You could find anything if you hunted the beach long enough. Or so Egan hoped, as paced the sandy shores of Bray Bard’s Cove, letting the tide waters rush up between his toes and swirl around his ankles. A half-filled gunny sack slapped Egan’s thigh wetly as twisted to face the horizon, raising a hand to his brow to block the sun.
He saw nothing but the distant profile of Black Finger Rock jutting out of the ocean. Captain Hyrd said it was a seasword, and dangerous at that, but Egan had never been closer to it than a spyglass could bring him. Would never be closer than a spyglass could bring him, most likely. Grunting, Egan lowered his hand and continued his slow pace. The gunny-sack slapped his thigh with the rhythm of his steps.
The take was usually nothing better than bits of glass or smooth rocks, but sometimes Egan found other things, like octopi, or crabs, or conch shells. Very rarely he would find old coins, jewelry, or other trinkets from shipwrecks. On those joyous days, it would seem like everything in the world must be swallowed by the ocean sooner or later, just as sooner or later it all had to wash back up again.
Today, however, the ocean felt empty of mystery. A blue-black void without a hint of treasures. But Egan had not come to the beach for mysteries or treasure.
Egan inserted his hand into the gunny sack and brought out a sparkling bit of blue glass and held it up to the sun. Egan liked the glass, because it sparkled and you could use it to make pretty things. You could look through a bit of glass and the whole world would be different. He’d take a conch if he found one that seemed especially big, but he always ended up giving them away. The octopi and the crabs he left without fail, because they were bad luck and their meat was sour.
He threw the glass out into the water. It skipped three times before falling. He could usually skip five, but he deigned not to waste anymore. Instead, Egan picked up a bit of driftwood and poked the ground. Head down, shoulders slumped, he searched for bubbles that might indicate the presence of a clam.
There was nothing.
With pants folded up to his knees, and his feet bare, Egan let out a sigh and turned again to face the horizon. And it was this action that led him to the woman. For later, when he would recall her with the intensity of an old man remembering his youth, he would always think of her as the woman. Perhaps even the only woman.
Hidden as she was in an inlet, Egan might have walked right by her if some water had not gusted high up into the air and drawn his attention at that exact moment. Even then he might have dismissed the gush for a wave had it not come again, with greater urgency. He would replay this day many times in the years to come. Always thinking about what he might have done different. But in the end, Egan made his way to the inlet. Slowly though, for even then he knew that awful things could come out of the Deep.
Egan began to haphazardly crest the rock pile, taking care not to cut his feet, as his shoes were far away. After much scrambling, Egan crested the inlet and… he screamed when he saw the gray face staring at him from out of the waves. Fumbling backward, ducking behind a stone, his heart pounding, Egan could only stare.
The creature had a long nose and a weird sort of smile stamped forever in its face, and its motley eyes sparkled like new-made rainbows. It stared him in the face for only a moment before it turned, ducked back into the waters and disappeared. It had been gone only for a moment before Egan saw what its body had hidden.
A woman floated there, in the waters of the inlet, her golden brown hair undulating in the water like dark amber seaweed. A vision of beauty so breathtaking, he forgot all about the creature he had seen. In all of his sixteen years, Egan had never beheld such beauty. She slid softly beneath the waters. Egan started when he realized she was drowning.
“No!” Egan shouted.
In his reckless hurry downward, he cut his foot, right across the meaty sole of it. It would hurt later, but for now all he noticed was a small sting when his foot plunged into the cold saltwater. He wasted no time in throwing the gunny sack aside to free his arms.
Whoever she was, she was heavy. Heavier than Egan would have thought any woman of her size could be, and he ended up having to drag her back into the water a way so he could find some place shallow enough to bring ashore. All the while he spoke in his slow, plodding voice to avoid the horror of having to watch the waves come up over her face.
“Missus? Can you hear me Missus? Me name is Egan, missus. Can you hear me Missus?”
The woman wore a long black coat, leather, and it clung to every rock and bit of driftwood so adamantly that Egan was forced to take out a knife and cut it from her body. He hurried as much as he could, but it still felt she’d been under for far too long. Damn the gods she was heavy!
When he finally had her pulled a way up the beach, he knelt over the top of her, and patted her cheeks gently.
“Missus? Me name is Egan, missus. Are you thirsty, missus?”
It was a dumb question, and he would have asked it again just to have something to say in his bewilderment, except that she started to cough.
Egan waited politely for her to finish, then took his coat off and wrapped it around her shoulders. The coat was dry except for a bit at the bottom from when he’d hauled her out of the inlet.
“I’m going to go get my waterskin, Missus. I’ll be right back.”
He limped back to his possessions, which were only a satchel with a small waterskin, a bit of dried pork, and a cloak if the weather got too bad. He also had to stop long enough to cut off part of the cloak to bandage his foot when the sand and the grit became too painful.
She was groaning when he came back, which Egan figured was a good sign, although Captain Hyrd said that sometimes people moaned when they were dead, and that it was nothing but the air leaving their bodies.
“Missus? I have some water. Can you drink?”
The woman groaned in a different way than previously, which Egan took to be an affirmation. Egan pulled the plug of the waterskin out with his teeth, knelt over the woman and gingerly let a few drops of water fall onto her lips. This of course induced her to vomit in no less than three distinct heaves, which were, thankfully, directed opposite his lap. However, she turned back after that and drank what he offered. After digging in his satchel, Egan discovered that he also had some bread, which he soaked and then let her eat some of that as well.
“Are you feeling better, Missus? It looks like there’s a storm coming. We should go find shelter.”
Egan tried to pick her up and throw her arm over his shoulder, but was once again surprised to find her too heavy.
“My ship…. the… Admiral Ma’Dox….”
“I didn’t see no ship, Missus. Just you.” Egan dug his heels deep into the sand, leaned back, and pulled the woman to her feet. Once she was standing, he found that if he sort of hugged her and tried to keep her balanced instead of taking her weight, that it was possible to keep her from falling.
“Where am I?”
Now there was a question Egan hadn’t anticipated, one fraught with all manner of dangerous implications.
“You’re… you’re in Jimroar, Missus. We just got word this morning. This is Jimroar now.” Egan swallowed. It was part of the reason why he had come out to walk the beach. The whole town was uncertain of how to react to news of the revolution.
He looked out toward the dark storm clouds, but his eyes were drawn down to a shape swimming away in the black waters. It was gray, from what little he could see. Just a hump, but it sent a great big gust of water up into the air. Captain Hyrd would want to hear of it, the Friendly Folk were omens.
Of what though, Egan could not say.
They stopped for a while under some trees while the woman drank. The storm had broken a few minutes earlier, and in only moments it had turned the soil to mud and made the roads treacherous. In addition, Egan’s bandage had worked its way off his foot.
“Sorry about your foot.” The woman said, in between gulps of water.
“I’ve had worse, Missus.” Egan had found it too painful to put his boots on, and had thus had had to carry them along with the woman. The cut was full of mud, which he scraped out using the remains of the bandage. It hurt, and he winced.
“It looks clean. That’s good. It will heal better that way.” The woman drank another swallow, paused for a moment as if she might be sick, but ended up only coughing, and leaned back against the tree with one fist clenched in front of her mouth to stop the spittle from flying.
“How long were you at sea, Missus?”
“Don’t know. A few days, maybe five. I can’t remember.”
“That cannot be Missus, you’d be dead.”
The woman looked down at herself and laughed. “I thought I was dead as soon as I jumped off the ship. I’m not what you would call a swimmer.”
The woman nodded. “Seemed the smartest thing to do at the time. Say, what’s your name?”
Egan had not thought of it since that first moment, perhaps because he had been too distracted by the situation in which he had found her, but the actuality of the woman’s beauty returned and realization of it made Egan feel suddenly awkward. She was not fat as her weight would have predicted, but lithe and fit as if her body were a machine designed to move forever without rest. Her hair was a very appealing color caught somewhere between brown and gold.
“Me name is Egan, Missus. I work at the tavern.” he whispered, bent over the wound on his foot.
“I’m Brandyn. Brandyn Im’Dredd. I am… I take care of problems that no one else can.” Extending a hand, she clutched Egan’s before he had time to withdraw. It was a strange sort of handshake, in that she grabbed his arm below the elbow and seemed not to be satisfied until Egan reciprocated. He would have placed her age at nineteen. A few years older than him, but no more.
“Where was your ship sailing from? Picking up porcelain from Samaerael? Fishing the coast?” Egan supposed she could have been a guard of some sort.
“East.” Brandyn gestured.
Egan laughed, thinking it a joke. “There’s nothing East, Missus. Just the Rim.”
“No. The Rim is out further East than that. Admiral Ma’Dox has seen it. We were on the other side of the Rift. There are people there who make things. We were on our way there when we were attacked.”
Egan frowned. No one could sail through the Rift, and all the sailors he talked to in the tavern spoke of the Rift and the Rim in the same breath. There were… things in the Rift. Things that some said swallowed ships entire. Egan knew there had to be something to the stories, because Captain Hyrd ordered men to be quiet whenever they spoke of them.
“No one can sail to the other side of the Rift.” Egan said flatly.
“It’s dangerous, but it can be done. If you have help.” The woman leaned forward long enough to pull off her boots. For as full of water as they were, Egan would have supposed her feet to be as wrinkled as prunes, but when she took off her stalkings they were as smooth as the cheeks of a babe.
“Help from what attacked you?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“You seem like you have a lot of answers.”
“So what attacked you?”
The woman laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“I have a lot of secrets too.”
Egan was not sure how to respond to this, especially since the woman seemed to be so confident of her control of the situation. It was not something he was used to. Even here in the East of Jimroar -Egan had almost thought Shen Anrath- where the Baronies had never been quite so oppressive, women did not walk so confidently among men. He’d heard awful things about what went on beyond the mountains.
