They made camp the following afternoon after following the Nar River south and crossing a wooden bridge wide enough for two carriages to pass at the same time. Iliad guessed they had traveled a good sixty miles; James knew it would be several days before they reached Sem’pur. Along the riverbed they washed the filth from their clothes until the fabric no longer stunk. Triska took a moment to sprinkle the petals of little green flowers on their clothes, and before long all the stench of the sewage lines were lost.
The first night proved eventful. Nobody had asked James about his hand, and he had made no effort to discuss it. Even Triska, who normally seemed aware of injuries at all times, being a healer and all, was oblivious.
James sat in the dirt silently.
“You came for me,” Laura said, cool and collected, looking at James with her bright green eyes.
“I don’t think so. I had to do it. You’re my best friend.”
“I know, but, I mean, you came all this way just to save me. That’s truly amazing.”
He nodded again.
“And…you…how did you do that back there?”
Now he grinned. He showed her the Fearl and explained everything to her. He told her about his parents and the Council, and how he had come to the Farthland only to see it destroyed by Luthien. He explained how the Fearl worked and about Dulien. He went on and on, saying everything he could think of, hardly taking a breath. Then Laura jumped on him and hugged him. His mouth closed, his last few words muffled, and then he hugged her back.
When she pulled away a few tears fell from her face. She smiled warmly at him. He smiled back.
She looked at his hand. He tried to hide it, but she grabbed his wrist. “What happened?”
“What do you mean it’s nothing? It’s soaked in blood. You would have cried for hours back home.”
“We’re not at home.”
“You said Triska is a healer right?”
Laura walked away and called for Triska. When Laura returned, Triska pushed her gently aside. James raised his hand to her instinctually. The plump woman grabbed hold of his wrist. He winced. She untied the fabric and exposed the huge gash in his hand. The blood had begun to congeal, but he could see the flesh beneath the skin.
“You should have told me sooner,” Triska said.
“It’s nothing, really,” he said.
“Nothing?” Triska gently ran her fingers over the wound. “Don’t pretend to be tough around your friend. This could have gotten infected. And now it’s going to hurt like hell to heal.”
James didn’t say anything to that. He couldn’t imagine the pain being anymore than he had already experience. Triska set to work on his wound. Spurts of magic made the skin tingle. He sensed pain, but he ignored it, even when it grew in intensity. All he managed was a wince. He watched the skin as it slowly closed. He felt bones rearrange. Then a few minutes later Triska let go of his hand. He examined it. A scar ran from the beginning of the knuckle of his middle finger all the way to an inch away from his wrist. In a few weeks time it would be indistinguishable from the others scars on his body. When he flexed his fingers they only worked slightly. He touched the hand with his right. The sensation hurt; he winced and let go. He flexed the fingers again. They worked, but it felt as if all of his fingers had been jammed against something. He shook his hand and looked up.
“Thanks,” he said.
Triska started to walk away, placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder and gave a warm smile. Then she left to join the others.
“So you can use magic?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, it is.”
“So, do something with it. I don’t know, lift me up or something.”
“I don’t think I can right now.”
“Sure you can!”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not worth the risk. I’m not trained like Triska or Pea. They’ve been doing this for years and years. And with my hand mangled like this,” he held it up, “I’m at a disadvantage. I’m left handed.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. Then she changed the subject. “Where are we going?”
He explained the journey to Sem’pur and the Luu’tre and its captain. “We’ll be safe for a while,” he said after he had finished.
“Have you met everyone?”
She shook her head. “I met Triska. She’s very nice. I was afraid to ask the little guy what he was though, and the old man freaks me out.”
He laughed. “Well that sounds like Triska. She’s a nice woman. The little one is Pea, like the vegetable.”
“Why does he call himself Pea?”
“Pantifilus the Extraordinarily Abnormal. P-E-A.”
“Oh. Well that’s interesting.”
“Indeed. And the old guy is Darl. He’s known as the grumpy one around here.”
“He seems it.” She laughed.
“Iliad is the other fellow with the bow. I think it’s about time to eat actually.”
James led Laura to where the others sat. Together they all ate. Nobody said much of anything, not willing to discuss all that had happened until they were safely in the water. Then everyone went to their separate places and fell asleep.
The days went by quicker than James imagined. He was cautious every moment now. Iliad took watch on the second and third nights; Darl accepted the watch after that. James hoped that Luthien wouldn't come storming through the darkness of night and into their camp.
