The Skadivers' Tale

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The Raustorn Shadow

THE RAUSTORN SHADOW

The morning sun was just piercing the horizon as Lord Gildenhanna leaned on the rail of his vessel and gazed over the Doranstean Ocean. Awakened by morning’s break, a cool stiff breeze ceased the luffing of the sails and ‘Jaght’ heeled slightly to port under its force.

“Fine wind this morn, Lord,” said Dorsea, who had come above moments before.

“Yes, it is, Wizard,” agreed Gildenhanna peacefully. “The swells are calm as well.”

“On such a quiet voyage, it is as though the threat of Styric does not exist anywhere,” remarked Dorsea in a quiet tone.

“Yes, but it does exist, and you and I have no one to blame for it but ourselves.”

“How could we have known at that time, when we banished the Were-Wizard and his were-sister, leaving their right hands dismembered, that his madness and powers would sustain the forces that he now controls?” the Wizard answered.

“Yet, truly, it was our mistake that endangers all of Hordann’s freedom.”

“It was no mistake. Mercy is never a mistake; it was fate. And it is now our fate to move as we do,” contested Dorsea. “You cannot change what is.” There was a long pause by both of them as they continued gazing intently into the blue-green waters as they were haunted by bitter memories of years ago when Styric had been shrewd and avoided much of the blame that was due him, and so received only a minor penalty, which enabled him to escape with his life. The truth of his complete guilt was to become known years later. The bitterest crime at the time unknown was that he had caused the death of Lady Gildenhanna in his dissention against the leaders of Gilden Hold.

“I must be worried about the Company,” Gildenhanna said apologetically.

“I as well,” Dorsea added. “Both our heirs are at risk in this quest, but there is little we can do now. In these last five days since their departure.”

“Can you see them, my friend?” Gildenhanna asked. “They should be near Enverra by now. Xelt knows what they will find there.”

“Nay, but I fear for Enverra as well.”

The two men once again fell silent. Then they heard the call from the nest, “Sail ho! Two points abaft the port beam!” They looked at one another and crossed the deck to the port rail.

“Tis a Raustorn Galley coming about!” the watch continued.

The ship’s Captain came over to them. “Likely it was headed to New Doranstea, but now has discovered us,” he said. “She’s come about now, but she’ll not catch us for some time on this wind.”

“Nevertheless, Captain, be ready for battle,” ordered the Lord.

“Yes, Sire,” replied the Captain, and he scurried away barking orders at the crew.

“We would have done better sailing more westward into the ocean, for it is early in the voyage to be detected,” said Dorsea. The Lord stayed silent, watching the ship in the distance.

Finally, he spoke. “Best Styric knows we are coming. Our progeny stands better chance if the focus is on us. Make ready some extravagant illusions, Wizard, such as the ones you used on the quests of our youth.”

“The Sea Dragons,” he mused.

“Yes, and the flaming waters,” added Gildenhanna.

“And there are some others I have devised—flaming arrows. To show superior weaponry,” the Wizard said, and demonstrated one such illusion, rising high in the sky before falling to the deck. The crew went crazy, looking around and using a bucket to dowse the fictitious flame.

“Let us hope the Raustorn Galley is as gullible,” the Lord said. “We will wait until the Galley closes on us. Perhaps by midday on the morrow. But we will give them a taste before the dawn watch, for your arrows aflame, coming out of the dark will be most impressive, and weaken their resolve to come nearer.”

They went below for a morning meal and to discuss the new situation further. How long they would have before having to deal with the Raustorn Galley would not be determined until the two ships had travelled on this parallel course for a time. It could be two days, maybe three. The Jaght was a fast ship, built as a light cargo vessel and handled very well, but the chances were that the galley was faster. At the very least, it had the course advantage over the Jaght, since the Jaght was farther west of the galley and must make east to round the tip of the island. The Captain of the Raustorn Galley knew this. The confrontation would likely take place off the west side of Jawa Island.

Should the sea battle go badly, the decision was made to try to hug the coast and to put out Lord Gildenhanna’s party in the long boat to escape to shore. From there they would have to find a way to traverse the island and figure out a way to cross the strait at Dalyr Point over to Styric Isle. At best, the shortest way across Jawa was to stay south of Passway Hold and have a two or three day march across some unfriendly territory.

The optimum plan was to sail all the way around Jawa Island and all the way to Styric Isle. If the Raustorn Galley could not overtake the Jaght, they would sail to the eastern shore of the island and have a day’s march to the Hold. It seemed the only chance of that course to succeed was Dorsea’s illusions. If they did not fool the galley’s Captain, and he could cut them off, then the alternate plan would have to work. In that case, as well, they still must be able to get south of Passway Hold, so those forces would not be alerted to the situation and then cut them off somewhere on the island crossing.

Only time would tell, and time was a critical issue. The trick would be trying to time their arrival at Styric’s Hold with Hannegelt’s Company.

Every passing hour began to tell the tale of the sea battle and land crossing, for the Raustorn shadow continued to gain on them ever so slowly. It paralleled the Jaght, keeping to the east, for there was no land to be found in the western Doranstean Ocean, and their opponent knew he would be able to intercept them as they cut to the east. It had turned into a game of cat and mouse. But, at present the galley still lay behind by several hours, which meant the Jaght had about one more day of free sailing before things got terse.

