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BRINGER of BALANCE - Book II of THE LAND series

By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 13 - Trailing the Protectors

That evening, ale and spirits were passed in merriment. Our shipmates from celebrated the most although Sir Edward indulged in his fair share. The island began to swarm with laughter and light-headed alliance members. I had been having fun with my close friends from the castle. We danced, drank, and had intimate conversations.

“I’m so glad you found that…thing!” Sir Edward’s words were slurred. The thing I assumed was the gateway. “I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those green things. I’ll wring their neck till their eyes pop out of their stinkin’ green heads. That’s what they get, those things.” Edward tripped over a heap of thick rope and I motioned for Riley to help him downstairs to his bunk.”

“Make the boat stop swaying!” he blurted. Riley and I carefully laid him on his cot and took off his shirt. I used a damp cloth to clean his face and hands, and his thoughts were consumed by revenge. He wanted to kill all the protectors for taking his daughter, Sara.

“You mean everything to me,” he said. Edward grabbed my hand as I cleaned his neck. “I love you, Sara.” He closed his eyes and was asleep instantly. We heard snores before closing the door.

Riley and I went to our room and stayed up talking about our past. I had never thought about asking him about my first journey and how he had followed me. The cabin was cozy and my curiosity mounting.

“You said you watched me in the woods,” I posed. I stared at Riley as he sipped his wine. “What about when I journeyed to the palace, the in the sea. Did you follow me then?”

“I tried, although it was hard to keep up. It would have been easier to fly like the swan you rode, but the other swans would have seen me. I didn’t want to interfere with your ride, so I swam as a dolphin instead, following your shadows when they passed through the clouds.”

“Really?” I was thrilled. “I dreamt of a dolphin trailing us. That was you! I can’t believe you had been so close to me.”

“Do you remember when I followed you into the woods as Riley?” he asked. Warm yellow lamplight flickered, illuminating his soft skin. “And we stayed at your grandfather’s castle?” I nodded. “You were swimming in the back and asked if I could swim.”

“Yes. That seems so long ago. Why did you jump in if you couldn’t swim?”

“Because I could swim as a dolphin or any other underwater creature, but I was a human male with no idea how to swim in this form. The thought never crossed my mind that I would have to learn how to swim. I nearly transformed into another animal, but you had already saved me. It was hard not to transform while being your servant and at times I still wish I could. I thought I wouldn’t miss my ability to change form, but I do. It gave me a freedom that mortals don’t understand. I never had worries like survival, emotions, or death. It’s hard on this mind and body, yet I know I’ll never live my life alone, eternally alone. Protectors don’t have friends, mates, or parents, and remain solitary for eons unless a threat to the balance of the world draws them together.

“I believe the protectors need to feel what humans feel in order to understand them. I realized that when I came to you as Christopher, behind the castle. I needed you, just as you needed me. When we kissed I knew I wouldn’t survive without you, and I wasn’t even mortal yet! Sir Edward needs you also. I guess we all rely on each other even though at times we don’t care to admit it.”

There was something about Riley’s outpouring of thought that I wanted to remember. Maybe it was a hint of what would happen on our continuing journey. My once-immortal husband was telling me crucial information about our enemy. Perhaps our protectors want to be a true part of this world just as Riley did, and they need to “feel” as mortals do.

The two protectors who survived the transforming potion had not rejected their forms, killed themselves, or gone into hiding. Instead, they gained relationships and savored their emotions even more than most humans who reject family or turn on friends. I could not help believing that “our kind” had something to offer the green ghosts. Would they be willing to learn from us?

I went up on deck and off the boat to find a spot to go to the bathroom. I had always worried that someone would see me, but now, with so many drunken people wandering the island, I became very anxious. People were passed out, lying on the shore, and I crawled to a spot I used on more than one occasion. Luckily it was dark and just a few people were wandering the area. Heading back to the boat I heard a commotion close to one of the ships. People were gathered in a circle around someone spouting foul language.

Without warning a man grabbed me around the waist and tried to kiss me. I was disgusted by the smell of alcohol on his breath and I pushed him off me. I found myself in the circle of spectators and spun around to see a tall man taunting a smaller man. The smaller man was trying to avoid the fight, however, the circle was tight and no one would let him out. I walked up close to the large man and noticed he had a dark ring around his eye.

“My Queen!” shouted Wolfe. His thoughts rang out and I knew he was in trouble. The man he attacked the day before was ready to seek his revenge. “Get out of here! They’re all drunk. They don’t know what they’re doing and will hurt you. Go quickly!” Wolfe was in a panic and the large man stumbled over to us. Wolfe grabbed my hand and attempted to lead me out of the circle, but laughing people blocked us in. Most of them did not know who I was. Nor did they know who wanted to attack whom.

