CHAPTER FOUR - All At Sea
The sky was dark with thick black clouds swirling slowly but menacingly around the Dog Star. Jano floated above the ship looking down over the rigging, down towards the deck and his sleeping form. He felt the Mage winds cold and wet on his face.
A bright light formed in the vortex of the clouds like a lantern in the darkest night. Jano could feel the warmth, made greater by the coldness of the Mage night. It came towards him quickly, the darkness closing behind it. Within seconds the austral form of the old man was floating in front of the boy.
The old man extended his hand and smiled, Jano moved towards him but backed away when he noticed that the silver cord was not there.
“Yes boy, I am departing this night after many years of life. It is only in death that I can come to you free from the watching that would follow normally.” Jano felt the gentleness in the thoughts and move closer to the shimmering figure.
“Hue, I cannot prepare you for what lays ahead. A rip in the fabric has opened the door for evil and black powers. You are the only person who can repair it.” The thoughts stopped for a moment, a pause to construct the full picture maybe.
“It may be that you cannot, but you must try just the same. Prepare well; learn what the School of the Inner Set can teach you. You have great powers but they are unsophisticated, learn the sophistication of the Inner Set; hide your powers from every one. When the time is right you must travel the lands of all reaches and collect the elements of The Right Way and perform the Act of Reunion. That is your quest, it may be your life’s work, but it must be done.”
The spirit touched him on the face and he felt himself falling back towards his body, faster and faster until he hit and awoke sitting up with a start. He rubbed his eyes to see the greyness of the dawn lighting the worldly sky of his austral dream. The thunderheads were dark and full and a stiff breeze was blowing almost from the North, as if blowing them away from the Mid Lands.
As the morning grew older the sea became heavy and the small ship jostled with the waters for an even keel. Most of the passengers were seasoned and the motion was not off-putting. One or two were new to the sea and spent the day hanging over the side of the boat, learning quickly the rules of wind and sea. Jano felt no discomfort, he thought maybe it was a part of his gift but Dannid confirmed that most Sou’ Landers had a reputation for being good sea-farers and it was just good luck he was not sharing his meal with the fish.
This leg of the journey was three days without landfall and was spent sailing way from the landmass to the east. On the evening of the third day a course change would be made and they would run with the evening blow into the warm and swift flowing currents that caressed the west of the Tirrom Archipelago. They would be docking at the tide mark the next day on the island of Greater Irom at the start of the main island chain.
Here some of the passengers would disembark, some cargo unloaded and more taken aboard. Jano looked forward to this as it gave him a day to study the life on the island. Dannid had mentioned earlier, perhaps while they walked the road what seemed like years ago, that a master Kusso knife-maker was located on the headland and he would like very much to visit the old man.
The threat of the storm never eventuated, much as the captain had predicted and the day settled into evening. Jano busied himself working at whatever job any crewman would be prepared to show him and was soon stripped to the waist with his hair held fast by a thick red band loaned him by Kremer, the first mate, who had taken him under his wing. Dannid lounged on the prow sharpening any blades that anyone would produce and, in all, the harmony of the cruise was established.
The next day and the day after were much the same with the weather taking on the typical early summer characteristic of this region. Jano learnt the simple knots and was shown the fishing line techniques. Kremer mentioned to Dannid that Jano was the fastest pupil he had ever had and the giant nodded, remembering his experiences at the forge and the magical way Jano’s hands would turn to the task with no error.
Jano and Samin’s friendship grew with each hour and they worked together at Samin’s chores so that their time could be spent in the rigging lounging on the top pole, legs dangling thirty feet above the deck in the manner only possible in the fearless years of early manhood.
The evening of the third night was light and the sky clear. Kolmin had ordered the course change after consulting the stars and his hide-map and an extra sail was released in the stiff breeze, floating in front of the headsail on long lines waiting for the wind to fill it up and increase the sail area by double.
That evening they ate salted beef stew and damper and because it was the start of the summer month, traditional rice curd cakes filled with sweet spice sauce. The lights on the horizon heralded the landfall of Greater Irom and Kolmin was happy with their progress. He would receive a bonus for each hour he docked earlier than four days and it looked like he would be about six hours ahead of time, perhaps more because if he had to wait to the next tide it would have been late the next afternoon. They would be ready to dock at first tide that was before first light the next morning and would lay at anchor that evening about a mile offshore and light their navigation lanterns to warn the harbour master of their arrival on the tide turn.