“Where are you from?” Egan asked, sensing that this was a question he might have a reasonable expectation of getting away with.
The woman pulled off the tattered remains of her black leather jacket. She was now dressed much as Egan, except her shirt was a good deal whiter. She had her sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and her pants rolled up to the knees. Brandyn held her coat in front of her and frowned, biting her lip. Egan was suddenly embarrassed at having taken his knife to the coat.
“If Chagraen Lo’Shan sees this, she’ll bust a gut laughing.” Then, even more softly, “Though I would say this about finishes my Prenticeship.”
Egan had no awareness of standing, or of walking back, but he caught himself when he had almost walked over a small bluff that would have sent him falling about three feet back to the surf. Chagraen… that meant something. Something he’d heard out of stories.
“Missus…” Egan stuttered… “Where are you from?”
“Can you keep a secret?”
“I’m from exactly where you think I’m from.”
Brandyn jumped to her feet so quickly, Egan would never have guessed she had spent five days barely alive in the sea.
“How would I go about sending a message? I have people I need to contact.” Brandyn said, taking the lead so naturally Egan couldn’t remember a time in his life he hadn’t been following her orders.
Captain Hyrd only had the one good eye, but when he wanted to he could use it to stare as well as any two others that Egan had ever come across. Similarly, the fact that Captain Hyrd’s left leg had been amputated below the knee didn’t seem to imply any weakness at all, so much as it meant that he was always liable to have a good club handy. Egan swallowed, and stared at his feet when he opened the tavern door, already feeling the Captain’s eye boring into his soul.
“Mister Egan! And where did you be this afternoon, while the Captain of the ship was forced to tend bar?” The Captain took the wood whistle he kept on a string around his neck, and blew into it, one loud note. “Come now, Mister Egan! Stand at attention and report!”
Egan straightened his back, but because he could not bring himself to meet the Captain’s eye, compromised by looking at the ceiling above the Captain’s head. “Captain Hyrd, sir, I was at the beach combing for valuables, sir!”
Some of men at the tables laughed when Captain Hyrd thumped Egan in the chest with his walking stick.
“And what did you have to show for your efforts, Mister Egan? Gold? Jewels? Baubles from the old times?” The Captain had brought his face close to Egan’s and although the Captain was shorter, a development that had happened in only the last year, he still seemed to loom. “Well, Mister Egan? Stand and report!”
“One woman, lost at sea.” Brandyn said, entering the tavern. The men stopped drinking. A quiet fell across the tavern.
“By the Rim, get your ass off my ship! I will not have some woman mucking about in a man’s place, by the gods I will not!” Even from the periphery of his vision, Egan could see Captain Hyrd’s eye bulging.
“I think you are mistaken. I see no ship.” Brandyn’s was confident as ever.
“I’ll tan your hide, girl! You’ll leave this boat here and now or I’ll-” Captain Hyrd choked when Brandyn suddenly appeared in front of him, her breasts at a level with his eye.
“Let me take you at your word, then, Captain! If this is a ship and I am lost at sea, then I am in distress and you are honor bound by your oath as Captain to the nation of Shen Anrath to offer such help as you are able!”
Captain Hyrd, not to be outdone, raised his cane again and thumped Brandyn in the chest. To Egan’s surprise, she gave not an inch. In fact, the blow had almost knocked Hyrd off balance. “Then you picked a hell of a time to request aid girl, because as of this very morning this ain’t the nation of Shen Anrath.
“Then you are still bound by three thousand years of Maritime Code that has been accepted as Law since the Abandonment! As Captain you are no doubt aware of this!”
“I… I will not be dressed down by some skirt-wearing, broom-sweeping, child-bearing…” Captain Hyrd struggled for a word, and then stated the obvious with a vehemenance so powerful that it showed he had still found it the worst possible option, “woman! I am the Captain of this here ship, and if-“
“I request permission to come aboard Captain, until such time as my own vessel can find dock and be repaired!” Brandyn gave a salute so sharp and so whip-like quick Egan was surprised it didn’t cut off the top of her skull. Now the men in the tavern were laughing and cat-calling from the tables. No one ever got the best of Hyrd, and now that a woman had, the men were set to make the most of the occasion.
“She’s got spirit, Cap’n!”
“Right-o, Cap’n, will you help a woman in distress?” another said in a mock plea complete with blown kisses.
“Tell her to piss off Hyrd! We ain’t at sea!”
Egan closed his eyes against what was coming.
“Who said it?” Hyrd hobbled around so that he was facing the other way.
“Who said it?” He went from table to table, using his crutch to knock the tin pint glasses to the ground.
“What man here dared address me as something other’n Captain? What Dim bastard, whose brains ran down his mother’s leg dared break rank on my ship!” By general agreement voiced by the fact that he was the man away from whom everyone was trying to move their chairs, Captain Hyrd focused in on a great big man with a beard as black as coal sitting at a table in the middle of the tavern.
“Well, you pile of cum rags, what have you got to say for yourself!” Captain Hyrd thundered. The man, who by some luck still happened to have hold of his glass, smiled and took a drink. Egan cussed under his breath. The fellow must never have set port here before.
“I said let her stay. She looks good for a gander, and maybe a lay if we can get her liquored up enough.” Captain Hyrd waited long enough for the man to raise the glass back to his lips before he struck out with his cane like a sword and knocked the cup to the ground. Part of the man’s front tooth flew with it.
“You crazy old bastard! I’ll fuckin’ gut you-” Captain Hyrd struck out with his cane again, this time knocking the man on the side of the head. And again, until Captain Hyrd was so unbalanced, that he was leaning on the table while he was lashing out.
“You dumb fuck! Just ‘cuz we ain’t on the sea don’t make me not a captain… and it don’t mean this ain’t a boat.” Captain Hyrd took the man’s bloody nose and general lack of consciousness for agreement, and then set his cane back on the floor, and limped back over to Egan and Brandyn.
“Well, Mister Egan, it looks like you somehow managed to injure yourself due no doubt to your complete lack of competence as a sailor!” Captain Hyrd spit on the ground. “However, since you earned it giving help to a ship in need of assistance, I will only dock you your day’s pay, and will give you the luxury of the gut we keep in the storage room so you can stitch the wound.” Captain Hyrd laughed and stomped his cane on the floor of the tavern.
“Wouldn’t want infection setting in, would we?” Captain Hyrd jiggled his stump and laughed uproariously. Some of the other men, those who were totally drunk, joined.
Brandyn was still standing at salute, her eyes still faced forward on the same spot as previous. Captain Hyrd inspected her from toe to hairline and back again.
“Alright, princess, looks like you’ve got yourself aid and succor, but I’ll damn well know what you’re about. What ship was you on?”
“The Westward Wind, Captain!” Brandyn shouted.
Captain Hyrd spit on the floor, with amazing accuracy so that he was close enough to get a few specks on Brandyn’s foot without actually spitting on it directly. Egan knew that meant he was growing to like Brandyn.
“Next you’ll tell me you was captained by Ma’Dox, no less.”
“No Captain! Admiral Ma’Dox was leading the Fleet on the Amber Gale, we were captained by his son Dranner!” Egan had never figured out how to shout like Brandyn did, because it seemed to be at the exact level of volume that pleased the captain.
“I’ll give this to you perky tits, when you lie you lie big.”
“I give my captains nothing but the truth sir! We were led by Admiral Ma’Dox, him that pissed in the Eastern Rim and put tongue to the mist that came back and said it tasted like honey. Him that the Sarpents fear for his blood is as poisonous as the Black Waters off Ewil Brenven. Him that is so loved by the sea that he is sucked off every night and every morning by a pod of the Friendly Folk! Him and no other!” Hyrd sucked on his lower lip, and turned his head to spit, which as Egan knew was as great a courtesy as the captain could give.
Captain Hyrd laughed, and Egan about shit himself from the shock of the sound. “I like the cut of your jib, girl.” Then he slapped Brandyn on the shoulder.
Captain Hyrd put his whistle back to his lips and blew, two shorts. Egan relaxed, but was surprised to see that Brandyn knew the signal as well.
“Egan, help our newest recruit throw that mutinous whoreson overboard,” Captain Hyrd sneered at the man he had struck earlier.
“Then you show her to a cot upstairs, and when you’re done you can both come back and swab the decks.” Cap’n Hyrd limped back behind the bar, and gave two notes from his whistle, one long and one short. Slowly, now that they had been granted permission, the men slowly began to get back to the purpose of drinking.
Egan looked to Brandyn, only to find her already halfway to the unconscious man. Egan ran to her to help, but she had already grabbed the man under the arms, and was dragging him to the door with no apparent difficulty. Only at the last moment, did Egan remember to get the door for her.
Brandyn set the man down by the side of the ramp that led up to the tavern, brushed her hands clean of some sand and smiled back at him. A few gulls cried out in the distance.
“I think that went well, don’t you?” Brandyn said.
Egan nodded frantically.
Captain Hyrd hadn’t made Egan swab the decks any longer than it had taken him to realize that if Egan kept at it, all he was going to do was bleed all over the place. So after a while, Captain Hyrd sent him out back to fire up the grill, and let Brandyn stitch up his foot.
Egan winced when the needle cut through his flesh for what seemed the hundredth time. “Damn that hurts.”
“You have to make it tight.”
“Might hurt less if you hadn’t poured Hyrd’s whiskey down it first.”
“Have to make it clean too.”
For all the pain Egan was in, he noticed the calm rapidity of Brandyn’s motion. As if she had stitched wounds since before Hyrd had even thought to love the sea.
“What is this place?” Brandyn asked, inclining her head to indicate the tavern.
“It’s Captain Hyrd’s tavern.”
“Has anyone thought to tell him it’s not at sea?”
“Mostly they’re too afraid.”
