Chapter 24: Leviathan
I remembered falling effortlessly into exhausted sleep under the bows of the Mother Tree. Working with Aahna on the seed left me utterly spent. In addition to mind-numbing fatigue, I recalled that Balthazar always experienced a ravenous appetite after engaging in such intense magical workings. Likewise, hunger twisted my insides into painful knots, but even that wasn’t enough to thwart the nearly death-like sleep that pulled me into its dark embrace.
Deep in the land of slumber, I dreamed of Uriel. He didn’t appear as the small grey tabby cat I had come to know, but rather, I saw Uriel as he once was, a proud and mighty Dragon. We flew together, and from the clear cold expanse of Everlast’s azure sky, he showed me a view of the world that exceeded my wildest imaginings.
As we soared over the seemingly endless blue-grey expanses of the Isadore Sea, a fierce storm blew up and raced across the water towards us. The driving wind and cold rain buffeted us and I felt myself losing my balance. In the face of the gale, I tightened my grip on Uriel’s spiky neck scale and dug my heels in. Moments later, in spite of my best efforts, a gust of wind unseated me from Uriel’s back. To my horror, I was suddenly tumbling towards the cold angry waters below. Fear surged through me and my heart pounded in a frantically as my body careened end over end through the empty air. In desperation, I shouted Uriel’s name but the howling wind stole the word from my lips and carried it out across the churning water. Moments before my body slammed into the frigid water, I tried one last time to call out to Uriel, but his name died in my throat as my body hit the water and my mouth filled with an inrush of cold ocean water.
I woke suddenly from the vivid dream, sitting bolt upright in the place where I lay. The sun was well below the horizon and the first glinting stars of evening danced in the darkening night sky. I heaved a heavy sigh of relief; firstly for being safe and dry instead of drowning in the storm-tossed Isadore Sea, and secondly for not having overslept.
To my amazement, the brief nap left me feeling fully energized. “Balthazar takes days of sleep to recover from his magical workings,” I mused as I laid back in the grass and gazed up through the Mother Tree’s branches. “It must be due to his advanced age.”
“Finally,” I heard Aahna sigh from somewhere nearby. The strange sense of relief that colored her voice sent a shiver of dread coursing through me. “I thought you would never wake up.”
I sat up again as the sense of dread deepened, it was only a nap after all. “How long have I been asleep?” I asked, but the answer I received filled me with dread.
“Long enough to make me worry,” Aahna replied. “I know enough about your kind ... even an exhausted mage shouldn’t sleep so long without stirring.”
“How long Aahna,” I insisted as stood to my feet.
“Two days,” she finally answered. “I tried waking you on the first morning, and several times thereafter, but you wouldn’t stir. I was afraid that,” she paused and her expression became grave, “it is possible for ... well, you wouldn’t have been the first young mage to die during the Journeyman’s Quest.”
“Die,” I muttered, “really?”
“It is possible,” she replied sadly.
Suddenly, the consequences of her revelation hit me; I slept for two whole days. “The boat,” the word tumbled as an urgent whisper from my lips.
“Has returned, unoccupied, to Journeyman’s Warf,” Aahna supplied.
“You couldn’t stop the boat,” I replied in a panicked voice. How would I get off the island?
I could only imagine the heart-sick look on the Abbot’s face as he watched the empty boat slid silently into port. And poor Uriel; in my mind’s eye, I could see the small tabby cat sitting forlornly on the wooden dock staring out over the placid waters of Sapphire Lake. He must think that the unspeakable has happened to me.
“I’m sorry,” Aahna insisted as she placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “I have no control over the boat ...it’s magic is separate from mine.”
“I know,” I shook my head, “I don’t blame you.”
With my nearly empty water skin slung across me and my fledgling staff in hand, Aahna and I began a slow silent march away from the Grove of the Mother Tree.
I stood on the desolate beach watching a secession of small waves crash onto the sand and then recede back again. The morning sun was just peaking over the mountains, filling the sky with hues of gold and pale pink. In the distance, the shore from whence I came was a thin almost imperceptible white line on the horizon.
Of course, I could swim, but it wasn’t my strong suit. I was far more comfortable with a bow in my hand and Argo plodding along under me. An old friend of Balthazar’s once commented that I was born for life in the saddle, and went on to compare me to the famous horse archers from the southern kingdom of Mar K’esh.
“If only I could swim like a Trout’s Head Water-dog instead of being able to ride like a Mar K’esh warrior,” I commented sourly. The fisherman from a fishing village of Trout’s Head bread the large shaggy dogs and kept them as working companions. They regularly took them to sea on their fishing boats, and many a fisherman had been saved from drowning by his faithful Troutie.
“Even if you could,” Aahna sat on a nearby log that had washed up on rocky shore ages ago, “That which hunts in the lake would make a quick and unsatisfying meal of you.”
“I thought you said the ...it ... hunts at night.
“That is true, but It is an opportunist,” she replied. “If you enter the water, your death is certain.”
“What is this creature,” I asked as I gazed out over at the placid water, “some sort of fish?”
“I do not know,” she answered with a sigh. “It is very old, very large, very angry, and it has an appetite that is never satisfied.”
What choice did I have, there wasn’t another boat and I couldn’t stay here forever. At that moment, my stomach cramped painfully, reminding me that starvation was a real and present threat. If I didn’t try to cross the lake I would likely die from thirst or hunger in spite of Aahna’s best efforts. Yet swimming would likely lead to my becoming food for some unknown creature. I’m damned either way, I mused sourly.