“Wolfe, come here.” And I led him toward the middle of the circle. I wrapped my arms around him and told him to stand still. Before the burly man could get close, a force of wind spiraled out from us, knocking them all off their feet. No one knew what hit them.

Wolfe stood still, shocked by my force. I concentrated and clouds formed above the incapacitated crowd. High in the sky an image of my face emerged and my voice rumbled as I spoke.

“Your fun has ended and your deplorable actions make me question your loyalty to the alliance. Perhaps some of you shall stay here to rot!” Wolfe stared up at my face while listening to my voice in the clouds and the softer voice close to his ear. “Go to your ships now! Hope that tomorrow you will not be left on this island alone with only ale to help you waste away.”

The man who wanted to attack Wolfe began to stir, and instantly he was hanging in mid-air by his feet, trapped by my powers.

“Wolfe, find a rope.” He ran off while the others lumbered to their ships.

“Trying to turn my people against me?” I asked the upside-down man. “From what party do you reside, Mister…?”

“Darby, Sir, Ummm…, Ma’am, I mean Queen, Ma’am…, Sir.” The man was a drunken mess.

“And tell me, Darby. How did you come to join this alliance you care so little for?”

“Clan, ma’am, but I care. I do care! Please don’t kill me.” Darby was beginning to sob like a baby. Wolfe jogged up to us carrying a rope and I lowered Darby to the ground. He was frozen, unable to move.

“Tie him up nice and tight, arms and legs together. Let’s give him the night to figure out how loyal he is to humankind. Otherwise, he can stay here until the Protectors return. My only bit of advice, Mr. Darby,” I kneeled over him, “is to stop blurting out comments about this witch and never, ever seek revenge on one of my closest friends! Sir Edward will deal with you in the morning.” My last comment seemed to frighten Darby more than anything, “Come on, Wolfe. Let’s get some rest.”

Wolfe walked me back to my ship. He did not say much until we were on deck.

“I’m sorry, my Queen.”

“What do you mean, Wolfe? That wasn’t your fault.”

“No, I mean I’m sorry about the King. About what I…” Wolfe lost his words in mid-sentence. “I know how you feel about him and I wonder if I’ll be in the way. I’m sorry I took your hand and kissed it like that. I was irrational. I just…”

Wolfe stopped. He wanted to tell me that he could not help himself.

“I know how you feel and Riley knows, too. He understands now. Without you we may not have found a way off this island. It’s not just your senses we need; we need you. It might be difficult at times for the King, knowing how you feel about me, but he’ll be fine.”

“Thanks for helping tonight.” Wolfe said. “What you did and said, well, it always amazes me. I have a feeling Darby won’t bother me again.”

“Just don’t go attacking any more men twice your size!” I smiled at him. “He really had quite a shiner though. You must have popped him in the eye really hard.” Wolfe laughed. “I bet he was surprised when he noticed you didn’t even have a scratch on you. Go to bed, Wolfe, and when we wake we’ll plan our trip off this cursed island.” I hugged him and we went our separate ways.

I told Riley the entire story and he thought the same as I did. We needed Wolfe. Riley had spent time teaching him about the animals of our world and how they use their senses. The two men were close friends and we could not imagine our journey without him.

The next day the alliance got off to a slow start, and considering the events from the previous night, I was surprised we had started at all. The Farmoore Knights, Cal and Theo, joined Devin in preparation for our travel through the gateway, but first we needed to figure out where we were going.

“Riley, did the protectors ever travel through these gateways before?”

“Yes, but like most beings, protectors don’t know where the gateways are. After millions of years they have stumbled across a handful of them and few protectors have knowledge of their whereabouts. A protector must have discovered the gateway years after settling here since we originally traveled to Noore as sea mammals. Knowledge is rarely shared between protectors and most travel alone for years. Only recently, in the past thousand years, have the protectors gathered together to share information.”

“You said you didn’t know where the land in the gateway leads, yet you’re sure it’s not part of Noore continent?” He nodded. “Then where on this world did the protectors go and how can we figure out our new destination?” If Riley did not know where our mysterious gateway would take us, how could anyone else? I did not care to lead my alliance from one tomb to another.

“How about showing this other land to people who are not from Noore?” Riley said.

“What do you mean?”

“Not everyone in the alliance grew up on Noore. They traveled here just as I did long ago. Maybe someone will recognize it.” Riley was right. We needed the help of worldly travelers.

