Chronicles of Arborell, Copyright Wayne Densley 2005 All Rights Reserved
Four days from home
We have fled the Enemy. Four days it has been without sight of land and all that I can see before me is the endless undulation of the sea as we travel southwards. As I stand upon the foredeck of this great ship there is only the rolling wash of the ocean ahead, and the scattered formation of our fleet at all sides as it struggles against the power of the waves. The Enemy is behind us, it is our hope that we are safe for the moment, but it provides me with little comfort. Four days out of port and we have all come to realise the one fact that matters. We are alone.
For those of us who have survived there is little reason for joy, or relief. We have left behind everything, and know that what has been left has been destroyed. That is how the Enemy works, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. We must flee, it is all that we can do. Nothing can now be as it was, all that I had in the world is now gone. My heart aches for the loss yet it seems such a short time since the Enemy arrived in our world. I cannot believe that everything I have known has faded into history. It has all happened far too quickly.
Barely a year has passed since the first sighting of the Enemy. We cannot give it a name for none have seen it openly and lived. It arose in the north, begetting itself of the cold, barren lands that Men have always avoided and grew into an army that none could stand against. In their multitudes, great creatures of War gathered and advanced upon the free lands of Men, a force of reckless violence that destroyed everything in its path, killing all who stood before its malevolence.
And stand we did. All nations rose against the threat, vast armies were mustered and sent to war. None came back. One by one the Free Nations fell, and as each was consumed by the shadow of the Enemy they fell into oblivion, never to have their names uttered again. In these times of conflict tales began to filter from the front-lines of cruelty and death, and of annihilation. Populations fled before the power of the Enemy and slowly its shadow smothered all the peoples of the world, until all that remained was one small pocket of land, a port-haven upon the western edge of Adoracia. Here the remaining nations of Man waited for the end.
It was only at this time, when all hope had faded, and the creatures of the Enemy were within sight, that the last scholars of the Free Nations placed before us the only way we might survive as human beings in a darkening world. We could evacuate to the sea and take our chances there, rather than await the onslaught of the Enemy.
For those who read this it must be understood that we are not a sea-faring people. The free nations of Adoracia do not tread the unsure paths of the open ocean, it is our nature to keep to the shoreline and do our trading in calmer waters. The idea of evacuating to the Grey Sea was unthinkable to most. Only some boarded ship, the rest stayed behind to fight until the end. I decided to take my chances on the rolling deck of this ship, the Dromannion. I am glad that I did.
Four days we have now been at sea and still the plumes of smoke billow on the north-eastern horizon. None of us can know what happened to the port-city once we left harbour, but the fires have been visible for days and we can only assume that all have been lost to the shadow. Now there is only these few ships and the open waters of the sea. This is now our world. The Free Nations of Man are gone, I can only assume that we are their remnants, refugees upon an ocean that have no safe port to return to, no haven in a troubled world that can be called home. We are indeed alone.
When I get the chance I will write again. Perhaps one day someone will read this journal and decide that it is a story worth re-telling. May the subtle hand of Providence prove kind to us on our journey, wherever it may lead us.
The sixth day of our flight from the enemy has passed into sunset and it is only now that a true measure has been taken of the fleet and its evacuees. We have been becalmed for most of the day, the Fleet slowly riding the southerly current that has kept us moving further from Adoracia and the ashes of our homes. For five days the wind has blown constantly from the north, and in our haste to put great distance between ourselves and the enemy, the ships of this fleet have rode the wind south, taking us further into the open ocean. It seems that we have not yet decided where it is that we must go. It is a question that will need to be answered.
With no wind to carry us further the Captains of the Fleet have ordered a muster, and an accurate accounting of our stocks and provisions. The day has been spent thus, bringing all the ships of the Fleet together and determining the quantity of our number. Such a sight I have not seen before. Upon the languid ebb of the sea, ships both great and small have been brought together, and from their holds and passenger decks a great multitude has arisen to be counted and listed. Of all the Free Nations only the souls aboard these ships remain, and upon the vastness of the Grey Sea they are small enough.
At final count the Fleet stands at 46 vessels, of which only 23 are properly equipped for passengers. The Dromannion, the ship upon which I am embarked, is the largest of all, a Merchantman of some renown apparently and the only ship in the fleet armed to defend itself. Within the wood and iron hulls of these vessels it has been determined can be found 2,850 souls, of which only 419 are crewmen. Lists of all persons abroad each ship have been posted with the Captains of the Dromannion and the Avernell, another Merchantman of smaller displacement but similar renown. It would seem that our provisions are good, enough for six weeks at full ration. Whether this will be sufficient is unknown, we have not yet decided where we are to go.
I can say with some pride that I have been chosen as an assistant to the only Healer to be found aboard. Some six hundred persons have made their home on this great ship but only one Healer has been found. The Captain, whose name is Duschet, has chosen myself and five others to learn the Healer's craft. I am not sure that such a responsibility is something I have the aptitude for, but all who are aboard now find themselves thrust into new vocations. It has been made plain to us by the Captain that the only way the Dromannion can survive the days ahead is if we work together. This task has been given to me and I intend to do the best that I can.
I write these words as I sit upon the foredeck and watch the slow rise and fall of the sea. It is the early evening and the suns have just set in the west. The sky is clear, no cloud has been visible for most of the day and within the feeble light of a navigation lantern I find that I have a rare moment of solitude. It is something difficult to find aboard. The Dromannion is a three-masted vessel, overhead great sails lay furled at their yards, the foremast and its spiderweb of rigging stands silhouetted against the brightness of both moons. In the light of Elanna and Shabel the sea lies almost grey in colour, and at all sides I can see other ships of the Fleet slowly rocking as they are carried by the current. There is still no wind, and as I write the only sound that I can hear is the slow creaking of the ship as it sways in its watery bed. Here the world seems at peace, but I have been told by one of the older crewmen of this vessel that the ocean has many faces, and most are not so peaceful.
Finally the wind has arisen once again. Straight from the north it blows and in its bluster the Fleet has returned to full sail. Captain Duschet has taken sixty young men from the number of his passengers as cadet seamen, and now trains them in the ways of his craft. He will need all the help he can get. In the strengthening wind the sea itself has awoken and as we forge our way south once again the question has been raised as to where we must go. We cannot traverse the endless spaces of this ocean forever, but for the moment most seem content to head south.
Contentment is not the province of all aboard however. Many who have made the decision to evacuate are having second thoughts as to their choices. They do not seem to understand the finality of their passage with the Fleet, but have instead determined to make life miserable for all those around them. As an assistant to the Healer Faren I am forced to spend more time than should be necessary administering to the complaints and diversions of these people. They cannot go back, yet the more I speak with them I can see that they have not yet grasped the enormity of the losses they have had. It is as if they are trying to deny the finality of the Enemy's victory. I can only assume that we all handle catastrophe in different ways, and if that is so, then I will need to pay more attention to this expression of their grief.
Today the Dromannion has been chosen as flagship. This is understandable. By a wide margin it is the largest ship in the Fleet and carries the most of our number within. Captain Duschet has proven himself an able leader and it would seem that he has taken on the role of First Captain. There is much work to be done, and more than anything else in such times men need leaders. I believe the Captain understands this, his officers have all pledged themselves to his commands. Most other captains have done the same. It will be interesting to see whether such a diverse group of people as ourselves can work together to survive the journey ahead. Considering the histories of our nations it will be very surprising indeed if we do.
The Fleet is making good time with the wind at our backs. There is cloud on the horizon though. A storm is coming...
The true nature of the sea has revealed itself to us and tragedy has followed. Two ships have been lost and still the storm pounds at the Fleet, scattering us like flotsam as wind and wave tear at our vessels. Within its gales the Dromannion crashes from crest to trough and there is no respite from the power of the watery tempest as it assaults the ship. Below decks many have succumbed to wave sickness and it is only the constant attention of the Healer Faren that keeps most of our number working as we attempt to maintain the merchantman afloat. Pumps must be manned and in the fury of the storm I can see the heaving of the deck and the bright flash of lightning outlining the desperate attempts of the crew to keep the ship together.
Amongst all this the Captain remains steadfast. He must know the strength of his ship, and in the glare of the storm's power he seems sure that it will survive. I take great heart from this. In his surety I know that we will survive. What it will do to the remainder of the Fleet fills me with dread. They have given me only a few moments of rest and I can write no more. It is time for me to return to my station at the pumps.
The morning has come and in its red glare the devastation of the storm has been revealed. The Dromannion lists badly to the starboard, all the lower decks have been evacuated as extra pumps are brought into use to stabilise its floundering. Exhausted from the fury of the night we have saved the ship nonetheless. Providence has granted us a reprieve from the winds and high seas and in the relative calm the Captain and his officers are attempting to pump the holds and clear the lower decks of wreckage.
Upon the upperdeck we have been given no respite from our labours. A night at the pumps has been replaced for all the Healer's assistants by the grim work of helping the injured and preparing the dead for burial. With the lower decks flooded the upperdeck is crammed with people awaiting the all clear to return below. At the stern of the ship carpenters are working earnestly to repair a damaged mizzen mast and most of the rigging has collapsed upon the quarterdeck. It will take most of the day to effect repairs and it is fortunate that the weather has calmed. I have never been in such a storm and I truly do not wish to endure one again. For all its power though the losses aboard the Dromannion have been slight. Two dead and twenty-seven injured. Three of the cadets are missing however. A search has found nothing and we can only assume they have been washed overboard.
I have been given the job of preparing the dead for burial and it is not to my liking at all. Both men died from falls, their bodies crushed and their features smashed by the action of wave and broken wreckage. One of the Sailmakers has helped to show me how this must be done, and thankfully it has proven a straightforward process. To be properly prepared the bodies are wrapped in pieces of sailcloth and then stitched into tight bundles. Iron weights from the ship's ballast are placed at the head and feet to ensure that they find their way to their inevitable rest within the dark reaches of the sea. Tomorrow they will be buried. I am not sure if I am supposed to attend.
After the midday meal the Captain's Clerk came to Healer Faren's Surgery. A decision has been made on the objectives of our voyage and Faren has been called to attend a meeting of Staff Officers. Such meetings have proven to be one of the unforeseen benefits of my new vocation, and one for which I am very thankful. The Captain of the Dromannion seems eager to ensure his Healers are fully informed on all the activities of the ship, and through Faren we find out everything that is going on. This day some important decisions have been made and I cannot help but think that the damage caused by the storm has hastened the Fleet's need to find safe anchorage. Two ships have been lost already and as we await the return of Faren it is my hope that Captain Duschet and his Officers have found a suitable haven for us all.
Shortly before dusk the Healer returned to the upperdeck. A decision has indeed been made. We are to travel further south to the Kingdoms of the Haarn and entreat with them for sanctuary. It is something that is to be kept amongst ourselves however. The Haarn have never been friends of the Free Nations but the onslaught of the Enemy may have tempered their antagonism. It is hoped that a diplomatic approach may secure a small piece of ground upon which we may rebuild our lives. It is hoped also that the Enemy has no ambitions in the desolation of the south and that we might be left in peace.
Faren says it will take three days to make the port of Suul but in this endeavour we are to be careful. The main fleet is to continue due south whilst the Dromannion and two other vessels are to head towards the coast of the Haarn. If all is well, and we find safe harbour there, then word shall be sent to the rest of the fleet. If all is not well the Fleet will continue on under the command of the Avernell to whatever fate awaits it.
About me the carpenters are hard at work and I have no more time for my journal. The injured have been tended but the activities of this ship never end. It is time for rest, my watch will not start until first light and already it is shaping up to be another busy day.
Our expedition to the lands of the Haarn has been delayed. Overnight a meeting was held between Captain Duschet and the captains of the other vessels that would take part in the diplomatic mission. Faren was there, along with a number of other important officers of the Fleet. It seems that much argument was put forward that the Dromannion should not go. Most believed too many people were aboard for the ship to undertake such a risky venture. Duschet did not agree, he had his own reasons for having the Dromannion go, but relented as an alternative proposal was put forward by the Captain of the Equinox. One that was eagerly accepted by the remaining officers.
Three ships are to go as was planned before, but all will be fast scout vessels. No one knows if the Enemy has reached south into the lands of the Haarn, and it has been decided that we are to first ascertain whether there is any danger from the Enemy before approaching the Haarn for help. Harian Rendell, Captain of the Equinox will go eastwards with his ship and two others, the Allahard and the Kalborea. All are fast ships, ex-smugglers from the north coast and all capable of navigating shallow waters. Given good winds it will take less than three days for them to reach the coast, and if all seems safe one of the ships will return to then bring the Dromannion to the port city of Suul. It has been agreed that a large ship such as the Dromannion will make an impression on the Haarn. At that point diplomacy can determine if a home awaits us in those inhospitable lands.
With such news the morning of this eleventh day has begun with great commotion and activity. All three of the ships that are to go have evacuees aboard, and all are to be transferred temporarily to the Dromannion for the duration of the expedition. The transfer of the peoples on these ships has presented us with a difficult situation however. Those that have come aboard from the Kalborea are all sick and Faren has been forced to quarantine them all below the foredeck until it can be determined what illness they are afflicted with. The crew of the Kalborea strangely, seem unaffected. It is a mystery that will not stop the ship from taking part in the mission, but the Healer has ordered that no replacement crew go aboard her. For the duration the Kalborea will be isolated from the remaining fleet. This will be at least until it can be determined what is wrong with her evacuees.
Food and provisions have been stowed aboard the ships and now we wait for the order to leave. Faren came to the surgery at midday and chose myself and another Healer's Assistant by the name of Ahlek Norahm to join the complement of the Equinox and the Allahard. Our duties aboard these ships will be minor, our only direction being to assist the crew if any injuries or illness might arise on the voyage. I have been placed upon the Equinox and as I write this we stand on a parallel course to the main body of the Fleet awaiting the provision of the last supplies to the Allahard. The Equinox is a small ship, no more than a coastal cutter, but it feels solid in the wash of the sea. After the size of the Dromannion I must confess that I feel uneasy about setting sail in such an insubstantial vessel. Against the flanks of the flagship it is small and without armament. It is my fervent hope that its speed will prove our best defence against any possible danger.
At two bells after midday the flags were raised upon the main mast of the Dromannion and the three ships of the expedition swung eastwards. The Equinox leads, Captain Rendell in command of the mission to the Haarn. For my part there is little that I need do. I have been given a berth in the lower deck of the ship but I have chosen to spend my time above decks, watching the eastern horizon and talking with those members of the crew who have the opportunity to stop and pass the time. One crew member in particular has struck me as unusual. To the rest of the crew he is simply known as Stump, and as yet I cannot find out why he is called this. I do have a suspicion though that it has something to do with his height. He is very tall, with the sharp angular features of a northerner, but this is not what makes him so different from the remainder of the complement of the Equinox.
I have only had the opportunity of speaking with him on two occasions but there is something in his manner that belies his occupation. He is intelligent and well-educated, and bears himself as if he was once a man of great importance. It is intriguing to me. I find as I spend more time upon these ships that I have grown very curious of the stories of those I meet. The circumstances of our flight have pulled us all closer together, and now we all appear far more important to each other. It is a curious thing. I have determined that I shall know the full story of this man they call Stump. If nothing else it will help fill the idle moments that may be found on this voyage.
The remainder of the day has passed, and the last glimpses of the Fleet have disappeared into the west, the Dromannion the last to fall beneath the horizon. As the suns set the Equinox forges its way to the east, the seas becoming rougher as cloudbanks form to the north. In the blusters of approaching weather the ships of our small expedition rise and fall in the steady swell that is building beneath us. Sails are at full stretch and all three ships drive forward, tacking against a steady northerly wind. These ships have proven themselves to be very fast. I take great heart in their speed and ability to manoeuvre, and I am beginning to look forward to the adventure that lies before us.
