know this woman, but could not place where she had seen her before. She did not understand why, but this beauty inspired a feeling of dread in her so powerful that the rich, gentile colors of the garden around her now seemed angry and violent.

At first, Palla wished to escape, but she was transfixed. Her fear faded slowly and was eventually replaced with a feeling of inevitability. The bewitching effect of the garden faded, and she slowly started to remember who she was and what had brought her to this moment. She remembered her past dreams. She remembered the woman who stood before her.

The woman reached down and held out her hand. Palla hesitated, knowing that what she was to be led to. Then a feeling of hopelessness washed over her, and she willingly took the woman’s hand. There was no sense in trying to escape. There was no escape in this cycle of horror. If this woman could find her in this garden of perfection, then she could find her anywhere.

Coming to her feet, she saw that behind the woman stood the Shaman. She flinched at first, thinking the man intended to throttle her here instead of in the usual place of emptiness in which she had been assaulted so many times before. But the look in his eyes was unlike the empty mindlessness she was accustomed to. Instead his expression appeared to match her own feelings of powerlessness to the will of this woman, as if his regret matched her own.

She started to speak, “What...,” but she could find no words for the question she wished to ask. The woman ignored her, but instead turned to lead her away from the garden. A voice of warning echoed behind her. It sounded distant, yet nearby at the same time. Palla ignored it at first, but it repeated itself more forcefully. Palla tried to turn to see what it was, but the woman held her hand fast, her eyes boring into her, warning her under no uncertain terms to ignore the voice behind her. Then they continued walking.

A third time she heard the voice, this time as loud as a shout. The woman now was the first to turn around and confront it, and Palla was at last allowed to see who spoke. It was an old man unfamiliar to her, but it seemed that the woman knew who it was. She spat at him, “You do not belong here, old man!”

He shouted, “Why are you doing this? You are a creature who serves love, not vengeance.”

She smiled wickedly, “You know enough about our kind that, like the moon, our dark halves are equal to our benevolent sides. Our bargain was one of love, but this bargain is one of vengeance.”

The man was not dissuaded, “I demand you stop this, spirit.”

The spirit lifted her head and laughed wickedly. Palla covered her ears at the sound, thinking her ears might burst from such a maddening sound. The laughter had not yet finished echoing in her mind when she spoke again, “You have no authority here, old man. You will delay me no more!” She waved her hand with a flick, at which the old man flew backward and seemed to disappear, as though he had fallen behind a veil that Palla could not see.

As though the interruption had never taken place, the spirit took Palla’s hand again and led her away from the garden. The three of them walked among the trees, which became increasingly dense making it difficult to navigate, yet the spirit moved with an astounding sureness. Minutes later, they found themselves on the rim of a dark valley. Mist filled the valley like water in a bowl, obscuring Palla’s view of anything within. The spirit turned to the Shaman and said, “This will be your kingdom, and I will be your bride. This woman will be your slave. She is my gift to you.” The Shaman received this statement stoically. The spirit continued, “Thank me, my love.”

The Shaman replied, “I think we have both become your slaves, my love.” The last was said with irony.

The spirit repeated herself, a tone of warning in her voice, “Thank me, my love.”

The Shaman, defeated, did as he was instructed. “Thank you, Icara.”

Icara smiled, then she lead the others into the valley of mist before them.

{Page Break}

Ianco fell out of his chair and hit the ground hard. He grunted and rubbed his sore backside. He was uninjured, but he knew that at his age he could have been badly hurt. He thanked fate that he had not. He stood and opened the door to admit Cherri into her home.

Cherri removed her cloak, which speckled with tiny wet spots, indicating that the wind outside had been joined by the beginnings of rain. She hung the cloak near the fire, then said to Ianco, “Well, what is it we’re dealing with here?”

Ianco replied, “This is something beyond my abilities.”

Cherri’s shoulders sank in disappointment. “Can you at least tell me what is causing this?”

“I never said we were beyond hope Cherri. To answer your question, she is obsessed by a very powerful spirit, a creature named Icara.” Cherri felt goose bumps raise on her flesh at the mention of the name, though she had never heard it before. Ianco continued, “She is a promiscuous seductress, but she will also bargain with men to cause women to sleep with them. As of yet, I thought that was the extent of her powers, but it appears she has a darker nature than I thought. I was powerless against her.”

Cherri said, “Never mind how you know all this, but what hope do we have against this spirit?”

Ianco smiled wickedly, “I think that we should bargain with her.”