Brandyn snorted, and then did something tricksome with the needle, before snipping it with Egan’ knife. She took some white rags she had gotten somewhere and wrapped them tight around his foot. “Fifteen stitches. No tendons cut, and no muscles. You’ll be fine as long as you watch for infection.”
“No. Thank you. I imagine I might have drowned before much longer.”
“You swam for five days, I bet you could have held out.” Egan slowly got to his feet, and limped his way over to the grill. He took some wood from a pile and set it down below. He struck at some tinder with a flint, while Brandyn positioned herself to keep the wind away from the fire. Egan couldn’t help but be impressed that he hadn’t even had to ask.
“I didn’t swim. Can’t. It goes with the occupation.”
“Solving problems no one else can?”
“You could say that.”
The spark took, and Egan patiently blew on it while Brandyn took the initiative and pulled some fish out of a hooped basket. Hyrd must have got it earlier in the day, which he would no doubt take the time to curse Egan for once he had a free moment. Going to market was Egan’s business.
“How come he’s not at sea anymore?” Brandyn asked.
“Nobody knows. I don’t ask.” Egan sat back and enjoyed the smell of the ocean in his nostrils. The sun was setting, and he supposed if he were sitting on the back porch of the tavern in different circumstances, that it might have been romantic.
“Is it because he lost a leg and an eye?”
“No. That wouldn’t have stopped him. Not for a moment.” Egan bit the inside of his cheek. How was it that even five days at sea, Brandyn still smelled good? Smelled like a lady? Egan felt some weird sentence rise in his throat and die, so he faked a cough to mask the noise.
“I wouldn’t ask him about it though. A fellow a while back asked about it, and Captain Hyrd thumped him worse than that other fellow.” Egan said.
“He your father?”
Egan flicked a few drops of collected moisture on the grill and saw it hiss. It was hot enough. He took another knife and put the fish down on a tray by the side of the grill as he set to cutting fillets.
“Nope. Hyrd never even had a wife so far as I know. My father was a crewman on his ship. Lost him at sea. Been taking care of me since I was young.”
Brandyn made as if to ask another question, so Egan answered first.
“Ma got hooked on Bloom. Captain took me and sent her away when I was still real young.” Egan had been told that had happened around his fourth birthday, but he couldn’t really remember.
Brandyn took another knife and stood by Egan, cutting another fish. Better, Egan had to admit, than he had. Except for some reason she had left most of the bone. A question rose in his mouth, but then it felt stupid.
“How long do you figure?” Egan knew he didn’t need to specify until what.
“Two months. Maybe three. They’ll need time to load and come back.”
“Things are strange around here. Might be you should try to keep a secret what you are. Folks could get nervous.” Brandyn threw some the fish on the grill. It already smelled good.
“People will be safer that way.” Brandyn agreed.
The sun was sinking below the sea now, somewhere way far away. “What does it look like? The Rim?”
Egan had taken a seat on a barrel, and Brandyn joined him there.
“Admiral Ma’Dox said it’s loud. Louder than thunder. And it’s hard to tell you’re there because the sky’s still above you…. but then you start to see that the sky is also in front of you, and that it’s running right down into the water, sucking it up. You can’t even sail into it straight, because the wind is blowing so hard to the west. You can’t even have any sails up in the rigging. You have to sort of… build speed and then glide up toward it… and then….” Brandyn licked her lips as if she wasn’t sure how to continue.
“What? What happens then?”
“Then… Admiral Ma’Dox says if you pull out a looking glass, and look real close… if you wait for the storm to break in just the right spot… you can see rainbows. A whole great big wall made of rainbows.”
They watched the sun find its watery grave, together.
Egan was up early, doing a piss poor job of getting the tavern ready for the day. There was still the market, and he was still having a hell of a time picking up the pint glasses that Hyrd had knocked down the afternoon previous. He had to move slow and keep his foot stiff, or else he could feel the stitches ripping. It was a bad place to be cut, was the bottom of the foot.
He had just righted the last chair, when Egan noticed Captain Hyrd behind the bar pouring himself a small glass of whiskey. “Morning, Mister Egan. How’s sails the ship?”
“No chairs or tables broken, Captain. A few dents in the glasses, but none as will make any complain, I reckon. I’ll have to go to market today to get something to make a stew. We’re all out of what I made ‘fore I left yesterday and the guests will be hungry for more.” There were only a few rooms in the tavern, mostly for merchants, as sailors generally slept on their ships.
“And our special passenger?” Hyrd downed the shot and poured another. Egan used to get after the Captain about it, but had given it up as hopeless long ago. The Captain thought watching your drink was womanish behavior.
“She went to bed last night after she ate. Surprised she had as much energy as she did.”
“No you ain’t.” Hyrd downed the other shot, and seeming satisfied put the whiskey back where he had gotten it.
“You know what she is, well as I do.”
Egan bit the side of his cheek. “Reckon I might have been a bit suspicious, Captain. Thought I might be wrong. Not even sure if they was real.”
“Oh, they’re real all right. But you were right not to say anything. Folks are already nervous. Don’t need anymore surprises. Hyrd was fumbling with a purse behind the bar.
“I can get what we need on credit, Captain. Same as always.”
“You’re going to have to go see the apothecary. And I ain’t never seen an apothecary what extends a line of credit.”
Hyrd raised an eyebrow.
“Requesting clarification of orders, Captain!” Egan stood at attention.
“On account of he’s got better suppliers than I do and can send a message. Also, if we’ve got her staying here I’ve got to feed her.” Egan remembered the way that Brandyn had left the bones in the fish. She hadn’t eaten it in front of him, just waited until he left for a bit. But when he had gotten back the whole fish had been gone.
“Are you….” Egan realized he was about to ask if Hyrd was okay, but the question was ridiculous.
“I owe her kind a favor. A great big fat one.” Hyrd hit the ground with his cane. A few thumps for emphasis. “Long as she’s here, I’ll look after her. Shoulda known yesterday when I thumped her and near fell on my ass.” Hyrd rubbed his missing eye socket with the palm of his hand, which was something he only did when he was very tired, and only early in the morning when no one but Egan was there to see.
“Wait till she wakes up to go with you. I ain’t got a clue as to what she needs, and she’s like to know better than the apothecary. And find out if she can cook, or sing, or… something. Anything that’ll make her fit in better ’round here. If I know the royalty they’re going to have an army through here any day just to let us know whose in charge. Best she finds something to do before then.”
“Really? No women at all?” Brandyn asked. She had been very surprised to find that everyone who worked a stall or a shop in the market was male, and that anyone who bought anything there was similarly dispositioned. Egan wished she would do a better job at seeming uneasy. If anything, she seemed to find it amusing and she was already attracting stares.
“Women buy things up north where all the regular folks live. Them without any shops. But here in the market, men do all the business.” Egan felt strange with the purse in his hands. Hyrd had never trusted him with hard coin before. Usually people came by the tavern to settle accounts. It hurt Egan’s pride somewhat to think that the only reason he now had the privilege was because Brandyn was there.
“What about me then?” Brandyn asked.
“I figure we should be fine as long as I do all the talking. Wives sometimes come with their husbands out here.” Brandyn was already carrying several hoop baskets filled with fish and vegetables. Enough for a stew, least for a while.
“Won’t people start to wonder if we’re engaged?” Brandyn asked.
That near set Egan tongue to blocking the back of his throat, but when he heard Brandyn laughing, he sorted things out again and settled with a blush. “No… folks know… no they won’t.”
She laughed again. That confident laugh that made it seem like all his problems were so tiny. As if he himself were tiny.
“Hyrd wanted me to ask if you could-“
“But you didn’t even let me finish.”
“You were going to say that Captain Hyrd wanted to know if I could cook or sing or do something to make me less conspicuous. Yes. To everything.” Brandyn nudged herself in front of Egan ever so slightly that she managed to point to a few fruits that Egan then had to pay for with fumbling fingers when the stall-owner glared at him.
When they had gone a few steps, Brandyn pulled a lime out of the basket and began sucking on it. She turned back and waved at the stall-owner with a big smile on her face. The man frowned back.
“Captain Hyrd says that you ain’t supposed to be seen….”
“Yes, but you see… I’m just so glad to be alive that I can’t help myself.”
Brandyn trotted ahead and spun in a few gleeful circles, head tilted toward the sky and laughing. Looking back, if Egan had had to choose a point, it was right then and there that he began to love her.
Which was unfortunate because a few minutes later, when they were on their way to the apothecary Egan saw the black-bearded man that Captain Hyrd had beaten. The black-bearded man was frowning, and obviously cursing, though not loud enough to hear.
Egan stopped a moment to stare, before Brandyn tugged at his arm to pull him along.
“Come on, lovely! The daylight’s wasting!”
“Do you dance?”
Egan groaned in his sleep, turned over, and murmured something noncommital into his pillow. He thought he recognized the voice, but he had been dreaming about it a moment before, and thought this was but a strange continuation of the same dream.
“Psst… do you dance?”
A hand shook his foot. It hurt a bit.
“Ow… whosit?” Egan rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
A tall figure, almost as tall as himself, crouched down below the eaves of his room and shook his foot. Egan recognized the shape of the body and the limbs, and suddenly contracted, pulling his blankets tight around him.
Brandyn giggled. “I’m sorry to wake you. I couldn’t sleep. I thought you might like to dance.”
Brandyn took a seat at the end of his cot. He felt his feet touch her back through the material of her shirt. Felt the new crevasses caused by her depression of the mattress. Egan didn’t say anything. Just watched her, like she was an animal he might startle away if he made any sudden moves.
“I teach dancing you know. We all teach something as part of our training. I teach children to dance. It was my favorite thing.” Eyes adjusted, Egan saw Brandyn turn to face the window. Was she thinking of home? Did she miss it?
“What… what kind of dance?” Egan stuttered. Even though only his shoulders were visible above the blanket, he felt naked.