But as they pushed north, they saw no soldiers of Luthien, only civilians. Twice they saw a gryphon in the distance, but they paid it no head as it headed off east.
When they reached the Bay of Salm on the sixth day a thick cloud cover had taken over the day sky and small patters of rain now batted them. Fog flew in from the ocean, propelled by strong sea air and obstructing the only view of the great blue water.
It wasn’t until the seventh night that they reached Sem’pur. From a distance it didn’t look like much of anything at all. Small homes were scattered over the landscape overlooking the Sea of Loe. Off in the distance a new fog bank flowed over the sea. Any chance of seeing the Wunder Isles was dashed.
Among the houses were shacks and long buildings built like Native American long houses. They were stained and weathered, markings of long seaside winters. James could smell the sea air now, a strong salty scent that he had never smelled before. This was the first time he had ever seen the ocean outside of a computer or television screen. He marveled at the vastness of the blue water, how it seemed to go on forever even though he knew it didn’t. He had a strange sympathy for the people who once thought the world was flat. He could see how such bizarre thought could come about. People need an end to something. Part of being mortal. Everything has to have an end.
Beyond at the far edge of the city were the main docks to Sem’pur, skirting along the edge of the Bay of Salm where it met with the Straight of Loe. Several massive ships were harbored there, and a plethora of smaller ships were tied to smaller docks. The ships shifted, rising and falling with the sea.
As they entered the city of Sem’pur it became obvious that it was more of a slum than a city. While it could easily have been home to a hundred thousand men and women, it looked run down and without any defenses. There were no gates, no guards, and certainly nothing that looked like it could do the job. People roamed the streets wearing little more than tattered robes that hung loosely from their bodies. Dirt and grime riddled their faces making it impossible to tell whether they were male or female.
James made sure that Mirdur’eth stayed closed to the middle of the road, a slushy, mud filled dirt track that drove straight through the center of the city. He wondered how they were going to find Captain Norp in such a large slum, with all the people looking so alike in their dirtiness.
The main road was home to a flurry of houses, some of them shops, and none of them remotely kept in good condition. Doors hung from hinges, windows were boarded up, and roofs were patched with a variety of objects from the seats of chairs to bits and pieces of driftwood woven together and nailed down with so many nails that not even a hurricane could remove them. Where there were intact windows, big circles were cut out of the dust and grime where someone had attempted to wash the glass.
A few drunks wandered onto the street from a nearby pub, tripping and laughing as they tugged each other along into an alley, enormous mugs of ale in their hands. An inn—the Foreigner as it was called—was the only thing that looked remotely decent. It had a sign that looked freshly painted and while the doors were less than appealing in their random array of wood patches, the windows were clean and clear.
James felt strangely like he was in a western. At any moment he expected a sheriff to come rolling into town on a horse with a big black cowboy hat and a buttoned up black suit, silver star on his chest.
“This place is huge,” he said. “We’ll never find this captain.”
Pea rolled his little eyes and said, “Please Darl, enlighten us to the wonderful happenings within that mind of yours. Don’t keep us in suspense.”
“The one thing you have to learn about captains of ships like the Luu’tre,” Darl began, “is that they never stray far from the ship.”
“They don’t stray far because they’re usually drunk,” Pea said with a twinge of humor.
“Well, that’s probably true.”
Darl took the lead and took them north of the city towards the Bay of Salm. They crossed through roads that had turned into miniature lakes and random patches of tall grass where roads had once been. They weaved between houses and eventually came to an ill-traveled road that looked solid enough to hold the weight of the horses and steeds. There were pubs all up and down the road and above each bar was an inn, as if the pubs intended for their guests to stay. Wild laughter and rambling men cried out from several of the pubs, and others were completely silent but for the sound of lively piano music.
“Okay, so we’re looking for a drunken captain?” Laura said.
“We’re just looking for a captain. Ask for Captain Norp and don’t mention the Luu’tre,” Darl said.
“Okay,” James and Laura said in unison as everyone dismounted and tied the animals to a long post. Then they all split up.
James led Laura to one of the quieter bars. Pea and Iliad took one of the louder ones; Triska and Darl wandered into one that was right in the middle on the noise meter.
Inside they found that the lively music was actually being played by an old player-piano. The pub was relatively empty but for a few men at the bar drinking away their sorrows, a bartender cleaning a set of mugs, and a waitress who washed the tables with an old blackened rag that seemed to fall apart as she rubbed it against the wood.
