The world was dark. I opened my eyes to scatter the nightmares that haunted me. They left, but the void remained.
I pulled down the bandages that were wrapped around my empty sockets. It was an odd sensation, the feeling of wind passing in and out of the gaps under my forehead. I had lived through the worst of it. The infection that had set in a few days after the incident left me incapacitated. My face and neck were set ablaze from the fever burning within. My entire body was awash with cold sweat and my teeth clashed with vicious trembling.
Unaided and uncared for, I fell asleep often in my vomit and urine. My head pounded, as it felt as if it was being repeated hacked open with a dull axe, and then trodden upon by raging bulls. Dizziness and delirium set in and for days I screamed in agony as I repeatedly relived those final moments before my eyes were put out. His face—the one so similar to mine—being the last thing I’d seen and would ever see.
Time had lost meaning to me. Hours felt like days and for every moment I was awake I cursed my stupidity. Why didn’t I leave when Greyshanks gave me the warning?
I was filled with further worry and melancholy as I missed her lupine presence in my mind. I wondered if she had found Tet and allowed her to warn the Nuwanhe.
The Nuwanhe—what had I done! What had I allowed my curiosity and pride to do! All those people depending on me and I had doomed them.
My self-hate and loathing were soon transferred to the feet of Avandor. All things were in his hands—who lived or died, who should be praised, and who should be punished. I hated him for his cruelty. What kind of a god would let evil prevail over good? He was quite terrible indeed. Terrible and wicked. This was his world and what he had let happen was his fault. Perhaps he didn’t he just didn’t care. Who were people to a god? We were only subjects created to amuse. Then again who was a god without people? Without worshipers, he would just be a wandering spirit without cause or purpose.
That was exactly what he would be to me now—a wandering spirit. He’d forsaken me, so in my world, he no longer existed.
Then again if I believed in no god, then everything that had happened would make me culpable. Forsaken or not I needed a god. Otherwise, the burden of guilt would cripple me beyond repair.
Acceptance slowly crept in and my prayers to the sky morphed from blame to desperate pleas for death as it seemed the more favourable outcome. Heaven ignored me as usual. In spite of the fever and festering threatening to put my miserable existence to an end, against all odds, I lived.
I cried bitterly, but when no tears came and after realizing that none would ever come I screamed aloud and alone in my darkness.
I had screamed enough today and I finally found the strength to get up from my cot. My days of not eating had left me unsteady and weak. My right knee where Gareth had stabbed me was stiff, but at least it wasn’t painful to stand and I was able to weight bear slightly.
I stumbled several times before managing to get up without falling. The rocking motion of the vessel did naught to lessen my vertigo. I retched several times, but my stomach was empty so I remained dry. I held my hands out in front of me and slowly moved forward, feeling my way around the room.
A sudden lurch of the ship sent me hurtling forward, hitting my head into something wooden and with a dull edge. I felt the surface, it was flat. Maybe it was a table. No, it was a chair as my fingers moved upward against the back, but then I hit another wooden plateau. It wasn’t a chair, but stairs and they were leading outside as I could feel the wind mixed with salt blowing in and there was the feel of light on my face. I moved towards the warmth clambering on all fours.
The deck of the ship sounded more alive than the hole that I was in. I could hear sailors barking at each other over the gusty wind. There was also the sound of water being splashed on wooden decks and accompanying scrubbing as it sounded like it was being cleaned.
“Well, look who decided to shut up and climb out of their hole of hollering.” said a gruff voice.
I turned towards the sound. “And it was nice of you to check and see what the hollering was about.” I said surprised at the hoarseness of my voice.
“I am a merchant not a slaver. My cargo never talks back and I have never had any need to check on their wellbeing. I was being paid to carry you not to be a nurse. I haven’t been a nurse and I darn well ain’t going to start now. They ain’t paying me enough for that. I was told to bring you to Morirgates dead or alive and that was exactly what I was doing.”
“Since I am alive, what would I have to do to get something to eat or at least drink around here?” I said getting a bit cross. My temper being on a shorter leash than usual.
“With an attitude like that I should just let you starve, but you seem to have some fighting spirit left and I like a fighter. Most of these lads are just boring louts, no good company. All my pleasure comes when I go a-whoring in Muirland.”
“I am happy to be of some service, but the drink?” I coughed dryly.
“Ah yes.” I heard him move away and then he was back and he shoved a flask into my hand which I placed eagerly to my lips draining it of the sweet mead. My thirst was somewhat subdued but it was still present. He then pushed a plate in my hand. I felt around it and took up the rounded mound holding it to my nose. It was bread. It was slightly stale but I ate it regardless.
“Thank you.” I said with more vigour as I could feel the mead rushing through my limbs. “What is your name kind sir?” I said regretting my earlier moroseness to the stranger.
“Just call me Captain. And don’t go around calling me kind. I don’t want these louts relaxing around me, as no work would get done. I am having enough trouble getting them to work while they think I am a shark, so don’t go spoiling that.”
“As you would have it, Captain. Do you not want to know my name?”
“No.” he said as soon as I’d finished speaking. “I don’t go around calling my cargo by name.”
“You don’t talk to them much either I would imagine?”