I took a deep breath and steeled my nerves before turning to Aahna to bid her farewell; I had a long swim ahead of me ... or a very short one depending on how thing went. As I open my mouth to speak, however, my eyes fixed themselves on the drifted log she sat on. There were several more dotted along the shore. They didn’t look like tree’s from the island, perhaps they came from the mainland and washed up here during storms. If I could muscle three or four of them side by side, perhaps I could make a raft.
I spent the next few moments surveying the shore for materials; there was an ample supply. It would come down to selection.
“Aahna, that log your sitting on,” I pointed to her perch, “It’s not ... well, part of you, is it?” I wanted to be certain.
She shook her head, “They wash up here, they are forging.”
“Give me a hand then, I think I have an idea.”
By mid-morning, Aahna and I had managed to collect several short logs. The finished dimensions of my raft would be slightly smaller than the sailboat that I arrived on.
“I see what you mean to do,” Aahna remarked as she placed the log she was carrying next to the others, “but how will you bind them?”
I hadn’t considered that.
“Maybe you could use your belt.” she added with a hopeful smile.
The rope belt that held my borrowed monk’s robe loosely about my waist was twice the thickness of my thumb and as long as I was tall. I quickly untied it in order to better appraise it’s potential. “If only I had more of it,” I sighed as I shook my head.
“Unravel the strands,” Aahna offered.
Strong cordage was made through plying smaller strands together. I’d seen the rope makers in Trout’s Head treading the ropewalks day in and day out to make the endless miles of rope needed to keep the village’s busy harbor working. If I untwisted the strands, I would have more cordage, but at the price of strength. I untied the knot at either end of the belt, and began untwisting the strands.
Noon found me tying the last lashing on my humble raft. A shipwright I would never be, I thought as I set the bag of tools on her bow. The sting of bitter sadness made my lip quiver as I turned to Aahna to say farewell. I couldn’t explain the feelings that threaten to overwhelm me.
“Thank you,” I manage as my throat grew tight.
“It was my honor, Mage of Light.” she replied and I could here the tears threatening in her voice.
Before I knew it we were embracing each other and we were both on the verge of tears. After a few moments Aahna held me out at arms length, stared deeply into my eyes. When she spoke, her voice that resonated with Unity’s power.
“Guard well the flame of Unity’s light and love that burns within you. He has chosen you for a purpose known only to Him. You are important, Kerri, daughter of Balthazar, and the path Unity guides you on is also important, trust Him ... let His Light be your guide.” Then she leaned forward and kissed my cheek; the sensation was like the brush of a gentle summer breeze. And then, Aahna was gone.
I sat astride the narrow, four log wide raft taking a break from my labors. Paddling across the lake was proving to be more difficult than I thought and the muscles of my arms burned from the effort. Looking behind me I could see the island, like the back of a giant turtle, poking up from Lake Sapphire’s clear blue waters. Before me, the shore of the mainland still seemed impossibly far away.
Thirst burned the back of my throat and made my mouth feel cottony. I’d long ceased feeling hunger pain, but several days without food coupled with my current exertion left me feeling more than a little dizzy. So when the surface of the water swirled oddly to the left of my raft I dismissed it as a hallucination, the byproduct of my protracted fasting. When the water swirled a second time, and the swirling was strong enough to rocked the raft, I knew it wasn’t the ill effects of going without food.
The water in front of my raft began churning like water in a kettle at a rolling boil. Fear made short work of my fatigue as I began frantically paddling backwards. All the while my mind recalled Aahna’s warning concerning the creature that haunts the lake: It is very old, very large, very angry, and it has an appetite that is never satisfied .
A plume of water exploded skyward from the surface of the lake and with it came a creature the likes of which I'd never seen before; large and slender and covered with fine bluish-silver scales. When the water settled, I found myself laying on my back staring up at the menacing serpent-like beast looming over me. My panicked heart raced so fast that it nearly burst in my chest.
An odd sensation bristled uncomfortably at the back of my mind as I lay there helplessly gawking at my impending doom. It was familiar, and at the same time foreign.
"Dragon Companion," a voice that sounded like a pounding ocean waves filled in my mind.
"You're a dragon," I managed weekly.
"I am Leviathan, Lord of the Deep," the lapping waves of the water dragon's voice answered in my mind. "when the boat returned to the mainland empty, Uriel asked me to look out for you. He said that you were very cleaver for a human."
"So you're not going to eat me?"
His laughter sounded like a rushing river. "Do you grow weary of living, is that why you ask such a question?"
"Ah, yes," he interrupted, "so you've meet Her then. Not all are so blessed by Unity as to have an encounter the Mother Tree."
"But how are you ... you weren't ... shouldn't you be ..."
"Enough," the water dragon silence me. "Clearly you are delirious from your protracted lack of food and water. My cousin Uriel and the human cleric are anxious to see you safely back in Summer Glen. There will be time for questions when you've rested and had sustenance." He paused then and lowered himself so that only the top of his head was above the water. "On you get."
I took up the few possessions I had and clambered up on the dragon's head. Soon we were gliding across the water faster that I though possible. Just as the sun was setting, the dock came into view. Joy the like I'd never known before filled my heart and I began to weep. From under my robed, I felt a soothing vibration emanating from my fledgling staff as it sought to comfort me. A smile turned up the corners of my mouth in spite of the tears that stained my cheeks: my staff, a living staff, and the gift of The Mother Tree.