The crew all retired early because of the untimely start the next morning and Jano retired to his bed on the front deck and fell asleep almost immediately. By ten o’clock that evening the night crew had brought her about and dropped anchor. She was laid down within minutes with the sails draped and folded. A night watch was set and the ship slept for the first time in three hard days and four hard nights. She sighed as the wind rustled through the riggings and the swell massaged her timbered sides.
* * * * *
A light fog hugged the morning’s first light; she ran in under a light headsail and was tied and made fast before the first of the dockers arrived for the morning shift. Dannid asked Jano and Samin if they would like to meet the old master, which of course they did. After Samin had completed his chores, Jano helping to speed the process, the three set out to find directions.
Old Tonnim was a local legend and it took them no time at all to not only find directions but to win a lift on a hawker’s cart heading off along the coast road to the head-land villages. The morning awoke slowly, wrestling with the fog for its share of the day. The coast road wended its way along the beaches of the west coast. The surf was clear and running at about two to three feet. The sands white and light grassy tundra ran from the beach up to the tall eucalypt forests that climbed the steep walls of the mountain range that formed the back-bone of the island.
They passed a number of villages on the way. Simple people living simple lives. Dannid had mentioned that the dairy food of Greater Irom were said to be the best of the Sou’ Reaches, something to do with the lusciousness of the coastal grasses. It was obvious that the main activities were dairy orientated with fat brown and white beasts filling the farm-yards and roaming lazily around the villages, all with the same flat-toned bell around their necks sounding the morning chorus as they strolled to and fro.
The old man lived about an hour’s journey from the port and the trip was relaxing. They reached the small village and found the house of the old man. He was truly an old man. Dannid had said that he was well past a normal life time and had stated with pride that the hard physical work a Kusso master has to perform was responsible their renowned longevity.
The old man extended his hand to the giant and something in the handshake, something neither Jano nor Samin could see, announced Dannid’s credentials much more than any words.
It didn’t take the two of them long to establish their bona-fides with the old man telling of his time spent with Dannid’s father when they were both apprentices. Old Tonnim was also apprenticed to his father and his son and been apprenticed to him. His son was now living in the Mid Lands making knives and swords for the gentry. The old man spat as he said that. He didn’t need to say that he had also adopted the style of the Tammar techniques, it was obvious in the way he didn’t elucidate on his son’s skills as would be normal in such a case.
After a mid-morning meal of porridge followed by whole-meal bread, fresh yellow cheese, every bit as good as Dannid had promised, and hot green tea, the old man showed them around his house and workshop. Old Tonnim had spent fifty or sixty years perfecting a new technique for the souling and his blades were said to sing with a spirit that had never been heard before.
He had handed Dannid a long sword he had just finished and invited him to strike the blade in a full blow on the anvil. At first Dannid refused it as a sacrilege to such workmanship but after a bit of encouragement from the old man he obliged. The blade rang like a town bell, filling the room with sound; the anvil was actually dented where the blade had bitten.
Dannid inspected the edge and noted incredulously that there was not a mark. He handed the blade back to the old man with it extended across both hands and his head bowed, the way of an apprentice to a master.
Old Tonnim waved away his salute but the boys could see the tear in the old man’s eye. He obviously held Dannid in the same esteem and for Dannid to offer this gesture was the ultimate gift one master could offer another.
The boys bid their excuses and agreed to be back before three in the afternoon as the hawker would be passing back then and they had to be back at the ship by tide turn. The two men went back into the main room to discuss the techniques Old Tonnim had perfected. Kusso masters shared all secrets with their peers, Old Tonnim greeted the opportunity with happiness and Dannid looked forward to learning the secret. All this was done with honour, such was the Kusso way.
They walked down to the beach and made their way along the water’s edge walking towards the point in the distance. After a time, they noticed some ruins in the forest and decided to investigate.
The sun was overhead and the day warming to hot. Both had stripped to bear-chest and could feel the heat and humidity of the forest, smelling sweet and full of eucalyptus. The canopy removed the sting of the sun and the shade was pleasant to the eyes after the glare of the water and sand.
A path led from the beach to the ruins. Jano could see straight away that they were of an old sun temple, very old; he could feel the strength of its soul. For the first time since leaving the village he allowed his power to come into his front mind. He closed his eyes and drank in the spirit of the place. It was good, he felt safe. Samin had wandered off to study the ancient writings engraved into the stones of the altar block and Jano sat against the west wall and meditated.
He relaxed and drank in the Mage waters. He could hear and smell the ancient sounds and smells. After a while he returned and sprang back into normal consciousness. Samin had found his own place to relax and Jano could see that he was asleep.