“Nothing too complicated. The kinds of dances children are expected to dance at feasts. How to dance with partners, that sort of thing.” Brandyn turned back to him. “I could teach you, if you wanted.”
“We don’t have music.”
There wasn’t much Egan could think to say to that, so he paused, wondering when Brandyn would leave so he could get dressed, but she just sat there, idly watching him. Slowly, waiting for her to object, he pushed back the covers to reveal his underclothes and then even more slowly stood up.
“Put on something loose. You won’t need a shirt.”
He could feel her behind him, watching. How well could she see?
“You’re very tall. Was your father tall?” Brandyn asked.
Egan shook his head, fumbling with his belt. “No… my mother was the one with the-” His breath caught when Brandyn’s hands looped around his back and finished the buckling for him. He could feel her breath on the back of his neck. Could feel every little hair standing adroit and alive. Writhing for contact with the breath that stirred them.
Next, she bent down and helped him with his boots. There was no hint of anything but complete professionalism in her voice. Nothing to fit with the fact that she was in his room in the middle of the night and that he was only half dressed.
“We’ll go easy. We’ve got to let that foot heal, but we can still do some.” She made a loop out of his arm, and linked hers through it. He knew he should have thought to do that, but whatever happened he knew that it would be Brandyn leading the dance. She led him down stairs, out onto the extension that ran from out the back door of the inn.
“Do you walk the beach often?” she asked.
Because it’s beautiful and full of mysteries, and wonderful beyond knowing like you. He swallowed instead of saying anything.
“Thank you for saving my life.”
She kissed him on the cheek. Gentle and chaste.
She led him close to the water. He would have followed her anywhere.
They danced. He felt her skin hot against his, heavy and immovable. He knew he moved too awkwardly. That he was too stiff, and that he was panicking over where to put his feet and at what time. Then the moment came where Brandyn leaned forward, and her lips brushed his. The crisp moment when his mouth tasted hers. He held onto clumsiness only for a few seconds.
He forgot it was a dance and had fun. They laughed, even when the ocean swirled up around them.
You would have thought, from the ease with which she took to her work, that Brandyn had been working in a tavern for most of her life. After a week, you would have thought that she came from a long line of tavern keepers. After two weeks, you would have thought she’d invented the idea of tavern keeping.
She seemed to know what was in which bottle without asking. She could mix drinks without spilling so much as a drop, but it was more than that. It was also the way she carried herself. As a woman, it was harder for her with the customers than it was for Egan, but in her bearing alone she still managed to set herself up as someone who could be joked with, but only to a certain point before respect had to reassert itself.
Egan watched her as he swept the floors, as she maintained the bar that he had been behind only a few days ago better than he ever had. His foot still hurt him on occasion, although the stitches were holding up so well Egan doubted he would even have much of a scar. Egan sat on a barrel and watched Brandyn joke with the men. Even some of the miners, who had always found another place to go drink found themselves drawn into Brandyn’s net.
“What are you sitting there for, Mister Egan?” Captain Hyrd said, plopping down on the barrel next to Egan.
“I’m resting my foot, Captain.” Egan replied.
“Aye, I’ve been resting mine for near on fifteen years now. Figured it was more trouble than it was worth so I just had it cut off.” Captain Hyrd snorted.
“Any word yet, Captain?” Egan asked.
All the post that came in was delivered straight to Hyrd. If word had come back of Brandyn’s ship it would go straight to Hyrd. “No. I would have said if it were. But we’ve sent out a number of messages. It’s only a matter of time until one gets through and they send for her.”
“And they’d do that? They’d send a whole ship just for her?”
“Soon as they could. Fast as they could.”
Egan didn’t realize his eyes had gone red until Captain Hyrd, was staring at him so hard he was forced to take part in the realization because Captain Hyrd’s was so powerful.
“You watch yourself, boy.”
“Sorry, Captain. I must have gotten something in my eye.”
“She ain’t going to be here forever, boy. And when they come, she’ll be gone without ever another thought for you. Just remember that. You pulled her out of the sea, and she owes you something for that, but it ain’t as much as you think.”
“But she… she was near dead….”
“She ain’t human, boy. She looks like us. She maybe even thinks like us. Maybe she’s even something to love. But she ain’t like us.”
Somehow, while he had been talking with Captain Hyrd, there was an uproar from the crowd. Men were pounding their tables.
“Song! Song! Song!” The call went up.
Brandyn feigned disinterest, but only to the point that men’s demands grew louder.
“Sing about Hivrat sailing over the Rim!”
“Podell and Rashianna!”
“The Sound of Colors!”
Brandyn cleared her throat, and the room fell quiet. She opened her mouth and sang a single note. It was so clear that it was as if it had been made by an instrument. Egan leaned forward, awaiting the second note in the sequence but it never came. At that exact moment, the door burst open and a great number of men entered the tavern. There were more outside, and the only thing that stopped more from entering was that everyone was already crammed cheek by jowl. They were all armed.
A little man climbed on top of a table and unrolled a scroll. The mud from his boots fell in granulated clops on the wood. The scroll was a great big impressive looking thing with all sorts of ribbons on it.
“Citizens of Jimroar!” the man called. “I have come in the name of the Liberty Council, to announce to you that you are now free men, protected equally under the same law as the Barons!”
Egan felt his stomach tumble end for end when Hyrd stood. There was an angry look on his face. The same angry look he got every time someone discussed politics in the tavern. A look like he was ready to spit nails.
“But the fight for independence is by no means over! Even now the Baronies to the north are sending men through the Hadashi Pass to steal our freedom back from us!” The little man was clearly expecting some sort of applause, but no one had said anything since Hyrd had begun to limp across the room.
“Who is it, requests passage on my ship?” Hyrd grumbled. It was a low tone of voice, nothing at all compared to the grandiosity of the little man’s proclamations, and all it seemed to do was annoy the speaker.
“I’ve been sent here to recruit men in an army of justice to-“
“How many barons will be in this army?” Hyrd asked, now having taken a seat on a chair directly in front of the little man. It should have made Hyrd seem small by comparison but all it did was make the little man seem ridiculous.
The little man made to speak again, trying to brush off Hyrd, but then Hyrd spat on the ground. Sensing that he could not simply override Hyrd, the little man turned to address the Captain.
“There are no more Barons in Jimroar. All men will be equal before the law, something which this nation has long awaited-“
“Let me, how do you say, rephrase the question. If’n they’re not calling themselves Barons, how many raping fuckers are going to be fighting in this army of justice? And how many of them are planning to bleed?” Some of the soldiers drew steel, so many that the sound of it was like the water rushing back out to sea.
“You sir, are a traitor to the cause of liberty and will be arrested-“
“Fuck your liberty! I gave my eye for liberty! I gave my fucking leg for freedom! And when I’d given every bit of everything I had, the men I fought for came along and said all those I’d fought with would not be forgot, and then surrendered! Everything I bled for was lost, and no one fucking remembers!” Hyrd screamed. There were bulges in his neck from hollering, and his face was red.
Two soldiers went to grab the Captain on either side, and suddenly Brandyn was there. She stood between the Captain and the oncoming soldiers, a woman so out of place that the soldiers paused not knowing what to do.
“Let’s not do anything we can’t undo later.” Brandyn said.
“This old man is obviously drunk, he should be taken somewhere he won’t hurt himself or anyone else,” the little man on top of the table said.
“He’s the captain of this ship. I believe he has a right to be heard.” The two soldiers were starting to waiver, but Brandyn kept her eyes locked tight with the little man’s. Egan was sweating, but somehow managed to take a place standing next to Brandyn. He felt a fool standing there, but when he stood, he noticed that some of the other men had done the same.
“Madame, may I ask what you’re doing here? Gods-fearing women have no business in a place like this?”
“I ain’t got women on my boat. This here is Brandyn, and she’s got more balls than any other man in this place. Longer dick too.” Hyrd spat.
The little man’s face crumpled in disgust. “You miserable old sot, I ought to have someone cut your tongue out.”
“On account of freedom, I reckon.”
“Any man interested in signing a letter of-“
“Two years!” Hyrd shouted. “That was how long I took the Union’s coin and sailed the seas for the Union. Was a regular merchant Captain before that, but I always had a taste for fighting. I sunk a hundred ships in the name of freedom. Lost a hundred men to the Deep. And when I had given everything, when my ship was sunk ’cause the one thing I wouldn’t give the Union was my honor, I was thrown away! Then someone just like you surrendered, and it was all a wash and lost in the spray. I spit on your fucking army. And any man who joins it ain’t welcome on my boat for another second.”
“I’ve had quite enough of this, you and you-“
“Vael laundaunael ard Gishai’Chagra!” Brandyn shouted. The little man jumped.
“Who said that?”
“Vari.” Brandyn replied.
“Who are you?”
“Vel ki ani ic thrum. Vel ki fell ic soureed. Vel ki haroc ic shu.“
The little man licked his lips. “Enough of this you and you, get that-“
“You’ll lose.” Brandyn was taller than the soldiers, more substantial. Even with their weapons it seemed that she towered over them, ready to crush them entire. Like a tidal wave.
Brandyn turned back to the little man. “You have eighty men, by my estimation. Thirty-eight inside, perhaps that and a few more outside. Their swords are cheap steel. The blades have never been scratched. I’d say you have maybe ten or fifteen veterans, or whatever passes for a veteran around here. You have no archers. You wanted to come in here and impress the crowd, show them something flashy. To that end you didn’t bring anyone with you who had ever actually killed anyone. That wouldn’t do much to sell your point. If you escalate this, I will not leave any of your men alive. Not one.