Before I put down my ink I must recount a most unusual occurrence. From the east have come vast flocks of birds and even as I write their teeming multitude still courses overhead, winging directly into the west and the unknown expanses of the sea. At first I mistook the exodus as some normal occurrence, a migration well-known to the crew that have sailed the coastal trades before me. But as I look at the faces of those standing at my side I can see that they are as awed as I by the vast confusion of bird-life. Many different species have made their way overhead, and it mystifies me as to where they may be going. But they are fleeing from something, of this I am sure.
In the gloom of the evening the birds continue overhead, and I watch with the other crew in silence as they make their way west. There is the look upon many of the faces of the watching sailors that this is not a good portent of what we may find upon the coasts of the Haarn.
A new day has arrived with clear skies and a strong wing blowing at our backs. In the night the storm moved from the north into the west and with its passing came a turn in the wind that has pushed the flotilla with greater speed eastwards. Ahead I can see only sea but I have been told that we are less than twenty leagues from the coast and only a few leagues more from the capital of the Haarn at Suul. Captain Rendell called his officers to his cramped quarters and I was summoned as well. All three ships have made good time and his Second Officer reports that we should make the coastline by nightfall. The Equinox has proven itself a stout ship, racing before the bluster of the winds, cutting through the waves as it speeds to the east. I find I have little to do but the crew seems appreciative of the fact that I am here. I do not believe any of them have been told that I am just a Healer's Assistant, and an inexperienced one at that.
The flocks of birds that filled the sky on the preceding evening have disappeared into the west. No further movements have been seen and those that watch from the crows-nest above report no sign of land ahead. I while away my time writing and talking with the crew, and find that the life of the crewman aboard these ships can be hard. The Captain does not suffer fools easily, and has no trouble in loudly pointing out the deficiencies of his men. In other circumstances he could be considered rude and overbearing but I have no doubt that he is an able Sea-Captain. What he thinks of me I cannot tell. I believe such opinions will no doubt be put to me at the first instance of the testing of my skills. It seems to be his way.
I have spent the day in pursuit of more information on the man known as Stump. He is well liked by all but few can provide any real information about his past. Most know him only as a willing crewman who presented himself for work a short time before the fall of the northern ports of Adoracia. Who he was before walking on to the Equinox is unknown. Given such a lack of readily available information I have decided to approach him directly. I am sure that there is a story behind this man that I can record here as a part of my journal.
Closer we forge towards the coast and again I find myself looking towards the north. Storms yet again build upon the far horizon and this time they are spreading outwards, covering the sky as they advance in our direction. The Equinox and its two brethren continue to ply a path eastwards, the winds changing now, veering to the north and west as the storm moves closer. As I watch the captain prepares his crew, ordering the securing of the ship and signalling to the Allahard and the Kalborea to prepare themselves for the coming tempest. In response they have distanced themselves, taking up positions far to the port and starboard of the Equinox. All the ships have been set for the approaching weather and as a consequence have slowed. Sails have been lowered and sea-anchors thrown out to stabilise the ships in the building seas. The coasts of the Haarn will have to wait until after this storm has passed.
I can do nothing to help except prepare for the practice of my new vocation. The Captain has placed me in the ship's forward galley, which I have cleared for any injured that may be brought below. It is my fervent hope that the storm that approaches will not prove as deadly as the last. This ship does not feel large enough to survive it.
The night has passed and it has been a busy one. The storm hit shortly after dusk, a tempest of rain and wind that thrashed the small ships as they fought its power. I stayed below decks. The Equinox took the brunt of the storm head-on, pitching and rolling in its swell as waves crashed over its decks. In the galley I tried not to think of the desperate battle being fought above, instead I waited, hoping that not too many of the crew would be brought below. Over the course of the night six of the crew were carried to me, four with broken bones and two with deep gashes that required treatment. Thankfully all were injuries that I had previously had experience with. All are now resting, only one offers further concern, his leg broken in such a manner that it will need to be reset by the Healer Faren upon our return to the Fleet. For the moment though he is off his feet and none the happier for it.
By morning the storm had passed to the south and in the quiet of the early hours the three ships began to move once again. In the fury of the storm it seems that we have been pushed much closer to the coast than was expected. As I have tended to the injured I can hear the Captain above shouting orders and the sounds of fevered activity as his sailors carry them out. By all accounts the coast is already in view from the heights of the crows-nest. Nothing can be seen so far.
Midday had us parallel to the coast and moving south, looking for any sign of the outposts of the Haarn. Their capital at Suul is our objective but as of yet we have found nothing. In the early afternoon I took the time to get some fresh air and spent most of it looking out portside, searching the coastal fringes for some sign of life, any life. A number of the crew also watched with me. It is disconcerting that we have not yet seen anything.
The coast is a barren landscape. It is getting colder as we go and I have seen the harsh nature of these lands. Stony beaches edge the land and in places cold cliffs rise out of the sea. It is a jagged, dangerous piece of coastline that seems devoid of trees or beckoning shelter. None of us have seen any standing dwelling or evidence of normal life, and as we stare into the bright light of the afternoon I can say that these lands are not welcoming. I am having doubts that a worthwhile home can be found here.
The Equinox rises and falls with the sea's undulation and we have a stiff wind at our backs. Behind us sail the Allahard and the Kalborea, and it cannot be long before Suul will rise out of the coast to the south. I have been told that it is a magnificent port-city, known for the exotic wares that can be found there. Most of all though, it has a reputation for building huge spires of stone, capped with lights that shine out into the Grey Sea as beacons to its ships. Unlike our own, the Haarn are travellers of the open ocean. Surely we must see some sign of their capital soon.
It was at the last light of dusk that a call came from the watchmen high above. Suul has been sighted. Quickly the crew drew the ship closer to the shoreline and carefully we made our way closer. I was on the quarterdeck when the main bulk of the city came into view. What we saw took our breath away, but only for a moment. Immediately the Captain shouted orders and the crew set to work. The Equinox did not have to signal to the other ships, they saw it as well and together they turned back towards the open sea, cutting a path just south of west. I will try and describe what it was that I saw although it grieves me to do it.
Suul has been destroyed. The great spires that would have shown a way to the safe harbour of this city are gone, smashed to the ground by some force that I do not understand. Ships lay broken and wallowing in the harbour, and for as far as the eye could see, the buildings and homes of its inhabitants lay in ruins. There was no smoke, nor any sign of the Haarn themselves, just rubble piles that spilled down from the hills at the harbour's back into the cold waters of the harbour itself. Some power had been used on the city that had ground and crushed its structures, obliterating a thousand years of endeavour and toil, turning everything to dust and splintered stone. The Enemy has been here and has moved on.
It was only as we had turned from the city and were moving back into deep waters that we saw the flying creature. Above the city flew a gigantic reptilian beast, wings spread wide as it glided in tight circles about the ruins of Suul. I cannot say for sure but it appeared to be looking for something, and when it found it, swooped low into the broken streets before disappearing from view. Even above the sounds of the crashing waves and the gusting wind we could all hear a piercing shriek that sent shivers down our spines. If there had been any doubt it was now gone. There would be no sanctuary found amongst the Haarn.
We have spent this day tracking away from the coast, heading into deep waters as we return to a pre-arranged position some sixty leagues out to sea. If we are lucky the remainder of the Fleet should be waiting for us. The daily activity of the Equinox has not diminished, a ship at sea has many needs and the men of this ship work tirelessly to keep it seaworthy, but I have noticed that most of the men are subdued in their efforts. All the shouting and cursing of their captain does not alter the feeling that has infected the ship that they have failed, and that this leaves the Fleet with no objective, no place to go. I am as disheartened as they, but I have not yet lost hope that there is a place for us somewhere.
The Haarn can provide no sanctuary. They have met an end that I cannot conceive of, and this fills me with sadness. They were not friends of the Free Nations but they were powerful, and in their demise we have witnessed the true ferocity of our Enemy. I can think that there is only one alternative for us. In my heart I know we must strike out into the unknown reaches of the ocean and trust to Providence that new lands might await us there. It may be true that the only defence we can have against such a powerful foe is distance. If such a course is to be taken it will be one filled with risk. We will either succeed or we will die trying.
We continue to move further into deep waters. The Fleet has not yet been sighted and I find my time divided between caring for those few crew that still remain in need of treatment and wandering the ship annoying those who seem to have time to spare. In the course of my investigation of the Equinox I have had the opportunity to speak to the Captain on more than one occasion. For an ex-smuggler he is very willing to share the details of his exploits, and does not seem to mind confessing openly to anyone who will listen of the illegal operations he has been a party to. I asked him whether it might be prudent for him not to be so forthcoming, but he just laughed and stated that the old world was gone. Whatever we may have done, or not done for that matter, in the past was now of little consequence. It would now be what we do on this great adventure that will determine our worth. None of the peoples aboard the Fleet could care less if you were a pirate or a saint, just as long as you got them to safety. I could see his point.
Later I thought on the Captain's words. If we were indeed fortunate enough to find a safe harbour somewhere beyond the reach of the Enemy, then there would be many things that would need to change. The old structures of our societies are gone, trampled beneath the shadow of the Enemy. A new land would require new rules, new ways to organise our lives, new ideas and new leadership. It will be an interesting process if we are given the opportunity to exercise it.
The sea runs quickly beneath the Equinox as we fly before the wind. The afternoon of this day has the gusting breeze shifting from the east to the north, and these three ships are taking full advantage of it. Captain Rendell says we should meet with the Fleet by nightfall tomorrow and I will be glad to return to the Dromannion. The Equinox is a fine ship, however my service aboard her has shown me that I know little of my new craft. I need to return to the tutelage of the Healer Faren so that I might be able to learn more, and be of greater value to our endeavour. I am afraid that the other skills I possess would be of little use at sea.
Before the coming of the Enemy I can say with great pride that I was a Master Potter, a maker of sturdy clay earthenware. I spent most of my life in a small village called Wolston, just a short distance from the outskirts of Anglemath, a port city of western Adoracia, and was apprenticed at a young age to a competent potter by the name of Arion Cael. Long was the time that I spent indentured to my Master's kilns, but the day came when I was granted my tickets to the Faeyen Guilds and became my own Master. In the world that we have left I was a Faeyen, a member of the professional Guilds that controlled most of the commerce and industry of the Free Nations. It was a membership that meant something, and was something one could declare with pride. But that was before the coming of the Enemy. In such circumstances as we now find ourselves it means little. Survival must now dictate that we do those things that are necessary. Perhaps one day I might return to my chosen profession, but for the moment I have found a different calling.
Before I end this day's account I must put ink to paper on two most unusual happenings, one that I can only describe as curious, the other as almost disastrous. The first occurred an hour prior to dusk. In the slanting light of the suns a great shadow moved between the Equinox and the Kalborea. At first those who saw it thought a vast creature was flying overhead, laying its darkness on the sea below, but this proved not to be the case. For indeed it was a sea creature of monstrous proportion that moved beneath the waves, keeping a parallel course to our ships. Only once did it rise to the surface and it proved to be an enormous beast, dark grey in colour, as long as it was wide and possessed of thick triangular fins that protruded from its sides as wings might on a bird. It did not appear to have a head, however it did open a huge gaping mouth that swallowed vast amounts of water as it rose and fell with the waves. At its rear stretched a long tail, almost whiplike in design. From gaping maw to the base of its tail it was more than three times the length of the Equinox. This behemoth of the deep did not seem interested in us at all, which we were all thankful for, but kept a similar course for some distance before disappearing again into the depths. I cannot give any account of what it might be, nor whether it is a danger. I have no doubt though that if it had wished us harm it could have destroyed us with impunity.
The second sighting of note came just before dusk. Even as the crew of the Equinox debated on the appearance of the Behemoth, we were surprised by a far more active and far more dangerous phenomena. In the orange glow of sunset the sky to the north grew dark with cloud. For most of the day we had enjoyed clear skies, and the distraction of the sea-creature's rising from the deep allowed the sudden appearance of the thunderhead at our starboard side to take the crew by surprise. Unlike most of weather that I have experienced whilst at sea this cloud stood alone, a huge anvil-shaped tower that rode the winds directly towards us. Captain Rendell had seen such clouds before and called the crew to readiness. Quickly the flotilla turned away from the approaching stormcloud and it was not a moment too soon. As the cloud approached, the wind rose to a gale, a ragged bluster torn with seaspray that obscured the surface of the sea as it went. Without warning the air beneath the cloud began to spin, whipping up the waters beneath it. It took less that a few seconds for a twisting column of water to form, somehow supported by the power of the winds generated in the cloud. As the twisting column spun before us the winds ripped at the ship's sails, heeling the Equinox to the port and laying it low in the water on that side. Crew scrambled into the rigging, collapsing the sails as the waterspout writhed before us.
Closer it came to the ships and as it approached I could hear a sound like an approaching stampede of cattle. Never have I seen such a vast column of spinning water. Above us the cloud spread like the underside of some monstrous table and as I watched I could see other, smaller spirals of air beginning to form upon its undersurface. Before the captain could make any further corrections the main waterspout twisted directly in front of the Equinox and then collapsed, spraying the decks with water, and laying huge quantities of debris upon the foredeck. The power of the winds tore the foresail from its holdings and would have thrown down the foremast if not for the sudden demise of its strength. Crew appeared from all parts of the ship, clearing the deck of torn sailcloth and shrouds, as the Wheelman swung the Equinox out of harms way, its bow digging deep into the waves as the cloud slipped harmlessly to the south. It did not attempt to assault us again.
Given the disappointments of the day's discoveries, and the unusual phenomena that the sea has presented to us I can only say that I am glad we are still alive. The sea is no place for those who do not understand its vagaries and I am glad that we have captains such as Rendell to show us the way. I conclude by writing that this day ends in much the same way that it started. I find myself below decks, tending the injured and listening to the sounds of the Equinox as it creaks and groans to the rise and fall of the waves. It has been a long day and now I must find rest.
The last two days have passed without incident but we have not yet found the Fleet. Already we are one day beyond our rendezvous point and there has been no sign of the Dromannion or any of the other ships. The wind remains a strong southerly and we have spent the last day tacking a wide search in the hope that we might intersect with our compatriots. So far we have been unsuccessful. The crew grows unsure as to what we must do and I share their concern. If we cannot find the Fleet, if it has befallen some tragic end or been forced to move on without us, then we will be completely alone, with few options and almost no provisions.
At midday the Captain sent up the flags and called the Allahard and the Kalborea to his side. The wind had dropped off and whilst there was little breeze he conversed with the other captains. Quickly a decision was made as to our next move. It was with no small relief that we found that plans had already been laid for such a contingency. When the other ships had pulled away Rendell called the crew together. Unlike most of his commands he could see the need to tell the crew what was going on and let nothing remain unsaid as he spoke.
With the Fleet nowhere to be found, he announced, it is now necessary that we find a harbour further south. There could only be two reasons as to why our brethren were not at the pre-arranged meeting point, and neither, as he put it, spelled any good news for us. They have either been forced to move on by some unknown danger, or have found an untimely rest in the depths beneath us. Their fate is unknown but on that point a plan had been decided with the captain of the Dromannion before we left. If there was no rendezvous then our small flotilla was to make a heading south to the farthest reach of the Haarn Kingdoms, to a small fishing port known as Corin'kraag. There we are to wait for a period of one week. If the Fleet was not there when we arrived, this was as long as we should wait before deciding for ourselves what we should do next. This was all the crew of the Equinox needed to hear.
With a new destination before them the crew jumped to action. Quickly the ferment of their minds cleared and it was within the hour that we again found ourselves forging southwards with a strong wind at our backs. With new purpose the Equinox drove itself into the waves, and with the Allahard and the Kalborean in station behind we began the journey south, hopefully to meet with the rest of the Fleet at Corin'kraag.