The door closed behind them and they walked inside.
“We don’t serve kids here,” the bartender said. “Not since the last bunch.”
“I’m looking for Captain Norp,” James said.
“Never met him.”
James grimaced. The situation was remarkably close to a western, minus the guns.
A man at the bar leaned over to look at him, only it wasn’t a man, but a Littlekind with two slightly pointed ears and a long black uni-brow. Ale trickled from the little man’s mouth as he rocked back and forth.
“What business you have with the Cap…” the Littlekind said before hiccupping and finishing, “tain?”
“We’re here to barter for passage on his ship.”
“He don’t take kids on joy rides.” Another hiccup.
“We’re not looking for a joy ride. I’m here with several friends. We are in need of passage to the Wunder Isles.”
The bar went silent, except for the player-piano.
The Littlekind burst out in laughter. “Yeah, right. Hear him Gumbly? Wants to go to the Wunder Isles. Funny stuff that.”
Gumbly, if that was his real name, stood still.
The Littlekind closed his mouth and let his smile fade away before looking back at James. “You serious?”
James nodded. “Are you Captain Norp?”
“Might be. That depends on whose askin’.”
“Yeah, see that. Afraid can’t help you though. Like adventure just fine, but seen the Wunder Isles before. Not all that exciting.”
James turned to Laura. “Let’s get the others first.” He went to the bar. “Do you have paper and something to write with?”
Gumbly handed him a small scrap of browned paper, a quill, and a small ink bottle. He had never written with a quill before and it took him a few words to get used to it. He scribbled a quick letter:
“To Tum Tum. Please take care of these horses and Blaersteeds. I trust you to make sure they are safe for whenever it is that I may return. Thank you.”
He rolled up the paper and handed the quill and ink bottle to Gumbly. Then he turned back to Captain Norp and said, “We’ll be back. Please consider the offer.”
Captain Norp waved a disapproving hand.
James and Laura left the pub—a sign above the door said The Whisker Bin—and headed to find the others. James went to Mirdur’eth and looked the steed in the eye.
“Take this note with you. Find Tum Tum. Take the others with you okay?”
Mirdur’eth nodded with huge up and down motions.
“Good. Laura, start pulled off the packs. Stuff anything that looks important in them. Leave the food. We probably won’t need it.”
James left her there to find the others. He found Darl and Triska in the same pub they had originally gone in, and Iliad and Pea were in a nearby pub and more than ready to leave despite the rambunctiousness of the men inside. Before long all six of them were together again. James explained the situation. Everyone slugged packs over shoulders and James untied all the horses.
“Remember, guide them all to Tum Tum.”
Mirdur’eth grunted and turned. A few pushes and head gestures and all five of the creatures were trotting along the road and out of the city.
James led the others to The Whisker Bin. Captain Norp met them at a table in the center. He wore a dark red vest that bordered on blackish-brown.
“So, this must be your pirate gang eh?” Captain Norp said.
“Not exactly,” James said. “We need passage to the Wunder Isles.”
“You done said that before. And not taking the offer.” Captain Norp pointed a tiny finger at Darl. “You’re familiar.”
“We’ve met before,” Darl said. “Long time ago in fact.”
“Darl of the Farthland?”
“Well what a lovely surprise. The former seaman. Wonderful.”
“You were a sailor?” James said.
“Still not taking the offer. Old time seaman or not.”
James threw up his hands and looked at the others. Iliad watched the window suspiciously. “We don’t have time for this,” Iliad said.
“Well you try convincing him then,” James said.
“No, I mean we don’t have time for this because we’ve got company.”
“Company?” Darl said.
James, Pea, and Darl all went to the two windows in front and looked out. Four figures rode down the street. Three looked oddly familiar, yet not at the same time. Shadows flittered behind them like a cloak and great blades covered in black flames were in their hands. But it was the last figure that made him collapse backwards. He saw the white, dead eye, the scarred face, and the ethereal glow of the one good eye. A black cloak only covered part of the man’s overbearing appearance.
It was Luthien.
“How?” James said for lack of anything else to say.
“I don’t know,” Darl said, “but we don’t have time to ask questions. How many people does it take to get a pathetic little ship to sea?”