“I have called Right of Hunt. I place my protection over this place. The punishment for knowing violation of this is the same as collusion with the Shaen. I will sentence you to Contemplation.” The man did not speak, and then Brandyn did something that almost made Egan eyes pop out. The table must have been seven feet away, and a good three and a half feet off the ground. Brandyn jumped on it without any seeming difficulty or trouble keeping her balance.
She stared down the little man.
Egan asked her to sing when she came to his room that night, but she said she wasn’t in the mood and asked him if he would just hold her.
Egan watched Brandyn through the window, all the way down the sand bar that led out to the ocean. She started dancing when she got there. A slow strange kind of dance, where she would extend one arm and then retract it. Or raise one foot and kick slowly out before turning and falling into another stance. She was, Egan realized, practicing for a fight. It was beautiful beyond anything he had ever seen.
When Hyrd came down, not much later, he frowned to see Egan at the window. “I thought I told you to be careful.”
“I am being careful, Captain. She can’t even see me.” Egan tore his eyes away, but made special effort to remember the way the wind had wrapped Brandyn’s clothes around her as she moved. The cloth flapping, so insubstantial on Brandyn’s firm almost metallic frame. For some reason he could not quite put name to, his heart hurt in his chest.
“That man is still here. Will be for a while I reckon, till he’s got himself a few hundred idiots for his army. Carrying that little scroll around with him wherever he goes.” Hyrd spat. Egan didn’t care as much as he usually would, since he had yet to swab the decks.
“How come you’re so against it, Captain? I mean, I’ve heard men talk about it before. All the stuff they’re fighting for. It sounds better than the Baronies, that’s for sure.”
“Heard a few men talk and now you’re a philosopher, I take it?” Hyrd poured himself a drink and gulped it down. As far back as Egan could remember, Hyrd had always been at least a little bit drunk.
“Just saying freedom don’t sound so bad, Captain.” Egan shrugged, and turned back to the window. Brandyn was spinning now with her legs planted wide apart and only her waist moving. It made him want to touch her. To feel the warmth off of her as he had felt it when he’d carried her out of the water.
“There’ve been four wars for freedom in my lifetime. They all end the same. The southland Barons decide they don’t want to be called Barons, get a bunch of men to die so they can write their new name in blood, and when they’re done having their fun, they surrender for bribes from the north and nothing fucking happens.” Hyrd looked down at the shot glass with his one good eye, snorted in disgust, and carried the bottle with him over to sit by Egan.
“She can move, I’ll give her that. If I were a younger man, suppose I’d fancy her too.” Hyrd put the bottle to his lips and lifted it.
“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Egan said, breathlessly.
Hyrd seemed to find that funny. “Well, you ain’t lived that long boy, but I’ll give you the benefit of my experience and say she’s still quite a looker. And I can see that with just the one good eye.”
“How’d it happen, Captain?” Egan felt somehow that last night made it okay to ask, as if he had shared the spirit of it already with the captain.
“We got message that the northern baronies were trying to cut off our supply line from Angard. They helped us out, you know, back when what we were fighting for was called the Union. Gave us all kinds of things. Weapons, spy-glasses, clothes. Good stuff. Kept us fighting. They’re all for freedom, the Angardi. You can ask Brandyn about it later. I’m sure she’d love to share.”
Brandyn was spinning now, going end for end on hand and foot without ever seeming to lose sense of where she was. She would fall to her knees only to spring back up again, wild with the thrill of soaring through the air.
“Well there was only one ship coming in, and the northerners sent six of theirs out to intercept. We’d never have bothered to come help if the odds had been less. The Angardi are the best sailors on the sea. Ask any man worth his salt and he’ll tell you the same. Two or three ships, and we would have never gone out to help.
“But with six we were honor bound. So we sailed there, and it began like it usually does. A few sweeps, and men jumping over and killing other men… and that’s when it came up from the Deeps. I pray to the gods I never see one again.”
Brandyn was slowing now. Moving as she was when he first saw her, hands extending and retracting. Feet kicking and falling, finding new stances.
“What was it, Captain?” Egan asked.
“I don’t know, boy. I don’t know and I never want to find out, but I knew it for one of them. The things that the black gods left behind in the Tide War, out swimming past the seaswords. Seven notes, boy. Seven notes are taught to every captain of every ship. Seven notes taught to every man who ever got put in charge of other men, from here to the lands beyond the Silver Sea and the Rift. Seven notes to call Right of Hunt.
“Armies hear those notes, and even if they’re in the middle of killing each other they stop. They find where the dark things are and they all turn as one, all sins forgiven, and they take the fight to where the fight needs taking. Seven notes, Mister Egan, and it was I that sounded them. I called Right of Hunt, and we took our ship to aid the others.
“The sea was full of swells that day, and you knew that somewhere the Rim was in a fury. Before we got close enough to help it had already sunk a ship, tore it right in half with one great big tentacled arm. It takes ’em a while to do it, but if they get a good grip they’re strong enough. I told my men to stand by the side blades. We may not have had much of a chance, but we would go down fighting.”
Brandyn was flipping herself through the air more slowly than she had previously. Egan saw her support her body all on one arm, before pushing herself back up in the air. How long could she keep something like that up? How long before she would get tired?
“We had an iron ram a’course. Barons bitch about the cost of replacing them every year, but they put ’em back all the same because no sailor worth having will go to sea without one. So we figured where the center of the thing had to be and sailed there, and as luck would have it we struck it. Dead on.”
Hyrd absentmindedly reached up and rubbed his hand over his missing eye. “It would’ve snapped us in half from the start if I hadn’t personally gone down to get the men moving. Don’t seem like much, the side blades, and I’ll be damned if I was ever too strict on having ’em out. Seen too many men get cut on one in a sudden swell, but I’d had ’em out there in the Deep. So when it wrapped it’s tentacles ’round the ship we set out with ’em. Two men to a blade, moving them like saws. Makes you sick to touch the things out of the Deep, and it stings. But if you cut them long enough they bleed, and we knew it was our lives. So we cut… but it had so many arms… too many.
“I called Right of Hunt again. There wasn’t much else to do. Again and again. Three of the remaining ships turned back, it was all of them that could. No war is bigger than the war we were fighting. No war bigger than that of men against the things that live in the Deep.
“Two of their rams struck home. The other skidded past. It was sly. We can’t get over how big they are, so we always forget how clever they can be too. What’s an arm to a thing that has dozens? What’s a wound when it’ll heal? It was sinking down. Pulling us with it. I could hear the planks cracking. It was using the rams to suck us down with it. To hold onto us.
“The men set to panic and there was nothing I could do. What was I to shout? Don’t jump? It’ll gobble you up if you jump? I couldn’t very well tell them to stay because it was only going to do the same. Your da was the last man still working the blades when the ship was going down. It pulled him right off. I saw it snap his back before he reached the water. I don’t think it meant to spare him the drowning. I don’t think it even cared.”
Brandyn held her hands behind her back and was kicking with only her feet. The sun was slowly sinking down as she moved. Foot up over her head, followed closely by the other. Then down in a squat and up again. Side to side. So fast it was like water becoming steam and then so slow it was like freezing.
“It made the mistake when it brought its head up to feed. They have mouths see… that was what I’d always figured. It had a beak, just like an octopus and I knew that meant it’s brain had to be just behind. I ran back into my cabin, lost my eye when one of the planks snapped and a splinter took it. I didn’t even realize, because what I was looking for was my harpoon, and when I found it I grabbed it and ran back out and saw it swallow another man. It went looking for another. Well, not if I had anything to say about it! I waited for enough lightning to see by, and then I picked up that harpoon like lightning in my own palm, and I threw it down. Down right into it’s fucking throat!”
Egan watched the Captain, and licked his lips. Brandyn was sitting on her knees now, facing the sun, head bowed down toward the sun like she was praying. She showed no signs of moving.
“The fucker was bigger than an octopus. The harpoon weren’t big enough. From what I could see I figured it needed another good three feet, so I scrambled on up to the highest part of the ship and when I found the moment I wanted, I jumped and put my heel right on the end of that fucking harpoon and stabbed that shit eating monster right through the brain.
“It had eight great big black eyes, Mister Egan, and I stared them down while I watched it sink. And with its last bit of life, I saw it hate me, hate me because I was just some little animal that had killed something as big and as old as it was, and with the last effort it had in it, it bit down and tore my leg off.”
Captain Hyrd panted from the force of the recollection. He turned to the side and spit. “All my own crew was dead, but after a while, after I had near bled to death some of them as were on the last few ships sent out a boat for me. Put a torch to my leg, tarred it up and I spent every day for a week tied to a cot below-decks screaming and crying for my mother. When infection set into my eye they figured I was dead. I asked ’em to give me a proper Captain’s burial and who was they to refuse? Set me down in a little row boat, with a saber and a harpoon and enough whiskey to drink myself to death.”
Brandyn was walking back to the tavern.
“Angardi found me the next day. I thought they’d been sunk when we showed up, but it turned out they’d never been there. I’d gotten just drunk enough to pass out and puke up all the whiskey. Bastards fixed my leg up proper, not like those bonesaws and cut my eye right out of my head. Was one of those like her that did it. ‘Course I fought him every inch of the way, begging him to let me die. Said it hurt too much. I deserved to die after all I’d done. After losing all my crew. After losing my ship. You know what he said?”
Egan shook his head. Brandyn walked in through the door that led up from the beach.
“Said I could owe it to him later!” Hyrd laughed as if he had been telling the world’s funniest joke then turned to Brandyn. “Now, whose hungry? I’m famished!”
“They’ll come for me you know. Little men like that, they don’t know how to let things be.” Brandyn said.
“Aye, reckon so.” Hyrd murmured around his fish.
“I’m not going to kill anyone. I wasn’t made for that. I wasn’t spared for that.” Egan wondered if that wasn’t what she had been fighting with all that while down on the beach.
“Wouldn’t ask you to. Don’t care for killing much either. Got too old for it,” Hyrd said.