When darkness fell, the shadow’s position had been plotted by the Captain of the Jaght, and in the darkness, he recommended coming about and sailing northeast. This would bring the Jaght in behind the galley well before dawn and in a position to make land. His idea was to just go ahead and try to do a landing south of Passway Hold before the galley knew what was happening. They would then have to come about and sail into the wind to come back to attack. By then, with any luck, the landing party would be well on their way inland, and the ship would be safe to sail west to escape to the open ocean.

Gildenhanna did not like giving up on the original plan early, because it meant a much longer land crossing, but the Captain’s plan did make sense. Avoiding a sea battle with the Raustorn mariners seemed wise, and it would come at a time that did not work to any advantage—more likely to disadvantage.

All lights were dowsed and the Jaght tacked to the northeast toward Jawa Island as the Captain had suggested. The change in course was a little more pleasant, as the swells were now with them. The swaying of the ship had been back and forth for days, but was not pitching gently fore to aft as the Jaght rode the waves in. Preparations for the early landing and the march across Jawa were made, so that no time would be wasted in getting the Jaght back out to sea and out of harm’s way. The Captain knew that there was a good chance they would not be out of sight of the galley by dawn, and the chase would continue.

The night was passing well on the new course, but when at sea, plans sometimes have holes in them. In this case, it was the wind. During the night the wind slacked off substantially. They were not becalmed, but they were not making enough speed to pull off the new plan smoothly. The change in speed brought the Jaght within a half mile of the galley, which they could tell by its lanterns. But it seemed to continue south on its course to shadow the expected route of the Jaght.

As the Jaght finally made it to Jawa, dawn was breaking. The nest called out that the galley had already come about and was coming in on the morning winds. Somehow the galley’s Captain had seen through the trick, and had started back in the early hours. The longboats were launched with the landing party, and they rowed to shore as quickly as was humanly possible. Meanwhile, the Jaght turned to run, heeled hard to the wind.

As they brought their boats ashore under cover of Wizard mist, Gildenhanna stood on the edge of the jungle of the Jawan Coast and observed. The Galley tacked to follow the Jaght—which was good for the landing party, but bad for their ship’s crew.

“Now would be a good time to weave an illusion or two to help out our ship, Wizard,” the Lord suggested. “But could you make it look like it is coming from the Jaght, and thereby not giving away our position?”

“As you wish, Lord,” Dorsea agreed. He got quiet, concentrating. After a few moments, he looked up with blazing eyes and raised his staff. The seas around the Raustorn Galley begain to boil. Out of the seas lifted the top half of an enormous sea dragon, towering high above the galley’s masts. It roared ferociously. Several of the crew could just be seen enough to know that they were jumping off of the ship. Suddenly, from the Jaght, hundreds of flaming arrows arced through the sky into the sea dragon. The beast bellowed in pain and burst into flame. It dropped back into the sea, and hindered the galley no more.

“Why did you do that, Wizard? It looked like the Jaght was helping the galley,” Gildenhanna puzzled.

“Illusions are only illusions, my Lord,” Dorsea explained. “If I had it actually attack, it would have done nothing real. Maybe scare a few more overboard, but that would be all. I did try to make it look like the Jaght was helping them. Perhaps a show of friendship is worth more than a show of force.”

“You make a good point. Excellent, Wizard.”

“Thank you,” Dorsea said. “Look, the galley is tacking back north. I believe it may have worked.”

“Yes, it may have saved the Jaght,” Gildenhanna said, “but now they are back on course to attack our home.”

“Also a good point, my Lord. Let us go now, for the sooner we complete our work, the sooner will our home be once again made safe.”

It took a few minutes to get everybody ready to begin the march inland. They had just started out, but before they had disappeared into the jungle, there was an enormous disturbance out at sea. The entire landing party turned to see the Raustorn Galley being set upon by one of the Southern Guardians, an enormous sea dragon, very much like the illusion Dorsea had cast. Apparently, the bright illusions in the morning light had attracted the real sea dragon to the galley, which was now being totally destroyed by tooth and claw, tail and fire. The whole event lasted only a minute or so, and the beast slipped back into the deep.

“I don’t suppose the Jaght would come back and pick us up,” one of the men said.

“They could see the Southern Guardian too, and no doubt they will heel her over all the more to get some distance from it,” Gildenhanna said. “So much for your friendly gesture, Wizard.”

“It seems that is one less Raustorn Galley headed for Gilden Hold,” Dorsea commented. “After you, my Lord,” he added, motioning toward the inland direction.

Gildenhanna had half of the men, which was ten of them, take the lead into the thick, tropical vegetation. For an hour, they hacked their way east through vines and muck. The land began to rise slightly out of the coastal wetlands and became more passable as the undergrowth became less dense under the canopy of Arkhem trees. After several hours of a steady pace, the came to a path, intersecting it at an angle. It was headed in the same general direction as they needed to go, so they took advantage of the convenience. Such conveniences, however, are generally created by someone in order to go somewhere regularly. That would mean they were likely to run into someone or someplace somewhere along this path. But they had twenty fighting men and a Wizard, so they were willing to take the 50-50 risk of meeting hostiles.

The further they ventured inland, the more the landscape changed from jungle to rain forest to, a now more traditional forest. The land continued to slope upward toward the crest of the island, and there were now some rocks and boulders dotting the forest floor. Up ahead on the path they were walking, they could see the trees break to a wide clearing. There was a smell wafting from what was likely a small village. They halted to discuss trying to go around it, but the discussion did not get far.

They became aware of dozens of camouflaged Jawann barbarians surrounding them.

“Best we do not raise arms,” Dorsea muttered to the group.

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