“Pathetic little ship?” Captain Norp said. “Well that might be a first. The Luu’tre is no little ship. She’s a galleon. Sixty guns strong. No little ship that. Takes quite a few to keep her running smooth. No easy task.”
“What do you want as payment to take us to sea?” James said, his voice bitter.
“More than a trip to the Wunder Isles. Aim for adventure, intrigued by it.”
James stormed over to where Captain Norp sat and grabbed hold of the Littlekind’s vest and lifted. He dragged the kicking and screaming Littlekind to the window.
“Let go of me!”
“Have a look first,” he said, shoving Captain Norp face first against the window. “How about that for adventure?”
The Littlekind’s eyes went wide as he caught sight of Luthien and the three shadow soldiers. Then his eyes curved down and a thing smile graced his face.
James dropped Captain Norp to the ground.
“You’ve got yourself a ship! A mighty ship! Come! Time to leave!” Captain Norp shook James’ hand and scurried away to the bar, tossing a pair of coins at Gumbly. “Take care of yourself there Gumbly.”
Gumbly said nothing.
James started to follow. When he and his companions reached the back of the pub, where Captain Norp headed to a backroom exit, the front door swung open and one of the shadow soldiers stopped dead.
He looked at the others for a brief instant, and then looked at the soldier. The soldier breathed and turned to give away their location. James didn’t hesitate any longer. He pulled magic through his right hand and flung it all at the soldier. The wall exploded outward, leaving a gaping hole where the door used to be. The soldier crashed through the wall of a pub across the road and disappeared in the debris.
Gumbly protested wildly. Darl tossed the remaining bag of coins at the bartender and said, “For the damages good sir,” with a wink and a smile.
Then they were outside and running along the coast on a thin path. James could see the docks ahead, long and wooden, connecting land to ship. A few men and women walked the docks; Captain Norp started yelling.
“Raise anchor! Set sail!”
A group of men suddenly dropped whatever it was they were doing and ran. At the far end of the nearest dock sat a massive ship with bold white and red letters that said The Luu’tre. It had two large masts and a series of small sails. James could see all along the side many closed doors where nearly half of the sixty guns would show themselves.
As they reached the dock he sensed magic flowing. He glanced back and saw Luthien and the shadow soldiers riding hard against a brisk wind. Their black horses fumed, but they were too far now. His feet smacked on the wood dock and soon they were clambering up the ramp and into the Luu’tre. He looked up into the tall white sails as they opened with a thundering boom. The anchor was raised and the ship suddenly yanked forward as oars protruded from sides of the ship and pushed her away from the dock. Men and women ran from one side to another, pulling and securing rope.
Captain Norp clambered aboard as he released the mooring. Someone else pulled the ramp up just as Luthien and the two soldiers made it to the dock and forced their horses onto the wood.
“Mind helping for a moment you two,” Captain Norp said to both James and Pea. The two followed Captain Norp aft where an old, rusty anchor sat. “Need you to chuck this at the dock. Wait for signal.”
Then Captain Norp ran to the middle of the ship and looked over the edge. “Not yet. Almost!”
James glanced over the side and saw Luthien and the two soldiers riding fast up the dock.
Together James and Pea pulled on their magic and the anchor launched high into the air. Pea looked through a hole in the railing to guide the chunk of metal. Luthien’s horse reared back and cried out as the anchor struck the dock. It crashed through and splashed in the water, then a moment later the dock tilted and crashed in a mighty heap of wood planks and boards. Luthien and the shadow soldiers followed suit and fell. The horses swam away as fast as they could while the men struggled out of their cloaks to be able to swim.
“Ha!” Captain Norp said, pointing a finger. “Have always wanted to do that! To the Loe Strait!”
James sat down on the steps of the quarter deck and glanced at the wheel as it was tugged clockwise. He let out a sight of relief.
The Luu’tre pushed out into the middle of the bay and caught an even stronger wind that pulled her to the mouth of the Bay of Salm. James stood up and walked to the bow, avoiding the working men and women. Laura followed him.
He looked out into the water. The sun was setting, a bright red orb on the horizon. He could barely see the swift currents of the Strait of Loe ahead. Thin clouds swept past the crimson sun. He looked at Laura and smiled.
“What?” she said.
“We made it,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
He gave her a big hug and laughed.
“What was that for?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Just glad to see you’re alive.”
She smiled. “I could say the same.”
He watched as the sun drifted lower into the horizon and grinned.