The ship’s creaking and groaning was a rhythmic sound, even with the random intervals of a ripping saw echoing below the deck. The waters of the Lunerdeen River splashed against the hull, rocking the ship in odd sideways turns. Ka’s eyes lingered across the ship’s deck, consuming the sounds of random hammers that clanged underneath the deck and the saw that ripped into wood. Tirelessly, the Dead repaired the vessel as it sailed.
A dead soldier used his arm as a pin as the workers labored to rebuild the pinrail surrounding the mizzenmast. Two Dead cleaned the deck, scraping off barnacle and coral from the green wood; three Dead coiled ropes around pins and their arms; Dead soldiers patrolled along the battens. Remtil watched.
The magic shimmered against the patched sails, and pushed the ship against the westerly wind.
The Great Harbor of Lear drifted into the eastern horizon, and the night sky emerged out of the dusking sun. As the Great Harbor echoed with renewed noise of war; the armies, the wagons and torches disappeared behind the darkness of the Lunerdeen River. The roar of a new battle fizzled into a whisper and then a memory. The war quaked to a start like the low rumble of thunder before the dark clouds rolled over the sky.
The ships cruised silently against the river. Across the southern shore, the abandoned ruins of Minor Lear stretched from stone to woodland.
Learing once ruled most of the south and some of the northern shore, but the Learing had been pushed out by the Esnors from the north and the Saelish from the southwest. Minor Lear had been their capital city in the center of the Learing Empire, but now it was known as Minor Lear. At first, the Grismers named it Minor Lear to needle the Learing’s ego, but eventually the Learing accepted it. Ka was sure that the Lear were trying to retake enough land to overcompensate for their losses from an age too long ago, for no one who was old enough to remember. Even for a Lear.
Minor Lear was a desert of stone and random trees. A tower stood high in the middle of a forest, an abandoned dock sat alone along the Lunerdeen shore, and sagging walls drooped over a ridge. After seeing the capital of Lear, Ka could only imagine that the old capital had been just as magnificent. Enlarged beetles were the remaining habitants roaming about the ruins, but no Learing or Saelish were present.
Suckle moths swarmed about the ship, tiny creatures latching and nibbling onto flesh. Ka and Draft swatted away the moths, but the Dead continued to labor without hesitation as the troublesome insects nibbled at the few strands of flesh clinging to their bones.
Ka glimpsed at Draft when she thought he wasn’t looking. She was amused by they way he dawdled on the deck. The suckle moths’ flapping wings matched the patter of her heart as she considered touching Draft’s arm like she had in Lear. The memory of the feeling warmed her heart in the cold night. It scared her to have these feelings for him. She thought they had to be wrong, a mistake. A family with him was impossible, so she presumed such feelings were unnatural.
A Dead worker scraped the deck in front of her. Ka searched through its black sockets; she considered that the soul was trapped somewhere in that body. Mindless Drolls serviced to Remtil. She figured Remtil was planning to use the Dead for more than just building a ship and ferrying them across the river. She would have asked, but Remtil spent most of his time isolated. None of them argued, otherwise.
Remtil postured on the poop deck, watching the eastern horizon. The Firthtin moon returned the favor by eyeing him. He was motionless, silhouetted by the moon. The eerie Doren gave her pause, and she tried to ignore him. But she could not help but wonder about his motives, or his new army. She was naïve about his motives when he had helped her destroy the Warlock, but the shadows that had roamed his castle gave her hesitation to approach him as a friend. Remtil’s heart was not like her own and was misplaced in the world.
Remtil gave orders to his army with the slip of a casual spell from his lips. He sometimes raised the Book of Elements to his eyes and read the menacing spells aloud. At the last spoken word, the Dead would pause and then shift to new duties. The Book had changed as well. Ka would have asked about it, if she did not fear his cryptic personality. His change bothered her.
Her eyes found Draft leaning against the bowsprit, trying to be inconspicuous amongst the Dead. Ka knew he could disappear into a living crowd, witnessing him in the Blentiun Legion and the Lear village, but she figured he felt uncomfortable around the dead army. His living form was a stark contrast to their emotionless features. Ka smiled. She thought it was cute the way he tried to hide his discomfort in the unhallowed environment.
To Ka, it seemed normal going through one alien environment after another, like a casual walk through a typical village; passing Doren surrounded by shadows, under tree spiders and talking snails, meeting Lucefaun cryptically standing in her burnt village, a garden of insects tending for tree creatures; a border of upside down trees and floating rocks. To Draft, it wasn’t worth stealing.
She watched a tiny spider crawl across the pages of her book, and she was content to watch it cross until it reached the edge and dropped off. It scampered away and then spiraled over the side of the ship. She guessed even the unhallowed state of the Dead was too much for the simple insect. Again, she looked to Draft while amused by her thoughts.
Draft turned his head to see Ka smiling at him. He reciprocated a queer smile and then pretended to stare at the Trellid Moon that washed his body with light. When she realized her error, Ka wiped the smile from her face and reminded herself that Draft was a liar and a thief.
Ahead of the ships, a stray raft drifted down the river; its stern was submerged. The raft bounced off the caravel and slid into the larger hull of the cruiser before plummeting. Other debris came from the west and seemed to suck under the cruiser’s hull as they passed. Another ship perhaps? There was nothing evident on the western horizon, no ships, no fleet, not even a rowboat for native fishermen, except for a submerged town and tall cliffs.