It is good that we have a destination to journey for, however I have in my Surgery a problem of my own that is becoming more intractable with every passing hour. All of the injured I have been treating have either returned to duty or do not require further supervision as their wounds heal. All except one. Tilsal Obernoth still remains in my care and he causes me great concern. Unlike the others his injuries are beyond my ability to attend fully. His broken leg has been set and I have done the best that I can, but he now requires the attention of the Healer Faren and it was my hope that by now he would be under his care. With the passing of these two days his condition has worsened and I am sure that an infection has found a purchase in his right leg. It is a malady that is beyond my current knowledge. I wish fervently that the Healer Faren was here.
I have spent the night and most of this morning by the side of Tilsal Obernoth. As I have feared his leg is indeed infected, and in the dark hours he has developed a high temperature that I am attempting to control with cold cloths and herbs. So far I have been unsuccessful. Earlier today I spoke with the captain. He believes that we are still four days from Corin'kraag and although the Fleet may only be a day ahead of us there is no way that a message can be sent. Until we reach the southern boundaries of the Haarn I am on my own.
At midday my patient had an unforeseen visitor. All morning crew have been coming to enquire as to the health of Obernoth. He is well-liked by all and as he is still awake I could see nothing but the positive affect of having friends about him. I was surprised however, when the crewman Stump appeared at my door asking if he might sit for a while with the injured man. I needed rest myself and as the tall man seemed eager to spend time with his friend I left them to talk, and went out to get some air and enjoy the ever changing nuances of the open sea.
I had only twenty minutes to appreciate the salt air before an urgent call came from below. Obernoth had gone into convulsions. It was as I had feared, his temperature had risen to such a level that he had lost consciousness and began to fit. Quickly myself and Stump got the man up onto the deck and stripped away his upper vest. The air has been growing progressively cooler and with the aid of wet cloths we were able to get his temperature down. I do not know if I have done the right thing but nothing can halt the spread of the infection in his leg. He remains unconscious and cannot be roused. If I cannot find something to mitigate his condition I believe Obernoth will die by the end of daylight tomorrow.
The morning has come and Obernoth has worsened. The infection spreads now from his leg into his groin and I know that if it is allowed to continue into his chest he shall not recover from it. In the dark of the night I have been wracking my memories trying to remember something told to me by the Healer Faren that will provide some relief for this man. It has been to no avail.
The Captain came to see how my only patient was doing at first light. For all his cantankerous bluster he obviously cares greatly for the welfare of his crew and spent some time extracting everything I knew of his condition. I am convinced now that Obernoth will die by this evening and in all frankness I had to tell the Captain of this. My thoughts gave him reason to pause but he did not seem surprised. As he left he asked only that his crewman be made as comfortable as possible in his final hours.
The day ahead is going to be a long one.
Although I do not understand how it has come about crewman Obernoth is alive. Steadily over the preceding day his condition deteriorated until by nightfall his breath was laboured and his temperature unbearably high. I called the captain to my makeshift surgery and both of us waited quietly, expecting in all honesty to witness the dying man's last breaths. Stump also was at his side, he had just finished his watch, and together the three of us waited, considering the inevitability of death and how helpless we could be against its onslaught. It was a quiet vigil that was quickly disturbed. At the first bell after dusk there came from the deck above a great commotion, a splintering sound that reverberated through the ship's timbers as if the mainmast was stressing under enormous weight and was threatening to collapse. Immediately the Captain ran for the door and bade me to follow. If the main mast collapsed there could be injuries and I would be needed. I paused only to tell Stump to stay by the side of his friend. I could do nothing more for him, all that remained was the inevitability of his death and the sure knowledge that nobody should die alone. He nodded his understanding as myself and the captain ran for the forward galleyway. It took only moments to reach the upper deck but to our surprise there was nothing to see. The response to the captain's flustered advance from the evening watch was just shrugged shoulders and a definite nothing to report.
Rendell knew what he had heard and ordered a careful survey of the main mast, its supporting rigging and all the ratlines and shrouds that held the mast to its ties. Nothing was found. The Master of the Equinox could not understand it, and ordered another search of the foundations of the mast below decks. He did not enjoy such false alarms and stormed off towards the wheeldeck, throwing orders in all directions as his crew scrambled about the ship, trying to ascertain the cause of the noise that it seemed only myself and the captain had heard.
With no work to do I returned to my surgery. In the dark of the evening there was little light in the forward galleyway, only a swaying lantern giving any illumination as the ship swayed to the sea's rhythm. Now I must record here that I cannot say exactly what it was that I saw as I made my way below, but I know I saw something. Coming from behind the closed door of my Surgery was a soft blue light that shone through the crack of the ajar doorway, and spread like the glow of moonlight into the corridor. I ran as fast as I dared to discover what this ethereal glimmer might be, but as I reached for the door's handle it faded, and then disappeared. Upon opening the door I entered and found Obernoth raised on his elbow, looking about the room as if he had no recollection of why he was there. It was to Stump though that I first looked with most interest. He had fallen back against a tangled pile of rope and netting and lay there unconscious. But only for a moment. As I moved towards him his eyes opened and he raised his head. He looked as bewildered as myself and as one we both took stock of Obernoth's condition. Truly Providence had laid a hand upon the man, and as he watched both myself and Stump checked his injuries. The infection was gone, the temperature that had wracked his body had abated. By some act of Providence this man had been given the chance to survive.
When I had ascertained the extent of Obernoth's recovery I pulled Stump aside and would not let him go until I had some answers. He said he did not understand what had happened, only that a strange blue light had entered the room as he had sat with his friend, and in its glow he had seen the red stain of the man's infection retreat from his body and then fade from its source in his leg. I am not sure I believe him. He holds back something, the look in his eyes not the scared look of someone who has witnessed such a strange phenomena. Instead I got the distinct impression that he had something to do with it. It confounds me to think that this quiet man might hold such power at his disposal, but I know he holds secrets very close to his chest. I will talk with him again before this voyage is done, and I will have the answers I seek. For the moment I must be thankful for the fact that Obernoth is alive.
With Obernoth's recovery a great weight has lifted from my shoulders. His care now rests in his own ability to heal, and any new infection can be addressed when we join with the Fleet. The last days have been filled with the busy activity of the Equinox and an earnest search by myself for more information on the man Stump. He does not answer any questions that I pose to him directly. He will not even tell me his true name. I have only been able to garner the most basic of facts and even these tell me little. From his other crewmates I can say with some assurance that he once belonged to the Fallanheim, a race of nomadic Belk-herders from the northern kingdom of Cammeray. With the rise of the Enemy these nomadic peoples were the first to flee southwards and bring knowledge of its power to the attention of the Free Nations. To all his friends he has only been known as Stump, and it strikes he as strange that such an obviously well-educated man should be a herder. The more I find out the more it vexes me.
On the morning of this twenty-second day of our odyssey we turned towards the coastline. By the reckoning of the Equinox's First Officer we are only fifteen leagues from Corin'kraag. The coast spreads out as a barren vista of rock and snow, broken by high cliffs and long gravel-beaches that give no sense of comfort or mercy. If any souls lived in these climes they surely must be men as hard as the rock they live on. The flotilla rides the waves easily, the sea subdued and calm as we speed towards a hopeful meeting with the Fleet. I now have little to do except lean against the balustrade on the port side of the ship and watch the coastline run away southwards. Like most of the crew on watch we look keenly for the first signs of masts at the horizon.
We have not found them. The port-haven of Corin'kraag was reached at midday and in the icy bluster that greeted us as we turned from the sea into its sheltered harbour we found only devastation. As with Suul this smaller town is destroyed, its buildings crushed and broken, no sign of its inhabitants abroad. The Fleet is nowhere to be found, and we stand now within sight of this port-haven unsure of what we must now do. If it is that we have arrived first then we must wait. One week was the plan and Captain Rendell says he shall honour it.
Looking out at Corin'kraag there are none of us who can see any sign of the Enemy. Whatever force destroyed this once thriving port is now gone. It would seem that the remains have been left to dissipate before the relentless force of wind and ice. It is not the cold but the silence that sends a shiver up my spine.
At last light the word was spread through the ship. At the stroke of first bell in the morning a landing party is to go ashore and hunt for survivors and extra provisions. Only one small skiff is to go. Eight men and the Second-Officer Hallion commanding. It would seem that Healers are indispensable to such endeavours, as I shall be going with them.
This first day of our sheltering in the harbour of Corin'kraag has passed and we have all been affected by the level of destruction that we have been forced to sift through. It is difficult to say how large the town was prior to its attack by the Enemy, but the rock-piles that fill the streets and boulevards of this settlement extend for some distance both north and south of the main harbour. Everything is rubble. There are no standing structures of any type, and nothing above ground level seems to have survived whatever pulverised the stone of these buildings, and splintered to matchwood every standing beam of timber.
The night before our expedition to the town proper was spent with watchful caution. No lights could be seen anywhere amongst the ruins, and apart from the steady swell of the sea beneath us there was no noise or other sign that anything in Corin'kraag was alive. Captain Rendell did not sleep. With his two officers at his side he searched the dark ruins, looking for any hint of danger. There was no sign of any movement at all. Only silence.
For my part I could not sleep either. The Fleet could be anywhere at this time and our only hope was to wait for their arrival. The Captain had given the order for us to go ashore and I spent most of the night wondering whether this was to fulfil some purpose, or simply to give the crews of these three ships something to do as we waited anxiously for any sign of our brethren. In the dark it is easy to think of all the things that can go wrong, of the dangers that may lurk within the stone piles of this unfortunate settlement. As I waited in my quarters for the inevitable summons I had to linger on the strange turn of events in my life that saw me feeling safer aboard this small ship than upon the shoreline that lay silent before us.
The first bell of the morning watch found me standing on the foredeck of the Equinox, watching as a small skiff was lowered from its davits into the calm waters of Corin'kraag harbour. Only the Equinox had moved closer into the sheltered waters of the port, both the Allahard and the Kalborea remained at anchor outside the remains of its crumbled jetties and seawalls. I cannot say that I enjoyed the short journey from the relative safety of the ship to the small gravel beach that we had chosen as our landing point. I sat at the bow of the skiff with Hallion, the second officer, and watched as the eight crew heaved at the oars, pushing us towards the beach.
Our landing was swift, the skiff sliding up on to the gravel beach and then holding fast as the crew jumped from their places to haul it further up the tideline. Quickly we all ran for what looked like the remains of houses lining the harbourside and then came to a halt. Our orders were clear, search the remains for survivors and take stock of any provisions that may have survived the attack. In pairs we spread out through the town, I went with Hallion, and began what was to be a harrowing but fruitful search.
Almost immediately myself and Hallion found ourselves lost in the endless piles of stone and shattered timber. From the safety of the Equinox the devastation of the town was undeniable and frightening in its extent. Up close it was simply appalling. As we searched the remains of what appeared to be the main market district of Corin'kraag we could find nothing that was identifiable. Wood had been shattered so thoroughly that to pick a piece of timber from the ground would find it crumbling in your hands as you lifted it. The Haarn built mainly in stone and wood, and there was much evidence to be found for the remains of many large buildings both private and civic. But nowhere could we find a single piece of stone that did not fall away to dust as we handled it. Great piles of broken stone filled the streets of the town but all crumbled at the slightest movement or touch. It is a mystery to me what force could have so thoroughly pulverised these buildings, but amongst the ruins we have found hope of there still being survivors here.
Hallion found the first sign of life as he made his way towards what we can only assume was Corin'kraag's Civic Hall. At the end of a wide boulevard lay a huge pile of tangled rubble, roughly laid out upon the ground as a long rectangular shape, bordered by wide dust covered gardens. Although nothing of the building itself survived, Hallion found the doors of a deep cellar collapsed upon the Hall's northern walls. The heavy wood of the cellar doors had been pulverised as everything else had, but the steps that led down below ground had been unaffected. It took the Second Officer only moments to confirm that the cellars were still sound, and more importantly contained large stocks of grain, spun wool and lantern oil. It was a find that underlined something we had not considered. The town itself may be gone, but whatever force destroyed its buildings did not seem to have damaged anything below ground. There was a chance here that we might find not only much needed supplies but survivors, trapped within cellars and basements, unable to reach daylight due to the weight of the fallen buildings above them.
Quickly we returned to the skiff, calling for the remaining members of our party to return as well. Upon the gravel-beach we reformed and all had a tale to tell of the appalling destruction. The focus of our search had changed however. There could be vast stores of food and other essentials locked beneath Corin'kraag and the possibility of survivors as well. Hallion made his decision without hesitation. The next few days of our wait at Corin'kraag were going to be very busy indeed.
As soon as we had returned to the Equinox, Hallion reported to the Captain of his findings. All the ships of our flotilla had empty holds and a capacity to carry large loads. For Rendell it was an opportunity sent by Providence that he could not ignore. By mid-afternoon all three ships were anchored close to our original landing point, dozens of crewmen scouring the rubble of the port, searching for sign of provision and survivors. Upon the beach a steady stream of foodstuffs and other supplies had begun to build, neat stacks of boxed goods and grain sacks that had to be listed and catalogued before being transported by skiff to the waiting ships.
Such work is not my province and I have taken no part in it. To transfer goods safely requires skills and experience that I do not have so Rendell placed me in amongst the search parties, hunting through the ruins, looking for any evidence that some of the Haarn may have lived through the destruction. So far the search for survivors has been unsuccessful. We have found no sign of the Haarn, nor of the Enemy. For the latter at least I am thankful.
Our work in Corin'kraag continues, more cellars and basements being unearthed as we search the ruins. The weather has remained fine and the seas calm, the only sign of activity in the port our small beach-head where we continue to load stores and provisions that we believe will be of use to the Fleet. This second day has found me aboard the Equinox, busy in my Surgery with injuries caused by accidents during the search of the town. Thankfully I have been confronted with nothing serious. Only two members of the crew remain below decks. The crewman Obernoth seems happy to have the company of one his fellow crewmates, both will be remaining in my care for at least the next week. I can record that our sojourn here has had a positive effect upon all the men of the flotilla. With a purpose before us we have all lightened in spirit and await the arrival of the rest of the Fleet with great anticipation. We shall certainly have something to show for our stay here. As of yet we have found no survivors.
During the mid-afternoon I was visited in my quarters by the Captain. At first he wished to talk of the injuries to his men, but after only a short discussion turned the conversation to the unusual events of the recovery of Tilsal Obernoth. He wanted to know all that had occurred, and asked of me detailed questions regarding the nature of the man's injuries and the glow that had emanated from the surgery. I got the distinct impression during this questioning that he had seen such an event before, and that the crewman Stump had something to do with it. In all honesty I could say that I knew little, only that Stump had been attending to Obernoth at the time, and that neither could remember anything of the injured man's amazing recovery. Rendell was not convinced of that. It was in the quiet of my rooms that the Captain spoke openly of what he knew about Stump.
The man had presented himself for work just a few days before the Enemy attacked the Equinox's home port of Amuron. The north of Adoracia had had no warning of the Enemy's advance and the Equinox was still in harbour, loading a legal cargo of wood planking for transportation south. Nobody was aware of the danger growing on the horizon and Rendell had eagerly taken aboard the tall northerner. He had needed willing hands and the man they would come to know as Stump had fitted into the routine of the sea very easily. As a smuggler he quickly proved even more valuable. The Captain had never asked how, but Stump possessed a wide range of contacts within the criminal underworld of the northern sea-ports. Information he gained was willingly shared on buyers who would pay good money for contraband that had avoided local taxes and charges. It was a boon Rendell did not wish to question and it was only after the Enemy had swept southwards that he began to consider the possibilities of who he might actually have aboard.
Like myself the Captain recognised quickly that Stump was different from the usual itinerant sailors that he would take on to crew his ship. The northerner was educated, self-assured and all too easily fitted into any circumstances that he might find himself. He displayed knowledge of the world that was not accessible to most, and as of yet Rendell had not found a language in Adoracia that the man did not have knowledge of. He was all too useful and yet all too secretive of his own past. In his own mind the Captain could only assume that Stump was a man using the Equinox as a place to hide, where he might remain unnoticed in the wider world and yet keep contact with those who were important to him. If such was the case then Rendell had no problem with him. In his employ a man's past can remain shaded, but only as long as that past did not return one day to cause harm to his ship or its complement.
