Chronicles of Arborell, Copyright Wayne Densley 2005 All Rights Reserved
The night has passed slowly with the anticipation of our landfall, and beneath the rising suns of morning the Dromannion is at full sail, making steadily for the entrance to a great harbour that lies ahead. We have come far to reach this point in our journey and what stands before us fills our hearts with hope. The islands of Laerion have been described by the Maturi as verdant islands in a wide sea, but what we have discovered exceeds all expectations.
In the twilight of the previous day the Fleet met the southern-most tip of the Laerion islands and in doing so quickly moved northwards. According to the dwarvendim the main island of this archipelago, known to Caren'thal the Younger as Amen'wraith, lay only a dozen leagues to the north. Upon Amen'wraith, it is said, we will find safe harbour and a bounty of food and fresh water, enough to replenish our stores and spare us from any further rationing on our voyage westwards.
With this great boon ahead we sailed north until shallow waters and the gloom of a moonless night forced us to furl sail and drop anchor. It was at first light that we again returned to our course and by first bell of morning the island of Amen'wraith loomed before us. For the best view of the approaching land I found a position high on the foredeck balustrade. Both Stump and Ahlek Norahm were beside me. Amongst the gathering crowd we were but a few white robed men in a crush of people as we all strained for our first views of landfall.
In truth I can say that I am not sure what I was actually expecting. A large number of people crowded upon the different decks of the Dromannion, watching as we skirted the southern edge of the island, looking for the safe harbour described by the Maturi Hedj. As was foretold the island is substantial, consisting of long sand beaches, wide plains of trees and grasses and a series of mountain summits that rise into the clouds some distance inland. I am unsure as to its actual size but it must extend for at least fifteen leagues from north to south and three from east to west. On the heaving deck of the Dromannion we all stood silent, watching as the island slid by, but it was not the size of island that enthralled us.
Amen'wraith is a paradise, an answer to the hopes of a Fleet that has spent too many weeks at sea. Never have I seen grasses so verdant, or snow-capped mountains so crisp and white in the sunlight. The beaches glow yellow in the light of morning and the forests are a vision of unrestrained vitality. At every turn can be found flocks of birds gliding upon the winds, or herds of great beasts roaming the plains. There is nothing about the island that I can see as having been disturbed by the hands of men. It is as pristine a place as could be found in this world, yet there are even greater wonders to be found here and the greatest of these stands at the entrance to the harbour.
Given the extraordinary state of the island's plant and animal life, it should not have been a surprise that the best of its harbours lay as a quiet tranquil haven. Formed as a wide circle encompassed by two huge headlands, its entrance beckons as a narrow gateway that opens into a cove of quiet water. Straddling both of these headlands lay a huge natural archway of stone that stretches overhead, blocking out the suns as we sailed carefully through its gigantic arch. At the base of each root of the arch stands a huge spire of stone, roughly formed but immense in stature. Each has the appearance of great age, weathered and broken by the forces of time and exposure.
To the western edge of this natural harbour spreads a wide arc of sand-lined beaches and a series of shear cliffs that line the harbour's headlands to the north and south. The beaches are to be our landing points and with the winds gusting from the east it did not take long for the entire Fleet to sail into the huge harbour. By midday every vessel of our number was at anchor and the serious business of our stay commenced.
Much has been planned for, but our time here is limited by the warnings given by the Maturi. With the Fleet arrayed across the sheltered bay the first of many small boats went ashore, and from that point a large encampment has grown quickly upon the sand-beaches. As we have only three days it has been decided that we shall work day and night at the tasks we have given ourselves. Hunters and gathering parties have already begun to delve into the forests to the west and a number of large trees have been selected for cutting. I have been scheduled to go ashore at first light tomorrow with the other Assistants and I am looking forward to the chance of standing upon dry ground once again.
Although others have priority on this first day of our stay here, and the duties of my craft have not lessened as I wait for my time ashore, there has been opportunities enough to look out over the island and consider its unusual nature. Much has been uncovered by the initial parties that have made their way into the island's hinterland. All reports that have made their way back tell of a land bursting with life, full of the provender needed for us to continue our voyage. There seems no aspect of this island that can be construed as ill-meant, and in that very fact I have a growing feeling that everything is somehow too perfect, too accessable for our needs. After the hardships of our voyage it all seems to good to be true.
As I write this I feel uncomfortable for I do not wish to appear ungrateful or mean-spirited. The island is indeed a paradise that seems tailor-made for the provision of everything that we might need to continue our voyage. There is something though in the abundance of its gifts that has me wondering if it might not be too convenient. I cannot help but make mention of the feeling that somewhere beneath the island's rich surface there lies a darker aspect, one that will rise to tax a full measure in payment for what we might take from it. The Maturi Hedj's warning regarding the spirits of this place sits in the back of my mind, and in truth I do not know whether my unease is in consequence of that warning, or whether it has its origins at a far deeper level.
I can say that such concerns are not mine alone. The Healer Faren and others have raised the question as to whether we should be taking anything from this land except that which can be plucked from the trees, or hunted upon the wide plains. Faren has cautioned that to take trees or to damage the island in anyway seems contrary to its pristine status, an affront to the gifts that it can bestow to us if we treat it kindly. Stump and the Maturi have been just as insistent, saying that we have a free rein to take what we need for our voyage, but that we should be tempered by respect for the untouched nature of the land. In their minds we tread in paradise at our peril. I have little doubt that great benefit can be gained from our stay here but we need to be careful. There is something here, I know it.
The second day of our harbouring in Amen'wraith has been one of great activity and some incredible discoveries. At first light I was awakened by Ahlek, and together with Stump and others of the Assistants we organised ourselves for our day ashore. As with the other parties that have gone before, we have a set number of tasks to perform, and a very tight schedule that must be kept to. For us this day shall be devoted solely to the finding of the herbs, fungi, and other roots and earths needed for our craft. Of all the supplies we require it is these that are the hardest to procure, and so we will spend our day in this pursuit.
By first light our party was ashore. Already the beach was crowded, many of the gatherers camping in behind the dunes, taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep on dry land. By the time we were able to make it to shore there was already great activity as lifeboats and skiffs were being filled with the fruits of the previous day's scavenging. Together with Ahlek I made my way to the head of the beach and there found a well-trodden pathway into a broad stand of forest. We did not have to go far to find everything that we were looking for.
In the shadows of gigantic trees the two of us began the task of searching out what we needed. In the depths of the forest our surroundings were alive with activity. Birds sped through the shadows, their wings bright flashes of colour mixed with long lines of sunlight that pierced the canopy above, and everywhere there were insects, engaged in the endless movement of their short lives. The undergrowth was thick in places but within its growth we found much of what we needed. Fungi and aromatic herbs sprung from bark and root, special earths and humus proved attainable at the grasp of a hand. Carefully we did our work, filling our packs and the additional bags that we had brought with us. By midday we were almost finished, only one task remained.
The day had turned warm and with the light of a clear sky cutting through the branched canopy above we took the time to take lunch and enjoy, for a short while, the feeling of firm earth beneath us. Regardless of the misgivings I have felt about the convenient perfection of this island it was good to sit against a tree-trunk once again and feel the texture of dirt between my fingers. The smells and grit of the forest proved a potent balm for senses that had been too long saturated with the salt of the ocean. I can say that lunch tasted all the better for it.
While we had the time I talked with Ahlek on what we had experienced on the journey so far, and in that conversation came to know him better. Unlike most of the Assistants he is young, but very bright, and the owner of a dry wit that finds humour in the most unlikely of events. It surprised me greatly when he turned our conversation to the subject of the island and its bounty. As we talked he expressed his own opinion that it was a shame that we could not tarry longer here. Such was the vitality of Amen'wraith he proposed, that it would have made the perfect sanctuary for the Fleet, and a possible home for us all. But that was the problem, and it plagued him just as it unsettles me. Everything we need is no further than arms-length away and it had struck him that it was all too easy, too convenient for travellers as ourselves that had seen such hardship. For him it had the smell of bait, an enticement drawing us all into a trap. I could not help but agree.
With the midday meal finished we returned to the last task of the day. To the north of our position there had been found a small pool and cascade. Such a location provided the hope of finding a particular lichen that is in great demand as a curative for infected wounds. Of all our medical needs this was the one item that is most highly prized. According to the party that had found the pool on the previous day, it could be found a half hour's walk further within the forest.
As it happened it did not prove difficult to find the waters. The cascade fell from a plateau high above, and made such a noise that we heard it a long time before it came into view. On the cusp of a small rise the pond lay before us as a wide, shallow pool, bordered on most sides by the treeline of the forest, which emptied noisily into a fast running creek that flowed away to the south-west. Carefully we made our way to the base of the cascade, skirting the edges of the water as we looked for the tell-tale russet colouring of the lichen. At the base of the falling waters we found what we were looking for, and then spent a good hour removing small pieces of the lichen from its purchase between rocks and upon the cliff-face itself. We were well pleased with our efforts and after taking a moment to drink and clean ourselves turned to begin our trek back to the beach.
Only then did Ahlek Norahm see the small figures that were watching us. Putting out his arm he brought me to a halt and then crouched upon the trail, pointing into the trees ahead of us. I immediately saw what he was gesturing at and dropped to one knee as well. Within the shadows of the forest stood dozens of small figures, no taller than my outstretched arm, but definitely human-like in form although very thin and gangled in appearance. For a few moments we waited, watching as the figures stood motionless in the undergrowth before disappearing back into the forest's depths. I can record here that my pulse was pounding in my ears as we watched them. I do not know what they were, nor whether they could have meant us any harm, but I was glad when they retreated back into the shadows.
By the time of this encounter it was already mid-afternoon, and being mindful of our need to return to the beach, we hurried on our way. With the possibility of the creatures at our backs we did not stop to enjoy the beauty of the forest. After our brief encounter we concentrated instead on every shadowed patch of undergrowth or tree-limb that overhung our path. Neither of us could sense if there was danger to be found here, and in the absence of such knowledge we moved all the quicker, our legs propelling us swiftly on our way. I do not know about Ahlek but I held my harvesting knife all the tighter as we ran for the beaches.
It took us little time to return to the shoreline. Sweating from the exertion we lumbered out of the forest to find the beach a hive of activity and industry. Dozens of boats lined the water's edge and for the entire length of the sands there could be seen cargo being loaded and the passengers from many ships enjoying the pleasures of a few hours ashore. At the very end of the beach however, there had begun a much more serious undertaking. Upon heavy trestles and bracings the long, thin structures of three new masts were taking shape. Trees had been selected and felled on the preceding afternoon and now ships-carpenters were busy with the difficult task of cutting and forming the natural bends and knotting of the raw timber. Under other circumstances it was a job that would take considerably longer than the three days we have at our disposal, but only the forming of the masts is to be undertaken on the island, everything else is to be done aboard ship once we have cleared the entrance to the harbour and have found ourselves again in open waters.
Within this hive of activity myself and Ahlek began the search for those Healers that were ashore. We had all been given our specific tasks to perform, and with the conclusion of our own mission it was necessary for us to find the others and await the first lifeboat back to the Dromannion. It proved to be a straightforward endeavour. Upon an area of flat sands in behind the first line of dunes the Healer Faren had raised a small pavilion to cater for any medical needs that might arise whilst we were ashore. There we found Faren himself and a number of Healers from other vessels in the Fleet. Most of those who had been sent out into the forests had not yet returned, so both myself and Ahlek took the opportunity to rest in the shade of the spreading canvass and recount to the Healers what we had encountered in the depths of the forest. To my surprise the creatures were already known to Faren. Hunters had found sign of them in the early morning but they had avoided all attempts at contact. The Maturi calls them Morg, an old name for forest-spirits that are said to inhabit the far eastern regions of the Haarn Kingdoms. By his telling such spirits can be malicious creatures but here they have harmed no-one and instead have kept a discrete distance. All who now venture into the forests have been told to leave them alone.
With our story told we settled back to await the return of the other Assistants. For a time we rested and then began the unavoidable work of preparing and packing our herbs and earths for transport back to the Dromannion. Faren was particularly pleased with the lichen and questioned us at length about where we found it, and if there was any that remained to be collected. It was as we went about our task that I overheard the Healers discussing a turn of events for which I had no previous knowledge.
Whilst we had been out in the depths of the nearby forest a small party of dwarvendim had left the beaches, their mission to ascend the highest of the summits that rested in the island's interior, their goal the snow-capped peak of Troga'hem. The reason for such a mission seemed unknown to all who now spoke of it, but the nature of the party that had left the safety of the beaches was most unusual. Of the men that had departed two were known to me, one being the Maturi Hedj and another, a young man known to his dwarvendim brethren as the Shadar Len. The remaining four members of the group seemed to be carriers, hefting the gear that would be needed for the Maturi and Shadar to make an ascent of the peak. From what I have observed over the past weeks it is these two men that provide the leadership of the dwarvendim. To leave the hurried activity of the beaches does not appear wise, but it is not for me to judge. Even the casual conversations of the Healers have left no doubt that their thoughts are divided on what it might mean. It seems however that the entire enterprise has the full backing of the Fleet Captain. If this is so then there must be meaning to it, and no doubt we will all find out what its purpose is later. It is curious though.
By the hour before nightfall all the parties had returned to the beaches, and loaded with the bounty of Amen'wraith we were ferried quickly back to the Dromannion. Many of the Fleet's number have decided to stay ashore on this last night. The long swathe of the beach is lit brightly with the many fires and lamps of those wishing to make the most of the only piece of firm ground that might be found for many months. Although it would be my wish to spend the night ashore it is something that our duties cannot allow. The supplies need unpacking and proper storage. It is a job that must be done quickly and will take most of the evening to complete. Hopefully there will be time in the early morning to return to the island one last time.
Our third day at Amen'wraith has begun, and in contrast to the previous days the weather has turned dark and inclement. From the north a wind has arisen and on its bluster low banks of clouds now crowd the sky. Within the shelter of the bay and its headlands we have not felt the strength of the winds yet, but in the gathering gloom I can feel the tide changing, the quiet waters of the harbour beginning to agitate as if an unseen hand is moving beneath us. Many people have started to return to the ships of the Fleet, and as I watch I can see large numbers of lifeboats, skiffs and other small transports heaving in the waves as they try to make it back to their ships. The water has grown dark and in the half-light of the morning the air has become chilled. A sense of foreboding has now taken hold aboard the Dromannion. We are all aware of the limits that have been placed upon our stay here and the turn in the weather now sits as a major hurdle to the completion of our plans.