A small group of people followed me and the King to the gateway that afternoon. We would not send anyone through without determining what lay on the other side. People stuck their heads through the opening, but once they became visible again they looked back and shook their heads. No one recognized the mysterious land. We were disappointed.

“The Barrens,” rang a deep voice. “It is the Barrens of Palleo.” Gullane looked back at us while waves lapped above his knees.

“What?” I asked, delighted. “How do you know?”

“Here, I’ll show you.”

I walked up to him and we peeked into the gateway together.

“Look,” he swung his large arm above my head and pointed to a huge boulder to our right. “Do you see that stone?” I nodded. “Do you see the markings on the bottom of it?” I squinted.

“Yes, now I see it. What is it, Gullane?”

“A marker left by someone on quest. It will tell a person’s birthplace and how far he has traveled from his birth origin, from my home.” Gullane pointed to his elegantly tattooed head. The style of writing was the same.

Riley’s head emerged through the gateway. “The sun’s almost down.”

I knew so much about Noore Continent, especially since our last trip. But a new continent? That had not occurred to me. I wish I had studied more maps in my castle library. I did not even bring any books with me on our trip.

“Gullane,” I looked up at him while walking back to our ship. “You’ll have to tell us everything you know about your home and the Continent Palleo. Can you draw us a map?”

“I will try, but I believe the King’s drawing abilities greatly surpass my own.”

“Isn’t Rhaida from Palleo, too?” asked Riley.

“That’s right!” I said and Gullane nodded. “I’ll ask Devin if she will help. Let’s all meet in Captain Drischoll’s cabin.”

A few hours later we gathered to make plans and embark on our pursuit of the protectors. The Captain, Riley and I, Cal, Theo, Devin, Rhaida, and of course Gullane squeezed into the cabin. There was no room for anyone else, especially with Gullane standing in the middle.

“I’ve asked Riley to help Gullane and Rhaida draw up a map for the alliance. We need to know the terrain, the supplies needed, and who or what we might discover during our journey. I’m sure other problems will arise as well.”

“Where is this place?” asked . “And how are we going to get thousands of people, including our supplies, through this opening?”

“What about my ships?” Captain Drischoll interjected. “I’m sorry milady, but we cannot abandon our fleet here. We must get out to sea.”

The questions were bombarding me at once and Riley squeezed my arm.

“Please,” he said. “Let’s take this slowly. The Queen and I haven’t found all the answers, but we will. Give us time.” The others nodded.

“Gullane,” I asked. “What can you tell us about your home?”

“Here,” he rolled out a scroll of parchment. The paper was half the size of the Captain’s table, at least three feet long, and Theo caught the other side of the paper before it rolled back. “I drew this up quickly for everyone to see. The king can help with the details.”

Scribbled with ink was an oval-shaped continent, and Gullane had marked key areas – civilizations on Palleo, along with their names.

“This is my home,” His large index finger pointed to an area on the southern most tip of the continent. It had been labeled “Gurgand.” He traced a dotted line leading south off the continent. “And this is the route traveled by my people to reach your continent. We sail by ship past the ‘Tides of Kilpan’ before reaching the . The tides are rough waters with fifty foot swells. Captain Kilpan, who had traveled the tides numerous times, was thrown from his ship and drowned after being swept away with the currents.”

“I’ve heard of the tides,” Captain Drischoll said incredulously. “But I thought it was just a myth. You traveled here through those very tides?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“How far is the journey to Palleo from here?” asked the Captain.

“Maybe four or five weeks, depending on the wind. But crossing the tides is quite dangerous.”

“Beats those monsters waiting for us along the eastern shore. I bet if we head the other direction off this island those protector creatures won’t bother us. We can travel to your home Gullane. Think your people can help us repair the ships that make it across the tides?”

“Yes, indeed.” Gullane said proudly.

“You can’t use our fleet while stranded here, Queen Crystal.” The captain’s eyes gleamed. “Maybe we can find our way to Gurgand and meet you there. You’ll eventually need us to get back to Noore. What do you think?”

“Sounds dangerous,” I said.

The captain slapped Riley on the back in a jolly manner. “Then it’s a go. I like dangerous!”

Before we spoke another word Captain Drischoll was on deck yelling for his crew.

“This area is the ‘Barrens’, north of Gurgand.” Gullane pointed to an X on the map, our mysterious portal. “If we travel south to my homeland we can gather supplies and more men to help with the alliance. We might be able to gather information about the protector’s whereabouts. The Miserlains occupy middle Palleo. Northwest of the Miserlains is Rhaida’s home.

“Tonada! Es un oma.” Rhaida pointed at the area on the map. “My…es…”

“Home?” asked Devin.

