Across the Elbow Sea, in the west, then, Ersahome sat upon the edge of the restless water, nestling itself comfortably into the surrounding low hills. As the party walked up the wide pathway toward the western edge of town, followed at some distance by Thom Halmert, Aleah found herself feeling not a little sad over their need to depart so quickly. It was the only course of action, under the circumstances—a giant is quite literally a big deal, and the siblings’ news was unsettling for many reasons—but she wished they might have tarried awhile. One night of rest had not been enough. Aleah reeled yet from the voyage and all the strangeness here. She wanted to explore awhile, get the lay of the town and drink in its newness for herself. The low, sweeping roofs of the buildings were different from almost any she’d seen before, save for those few glimpsed through the gates of the compound behind Chimera’s Landing. What was the relation? The roads and paths were all made of interlocking paving stones, cleverly fitted and smooth, the like of which she’d never seen before.The smells were different here as well, saltier and spicier, but also very pleasing. The food tasted different, everything seemed more pungent. The people here seemed partial to bright colors and intricate patterns in their clothes. The trees on the hills were similar to the oak trees on the isle, but larger and leafier, and their stands were smaller. The grass was thinner, more slender, and a different hue of green—yellower to the Isle’s bluish blades. Kairdwenne’s presence felt stronger here, which puzzled her. She was intrigued by everything she saw, and yet this place was but one landing on the edge of the great continent. It caught her breath to think about that idea.
“You’ve never been over before, is it?” Serenía said, suddenly just there and walking beside Aleah like she had been all along. Aleah shook her head. “Well, I’ve never been to the isle.”
“Oh, you really should visit, Sere. It’s beautiful!’
“I’m sure it is, Aleah. But, well, you’ve never seen Opal.”
Aleah stopped in her tracks. “Have you? Been there, I mean…?”
Serenía stopped and faced her, then got a strange look in her eyes, as if they had shifted their focus to some far, faraway place. “Yes. Once. Two summers ago.”
“I,—” Aleah began.
“I first thought that must be where you’d met your cat-man,” she said, then her eyes grew large. “Did he take you there?”
“To Opal, of course!”
“Oh, well, no, I—” she began, unwilling to discuss this, …discuss the Ferali.
From out of nowhere, Shaw was suddenly at her side. “Aleah! Come look,” he said, and grasped her hand before she could even respond and led her away up the hill to its summit as Serenía looked after her, that faraway expression seeming to lock on Aleah as she ran after her brother.
“What is it?” Aleah said, breathless and almost laughing. It was familiar. For all his quiet and brooding, Shaw seemed to be more energetic where Aleah was concerned, as if he understood that being energetic was the key to dealing with her.
“There. Look!” He turned her around.
They’d reached the top of the hill, climbed a fair bit above the edge of town and, there below, the shallow harbor lay. Aleah took in the sight. Ersahome was quite small, really. Evidence of how infrequently her people traveled back and forth between the isle and here. But it lent the place a rather idyllic quality. From here, the Stormy Petrel looked like a tiny ship meant to sail ponds. Then she turned around and saw that Shaw was was leaning against a tall post, atop which were three arrows. One pointed slightly down and toward the harbor. “Ersahome,” it said, “Population 335.” The other pointed south, down a rough but mostly level dirt path wide enough for two horses to ride abreast. “King’s Post,” it said, “32 King Leagues.” The third, mounted at the top, made her breath catch. It said, “Opal. 967 King Leagues.” It pointed almost due west, across trackless land.
“Wow,” Aleah said.
“Yeah,” Shaw said.
A familiar voice boomed out just then.
“This is where I bid you farewell, everybody. Yes. Fare all thee well,” said Thom Halmert, cresting the hill and looking around at everyone. “I shall of course keep locks and chains about your stuff, and wards thereupon as well. You’ll find it waiting at your safe return. Bonded watchmen only. Riders out on request for only a little gold.” He seemed nervous again, which made sense.
“We’ll be all right, old man,” Gareth said, chucking Halmert on the shoulder with a gauntleted hand, hard enough to make the big man actually wince. “I haven’t failed to return yet, hey?”
“Not that I know of,” Thom said, “the gods bless your heart!” He slapped Gareth on the back, and Gareth nearly lost his balance as he stumbled forward a step. “All right, then! Off with you all! I’m needed back down the hill for business, you understand.” He paused for a moment, making sure they were all looking at him. Then he said, quite somberly, “Be safe and well, everyone. Return well and fit and replete with treasures.” Then he looked right at Aleah. “You take care of them, missy.” And then to everyone else, “And you lot, look after her like your lives depend on it, right? ‘Cause of course they do. Right.”
Gareth Graycask smiled an uncomfortable smile at her. “I’m sure she’ll try, though I’ll keep trust in my sword first.”
The other fighter, Ben Shoemaker, smiled sheepishly at her and then faced Gareth. “Without her, you’d wind up being the first to die is my guess.”
“That’s enough!” Halmert said. “You’ve all signed on to the same party, haven’t you then? I’ve told lots like you before: The fight should never be the party’s alone. Hey? The priestess Aleah has earned pedigree. And you, Ben Shoemaker, are too good a lad to go starting trouble with that one.” He jerked a thumb in Gareth’s direction. Gareth, his face reddening, nodded once and began walking down the road toward King’s Post without looking back. “Aleah, you may soon enough be called upon to heal Shoemaker’s nose,” Halmert said conspiratorially.
Aleah blushed. Shaw watched Gareth’s back, his eyes narrowed. Ben, chastened, went see that Krimkikt and Serenía were ready to depart. They had walked off together toward the waiting horses, talking in low voices.
“Good luck,” Halmert said to Aleah and Shaw. “They’re a good bunch, you’ll see. So you will. Just takes some warming up to them, eh? Same as I said to them of you two! Ha. Yes.”
Aleah nodded, smiling, and Shaw shook his hand. He departed down the hill, leaving the two standing together beside “Bob” the packhorse as, almost randomly, the party began to saddle up for the long ride to King’s Post.
“You ready?” Shaw asked.
“As ever I’ll be,” Aleah answered.
To be continued.
Tharia: Roads to Adventure by James Pomeroy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.