Cherri was stunned. “Don’t you think that’s dangerous?”

Ianco nodded, “Yes, extremely.”

“Wonderful! Fine, what do you intend to do?”

Ianco replied, “Me? Nothing. She wants nothing from me. But I am certain that she will have a keen interest in my son.” Then without further explanation, Ianco opened the door and stepped out into the storm, leaving the befuddled healer no choice but to conclude that the man had lost his mind completely.

{Page Break}

Rak was explaining Iama some of the details of his journey that he had omitted earlier, when the door opened with a crash and Ianco entered and pushed the door closed against the raging winds. Ianco stopped for a moment to catch his breath as he leaned against the doorframe. Then joined the others at the table and poured himself a small cup of wine. He drained it in one gulp, then poured himself another. He then offered a cup to Rak and Asander. The latter declined, but the former, having never tasted wine, eagerly accepted. He sipped, and made a face, then sipped again. Whatever I expected, he thought to himself, this isn’t it.

Finally the old man spoke. “The young woman is obsessed by Icara.” Iama’s surprise was barely noticeable, but Rak knew his friend’s expressions well enough to know that there was a reaction. Rak himself had never heard the name before, but he was inexplicably repulsed and at the same time excited by it.

Ianco continued, still speaking to Iama. “From what I saw, it seems like Rak’s older brother made some kind of bargain with the spirit at Palla’s expense. From what Rak told us, my best guess is that he slept with her or tried to sleep with her and she somehow humiliated him. I’m thinking that it’s more likely that she slept with him. Wonen is a proud man, but he has been rejected before and never turned to pacts like this in response. But I can see him reacting badly to his own game being turned against him. I always felt that it may have been a mistake that he was made Shaman. He believes himself beyond reproach, and that is a dangerous quality for someone entrusted to Shamanic vision.

“Anyway, I think that there is still hope for her, but I can do nothing for her. If you are willing, I think you may be in a better position to bargain for Palla’s release than I am.”

Rak didn’t know what the old man meant by this, but Iama seemed to understand. He said, “I will see what I can do, father.” Then he stood and left out into the storm.

Ianco turned back to Rak and Asander and said, “Well, I think it’s about time we cleared the air, don’t you think?” It wasn’t until Rak saw Asander’s eyes go wide in surprise that he realized that Ianco was speaking in perfect Elenian, although a bit accented compared to Asander’s speech. He continued, “I’ll start at the beginning.

{Page Break}

“First of all, I was born in Elenia, in the city of Cormic. My father was a banker and my mother was a socialite. When they became aware that I had the gift of magic, they tried to be supportive, but it was clear that they had never considered that their oldest son might be a magician instead of a banker.

“Like any loving and supportive parents would, their first response was to send me away. I was sent to Kheph to study meditation in Solton, then to Kalikara to study Alchemy, and then to Shyama to study Astrology. I enjoyed my time with these expensive tutors, but I felt like the whole experience was a complete waste of time. These so called masters cited theory and dogma with weighty authority, but as far as I saw they had never encountered magic first hand. I wanted to return to Elenia to learn from street conjurers and thieves, not this pompous lot. So I wrote to my parents that I was very grateful, but I would not be needing them to send tuition payments anymore as I was through with the life of a scholar.

“Needless to say I was broke for the next several years of my life. I found odd jobs where I could find them. I worked as an assistant for an alchemist in Phoston, but I quickly grew restless, and I passed myself off as a mercenary to a caravan traveling to Elron and continuing by ship to Shisa. I must admit that my acting skills were much greater than my fighting skills and I am lucky there was no trouble on that trip. Once in Shisa I became relatively successful as an astrologer.

“That was how I got recruited on an exploration voyage. The mission of the voyage was to find where the North Country would end, if it ended at all. My assignment was to confirm or debunk the theory of a philosopher who believed that in great distances from Elenia, the position of the stars would change and new constellations would appear. In case you are wondering, as far as I have seen the stars do not change, but then again, we did not travel nearly as far as we intended.

“There were three ships that set out from Shisa. The commanding ship was called Chola Bay, and the subordinate ships were the Falchion and the Mystic Tide. I was berthed on the Falchion.”

Asander interrupted, “Yes, I know this voyage. It was a report by one of your sailors to my father that inspired me to seek refuge in an island to the North-West of Elenia until I was ready to return. The Falchion was supposed to have been lost at sea, but it turned up later in a pirate raid.”