As Providence would have it such a day came quickly to the Equinox, but the Captain did not recognise it until Obernoth was healed, then what had transpired before became all to clear in his mind.
Some two weeks before the evacuation from Adoracia of the Fleet, the Equinox had harboured in Mardon, unloading refugees from the north. Circumstances were becoming desperate and the steady flow of the homeless southwards had opened up considerable opportunity for anyone with a ship and the courage to still sail to the besieged cities of the North Kingdoms. For Rendell and his crew the day was both routine and profitable. Refugees were being disembarked and new passengers were arriving for transport to the Islands of the Faen. In the midst of this activity nobody noticed a small group of hooded men that boarded ship and waited quietly upon the quarterdeck. In the Captain's own words what happened next was both brutal and efficient. Out of the recesses of their cloaks came unsheathed short-swords and systematically the assassins began striking down the crew, searching the ship's lower decks and causing pandemonium amongst the milling passengers.
At the moment of the assault Rendell saw it as an attack upon his ship in general and quickly a melee developed upon its broad decks. Refugees scattered in all directions and two of his crew went down in the initial charge, but the cloaked assailants had misjudged the nature of the men they were attacking. Smugglers do not take a step backwards when they are fighting for their ship and they quickly overwhelmed the hooded assassins with their number, sending them scurrying back onto the docks. It was a small victory for which the Equinox paid a high price. A number of his crew were wounded, one seriously. Violence aboard ship was not unusual but such a blatant assault left the Captain and his crew searching for answers. It was only in retrospect that Rendell realised the assailants had not been after the ship but one of its crew.
After the melee the Equinox left port without delay. News of the harbour-side brawl quickly drew the scrutiny of the port authorities to the ship and the Captain had no wish to answer any questions about the Equinox or her activities. With their passengers aboard they made course for the Islands of the Faen. The injured were tended as best they could, but one was dying, a deep wound to his stomach bleeding the life from him. There was nothing that could be done and as they made their way westwards Rendell turned his attention to the needs of his ship. He left one of the crew to tend to the badly injured crewman and waited for the inevitable news that he had died.
As with Obernoth it did not come. The rising of a new day found the man recovering and rumours circulating the ship of strange lights in the night, and of a thick blue mist that had lingered for a short time in the galleyways below. Fate had been kind to them and Rendell put it down as a mystery that would remain unsolved. That was until I had come aboard and had seen the same unusual qualities in the northerner. Suspicions resurfaced and with the benefit of hindsight the Captain began to rethink what the man's past might have had to do with the attack upon his ship. One thing he was sure of. The assassins fought as disciplined warriors and only said one word as they moved through the decks searching out the crew. That word was "Shalen'gael". He knew not what it meant, but it was said with such vehemence that it could have been either a name or a curse. For the Captain it was just another part of a wider mystery, one that he had come to believe needed to be uncovered before our voyage ended.
I listened intently to the Captain's story and then asked why he had come to me. In his straightforward manner he asked that I keep Stump close, watching all that he did, with the purpose of determining if the man was a threat to the Equinox or the safety of the Fleet. He said bluntly that he would be assigning the crewman to me as my assistant, to learn what I knew of healing and to assist me when I next went ashore. I agreed and the Captain left. It would seem that from first bell tomorrow Stump is to be my assistant, whether I need one or not.
The day grows long and soon the night watch will take their posts. Orders have been issued and I will once again be spending the morrow searching the ruins of Corin'kraag for survivors. As of yet we have found nothing of the townspeople. No bodies nor sign of their leaving can be seen anywhere and as the crews of these three ships labour at collecting supplies only a few of us are to continue the search. Nobody has asked the question yet as to what we should do if we do find anyone alive. It is in my thoughts that our Captain does not expect it. At this stage of our search I do not expect it either.
Our third day in harbour has found me awakened early and on my way to the ruins of Corin'kraag. From my seat at the bow of our skiff I can see the quiet movement of men on the beach-head, and in the gloom the rubble mounds of the town stand as ghostly grey undulations within which the flickering lights of torches appear and disappear. We have seen no sign of the Enemy and it has been resolved that we shall continue with our gathering of supplies only as long as this remains so. It is unknown to me why we have not been noticed by the destroyers of this port-haven, but we are going to make as much of the opportunity as we can.
I have been joined by Stump and two other men, a jovial sailmaker called Harlen and a disreputable-looking deckhand by the name of Feth. All four of us have the same orders, search the town for any sign of the Haarn, living or dead. It has been said that by the end of this day our search for survivors will end. Most of the town has been thoroughly searched. There is now only a small section remaining to be surveyed. Hopefully we can be back aboard ship by noon.
For the morning's work I chose to search with Harlen. Whilst Stump and Feth worked their way into the centre of the rubble that was the main town square and its surrounding buildings, the two of us began a steady turning of the wreckage on the square's western edge. There was not much left to find. Because of the unstable nature of the rubble piles, we looked not for obvious signs of a cellar or other subterranean space, but for depressions in the ground where a cellar door or stairway might have given way. When one was found we would dig into its centre hopeful to find the solid edges of a door's seating or perhaps a stone-lined corridor.
For most of the morning this was our task, scouring the piles for sign of subsidence and then digging until we hit something. By the last hour before noon myself and Harlen had covered all the edges of the Square. We had found nothing worth the delving and sure in the knowledge that there was little left to find I made my way into the town centre to meet with Stump and Feth. Harlen followed a short distance behind. He had fallen back, seemingly in no hurry to conclude his day upon dry land. It was alone then that I happened upon the other two crew members and what I saw stopped me in my tracks.
I must confess that for a moment I did not understand what it was I was seeing. When my wits returned to me I crouched quietly at the edge of a rubble-heap and watched as a strange tableau played itself out before me. Stump was engaged in a ritual of some type, and it was something he did not want others to see. Beside him Feth stood motionless, somehow held rigid, his eyes closed and his hands clenched tightly at his side. Stump however was squatting on his haunches, both hands firmly planted on the ground at his feet, and in the quiet breeze I could hear him chanting. It was a soft whisper that lingered in the air, infusing the ground about his hands with an energy that spread slowly into the stone piles at his left. In the bright light of day it shimmered blue as it wound its way into the debris, before sweeping away the stone and splintered wood as a wind might blow leaves from the ground. What it uncovered was a pair of solid wooden doors, set flat against a rectangle of flooring stones. It was an entryway to a basement area that would have gone unnoticed if not for the strange power wielded by the northerner.
I decided then that I would not let Stump believe he had been discovered. Carefully I retreated to a reasonable distance and then began calling for Harlen. Together we strode into the remains of the square to find both Stump and Feth moving smashed stone from the newly discovered entryway. I could see no sign that Feth had any recollection of his short entrapment. Stump was very excited though. He believed that the doors where the entry to a sub-basement of the town's only library.
Together we moved the final pieces of stone and then smashed a mechanism which bound the doors tightly locked. I watched Stump as he gained a purchase on one door's handle and then pulled with all his might. It came open with difficulty and it took all four of us to wrench it away from its twisted seating but eventually we had it ajar. Only Harlen had brought a torch with him and in the brightness of the day the opening to whatever was below was wrapped in a black gloom. None of us moved to enter. There was something about this dark opening into the ground that begged caution.
I recount what happened next with a joy that is hard to record with quill and ink. Stump went first, I followed as Harlen and Feth waited above. The entryway proved to be the threshold of a long stairway that angled deep into the ground before finding an end at a small landing. At this landing was a wide arched doorway and it was here that Stump paused. Carefully he placed with hand upon the door's thick timber and then knocked. There was no response. Again he knocked and then said something in a language I have not heard before. To my astonishment there was a reply, a voice both weak and frightened rose out of the silence, responding to the northerner's words. It was the voice of a child.
Immediately Stump went to work at the hinges of the door. The devastation above had moved the foundations of the door's wide arch and jammed it closed. With his knife Stump unscrewed the fittings that held the door secure to its hinges. With both removed he called for whoever was behind to step away from the door and then we both pushed with all our might. In a crash the door fell inwards, spewing gouts of dust and broken rock into the air. Amongst the roiling dust I held my breath as a small head appeared from the darkness, squinting at the brightness of my torch. This child was followed by another, and then a third. Within moments it was a steady flood of dark-haired children, all covered in dust and hoarse with thirst. In a whisper Stump told each that they were safe and to go to the top of the stair. I looked at the northerner and I could see in his eyes that he had expended more than just his physical strength to find these children. At that moment I decided that for the time being his secret would be my secret as well.
When all the children had found their way to the top of the stairs I spent time searching for stragglers and examining the contents of the basement. It had indeed been the storage area for a significant library. Long rows of books and scrolls lay upon dusty shelves, only jumbled bedding and discarded clothing belying the ordered nature of the catalogued documents. Only when I was satisfied that we had left no-one behind did I ascend back to the ruins above.
In the glare of the afternoon suns I found Stump organising his charges into family groups. Feth had been sent back to the beach-head to summon help and Harlen was off finding water. Against the tall northerner the Haarn children were diminutive. Most looked very young, all between the ages of three and nine years. Every one of the children had dried blood smeared about their ears and they stood in small groups, shivering in the cold winds that had begun to blow in from the east. Stump came to me and gave me the count. We had found one-hundred and seventeen children entombed below and most were deaf, although a few had recovered from whatever had damaged their ears. These were the only survivors of Corin'kraag and Stump had found them all.
The finding of so many Haarn children has presented a new set of priorities for the captains of our three vessels. The Fleet has not arrived and we find ourselves custodians to the only survivors we have found in this port-haven. When the news reached the beach that we had found survivors, it was only a short time before crew from all three ships arrived with blankets and food. Carefully all the Haarn were removed to the beach and then transported to the Allahard. It was the only ship with enough room spare to provide accommodation for so many. My friend Ahlek Norahm has taken charge of their care as they recover from the ordeal of their entombment. Myself and Stump spend most of our time aboard the Allahard as well, helping with the tending of their injuries and providing translation of their words. Aboard our flotilla there is only one man who can speak Druse, the language of the southern Haarn, and that is Stump. In the matter of the northerner's uncanny ability with language I believe Captain Rendell is completely correct.
From the children we have been able to ascertain what happened at Corin'kraag, at least up until the time that the children were taken into their deep shelter. Stump has been instrumental in collecting this information and I have spent some time with him putting together the pieces of the story that can be gathered from the older children. I must admit that their accounts raise far more questions than they answer.
For some weeks the people of Corin'kraag had known of the steady advance of the Enemy. Most of the Haarn forces had been destroyed in the early days of the encroachment of the shadow at their borders, and in desperation plans had been made by the town Elders to evacuate as many of the townspeople onto ships as they could. The purpose of the evacuation being to find sanctuary upon the open sea until the Enemy had gone and then, when it was safe, return to their homes. Little did any of the town's leaders realise the swiftness with which their foe would advance, or the devastation that would be visited upon them.
Corin'kraag was a trading port and a base for a fleet of fishing vessels that trawled the most southern reaches of the Grey Sea. The townsfolk did not have the same hesitation with making for deep waters as my people of the Free Nations harboured, and plans for this evacuation were well in place when the first creatures of the Enemy appeared out of the sky. Great flying beasts swooped upon the unsuspecting Haarn and spread fear through the town. Quickly all the children of Corin'kraag were herded into the basement of the town's library as their parents made preparation to defend the port and its ships from these aerial attackers. The last thing any of the children saw was the thick doors of the library's storerooms being shut. Within minutes of their hiding a great sound tore the air, sending up clouds of dust and piercing their ears with pain so agonising that it sent most into unconsciousness. From that time until they were uncovered they have known nothing but the dark and thirst. We have been unable to determine how long they were below ground but Captain Rendell believes it could have been as long as ten days. They are all lucky to be alive.
We have all taken the responsibility of caring for these children until the Fleet arrives, and as we go about our work the collection of supplies continues within the town. With the agreement of the other captains Rendell has sent out scouts into the surrounding lands looking for any other Haarn settlements that may lay close to Corin'kraag, and trying to determine how close the Enemy may be. So far there has been no sign of life anywhere. The devastation visited upon Corin'kraag has been repeated wherever the scouts have searched.
By the evening of this day we have filled all the ships with supplies. There is no more room available to stow anything and the decks are crammed with goods. All the ships sit low in the water and at this time we are moving cautiously beyond the reach of the port's seawalls so that we have a better view to the north. If the Fleet is to come it must be within the next few days, otherwise we will have no choice but to make our own decisions as to our future. We all go about our duties with eyes fixed firmly on the north, and busy ourselves with tasks that might speed the progress of the days. My time is currently divided between the care of the children aboard the Allahard and the injured crewmen that need tending on the Equinox. It will be good to see the Healer Faren again. Hopefully it will not be long.
This twenty-seventh day of our journey finds us becalmed upon the sea, anchored only a short distance from the sea-walls of Corin'kraag. Our holds are full and the survivors of the devastation of the town are being cared for. There is little that we can do except wait, hoping the masts of the Fleet will appear to our north and we can continue on with our voyage. On this day I have little to record. My patients are all doing well and only one small skiff has ventured back into the port. Aboard was Stump and three other crew, making for the library that had protected the children of the Haarn. The Captains have determined that these children should not be denied whatever part of their heritage that can be salvaged, and has sent the party ashore to bring every book and document that can be retrieved back to the flotilla. By mid-afternoon they had returned, the skiff loaded with books, another in tow loaded down with scrolls and parchments. It has occurred to me that most of the children are too young to have learned the skill of reading. Of all those aboard our ships it is possible that only Stump can read them. He does seem very pleased with himself.
Early this morning we saw the first sign of the Enemy. Upon the hills to the east of Corin'kraag a dark shape came to rest, great wings flourishing in the gloom as it settled. With the suns of dawn only glimmering a red wash against the eastern horizon it was difficult to discern what it was, however the crew did not wait to find out. Up until this time I was aware that the Dromannion was the only armed vessel in the Fleet. The flagship carries twelve large ballista devices, firing explosive bolts for distances of up to a kilometre. It has surprised me greatly to find that the Equinox is armed to the teeth as well. With the great beast somewhere ahead within the gloom Captain Rendell fired off orders of his own and the crew jumped to obey. From secret compartments in the quarterdeck came six crossbow-like devices, heavy enough that they needed to be carried by four men, each fixed into free swinging mounts at the ship's sides and stern. With all six weapons in place each was attended by a well-trained firing team that set the weapons, winched back their bows and then loaded explosive bolts that sat quietly, waiting for their short flight to destruction.
Captain Rendell did not wait for the creature to attack. As the weapons were put in place the remainder of the crew swung the Equinox out into deeper water. Both the Allahard and the Kalborea also swung westwards, and in the semi-dark of the dawn all three ships unloaded their secret weaponry upon the ruins of Corin'kraag.
The great flying creature was somewhere upon the hills at the eastern edge of the port and the bolts from the three ships landed squarely amidst the ruins. Through the gloom the bombardment continued, sputtering fuses on each of the bolts tracing long arcs of light from the ships to the shoreline. In a series of explosions the rubble erupted, blasts lighting the ground with plumes of fire and pulverised stone. As the bolts fell, the fire teams adjusted their aim, throwing their projectiles further into the ruin, marching the explosions in a line towards the far edge of the town. In a hail of fire the port lit up and out of the smoke rose the beast into the air, screaming its anger as it launched itself upwards. It was only then that the shapes of four more of the creatures rose from the ruins. For Captain Rendell that was enough.
Orders rang out once again and those ballistas that were able trained their bolts on the beasts, firing their explosive rounds into their number as our ships tacked out into the Grey Sea. In a flurry of detonations we turned our backs for the last time on the lands of the Haarn. We have outlived our welcome here, this world is no longer ours.