“Yes, yes, my home, Tonada. Go to see Tonada?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m sure we will.” I said while looking at Devin. Rhaida was thrilled, squeezing Devin’s arm and rubbing her stomach. She was six months pregnant with Devin’s child. They were married soon after Grandmother Rose left with me to my castle, and not until our return visit to the West did we discover that they had started a family.

“Sierrow,” said Gullane. “That’s what we call Rhaida’s people and due north of the Miserlains is a mysterious place my people rarely travel called It is soft, marsh-like terrain raked with rivers flowing south into the Miserlain territory from the . serves as a barrier for the which is home to a unique type of human species.”

Rhaida placed her hands under her armpits and began flapping her arms as though she had wings. “Teens…Nocteens.” she said.

Gullane looked uneasy with her actions.

“What is it Gullane?” asked Riley. “What does she mean?”

“The ones in the forest are called Nocteens and… well, they have wings.” Rhaida stopped flapping.

“Nocteens!” she pointed to the forest.

“What’s the problem with them?” I asked.

“My people and the winged people of the do not get along. We encountered them in the forest long ago and it didn’t go very well.”

“Well, we’ll try to avoid them.” I patted Gullane on his back. He looked down to me and smiled. “All right, time to devise a plan to leave this island.”

We worked into the night planning our strategy for escaping the island and at sunset the next day we gathered at the portal. As soon as the sun touched the surface of the water Theo called out to his soldiers.

“Guards, weapons. Now!” he drew his sword and raced for the sun. A hundred men followed in a line behind him.

“Horses!” Edward shouted when the last guard disappeared. Twenty men and women on horseback ran for the opening followed by three carts filled with supplies, animals and barrels of water. The fourth cart went deeper into the ocean and we realized the portal had already closed. As the horses left the shore I thought about Sesha and Nacaht roaming the fields behind the castle. Trixie would take good care of them. I was relieved that they were safe and not partaking in our perilous journey.

It took three more days to transfer our entire alliance safely off the . Captain Drischoll picked five of the least battered ships and prepared them for the voyage to Palleo. I used my magic to place four ships into the waters on the west side of the island, the last one still rested on shore.

“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” I asked the captain. His was the last ship awaiting my magical lift into the ocean.

“Aye, why sure. We’ll be just fine. In the ocean waters is where I feel safe milady. You’re the one I worry about, little lass. Seems like too much for you to do, bein’ an’ young’n an’ all. Careful of them powers. They seem mighty big for any man, but perhaps it was meant for a lass to hold such strength. You know us men – can go to our heads.” He smiled and flicked the fancy captain hat placed atop his head.

As gruff as the captain was, he was charming in his own way. Utterly surprised, he laughed when I wrapped my arms around him, thanking him for his help. Once he made it to the top deck and waved, the ship lifted into the air. I brought it down gradually onto the water’s surface and filled the sails with my magical winds. They were on their way.

Our last afternoon was upon us. We rigged every device on wheels to get through the portal and prepared for the moment the gateway opened.

“Move!” Riley shouted to the people who awaited our signal. They were anxious and so were we. The sun was almost down and the last cart must have broken a wheel. It started to lean to the right as we raced for the opening. Riley and I were last in line, the last of the alliance to travel through our mysterious portal. “The wagon!” Riley cried out.

“Keep going!” I yelled as we pushed through the water – I had already used my magic to lift the wagon through the opening. As soon as we ran through, the wagon fell to its side. Bags and barrels tumbled off. Then I looked at Riley. We were wet from the waist down and standing in the desert. The sun blazed directly overhead.

“We made it!” Riley grabbed me, holding tightly while others hugged us as well. I quickly placed a line in the sand where the portal had been and asked everyone to move away. I concentrated on a boulder twenty feet high and lifted it off the ground. It floated to my mark in the sand, in front of our mysterious portal. The bolder hit the ground hard and shook the surrounding area. On the reddish stone I burned a huge X onto the surface with my power and I did the same on the other side.

“Can’t miss this,” I said to Gullane as he walked up to me. “Marked it with an X, didn’t you?”

“That I did.” Gullane laughed loudly. It was the most he had laughed since we met. “It’s wonderful to have you back with us my Queen.” That was the first time Gullane had addressed me as “my Queen” and it made me happy. I was not Gullane’s Queen at all and, even though he still represented Marion of South Groves, he truly served no man.

“Come on,” I said. I took his gigantic hand into mine. “Let’s get you home.”

We were on our way, ready once again to find the protectors. Would they elude us as they had done on the island? It seemed that somehow we were going to find them, or they would possibly find us. Nevertheless, we headed south to Gurgand, to what was called the Valley of the Giants.

Continent of Palleo

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