|Sunrise in Ersahome|
High above the deep blue water, Aleah gaped in amazement. From the crow’s nest, the call went out, “Land ho! Land to port!” At last, she thought, her breath quickening, her green eyes growing wide. At last! There, in the distance, she saw it, as the ship rose atop the great, heaving swells of the Elbow Sea: the seemingly endless coastline of Ersa, caught in the pale light of the late afternoon’s westering sun. It seemed almost an illusion yet—land ghostly faded and blue-hued, barely defined apart from the distant sea and cloud-smudged sky— it was real. Real!
She turned and quickly descended the stairs from the fo'c's'le, her pale green robes gathered and lifted in one hand to keep them from tripping her, her other hand out for balance, passing Denton the navvy on her way down, her long blonde hair like a stream of sunlight flowing after her. “Did you see it? Did you see the land? To port! To port!” she nearly shouted in her excitement.
“Aye, young priestess. I did,” he called after her back, smiling and shaking his head. “We’ll be to port by the morrow, steady on the Fates’ way if they are kind,” he shouted, though she was paying him no more mind in her excitement as she went to find her brother.
“Shaw! Oh, Shaw!” Standing at the top of the double-wide stairs, peering into the shadows below, she did not want to head belowdecks to search for him, not when she could cast her eyes on the horizon and see land. “Come up and see!” she pleaded. “The land is visible!” It was useless, of course. Too much was going on amidships, as ever, and sailors and soldiers and officers and passengers were bustling up and down the steep stairs, going about their business, bustling to and fro like very determined ants. He would never hear her, she thought. “Shaw!” she tried again. Hopeless.
She started with surprise when he touched her shoulder, of course. It was as if he had caused a spark to jump between them, and she might have been cross but for the glory of the day and his disarming, innocuous smile, his pale blue eyes, as ever, calm and friendly, peering down at her from under his long, windblown, sandy-brown hair. Still, she had to ask him where he’d come from just then, or had he been on deck the whole time she’d been calling? He only smiled more. “Come along, then. Show me,” he said, his voice sounding vaguely amused.
She led him by the hand, negotiating the busy deck and guiding him up the steep stairs, back to the fo’c’s’le, and thence to port where, leaning out over the bulwark precariously, she pointed, all enthusiasm. “There! Look and see!”
And he did.
Denton came to stand beside them. “It’s Craftland’s Point,” he said.
“Where the King slew the wyrm,” Shaw said, looking at Denton, who nodded. He turned and scanned the horizon, though it was too far yet for even Shaw to make much out. “I wish we were dropping anchor there, if only for a day. The history must yet be visible there to anyone. And who knows what else might be discovered, by those with a special interest in the place.”
“Nobody goes there, now, magister,” Denton said. “The wyrm’s blood tainted the land where it soaked in. Even the stones went rotten as wormy apples.”
The three stood in silence awhile.
Gazing out at the vague, misty coastline, Aleah said at last, as if to herself, “We’ll be better off in Ersahome than nearer that place. Three hundred and two-score-more brave warriors died there, though Kel Benson prevailed in the end. It is a sad, sad place. I feel it now I’ve reached out to it.”
Shaw and Denton remained quiet, and the sounds of the sails and creaking of the ship’s wood, the shaking of its rigging and the endless splashing flow of the sea below, seemed then but a strange diaphanous veil draped haphazardly over the sounds of a distant battle, fought nearly 30 years before.
The voyage had been swift. The clime was temperate, and the wind stayed abaft the beam on the starboard side for much of the journey, and so the Stormy Petrol had made the coast of Ersa and Craftland’s Point in a mere two days. They would arrive at the port of Ersahome sometime in the early morning of the morrow, mere hours away.
Having supped together in their cabin, Aleah had taken her leave to go once more above where the air was as fresh as the night was cool. This was her preference. As a priestess of Kairdwenne, she preferred being out of doors among nature’s own. Eventually, she would have to brave the underworld, but that time had not come yet, and she was no way eager to hasten its arrival.
