The Way Home
Evan stepped out of the shack, moving awkwardly and wincing in pain every few steps.
James ran over to take his arm and steady him. “What happened to you? You’ve got dust all over your clothes and you look awful.”
The priest smiled weakly, as pain mixed with the sudden absurdity of the situation. “I met an old friend.”
James looked at him blankly. “Did I miss the joke?”
Evan shook his head. “No, sorry. I’m just a little punchy.” He paused to collect himself and then said, “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you on the way back to Clearbrook.”
Iriel came out of the shack and saw Evan. She smiled, then looked around for Daniel. She spotted him sitting on the bow of the sailboat. Her grin deepened.
“Why do you sit up there?” she asked.
“I wanted to meditate … and wait for you all out of the mud.”
She noticed the ship was no longer resting on its side; it was now sitting levelly in the mud.
Brashani strode into the swamp.
Seeing the wizard arrive, Iriel turned to Evan. “I would think we can leave.”
Evan tilted his head and smiled. “I’m more than ready.”
Iriel glanced up at the sailboat again. “Daniel, climb into the basket. We will fly it home.”
“I don’t think the basket will fly again,” said Daniel.
Daniel pointed. “Look at it.”
She looked. The canvas bag was deflated and half the basket had sunk into the mud.
“He’s right,” agreed Evan. “Anyone know how to sail a boat?”
Brashani shook his head.
“I do not,” said Iriel. “But Ebalin is our prisoner. We could force him to help us, or he might even help willingly.”
Evan frowned. “He might, but I’m in no mood to make a deal with him. He committed a crime; now he must answer for it.”
“I can’t sail a boat,” said James, “but I know how these boats work. There are many old elven tales about flying ships and sailing them is easy. You sit at the helm and steer with the rudder.”
“All right, then,” said Evan, smiling. “Everyone get aboard. We’re going home.”
The sailboat was a single-mast vessel with a triangular sail. A small seat was positioned aft and behind it was a lever, which moved horizontally to operate the rudder. In front of the seat was the helm and steering wheel of the craft. Along the port and starboard sides of the ship were low wooden benches.
James took the helm and sat down. Evan dusted himself off and sat directly in front of the helm on the starboard side; Iriel sat opposite Evan on the port side. Daniel and Brashani sat near the bow of the ship.
Ebalin was in the bottom of the boat still tied up, although the bonds around his hands were a little looser than before. Evan tightened them again and placed him next to Iriel.
“Watch him,” he said. “If he gets free, there’s no telling what he might do to himself or to any of us.”
“He appears desperate to you?” asked Iriel.
“Very. If he can escape, he will.”
Iriel gave her kinsman a sideways glance then drew a dagger from her boot.
“Do not make me hurt you,” she said.
Ebalin’s forehead furrowed and he looked at her with wide innocent green eyes.
“Save it,” said Iriel flatly. “You’ve caused us a lot of pain, grief, and heartache.”
Evan smiled and sat down.
Swiveling in his seat, James touched the lever behind him. Instantly, the boat began to quiver. James moved the lever to his right with one hand and moved the steering wheel clockwise slightly. The boat responded and rose up out of the mud slowly. The bard turned the wheel more and the boat took off, soaring into the sky.
Once they were above the trees, Evan related to James the events of the battle with Jormundan. The bard listened and made mental notes in his head for later. This would be another great tale.
At the front of the ship, Daniel spoke to Brashani.
“Iriel told me that Aure might be attached to the helmet magically and that dispelling the magic might restore Aure. Is that right?”
“The helmet is using the Elf-gem’s power. I got that from my initial examination. But exactly how that is working and what can be done to separate it from the helmet will take more investigation.”
Daniel’s lip quivered a little. “So you don’t know.”
“No, I don’t. But I can find out.” He held out his hand for the headpiece.
Daniel gave it to him. Brashani concentrated, as he placed his hands on either side of the helmet. He became still and appeared to go into a trance.
They sailed for an hour free of incident. No birds attacked, no storms erupted, no one shot rocks at them. Daniel stared at Brashani and hoped Aure would be all right.
As they approached Clearbrook, Daniel looked out along the port side of the boat and saw the town’s clock tower in the distance. He heard a noise and saw Brashani stir.
“Well, I’ll be a sorcerer’s apprentice,” said the wizard, with a half smile.
“What is it?” asked Daniel.
“The way they wove the enchantment around the gem and the helmet. I’m pretty sure, if I can dispel the magic on the helmet, the gem will return to normal.”
Daniel’s face lit up. “Really?! That’s great.”
“I said if. The mage who put this enchantment on the helmet was quite accomplished. It’s going to be hard to remove. Plus I’m still tired from casting all those spells in the Fire Mountain caves.”
Daniel’s optimism visibly diminished. He felt a lump in his throat, and tears threatened to obscure his vision. “But you’ll try, won’t you?”
The wizard straightened in his seat and looked a little indignant. “Of course, I’ll try.”
Brashani sighed. “Now.” He concentrated again and closed his eyes. This time perspiration formed on the fire mage’s forehead and his hands tensed. Seconds stretched out unbearably for Daniel.
After a few minutes, Brashani sat back and slumped a little in his seat. He didn’t move and Daniel wasn’t sure if the exertion had killed the man or not. Tentatively, the lad began to reach out to Brashani with his hand when the wizard spoke. “Done,” he said simply.
Daniel jumped back, startled at the sudden sound. The topaz brightened and slid off the helmet. Daniel caught it before it hit the deck.
Aure? he thought.
Daniel. I am Aure, Giver of Light. Help me find my brothers.
I will, Aure. I promise.