“What if… what if we just ran away and hid somewhere for a while?” Egan said. He hadn’t touched his plate at all, which compared to Hyrd and Brandyn seemed strange since their own meals were almost completely devoured. “He said himself they had to go off to some big battle. They can’t look for us forever.”
“Wouldn’t work.” Hyrd said.
“Why not, Captain? She… she doesn’t have to be here when they come back!” Egan did not realize he was shouting until he looked down and realized he was also standing. Then he realized he didn’t care.
“I can take her up north of the cove. Then we can cut back into the mountains. There are places there no one has been in a hundred years. No one would find us! She can be safe! She can stay!”
“I won’t stay here.” Brandyn said.
It was the way she looked at him. Like he was a tiny child with concerns that could be easily dismissed because they were too feeble to mesh with the complex geometry of the adult world. It was the way she turned to him without even the courtesy of pretending she had thought about staying. He’d never felt so small in his life. Not “can’t” no appeal to duty or honor. Won’t.
“I… I could go with you! Tell her Captain! I could go with her!” Egan was fumbling for words, trying to figure out what had changed. Trying to figure out how it was possible that Brandyn didn’t feel the same thing for him that he felt for her.
“Boy, sit back down and stop making a fool of yourself.”
Egan ran to the door and didn’t stop running until he’d reached the beach. He felt even more foolish when he had to stop because his foot was bleeding.
“What are you looking for?” Brandyn asked.
Egan was combing the beach again. He’d seen her come when she was still a long way off. She must’ve wanted that, but he had only acknowledged her when she was standing so close that her shadow had fallen over him.
“I figure I’ll know when I find it.” He didn’t look up to see her face. He was still angry. Still feeling betrayed by her for having his love so soundly rejected. And still feeling stupid for feeling those things.
“You found me around here, didn’t you?”
Egan pointed to the spot. The waves were coming in hard enough that every now and again there was white spray jumping out of the inlet like jewels thrown up into the air.
“My people have a story, I think you should hear.”
Egan had not stopped walking along the beach, but Brandyn didn’t seem to mind. “I can tell it while we walk. I like the sea air.”
Reluctantly, Egan nodded.
“The Haestan were great builders, and they made all of the world. Once, tree talked to tree, dog spoke to cat, and bird sang to fish. All things had been made by the Haestan, and they could speak to all things. So, when the Haestan were gone, the world refused to work as it once had. A great confusion followed as nature forgot its secret language.
“Without their guiding hand, the whole of the world fell into chaos. But some of the Haestan’s servants were left behind, and those that had the most wisdom were the Aodani, but they were jealous of this wisdom and did not wish to share it with mankind because their secret was the secret of the Haestan’s power and they were covetous of it above all else.
“One day a Raven came. Raven too had been a servant of the Haestan, but was angry at the Aodani for they had turned from the Haestan and forgotten their true purpose. Raven was wise and tricksome, and spent years serving the Aodani to gain their trust. Even though almost all the world had forgotten, Raven still knew how to speak to a few of his friends.
“He spoke to his friend the Lion, who was big and fierce and told him to make a terrifying noise. Then he found his friends Tiger and Bear and told them to also make noise so that the Aodani would fear that such a fight as the three would make would break what little was left of the world. So the Aodani came to Raven, for they were lazy and knew Raven to be useful, and asked him if he could find some way to make Tiger, Bear, and Lion leave one another in peace. So Raven said yes, that he knew a way but that he would have to think on it for many days.
“Raven went to his friend Horse, who was quick above all others and his friend Hawk who could see furthest and deepest. Raven asked Hawk where the Aodani kept their great secret, for he had seen that the world was cold and that many of the Servants of the Haestan lived without knowledge of what they were.
“Hawk flew up so that he hid in the light of the sun, and when he looked down he saw a Fire greater than that of the sun. A great shining Fire that surrounded everything that the Aodani touched, but it was also a Song, and it was also a Spear. The world was different then, and one thing could be many things. When Hawk came back he told Raven of this and told Raven where he could find the Fire.
“Raven swooped down in the middle of the night, for as Hawk’s wisdom came by day, Raven’s wisdom came by night and in night no one could see him save by his will. He took the Fire, which was song and a spear, but knew it was too heavy to carry by wing and knew that when the day came he would be caught. So he took the Fire to where Horse waited and put it on his back.
“Horse took it and raced the Horizon. Horse ran at the speed of day’s breaking so that wherever he raced night became day, all across the whole of the land, but when he reached the waters, Horse despaired for he could not swim.
“So Horse sent Raven and Hawk out over the sea, and sent Lion and Bear and Tiger out to make loud noises in hopes that someone would come to help them carry the Light to where they could not.
“And when they called long and loud together, but it was not enough. So they said they said too the name of their Master, and when they sang all seven at once, friends came from out of the waters. Their names were Dolphin and Whale. Whale was a wise old grandmother and Dolphin was a young man with many hundreds of children who swam with him all day through the waters.
“Raven begged them to take the Light out to the oceans of the world, so that the old days could come again and they agreed. And they made an agreement together that whenever the Fire fell into the waters they would pick it up and carry it forward so that it would shine across the whole of the world.
“But they warned Dolphin and Whale, the same as they warned everyone else, that the Fire could not be held for long. It was not meant for any but he who promised that he would Return, and that too hold the Fire any longer than was needed to pass it along would mean certain death.”
Egan pretended to be very interested in a shell he had come across. It was a white conch. Nice enough he supposed.
“I know you saw them. They wouldn’t have left unless they were sure that help was there for me. And they wouldn’t have left unless that person was a good person who needed to see the Fire.” Brandyn knelt down next to Egan and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Do you understand?”
“Reckon so. Fire is just for looking. Just for keeping warm by. Not for holding onto.” Egan sat down, feet toward the water, and picked up the conch shell, brushing the sand off of it without thought. “I’d like to sit here for a while if you don’t mind.”
Even with all the trouble brewing, Egan had never seen the tavern so full nor so loud. It was Brandyn that had done it all. Brandyn had made people love her, had charmed them into forgetting their troubles. It was like one of those confidence games you heard about in the city. A man came up to you and told you what his business was so well, that you never even realized he’d robbed you. Except what Brandyn stole was your worries and your troubles.
Even Hyrd seemed less melancholy. The Captain even sat down once in a while and shared drinks with miners, a breed which he generally found contemptible. The only sour note was that when he went to market, Egan would sometimes see the little man with the scroll walking around, making declarations about things. Some locals were starting to follow him around too, those that hadn’t been sent off already.
It made Egan nervous, going to market. But he went anyway, because as fearful as he was they still needed to eat. And no matter what was outside, he wasn’t going to show any fear in front of Brandyn.
It was on one such outing that Egan ran into the black-bearded man. He was leaning against an empty stall, and came up on Egan’s side while Egan’s arms were full. The shove would not have knocked Egan off his feet in usual circumstances, but with his arms overburdened, and the wound on the bottom of his foot still not quite healed, it sent him sprawling into the mud.
“You know, you don’t look so tough when you don’t got a demon watching your back.” The black-bearded man had a red ribbon wrapped around his left bicep. Egan had seen them on some of the other people following the little man with the scroll.
It took Egan a moment to realize that Brandyn was being insulted. “You watch your mouth!” He said, getting to his feet.
“How many men she laid with, ‘sides you? How many has she fucked over to her cause?” The black-bearded man asked. The left side of the smirking face was still a network of bruises in which Egan could see the shape of Hyrd’s cane. Egan took a swing, only for someone behind him to suddenly kick his legs out. He fell back into the mud, face first.
There was weight on his arms and legs. Two other men, pressing him down into the mud. He struggled. The black-bearded man put a knife to Egan’s throat.
“You shall know them by their strength which is great. You shall know them for they shall fear the light, and seek always the indoors. And you shall know them by their sinful appetites, for they will fuck anything…” The black-bearded man spit in Egan’s face “no matter how pathetic.”
Egan felt tears run down his face. Hot, shameful tears.
“She ain’t. She ain’t no demon.”
The knife came up, and slit Egan hotly across the cheek. The black-bearded man spoke close so that his pungent breath blew into Egan’s nostrils.
“Hope the fuck was worth betraying your country. Only a matter of time now.”
The weight was gone, Egan waited a while to get up then turned to look over his shoulder. There were half a dozen men with the red ribbon. If he were brave… if Brandyn had taught him how to fight, then he could… but he would not.
“I… I’ll tell ’em what you done!” Egan shouted. Bleeding had never felt so stupid.
“Won’t make no difference. Demon’s a demon. She’ll get hers. Maybe I’ll get mine too once they’ve chained her up.” The men laughed, and as Egan bent over to collect his lost baskets, they stayed there laughing, pelting him with the occasional rock.
He bore it silently.
“They’ll kill her Cap’n. No matter what she says, she can’t fight that many. Not forever.” Egan tried not to move his lips too much, because it made the stitches on his face hurt. He was out in the back of the tavern with Hyrd, standing over the grill. The Captain was holding his spy-glass and looking at the sea.
“They’ll wait. We still have time. Dumb of ’em to warn us though.”
“They called her a demon.” Egan fumed.
“Reckon she’s been called worse names by better men.” Hyrd said.
“She ought to kill them. Ought to kill them all.”
“They’ll get theirs if they stand in her way when the time comes for her to go. But best we pray that it don’t, because we have to stay here when she goes.”
“What if they decide to do something stupid?”
Hyrd licked his lips and stared through the spy-glass out over the ocean.
“Then I reckon we’ll have to do something stupid right back.”
When he woke up, Brandyn was packing her bag. He thought about announcing he was awake, but found himself too upset to care.
“I ain’t never seen you pack. You get a letter today?”
“No. But I think it might be a good idea to have some things at hand in case I need to go.”