“Regardless, names are dangerous and I would rather keep my beard on my body for a few more years. It isn’t just anyone that gets shipped off to Morirgates of all the places.” He said before clearing his throat. “You are dangerous to the king, yet important enough not to be killed on the gallows like a regular criminal. I am a man of the sea and I refuse to be pulled into the politics of the land.”
“You are right. It is probably best you don’t know. But if you need to refer to me you can just call me Cargo. I think it would do better than blind bastard.”
He laughed. It was a very throaty sound. “Very well, Cargo it is.”
“How far at sea are we?”
“We had just raised anchor from the blessed ports of Muirland ten days past and in a day we will be in the sulphurous part of the northern Sebán Sea. You won’t be able to see it, but the water glows an angry red. But you feel the cold air biting at the tip of your ears soon enough. The sky is black as the very gates of death. Not to mention the strange creatures that move within these waters and that dwell behind the back walls of Morirgates. It is a dark and strange place lad and few who sail here ever return. It is odd that we got here so quickly, the winds have been strangely favourable and the seas calm.” He cleared his throat. “Never the less the faster we get here the faster I rid myself of you and your strange nurse.”
“What nurse? Am I not the only one who was being sent there?”
“Did I say nurse, I meant tyrant wrapped in the form of an old woman. All she does is knit, complain and tend to you. I allowed her to do so as I’d rather you arrive living, than dead. That would have left my ship with a nasty stink I wouldn’t be able to get rid of for days. I would have done better leaving her at Lish but she threatened to curse me and my men with the eye of a helksinc.”
“And that is bad I suppose?”
“Bad! It is the worst curse a sailor could have put on him! Hard enough to contend with the sea and wind, but to come face to face with a sea helksinc—death would be preferable.” said a distinct female voice joining us.
“Tet?” she took hold of my shoulder and gave it a familiar squeeze. I never thought that I would have felt such relief in her presence.
“You Evander would be safe from the creature of course as you are blind, but those of us with eyes would be compelled by the beast to look at it and be turned into a pillar of sulphur. The creature would then wrap itself around the ship, like a mother cradling a baby and then crush the boat into nothingness and all on it would melt into the ocean to join the others gone before us. You would probably drown, but at least you would be dying human.”
“You! You’re a changeling.” stuttered the captain. “You’re an Envladane changeling!” he repeated horrified.
“But of course I am. How else would I have gotten the eye of the helksinc, their magic don’t work on our kind. Besides captain I thought this form would be more preferable to you. The rest of your crew don’t seem to mind, but if anyone tries to grab me again I will sing his tripe through his mouth and let him hang himself on his own entrails.” She said with daggers in her words.
“But of course changeling. I will go warn them right now.” said the captain like someone eager to leave.
“And the name is Tet.” She sang after him. I could hear him scuffling hurriedly away.
“Sing his gut through his mouth?” I said raising an eyebrow. “You can’t actually do that.”
“I know, but the sailors and the stories they tell about my kind tend to work in my favour.”
“And the sea helksinc?”
“Oh that is real.”
“I should have guessed that you had something with me not dying from the corruption that had set in. I thought I was just lucky or that Avandor liked to see me suffer.”
“Luck! Avandor! Patching your eyes near took most of my skill with the limited resources I had to work with. Your knee was easier to tend. Only the tendons were severed, a few inches closer and he would have cut the vessels and you would have bled out, or lost the leg completely. The medicine would have worked quicker, but your will to die fought against the healing.”
“After what I have done why would I want to live?” I frowned.
“If you hadn’t done what you did, things would not have been what they are and the future would not be what it was meant to be.” I shook my head as wrapped my brain around her round-about way of speaking.
“But I left the Nuwanhe in the hands of Gareth, who apparently is my twin brother; who is in league with Asher. I have ended all their lives. Noräin, Andreas, Curly—all who put their faith in me.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about Gareth. He may be in league with your uncle but he will have to become his enemy for a while for the Nuwanhe to believe that he is you. Although he is you, just a different person—fascinating are the ways of human procreation.” She said slightly amused.
“And of your kind too it would seem. What did the captain mean about you being an Envladane changeling?”
“It means I change depending on how close I am to Envladane.”
“Change into what exactly? A helksinc?” I snorted.
“Don’t be glib Evander.” She snapped. “My form doesn’t change just my age. My skin is different and today I look closer to your age than let us say Sonis. Although I would wager, I looked even older than that to you.” She mused. “But that is irrelevant even. We have preparations to make.” She said grabbing my arm and pulling me up to stand. Her grip was much tighter than I had expected.
“What preparations? We aren’t going to take over the ship are we?”
“Don’t be daft! Mutiny is hardly my style. Your imagination never ceases to surprise though. I simply meant that the weather is about to change and we aren’t dressed for it. ” She laughed. “Mutiny! If we did that how else would we get to Morirgates?” her laughter ceased immediately.
“I don’t understand…” she cut me off with a hand slapped over my mouth.
“And you will. The Gé Addar you left behind three weeks ago is not the Gé Addar it is now. Many things have changed and are about to change there. If you want to save it you too will have to change. Going to Envladane isn’t a tragedy, it was your destiny.” She said in a hushed whisper. “And I will be your guide, coming along for the merry ride.”