With the second bell of morning a call arose from the watch above. All who were on deck turned their gaze to the north-west and the mountains that now sat indistinct within a mist of shouldering cloud and rain. Upon the peak of Troga'hem a bright light shone out, before being smothered in the banks of approaching rain. Many who saw it pointed out into the approaching gloom but none could say what it might mean. For the Captain on the wheeldeck it was a signal that forced him to action.
In a flurry of commands the Dromannion came to life. Immediately flags and signal lights rose upon the masts and a series of flares fired from the Avernell brought the beaches quickly to action. Tents came down and in the melee I could see the last of the remaining boats pushing off from the shore. Only the masts still lay upon the sands, and wrapped within the gloom I could make out the vague motions of men rolling the half-finished timbers into the sea, and then the frantic activity of boats as the different masts were slowly towed out to their respective ships.
It was as these events were taking place that the weather closed in. From the distant mountains the approaching mists took little time to reach the shoreline and then overwhelm the Fleet at anchor. With the rain arose a heaving swell, and in the pitch of the vessels Captain Duschet gave the order to begin moving out through the harbour entrance. For the Dromannion, and the two other vessels waiting for their new masts, there could be no chance to move until the timbers had been winched aboard and properly secured. We could only watch as the smaller ships of the Fleet slowly made their way towards the harbour entrance. With so many ships in close anchorage it was going to take time to allow all the Fleet to make way through the entrance but in my own mind I could see little reason to hurry.
By the accounts of the dwarvendim we had three full days to retreat from the islands, and that time would not elapse until tomorrow morning at the earliest. In this matter however, we only had the incomplete records of Caren'thal to guide us. It occurred to me as I watched the weather unfold that perhaps it was a lack of confidence regarding the adventurer's writings that had sent the Maturi and his brethren to Troga'hem. They had gone there to confirm something and had obviously found it. The warning light on the mountain peak could only have come from the dwarvendim, and it had spurred our Captain to immediate action. It could only mean that our time was up, and that somewhere upon the island the Earth Spirits of Caren'thal were stirring. Until the Dromannion had passed through the great arch I had no duties so I found a perch upon the balustrade of the mid-deck and waited for the mast to be secured aboard.
In the increasing swell the few boats that guided the new mast towards the Dromannion struggled with its weight. In the heave of the waves the piece of unfinished timber lay wallowing, only moving under the brute strength of the sailors who strained at their oars as they strove to bring the mast to the Dromannion's port side, there to be winched aboard. My attention was fixed on this struggle. It seemed impossible that the crewmen could get the timber aboard in time, the churning sea frustrating their attempts at drawing it close enough for winching. What I could not know was the greater struggle that had begun unseen upon the island, one that would prove to be so important to our escape from Amen'wraith.
Faren came to my side as I watched the mast's approach and stood for a time. He was not looking at the sea though. For him there was something far more important happening upon the island itself, and it kept his gaze locked upon the beaches. I noticed what he was doing and looked out into the gloom, wondering what might still remain that could fix his attention so closely. Within the curtains of rain a dark shape remained indistinct upon the sands. It was a small skiff and by its side stood the tall figure of a man. Someone was still ashore.
Immediately I turned to Faren but he forestalled any question I might have had. Instead he mouthed the word 'Stump' and then pointed again to the rain obscured beach. I had no idea why the northerner might still be ashore and I could feel a knot twisting in my stomach as I watched what unfolded.
It is strange how helpless a person can feel when confronted with circumstances that are out of their control, but are forced to watch idly as they unfold. In the waters to the port of the Dromannion the crew was fighting a desperate battle to winch the half finished mast aboard. In the rigging above another battle was being fought to ready the ship for departure, and at all sides the once quiet harbour was churning itself into a cauldron sea, pitching and heaving the ship in its swell as the sky turned to a greying blanket of rushing cloud and drenching rain.
In the midst of this I stood unmoving, aware that great labours were being engaged upon around the ship, but with my eyes firmly fixed towards the beach and the disappearing form of Stump. In the gathering darkness I could see little. With each passing moment the Dromannion was edging further towards the harbour entrance and within the squalls of wind and rain I could only find the dim form of the man as a vague shadow. And he was doing nothing but waiting. Again I turned to Faren and it was then that I noticed the dark shapes of the pillars that stood at the entrance to the harbour. They were wrapped in the mists, indistinct behind veils of rain but something was wrong. They were beginning to move.
In disbelief I stared intently upon the pillars and took a firmer hold of the baluster at my back. At that same instant a call rang out from the forward watch and all attention turned to the incredible sight of the solid stone coming to life. Like giants slowly rising to wakefulness the pillars began to take form, the weathered and beaten appearance of the stone disappearing as each slowly stretched and flexed limbs long quiet. Before our eyes these Colossi grew to monstrous reality and it was only then that the real danger of Amen'wraith became apparent.
From the starboard side of the great arch the Colossus at its base began tearing stone from its root. Huge hands pounded the granite, dislodging fractured pieces of rock that fell haphazardly to the ground. In a rising tide of energy and violence the giant was possessed, its intention seemingly to tear down the arch and trap the remaining vessels of the Fleet that had not yet escaped into open water. The sight of the Colossus at work immediately changed the focus of all aboard. In less time than it took for me to turn to the wheeldeck and find the Captain in the gloom, orders were shouted to the officers supervising the loading of the mast. In seconds its moorings were cut, ditched back into the swell, lost with a crashing spray of water to the priorities of our survival. All hands then went to the rigging, and those that could be spared manned the ballistas that lined the starboard hull. Sails came down from their yards in thundering booms as their sheets immediately filled with air, pitching the bow of the ship deep into the water as the Captain shouted and cursed, driving his men to turn the ship quickly towards the harbour entrance.
At once the ship reacted to the sail, drawing itself ponderously to the east and the beckoning safety of the open sea. At our starboard side the Colossus pounded at the root of the arch whilst on the port headland the other stone giant stood patient, waiting for some trigger that might direct it to action. We did not have to wait long to find out what that trigger might be.
In the turmoil of the storm the Dromannion laboured for the sanctuary that could be found beyond the great stone arch. Luckily most of the Fleet had already made it to open sea, only five ships still remained within the confines of the harbour, the three ships waiting for their new masts, the Dromannion, the Avernell and the Corescant, and two older vessels that were making difficult headway in the rough swell. Against the action of an angry sea we pounded our way eastwards, and when we were no more than half a kilometre from the headlands the second stone giant came to life. Bending low it raised something within its hand and threw it out into the waters before our ships. It was a boulder the size of a longboat and it smashed into the heaving waves less than a ship-length ahead of the Avernell. Again the Colossus bent low and again another great stone was thrown high towards us. This second missile landed closer, spraying the decks of the Avernell and heaving the ship sidewards as it desperately tried to avoid the lethal projectile. The Captain of the Avernell did not wait for the Colossus to bend low once more. From within the rain and mist four long arcs of fire rose from the side of the ship, its port ballistas sending projectiles of their own tracing a path to the giant. Even above the storm I could hear the bolts explode, concussions slamming somewhere within the mists. In that moment both of the Colossi faltered.
In the belief that the bolts had been effective against the stone giant the Dromannion also let loose a salvo of its own. Again the mists were torn by huge explosions and in the light of the concussions we could all see the stone giant take a back step, trying to steady itself as it single-mindedly tried to return to its task. On the southern headland the other Colossus ceased pounding against the arch and instead stooped to pick up one of the large pieces of rock that had fallen at its feet. In one swift movement the boulder sailed through the air, spinning on its axis as it flew between the masts of the Dromannion, before crashing into the sea at our port side.
To counter this new attack the Dromannion turned all its armament to the starboard, unloading round after round of explosive fire upon the southern headland. The Avernell continued to throw bolts against the Colossus to the north, but our fire was now divided and even under the umbrella of explosions that tore at the stone giants' bodies, they did not falter again from their task. Out of the scudding cloud above a huge boulder fell into the midst of the escaping vessels, then a second and a third crashed into the sea, spewing geysers of water into the air ahead of us. It was only a matter of time before one would strike its target.
With a crack that could be heard above the rip and tear of the storm, a deadly missile smashed into the stern of the Corescant, splintering its wheeldeck and tearing away the rear third of the ship. In a matter of seconds the vessel wallowed in the swell, floundering as it quickly began to sink into the dark waters.
Now lay a terrible decision for the Captains of the Dromannion and the Avernell. Both lay in line to the rear of the Corescant and as we bore down upon the stricken vessel I could see dozens of crew and passengers jumping into the churning sea. More than one hundred and fifty souls dwelt aboard the ship and now most were scrambling for whatever debris could be found. I swear that every person on deck turned to the Captain. To ignore the plight of those in the water would condemn them to certain death in the cold sea. To stop and pick them out of the swell would expose all aboard the Dromannion, more than nine hundred souls, to the same fate. I could not make such a decision but the Captain did. Again commands were shouted out across the vessel, all hands climbing into the ratlines and shrouds, waiting for the order to furl sail. We were going to take our chances and rescue whoever we could.
The Avernell saw what was about to happen and drew up upon our starboard side, keeping some fifty metres distant. Upon her decks I could see ballista-crews pulling the huge crossbows from her port mountings and hurriedly affixing all the weaponry she had to the starboard. In the same manner the Dromannion did the reverse, taking all her armament to the port, the fire-crews hastily mounting and loading the weapons as the two ships furled sail and dropped sea anchors, bringing them both to a stop within the debris that was the remains of the Corescant.
Upon the headlands the Colossi continued about their deadly work, and again huge boulders began falling into the sea about us. This time however the concentrated fire of the two ships arched out over the waters, the whole force of the Dromannion bearing upon the northern headland, the fire of the Avernell striking the south. Within the hail of explosions and flying rock, those that could help began the task of dragging survivors out of the water. We could not lower boats so crew and passengers tied ropes about themselves and jumped into the swell, grabbing hold of the weakening survivors and pulling them towards lowered gangways that scooped them out of the brine.
It was a desperate time. Within minutes of coming to rest the Avernell was hit, a huge boulder smashing through the shrouds of its foremast before landing within the masses of floating survivors. All was chaos, but as the rescue continued our salvation appeared, and in its coming we could do nothing but sit like ducks upon the water and watch.
As I think on it now I can see clearly what happened but are at a loss to explain it. The island of Amen'wraith had given us much, but it is a paradise that harbours a terrible secret. I have no doubt in my mind that the rising of the Colossi were indeed the earth-spirits alluded to by Caren'thal the Younger. We had taken much from the island and now we were to pay a heavy price for that boon. For whatever reason the earth-spirits would now take their toll, taxing us for the supplies and materials we had hastily torn from the land. Only four ships remained afloat and in the violence being visited upon us I could not see how we would not all suffer the same fate. Then the tide turned.
Within the clouds above each of the Colossi, a bright blue light began to shine, and in its glimmer the clouds themselves began to twist and deform. Quickly the mists and rain were swept up in a maelstrom of spinning cloud and rushing air. As I watched the light grew quickly, building in intensity as the violence of the twisting clouds increased. In a matter of seconds both of the Colossi were engulfed in the screaming vortices, their rough forms disappearing within the swirling mists, their arms flailing against the power of the winds.
It was the one respite we needed. Whatever the source of the intervention we now had a chance to haul the remaining survivors from the water. Ninety souls were retrieved, the rest lost to the depths. As the Colossi writhed within their atmospheric bonds we dragged everyone who could be saved aboard and made sail once again. In the heave of the swell the remaining ships of the Fleet made the headlands and then sailed cleanly out into the storm-swept sea beyond. It was only as the Dromannion rode its way beneath the great stone arch that I remembered Stump and searched the shoreline at our rear. In the gloom of the storm I could see nothing of him, only the faint hint of a bluish glow emanating from somewhere ashore. I can only believe that he has been lost to us.
For two days we have rode the waves at anchor, having travelled no farther than the northern edge of Amen'wraith. Our escape from the torment of the Colossi has left us with much to repair and a need to take stock of what we were able to obtain from the islands. It is evident that apart from the last few hours of our stay upon Amen'wraith, we were able to find everything that we needed for a voyage of at least four months. All the ships of the Fleet lay low in the water, full holds a measure of the bounty we were able to scavenge from that brooding paradise. It was not without cost however. In those last desperate hours of our escape we have lost the Corescant, and sixty of her complement. Another ninety souls now crowd aboard the Dromannion and it seems that this has not been the total cost of our stay. The Avernell now mourns eight crewmen in the exchange with the stone giants, torn from mast or swept overboard in the hail of boulders. Only with the dawn of yesterday has it been confirmed that not only had Stump remained behind on the island, but that the Maturi Hedj, his companion the Shadar Len, and the other dwarvendim of their number have also been left to an uncertain fate.
Such losses have left us in despair but the voyage must continue, and to that end we have all been put to our duties, preparing for a long traverse of the deep ocean to our west. The Dromannion has lost its new foremast and because of this the ship has had to be retrimmed and rigged for only two masts. As far as anyone knows there will be no further opportunity to obtain new timber so we are now shackled by this disability. The Captain seems content however, that he has a ship at all, and in this there is complete agreement amongst all who sail with her.
The storm that so briskly assailed us while we were at harbour has moved on, its cloud and winds pushing to the south-east. In the calm of this day we have been hard at work, providing proper storage to all that we obtained from the island, and reorganising our accommodations to fit the additional passengers and crew from the Corescant aboard. To this end all the Healer's Assistants have been moved from our cabin to a new berth on a lower deck of the ship. To call it a berth however is somewhat charitable. To find room for us we have been placed in what is called the Capstan Well. Here, within a small rectangular room in the mid-decks we have been asked to find a good night sleep, and sufficient room to stretch our legs. It has proven difficult as the Well is dominated by a huge rotating wooden drum, which serves as a shaft connecting a winch upon the deck above with the gear that pulls in the anchor on the deck below. We have found that at those times when it is necessary to drop or raise anchor that the movement of the crew above as they labour with the capstan, the turning of the shaft, and the rushing grind of the messenger cables below creates a deafening noise that clears us quickly from the room. The only saving grace to this situation is that it is infrequent and should be less so once we are once again under sail.
In the course of our day's work I have heard much rumour surrounding our escape from Amen'wraith. The appearance of the stone giants and their entrapment within the extraordinary vortices of blue light has left all the members of our vessel in a state of frantic speculation. In truth I do not know what happened but my suspicions lay in this matter with Stump. I have learned from Faren that the northerner asked no permission to return to the beach. Why he was waiting there as the rest of the Fleet departed is unknown. It is in my thoughts that he knew the dwarvendim had not returned and wished to provide them with transport. It is a possibility, he had spent much time with the Maturi but I believe in this endeavour that he had miscalculated, the skiff he took too small to carry them all back to the Dromannion. It is a mystery that will probably remain unsolved. It is a great shame that all these men have been left behind. The knowledge and skills they possessed will be difficult to do without, but above all I counted the northerner as a friend, and this pains me the most.