Shaw had, in her absence, gone once again to converse with the seasoned pilot, Teltin Kelver, with whom he found some camaraderie, owing to their both being introspective, cautious, and socially retiring, nor any way intentionally aloof.
“Seasonal winds favor the speed of the voyage this time of year,” Teltin said, nodding to himself and continuing to write notes and calculations in his log. “All we’re lucky, o’ course, as this time favors the sea serpents just as well, which too often adds a day or longer to the sailing.” And that was, in fact, usually true to a disquieting degree. Travelers had shared many tales over the years, and nearly all of them discouraged the very prudent from considering the voyage during summertime. Aleah had spotted one of the frightful beasts on the first day of the voyage, mere hours out from Port Mercer, engaged in mortal combat with a group of large, sleek whales, piebald and ferocious in demeanor. The sea serpent did not stand much of a chance against what Shaw told her was a “pod” of the black and white whales, and soon enough she saw its roiling coils no more, but a few of the whales’ tall black fins were seen to circle there for awhile as the ship passed by the scene . Eventually, she lost sight of them, and it turned out to be the only time she saw any creatures in the water save for some schools of large fish.
“It is passing strange that the sea has been so void of life this voyage,” Teltin said as he and Shaw shared a drink in his cabin. Shaw raised an inquisitive eyebrow and Teltin said, “Gods’ truth. This is the time of year the sea serpents migrate up the Elbow to the northern coasts.”
“A slurry so thick they foul the nets, as the chantey goes,” Shaw said.
“They foul the nets and gnaw on the keel,” Teltin agreed.
“So what’s happened, then?”
“I don’t know, though it’s ignorance that pains me to keep it.”
All that last night, Shaw and Aleah had been too restless to sleep. They were not alone in that. Among the dozen or so passengers making the trip from King’s Isle to the Ersa mainland, at least half were awake and about throughout the cool, humid night. Twice, they’d inadvertently startled another passenger, each of whom, wandering wraithlike upon the deck, had clearly thought him, and then herself, alone among the sleepless.
They had come nearer the shoreline, and whenever the wind lulled, from leeward strange scents, earthy and vegetative, reached them. The climate steadily slipped from the damp coolness of the sea into a denser, warmer humidity that hinted at summer’s pressing heat. In the distance, off port side, lightning flickered redly from time to time. Far south of them, a line of thunderstorms stretched for over a hundred leagues, east to west. Common wisdom said they were lucky the wind favored them and not such a line of storms. But who might say how long their luck would last once they made Ersahome?
“We will rue our obstinate wakefulness, I fear,” Shaw said to her as they leaned sleepily against the foremast and watched the bowsprit rise and fall.
“Well, it will do us no good to dwell on it, either. Besides which, I am not inclined to give in to sleep so close to the shore. You never know what you might mi—”
Lightning flashed in the far off distance, somewhere inland and far away, and in that moment, even at a mile out from the shoreline, she saw a form briefly silhouetted in the flickering light. Massive. Moving. Walking. She turned and looked at Shaw, whose eyes were narrowed, focused, and searching. A light flickered from within them, momentarily lighting his brow and cheeks. He took in a breath.
“You saw that, then,” she said.
“I thought my mind played a trick on me. What—?”
“It was a giant, Aleah,” Shaw said, at least as impressed with the sight as she was. “It’s a very big giant, too, I’m thinking.” To Aleah’s ears he sounded positively gleeful to see such a sight, but he sobered quickly enough.
“Was it walking in the direction of Ersahome?” Aleah asked, her mouth suddenly dry, her stomach growing tight with anxiety. She shook her head, said, “Never mind. I already know the answer to that. But will it…?” Her voice trailed off as the lightning flickered again. The giant had turned away from the coast and was headed further inland, west-southwest toward King’s Post, its massive form nearly 200 feet tall, even hunched like it was, the head of its club rising over its shoulder, tipped with sharpened stones bigger than a northerman’s pride.
King’s Post… A town she and her brother only knew from stories of olden days, for only the most adventurous of their people went there now. Would it even be there when they arrived?
To be continued.
Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.