Ianco continued, “I expected as much. The Falchion was separated from her sister ships in a gale unlike any we’ve ever seen. The crew was brave and capable and they managed to keep the ship from sinking in the gale. For that I owe them my life. But once the storm ended, they demanded that we return to Shisa. Our captain refused and instead insisted we try to regain contact with Chola Bay. The crew mutinied and the captain was killed. Those who were loyal to the captain were marooned on the closest island the rebel crew could find.

“I was left behind, not because of any loyalty to a captain I barely knew. The fact of it was, I wasn’t even a true member of the crew. But sailors are superstitious to a fault, and there were those that believed that I was at least partially responsible for the gale that separated us from our sister ships. Of course, the members of the crew I was marooned with were no less superstitious than their mates who had rebelled. So when illness struck some members of the marooned crew, I was the first to be blamed.

“That was the only point in my whole life that I can say that my education in astrology actually paid off in a real sense, because I was able to see weeks in advance certain signs relative to my own sign that said quite clearly, ‘Do not linger.’ So I had prepared in advance to escape by boat before I could be killed.

“I was betting on the idea that since we had seen so many uninhabited islands in the course of our voyage, that there would be more if I simply continued West. I was correct in the sense that there were still islands just this side of the North Country, but when several days later I sighted land, I didn’t realize that it was far from uninhabited. That was when I first arrived on this island.

“I still thought myself alone when I came ashore on a beach in Phayus territory. I explored the woods I found there, looking for food and fresh water. I soon found a stream from which I drank. Once I was full, I fell asleep in the bushes next to the stream.

“It was the noise of something splashing in the water that woke me. My first instinct was that it was a wild animal, and I silently prepared to defend myself. But instead of a wild animal, I found that I shared a stream with a woman.” Ianco grinned before continuing. “In all the years of my life, I have never seen such a thing of beauty. Her hair was long and crimson, and her skin was pale and creamy as milk. She was fully naked as she bathed. At first I thought that I had happened across a fairy creature, so exquisite was her beauty. She seemed such a frail thing, like a dove, yet when she turned and saw me, she was fearless.

“Her green eyes flashed defiantly and she looked down on me with such scrutiny that I wondered if she had forgotten that she wore nothing. Then she spoke in a language I could not understand, though the impression I got was that she was questioning why I was and what I was doing watching her bathe. I swear that if she had spoken Elenian, I would have been just as dumbfounded. She had bewitched me.

“She repeated her questioning again, and this time she advanced threateningly. Coming to my senses I tried to pantomime that I could not understand her language. It took several tries, but eventually she seemed to understand, though that did little to cause her to trust me. She backed away and retrieved her clothing, then backed away into the undergrowth to dress. When she returned, she approached me quickly, then before I realized it, I had a knife held to my throat and my wrist was locked behind my back.

“I was lead to a cave some distance up the mountain. It looked like it had been used to skin and slaughter game and cure the meat. She tied me up in a chair, and warned me that I should not make a noise or I would be killed, then she left.

“She returned several hours later with some small game in hand. She seemed to barely notice me while she built a fire, and prepared a meal. She did not untie me; instead she fed me by hand. When I was finished, she didn’t eat herself. Instead she tried to question me through pantomime. I didn’t understand anything that she was trying to ask me, but she didn’t lose patience. At sundown she admitted defeat. She warned me again to remain silent or I would be killed, then she put more wood on the fire and left.

“That night was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Being alone at sea was unnerving, but here I was completely helpless. After the sun went down I heard the wolves outside the cave. Their howls seemed to come from every direction. I started to hear them racing through the undergrowth after some pray or another, and at one point, they made a kill close enough to the cave that I was able to hear the strangled cry of whatever creature it was they killed, followed by that insane howling to let their kin know where to find the kill.

“I did as I was told and remained silent, though I admit there were times I knew that if I was not tied down, I would have bolted and run, most likely to my death. The fire helped calm my nerves, but towards the end of the night it started to die down. That was when I noticed the eyes glowing just outside the entrance to the cave. They watched me passively, but did not come any closer. They just waited there, as if waiting to see if the fire would remain burning until sunrise.

“By the time first light shown, the fire as little more than dull embers, and I was able to make out the silhouettes of at least three enormous wolves outside the cave in the pre-dawn light. Then for no apparent reason, all three of them at once understood that it was time to leave, and they trotted away. Only minutes later, the last flame died on the fire leaving only a softly curling line of smoke.