At midday today the Fleet has been scheduled to make sail for the west. According to the maps provided by the Maturi our journey now lies in this direction, passing to the south of the Til'carrion Islands before heading north to a part of the Grey Sea known as the Midreach. Here it is said we will find an island chain named by Caren'thal the Younger as Clan'dael. Unlike the Laerion Islands, Clan'dael holds no particular significance, but it will make a suitable point to harbour before the longest, and most perilous leg of our journey to the New World begins. Thankfully there have been no mention by any of the dwarvendim of earth-spirits or any other boundaries to our stay there. The only point of note given up by them is that the Til'carrion should not be approached. There is no mention of why, just a determination that it would be dangerous to do so. I am happy to record here that our Captain has taken such advice to heart.
It is now the last bell before midday and preparations for the return to our voyage are almost complete. I have taken a few minutes as we wait for the order to raise our anchors to write these words and then rest before the Capstan Well springs into life. It is my hope that this next leg of our journey will be uneventful.
This eighty-second day of our voyage has passed into memory and it has been one filled with the routine of the ship and the consequences of a most remarkable happening. My melancholy at the demise of Stump and the dwarvendim has proven to be premature, and with some considerable joy I now have the opportunity to relate what has happened.
In the hour before midday of the day past, I was relaxing in my new quarters, along with a number of the other Assistants. Ahlek was with me, and as we waited for the sounds of men organising themselves upon the capstan above, we talked on the events of the last days. The landing at Amen'wraith had been both enlivening and tinged with the sorrow of our losses, but we spent most of the time available to us talking about Stump and the circumstances of his strange actions. I must confess that I was about to tell Ahlek what I knew of the northerner. With him now lost to us there seemed little point in keeping his true identity in shadow any longer. I am grateful that I did not.
With the commotion of the crew organising themselves against the huge winch on the deck above us, we both knew that the order to raise anchor and begin the next leg of hour journey was close at hand. Together we left the Capstan Well and made our way back to the mid-deck. I have not yet lost the felling of excitement that comes when the crew is given the order to make sail. As it was I was glad that I was on deck when the call came from the watch above.
"Sail to port!", came the cry from the mast head above us and all turned their attention in that direction. The Dromannion was flanked on its starboard side by the wide array of the Fleet, but a few ships were to our port side, and most who were on deck looked not because it was important, but because the question was raised in all our minds as to why it might be something worth a call from the watch. To everyone's surprise a small boat was making all speed towards us from the direction of the islands.
From the wheeldeck came a brace of running officers, shouting to the available hands to begin lowering the port gangway, and as I looked back to the Captain I could see him straining to gain a clear identification of who it might be. The boat was ours and I had no doubt who it could be. Only one skiff had been left behind and sure enough Stump was sitting at the tiller, tacking the small craft directly towards the Dromannion. Such news travels fast and within minutes the decks were crowded with people, both passengers and off-duty crew, all watching as the skiff rose and fell in the swell, making its way slowly to the side of its mother-ship.
Most importantly however, it was the Captain himself who came to the top of the gangway and waited for the retrieval of his boat. Only on a few occasions have I seen the man leave the confines of his wheeldeck. He is Lord and Master of his ship and leaves the routine of the vessel to his Officers and the dozen or so Mates that keep the Dromannion in good order. This time he stood as a man both excited and strangely grim. Something was about to happen and his presence at the top of the gangway ensured that all who were on deck would remain there until it played itself out.
The skiff came to rest at the foot of the gangway and was quickly winched out of the sea and secured to its davits. The three passengers however, waited upon the small platform that formed the lower part of the gangway's reach into the swell below. All looked as if they had been through a great ordeal, and it did not pass without notice that two of the dwarvendim were missing.
It was the Second Officer that shepherded Stump, the Maturi Hedj and the Shadar Len aboard. All were embraced warmly and the dwarvendim were then taken to their cabins. At their heals followed the Healer Faren and Ahlek Norahm, the Captain's order to begin tending to whatever injuries they might have sustained in their escape from Amen'wraith. Stump was not so kindly dealt with. Whilst the Captain looked on the First Officer proclaimed to all present that the northerner had taken a vessel of the Fleet without authority, and had chosen to place himself in danger without due consideration of how that might then endanger others. The fact that he had rescued the Maturi and Shadar was to be taken into account, but such charges could not go unanswered. To all it was declared that Stump had earned for himself the sanction of two weeks in the Brig, and that such punishment could not be appealed. In a crush of protesting passengers the northerner was shackled as if he was a common criminal, and then taken below. Curiously he did not seem at all bothered.
With the skiff aboard and Stump and the dwarvendim safely below the order was given to make sail. I watched from the starboard balustrade of the quarter-deck as the Fleet got underway, filled with the same sense of excitement that I have felt for the start of each leg of this great journey. There is nobody aboard who is not thankful for the return of those we had thought lost, but it has been tainted by the punishment metered to the northerner. I have determined that when I have the time I shall try and understand why it was necessary.
We now stand three days into our journey from the Laerion Islands and the routine of the ship has reasserted itself firmly. The weather has remained fair, a steady wind from the south-east pushing us quickly westwards. The Fleet rides the waves, the wakes of many ships stirring the sea as we move upon a world of water that stretches to all horizons. All the Healers have returned to the strict discipline of our duties. As has been the case so far we spend the morning tending to those who come looking for our aid, and then spend the afternoon searching out those who need our help but do not seek it. Such work has taken me to every part of the ship and I have noticed that many of the ailments that previously afflicted those aboard have disappeared. The provision of fresh foods and a dose of dry land have done wonders for the general health of all. I have noticed also that whilst most of us were ashore upon Amen'wraith that the crew who remained aboard have cleaned and smoked out the ship, clearing away most of the vermin that previously resided here. This has had an immediate effect on the spread of an unknown skin affliction that had been starting to take hold aboard the Dromannion.
The Grey Sea spreads before us as a vast wasteland of moving water, one that changes its nature with each passing hour. I have seen great storms passing to the south and for most of the day we have had the benefit of a stiff easterly breeze that pushes us ever westward. As I look into the limitless expanses of the horizon I cannot help but think back at the events of the past days. The beauty of Amen'wraith and the malevolence of the earth-spirits is a strange paradox, one that underlines how little we know about where we are headed. Our efforts whilst in Amen'wraith have however, set us in good stead for the voyage ahead and although the cost was high we remain in good spirits. It is my hope that for the remainder of our journey we shall not be presented with any further paradoxes such as Amen'wraith.
Today I was given permission to go and visit with Stump. He was in need of his books, and had requested that they be brought to him. The Master-of-the-Watch was under no obligation to do so, but gave authority for them to be received and I immediately volunteered for the duty. It was a good opportunity to find out what had transpired on the island, one I was not going to let pass.
With books in hand I made my way to the Brig, and there found Stump entombed within one of its four cells. He appeared in good health but seemed less gracious about the reasons as to why he was imprisoned than he had at first presented. The books however were well received. I asked if I might stay for a short time and spent a good hour talking with him on the events surrounding the appearance of the Troga'dahl, as he called the earth-spirits, and his return to the Dromannion. I did not expect him to say anything regarding the entrapment of the stone giants and he avoided any comments of that, however he did take the time to tell me everything else that had happened. It was quite a story.
Everything started with the departure of the Maturi and his attendants to the peak of the Troga'hem. To most it appeared no more than a simple sojourn inland to explore the summits of the island. The dwarvendim were mountain people after all, and such an expedition seemed as logical to him as the need for the rest of us to spend time at the beach. This was not entirely the case however. The Maturi was making the ascent to give better warning of the approach of the earth-spirits, as it was a fact of their arising that certain signs would become visible, and it was their feeling that such signs could be best identified from altitude. Stump was not sure that there would be enough time for the dwarvendim to return and turned his thoughts to how he might assure their escape back to the Fleet.
When the signal came from the summit of Troga'hem that the rise of the earth-spirits was imminent the Fleet readied itself, and in that activity no-one noticed as the northerner slipped the holds on the small skiff and made his way ashore. With the appearance of the stone giants he had little choice but to wait, hoping that their attention would not turn upon him. Stump described all that occurred in the battle to gain the mouth of Amen'wraith's harbour, but said nothing on the origin of the blue vortices that entrapped the spirits so effectively.
With the passing of the last vessels of the Fleet into the Grey Sea, the vortices faded, releasing the Troga'dahl from their magical restraints. Immediately they both made for Stump, leaving their positions at each headland and advancing towards him from the northern and southern ends of the beach. He could not launch the Skiff, the storm had turned the harbour into a cauldron of shredded waves that would have capsized the small craft within minutes of leaving the shore. Instead, the northerner abandoned the boat and his position on the beach, and ran for the cover of the forest with the enormous stone giants in pursuit.
The Troga'dahl had been foiled in their attempt to extract full payment for the boon we had gained from Amen'wraith, but in the fleeing figure of the northerner there was a small recompense. Stump could do nothing but run for the safety of the trees and the anonymity that might be found in their shadows. The stone giants were not about to give up. In great clawing swipes of their malformed hands they uprooted huge tracts of the woodland, smashing timbers and scooping out the ground below in their attempt to find the elusive figure. By some combination of luck and skill Stump was able to elude his pursuers, and with the giants searching the trees to the east, took refuge in a hollow found beneath the roots of an ancient Oak. Within its cool shadows he waited until the stone giants had gone and the forest once again became quiet.
By the time he was sure that he was alone the storm had moved on and the Troga'dahl were nowhere to be seen. He had survived the fury of the earth-spirits, but his only concern was the return of the dwarvendim to the Fleet before it departed for the Midreach. To do this he would need to find them. First however, he had to check on the seaworthiness of the skiff he had left on the beach. Without it there was no going anywhere and with this objective in mind carefully made his way back to the harbour. To his surprise the boat was still intact and standing beside it he found both the Maturi and the Shadar Len. There was no sign of the other dwarvendim, the unfortunate truth revealed that all were dead, taken by the Troga'dahl as they tried to draw the giants away from the Maturi.
Of the Troga'dahl there was now no sign. It seemed that they had returned to the earth, the great columns of stone again visible at the mouth of the harbour. For the Maturi this did not mean that they could now sail out into open waters. He could not be certain that to make for the entrance might not yet again trigger the rising of the Collosi, and counselled against trying. Instead they formulated a plan that required they drag the skiff to a small beach on the other side of the northern headland. Exposed to the open sea, this beach would provide them with the access they needed to return to the Fleet without awakening the earth-spirits once again.
Such a task would require both time and great effort. The beach the Maturi spoke of lay some six kilometres to the north, beyond the thickest part of the forests bordering the harbour, and across a wide area of rising stony ground from which the northern headland thrust out into the Grey Sea. In this matter however, they had little choice but to attempt the crossing. They started in the late afternoon, dragging the skiff deep into the forest until they could go no further, then made camp until the first light of the new day. That following day passed as the three men hauled at the boat, finding a torturous passage through the woodlands until they came upon a series of stepped hills. In the failing light of evening they knew that they could go no further and made camp once again.
That second night was spent at the base of these hills, and it was in the lightless hours before dawn that their small party encountered a large group of the island's forest dwellers. In the mists of the early morning Stump was awoken to the sounds of movement in the trees surrounding their camp. Quickly he woke the others, and with makeshift weapons at hand, waited for the creatures to make themselves known. As with my own experience the shadowed figures did not attack nor attempt to communicate, instead they maintained a short vigil before fading back into the gloom of the forest. It was the northerner's distinct impression that the small beings seemed confused by the men's continued presence on the island. They seemed to harbour no ill-will but were curious as to why the skiff was being hauled through the forest. It was the last they saw of the Morg.
The second full day of their ordeal was concerned only with taking the skiff over the stony rises before them, and it was not until the fall of the suns in the west that they had achieved their aim of crossing this barrier. The northerner commented openly that it could not have been done but for the enormous strength possessed by the dwarvendim. A hard life of slavery had equipped them for the rigours of such a task and together they had prevailed where other men might have given in. It was Stump's opinion that such men are better kept as allies than enemies. Such determination he said, could be found in few other peoples.
The remainder of the northener's tale played itself out with the skiff being dragged into the water in the quiet of the following morning. With the suns rising before them the boat's small sail was unfurled, catching the first breaths of wind that had begun to push from the south-east. If the three men had been even an hour slower in making the Fleet they would have been left behind, and such would have been their fate.
I could see in the northerner's face and posture as he recounted his story that the ordeal had taken a great deal from him. Unlike other conversations that I have had with Stump, where the quickness of his wit and the depth of his knowledge would tax anyone's ability to simply keep up, he now fumbled for words beneath the blanket of a fatigue that was far more than just physical. I left him to his books and returned to the solitude of my quarters within the Well. I have no further duties today and I find it gives me the time to think on the events of the last days, and wonder at the power that must have been brought to the task of ensnaring the Troga'dahl. I can concede that I do not have much knowledge of the Gaels, and within that limitation I do not know the extent of their powers. If it was indeed Stump who rendered the stone giants ineffective then it is perhaps no surprise that he has been diminished by the effort.
The routine of our ship continues, the steady winds a regular bluster from the south-east. Clouds have begun to crowd the northern sky placing a dark border on what has been a clear day. It is now evening and I find myself once again upon the foredeck, taking in a few minutes of fresh air before I return to my quarters below. Such times have become more precious to all of us who live in the Well. Without windows it can be a confinement tolerated only because we need be there only for sleep. Eight of us now call these quarters home, and it is probably four too many.
On this fine evening the decks are alive with activity. The Dromannion is a large ship, more than eighty metres in length, but it carries more than nine-hundred souls aboard and most spend the greater part of their day below decks. All who can take the time to breathe fresh air and get exercise, and it is due to the latter that the mid-deck is now teeming with excited passengers and crew. In the temperate conditions the perfect opportunity has presented itself to engage in a team sport known as Shurdu. Although simple in its rules it requires great physical endurance and has become a favourite recreation for all aboard, allowing the stresses and frustrations of our day to be released without malice upon others. It is an activity that has grown quickly in popularity, and one that now disturbs my moments of solace upon the foredeck with greater frequency.