Tops of buildings emerged from the northern side of Lunerdeen. A pack of silent dogs huddled and played on the roofs, using them as docks, a Silent Dogs’ Wharf.
The silent dog was a strange creature, devoid of sound, not even a whisper. A vacuum surrounded the creatures as they amassed to playing and eating random parry sharks. Something in their rubbery and dark-gray skin absorbed the sound that any other animal could produce.
Naturally, the creature used its abilities to determine direction and distance of their enemies so they could avoid them. They weren’t vicious by nature but an intruder could be knocked away quickly. Two long pectoral fins on each side eased their passage through water, three fluke caudal fins tailed the creature and four pectoral flippers propelled from the front. Its size and mass could overwhelm any outsider.
Ahead of them, the cliffs shadowed over the drowned city, the home of Pendle, the maker of the magic sapphire that was lodged in Ka’s hand. His desire had been to make pure magic that could only be wielded by a good person; it had drove him to perfect such items till his death. After the war, the Learing nobles had concluded it was their corruption of magic that forced them to lose so much land. Pendle had been killed by his own soldiers and buried under Esnor boots.
Ka arose from her sitting position and made her way to the starboard side to get a closer look at the creatures. Five dogs rubbed against the hull, enticing the ships to play like they were larger silent dogs. Tired and annoyed of being ignored by the large vessels, they swam back to their wharf. Their blubber and skin was worthless to any butcher, collector or hunter. Pendle managed to create membranes from their skins, and now those membranes roamed the Whistling Trees.
She began jotting notes about the creatures in the book of Creatures Past. “Mistress Ka?” It was Draft being more respectful than usual, and she barely nodded in response. “Can we lose the dead army and its master?” She paused from writing in her journal, considering the emotion behind the question. “I don’t trust him. Or his dead,” Draft added.
“I don’t think he can follow us too far. Not if we are to sneak past the Saelish unnoticed.” Ka thought for a moment and added as Draft began to shuffle away in disappointment from her answer, “Or anything else that may lie dormant out there.”
“What do you mean by that?” Ka never answered, thinking the thief was good as gone once they reached the shore.
The bridge and Pendle’s Mine had been swallowed under water since the river had been rerun by the Esnors, but the mine was still attached to the sunken city that was now the Silent Dog’s Wharf. On the eve of the two moons eclipse, the waters would recede to reveal the bridge, making it possible to enter the mine. She learned this from the pages of Notes of the Three Moons. The writer of the book was unknown. It always bothered her that she couldn’t investigate the author as much as the material in the book. But the person appeared to understand the moons.
The Exiled Moon drifted into the heart of the great Trellid Moon. The encompassed eclipse of the two moons darkened and then brightened. The power of the frail third moon coupled with the strength of the Trellid Moon pressured the river waters to succumb to its demands. The waves billowed in torrent and childish fits. The quaking water disagreed with bowing to the moons, but it conceded.
The water receded. A stone bridge emerged from the angry waters and was illuminated by the Trellid Moon. Connected to the Silent Dog Wharf, the bridge led on a curved path into the dark entrance of Pendle’s Mine. As the moons revealed the bridge, the crashing waves scared the silent dogs to dive into the river and swim towards the farthest buildings. The bridge was more intact than Ka had suspected; decorated in Learing sculptures, still grappled in angry profiles while killing large insects.
Draft was quick to hug the starboard side railing, eager to get off the ship. He was so intense that he looked like he was going to leap into the river and swim after the silent dogs. Grodic formed into his bipedal shape and saddled to Ka’s side also anticipating the loss of Remtil and his Dead. Remtil was nowhere in sight, which proved helpful to Ka so she didn’t have to feign an insincere goodbye.
The duo craft steered into the wharf and gently rubbed into the nearest building. Grodic was the first to hesitantly step onto the roof, taking subtle pokes with his foot. He smiled and reassuringly signaled the others to follow. Draft leapt onto the roof, and Ka followed close behind after taking another look behind her to find the mysterious Doren Thist.
The sails unfurled and the battens swiveled as the ship groaned. The ship twisted from the building and drifted backwards from the wharf; then breezed to the northeast. It headed straight into the northern shore like it intended to ram through it. Ka saw Remtil shadowed on the poop deck while holding out the Book of Elements. He had come out of hiding, just in time to direct his next mission. It was not necessary for Ka to hear the words from his lips; she was sure he was casting more spells into the air, fouling it with his toxin.
She became nervous while pondering his motives and the changes he had made to himself and to his kingdom. She regretted having to allow him to proceed to his ambiguous quest without trying to leash him. She knew he could enact terrible things without the slightest care. His motives were a mystery to her.
Ka noticed that Draft was beckoning her to follow him onto the bridge. She leapt behind him, catching his arm to avoid falling into the river. They exchanged pleasant smiles of relief, but then she quickly turned away in embarrassment. Internally, she verbally scorned herself for dropping her guard towards the thief. Perhaps it was the relief of exiting the ship of Dead, she concluded.
They sprinted across the bridge to reach the safety of the mine’s high ground before the eclipse ended. Ka and Draft were scared of drowning once the waters returned to their proper height, but Grodic only feared for Ka’s safety. Heedless, they rushed into the mine’s entrance and were swallowed into darkness.
Copyright 2010, 2014
by Jax E. Garson
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