He got to his feet and walked around the walls touching the words of the old ways. The symbols were foreign but the vibrations familiar. He caught a glint in the corner of his eye and followed it to a pile of stones near the altar.
Pushing away the rubble he unearthed a piece of Lock Stone in the shape of a perfect sphere, about the size of an apricot pip. He could feel the Mage warmth. How long had this talisman been hidden? Jano knew this was an earth stone, a Gifted’s channelling device; they came in many shapes and sizes and were used to focus power. How such a valuable artefact could come to be here was beyond him. He held it in his hands and placed it against his forehead. Closing his eyes he focussed on the stone.
The old man of the morning’s dream appeared and was gone. So it was his. Was it left there all those years before for Jano to find, to use as a tool, to the normal man such things would seem preposterous but Jano didn’t give it a second thought, such was the power of the gift.
Jano opened his eyes and removed the stone from his forehead. As he did the wind blew up and the sun disappeared behind a cloud that only seconds before had not existed. The stone dulled and started to pulsate with a dark light. Jano stood transfixed, his eyes rolled back into his head.
He fell into the stone, down towards the dark. He heard a voice, it was old speak, “make the face of the holder clear” a chant, a spell, he realised he had done the wrong thing.
Even though the stone was the Masters, it was a channel vibrating with the master’s soul. Someone was using it to reverse the power, how could this be, such magic was beyond anything Jano could imagine. He felt the Mage wind rushing past his face, in the distance a pin prick of light was forming, he knew that this would grow and he would be face to face with the spirit of the person with this unspeakable power.
He tried with all his will to break the spell, the light grew stronger, the pinprick larger. Jano forced himself back with all his will. He couldn’t do it.
“Jano!” He felt himself being shaken vigorously, so much so that the stone dropped from his hand and he was focussing on the face of his friend.
“What’s wrong boy you were shaking like a leaf; scared the Maker out of me.”
Jano dropped to his knees and continued to shake like a leaf. The stone sat on the ground passive and beautiful with its golden yellow colour flecked with the telltale dark brown veins. All was well, as Jano remembered “a friend’s love breaks many a spell”. He was lucky, he had almost come face to face with the power he was committed to stopping. He realised just how close he had come to failure. He knew now just how careful he would have to be.
He sat for a minute, reassuring his friend he was fine; perhaps a touch of the sun. He picked up the stone and put it into his bag. It was a powerful talisman; he just had a lot to learn.
* * * * *
The archipelago ran to the horizon. Some of the islands as big as and perhaps a little larger than Greater Irom, some so small that at high tide a heavy surf crashed across them from side to side. Jano sat on the top pole with Samin; for as far as the eye could see the Tirrom Archipelago stretched.
In the distance, perhaps a hundred miles to the east, the glimmering heat of the Brazilliam wastelands scorched the horizon. Kremer had spoken of the wastelands. Of the unknown death that stalked its shores. He had seen them once and once only many years before when a ferry he was crewing had lost steerage and was forced towards the coast.
They had fixed the problem on the third day and were within five miles of landfall. The sea was filled with dead birds and fish, a portent of the danger that waited. They anchored for the tide turn as the wind was westerly and the small craft could not tack with the makeshift riggings. They spent the day within sight of this land.
For as far as the eye could see it was sand, becoming sand dunes that became desert, not a blade of grass or a tree to be seen. The heat haze shimmered above the ground and radiated out across the water taking the heat of the day and increasing it to unbearable.
The early evening bought the expected coastal winds and nothing could have prepared them for the force of the wind as it left the coolness of the sea and rushed on shore to replace the hot air that rose into the night sky. For hours the riggings screamed and protested the torture. As the tide turned they ran away with the offshore breeze of the late evening. Kremer shivered and made the sign as he finished the story.
“Not a Maker’s place my boy, no man can go there.”
The days followed a simple routine, Jano felt himself fitting into this life as naturally as a baby walks. For six days they ran along the west coast of the island chain, docking from time to time at the larger of the islands. Occasionally they were met a mile or two from shore by families in large dugout canoes to take on provisions and trade the jewels of the sea they had harvested.
Jano had no appreciation of what value a piece of sea shell could possible have as jewellery and finery were not part of the Sou’ Reaches customs but Dannid had explained that these trinkets were sought in great numbers in the Mid Lands. Kolmin traded fairly with these people and the exchanges were fascinating to watch. Great horse-trading took place with much bartering and argument. Finally the deal was struck and green tea taken to seal the affair.