Consisting of a cleared area no more than fifteen metres square, the playing surface for Shurdu is compact and made for quick results. Two teams of four compete, the objective for one team to place a small ball of tightly sewn rags outside the square, the objective of the other to stop them from doing so by any physical means possible, the only restriction that no player can place his hands upon another. When one team is successful the objectives are reversed and the attackers then become defenders. Points are scored on how many times a team is successful in defence. A dropped ball ends that team's possession. Skilfully done it is a test of both strength and finesse, one that challenges the players' stamina, whilst providing endless opportunity for discussion and controversy due to the subjective nature of its scoring system.
As I listen to the excitement of the games at my back there is just enough light to watch the endless vista of the Grey Sea ahead. Lightning arcs in great bursts of light on the northern horizon, and I can feel the first hints of a change in the wind. From my perch beside the forecastle I can hear the rush of the ship as its bow cuts cleanly through the waves below. As dark shadows shrouded in grey the rest of the Fleet sails with us, dozens of white-capped wakes the only evidence of our passing.
A person could be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing before us except the sea, but we have no choices now. Everything is staked upon the accuracy of the Maturi's maps and the truthfulness of Caren'thal the Younger's accounts. If indeed there is a new world in the west it must lay a great distance ahead. For the moment however, our goal remains the Midreach, and the islands of Clan'dael.
Today has seen the return of great numbers of Kreel flying at altitude towards the north-west. As before we did little to bring attention to ourselves and in consequence none of the creatures faltered in their flight. It has been the third day in succession where flocks of the winged reptiles have been seen overhead. I am not alone in wondering where the Kreel are making for, the Captain himself having mentioned their passing in each of his morning meetings with his officers.
For their part the dwarvendim cannot provide any more information than that which has been given to them by the writings of Caren'thal. Where the Kreel are making for is unknown, however the thought has been broached that the islands of Til'carrion may be their destination. We cannot be sure, and Captain Duschet has ordered the making and fitting of six new ballistas to the sides of the Dromannion. Such work has kept the ship's carpenters and solitary blacksmith busy for the past two days. It will be at least three more days before they will be ready. I am considering whether I should volunteer to be trained in their use. I believe the ship will need additional firecrews to man them and it would be an interesting diversion from the routine of my duties.
I am happy to say that the NomDruse children have begun to show more interest in the daily activities of the ship. Since their rescue from Corin'kraag they have remained below decks, seemingly withdrawn from all that has been occurring about them, but such isolation cannot be allowed to continue. Their quarters in the lower fore-deck have been renamed as the Cresh, a Haarn word for sanctuary, and seemingly fitting to the small world that they have built for themselves. Only a few of those that tend their needs have been able to get close, but slowly they have opened up and for the first time today a few have appeared above-decks. I have talked with Stump on this and he has said that the children have been taught to distrust others, and it is a barrier that shall keep them apart until they see that we pose no threat to them.
The northerner remains in the Brig, his captivity a point of considerable discussion amongst both the crew and the refugees aboard. It has come to light that only the successful rescue of the Maturi and his Shadar kept him from a public flogging, a common punishment for those who act without the consent of the Captain. For his part Stump now seems very happy with his captivity. If nothing else the Brig is clean and well-kept, and as the only resident at this time he has both room and privacy, something highly prized on a crowded ship. His lack of freedom has been offset in his own mind by the lack of duties he must perform and he appears to be making the most of the time available to him. Given the disregard he is now held in by the Captain it will be interesting to see if he remains a Healer once his incarceration has passed.
The weather has now worsened, the winds swinging to the south. Banks of cloud have begun to move in our direction and there are curtains of rain blanketing the sea both eastwards and at our stern. The winds are brisk but come at us in blusters that keep the crew busy with the sails, and cause the ship to roll with each blow. All the ships of the Fleet remain in good order however, and in spite of the loss of our foremast, the Dromannion keeps pace with the vessels that ply the waters about us. On all sides the Fleet rides the waves, and all aboard seem optimistic of our prospects, regardless of the steadily rising seas.
The Kreel have made a further appearance to the north. A great gathering of the reptiles can be seen circling at the far horizon, a swirling flock of leather-winged creatures that are too indistinct in their distance to be properly observed, but close enough for the Captain to prescribe a continuous watch upon them. The weather gives no help to our need to watch them carefully, banks of cloud moving between us as we head westwards, obscuring our view in a procession of grey veils. So far they have given no cause to show that they wish to attack us. It seems that the experiences myself and others had upon the shores of Corin'kraag will not be repeated upon the open sea. Still we watch, and prepare for any sign of approaching danger.
It is with some surprise that I can now report that Stump has been freed from his incarceration. Although the full fortnight of his captivity has not yet passed he has been returned to the ranks of our number, continuing in his training as a Healer. He seems quite unhappy with his early release. The solitude that he has been enjoying has ended abruptly and Faren has promised that he is to be fully returned to the burden of his duties. There are rumours circulating that the Captain was most vexed by the apparent contentment of his prisoner, and in an effort to forestall any further relaxation had him released to normal duties. It says much about the hardships of our daily lives that the Captain considered this as an option.
The routine of our ship continues and with the encroaching weather as a wide backdrop I can see the crew of the Dromannion hard at work amongst its sails preparing the ship for its onslaught.
Early this morning the weather ran us down. In the gloom of a fog-ridden dawn the first cloud banks overtook the Fleet and in its embrace we have been beset by rain. I thank Fate that there are no great storms buried within its cold, gathering arms but the winds and rain have hammered at our ship and continue to roil the waters about us with its deluge. The Dromannion pitches in the high seas, and in the ferocity of the wind white-caps are forming on the swell, spraying brine as a stinging mist across our decks. It is going to be an uncomfortable day.
For the past days the rain has given us no respite, the sea rising in huge waves that have left our great ship bobbing like a shard of cork in a swinging bucket. Without rest all hands have fought against its continuing assault, and in the late hours of the day we have finally seen sign of its passing. There has been little damage caused by the weather and for this we are all thankful. All indications are that the Fleet has suffered no losses but a new threat has emerged in the distraction of the gales, one that may prove far more difficult to fight against.
For most of afternoon myself, Stump and another Assistant by the name of Damon Ensh have been busy in the bowels of the ship, clearing a small area in the steerage as a makeshift quarantine area. An unusual affliction has been uncovered in our routine search of the ship and we cannot determine what it is. As a precaution Faren has placed a young girl in isolation. We do not know if her malady is contagious, only that the sickness brings on a high fever and tremors of the limbs that have proven hard to control. Damon has volunteered to stay at the girl's side, and we have set guards to ensure that she remains out of reach to all but those who tend her. The Healer Faren is not saying what he thinks it might be but I have not seen him this worried for some time.
The weather has passed and the sky has turned to a clear vault of blue, only high clouds trailing as thin wisps to the south any indication of what we have endured. Below decks our situation has turned quickly for the worse and now our attention must focus inwards, to the well-being of the girl and of Damon Ensch. Within hours of her quarantine Damon has also fallen ill. To our dismay the remainder of her family has quickly presented with the early signs of the infection, and now we have been forced to cordon the entire deck, evacuating more than one hundred people to temporary quarters on higher levels.
We have no idea yet as to what the malady could be, everybody who might have come into contact with the girl or her family have been separated from the rest of the ship's complement, and now we wait to see if these are any new signs of its spread. Damon has not yet succumbed to the tremors that now wrack the body of the girl but his reports show that the disease is quick to strike and relentless in its occupation. Faren has conferred with his colleagues aboard the Avernell and it has been decided that the Dromannion must be declared as a quarantined vessel until the disease has run its course. None of the other Healer's Assistants have been allowed to enter the steerage and help Damon. It is our fear that such a disease could not afflict only a single individual. It is our greater fear that it has been aboard ship for some time, smouldering quietly beyond notice, awaiting an opportunity to take hold amongst us.
We continue westwards and the situation below decks has worsened. Thirty-two passengers have now fallen ill, six hanging close to the edge of death. Damon has not yet fallen into unconsciousness but he feels the effects of the malady spreading through his limbs, a strange prickling sensation that begins at the shoulders and spreads outwards to the arms and lower trunk. We talk to him through the companionway doors but can have no direct contact with him. Within the lowest deck he remains alone to tend those who have fallen ill. Soon he will need help himself, and it will be up to one of our number to enter the steerage and try and determine what it is that has spread so quickly amongst us.
At midday a meeting was called between the Healers and the Captain's Officers. None of the crew has yet been afflicted but passengers on the lower decks make up most of those who have been struck down. Without any hint as to the transmission of the disease we have been asked to clear all the lower levels of passengers and make space for them on the weather-decks. Until the disease has taken its course it has been decided that all who remain unaffected must live at the mercy of the elements. Fortune is with us only in that the weather remains fine, the first sign of rain will surely send everyone below once again. It is our hope that the weather will hold until we can find some way to fight this affliction.
Stump has volunteered to go below and help Damon with his patients. The Shadar Len has also agreed to take his chances in the steerage, along with a young Dwarvendim women by the name of Lanja Narris. Such a move has been resisted by Captain Duschet but the Healer Faren has agreed that something must be done, and both he and I know that Stump is probably the best person to send below. As of yet only myself and Faren know of the true identity of the northerner and in the confines of the lower decks it is our hope that he might be able to discretely do something to help.
The dwarvendim are a different matter. None have yet been fallen ill and it is possible that they have a resistance to the disease. Both the Shadar and Lanja Narris seem eager to be of help and in the evening they were provided with what they would need and sent into the steerage. Until this crisis has passed we will not see them again.
Before I close my journal on this day I must record a most unusual event. The wind blows strongly at our back and in the failing light of the day I can see the Fleet spread about us in all directions. Both the Dromannion and the Avernell serve as the centre of a wide dispersal of ships, with the Equinox and the Arboron at the front, scouting the way ahead. It is at dusk that the navigation lanterns are lit upon all the ships and if the weather is clear, it is possible to see as points of light all the vessels of our number forging into the gathering dark. Tonight it is particularly clear, and with my duties completed I took the time to watch the onset of night from the foredeck. It was as I stood leaning against the foreword ballista mounting that I heard the sound of a great rushing of air from somewhere in the gloom. To anyone else it might sound as nothing more than the surge of water against the ship's bow, but I am a Potter by trade and know well the long exhalation of a bellows as it forces air into a kiln. Out on the open sea it was not a sound I would expect to hear.
For some time I listened to the running of the wind and the surge of the ocean until it came once again, a long drawn out expulsion of air as if a great creature was exhaling after holding its breath. In the dark it was impossible to see anything, but another great exhalation came from further ahead, and then a series that left me with no doubt that a group of huge beasts lay somewhere in the darkness to our starboard. I was about to call to the watch when something slid beneath the bow, a large shape that glowed dim blue in the black wash of the sea before disappearing beneath the Dromannion's hull. Three more of the vague luminescent shapes followed before all was again quiet. Nobody has yet taken what I saw seriously, I have no evidence of the encounter, but I have informed the Second Officer of the watch and he has duly noted what I described in his log.
Today is the ninety-ninth day of our voyage, and I can record that the Fleet stands becalmed upon the Grey Sea with no hint of a breeze to push us forward. For the past two days it has been this way, the ships of the Fleet wallowing in a still and languid ocean, only the current carrying us towards the west. The winds that have so faithfully transported us to this point have disappeared, and in their absence we sit heavy in the water with little to do except concern ourselves with the widening troubles below deck.
The sickness has spread like a grass fire on a wind-swept plain. Now numbered at one hundred and thirteen, there seems no end to the transmission of the illness. Forty-five of those afflicted have passed into a deathly unconsciousness that seems to have no escape. None have yet died but Damon Ensh can no longer tend to the sick and has himself fallen into a pallid sleep. Stump and the dwarvendim continue on with his work and have been joined by fifteen more of their brethren, none of whom have yet succumbed to the virulence of the tremoring disease. They appear to have a natural immunity and with guidance from Faren are doing what they can to contain the outbreak. For all our work we have been unable to stop the disease's spread and can do little except look for the first signs of its catching, a tremoring at the centre of the back that spreads quickly across the shoulders.
Many of the dwarvendim who are aboard the Dromannion have found themselves needed below, but most remain above, mingling with those passengers who have had the good fortune to escape infection. It has given me some opportunity to observe their ways and the nature of their customs, many of which are quite peculiar. Their language remains a mystery to me, its guttural tones as different from the common languages of Adoracia as any I have heard, but it is their need to observe a strict routine of ritual observances that I find most intriguing.
Although it has been hard to grasp the reasoning for their customs I have found that most relate to an ongoing need to appease powerful forces connected with Stone and Wind. Of greatest importance is the need to witness the rising and setting of the suns. The Maturi leads them in these rituals and I have found myself being drawn to the singing that accompanies them. It is both moving and saddening in a way, the product of generations of toil and despair that I do not think will be forgotten easily. From what I have been able to find out from Faren it is possible that their customs have grown from the ancient beliefs surrounding the Gaels. Whether this might be so is a question I cannot answer but the affinity the dwarvendim have with stone, and the way they celebrate this in their customs, makes me wonder if they are not the custodians of an ancient knowledge of their own, one that has survived the rigours of their slavery.
Apart from my observations of the people who work around me I find that I have little to do. None can go below without risking illness and apart from minor ailments amongst those still on deck the Healer's Assistants find themselves idle, captive like all others to the lack of wind and the steady encroachment of the tremoring illness.
Day One Hundred
Another fourteen people have been sent below, and from communications we have learned that the first patient has succumbed to the affliction, passing away in the early hours of the morning. We have no answers to give those who ask what can be done, and the Healer Faren has spent most of the morning in a dire meeting with the Captain and his Officers. Anxiety, and the steady frustration of remaining becalmed in the midst of an unknown sea, has begun to fray edges that otherwise would remain steady. Fights have broken out over the most trivial of matters and the Officer of the Watch has been given cause to increase the number of men he has on patrol upon the decks. I fear that we may be heading towards a most inglorious of Dooms, one for which the Dromannion is not deserving.
As I write I feel the stress of our circumstances laying heavily upon me. My back hurts and I find it difficult to hold my quill to paper. Perhaps I should rest.
Day One hundred and twenty-three
I have been told that it is now day One hundred and twenty-three of our voyage but I can remember little of the events of the past three weeks. The ship is in uproar and although I feel both weak and a little confused I have been trying to make sense of what is happening around me. As I now write Stump is barricaded within the walls of the crew quarters in the forecastle, and for reasons that will be recounted is being stoutly protected by the dwarvendim, who will let none pass its heavy, iron-strapped doors. There appears to be no sign of the tremoring illness amongst the passengers of the Dromannion but a fear has replaced its insidious grip, one that is squarely directed at the northerner and those who are protecting him. The Healer Faren is nowhere to be found and I can get no sense from any of the other Healer's Assistant as to what has occurred.