“The woman returned later and fed me, then she continued her attempt at questioning me. After a good long while of getting nowhere with our attempt at communicating, she began teaching me her language. That day she taught me ‘island’, ‘boat’, ‘sea’, and several other words she felt might be relevant.

“For several days she continued to teach me as best she could, and having nothing else to occupy my thoughts, I learned quickly. Eventually I understood well enough to answer her questions, ‘Who are you, and where did you come from?’ I told her, ‘My name is Jacob, and I came from across the sea.’ She told me her name was Mysda. At first she called me a liar, saying that there was nothing beyond the sea, but she understood that was the only place I could have come from.

“She left immediately after that and didn’t return that evening, leaving me to survive the night as best I could with a fire that was already dying and my hands and feet still bound. As soon as night feel, the wolves started their howling again, as they had done every night of my captivity. I thought that was going to be my last night alive, that Mysda had sentenced me to death.

“Then sometime late into the night, I began to see a faint light peaking over the lip of the cave. A few minutes later I saw a torch, which was thrown into the dead fire, and several logs were piled on. Minutes later the fire was roaring cheerily, illuminating Mysda’s troubled face. She lay me on the ground to allow me to sleep more easily, but left me tied up. Then she laid down herself at the other side of the cave and went to sleep.

“Grateful for both the fire and the more comfortable position I had been placed in I fell asleep quickly. Several hours later, I was woken up again by my captor who cut my bonds giving me freedom of movement for the first time since I was brought to the cave. She said nothing, but instead went back to her sleeping position and went to sleep, keeping the knife still in hand.

“The next morning, she woke me up with her hand covering my mouth. She indicated to me to keep silent and to stay where I was. I understood what she meant when I started hearing male voices shouting her name. Again she cautioned me to stay low, then she left to meet the men calling for her. I could not see what was going on, but I heard their voices. I understood just enough of what was said to conclude that she had been very foolish to leave their village at night and that she was lucky to be alive. Within a few minutes they all left together.

“She didn’t return that night or the next. I explored the area around the cave, but never ventured far or for very long. Mysda’s meaning was clear to me that if I was found I would likely be killed. There was a bow and a quiver of arrows in the cave, so I was able to hunt and forage. Most of my time was spent thinking of Mysda.

“I was a young man then and although I had traveled a great deal, I had primarily kept the company of other men. My studies had occupied all my time through most of my childhood, and once I started earning a living from alchemy and astrology my only clients were wealthy nobles, the type who were very careful to keep their young beautiful daughters out of the sight of common men like myself.

“So now that I was being nursed and educated in such a way by such a startlingly beautiful woman, I admit that I was positively bewitched. I worried that she might not return since she had been gone for two days already, but on the third day, much to my relief, she returned. She continued to teach me her language as if there had been no interruption. As my mastery of her language grew, I told her of Elenia, and she told me about the island. I would talk for hours about my homeland, embellishing my adventures to make myself seem like some brave hero. Though she didn’t say so, I think that she understood that I was lying.

“This continued for several weeks longer, until midsummer. Mysda was sitting in front of me attempting to correct my annunciation of some word that I do not remember. We sat facing each other repeating the word, until suddenly in a moment of courage, I leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. To my surprise, she didn’t pull away, though she didn’t press forward either. I pulled away, and she looked at me as if waiting to see what I would do next. I felt sure that I had made a mistake, and that she would end the friendship that moment. Then, to my relief, she smiled and said, ‘That is called a kiss.’ I repeated the word, and she nodded in approval and continued as before.

“That night, after she left, I did not sleep. I kept the fire well fed, and I lay on the ground thinking about that kiss, and wondering if I would be given an opportunity to steal another. I made up my mind that if such an opportunity presented itself, I would not hesitate. However, I was never given a chance to act on that resolve, because as soon as I had made up my mind, I heard a shuffling sound outside the cave.

“I leapt to my feet to defend myself, but instead of some wild animal or an intruder, it was Mysda who entered the cave. She carried a torch to ward off any wolves which she threw into the fire as she passed, causing it to flare up abruptly. Then she walked up to me purposefully. At first I thought she might slap me or kill me or other such thing, but the moment she reached me, she took hold of my head and pressed her lips to mine. We made love, then when we were done, we held each other close, saying nothing. Then before dawn, she left again.

“After that, she came to visit me every afternoon, then she would leave before dusk, only to return late at night and leave again before dawn. We spent our days talking, and our nights making love. Then eventually, an afternoon in autumn, she didn’t come. It wasn’t the first time she had been unable to visit me, but I felt instinctively that there was something wrong. I thought maybe her interest was passing, but then an even more terrible thought occurred to me that she might have been discovered.