For most of this morning we have moved further out into deep water. We are all aware that by moving further westwards we may pass the Fleet and never rendezvous, but the Enemy is too close and the winged creatures are only precursors to something far more destructive. Thankfully we have seen no further sign of the Enemy, no pursuit or attack has followed our departure. If we have seen no sign by noon the Captain says we will drop anchor and consider what we should do next.
At midday the three ships of our small flotilla came to a halt, furling sail and dropping anchor. The wind is brisk but the sea remains calm and in this setting the captains have come together to discuss what we should do. There is no sign of the Fleet and no way that we can risk returning to Corin'kraag. Such circumstances have left us with little in the way of long term options. When the meeting was over word spread quickly through the Equinox that a decision had been made. For the moment we are to do nothing but remain at anchor and wait.
Two days have passed as we wait at anchor and there has been no sign of the Fleet. All three ships remain close, the sea a flat vista of motionless water enshrouded now in mist. We all wait, the Equinox silent in the water as all hands look out into the fog, ears straining for any sound that might indicate the approach of another vessel. Hope is starting to falter and I find myself thinking now on what we must do if we never find the Fleet. Questions fill every crewmember's thoughts. Where are we to go? How can we build new lives when our world in no more than these three small ships and the cold water beneath us? In the mists we sit without purpose and wait, our minds in ferment, our hopes fading.
Fighting has started to break out on the lower decks. Crewmen lay listlessly in their hammocks, feeling the languid swell of the sea and finding no reason to take to their duties. Frustration and anger are building in the eyes of many, I can see that they are afraid and need someone to blame for their predicament. Arguments have turned into conflict and four men have found their way to my surgery with bruising and concussions caused by brawls. All the hope of our stay in Corin'kraag, the finding of supplies and the rescue of the Haarn children has evaporated as we languish in this cold sea. It would be better if there was a breeze. At least then we would have the option of making sail.
This morning the winds returned, blowing the mists southwards and fanning our hopes of finding the Fleet. The Captain of the Kalborea, a man by the name of Artimus Lovar, has put forward an idea to increase our chances of meeting up with the Fleet, and today it is to be put into practice. Word of a plan, any plan, has been met with high spirits from the crews of our three ships. With the mists gone, all three ships are to spread out, staying at the farthest distance apart whilst still remaining visible. We are to sail now to the north-west and as we go fire off the flotilla's supply of explosive bolts, high into the air above us. It has been determined that one shot per ship every fifteen minutes will be sufficient. With luck the Fleet has spread out searching for their lost ships and these explosives flares will be seen. It is now our only hope.
At noon the barrage began and in accordance with the plan each ship has sent up a bolt. All bolts are being fired to the north and each explodes high above us with a deafening blast. I feel sure these detonations must be both seen and heard over a wide area. The Allahard sits two leagues to the north, the Kalborea a similar distance to the south, and the Equinox plies its way at their centre into a rising swell. I find the air here very cold. Although the winds blow from the north-east there is a chill in their bluster that cuts through my clothing and has begun to freeze water upon the decks and rigging. We have travelled a great distance south in our flight from the Enemy, and it is good now that we have begun to track northwards. I have no experience with ailments of the cold and it is my hope that we will find warmer waters soon.
Nightfall has brought no joy to our endeavour. The explosions continue and in the gathering dark the captains have changed strategy. Now we fire flares high into the air overhead, bright cascades of burning powder raining down on the sea as we try to attract attention to ourselves. It is a wondrous sight as the flares rise into the air before erupting into blasts of sparkling light. Such things I have not witnessed before and I have spent some time watching as they arch overhead. Harlen tells me that they have refined the bolts for this purpose, packing their explosive heads with phosphorous and metal shavings. He seems well pleased with the results. In the dark of a moonless evening the cascades of light seem ethereal, each of the ships silhouetted in small showers of fire as explosions erupt above them. Only Providence can know if it will be enough.
Providence has smiled kindly upon us for we have been found. At the first hour of morning masts appeared on the horizon to the north. Two small scout vessels, the Penumbra and the Allanteel saw our flares in the night and have made contact with the Allahard. In all my days I will not forget the relief that I now feel at our discovery. It is only time, and favourable winds, that keep us from the rest of the Fleet. From what I have been able to gather the Fleet has not had an easy time of it either, their troubles starting soon after our departure.
Whilst we were moving closer to the coast of the Haarn, the Fleet sailed farther into open waters. For two days they waited before beginning to track southwards, the intention of Captain Duschet to take the Dromannion, and the rest of the Fleet, to the pre-arranged rendezvous point to await our arrival. On that third night the Fleet was hit by a huge storm that scattered all of its vessels over a wide area. One ship was lost and over fifty souls could not be saved as it slowly sank. For four days the Dromannion scoured the sea, shepherding its lost flock and taking account of the losses sustained by many of their number. By the time the Fleet could once again move it was too late, the rendezvous had been missed, and they had been driven so far out to sea that it had taken nine days to make the port of Corin'kraag.
What they found at Corin'kraag left them without doubt as to the outcome of our mission to the Haarn, the sight of dozens of winged creatures enough to know that our three ships could not have remained there. Duschet was not going to leave us to an unknown fate however. Quickly he devised a plan to search to the north and west, and thankfully our flares were spotted. Now we need only follow the Penumbra and the Allanteel back to the main body of the Fleet and we will be reunited. I look forward to seeing the Dromannion once again.
Although there were times when I did not believe I would once again stand upon the deck of the Dromannion it has indeed come to pass. On this thirty-seventh day of our journey our reunion with the Fleet is now complete. At mid-morning we intersected the path of the flagship and to the sounds of much commotion were welcomed back. The return of our three ships has made the Fleet whole once more, and now we once again must look to where our future lies. Such decisions must wait for a short time however. The supplies and survivors taken from Corin'kraag need to be distributed through the Fleet, and for reasons that are not yet apparent I have been called to a meeting with Captain Duschet. The unloading of supplies and the proper accommodation of the Haarn children have priority and my meeting with the First Captain must wait until tomorrow. It is interesting to note that the Haarn do not call themselves by this name. To themselves they are known as NomDruse, which roughly translates as "people of the south". I was not aware of it but the Haarn Kingdoms were made up of many different nationalities and tribal groups. These children are the last remaining survivors of their people. I am very glad that we were able to find them.
There are many things that must now be done, and it would seem that life aboard the Dromannion has not stopped whilst I was away. The Healer Faren has a full workload before him and the injured men from the Equinox, plus a further four from the Allahard and Kalborea, have only added to that burden. After a few heartfelt greetings both myself and Ahlek Norahm have been put straight back to work. For the moment Stump remains aboard the Equinox. Although he has been my assistant on the Equinox I do not know yet if Captain Rendell wishes his crewman to continue his training under Faren aboard the Dromannion. This is something that should be determined prior to the Fleet getting under way.
In the evening of this day I find myself back upon the foredeck of the Dromannion, taking advantage of the only peace that can be found aboard a ship that becomes more crowded with every passing day. For the moment the Haarn are to be kept aboard so that Faren can properly investigate their state of health. The evacuees from the Kalborea have been returned to that ship. Their illness has proven to be nothing more than a short-lived affliction picked up by one of their number. There has been no recurrence of it amongst the remainder of the Fleet, and as all now seem fit they have been transported back to their own accommodations.
The sky has now fallen into night and a stiff breeze pulls at the furled sails as they rest at their yards. The morning should see a final decision made on our future, and the only thing that is certain is that the world we have known is gone. Reports I have heard from those ships that got close enough to Corin'kraag have told a story of dozens of winged beasts circling the town and of great commotion within its ruins. We must have stirred up a hornet's nest with our bombardment of the port, and in doing so brought the eye of the Enemy firmly upon our sojourn there. I am glad that we were able to strike at least one blow before we left our lands behind. It is something that we can no longer dwell upon however. For now there is only the future extending before us, the past has been swept away.
The Healer Faren came and awakened myself and the other assistants in the early hours of the morning. He had been approached by the Dromannion's Second Officer and wished all the Healers attend the meeting of the Fleet's officers. It is not to be a small affair. In the pre-dawn hours the quarterdeck of the flagship had been cleared and out of the veils of night skiffs from all the ships in the fleet have begun bringing their Officers to the Dromannion. The future of all our number is to be decided once and for all.
Mid-morning saw myself and my colleagues standing on the outside of a wide congregation of Officers from all the vessels of the Fleet. Captain Duschet stood at the centre of the quarterdeck and soon brought the meeting to order. To start the discussion he gave a quick accounting of the state of the Fleet, its number and a revised count of the souls aboard. Time was spent remembering the loss of those who had succumbed to the dangers of the sea before the meeting was opened to ideas about what must now be done.
Agreement was reached quickly that there now lay no haven upon the lands of Adoracia or the Haarn. The old world was no longer a safe place for men and with that fact fully understood the only question that remained was where we should now go. To answer this the three captains of the Equinox, Allahard and Kalborea stepped forward. With loud voice they described the migration of the birds to the west, and put forward the logical conclusion that they were flying to a haven somewhere beyond the western horizon. Even if, they argued, it was only a small island or group of islands, it might provide us with the sanctuary we need to rebuild our strength before finding more open and habitable lands.
With few options available the captains of the Fleet discussed the viability of such an expedition and then agreed that it was our only hope. In the warmth of the morning suns the decision was made. The remnants of the Free Nations would leave the lands of their ancestors behind and search out a new home in the west. If it was good enough for the birds then it would be good enough for us.
With the ending of the meeting work began immediately. The Fleet is to break into two groups, at the head will be arrayed a flotilla of smaller ships to act as scouts, spread out to cover as much of the sea ahead as possible. The larger ships such as the Dromannion will remain at their rear, following their lead as the smaller ships navigate the way ahead. The open sea is unknown to all and it seems prudent that we move carefully.
At midday I was summoned to the Captain's quarters. Although I was not surprised to see Captain Rendell waiting there, the Healer Faren was also in attendance, and this gave me cause to wonder as to why I was there. My first thought being that I was to be transferred permanently to the Equinox, but this was soon dispelled as the reason.
It was Rendell who put my mind at rest. In his usual abrupt manner he informed me that he had told everything to Captain Duschet of his concerns regarding his crewman Stump, and that I had been watching him over the course of our scouting mission to the Haarn. There were concerns that the northerner may be a threat to the safety of the Fleet, and the Captains wanted my opinion as to whether he was, and if that was the case, how he should be handled.
My experiences with the man at Corin'kraag would not allow me to be completely open about what I had seen. He had saved one crewman from certain death and found all the survivors that had been pulled from the ruins of the port. I had decided then that such acts of compassion had earned him my silence, and although it grieves me to say it, I was less than forthcoming about his powers and abilities. In the absence of the whole truth I told the captains that Stump was an educated man who was definitely hiding something in his past. He had however done nothing to harm the Equinox whilst on this voyage and had proven himself an able assistant to the care of the injured aboard that ship. Although I felt it bold at the time I also put forward the idea that he should be transferred to the Dromannion, and be trained properly under the eye of Faren. Whatever his indiscretions in the past he could prove another useful Assistant to the Healer.
As I write this I realise that I probably should have told all I knew of the northerner. There is a power in the man though that I believe needs to be left alone. Whatever the source of his abilities they may prove better discovered by others at the time they are needed most. I can see no malcontent in him. For the time being his secret will be mine.
By the early evening of this day the Fleet is ready to begin the next stage of our great expedition. Ten small ships including the Equinox, stand at the vanguard, spread upon the sea as far as the horizon extends to the west. Aboard the Dromannion and the other vessels of our number, we wait only for the flare that will start our journey into the west. In the cold bluster of a southerly wind the twin moons of Elanna and Shabel rise behind us. In their ascending glow the flare is shot into the darkening sky. We are on our way.
Five days have now passed since we turned into the west. And now that the way forward has been decided a new energy has infused the Fleet, our ships riding steadily into the unknown reaches of the Grey Sea. Life for the crew and evacuees of the Dromannion has settled into a routine, one of constant work that keeps all hands busy, and allows the souls aboard to focus on what is immediately important, rather than worry about what may lay ahead.
For my part I have been deep in study, the craft of Healing a vocation requiring both knowledge and skill. The Healer Faren is a storehouse of both, a deep well of information and wisdom that myself, and the other Assistants, must make constant referral too. My days are spent in tending the sick and injured, working alongside my fellow trainees as we try and make sense of the bewildering range of ailments and afflictions that seem to emerge amongst the passengers of this vessel. No day sees the same patients yet each day follows the same solid routine. The morning is spent in the Surgery, tending those who come for help, the afternoon spent searching out those who do not wish the attention. For the Healer Faren this is the most important task of the day. It is his contention that we must find everyone who is sick, whether they wish help or not, for it will take only one serious illness to put the entire Fleet at risk. Thus we spend much time below decks, surveying every room and hold, looking for those who harbour a harsh cough, or concealed rash. Anything that might connote infection is dealt with immediately, and as long as our medicines hold out so it will be.
There is time for other activities however. Every soul aboard has been given a job to do, a specific duty that it that person's alone. Whilst the crew may sail the ship and tend to its many needs, the evacuees have been given the task of looking after themselves. Cooking, cleaning, production of clothing, entertainment, hygiene duties and schooling have all been taken up eagerly, and within the narrow world that is this ship we have begun to operate very much like a small town, with village meetings, entertainment and disputes all part of the ongoing calendar of life. Very quickly we are recognising each other, our names and duties aboard. The bustle and activity of the ship provides a focus that does not allow us to think about what the future may bring. It is easy enough however, to glance out over the disquiet sea and be reminded that the dozens of ships that forge westwards with us are only small islands of humanity in a wider world that seems ambivalent to our progress.
Since turning westwards the weather has remained favourable. Out of the north-east blows a consistent stream of air, pushing our ships deep into the Grey Sea. Cloud banks have come and gone and we have been visited only with light rain and morning mists. With the wind at our back we forge ahead, the horizon a clear line dividing sea and sky, broken only by our scout vessels as they lead the way. It is easy as I sit upon the foredeck to believe that we are the only living things in this universe. I wonder how long it will be before we see land.
Today Stump joined the Healer's Assistants for the first time. The Captain has chosen another five persons to train with Faren, and the northerner has been included as a part of this new group. Since finding the Haarn children - who insist on being called NomDruse - Stump has been by their side, acting as interpreter and standing as Guardian to their needs and wellbeing. In this task he has been joined by more than a dozen helpers, both men and women, all having taken up the challenge of teaching the children the common tongue of Adoracia and ensuring their daily needs are met. So far the children have stood apart, unwilling to show any sign of interaction or interest in the activities aboard ship. It is my belief that only time will heal the unseen wounds that have marked them.
In a deliberate attempt to keep a close watch upon Stump he has been paired with myself in our training. Faren has not come to see me regarding this. I believe the act of placing him as my partner in our internship has spoken clearly enough. I cannot say that I have any misgivings, the man grows into more of a mystery the more I get to know him, but there is something about him that is both compelling and dangerous. He holds a great power within, yet appears to all as almost invisible, wielding a practised skill to be a part of a group and in that gathering go unnoticed. I swear there are times in the day when I have to remind myself that he is actually beside me as we work.
The afternoon of this day has seen me and a number of the Assistants providing a health check to the NomDruse children. They have been given quarters in the second deck below the foredeck, and an entire section has been made available to them. It has been discussed as to whether they might need to be transferred to one of the smaller and less crowded vessels, but that cannot be done just yet. Until the Fleet comes to a halt for some important purpose there can be no transfer between ships. For the moment we are taking full advantage of the favourable winds and shall stop for nothing. Until such time the NomDruse have a home within the Dromannion.
With the children tended, I have found the remainder of the afternoon available for leisure and have used it to spend some time with Stump. He is a difficult man to converse with, however on the subjects of our craft we have common ground, and for all his apparent knowledge there are many things that are new to him. The ailments and conditions that we have been confronted with provide ample opportunity for discussion but I have to record that even with this common interest I have found it impossible to uncover anything but the barest personal facts on the northerner. Perhaps if I did not feel so tired I might have better fortune.