In the evening of this day the dwarvendim Lanja Narris came to my quarters within the Well and took the time to speak with me. Although I have had the opportunity to walk around below decks the stand-off upon the foredeck has not allowed me the opportunity to see what has been going on. Her words have cleared some of the fog from my memories, and it would seem that both myself and Faren are in some amount of trouble. It did not take long for me to see why.
In the quiet of the Capstan Well the dwarvendim recounted all that had occurred since my last entry to my journal. Although I have no recollection of it, I fell victim to the tremoring in the late evening and with the help of two other passengers was taken below to be tended by Stump and the dwarvendim. As Lanja Narris accounts for it I fell quickly into unconsciousness and remained in such a state for more than two weeks. For those caring for the sick it was a desperate time, the numbers of afflicted growing with every day until even the steerage deck was not large enough to house all who needed attention.
It was on the sixteenth day of the outbreak that the quarantine decks were opened up to the afflicteds relatives. It had become a pointless exercise in keeping the sick quarantined as only the dwarvendim and a handful of the crew remained unaffected. In such dire circumstances the Dromannion had become a Plague Ship, and in that condition was without hope until the disease had run its course. It was only then that Stump revealed his true identity.
For Lanja Narris is was no surprise, the dwarvendim had recognised the northerner for his true nature immediately but had kept such knowledge to themselves. I can record here that apart from Faren it came as quite a shock to the rest of the Dromannion's complement.
At dusk on the One hundred and twenty-first day of our voyage the Dromannion lay becalmed with the rest of the Fleet, and with a number of the dwarvendim in attendance Shalengael stood in the midst of the sick and dying and worked his power in full view of all. Without explanation or warning he began a low chant, almost a whisper that took hold of the air about him as he worked his powers. In the gathering dark a blue aura formed about his body which quickly expanded across the decks, working its way down hatchways and corridors, finding the afflicted and locking them in a tight grasp. Many struggled to break free, but most were too ill to give any resistance and quickly the ship became enmeshed in the glow of the northerner's magic.
I do not remember it but the expulsion of the disease from each afflicted soul came as a joining of colour and pain. On the mid-deck Shalengael weaved his power, high winds arising from each point of the compass, coming together above the Dromannion in a column of rotating air that spun overhead with such force that the ship begun to turn slowly in the water. For a purpose known only to the northerner the vortex remained aloft and then reached down towards the ship itself. From its centre emerged a brilliant blue light that lit up the sea, outlining the ship as clearly as daylight, before descending swiftly below decks.
From every deck came the cries of the sick. In a tumult of rising agonies the tremoring disease flowed from the chest of each affected soul, a sickly orange mist that swirled about each of its victims before being quickly absorbed by the ever-growing power of the blue light. Before any person aboard the ship could move to respond the magic unleashed by Shalengael filled the Dromannion and then winked out. Within the decks and holds of the ship the sick rose from their beds and sleeping places unable to fathom the nature of their deliverance. Those that had been caring for the sick stood in amazement as their charges awoke from their unconsciousness and began to recover their senses. For some however, it was too late. Amongst the many that had been saved from death lay those for who the sudden cure would give no comfort. The rigours of the blue light had proved too much for their frailty. Hundreds had been saved but thirty-six had died and in the confusion and grief Shalengael was blamed.
It is the contention of Lanja Narris that no-one apart from the dwarvendim, Faren or myself knew of Stump's true identity. The violence that followed arose not from an irrational fear of the Gaels but from the grief of so many dead, and of a rumour that spread quickly as to his culpability. It is a sad fact of our humanity that we sometimes allow ourselves to be so easily swayed by our fear of the unknown. Within minutes an armed gang had arisen from the depths of the ship to find the northerner and throw him overboard. Somehow the fact that Shalengael (and from this point onwards I shall refer to him only be that name) had saved them all had been lost in the uncertainty of the moment. It was thankfully a moment of violence short-lived.
Captain Duschet and his Officers were all recovering below when the mob emerged above deck. The ordered discipline of the ship had broken down as soon as the Captain himself had taken ill. I am sure that those involved must have thought it an easy matter to find the northerner and dispatch him quietly overboard. Such was not the case. To greet them upon the mid-deck stood a party of dwarvendim, both men and women. All carried weapons and did not wait for the mob to fully assemble upon the upper deck before attacking them. The melee that followed was both short and decisive. None of the dwarvendim had been lessened by the tremoring and they had committed themselves to ensuring that nothing should happen to Shalengael. In a flurry of clubs and fists the mob was violently suppressed and thrown back down below decks. Until Captain Duschet returned to the wheeldeck the dwarvendim held control of the ship and so it remained until he did.
On this twenty-third day of our becalming the situation above decks remains tense. Many still blame Shalengael for the loss of life, and as a consequence of that animosity the dwarvendim have held the forecastle as a stronghold where the northerner remains under their protection. Nobody has attempted any further harm to the man but the dwarvendim have not faltered in their diligence. It will require considerable negotiation to bring peace back to our ship.
Day One Hundred and twenty-four
Like many of my brethren aboard ship I have not yet been able to return to duty. The effects of the tremoring disease have lingered in those who were worst afflicted and I have been told that it will be at least three days until I will be fit enough to return to my work. The stand-off continues in the forecastle but earnest talks have begun between the Captain and the Maturi Hedj. The dwarvendim are demanding that Shalengael be left to continue the voyage unshackled by the threat of harm but the Captain has not yet agreed to this. He has put forward the stance that he has nothing against the northerner, but such a man cannot be left to freely wander the ship. In his mind he would be unable to vouch for his safety. It is a disagreement that continues.
The weather remains calm, without wind or respite from the monotony of a languid sea. Apart from the obvious presence of the dwarvendim guarding the entrance to the forecastle the ship has returned to a semblance of normalcy. The crew are taking the opportunity given to do repairs to the sails and paint the rigging with tar. The sailmakers have been busy pulling new sailcloth from the aft holds and a hive of industry has sprung up upon the mid-deck as many hands are brought to the task of making the repairs. It is surprising how large some of the sails are, and after the rigours of our journey most need a great deal of attention.
This afternoon I was able to see the Healer Faren. Although I am not yet strong enough to work I have been able to move about the ship and in doing so found the Healer within his quarters. He has been placed under house arrest as a token punishment for withholding his knowledge of the identity of Shalengael, but due to his position takes no notice of the restriction. He is in constant need throughout the ship, by both those who need his care and by his Assistants who need his advice. I was lucky to find him and was able to gain a moment to talk.
For all that has happened he has no doubt we did the right thing. The powers demonstrated by the northerner proved the saving of the ship's complement and to have uncovered him at any earlier time could only have led to the same outcome. The level of his abilities had surprised the Healer however, and he had asked Shalengael soon after the event why he had waited until such a dire situation had been reached. The answer was a hint as to the true power the man was able to wield.
Shalengael had explained that the extent of the power wielded by the Gaels lay proportional to the nature of the problem that needed to be solved. A small problem was met with a small response and that same response could not be used again quickly. If only a few people had been affected then he could have done something without bringing undue attention to himself. Because the disease had spread with such speed he could do nothing but wait until it had afflicted everyone, even if it meant some would have to die. It was only when the disease had taken hold of all who could be infected that he could then use his power to heal all at the one stroke. In his own words he put forward the observation that with the power of the Gaels it is as easy to move a mountain as it is to lift a cup from a table. The only restriction lies in that he cannot do it again quickly.
From my talk with Faren it appears that I have also been censured by the Captain and his Officers. My part in the secrecy of Shalengael's identity has not gone unreported, and I too shall have to take whatever sanction is to be metered to me. At this time I still feel too fatigued to care, but I have little doubt that I will be brought soon enough before the Captain for discipline. It should be an interesting meeting.
Day One hundred and twenty-five
I have spent this day in idle wandering, watching the crew mending the sails and spending some time as the forward watch. Such a task requires little but the diligence to watch the waves before the ship and give cry to any approaching danger. We still have no wind so there is little ahead that can be reported on. The current carries us westwards but it has been noted that the colour of the waters have changed. It is a sign that the sea is becoming shallower and as a precaution regular soundings are being taken to avoid an unwelcome grounding.
Apart from the companionship of the sounding detail I have been able to spend most of this afternoon alone, staring into the wash of the sea and seeing only the occasional sea-bird, or the fleeting sign of a creature moving quietly beneath the surface. Although I must pass the dwarvendim in order to reach the forward watch they have paid me no heed. The forecastle has no entry except through the doors that face the foredeck and I made sure that I gave no cause to earn their attention.
With the lack of wind most of the Fleet has slowly moved closer together and from my position at the bow of the Dromannion I have a clear view of the vessels arrayed on all sides. They stand as a ragged collection of vessels, ships of all size and purpose, crowded with those who chose to leave our distant homes and flee into the uncertainty of the open sea. Like the Dromannion, most have taken the pause in our voyage to do much needed repair, and some have even seen the welcome laying of new paint and the shine of polished metal. It would appear that there have been few idle hands as we have remained captive to the doldrums.
The Equinox remains at the forefront, and although it stands as no more than a speck against the undisturbed line of the horizon, it is the furthest extent of our influence in the world. I have heard nothing from anyone for some time of the lives that we have left behind. It is strange but it seems to me that we have all taken the memories of where we have come from and placed them away in some safe storage, out of sight and out of mind. Our attention instead is focused on the struggles of the day and the promise of a new land in the west. If only the wind would raise itself we could once again get underway.
Day One hundred and twenty-eight
Finally I have been allowed to return to work. At the break of dawn I was awakened by Ahlek and asked to report to the Healer's rooms. There I had to undergo a complete physical check by Faren before being given permission to return to my duties as an Assistant. There is much to do and in a ship divided I have found myself tending the medical needs of those who come for help, and trying to dispel the rumours that still circulate the ship . It is good to be of use once again.
In the mid-afternoon I was called to the Captain's rooms and along with Faren received what I had been fully expecting. Captain Duschet commands his ship with a firm hand, and in the few minutes that we had with him he made sure that we maintained no doubt as to his displeasure on our secrecy regarding Shalengael. Neither of us offered any reasoning for our decision, there was no point. A ship at sea has only one authority and there was nothing we could say that could relieve us of the burden of our actions. As for my part I am to be punished with additional duties. It is my lot that for the next fortnight I am to perform the dogwatch upon the mainmast. This entails four hours per day, at the change of each watch, maintaining vigil from the mainmast crowsnest. It does not seem an oppressive duty but I have had the odd smile from some of the crew as to what it really means. I guess only time will show me what I am in for.
Day One hundred and twenty-nine
Today the wind has returned to breathe life into our ships, and finally we are no longer at the mercy of the currents. From the south-east we have received a hard bluster that has filled our sails and sent us racing for the north-west. It is certainly not before time. For twenty-nine days we have been becalmed and in that time we have drifted many leagues to the west. From our soundings it is apparent that the sea is shallowing and as a consequence we have been forced to track more to the north. As a precaution the Equinox leads the way, testing the waters for the possibility of sandbars and hidden reefs.
Today is also the first day of my duty as a member of the dogwatch. I have learned quickly that it is not a task for which I am suited, and in that knowledge have come to appreciate those who must spend their time high in the sails and shrouds of this ship.
The crowsnest is a wide, fenced platform some fifty-five metres above the mid-deck. Although it appears as a small perch when viewed from the decking it is actually large enough to accommodate four crew without difficulty. It was too my benefit that I found myself assigned to the watch with three other hands, two of which I had previously treated for minor injuries. With their help I was shown how to ascend the mast ladder with safety and how to tether myself correctly once we were in the nest. It was an arduous climb for one such as myself, the ascent taking a good twenty minutes to achieve. What I found upon reaching the platform was both marvellous and gut-wrenching.
Arrayed upon a grey-shaded sea lay the Fleet, all under sail and moving with haste before the wind. Dozens of vessels pitched in the rising waters, sails straining under the force of the bluster. It was a wonderful sight, one that could be taken full advantage of, it not for the sickening and unrelenting movement of the crowsnest itself. I had believed prior to this duty that I had found my sea-legs, but what I had become used to standing upon the decks of the Dromannion could not prepare me for the yawing heave of the mast. Every pitch and roll of the ship below was magnified four-fold upon the nest. Quickly I lost most of what I have eaten in the last two days and fell into a solid sense of unease that I could not shake. With the strengthening of the wind the sickness became worse, and without any hope of leaving my post I resigned myself to the unpredictable thrashing of the platform beneath me.
It was a crewman by the name of Michals who came to my rescue. Out of a fog of desperate unease he handed me a small piece of blackroot. I did not notice it until he held it directly beneath my nose and it took only a small sniff of its pungent fumes to realise that it would quell a stomach heaving as much as the sea below. I took it and stuffed it into my mouth. You cannot swallow blackroot, it is a root best chewed and then discarded, but in a matter of seconds it began to work through the disorientation and nausea, settling my stomach and clearing my head. I cannot say how much I appreciated such a simple gesture of help. At that moment I thought the man had saved my life.
By the end of the dogwatch I had recovered enough to be of some small help to the others sharing my duty. By then the wind had grown into a strong gale, and as we scanned the waters beneath the four quarters of the ship I was able to watch as the crew furled sail, trimming the ship for the gathering weather at our heels. I can report that in my time aloft I have seen Kreel in the north, and the dark line of advancing rainclouds in the east. There is a storm in our wake and it rises swifter than we will be able to run from its cold embrace.
Day One hundred and thirty-three
For four days now storms have buffeted the Fleet, scattering us widely as the gales drive our ships forward into an uncertain sea. We have run before the tempest, driven into the west by rain and the continuous bluster of the storm. The Dromannion rides the waves easily but our way ahead is unsure. The Equinox has not been seen since the storms began and the Captain is loathe to be pushed too much further westwards. The possibility of shallow seas has been met by an extra watch at the bow and what soundings that can be done in such rough weather. It is said that we may have to ride the storm and then wait for the return of the scoutship.
The storm rages but our duties continue, the needs of the Dromannion a constant obligation that cannot be ignored. Below, the decks are a melee of activity and within this throng myself and the other Assistants go about our alloted tasks. There has been no return of the tremoring disease and strangely little else in the way of infection or affliction. Shalengael's magic has quelled more than just the focus of its creation, and for the moment we spend our time attending to the many lesser injuries that arise through either accident or misadventure.