Kolmin had a reputation to protect and appeared aloof and hard. Samin told Jano of the times that these people had had no wares to trade, being as proud as they are they didn’t ask for or expect charity. The captain would invite the father aboard and offer stern and gruff apologies for having paid an unfair price on the last trip. How the stones and shells had fetched a better price than he had expected and how it was the law of the sea to take only what you need and repay what you take.
With the apology excepted and the flour and other small luxuries fitted into the long boat, the family would come aboard and drink green-tea, the captain at the head of the small table appearing as stern and as aloof as ever. And so the cycle went, Jano felt warmth for these people, these were true friends.
* * * *
On the seventh day the ship was headed away from the archipelago on a nor’ west bearing. Jano had learnt to read the compass a little and was enjoying the whole experience of sea faring. There was about two hundred and fifty miles of open sea before the west-most inhabited point of the known-world would be reached.
This run was not the most popular amongst the crew. Jano had listened with rapt attention as the men smoked their pipes and spoke of the pit-falls and dangers of travelling away from land-sight; the unknowns, the legends, the sea with all its uncertainties. While the land smells were heavy on the breeze these were just stories, part of the ritual of the evening rest, now with a heavy sea, a strong westerly wind and the hull shuddering in its fight with the swell, they took on a persona heretheto hinted at but not understood.
Jano noted a certain trepidation, it was visible in all the auras he was watching, the crew were to a man withdrawn and pensive, the captain spent a lot more time on the watch, the passengers, a lot fewer since they left Illiana and turned away from the normal route to run the “Kefa Gap”, quiet yet watching every event with the dedication of a government tax inspector.
Dannid had spoken to Jano about this the night prior to leaving Illiana. Elvira was running the “stone passage”. Each captain had to take a turn on this run once a year. Kefa was nothing more than a rocky outcrop in the middle of a vast sea.
Its only claim to fame being a fine sand-stone that was quarried by the islanders and traded for the essential goods that were filling the holds as they spoke sitting on the dock near the harbour master’s office. With the twenty-seven ships that formed the island ferries Kefa was visited about twice a month, weather permitting, and it was Elvira’s turn.
The problem facing them was that if they left Elvira they would have to wait about two days before the next north-bound ferry arrived and, as Dannid explained, he was sure that any ship from the south would carry a spy or spies endeavouring to catch up with and observe the Roamer and his apprentice. The four days added to their total time by this diversion was more than compensated for by the safety of a known crew, a crew that, even if they were spying for whom ever such people spy for, were going exactly the same place they were.
Jano listened and understood the logic. He had difficulty thinking of any of the men he had come to know over the last week or so as being spies but he remembered the lessons of the road. He knew he couldn’t trust anyone, shouldn’t trust anyone; so be it.
They stayed aboard Elvira and were now a day out with no land within two hundred miles, a strong wind blowing and a crew of men who, for the first time since Jano had been on the vessel, were not that happy to be there.
A good six-foot swell was running and their heading was across the line about thirty degrees. The ship was breaking through the top of the white caps and spraying the deck almost all the way to the bridge. All the deck crew wore oilskins and, to a man, the rest of the ship’s company were in the long room, talking little while they sipped strong hot green-tea, waiting their turn on deck.
Kolmin had order three-hour rotations during the rough running and the relief were exhausted when they dropped onto the long room from the stairwell that opened onto the deck just behind the mast.
Jano busied himself keeping the tea hot and making sure the fire in the brassier was under control at all times. This was for two reasons, first, the pitching and rolling was extreme and second, the major part of this cargo was black-powder for the quarries and no one needed to reinforce in his mind the importance of keeping the embers in the metal bowl.
Sleep was hard to come by but it had to be had and the men would catch it when they could. Jano had learnt to “sleep like a sailor” over the last few days and was sharing the same three hour rotation with Samin tending the brew and keeping the long room prepared.
Early on the morning of the third day the weather had turned slightly and softened as if greeting the mellow morning with a special gift. The wind blew true on their heading and the crew rigged her for wind ward sailing. She was gliding through the swell, now a paltry two feet and smoothing, and life on board was a little more relaxed.
Kolmin had relaxed the watch and sent most of the crew to rest manning the helm himself with just a mainsail trimmer and a lookout on the bow. Jano had slept fitfully and awoke mid-morning to the smell of sweat buns cooking in the long room. Dannid had set a batch on the hot shield used for broiling and the smell of the sweet spices filled the air.
After wishing those in the long room a good morning and helping himself to two warm buns and a cup of green tea, Jano made his way to the bridge where Kremer was manning the helm and the captain standing alongside studying the chart and “reading the sea”.