“She didn’t return that night or the night after. I reached the point where I determined that I was going to go find her and, if need be, mount a rescue. I told myself that if she didn’t arrive that night, I would go through with my plan, though I admitted that it was more notion than plan and it was bound to end in failure. I did not care about my odds, however. I was too enflamed with conviction.

“That night, however, she did come. But rather than provide some explanation for her absence, she instead embraced me briefly, then said, ‘We need to leave now.’ I observed several bruises on her face which told me more than I needed to know about the urgency needed to escape.

“We left that night and traveled around the mountain to the border of Phayas territory. By dawn, we were making our way up the mountain of the Gamas tribe. Mysda warned me that the danger had not passed, because the Gamas tribesmen close to the border were suspicious of unexpected intruders, and they were unlikely to be given the benefit of the doubt. We traveled by night and slept in hiding by day.

“When we arrived at this village, it was Tharill who found us first. He was several years younger than I, but he was old enough already to be puffed up with his own manliness. He challenged us, but Mysda explained that we had come from another Gamas village further up the mountain. She told him that, my name was Ianco and that I had been a farmer but had not been very good at it and I wished to try my hand as a fisherman.

“Tharill was still suspicious, and I could tell that it bothered him that a woman was speaking for me. So he led us to the man who was Witan at the time. Fortunately for us, he was less suspicious than Tharill was. He told us we were welcome to make our homes here if we would only share whatever bounty we made with the village. He even ordered this home built for us and a skiff loaned out to me so that I could begin my new trade.

“Tharill continued to watch me carefully, but my ineptitude towards fishing seemed to drop his guard. He laughed at the bungling of a man older than he was. I took it in good grace, and asked him humbly for his expert instruction. So Tharill taught me the fishermen’s trade and we became good friends and have remained so until now.”
Rak was so enraptured by this story that at first he didn’t realize it had ended. He nodded eagerly, encouraging Ianco to continue. When he realized the story had ended, he protested,

“That’s not the whole story is it? What happened to Mysda? And how do you know about this spirit that my brother bargained with.
Ianco replied, “I’m sorry Rak, I am tired. I think that story can wait until tomorrow.”
Rak was about to argue the matter, but Asander put his hand on Rak’s shoulder and said, “Come on, Rak. Let the man be. There is always tomorrow.” Then he led the younger man to the door, touched his finger to his forehead to Ianco and saying, “Good night, sir.” Then he opened the door and walked out into the storm with Rak in tow.

{Page Break}

Iama stood at the edge of the valley of mist. He listened to the wolves howling below and the shrieks of their victims. He knew these sounds represented not so much a physical danger, but rather a danger to his mind. These phantoms could not hurt his body, but they were much smarter than they seemed. He cautioned himself against the vices which would create openings in his defenses, such as pride, impatience, cowardice, and most of all lust.

Yet he knew that in spite of his vulnerability, most of the lesser spirits he was to find here were unaware that he had an advantage. More than any other mortal they had encountered, to Iama the world of spirit through which he traveled was as natural to him as the world of matter.

Armed with the conviction this knowledge gave him, he took a deep breath, then made his way down into the thick mist of the valley before him.

December 1st, 2011, 09:39 AM
It is really over whelming that you presented us with 6 chapters of your book at once! I prefer to be exposed a chapter at a time so that I can give each chapter a lot of attention and feed back. I feel fatigued, just looking at 6 chapters never mind reading, processes and then commenting on them!

I do intend to come back and read, I just need to set aside some time for it.

December 1st, 2011, 05:56 PM
Sorry about that. I wouldn't have normally done it except that I need to solve a dilemma before I can get any further. However, I think last night at about two in the morning, I've figured out what I need to do. Still, if anyone happens to have the time, I'd still love the feedback. Frankly, posting it out her makes me really insecure, especially regarding the sexuality in my book. I wonder sometimes if I've taken it too far, and my only defense is that it is necessary for the story.

January 8th, 2012, 03:37 PM
Having had a little browse over the first few paragraphs I feel safe in saying that your writing style is nicely judged and intriguing from the off. Beyond that I couldn't really say as there's getting on for 50,000 words here(!) If you could make a selection of maybe 1000 words I'll be happy to read it, but seeing an almost endless column of text scrolling away into infinity caused me to break out in a cold sweat. I'd love to read more but I really need to know that you want me to read one bit in particular.