The past week has been busy, the learning given by the Healer Faren exhaustive in its breadth and depth, however I can say that the vocation of Healer has proven a fascinating one. Within the Fleet there are few men as skilled as Faren, and from what I have been able to gather all the Healers have taken on Assistants in an attempt to provide proper care across the Fleet. Many ships have none at all, and it has been made clear to us that upon completion of our training that each of us will find a home somewhere in the Fleet where we are needed. It is a fact that we have all come to accept but I hope I will get the chance to remain here aboard the Dromannion. For me it has become home.
Although there is much that needs to be done aboard the Dromannion, and much that remains unknown about our future, I have found one thing that is concrete about the mysterious northerner. He harbours an unusual interest in the library take from Corin'kraag and in particular a set of three books from amongst their number. These he has taken to our quarters and can be found reading from them at every opportunity he has. I have asked him on what they contain but he has said only that they are written in a language known as Haer'al, and are part of a history that is important to him. For the moment I am content to leave it at that.
The morning has dawned to find the wind now blowing from the south, its bluster veering in the night and leaving the Fleet in the grip of an icy hand. Still we forge westwards, the horizon a clear vista of surging water and the spreading wakes of dozens of vessels. As in the early mornings of previous days I am up with my colleagues, handing out warm clothing and helping with the clearing of ice from the workings of the ship. The southerlys bite deeply, the winds a rising bluster that has begun to churn the waters about us, raising the swell of the waves and sending the Dromannion pitching and rolling in its endless heave. There is no sign of cloud though. The sky remains clear, the dawn of the suns breaking the east with flaring hues of orange and red. I cannot help but notice the looks of anticipation in the eyes of the crew. They feel as I do that something is on the brew, and that it lies beyond the horizon to the south.
This day passes as all others have. The wind increases as we move further west and the cold has taken hold of the ship, freezing water as it pools upon the decks, making even the shortest of journeys hazardous. We spend our time clearing the decking and tending to our normal duties, but there is something out of place in the cold that assaults us. It is known that huge icepacks lay far to the south but they stand at such a distance that they could not generate such chill. Somehow the wind has the feeling of icy claws drawing their way along the ship, grasping at it and smothering it slowly in a cold that paralyses anyone who ventures above deck.
At last light flags have been raised to signal the rest of the Fleet. Captain Duschet has decided to turn to the north-west and put distance between ourselves and whatever is generating the cold bluster. By dusk the entire Fleet had changed course. Hopefully we can outrun these unknown forces and tear ourselves away from this all-embracing chill.
Today I was awakened early to the sounds of commotion outside our rooms. Stump and Ahlek Norahm were first to the door, myself and the others of our quarters following behind as we became a part of a steady stream of men and women making for the upper deck. Something was happening above and was of sufficient interest that the decks below were emptying quickly. Within the throng I moved carefully, making the stairs to the upper deck before finding myself pushed into a pack of pointing arms and upturned heads.
In the morning light I could not at first see what it was that my compatriots were looking at. The sky above was a deep blue, only the wisps of high cloud tinged with orange marring its pristine field. The wind was steady but not the powerful bluster of the last days. It was still cold and in the spreading light it took me a moment to see what the commotion was all about. Against the dark shadows of the ship I was amazed to find that the rigging was on fire.
There was something wrong though. Quickly I looked left and right searching for any sign of the crew. All were standing fast, watching the display, making no attempt to douse the flames or cut down the burning ratlines. It was only then that I looked closer and could see that the rigging, and indeed the sails themselves, were not burning. Above me danced a conflagration of blue-white flame, that jumped between the ratlines and run up the stays to the yards, before dissipating into the air above. It was like flame but not; too fast to be burning, yet as volatile and energetic as any fire I had ever seen. The air was charged with a powerful energy and I could smell with each breath that same smell one might find with the approach of a thunderstorm. I have never seen anything like it.
For a few minutes longer the strange display danced amongst the rigging above us before fading into the morning brightness. I was entranced by it, the sheer power and speed of its flickering energy coursing up the rigging lines before expanding out into the air above the masts. Of all the people watching though only one was smiling. For us all it was an awesome spectacle that had us staring into the air, trying to fathom the nature of what we were seeing. For Stump though it was as if he was welcoming an old friend, and he seemed unaware as to how different his response was from the rest of us. He knew something about the strange phenomena and I was determined to find out what that was.
While the crowd remained thick upon the deck I pushed my way to Stump's side and asked him directly what the flickering lights were. To my surprise he told me without hesitation. To the peoples of the North they were known as the Fires of Ayari, a potent symbol of the power of the wind gods to change the destiny of men. For his people such displays were always a good omen, a sign that something positive was about to impact on lives overwhelmed by desperation and hardship. He said that we were about to have good fortune visited upon us all. I can only say that I hope he is right.
The display of the Fires of Ayari have been the talk of the ship for the remainder of the day. And in those discussions I have heard a witches brew of superstition and fact melding together to confuse and misinform, until no one was sure what they might have seen, or give good reason for its appearance. I kept what the northerner had said to me close though. If indeed we are to be visited with good fortune it will be appreciated all the more if it is not expected.
Life aboard ship continues to a rythm that we are all settling to. The work of the Healers is proving diverse and interesting, and amongst the peoples of the Dromannion even the Assistants are being met with respect and deference. It is a curious thing. I have been a Potter most of my adult life, respected for the goods that I have worked with my hands, and in that profession have held a social status of trust because of my membership of the Faeyen Guilds. People now treat me far differently. Although I never thought about it before, I can see now that healing is a personal thing. The trust my patients place in myself and the other Assistants brings with it a respect that knits you closely to them. Their pain becomes yours to ease, and the more I tend to their needs the greater the satisfaction that I gain from my endeavours. If this voyage lasts long enough I am sure I shall become a Healer in my own right. And if this is so I am not so certain now that I would return to my old craft. For myself I cannot help but wonder if it is the subtle hand of fate that is now shaping our individual destinies. I can be sure however, that the future holds such secrets close, and they are secured behind veils that only the passage of time can uncover.
Last night a vision came to me in my dreams. From somewhere deep within my slumber I found myself alone aboard the Dromannion and witness to events which haunt me even as I write these words. I sit quietly now upon the foredeck, watching the suns set on another day and I am wondering what might lie in wait for me in the night hours to come. The vision is a message, of this I am sure, but it gives me no solace or surety for I cannot fathom the meaning of it. All I can say is that it has left me wondering if our journey westwards will prove to be our salvation, or our undoing.
I went to my quarters at a late hour. I had spent time talking with the Healer Faren, discussing a peculiar case I had unearthed amongst the NomDruse. One of the boys has an unusual rash spreading across his arms and legs and was bleeding from the gums. Although it sounds serious, the nature of the rash was only mild, the bleeding only noticeable when he would wipe his mouth with his forearm. It was something however that needed to be reported to the Healer and I brought him to the children's quarters for the purpose of an examination. Stump came with us, he is still the only person aboard who speaks the children's native language, and time was spent finding out all that could he unearthed about the boy's history and symptoms. His name is Meriarrum and in the gloom of the quarters we were able to discover enough for the Healer to ascertain the boy's problem. It was a blood disease, only yet in its early stages, but something that would require treatment. It was not infectious, however it would take time to overcome.
I spoke with Faren for some time before returning with Stump to our rooms. He seemed deep in thought and talked only infrequently as we walked the crowded galleyways to our quarters. He would give no comment on the nature of the boy's illness except to say that many afflictions looked similar, and that perhaps Meriarrum would surprise us all. I left the northerner to his books and opened my hammock. It was then that sleep overtook me.
In the quiet of my dreams I found myself alone, a solitary soul on an empty Dromannion sliding silently through a sea as flat as a tabletop. Above the two moons shone brightly, a harsh light from on high that etched the ship with hard shadows, throwing latticeworks of light and shade across the decks ahead of me. There was no wind but the ship ploughed forward, on a set course that could not be altered. As is the strangeness of dreams it did not occur to me that my situation was unusual. I was not the master of my own destiny, so why should I not be a captive passenger on a ship that would go where it wished. In this dream I was a spectator and somehow I understood that. I stood my ground and waited.
Out of the gloom ahead came a spire of stone that rose from the languid waters and speared up into the sky above. It was an immovable tower of granite that was soon followed by another and then a third; vast pillars of rock that gave only enough width between them to allow a bare passage of the ship. And yet through this forest of spires the Dromannion slipped easily, taking a straight line that led the vessel into a wide ring of towering stones. Here the ship came to a stop. All about the spires stood mute, but that was not the end of the dream.
From high above came a shriek, a sound that sent chills of terror down my spine. I looked up and saw the heights of each spire surmounted by one of the flying reptiles that had hastened us from Corin'kraag, and behind each lay a dark malevolence that looked down at the Dromannion with a hatred that I could feel burning into my skin. Only on one of spires did no creature reside. Instead upon its cragged summit stood a man cloaked in the deepest blue, and from his form crackled an arcing tangle of energy that kept the reptiles at bay and forced the brooding evil to hold its violence in check. But only for a moment. Out of the sky came great blasts of lightning, crashing into the pillars, smashing them as energy exploded against their sides, sending them falling into the tranquil waters. When I looked up the way ahead had been cleared and the Dromannion once again started forward, but this time there was no easy passage.
From out of the darkness rose a violent gale that churned the sea, great waves thrashing against the remaining spires as the ship tried to make the only way out. It did not succeed. In a cacophony of smashing timbers the ship drove headlong into one of the broken spires, splintering its bow in a violent upheaval, dropping masts and rigging as the relentless force of the waves pounded the mighty ship into the spire's immovable flank. With a rending cry the ship succumbed and began to sink. It was then that I awoke to the sounds of the ship at night, relieved in my realisation that it had been a dream and not a disaster. Above the snoring and the creaking of the Dromannion's timbers I could hear only the turning of parchment as Stump read his books. I did not sleep again that night.
The dream has haunted me for the past three days, but I cannot let it gain an importance it may not deserve. There is much to be done and our duties do not get any lighter. The provision of fresh water is now becoming a problem, one that only rain can solve, and we have been without a good downpour for more than a week. We have all been placed on reduced rations until suitable rain refills the water stores.
It is on this day that I can report an interesting turn of events regarding the routine of our ship. All of us have our duties, but the constant work of the day does not forestall the eruption of quarrelling amongst our number. Such disturbances have become commonplace and although they have not yet affected the running of the ship, it is only a matter of time before a serious dispute will polarise the evacuees and cause great discord amongst us. To ensure that trivial disputes do not grow into events that can cause disharmony the Captain has ordered the establishment of the position of Administrator. Such a position is to be held by the ship's Second Officer and all matters pertaining to rations, quartering and personal affront are to be directed to him. On all questions of arbitration he will have the last word, and with the full authority of the Captain can dispense whatever remedy is required to settle disputes. I believe it is a good idea. Whether it works will be something only the future can unveil.
As of yet we have seen no rain, the skies remain clear, only wisps of cloud break what is a perfect vault of blue above us. The WaterMaster has reported to the Captain that we have less than a week's supply at our current usage but there is little we can do. Rations are as low as it is safe to take them and unless rain comes we will find ourselves in dire need. We all look to the horizon, hoping to see the beginnings of weather but as of yet there has been nothing.
The prospect of running out of water has not reduced the duties that we must perform however. Our routine runs as always and I find little time available for relaxation. Hygiene below decks is becoming an issue. With large numbers of people living in close quarters it is becoming more difficult to maintain clean conditions, and we are starting to see the emergence of many minor complaints associated with the cramped accommodations. For the moment we seem able to tend to these problems but Faren has warned us that it will take only one serious illness and we may not be able to control what will follow.
It was in the mid-afternoon that I was witness to the highlight of our day. About us the Fleet is ranged in a wide pattern and although there are many ships in our number we manage to keep distance between us for safety. At the second bell past noon a call went up from the watch above and I was lucky enough to be on deck when it came. Off the starboard bow rose a behemoth of the deep, not unlike that which I saw aboard the Equinox but far greater in size. Its ridged back appeared out of the waters between the Dromannion and the Avernell, a huge triangular shaped fin clearing the water and lifting up into the air. I have no doubt that the fin alone was twice the height of the Dromannion's mainmast, and as it slid over on its side it sank back into the impenetrable waters, then resurfaced again before diving back into the depths. For those who had not seen such a creature before the sight of its immense form gave pause to think, and to consider the nature of the beasts that must live beneath us. This behemoth was larger than that which I had previously experienced and it does make me wonder if these creatures will get bigger the further we travel into the west. I do not see them as dangerous, but something that lives on such a vast scale can have no real regard for flotsam as fragile as our own ships. We could be crushed and the behemoth might not even notice.
There is an old saying amongst the Tendu peoples of eastern Adoracia that a man should be careful of what he wishes for. For the peoples of our Fleet we have certainly got more than we asked. In the early hours of this morning a stormfront moved in from the south, and we have been visited with a day of rain and high winds that have dispersed our ships, and left us fighting to keep the Dromannion in good order. Unlike previous storms this tempest does not have the uncontrolled fury of its predecessors. We are confronted however, with changing winds and a continuous rain that has found its way through the entire ship as a floating mist.
On the decks above the crew struggles with the conditions, the winds turning in all directions, tearing down rigging and throwing furled sails onto the decks below. The Captain has been forced to turn the Dromannion into the winds and it is a constant battle to keep the ship stable in a churning sea. Above all we can feel the cold that has come with this bluster. All hatches have been covered and only the crew remains above. Below decks we must be content with listening to the howl of the winds and placing our trust in the skill of the Captain and his crew.
In the midst of this storm I have found that nothing can safely be done. Our duties lay uncompleted, and we spend our time instead huddled in our quarters, listening to the gales and talking amongst ourselves. The cold creeps in to our small room like a thief in the dark and we have all resorted to throwing on extra clothes to keep warm. Only one task must be completed and it has fallen to Stump to do it. It must be ensured that the children are warm and the northerner has left to ensure this. The rest of us cannot help as we must wait in case a call comes from above for help. The storm rages on and the only person I can think of who might be happy about it will be the WaterMaster. I believe our stores will be replenished quickly.
The storm continues but the winds have retreated, a deluging rain all that remains of the weatherfront. For all of this day we have had rain and only the crew have been allowed on to the upper decks. I continue my work as usual but being below decks without sight of sun or sky is proving very disheartening. The cold has abated and everything is damp, the rain finding its way to all decks of the vessel. Providence has given us what we have asked for in an abundance that has drenched us to the bone. There seems to be no end to the downpour and in its all-embracing shroud we can see nothing of the other ships. We can only hope that none have come to harm.
Finally the rain has ended and we have arisen from below decks to find the Fleet dispersed far to the north and south of our position. Flares have been fired, calling all of the ships together and this morning has been spent taking account of the Fleet. As far as can be seen we have suffered no losses, and in the calm that has followed the rain all the vessels of our number have closed into tight formation. Message flags have been used to speak amongst us and some of the news has proven worrying. Illness has broken out on three ships, the cause and remedy unknown. Luckily each of the vessels has a Healer of their own and for the moment they have cautioned the transfer of any additional help until it can be ascertained as to what the affliction might be. For the moment the Healers have decided to keep the ships quarantined as we return to our voyage. Water stocks however, have been fully replenished. At least on this point we will have no need to worry for at least the next fourteen days.
At first light this morning warning flares burst high in the air above our scout ships. From the Equinox and the Usul long trails of red flame rose high into the morning air before extinguishing against the morning winds. I was above decks at the time. I have found it a good time to relax before the duties of the day, and with the early watch I saw the flares for myself as they arched away to the north. Captain Duschet was called immediately and the full armament of the Dromannion was brought to readiness. In such things I can play no part. The bolt-crews are well-practiced and in a flurry of activity they organised themselves along the port and starboard sides of the decks. In the commotion I went unnoticed and decided to watch everything from the vantage of the quarterdeck balusters.