I have been unable to continue with my punishment aloft in the crowsnest. The weather has ensured that this duty will have to wait for finer skies. Before the forecastle there has been no change. The dwarvendim guard the northerner from all who might wish him harm, and as of yet no agreement has been reached as to how this impasse will be resolved.
Day One Hundred and thirty-four
The storm has passed and on the evening of this day the Fleet rides the sea at anchor, awaiting the return of the Equinox. Soundings now show the waters to be dangerously shallow and until the scoutship reports back we are to go no further westwards. I can report however, that there has been a resolution to Shalengael's predicament. In the days that have followed the unveiling of the northerner tempers have cooled and I believe many have come to realise the necessity of what was done, and of the lives he saved. At midday the Captain and his First Officer made for the forecastle and there spoke with the Maturi and those of the dwarvendim who had served as Shalengael's guards. From this meeting it has been decided that the northerner shall be afforded the protection of the Captain, and that four of the dwarvendim will be assigned to Shalengael as personal guards, to discretely watch over him. He will be allowed a full run of the ship but will not be able to return to his duties as a Healer's Assistant. The Captain has determined that a man of such power must be kept close, and to do so has made him an adviser for the remainder of our voyage. Shalengael for his part has agreed to only exercise his power with the permission of the Captain. I am glad to report that with such terms everyone seems happy.
Day One Hundred and Thirty-five
The Equinox has not yet been sighted and because of this we remain at anchor. The sky has turned to a clear vault of blue and only faint wisps of cloud streak the eastern horizon. There have been further sightings of Kreel in the north and, more disturbingly, of a Behemoth moving upon the perimeter of the Fleet. I have spent two watches aloft and can now say that I am beginning to adjust to the exaggerated movement of the crowsnest. In such fine weather the view from the topmast extends to all the horizons and our watch has been busy because of it. The Kreel move constantly in the north, small dark shapes that appear from the east and then are lost in the haze of the horizon. The other crew on my watch have said that they have seen many of the creatures flying to some destination further westwards, and that it does not bode well for our own goal of finding the Midreach.
Of greater immediate threat has been the ominous presence of a Behemoth upon our borders. It was spotted at first light and has been in view for most of the day, nothing but an enormous patch of shadow slipping silently beneath the waters. The ships of the Fleet rest at anchor but the beast has not attacked. It appears to be hindered by the shallow sea and instead has been content to remain out of the range of our ballistas. It does not approach too close to our position and has kept to the east where the water is deeper. It is my hope that the creature will keep its distance.
With the resolution of the conflict between the dwarvendim and the rest of the Dromannion life has returned quickly to its well-practised routine. Shalengael has been given quarters on the wheeldeck near the Captain's, and because of this will be afforded a measure of protection. No-one is allowed access to the wheeldeck unless they are Officers of the Ship or asked to report there. The dwarvendim seem content with the situation and have returned to their duties as well. It is good to see the ship once again without conflict.
Day One Hundred and thirty-six
In the quiet hours of the night I have been visited again with dreams and visions, and this time I am not alone. The break of day has seen a growing murmur through the ship of occurrences in the night and an experience that has been shared by many in the dark hours. The same dream has been reported all over the ship, from the Captain himself down to the lowest rating aboard, and it has caused a stir that has once again settled accusation and fear against the Gael. None can explain why this has happened, but it would appear that only those of us who have been touched by Shalengael's power experienced the vision. For many it has been an experience unlooked for and unwelcome.
Shalengael has kept out of sight but the power of the shared dream has given the Captain cause to have all the Ballistas manned permanently. We all now live with an irrational certainty that there lies ahead a great danger, the clarity and undeniable malevolence of the vision too pressing to ignore. For future reference I will record it here. It will be to the future that we must look to determine whether there is any truth to it.
I went to bed late on the previous evening. As has been the case on so many occasions, an injury above decks had kept me out of my hammock far beyond the striking of midnight. Exhausted I had fallen into my swinging bed and had quickly fallen asleep. It was there that the vision unfolded before me.
Under the expanse of a clear and moonless night the Dromannion sailed effortlessly through a sea as still and as quiet as a pond. No moons rode the heavens and in the silence the stars shone brightly, the barest glimmer reflecting back from the surface of a fathomless sea. Upon its decks I again stood alone, watching as the huge ship moved quietly through the water, navigating a path into the black of the night. Then from the horizon ahead came the first hints of a thunderstorm, a faint flashing of light in the darkness that sent the murmur of distant thunder rolling past the ship. Closer the Dromannion edged towards the storm and as it did so the seas rose up in huge waves that hammered at the sides of the vessel and tore at the untended sails.
Although I knew I was dreaming I was unable to rouse myself. Within the tumult of the rising storm I found myself no longer a spectator somehow apart from what was happening. Within my thoughts I felt myself being compelled to action, running for the wheeldeck and taking control of the helm as the Dromannion battled against the power of the approaching tempest.
Quickly huge spires of stone began to appear at all sides of the ship and again I could feel the presence of malevolent eyes peering down from on high, waiting for a moment to strike out at the ship and bring it crashing into the sea. Desperately I fought for control of the wheel, but before I could turn the ship about huge creatures began descending to the decks, tearing into the Dromannion's timbers and shredding her sails. It was only then that I saw the creatures were Kreel, and that the largest of them had settled upon the mainmast. In the starlight it was a massive shadow, perched halfway up the mast, screeching encouragement to its brethren as they destroyed the ship. In the violence of this attack I could do nothing.
I remember clearly as I sprang awake, a sweat soaking my clothes, that the last thing I saw was the bow of the Dromannion splintering against a tall tower of stone, its timbers breaking and twisting against the solid rock as the ship drove into it. The sound of its demise echoes in my head even as I write this, and for all who have experienced the vision it is something that will not be forgotten.
As a response to the shared nightmare the Captain has determined not to move forward until the Equinox has returned. The writings of Caren'thal the Younger give little information as to what we will be confronted with at the Midreach and Duschet will take no chances on his ship. At this time it is felt that caution is our best defence.
Day One hundred and thirty-eight
At first light this morning the Equinox appeared upon the horizon to the north-west. Most of the morning passed as we waited for it to reach the Dromannion's position, and with her arrival comes news of sand-bars and treacherous waters ahead. From Faren I have heard that the Equinox has spent six days sounding the shoals and trying to find a way through. Of the Midreach Islands the scoutship can report a sighting of land in the north-west and with this news Captain Duschet has issued new directions to the Fleet. We are to sail north until we find deep waters and then veer to the north-west. In that direction we should find the Midreach, and the islands of Clan'dael.
It is to our fortune that a fair wind now blows at our back and with such a breeze we have hauled anchor and now tack to the north, the Dromannion at full sail, the Fleet spread about us as we go. Our goal now lies to the north-west, the Islands of the Midreach our next port of call. I can report that we remain well provisioned, our water supply not yet depleted by the length of our capture within the doldrums. Spirits remain high but we all sense the anticipation of seeing land once again. If what is said about the islands is true we should find a fair harbour, and good lands in which to replenish our stocks of fresh food. Talk is also being made of replacing the lost foremast, but none of us can know what the islands will be able to provide and such comment is mere speculation.
On this day we have had no further sightings of the Kreel, however a Behemoth remains upon our starboard, tracking the Fleet as we turn northwards. It keeps at a distance but the slow undulations of its form upon the surface of the waves marks its position clearly. The Captain has ordered all the ballistas loaded and we remain ready for any attack that may come.
Day One Hundred and thirty-nine
This morning has seen the return of a clouded sky, the wind rising to a brisk bluster that pushes us ever faster to the north. My duties for the moment are complete and I now have the time to rest prior to my watch upon the crowsnest. The punishment handed to me by the Captain had proved onerous to begin with, but within this past week I have found myself looking forward to the time spent aloft. On most watches I am joined by three other crewmembers, most of them men that I have had some contact with over the course of our voyage. Apart from the duties of the watch we spend most of the time in conversation and it has proven an excellent opportunity to discuss all that has happened aboard ship. Those discussions have given me some insight into the rumours and undercurrents that permeate the Dromannion, and I have come to realise that for many people aboard ship the ultimate goals of our voyage are the subject of much argument and disagreement.
It has only been through these discussions that I have discovered that many of our number do not wish to voyage any further than we have to. For myself and most that I work with there is only one objective, the New World and the promise it holds for a new life. But for some of my fellow shipmates the prospect of more months at sea is a torment they do not wish to endure any further. The crowded conditions and the ever-present dangers of the sea have worn down their resolve, and many have said that the first landfall that offers them a chance of survival will be good enough for them.
For me it is a surprising point of view, but I can see why it might be a possibility for some. We have never been a seafaring people and if this is their choice then there is little that could be done about it. I see now why the prospect of the Midreach Islands has been so eagerly received below decks. It will be interesting to see whether the islands meet the expectations of those who might wish to disembark.
The bells have been rung for the dogwatch. There is more that I wish to write but it will have to wait.
Day One Hundred and forty
Today has been a day of violence and death. In the calm of dusk a Behemoth once again attacked the Fleet, using the blinding light of sunset to mask its advance upon our vessels from the west. I cannot say whether it is the same creature that we drove off before, but it attacked with a vengeance and in its wake we have lost two ships and more than eighty souls.
The first sign of trouble came from the forward watch in the hour before dusk. The beast had not been sighted for most of the day but in the waning light the clear black outline of its ridged spine lay unmistakable against the waves to port. For a short time it stood its ground, just out of range of our weapons, before disappearing back into the depths. In the glare of sunset all hands scanned the sea, looking for any further sign of its approach. We did not see it again until it rose from the depths in a surge of water, breaching upwards before crashing back down into the black waters.
The Tarental, a vessel lying at the edge of the Fleet, took the full brunt of the creature's wake, a high wall of water that hit the ship broadside and crushed it as if it was matchwood, throwing it on its back. Immediately ships turned for the scene of the disaster but not before the Behemoth rose again, this time breaching beneath the Arathindas, breaking the cutter's back in an explosion of wood and sail.
Before the Behemoth could hit water once again the Dromannion opened fire with every ballista that could be brought to bear upon it. At our back the Avernell also opened fire and in the tracery of speeding bolts the creature was lit up by detonations that tore pieces from its enormous flanks. Against the ferocity of the attack there was little else that could be done. Or so I thought.
From the forecastle armoury a large device was rolled from behind closed doors and quickly moved to the edge of the foredeck, before being placed into a curious cradle that had been installed unobtrusively almost a week before. The device was a barrel, no bigger than one that could be lifted by a single man, but it was obviously made entirely of black metal and had a small square protuberance upon its upper surface. A fuse hung limp from this square box and without hesitation a crew member lit it and then the entire device was rolled from its cradle over the side of the ship and into the rushing sea.
Orders came fast from the Captain and the Dromannion lurched forward as more sail was loosed to catch a growing wind. Another of the devices was rolled out, lit and then rolled into the water. I had no idea as to what they might be for, but as the second charge fell from its cradle a great explosion lifted the sea behind us, throwing a vast column of water into the air.
To this the Behemoth answered, breaching at our rear, lifting its black and grey form high as its massive bulk turned in the air. In a confusion of churning water it fell back and then rose again closer to the ship. Its intention was clear, it had singled us out as its next victim and in a thrashing charge it raced for the ship. A second explosion followed, and I felt the Dromannion lift beneath my feet from the detonation somewhere in the depths below. As water once again leapt into the air the Captain called for more of the charges and a third barrel fell into the sea. This barrel had a much shorter fuse and detonated only a ship's length behind our fleeting vessel. This explosion keeled the Dromannion sideways, throwing us all to the decks, but this time its effects were lethal. No plume of water rose from its detonation, instead the sea bowed upwards, bubbling and frothing as if the waves themselves were in torment. Out of the depths the Behemoth breached once again but this time it fell sideways, a gaping hole in its side. Mortally wounded it crashed into the waves and then sank slowly out of sight.
Jubilation erupted aboard ship, crew and passengers cheering as the mangled remains of the great creature slipped beneath the surface. I can record here that the Captain himself looked well pleased but the excitement was only momentary. At our rear lay the survivors of two smashed ships and swiftly the Dromannion turned to give assistance.
It took more than an hour to return to the scene of the sinkings. It was dark and by that time the Avernell was within a floating field of debris, illuminated by the lanterns of lifeboats as they searched the flotsam. The Avernell's flags gave us the worst of news. There were no survivors.
Once again we have been visited by tragedy and once more we have no time to grieve for the dead. Innocent men and women have died this day but we cannot wait to give proper rights or reflect on what we have lost. We must continue on.
Day One Hundred and forty-one
The winds that have sped us northwards have now swung into the east and the Fleet pounds against a rising swell, the sea about us a vista of white-capped waves and wind-borne spray. There is weather once again advancing towards us but there are signs that the islands of the Midreach lie somewhere close, just beyond the western horizon. We have found deep water and in that dark water the current now flows to the north, a sure sign that land is near. All over the ship the anticipation of a new landfall is growing. Plans are now in preparation for what we must achieve once we have found safe harbour but this time our expectations are far different from those of Amen'wraith.
Unlike the paradise of Laerion the Midreach Islands hold no restrictions. Whether we will find food and water is unknown, but none of the writings of Caren'thal mention any dangers for which we must be mindful. Of that which is remembered of the adventurer's journey the most important fact lies in the nature of the eastern coastline of all the islands. High cliffs and rocky beaches do not allow a suitable anchorage for a Fleet of our size on the east shoreline. The only harbours are to be found on the western shores of the three largest islands, named by Caren'thal the Younger as Clan'dael. Here it is said we will find sloping lands and gentle plains, edged along the northern borders by mountains and undulating hills. For a people so long at sea such a prospect grips us with its anticipation.
Apart from these facts there is little else known. From the exploration of the shoals by the Equinox it is apparent that shallow seas can be found all the way to the southern edge of the Midreach. To gain the western shoreline of Clan'dael we will need to survey the coast of these rocky outcrops until a way can be found through. Captain Duschet has determined that a scouting party of three ships is to be sent into the west to find the way. The Fleet will move slowly westwards and rendezvous with the scouts upon their return. This job has been given to the Equinox, the Garenmor and the Longreach. With their shallow draughts these ships are best suited for the task, and at midday were sent westwards into the rising bluster.
For my part I look forward to the chance to once again place feet upon dry ground. It seems that we have been aboard ship for so long that it becomes difficult to remember the feeling of a solid footing that does not move beneath you. According to the maps provided by the Maturi Hedj the Midreach is the last chance for restocking and repair prior to setting course for the New World. It is to be an opportunity we shall all take advantage of.