Brandyn sighed, and put the bag on her cot. A second later she sat down next to it, and rubbed her forehead. Egan wrapped an arm around her waist in reassurance.
“I should have died. I was ready for it, and when I lived… when you pulled me out of the ocean. I was so… so happy. So grateful for every breath. But that doesn’t last. Chagraen Lo’Shan used to tell me that, but she said I wouldn’t believe until it happened.” Brandyn sighed and fell back.
Brandyn stroked his hand. Egan noticed that the shell he had given her was neatly packed away with the rest of her belongings. It hurt to think that it was all the connection they would have in only a few short days.
Hyrd paced the tavern. He’d refused to rent the spare rooms for the last week, so there was no chance they’d be interrupted. He and Brandyn sat next to one another at a table as they watched the Captain walk the length of his ship.
“They’re going to come tonight.” Hyrd spat and then hit the floorboards with his cane.
“How reliable is the information?”
“If it’s false, then it’s the most expensive lie ever told in this damned town.” Hyrd’s knuckles were white.
“I should go then.” Brandyn said.
“No. That wouldn’t make a bit of difference. I’ve made arrangements. We’ll be fine. We just have to wait till nightfall so they won’t see us go.”
“That’s cutting things a bit close.”
“Don’t see any other way.”
When it got to be dark, and there still wasn’t anyone in the tavern, that’s when Egan knew that it was going to be for real this time. That all the wait was over. That it was only a few moments until something happened. He was sitting on a barrel, bag in hand, staring out a window, while Hyrd mucked about in the kitchen.
“You seen my Navigation tools, boy?” he shouted.
“It’s the big brass thing that looks like a triangle.”
Egan, who had used it to scrape the grill several months previous, and broken it, said “Never laid eyes on it, captain.”
“Damn it then. Very well. I just didn’t want one of those fucks getting hold of it.” Hyrd barged back into the room noisily. He hadn’t said a word as to their intended destination, but Egan had an idea in the way that the captain had been looking down the extension lately.
“Where’s your girl?”
“Outside, getting the lay o’ the land.” Egan said bitterly. He’d wanted to go with her until she’d flatly rejected him.
“Watch your tone, Mister Egan. Moments like these are gonna be what you’ll want to look back on when you get to be my age.” Hyrd pulled a coat on that Egan had never seen before, a great big blue wool monstrosity with shiny brass buttons. It must have been one of those things that he kept in the chest under his bed. There’d been a saber in there, but he’d already given that to Brandyn.
“What’s the plan, captain?” Egan asked, not for the first time.
Hyrd pulled his spyglass from a pocket inside the big coat and went to the window again. He slammed the table with one hand and smiled. “Ha! She’s still there! Plan is, we sail away for a bit. Let the rim wind carry us down along the coast, and we set port some place people don’t give a fuck about this war.”
“Where’d you get the boat?”
“Made someone who owed me a favor buy it.”
Brandyn came in at that moment, Hyrd’s saber at her side. Egan noted how comfortably it sat there, like it had been made for her.
“About a hundred and fifty. Meeting up in a warehouse. Wouldn’t have been able to find even that if one of them hadn’t been dumb enough to carry a torch part-way.” Brandyn walked swiftly around the tavern, blowing out lanterns. Captain Hyrd said nothing to stop her.
“The ship stands ready, but it’s a way down the coast. It might take an hour to get there.” Brandyn looked at Hyrd kneeling on his crutch, but didn’t say anything. She just walked over to the back door by the grill and held it open for Egan and Hyrd.
Egan made sure to take a look at the now dark tavern before he licked his lips and blew out the final lantern. It had been his home for a good long while. Like the one of the shells he found on the beach, but maybe with Brandyn he’d grown too big for it. He puckered his lips and turned the wick to nothing but the smell of smoke.
Hyrd seemed glad of the sound of the ocean, even though it made Egan feel that their chances of setting out to sea were dubious at best. “Do you hear her, Mister Egan?” Hyrd whispered.
Egan had taken to walking slightly behind and off to the side of the captain, as every now and then the sand turned treacherous and the captain slipped. Egan shook his head.
“She’s glad to have me home, boy. She’s saying ‘ol’ Sam Hyrd, I ain’t seen head nor hide of you for fifteen years now! Come on back to me ol’ boy! Come back to you mother!” Hyrd opened his mouth and breathed deep the salt smell of the waters.
“Oh that’s a pure wind, boy. That’s straight from the Rim itself. Not too much further now.”
The ocean was black, and the only way Egan could see the choppiness of its waters was by watching the reflection of the moon break apart and come back together. Up ahead, Brandyn paused, and looked back. She must have been fifty yards ahead, but she had proven capable of crossing such distances repeatedly with minimal effort.
“She sees it, now.” Hyrd whispered.
Hyrd shook his head. “I called the tavern a boat, but a ship… a ship is a lady. Beautiful and refined, you treat her well and she does the same by you. You keep her decks polished and bright, so you always find purchase. You keep her sails plump and billowing so she steers you swift and far. Oh boy… such a thing is a lady, such a thing as I have not known in these fifteen years.”
Hyrd’s pace quickened, and he almost fell before Egan caught him. “You all right, captain?”
Hyrd laughed. “Fifteen years, I swore I’d sail the sea no more, not so long as evil men owned the ladies I loved. What a fool, I was. What a child. I should have fought harder. Should have clung to them with every last breath I had. Should have taken knife to the throat of those who had made my ladies into whores.”
In a rare admission of weakness, Hyd threw his arm over Egan’s shoulder. “Together boy, let’s get all of us home.” Hyrd hopped as Egan, stopped over, walked beside him.
“I’ll teach you to fish. We’ll make a new life of it, somewhere by Samaerael. Don’t care for the Jesters or the Avatars. Don’t care for the way they treat the Dim, come to think of it, but we’ll have our lady with us! We’ll have our fine wo-” Egan walked a half step before he realized that Hyrd was no longer hopping with him.
“Captain?” Egan called, turning.
Hyrd fell, grabbing Egan by the waist and pulling him down. There was an arrow sticking from the captain’s side. It’s oil slicked fletchings sparkled in the oncoming torchlight
“Brandyn!” Egan called, not caring if he was announcing his position. “Brandyn they’re coming!”
Ahead, Egan saw Brandyn pause, and look back. Then she… Egan swallowed. Several arrows came at her all at once. The sword was out… and…. Egan wanted to heave, because there was no way, until he realized that Brandyn was still running, leaping ahead untouched and sommersaulting, throwing sand up in the air. Some men came running down at them, from up over the rocks.
Grabbing the Captain’s hand with his own, Egan pulled the captain down the beach, leaving a trail in the sand. Brandyn was there in an instant, holding several arrows in her hands. She looked down at Hyrd, then back up at Egan. “Get him to the ship.” Brandyn said resolutely. She turned in time to catch an arrow aimed at her face.
Egan saw then, why she had never shown any fear. Why she had treated the men who threatened her as naught but toys… because… against what she was… against what she could do… what was a sword or an arrow? What was the strength of any man, no matter who stood beside him? She flowed away, keeping herself between Egan and the captain. He saw it all, as he dragged toward the ship.
She moved in such a way that she took the sword of the first man away from him and used his own weight to break his arms. She flowed away from every weapon that came near her, and brought the man holding it close before striking him just below his rib cage with the flat of her hand. They fell faster than they could run toward her. They fell almost too fast to see.
One would thrust where she was, and then she would be up in the air, using the shoulders of one man to propel herself, before breaking her fall against the chest of another. She fought as if the gods had made her for no other purpose.
The bearded man was next. There was no great show down. No great bravado. He opened his mouth to yell, and then Brandyn’s hand was in there, yanking it to the side, dislocating his jaw. She paused only a moment to spit in his crying face before she was at it again.
Egan looked back to the captain, who was still bleeding in gushes. That was good, Egan knew as it meant his heart was still beating. “Just you never mind about all that captain, they ain’t never gonna touch us.”
In between the time he had looked down at the captain and looked up, Brandyn had crested the rocky dune and somehow managed to find the little man. The one who’d read the scroll in the tavern. He was all alone. Brandyn whispered something in his ear, then took hold of his hands like he was a child who’d tried to steal a sweet and… Egan almost threw up as both of the little man’s hands went tumbling to the ground.
He tried to count the bodies as Brandyn came running back, tried to believe that woman he’d lain with so tenderly had somehow taken down over forty men with no apparent effort. He stopped pulling on Hyrd when she came close.
“The arrow, we should pull-“
“Do it and he’ll bleed to death.” Brandyn knelt down and picked the captain up so that he laid perpendicular to her chest. Then she ran. Ran so fast that Egan knew he would never would have been able to keep up if the ship hadn’t been so close.
There had always been a small dock down by the cover, rarely used and what it’s original purpose had been no one knew but there was a small one-masted ship there big enough maybe for five to crew. Brandyn was scrambling aboard with Hyrd still in her arms.
“Is he… is he going… to be okay?” Egan panted.
Brandyn had the captain laid across the bow of the ship, arrow still in his side. She ran up and down the ship, untying ropes and throwing them overboard. There was an anchor on a chain, and Brandyn began to pull it up so fast you would have thought it was nothing but a length of rope.
“Brandyn! Is the captain going to-“
“Put pressure around the wound! I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she yelled.
Egan wrapped both his hand around the arrow and push down so that the arrow was in the space between his thumbs and forefingers. The captain began to cough. Brandyn rushed by, so that Egan though she meant to help, but all she did was turn a crank that let a sail unfurl before running back to the wheel and turning it hard to the port side. The gentle rocking of the ship began to increase so that Egan had to take extra caution not to put too much weight on the captain.
“Tis a fine thing, boy-o.” The captain whispered. He was barely audible over the sound of the ocean, and Brandyn scrambling up and down the ship. “A fine thing, to feel her living and moving ‘neath you, just like an old lover.” Egan wanted to slap the captain for the madness of it, but the captain’s lips curled up into a smile.