“A good and fair morning to you master apprentice, and did you sleep with the good ones?” Kremer nodded to the boy, the captain looked up for a moment and then returned to his charts.
“Aye I did sir and a good morning to both my teachers.” Jano answered in the familiar tense of a young man to respected elders. Kremer smiled at this, seamen rarely followed the strict etiquette of the landsman with Kremer spending most of his time questioning every ones genealogy, sometimes going back a few generations if the miscreant’s actions were inadequate enough.
“It’s a civil tongue you have in your head boy, ’tis a shame you’re a landlubber, I could do with a lad like you to troop with young Samin, the two ’o you are a team as good as any I’ve seen in an age. Now go and get the captain and the master of the watch one of those landlubbing buns and a mug of hot tea afore I forget my manners and take a swipe at your arse with me boot.”
Jano smiled as he turned and jumped just in time to miss the playful swing of the master’s boot, the captain grunted a light-hearted approval at both the suggestion and the punishment, commenting on Kremer’s slowing down with age, as Jano bolted down the stair onto the mid-deck and into the long room to fulfil the chore.
He was proud of the complement he had just been paid. He would be sorry to leave Elvira when the time came. There was no doubt in his mind that he had the sea in his soul, perhaps a past life had served it, perhaps a future one was destined for it, only the higher seers would know, perhaps one day he would find out, but for now he would relish in the experience and live the time accordingly.
Dannid had told him many years ago, perhaps during his stay in his tenth year, he remembered that is was while they were bedding down after the last of the embers had died and when friends talk in the dark in soft muted tones, when those special secrets are shared or those private dreams given wings.
“A man has no more than five friends in his life, any more and he can’t service the responsibility that comes with it.” He had asked Dannid what that meant and the big man just sighed and said he didn’t really know but Jano would when the time came.
On reflection, Jano thought that he understood a little of it, as a gifted he understood the responsibility of office, the reliance’s people formed. He also had a hint of this reliance being a completely impersonal thing. Any gifted would do providing they could move the canker on the horse’s rump thus the office was the issue, the gifted simply the medium.
Friendship, on the other hand had little or no office, no trappings, it just existing for its own sake. Jano had experienced it for the first time with Samin. Of course Dannid was his friend but that relationship was beyond friendship; perhaps all friendships would go beyond friendship after a time. Samin was the first true friend Jano had ever had and he was starting to understand the responsibility was not like anything he had ever experienced.
Just being friends was all, neither asking for anything from the other yet appreciating it if offered. The way the conversation carried on from the place it left off even after watch breaks or sleeping, the silent understanding of each other’s thoughts.
Yes; Jano could see that as a man grew closer to a friend the friendship could become a heavy responsibility because the friendship itself was built on experiences and the sharing of these experiences gave each other more of the other’s spirit, the shortcomings with the strengths.
Jano could feel this now, he could see that he only understood a grain of what amounted to be a beach, but he could understand. It was this understanding that caused Jano’s moments of guilt and sadness as the friendship grew, the secret bonds formed; with Jano’s side built on falsehood. Jano knew that this was a just and needed falsehood but it didn’t reduce the emotion any, not now that he had is first inkling of what true friends were all about.
He returned to the deck with the buns and tea and the men extended their thanks in an unfeigned way. The captain bid both a good morning and retired to his cabin for some sleep, leaving instructions to be wakened in about five hours which on his reckoning would have them about ten sea miles from land.
Kremer had studied the maps with the captain and agreed. Jano could see that these two men were friends. Kremer gave Jano the helm as he had his break and commented on the talents of the giant as a cook. Jano nodded, having spent many meals with Dannid at his house, feasting on his cooking as Dannid was proud of this talent and loved to give it a run every now and then.
The wind had stiffened slightly but was not unpleasant, what’s more it was flattening the swell and she was making smooth water at good speed.
“Look Master, a sea-bird”. Jano pointed to a large Kestrel like bird off the port bow. Kremer nodded and explained that she was a long flier capable of spending days as sea soaring on the sea breezes and sleeping on the swell.
“She’s good luck Jano, a friend to us.” Upon which he yelled to the bow watch to run below and fetch a bucket of grain which the man did and then threw over the side, she flew alongside and then swooped on the grain and took a number of passes as she ate the tit-bits.
“Aye, a good omen Jano, any quest will now complete, and seeing as you were the first sight, the luck is yours, use it wisely”.
Jano nodded and watched the majestic shape as it soared and swooped on the grain flowing over the wake behind the ship. A good omen is a good omen, so be it.