After some research I have found out more regarding the barrel charges that were used so effectively against the Behemoth. Much has been rumoured on their origin but I can record that the devices were the work of our blacksmith, an energetic man by the name of Garren Namawe. He had been asked by the First Officer to consider a weapon that could be used against the sea-creatures, and had used a story he had heard in his youth about fish-poaching as his inspiration. On a smaller scale poachers operating within the lakes and forests of his home had used black-powder devices to stun fish. With the idea in mind he had built the charges to a size that would deter the beasts from following the Fleet.
The fuse proved the most difficult to manufacture but was made possible with the knowledge of the dwarvendim. As slaves to the Haarn there had been need to use powder charges that could be placed in submerged mine shafts and passageways. The same techniques had been used to detonate the barrel charges to such devastating effect against the beast, and recognition of the dwarvendim's involvement has increased their standing aboard ship considerably. Any hard feelings that might have remained from their defence of Shalengael has been pushed aside. Namawe now enjoys a level of respect that I believe he feels uncomfortable with, however it pleases me greatly that the Fleet now has a defence against the Behemoths, and in the fashioning of that defence the Dromannion is once again united.
Although it has been decided that we will not be attempting to find a passage to the west coast of Clan'dael until the return of the scoutships, there is no benefit to be gained by remaining at anchor. The Fleet has been ordered to change course for the Midreach, but in doing so will be remaining a full day behind the scouts. Already most vessels have hauled in sail, and now move westwards at a much reduced pace. It will be left to the skill of the Equinox's captain to find a way beyond the shoals and rocky islands of the Midreach.
Day One Hundred and forty-two
The orderly routine of the ship continues, life aboard an ongoing cycle of work and those few moments of rest that can be obtained between duties. I have found in the last few days that I have spent most of my time with the NomDruse, part of a concerted effort to coax them from the isolation of their Cresh and give them the opportunity to mingle with the rest of the passengers and crew. As has proven the case previously the children remain intransigent, keeping to themselves and refusing to go above decks except for the shortest of times. The Healer Faren has determined that they are in need of fresh air, some sun upon their skin, and not a little exercise. With the help of those that care for them I have been attempting to get the older children to go topside but it has only been with the appearance of Shalengael that we have made any progress.
I found him within the quarters of the NomDruse at the change of the watch this morning. To my surprise he was still dressed in the white robes of a healer, but now made no pretension to hide his true identity. Across the arms and down both sides of his cloak were now displayed a curious array of elaborate lettering sown in blue cotton. I cannot say that I know their purpose, but it did strike me that I recognised some of the symbols from the books that he had taken from the library at Corin'kraag.
When I stepped into the Cresh the northerner was on one knee talking earnestly with some of the older children. It was true that the children had been up on deck on a few occasions but had not done so for some time. All agreed that the NomDruse needed to become an active part of the ship's complement, and to that end Shalengael worked to break down the reticence they seemed to have developed for doing so.
When the northerner saw me he raised himself and extended a hand in greeting. Although I have worked alongside the man for some months in his guise as Stump it was a strange feeling nonetheless to greet him once again after the troubles caused by his uncovering. I spoke with him at some length over the concerns held for the NomDruse children before turning the conversation to himself.
It seems apparent that Shalengael has found himself a place by the side of the Captain and the Maturi Hedj. Of all the men who lead our Fleet to the New World he is the most personally powerful and I can understand why the Captain has decided to keep him close. For his part he seems unconcerned for any personal danger and instead asked questions regarding the well-being of the other Healer's Assistants and if there had been any continuing effects from his cure of the tremoring disease. Such questions I answered truthfully and it was only as our conversation again turned to the children that I thanked him for my own cure. He had after all saved my life as well as the lives of hundreds of other souls on the ship.
To this the tall northerner smiled and raised a finger as if to rebuke me. There was, he said quietly, one matter that he needed to raise with me. And it was something for which he needed to express thanks. It was known to him that myself and Faren had discovered his true identity early in the voyage and he was grateful for the discretion we had shown in keeping it to ourselves. Furthermore he considered that as we had suffered sanctions for that silence he had a debt to repay, and it was to be a payment that would be provided in due course. I can say truthfully that I felt no debt. The man had saved me from the tremoring, but in his mind that was simply a consequence of a much larger action which had not been directed at me personally. He would not say what the repayment might be but I could feel clearly that I was someone he trusted.
After a further period of time with the NomDruse Shalengael left, his four bodyguards close at his heels. His counsel had been well received amongst the children and I can record here that most have spent the afternoon on deck, taking in the air and enjoying the spectacle of a Shurdu game as it played itself out amidships.
Somewhere ahead lies the Midreach. I can smell it on the air.
Day One Hundred and forty-three
Today we have seen Kreel once again in the north and west. Unlike previous sightings the creatures can be seen circling ahead in great flocks, riding the upcurrents as they glide in wide spirals as if searching for something. The Maturi is adamant that the reptiles are not dangerous as long as we do not disturb them, but for those of us who witnessed their malevolence in the ruins of Corin'kraag it is a difficult idea to accept. However, the Captain will take no chances and has maintained the fire-crews at each of the ballistas.
I continue my punishment upon the crowsnest and use the time on watch to talk with those who share the duty with me, and observe the general business of the ship unfold beneath my feet. On this day the dogwatch began in the early evening, and along with my fellow crewmates I settled down for the duration of our duty. In the weakening light we talked, watching as the stars began their slow emergence from the shadows of dusk. It is true that there are many things that can be seen at sea. If you look hard enough it is not just water and sky, an unchanging wasteland of undulating waves and parading cloud. For those who must spend their days at its side the sea becomes a creature of mood and colour that changes with each passing hour, alive in its depths with life and movement. In the dark of night however, it takes on a whole new perspective. Just as it has on this night.
The first sign of anything unusual came three hours into our watch. It was well into the night hours and as of yet the twin moons had not risen. Cloud was moving in from the eastern horizon and deep within its folds we could see lightning forking in glaring blasts of light. It is a curious thing to see lightning and yet not hear the thunder that accompanies it. The storm was too far away for the sound of its blasts to be heard but the lightning itself lit up the cloudbank, silhouetting the anvil-heads in their own light, momentarily forcing everything else in the world to hide in their shadows. We watched the show for some time, tracking the storm as it moved closer and then veered southwards. At least this would be one tempest we would not have to endure. It was then that the starboard watchman called us to his side.
In the water, some two hundred metres from our mid-deck lay a wide patch of light, beneath the water's surface but glowing bright enough to shine upwards with a blue-green hue. In extent it spread for about two ship-lengths of the Dromannion and appeared as a collection of smaller lights that moved constantly within the wider conglomeration. I looked to the other crewmen to ask what it might be, but the looks on their faces told me that they had never seen it before either.
As we watched the patch began to move, keeping pace with our ship before spreading outwards, breaking into smaller pieces that began to move independently around the ships that sailed nearest. These lights were then joined by others that moved purposefully from all directions, but which seemed to be rising out the depths beneath us.
Quickly a call was made below and soon the decks were crowded with people watching as the lights began to circle the ship. There seemed to be no danger in it and the glowing patches persisted for some time before disappearing into the sea as might lanterns being carried into a thick fog. I cannot say what it was, however it would be easy to believe that this apparition is connected to the sighting I made previously. Now there can be no doubt that something is down there. I cannot think what it might be though.
Day One hundred and forty-four
At the striking of the first bell after sunsrise this morning the first peaks of the Midreach peered from the western horizon. Grey against the deep blue of the dawn they march across the dividing line between sea and sky as a set of jagged teeth, a grim foretaste of what might lay ahead. As has been prearranged between the Captains of the Fleet, all ships have come to a stop, furling sail and laying out sea-anchors as we now wait for the return of the Equinox and its sister-ships.
On the stroke of each hour a flare is being sent into the sky, a visible signpost of our position to our scouts. All we can now do is await their return.
Day One Hundred and forty-five
The day has passed without sight of the Equinox. Aboard ship we go about our duties as usual but all eyes are cast to the west as we wait for some sign of flare or sail. Overhead I have seen Kreel, and large flocks of birds circling upon the winds. The weather has remained clear, only a light breeze ruffling our sails as we lay at anchor. It is a hard wait to endure and I have seen signs amongst some of our complement that it is becoming a point of contention between them. For the moment though we can do naught but continue with our routine and hope we shall meet with the Equinox soon.
Day One Hundred and forty-six
At the second bell after daybreak this morning the Equinox, the Garenmor and the Longreach appeared as white flags on our horizon, tacking from the south-west. By midday the Equinox had hauled alongside the Dromannion, and Captain Rendell and the other assembled Officers of the Fleet began earnest discussions on what they had found, and where our path ahead now lay.
In their time in the west the three ships had surveyed and tested all the shoals and islands in a wide stretch from the southern-most tip of the Midreach to the full extent of the shallow seas to the north. Slowly they had discovered that the shoals and sandbars of Caren'thal's recollections had changed. Many years have passed since the dwarvendim adventurer had passed this way and in the surge of time and tide a line of sandbars and shallows had grown into a barrier against any passage to the western coast of Clan'dael. Only at two points could a way be made westwards, at what the Equinox had named the Straits of Shabel, and the Straits of Elanna. Of both these passages the Straits of Shabel seemed most navigable. From our position this is also the closest.
From what I have been able to gather of the meeting much was spoken on the movement of the tides and possible navigation hazards in both straits. It was decided quickly that the Straits of Shabel were our best option and in the hours afterwards preparations have begun to make sail and find our way through.
Activity aboard ship has grown to a fever pitch. The prospect of once again making landfall has put us all to work, and in that activity we have found great energy and purpose. Of all our number only Shalengael seems at odds to our hope. He has spent much time at the bow searching the horizon, a solitary figure looking for something that eludes him. I tried to talk with him but in his eyes there is disquiet. Without understanding what it is that he so diligently searches for, and with no attempt to answer any of my enquiries, I have had no choice but to return to my own duties. If all goes well we will be before the Straits of Shabel by first light tomorrow.
Day One Hundred and forty-seven
It is said in the lands of the Arranar that all the plans of Men can come to naught when the Fates decide that they have a better idea. Today has been a day that gives such a lamentation meaning. And yet I look at what has happened and know that I have taken an active part in a risky deception, one that yet must prove itself worthwhile. I will endeavour to record properly what has happened, even though there are some parts of this tale that I do not yet understand myself.
In the early hours of this morning, long before the rising of the suns I felt a hand upon my shoulder, rousing me from my sleep. To my surprise I found Shalengael at my side, his finger to his lips, motioning me to be quiet. Carefully I rolled from my hammock and looked about the Capstan Well. All my fellow Assistants were still asleep, the Well a gloomy space full of shadows cast by the dying flickers of one small oil lamp.
Without explanation the Gael placed his hand on my arm and pointed to the door. Before I could find out what he wanted I found myself following him into the darkness of the companionway, the northerner a dark form moving quickly towards the mid-deck. When we emerged from below decks it became apparent that something was happening, something strange.
About me the wind raced through the shrouds of the ship. Sails billowed in the freshness, the ship pitching with the waves as it forged towards the Straits of Shabel, but about me there was no movement, no crew tending to the vessel on the night watch, no activity at all. In the light of both moons the deck was clearly illuminated, the crew unconscious against mast or gunwale or spread upon the hard deck itself.
I looked to Shalengael but he simply whispered a short retort for me not to worry. It was only as we reached the bow of the ship that he spoke. In the light of the moons the Dromannion stood large but the presence of the northerner seemed to grow before me. In this unnaturally quiet time Shalengael had a tale to tell, one that was for my ears only.
In the rush of the wind the form of the Gael stood as a dark shape, bordered by the reflected light of the Dromannion at his back. In a hushed tone the man began to tell a story that had its roots embedded long before the Age of Reason, before Men saw the folly of belief and instead found strength in their own free will. In such a time the Gaels stood as the greatest power in the world, graced with the ability to form water, earth or sky in any manner they saw fit. But with that power came responsibility, and it lay heavily upon each of the Gaels that the Hev'duil had also laid at their feet the ability to see the future. Such a gift meant that the consequence of each use of power they made in the world brought with it a clear vision of what was to follow, for good or ill. In the lives of the Gaels such prescience soon proved to be no boon.
Any use of their power changed the way the world moved forward in time. Each decision made, or path followed, turned into a tangled web of consequences that stretched out before the Gaels as a mesh of possibility. It took a disciplined mind to make sense of it, and many of Shalengael's brethren were not up to the task. Over time the Gaels faltered until finally only the northerner was left.
Shalengael paused for a moment, and in that silence a deep rumble reverberated out of the north. Lightning framed the horizon and again the roll of distant thunder swept across the sea towards us. Against such a backdrop I took the opportunity to ask him why he was telling me this. I got no answer, just a request to trust him. All would come clear he said, with the tale's conclusion.
Overhead the moons had begun to pass behind fast moving wisps of cloud, the glow about the ship dimming and brightening with each reappearance of their shining spheres. Shalengael waved his hand against the sky and the clouds parted, leaving the decks once again awash in a silvery light. I remember I had to shake my head to clear the surprise I felt at that simple action. It had been nothing but a casual gesture and yet he had commanded the clouds themselves. I returned to his tale with even greater concentration.
For Shalengael the Age of Reason had proven a difficult time. To use his power would have left him vulnerable, and of all the things that he could see in his future the manner of his own death was always veiled. It was only with the coming of the Enemy that a new path had opened for him, and he had come to understand the true nature of his own destiny. All his life, all the centuries that he had lived in the world had been made possible by the Hev'duil so that he might fulfil one purpose. And that purpose was to be completed tonight.
I could not understand what he meant but he gave me no chance to question him. Instead he pointed to the west and asked me what I saw. In the darkness of the night I could see nothing but the gloom and the faint illumination of distant lightning struggling in its embrace. Out there he said was the death of us all. The Straits of Shabel would provide us with easy passage to the west coast of Clan'dael, but in taking that path we would sow the seeds of our own demise. Important opportunities would be missed and a great boon would pass unnoticed. If the Fleet was to reach the New World then this could not be the path taken.
From within the dark veil of his hooded cloak I could see nothing of his face. In his voice though, it was possible to hear the fatigue of one who had lived too long, and who now looked for a way to divest himself of the burdens that he had carried. Now was to be the time that the Gael would change the destiny of all.
With one hand pointing to the west Shalengael cupped the other in front of his chest and began to murmur a low chant. Flat and without discernible words the dirge floated on the rising wind as smoke might, carrying itself off to the west. Immediately I felt the air about the bow of the ship change, the wind captured by his will as it spiralled about his body, twisting its way in ever decreasing arcs as it concentrated its energy into the palm of his hand.