Whilst the rest of the Fleet waited the Dromannion advanced on the position held by the Equinox. I knew the scout-ship to be fully armed and wondered as we approached as to the nature of the warning. There was no sign of violence or danger, but all the scouts had come together in a tight formation awaiting the arrival of the flagship. It was only as we rode the last kilometre to their position that I saw the first indication of their distress. With my eyes fixed firmly on the ships ahead I did not notice much else until I heard an impact against the hull of the Dromannion. Glancing down I found myself looking into a tide of debris, consisting of pieces of wood, personal possessions and maritime equipment. In the midst of it I also spied a body.
At that same moment the watch cried out from the crowsnest and the Captain and his officers went to the port side of the ship. There I could see their faces change and as I looked down into the waters I began to see more and more detritus flowing past the ship. Bodies and the splintered remains of many vessels lay bobbing in the waves, being dragged by the current to some unknown destination. Duschet called out commands and soon a number of the crew were at work, fishing what they could from the water as the Dromannion ploughed towards the scout ships. Their efforts were rewarded with a gruesome haul, for amongst the detritus were three bodies, and all looked like they had been in the water for at least a few days.
The Captain called for the Healer Faren and right then my detachment from these proceedings ended. With the help of the Healer and a few of my colleagues we arranged the bodies for examination, and on the mid-deck began a detailed search for their cause of death. Faren was able to determined quickly that they had all died of drowning, only one showing sign of an injury. With this information at hand the Dromannion forged ahead, making for the Equinox with all speed. It was only then that I began to see something else, just beyond the line of our ships. And as the light grew brighter it became far clearer. It was a thicket of masts and torn sail, reaching into the air like broken fingers of wood. Ahead of us were the remains of ships, and they were not ours.
Quickly we made the position of the Equinox and pulled alongside. Against the bulk of the Dromannion the Equinox was small by comparison, but what lay ahead of both ships was beyond their capacity to handle alone. In the water lay the sinking remains of at least thirty ships, and across a wide area floated hundreds of survivors, hanging on to whatever debris gave them salvation from the grip of the waves. In amongst the tangle rowed the skiffs of the Equinox and the other scouts, hauling men, women and children to safety. Since first light they had been at it and already the deck of the Equinox was covered with the limp bodies of many exhausted souls.
Within that first minute a flare was shot high, calling the Fleet forward and Faren apportioned out the duties for his Assistants. I went with Stump and the Healer onto the deck of the Equinox and we began to determine who needed help most. Everybody who had been pulled from the water was chilled to the bone and many of the children needed immediate attention. It was to be the beginning of a very long day.
Whilst we tended those aboard the Equinox the rest of the Fleet gathered at the edges of the debris. Quickly lifeboats were dropped from their davits and soon the sea was alive with rescuers, searching the debris field and pulling all who still had breath from the cold embrace of the sea. In those few hours more than six hundred people were hauled out of the water, and for the remainder of the day the remnants of their vessels were searched for belongings and goods that might be useful to the progress of the Fleet. None of the ships that had brought these people to this point lasted the afternoon. All succumbed to the damage that had been wrought upon them, and to the last they sank into the depths. With great pride I can say that all who could be saved were saved. No-one was left behind. We are left now with questions that must be answered, and uppermost in all our minds is who are these people, and how did they get here?
Such questions must wait however. Those that we have saved are spread amongst all the ships of the Fleet and for the moment we can only tend to their distress. There is much about them though that is different. All wear the same grey-coloured clothing, and although it is of a style I have not seen before it appears to be some type of uniform. Curiously even the children wear the same drab coverings and I am sure that they do not originate in Adoracia. Although they seem to be a powerfully built people they are shorter than most men I have known. At their tallest they must stand only shoulder high but this is something that I am not sure about. None have had the energy to do anything except rest in the arms of their saviours. There will be time enough to find out everything about our new brethren later.
After such a tumultuous event I now take the time to rest and complete my journal for this day. The newcomers are a most unusual addition to our number but there has been no suggestion that they will do anything except come with us on our journey. There is truly nowhere that they can now go, and it has been remarked that it can be no coincidence that we have met them heading in the same direction as our own Fleet. For my own part I feel something in these people that I have seen in the northerner. It may just be the strength that is evident in them all but there are secrets here as well, secrets that I feel will be of benefit to everyone. It is just a feeling but it is one I cannot shake. Only time will tell.
It is with a great sense of satisfaction that I recount the events of this past day. The recovery of the newcomers from the chill of the Grey Sea has changed the focus of all our activities for the foreseeable future. All are unwell but there are a few of their number who have begun to recount who they are, and how they were found in such distress. It is probably not surprising that Stump has provided most of the information that we now have on the newcomers. He has communicated freely with them, and in the course of these conversations has confirmed that these people have come from the Haarn. This is not surprising, there was much about the ships and debris that indicated they had originated from the Haarn Kingdoms but who they are has come as a surprise. Our new brethren are known to the Haarn as "Kraagers" or in a loose translation as stone slaves, people of the southern lands enslaved generations ago to mine and quarry the harsh regions of the south. It seems that they have quite a story to tell, and it is one that has given us all hope.
For generations the Kraagers had toiled under the subjugation of the Haarn, providing the fine stone used in the buildings and other works that we had seen so thoroughly destroyed by the Enemy. Such was the power of their masters that none could throw off the shackles of their servitude until the coming of our mutual foe. With the news that a great force was advancing upon them their guards left the Kraagers to their own fate and fled towards Corin'kraag. In the confusion that followed the slaves collected their families and made for the coast, their goal to take ships and escape into the Grey Sea. They knew that they would find no help from their Haarn masters so they made for a small fishing village south of Corin'kraag called Illeath. Here they found fishing trawls and other vessels that could be used to transport their number into the safety of the sea. All the townsfolk of Illeath had fled to the perceived safety of Corin'kraag and with a small fleet at anchor the Kraagers took the ships for their own. Unlike the Haarn, and for that matter ourselves, the Kraagers knew the nature of the Enemy. It had been foretold to them in a vision and they had acted on the belief that the Enemy was insurmountable, the only way to survive was to escape. The Grey Sea would be their refuge as well.
Although not skilled men of the sea they knew enough to raise anchor and head directly west. From what I have been able to tell they left Illeath only days before we first arrived in Corin'kraag and have been at sea since. Without proper provisions or supplies they have struggled westwards and had turned to the northwest only in the past few days. It was in the early hours of the day before our finding of their wrecked ships that they met the full force of a power they could not defend against.
Before daybreak a Behemoth rose out of the sea beneath their small ships and rolled slowly in the waves, much as we have seen in the midst of our own vessels. For the Kraagers however, this benign action began a series of events that led to the destruction of their fleet. As they watched a huge fin came down upon three of their number and in doing so the beast impaled itself upon one of the masts. In a fit of pain and anger the creature threw up its huge body and crashed down within the centre of the fleet in an attempt to dislodge the offending splinter. In seconds a dozen of the vessels were swamped in a huge wave of displaced water. The creature sank into the depths as the remaining Kraagers raced to the aid of their brethren. The Behemoth was not finished though. Enraged, it thrust its way upwards once again, breaching in the centre of the converging fleet, lifting its entire body out of the water. In one final assault it crashed back into the sea, and with its fall threw up a wall of water that swamped or overturned every remaining craft. Many died in those few minutes but many found refuge on wreckage and debris. For a day and a night the Kraagers remained in the water, waiting for the return of the huge creature. It did not come. Instead the masts of the Equinox presented themselves and rather than death they found salvation. To now that has been their story.
It is a tale that I record here but it leaves open further questions that cannot be answered until they have recovered sufficiently. Stump has found one of their number who he has singled out for special attention. Why he has is unknown to me, but I believe all will become clear enough in time. For the moment we must spend our efforts giving them all the care they need. This means also for the moment that I will be remaining aboard the Equinox. I do know one thing though. These Kraagers may have been slaves of the Haarn but here upon the high seas they have no such status. Aboard these ships we are all free men and so it shall be for these souls as well.
With the rescue of the Kraager survivors the number of souls aboard the Fleet has increased considerably. At this time the newcomers are spread widely amongst the different vessels that took part in the rescue but the largest number are to be found aboard the Equinox. I have stayed aboard with Faren and a few others of our craft to help with the tending of the injured and it has proven a difficult task. The newcomers do not seem disposed to making known what injuries they might have sustained in the attack against their fleet, and almost two days after we are still finding people with broken bones and deeper injuries that are only coming to light with the appearance of bruising and inflammation. The fact that almost none of the newcomers speak any of the common tongues of Adoracia has not helped. As has been required previously we have turned to Stump for translation of our questions and his skills have proven just as effective as before. The northerner's capacity as a polyglot seems to know few boundaries and Captain Rendell has kept him close as the remainder of the Fleet reorganises for the return to our journey.
There is one man amongst the newcomers who is of particular interest. Introduced as Paderian Hedj, he is the accepted leader of the newcomers. As Stump describes him he is a Maturi, or Elder of his people, and although he looks no more than middle-aged he shows all the signs of a man used to leadership. It has surprised us to find that the Maturi Hedj also has a great knowledge of language, and although I did not realise it at first, it was this man of all the other newcomers that Stump had seemed most interested in. The Maturi has spent much time aboard the Dromannion talking with Captain Duschet and the other officers of the Fleet. There are rumours moving through the Equinox that the newcomers have brought with them knowledge of the west. If this is true then we may all benefit from their rescue.
Whether the rumours prove true or not cannot detract from the curious nature of the newcomers. They have demonstrated remarkable recuperative powers, and even though it has been less than two days since their rescue most are strong enough to stand and take food on their own. Broken bones and deeper injuries will take time, but they have an indomitable spirit that has seen many of them up and about, helping with their less fortunate comrades.
I do not understand their language, even for the Haarn Kingdoms it sounds alien and guttural but the people themselves, men, women and children all exhibit great optimism for their circumstances and it has proven heartening to all of us who may have doubts about where we are going. It is in my thoughts that if they truly do have knowledge of the west then we may indeed find a new home, one far enough from the Enemy to be safe.
It has been another busy day and none of us can say what the morrow might bring. In the dark of this evening I can feel the breath of a growing wind rising in the east, rocking the Dromannion at its anchor as the ship rises and falls in the sea's languid ebb. I have heard at the evening meal that we are again to continue our journey westwards with the coming morning. As I look out over a still sea I can only speculate on where our destiny may lie. After the events of the past days there is the possibility that other vessels may well be found out here. Could there be the ships of other Fleets that escaped the Enemy ahead of us? Or are we now alone? Only time will tell.
With the coming of first light myself , Stump and Faren have returned to the decks of the Dromannion. Two of our number remain aboard the Equinox to help with the tending of those Kraagers that are too ill to move, but the rest of us have been ordered back to the flagship. News travels fast aboard ship and even though we are separated by the wash of the sea the news we have just heard has spread quickly through the Fleet. The Maturi of the Kraagers has given our Captain a new direction to travel. Now we are to sail north, making for a group of islands Paderian Hedj calls the Laerion. There we will find food and fresh water springs enough to re-provision before heading west once again. It has been proven true that the newcomers do indeed have knowledge of the west and they tell of a great land that spreads to the edge of the world. It is a great distance to travel however, and finding the islands of Laerion is necessary before making for the deep ocean. Without such a landfall we will not have the supplies needed to reach the new world that awaits us.
The morning has been spent organising accommodation for the Kraagers evenly throughout the Fleet. The Maturi and few of his attendants have remained aboard the Dromannion but most of the rest of his people have found berths elsewhere. They have been eagerly accepted aboard their new homes and by midday the Fleet was ready to weigh anchor and continue. As before the scout ships have taken the lead but this time it is not to feel our way forward in unfamiliar territory. Each now has one of the Kraagers aboard, with knowledge of what lies ahead and a definite plan as to where we are headed.
With the Fleet once again under sail I find myself busy with the duties of my craft. Most of my time is spent below decks and most of the duties I perform are now done unsupervised. The Healer Faren has enough confidence in all of his Assistants to leave us mostly to ourselves. It is clear what we must do and with the ship crowded with evacuees there is little time available for anything other than the prosecution of our duties. There are still those moments when we can relax but they are proving less and less frequent.
In the evening of this day I was called to the Healer Faren's rooms. There had been a development with the NomDruse boy named Meriarrum and my first thoughts were that his condition had worsened. In the cramped quarters I found the Healer and the young boy himself, sitting in a chair and looking as if he was in some type of trouble. I greeted the Healer and he motioned for me to examine the child. To my amazement I found his skin condition had completely healed. There was no sign of scaring or of any of the other signs that would be associated with a blood disease. His mouth was healed and his lungs clear.
The Healer Faren told me that his remarkable recovery had occurred some time ago, having gone unnoticed in the general commotion of the finding of the Kraagers. Faren had no answer as to what might have instigated such a recovery. In his experience such afflictions took weeks to overcome and always resulted in scaring of the skin. The boy seemed to be in perfect health.
Once Meriarrum had been looked at Faren sent him back to his quarters. As soon as it was apparent that we would not be overheard the obvious questions were raised. Was Stump ever alone with the children? If he was, how could he have effected such a remarkable recovery? Faren was honest about the nature of the boy's disease. Without treatment he could have died, but that treatment had hardly started before the boy had been presented to Faren fully healed.
In answer to the Healer's questions I could only say that there was just the one time that the northerner would have been alone with the children, and that was during the last storm to hit the Fleet. Given the circumstances he could have done anything in the privacy of the children's quarters without any notice being given to it. I could not say what he did, I have not witnessed the exercise of that power myself, but I could not deny that there was a chance he was responsible.
Faren sat back into his chair and placed his hands together. In his eyes I could see he was deciding something, and he took only a moment to do it. Carefully he raised himself and stepped over to a small porthole that gave the room its only natural light. He looked out at the heaving ocean as he spoke, and what he had to say proved surprising to say the least.
Faren knew who Stump was. From the moment that Captain Rendell had described the attack on his ship to Duschet he had known the northerner's identity. The name Shalengael was familiar to him. Like myself he had said nothing at the time. He also could see the benefit in not exposing him, the power that he possessed far more valuable if left undisturbed. The man we knew as Stump was indeed known to his people as Shalengael, and it was a name rooted in the deepest history of Adoracia.
As the Dromannion pitched with the rise and fall of the sea Faren spoke softly as he explained what he knew of the northerner's past. The man Stump was no ordinary sailor. This was plainly evident by the miraculous powers that he could harness, and the knowledge of the world he possessed, but there was much more. The look on Faren's face left me in no doubt that he was serious, and the tale he told went far beyond anything I could have expected.
Long before the time of reason within which we now live, the peoples of Adoracia supplicated themselves to many gods. For most believers the gods were distant beings who affected the lives of mortal men from afar, influencing their lives through the subtle manipulation of circumstance. A few men believed differently. For them the fate of our existence could be affected directly through the manipulation of a power they called the Hev'duil, and it was available only to those who had come into personal contact with it. It was their belief that the wind held such power, and that there were certain places in the world where such power had a physical presence. Those who had an affinity with the wind could take the Hev'duil and give it form and direction. Such men were known to others as the Gaels.
In their time they were men of power, with an unlimited ability to change and manifest their will upon the world. To wield such power however, came with its own lethal difficulties. They were both feared and despised even though there was no evidence they did anything but good in the world. Those that feared them shunned them and forced them into the wilds of the north. Those that despised them coveted their power and planned for their destruction. One by one they were hunted down and murdered. Even with the power of the Hev'duil at their command they were not immune to treachery and deceit. With the passing of the last of their number the knowledge of their lore was lost. In time the world forgot them and the nature of their power diminished into legend. Till this time those that still remembered the Gaels thought them all dead. The Healer now had to entertain the possibility that one may have survived.