“Your da… he was a brave man. Last to stand his station.” Hyrd had a coughing fit. “I would’a died there, not for him. I’d pissed myself before I jumped on that thing, you see. Ocean washed it away, but I’d pissed myself just like a babe. Your da shocked me into act-” Brandyn appeared and pulled the arrow out of the captain without preamble. Hyrd screamed as Brandyn had never heard. There was a needle and thread in her mouth, and a bottle of the captain’s whiskey in her hand.
“I figured they found out about the ship when you brought your whiskey here. Just remember that, in case you want to get mad about this later.” Brandyn opened the bottle and poured it straight into the wound, which sent the captain into a small convulsion. Brandyn restrained him easily enough.
“You cunt! This is why you don’t take a woman to sea!” Hyrd raised his hands to fight, but Egan held them back. Brandyn inspected the hold in the captain’s side.
“Your liver’s knicked. Point might have got your lung, but that won’t be the death of you.” Brandyn took a needle and thread, and somehow, even with the rocking of the ship, managed to do a fair job of getting the captain stitched up. Hyrd was still delirious from the pain.
“A man, now there’s a sailor. A dick just like a mast, something firm what you can use to navigate the stars by. A cunt though? Ha! Like a sail with a hole right in the middle of it. Not good for a damn thing.” The captain started to cry when Brandyn cut his shirt off. “No, please. Please don’t do it. You bitch! No, you bitch!” Brandyn pulled the captain up toward her, bending him at the middle, she rolled some cloth around him making a bandage over his wound.
“I hate you!” Hyrd shouted.
“Aye, captain. Duly noted, but you brought the supplies on board and I figured you’d be madder if we let them go to waste.” She gently put the captain down, and he lay there a while crying before he fell asleep, exhausted.
Egan joined Brandyn some time later by the helm. She was covered in blood.
“Will he live?”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“We’re sinking.” Captain Hyrd announced. He was laying back in a chair tied in front of the helm. Egan and Brandyn ignored him the first few times he made the declaration. It wasn’t until he resorted to an obviously painful string of profanities that couldn’t be ignored that they bothered to listen.
“Ships steering too hard to port. They must’a snuck on board before we did and drilled a hole. We’re taking on water. Any of you been below yet?”
Brandyn’s face went pale, and she spent only a few minutes below decks before she confirmed it.
“Nothing you would have thought to check for. Don’t blame yourself.” Hyrd leaned back and stared straight up into the sun. There was nice weather, even less than a day and a half at sea.
“This doesn’t make any sense, why would they have attacked us?” Egan said.
“Reckon they underestimated our girl here,” the captain nodded at Brandyn. “What they wanted was for me to get scared and rush out to sea. They wanted us howling mad, ready to cut the anchor without inspection. Don’t think they figured on actually hitting me. Don’t think they count on getting her pissed off.” Hyrd nodded at Brandyn.
“Well then we’ll turn around. We’ll head back to shore.” Egan said.
The captain nodded, his hand hanging listless on the wheel. “Yup. Even if there’s a storm ahead of you, you’ll sail to it if’n there’s worse behind. We’ll never make it though. We’re too heavy and we ain’t got no pump.”
Brandyn looked down at her feet and swallowed. “I can’t swim.”
Captain Hyrd grunted, his face squinted against the sun. “Figures anyone as eats the shit you do doesn’t float.”
Egan ran downstairs and grabbed a barrel, and threw it on the deck. “We can make a raft. Make it the rest of the way to shore.” Hyrd, bit his lip to consider.
“Check it for holes.” The captain ordered.
There were eight. Very small, but none so far apart you could use it to float for very long. The captain spit. There was a gull on the bowsprit.
“May I see your whistle, captain?” Brandyn asked.
“Don’t see how it could hurt.”
Brandyn called out seven notes. Seven notes in musical sequence. It was a preamble to something. The sound of something just begun. The sound of something rising and of the first step on a long journey.
“Right of Hunt, eh?” Hyrd asked.
“We call it the Spear Song.”
“Full sail, if you will, Mister Egan!” Hyrd called.
Egan tried to reckon how far they were sinking for every foot they sailed. Then he got too antsy thinking about it and decided to go below decks and haul buckets of water up instead.
It’s strange, when a ship sinks, how slow and plodding it is. How the wood wants to stay afloat even when the Deep is pulling it so slowly down. Brandyn waited the longest, holding onto a barrel by the bow. She’d stuck a few rags in it for makeshift plugs. It wouldn’t hold long, and nothing else they’d been able to find or make would have done any better.
Egan held Hyrd around around the chest, treading water and trying in vain to keep the Captain’s wounded side out of the wet. “Let me go down with her. Let me go down with the ship. Please.” Hyrd whispered, as he stared at the ship sinking below the waves. Fumbling, and trying to tear away from Egan, the captain almost knocked the conch shell off his chest. Egan grabbed it at the last moment. It was a link, somehow, between he and Brandyn. He did not want it to go back into the Deep.
“How long do you think you’ll be able to hold?” Egan asked.
Brandyn was struggling to stay afloat. It must have been strange for her. To be so strong, and so suddenly useless. “It’s not my arms that are going to give out.” The barrel was already sinking lower.
“We can still try to swim toward shore.” It was a dream to be sure. He could only see the shore because it was a hazy speck in the distance.
“Let me go… please.” Hyrd whispered again. Egan renewed his kicking and whispered into the Captain’s pale ear.
“We’re a boat Captain. You and me together make a crew, and wherever we are, that’s our ship.” The old man seemed to take comfort in those words, as he closed his eyes and stopped struggling to free himself.
“What do you say? Should we try for it?” Egan smiled.
“Aren’t your arms tired from hauling?” Brandyn asked.
“Yes. Yes they are. Yours?”
Brandyn shook her head. “But I need ’em to hold on.”
“Then kick with me.”
Egan scissor-kicked clumsily, the captain still by his side. He’d hold the man even if he died, and then bury him. He’d promised himself.
“I thought you were one of the Nimble. When I first saw you.” Brandyn said.
“I just thought you were dead.” Egan replied with a laugh, although there were tears in his eyes. It made them equal somehow. Being out in the water. He’d never felt so close to her, now that he knew they were going to die together. He wondered if she felt the same way.
“I would’ve married you, you know. If I wasn’t what I am.” Brandyn called back.
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.” Egan slowed down, when he realized that he was starting to leave Brandyn behind.
“Maybe. But I enjoyed our time together. I’ll think of it for the rest of my life.” That had them both laughing, enough so that they only stopped when they forgot to swim and water poured into their mouths.
“What did you jump off the ship for?” Egan asked.
“I killed a Sarpent. It was running away for help, enough to sink us. I grabbed hold of it and killed it.” The barrel was half under-water now.
“What was so important you were all out there anyway?”
“There’s going to be a big battle. We needed an edge. The Mimaru… that’s one of the names of the people beyond the Rift. The one’s that’ll talk to us anyway… they make things. Weapons. Big tubes that shoot metal balls. We were going to get some. To help us. By the way, you could be killed for knowing that.”
Egan laughed again, “Can I tell you a secret?”
Brandyn was struggling to stay afloat, her face was barely above the water. “Sure.”
Egan swam over by her. Hyrd made it awkward, but he brought his face as close to hers as he could and kissed her. “I’m glad that the last thing I’m ever going to see is you.”
He grabbed hold of her right at the moment the barrel lost its buoyancy. She began to drop. Not as bad as a stone might, but fast and Egan followed her into the Deeps. She had no natural buoyancy, and even when she flapped her arms it did little good. He opened his eyes under the waters, and looked up to see Hyrd still floating on his back. Egan pulled out the conch, that he had grabbed before the plunge and put gave it to Brandyn. She put her hand to the side of his face and caressed it. He repeated the gesture. Then she pushed him away. So hard that he could not resist or hold on.
He mouthed the words “I love you.” He mouthed then again and again, as he swam down and tried to grab hold of her. But then, there was only the ocean black and she was gone. And he, coward that he was, needed to breathe.
He broke the surface with a gasp, and grabbed hold of the captain again.
“Ship… it didn’t want you go down with it, did it?” Hyrd’s voice was the barest whisper.
“No… no she didn’t.” Egan cried.
“But she were a fine lady, weren’t she, Mister Egan?”
And they drifted there for a long, slow time.
The gray things were always smiling. They said the Friendly Folk were the souls of Captains come back from the After, joyful to be at one with the sea, their bodies finally as apt as their ships and a smile worn like a groove into their face. Egan looked at it, and deliriously thought that it was Brandyn come back out of the waters.
“Did Horse take her? Did Raven? Where is Whale?” Egan whispered.
The Friendly Folk had no answer, but they pushed him with their noses until he realized that they wanted him to grab hold of their fins and ride along. He still had the captain there with him.
“Am I dead? Is this my crew?” The captain whispered. He was leaning against Egan like a baby now.
“No… this is something else.” The captain looked at one of the Friendly Folk and smiled in the most sincere way Egan had ever seen. With shaky hands the captain put the whistle to his mouth and blew. Seven notes. Seven notes that sounded like the sound things made as they began. Seven notes that were the first steps of a long journey.
Somewhere, far and away, Egan thought he could hear a conch shell. Egan took the whistle from the captain with no resistance, and blew the notes louder. He could hear it, if he strained. A conch shell returning his notes.
He played them all the way to the shore, even when the conch shell was out of hearing, and the Friendly Folk were long gone. He played them years later after Captain Hyrd had healed and gotten sick again and finally died of old age. He played them when he was alone and life seemed sour. Seven notes. The Right of Hunt.
He played them and remembered the Fire that he had held, and the woman brought out of the wave.