Faren moved back to his chair and pulled an old book from an uneven stack of documents that had been crammed onto his work-table. Within its cracked and broken contents the Healer searched for a particular page and pointed at a name scratched faintly into the parchment. There was no doubt it said "Shalengael" and it named him as one of the Gaels, a Master of the Lore of the Hev'duil.
With such information before me I could see no reason to keep what I knew secret any longer. I told Faren of my own suspicions and what I had seen within the ruins of Corin'kraag. I said also that like himself I had no wish to expose the man. Everything he had done to this time had only been in the best interests of the Fleet, and there was at least one man who would not be alive but for his intervention. The Healer took in everything I said and then offered the terms of a pact to be wrought between us. For the moment we will say nothing. There could be no other explanation except that Stump was indeed Shalengael, and with someone of such power aboard it would be better that he believed his secret secure. I left Faren to his thoughts and returned to my quarters. There was only one nagging doubt that haunted me as I made my way to my hammock. If the northerner was indeed Shalengael then he would have to be more than six hundred years old. It was a long time to be in hiding.
On this sixty-fourth day of our journey the Fleet tracks north of north-west towards the islands of Laerion. The weather is clear, the sky a mottled veil of high cloud and scattered cumulus. We have been lucky since turning to the north, the winds have remained at our back, pushing us towards our chosen destination. Aboard the Dromannion I find a sense of hope growing amongst us. Somewhere out there is a new home, and it now seems possible that we may just reach it.
The Kraagers have begun to join the rest of the ship's company and are already proving of great value to our endeavours. Even though they stand just shoulder high to most men, they are immensely strong and have taken to the duties of the ship with great energy. After the labours of our journey we find now the focus of our endeavours changing. The Kraagers for the moment are the centre of our thoughts, and that change has brought with it the need for us to teach them our languages and try and break them free from the sense that they are still slaves. To this end the Maturi Hedj has proposed a change to the way we address the newcomers. From this day forward we are no longer to refer to them as Kraagers. In keeping with an old Adoracian custom we have given a new name to their number. From today they are to be addressed as Kaderas'dwarvendim, which translates roughly as "people of the small ships." Already this has been shortened to dwarvendim and the newcomers have eagerly accepted the change. Their drab uniforms have been replaced with new clothes from the holds and now they stand with us as equals. It seems only fair that after giving us such hope that we should repay them in this small way.
This day has begun with the Fleet pounding its way through high seas and dark skies. Rain has plagued us for the last two days and the winds have turned to the north-east, slowing the Fleet and scattering us wide upon the surging waters. Still we crawl northwards, our goal the islands of Laerion. For the dwarvendim there is no doubt that these islands exist, but I can record here that not all aboard are convinced. We have been sailing north now for four days and as of yet there has been no sign of land. When asked of this the Maturi Hedj has responded that the Grey Sea is far wider than most would expect and that the distances to be travelled are great. It is the wide spread of the ocean that makes the landfall of Laerion so important. Without the replenishment that can be gained there none of the Fleet will make the distance that remains of our journey to the New World.
Whilst there are some who doubt the words of the dwarvendim, and I believe that is mainly a product of not knowing how they have come to possess such knowledge, it is apparent that the great majority of us aboard the Dromannion have taken great heart in their certainty. We have been at sea for many days and it has been weeks since we left the sight of land, but the idea of landfall ahead has lightened us all.
Although we wait for the call that signals that land has been sighted I find my own thoughts filled with the words of Faren, and a recurrence of the disastrous dream that has now given me more than one sleepless night. The spires of stone have become all too familiar and I am convinced that they are a portent of dangers to come. Compounding this has been the words of the Healer Faren regarding Stump. I believe now that only myself and Faren are aware of his true nature. It has proven a boon having him as an Assistant to the Healer. Many of our patients have recovered far quicker than they might otherwise have, and I have my suspicions that he is practising a subtle use of his powers in their healing.
Only one point of interest needs to be recorded for this day. One of the huge sea creatures has been spotted to the south of the Fleet. Although I cannot be sure, it has been reported that the behemoth moves parallel to our course, and for the moment seems to be following us.
Storms and a cauldron sea confront the Dromannion at the break of this sixty-eighth day. The Fleet is spread wide and a gale races from the east, sending waves crashing over the decks of our ship. Above, the crew work frantically to keep us afloat, and below decks we struggle to lash down everything that might become loose in the storm's frantic rip and tear. Above the crash of thunder, and the pounding exhalations of icy rain that hammers against every exposed surface, I can hear the rigging of the ship straining under the forces being exerted upon its ratlines and tethers. The hull groans with the pitch and yaw of the ship, and from below I can hear a gurgling rush as seawater collects in the ballast-wells below our quarters. In this storm the ship is fighting for its life, struggling against the tremendous forces that are attempting to splinter its wood and crush its spirit. As is my lot I cannot take part in the fight. The Healer and his assistants must wait below in the surgery as the injured are brought for treatment, and as we listen to the grinding assault above it is apparent that many will be visiting us this day.
By mid-morning I have seen eight injured men brought into the surgery. It is with sadness that I record that three have been swept overboard, and a further two have died beneath fallen masts and yards. The foremast has collapsed and now trails in the ocean to the Dromannion's port, skewing the ship in the water, dragging it portside and dangerously out of balance. From reports coming down to us as the injured are carried in there is a great battle going on to free the mast and loose its trailing rigging. There are fears that we might capsize it this cannot be done and I shudder at the thought of all the souls that will be lost if they are not successful.
Midday has seen three more seriously injured crewman brought in. The surgery is a melee of screaming sailors and the frantic efforts we are making to help them. As we work the decking beneath us shudders as if the Dromannion is dying, but it has not given up yet. The foremast has been freed and in revenge the storm lingers, tearing at the ship as we run before its power. I can feel now however, that it is starting to weaken. I cannot imagine the damage that has been caused to the rest of the Fleet. I fear for small ships such as the Equinox. It will be a miracle if any of them survive this tempest.
It is only now, in the early evening that I can finish my account of this day. The storm has dissipated and left in its place a mire of drizzle and heavy mists. We can make no tally of the damage to any other vessels but the Dromannion has been hit hard. We have lost our foremast and the top yard of the mizzen-mast. It is amongst ourselves however, that we have taken the most grievous losses. Twelve men have been injured and six have been lost to the sea. The passengers of this vessel are all safe and for that I am thankful. It would seem that we have survived the power of the sea once again.
A new day has dawned and the news from the rest of the Fleet has proven disastrous. In the tempest of the previous day we have lost four ships, three of which have been confirmed as sunk, and one, the Kalborea, that is missing; a total of two-hundred and eighteen souls aboard. All were small vessels, and all stood little chance against the power of storm. The loss of so many has swept away any of the hope which had lightened the days prior to this tragedy. Many have been lost and in the relative calm that has ensued the Fleet has come together once again to take account of damage and make note of individual losses. It is a black day for which I wish to make no further record.
With little wind to speak of the Dromannion has become busy with repairs. We cannot replace the foremast and the Captain has ordered instead that the decks be cleared and all other repairs be made before we continue on our way. There is still no sign of the Kalborea, and with a slight hope that the scout might find its way back to Fleet it has been decided that we will remain at anchor for the next two days. There is much work to be done.
In the early hours of the afternoon a cry went up from the watch. Something had been sighted to the south. I was on the wheeldeck at the time with the Healer Faren when all eyes turned to see what had caused the outcry. To my surprise the sky to the south was filled with the dark forms of dozens of winged creatures. My blood ran cold when I realised they were the reptilian beasts of the Enemy.
In an instant the ship came to life. Captain Duschet shouted orders to his officers and once again the bolt-crews took their positions. Everybody who was not needed on deck was ordered below and with the ship bristling with weaponry we waited for the attack that I was sure would follow. It was then that the Maturi Hedj shouted to the bolt-crews to hold their fire. He had been on the foredeck and was desperately forcing his way past the piles of wreckage that still littered the decks as the crews readied their weapons. As he made his way to the wheeldeck there was such a look of concern on his face that Captain Duschet repeated the Maturi's order, standing down his crews and waited for the dwarvendim to reach his position. By the time he had folded his arms Paderian Hedj stood before him.
The Maturi pointed to the south and gave explanation for his outburst. The creatures were Kreel, beasts well known to the dwarvendim and not dangerous unless attacked. Those that we had confronted previously were under the dominion of the Enemy, and it was the dwarvendim's belief that that control ceased as soon as they left sight of land. In a loud voice he explained that it was the time of their seasonal migrations and we would be safe as long as we did not antagonise them.
It took some convincing but Duschet relented and confirmed the orders to restrain his bolt-crews. Quickly flags were raised and the message was sent to the rest of the Fleet. No ship fired upon the Kreel, and instead we watched as the huge creatures swung westwards and disappeared into the western horizon. When they had gone the bolt-crews were stood down, but extra lookouts were placed upon the two remaining masts.
After this had been done the Captain turned backed to the Maturi and asked how he knew of the Kreel, and for that matter where they had gained their knowledge of the way ahead. There was no anger in his questions, they were given up as simple requests and the Maturi Hedj responded with a nod of his head. Their knowledge, he answered openly, was gained from the journeys of a legendary dwarvendim explorer known to his people as Caren'thal the Younger. Long before their subjugation by the Haarn the dwarvendim were a seafaring people who colonised the far southern regions of the old world. The Grey Sea was their second home and many expeditions were sent out into the unknown waters of the west to explore what might lay beyond the horizon. Most came back without success but the first voyage of Caren'thal took his ship, the Longreach, straight to the lands of the New World. It was a journey that took years to complete, but he was on a voyage of exploration and did not return until he had mapped most of the coastline of the lands he had found.
To this the Maturi gave pause. Most of these maps had been lost in the wars that had led to their enslavement. One map however had been kept by the elders of his people, and that map clearly defined the path to the New World. Paderian Hedj had kept custody of that map until the destruction of the dwarvendim fleet at the hands of the Behemoth. Now there was only one repository of its ancient knowledge and that was the memories of the Maturi himself. Of their understanding of the Kreel, that was hard won by experience and the events of their flight from the coasts of the Haarn. He then restated his firm belief that the Kreel would only attack if provoked.
Captain Duschet took in all that the Maturi said and then made one small request. If the knowledge of their journey was only to be found in the memories of one man then it needed to be reproduced. He motioned to his second officer and sent him on his way. There was one aboard the Dromannion well-known for his mapmaking abilities, and with the Maturi's help the Captain asked that a map of their path ahead be made, the purpose to then have it copied for every other ship in the Fleet. Paderian Hedj bowed slightly and agreed. Such a map would be made.
With the Kreel gone and a clear idea now in the minds of all who might have doubted as to how the dwarvendim are so certain of their path to a New World, we have returned to our duties. The remainder of my day has been spent in the company of Faren and Stump. Together we have quantified what remains of our herbs and other remedies. It is not a job that I particularly like but we all must take turns doing so. By our reckoning we are still well-stocked but we have no idea how long our voyage will continue. If the opportunity arises it will be prudent to replenish our stores.
Repairs to the Fleet have been completed and there is no sign of the Kalborea. After two days we can only assume that the ship was lost alongside its sister-ships in the violence of the storm. It grieves me to think that Captain Lovar and his crew have been taken by the sea but there is little that can be done about it. At midday flags were raised and in the growing breath of an easterly wind we have returned to the prosecution of our great adventure. It is noteworthy to record that no longer do we view ourselves as refugees. We may have begun this journey in flight, fleeing the suffocation of the Enemy, but with the new maps made by the Maturi Hedj, and the skilled cartography of Fanet Ari, our path into the west is now clear to all.
The Fleet still suffers from the effects of the last storm however. Many ships have been badly damaged, the Dromannion itself losing a mast and suffering a splintering of its starboard hull. Such damage has been repaired but we can now sail only as fast as the slowest amongst us and many ships have been reduced to a crawl, having lost sail and steering to the power of the Tempest. We have been assured that all damage can be repaired, it will however, require a quiet harbour and a new supply of long timbers. It is hoped that both can be found upon landfall with the islands of Laerion.
Today has seen the return of the behemoth and it has been a day of violence and death. It was at the striking of the last bell before midday that the vast creature rose from the depths and took up station in the midst of the Fleet. The seas were rough and a stiff wind was blowing across the line of our path to the north. In the swell and spray the creature seemed oblivious to our presence, content to rise and fall upon the surface of the dark waters. Many of our number came to watch the display and marvel at the size of the beast. Its smooth dark-grey body slipped in and out of the water with ease, maintaining a station in the centre of the Fleet.
As a precaution Captain Duschet ordered the Fleet to disperse, and called the bolt-crews once again to their stations, mindful of the possibility that the behemoth might decide to cause the same damage amongst us that it had caused to the dwarvendim. The ships of the Fleet had no time to find a safe distance before it did so.
As if on a whim the huge beast dived in the depths of the sea and then rose again at great speed. I do not believe it was a malicious act, more an expression of some great joy that it felt in its existence but for us the results were catastrophic. Out of the water it rose, its sleek dark body lifting high into the air before falling back upon the sea. It hit no ship on its descent but the force of its fall rose up a swell of spreading water that came at the nearest ships as a wall travelling at great speed. Without time to run or take hold those that were on deck watching the creature were hit with the full force of its breaching. From the vantage I held I could see what was coming and braced for the impact, those on the mid-deck were not so fortunate. The Dromannion heeled deep into the water as the wave hit and most of the spectators on deck were swept into the sea.
Immediately those ships that were close began firing upon the behemoth. From the Dromannion and the Allahard a rain of explosive bolts descended onto the creature, detonating into its side, tearing large pieces of flesh from its body. In an attempt to drive the behemoth away we succeeded quickly in angering it further and again it descended into the depths. This time however it breached directly beneath a ship named the Tau'neru. In a sickening crash of splintering timbers the ship exploded, throwing its human contents into the waters. Again the Dromannion and the Allahard responded, throwing their bolts straight at the creature as it hit the water once again. This time they detonated against something sensitive. In a series of explosions the bolts found their marks and the creature writhed within the waves before disappearing. I cannot conceive that we have killed it, but it has been injured enough that it then left us alone.
We had only moments to recover from the shock of the assault. People were in the water and survivors of the Tau'neru clung desperately to anything that was still floating. In desperation those that could swim jumped over the side and quickly lifeboats were lowered into the heaving swell. Lookouts called directions as dozens of small boats tried to pick up those that had been swept overboard. It was a time of great anxiety but in the end those that could be saved were taken back aboard. Many however could not be recovered.
The behemoth has not come back.
At first light this morning the cry arose that we have been waiting for. To the north can be seen a tell-tale darkening against the horizon. It is mountains capped with cloud, and there can be no doubt that we have found the islands we have been looking for. If the map of the Maturi Hedj is correct we will find a chain of islands that extend some twenty-five leagues northwards. With the land clearly visible Captain Duschet has begun organising for the parties that shall go ashore. Myself and Stump are to be allocated to one such party, our task the collection of herbs and roots for the Surgery. It is to be a busy time, and one that has been set very definite bounds.
As soon as the watch gave word of the sighting of land the Captain and the Maturi Hedj called all the officers together. It has been determined that we may only spend three days roaming the islands, finding the provisions we require. It seems that Laerion is a paradise but one that harbours its own secrets. From the writings of Caren'thal the Younger the Maturi has determined that there are spirits that rest deep within its fertile soils, and these beings do not take to visitors kindly. Luckily the writings of Caren'thal tell that the spirits rest deep and take time to awaken. Three days shall be our limit then we will be unable to return. We may take advantage of any harbours we find but our stay ashore cannot extend beyond this limit.
It is strange to consider the idea that we must take into account the possibility of elemental spirits in modern times such as these, but the Maturi has explained that as Caren'thal the Younger has made reference to them, then we must take them as being real. Excitement grows amongst us as the islands approach. Faren has been told that by the end of this seventy-fifth day we shall make landfall.
The journal of Emmers Nahr continues in Volume Two...
Contents | Introduction | Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three
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