About us the winds blew inwards from all directions, spiralling tightly as a whirlpool sucks water into the depths of the ocean. In the rush of the bluster I could just hear Shalengael's words as fragments, intermingling with the rising force of the wind. Slowly at first I began to see a faint glow beginning to coalesce in the air above his hand, a sphere of light forming as it drew on the increasing energy of the gale that was now enveloping us both. In the rush of the wind it intensified, shining brighter and brighter, gathering itself tighter until the air itself ignited in blue flame.
Within the swirling conflagration I stood beside the Gael, enveloped in his magic as he drew down this great power and concentrated its potency. Instantly I was bathed in blue light, the rushing winds warm and charged with energy as they rushed about us. I am not sure but within that moment of ignition I could feel the magic passing through me as if I was not there, existing only as a spectral witness to something beyond my reasoning to understand. I could stand beside the man for only a moment before my instincts screamed at me to move aside.
Startled by the brilliance of the flame I stepped back and looked to the foredeck for a way to back away from the power being conjured. It was then that I saw the cloud above beginning to twist in the glare of the shining blue sphere. Shalengael had control of the winds and the cloud above but this was still not enough for his purpose. Without giving pause to his incantation he chanted faster, the words merging into a stream of rising song that forced the air about us to become charged with energy. It was only when the shining sphere could seem to grow no brighter that I saw the first fireball descend out of the night sky and fall upon the Straits of Shabel.
In the west the cloud that bordered the horizon began to burn with a blue fire. At first I thought the cloud itself had ignited but then a great conflagration of burning rock punched its way through the high overcast and plunged downwards into the sea. One fireball was quickly followed by many and as they struck the Straits or its surrounding cliffs the stone exploded, showering the waters with incandescence as the deadly missiles found their target.
For many minutes the fireballs rained from the sky. A procession of brilliant blue points of light, careering through the cloud before detonating into the hard stone of the Midreach. I could not fathom the means by which Shalengael had fashioned such a bombardment, but the purpose of it was clear enough. He was pounding the Straits of Shabel to ensure that we could not pass through. Whether we wished it or not, the Gael was changing our destiny, forcing us to take the other path.
For Shalengael however, there would be no need to confront the Captains of the Fleet to account for his actions. In the last moments of the conjuration the overbearing form of the Gael began to grow vague, flickering in the glow of his conjuration. As the light in his hand expanded and grew in power so did the form of Shalengael evaporate, dissipating quickly into the winds that swirled our position. As I watched he vanished from my sight, and in those last few moments I could hear in my thoughts his voice telling me to record what I had seen, tell no-one, and to trust that he had done the right thing. The rest was up to me. Then he was gone.
I can confess that I stood my ground for a time, trying to gain a foothold on what had happened. Shalengael had disappeared into the winds themselves and in the process had destroyed our chosen path to Clan'dael. About me, however, the ship was reawakening. Those crew who had fallen to the deck were rousing themselves and all over the ship I could hear the sounds of men and women trying to regain their senses. The northerner had done something to them so that he might work uninterrupted and the spell he had cast had encaptured the entire Fleet in its embrace. As the ship awoke I quietly returned to my berth and considered the implications of what I had been a party to. There was no witness to this event but myself, and as has been the case before I will say nothing of it. I can only wonder as to what Shalengael meant by his last words to me, but I can say that he saved my life, and if I can repay him in any small measure by keeping silent then so be it.
Day One Hundred and forty-eight
The disappearance of Shalengael has left the Dromannion in uproar. In the hour after sunrise he was noticed as missing and an immediate search was held to find him aboard ship. Of course nothing was found, and as he had left all his personal effects it has been assumed that he has met either with foul-play or has been the victim of an accident that has sent him overboard. Nobody believes the latter and the Captain has instituted an inquiry to determine the Gael's last movements aboard.
It has been difficult not to say anything but I will remain true to the northerner's request. Even as the Fleet edges closer to the Straits of Shabel I can feel a difference in the air, a faint familiarity that leads me to believe that Shalengael is not that far away after all. I can sense in the Maturi Hedj that he also has felt the same hint of familiarity on the breeze. In the evening of this day I saw him upon the wheeldeck looking into the east, sniffing the air as if it was telling him something. The dwarvendim is a man who understands far more than he is prepared to tell, and there is a chance that he is aware of the Gael's fate, sensing him on the wind as I do.
Unlike the Maturi I cannot understand what has happened, nor give any reason for it. The destruction of our passage to the east has changed the direction of the Fleet, and put the officers of this ship in a dire mood. We came to anchor off the remains of the Strait an hour after first light and in the early morning the destruction was total. From a short distance off-shore all that could be seen was the smoking debris of a great cataclysm. High stone cliffs that once bordered the passage, in some cases rising to a height of almost eighty metres above the surface of the sea, lay collapsed into the waters, completely closing the strait from any further navigation. Huge craters had been gouged into what was left, a pock-marked terrain of smashed rock and steaming fissures. It was plain to all that there was no passage through, and because of Shalengael's magic, no understanding of what had happened.
As the Gael had planned the Fleet has been forced to turn northwards, and now makes at full sail for the Straits of Elanna. If all goes well we should make the western coast of Clan'dael within two days.
Day One Hundred and Fifty-two
Four days have passed since the closing of the Straits of Shabel and the Fleet labours in the teeth of a storm that has driven us too far to the north-east. Caught in its grip we have had to run before its power and have found ourselves now pushed back out into the Grey Sea, away from the Midreach and into deep waters. Only now, after three days of tempest has the wind begun to ease and the driving rain withdraw to the north. So close we have been to finding haven at Clan'dael and now we find ourselves again in the deep ocean, with at least another six days journey against the wind before we can make the Midreach. Nobody is happy with the delay, but there is little that can be done. In the midst of such circumstances we can do naught but endure it.
Day One Hundred and fifty-three
The storm has passed but the winds remain intransigent, rising in a gale from the south-west, pushing us further northwards as we attempt to track to the west. All day the crew has worked to bring the Dromannion closer to the Midreach but it has been to little avail. The wind shifts from south to west, foiling all attempts to make headway. It seems as if the wind is conspiring to keep us in the north, holding us helpless within its gales, and all the time edging us ever further away from our goal.
Against the brunt of this assault the ships of the Fleet ride the waves in a pounding cycle of rising water and plunging bows. Salt spray and sea mists tear across our decks, reducing visibility at all quarters and turning the sails into slick cascades of brine. Upon the wheeldeck the helmsmen fight to keep the ship to its course but it has proven a loosing battle, one which has exhausted the crew and left us floundering in the swell.
Below decks the Healer's Assistants have found themselves in great demand. The absence of Shalengael has seen a return of many of the afflictions that had seemed defeated by his craft. The tremoring disease has not returned, however Faren has redoubled our efforts in searching the ship for possible cases. I do not believe that the northerner would have left the Dromannion with such a danger still aboard but it is prudent to be alert to the possibility.
The fight against the storm has also sent many crewmen into our surgery with injuries both minor and serious. One man has been lost overboard and nigh on a dozen more have been committed to our care for treatment. It has proven a busy day, and still the winds howl across our bows, providing us with no respite and little rest.
Day One Hundred and fifty-four
Captain Duschet has made a decision and called a halt to our attempts to forge a return to the west. The wind has stymied every effort to make headway and so it has been decided to furl sail and drop sea-anchors. In the force of the gales the Fleet has been spread far upon the sea, and in an attempt to keep together the Captain has ordered every ship to a halt. Now we are at the mercy of the winds but we will ride out the bluster until favourable weather can be found.
In the clamour of the last days it has only now been discovered that Shalengael's possessions have been removed from his quarters, their whereabouts unknown. His books, and the few personal items that he owned are nowhere to be found. For what purpose they might have been taken is unclear as the northerner was the only man aboard who could read the books of the Haarn. A further investigation has been instigated by the Master-at-Arms but it would seem that there are few answers to be had.
As I write my notes I can hear the wind howling through the shrouds of the ship. It is a familiar sound, something unique to the Dromannion and something that sets it apart from all others. Like the Equinox it has its own song and even though I am four levels below the quarter-deck it is still discernible in the air, a vibration that fills the ship and reverberates through the timbers beneath my feet. It is a comfort that I have grown used to on this voyage. While the Dromannion sings I known it is still strong, able to stand against anything the sea might throw against us. It is a comfort that I fear I shall miss if we ever do reach the New World.
Day One Hundred and fifty-six
In the evening of this day the winds retreated finally into the south. We have been pushed far to the north of the Midreach and now must make our way westwards. The Fleet has been spread over a wide area and three ships are currently unaccounted for. There is no anxiety at their disappearance however. The winds have spread us wide and those ships that have been blown too far to the north will take longer to regroup with the main body of the Fleet. We will have to wait for them though.
In the last light of dusk the scout-ship Arboron has been sent out to find them. Explosive flares are being fired on each striking of the ship's bell and I have spent some of my rare leisure time watching the flares light up the night sky. It is a grand display. With each striking of the hour five flares are sent skywards, tracing a long arc of flittering light before detonating high overhead. The blacksmith has loaded each of the bolts with phosphorus and metal filings, a huge ball of incandescent particles the result as they explode. It is am awesome sight, one that has had most of the passengers of the Fleet up until the small hours. Even the NomDruse have come on deck to watch.
Most of the ships in the Fleet have now come together. Much work is needed after the windstorm and the crews of each ship have not been idle. Rigging and sails have been badly worn by the interminable gales and all hands have been called to the task of making the Dromannion seaworthy once more.
We are marking time now, waiting for the Arboron to return. It is our hope that our wait will not be a long one.
Day One hundred and fifty-seven
In the early hours of this morning the Arboron was sighted upon the northern horizon. The watch at the masthead called the sighting just as dawn was breaking in the east, and it was as the suns began to rise above the horizon that it first came to be realised that the Arboron had found more than just our missing ships.
Arrayed across the horizon at her stern was the masts of twenty-seven ships, the three of our number that were missing, and twenty-four others of unknown origin. In a stir that I have not seen since we sighted Amen'wraith, the Dromannion came alive with excitement. On the wheeldeck the Captain and the Maturi Hedj looked to the ships for some hint of who they might be, and where they might be from. It was only as the ships drew closer that the shape of mast and sail gave an indication as to who they were.
In the morning light the outline of the vessels became clear. All where twin-masted, elegant vessels, their rakish masts and triangular sails giving away their origin as Cembrian, a nation of the far northern wastes. Somehow they had survived the onslaught of the Enemy and made it to sea as well. Somehow they had made their way here.
The greatest surprise on this day of surprises was the return of one of our own, thought lost to the sea. In the midst of the Cembrian vessels sat the Kalborea, looking the worse for wear but with Captain Lovar standing at the helm, his crew waving madly in greeting as they drew alongside.
In the frantic activity of this unforeseen rendezvous I have been able to piece together some parts of the circumstances that has led our two fleets coming together. It is a story that merits being a part of this record.
In the early days of the attack upon our lands by the Enemy the peoples of Cembria stood helpless, their armies lost in the cold wastes of the northern iceplains. Without the means to defend themselves those that could took to their ships, making south for the lands of Adoracia and the hope of safety that might be found there. To their dismay they were met instead by the sight of burning cities and the cruel excesses of the Enemy's beasts of war. At all ports they found nothing but destruction and in desperation made for deep water, their intention to return to their homes and take up what resistance they could. Such was not to be their fate.
With limited provisions and a faltering water supply, the Cembrian Fleet headed northwards, making for the port-city of Halfalas and the cold hinterlands beyond that would serve as a hiding place for their number. Their destination proved elusive. From the east a storm rose against them, pushing the fleet deeper into the Grey Sea, shredding their sails and leaving a third of their ships unable to continue. Without hope they found themselves being carried into deep waters by swift currents and a blustering gale that would not allow them to return homewards.
On the twenty-seventh day of their sojourn they saw the birds. From the shores of Adoracia and the Northern Realms great multitudes of birds flew westwards, vast flocks winging to the horizon, their destination unknown. For the Cembrians this was an omen they could not ignore. Surely, they surmised, the flocks would not be flying to a certain death. There was a purpose to their flight and if land lay at the end of it, then their salvation could be found there as well.
With hope before them, the Cembrians took what they could from those vessels that could not continue and set out westwards. Ill-prepared and with no idea as to the length of their voyage they set sail, following the flocks as they headed west, and finally disappeared beyond the horizon.
Weeks passed. Heavily laden ships, crammed with the last survivors of their nation, sailed doggedly into the west. Storms lashed them and hunger gripped their complement but they kept stoically to their heading. Without proper provisions however, disease quickly took hold, passengers and crew alike falling victim to starvation and scurvy.
In this time of desperation, the Captain of the Castaal, a man by the name of Gafen Wilbrims came to the fore. Under his leadership the Cembrian fleet began to organise and prepare for survival, rather than for a slow death upon the seas. Scouts were sent out to find land whilst the body of the fleet began harvesting the sea and making proper provision for water. In Wilbrims the Cembrians saw a natural leader and rallied to the strength he provided. Luck also proved to be on his side.
News from the scout-ships told of an island in the north-west. Small, but possessed of an easy harbour and a verdant hinterland, it would provide the things needed most, fresh fruit and a chance to place feet upon solid ground. Wilbrims took the opportunity with both hands and set what was now his fleet on a track for the island. It proved all that the scouts had reported and for two weeks they tarried there, repairing their ships and restocking what they could from the small harvest the island could provide. It was not much but it would allow them to go further into the west than any Cembrian had gone before. Hopefully it would be enough.
Days passed again into weeks as they sailed westwards. No birds had been seen since the migration of those months previous, and without sight of land many on board began to despair that they may find nothing before them. Disease returned to the fleet, and sightings of the dreaded Kreel to the south left doubt and misgivings swirling through the passengers and crew. No-one knew what might lay ahead and the omen that had given such hope had proved unfulfilled.
Without sight of land despair gripped hard upon the fleet. No set path lay before them, the vast wastes of a turbulent sea all that they could look forward to. For most hope turned by degrees into an absolute certainty that what lay ahead was hunger and death. That there was no salvation in the west could not be argued against and despair fermented into anger, refugee turned against refugee, ship turned against ship. On one dark day all appeared lost, and it was then that their salvation sailed into view in the form of the Kalborea.
For the Kalborea's part in this tale there is much that I still need to ascertain. I have been unable to talk with Captain Lovar as of yet, but their journey has proven no less epic in its scope. For now I must be content with what I can record here.
In the storm that separated the Kalborea from the main body of the Fleet, it was pushed by high winds into the north. In the course of the tempest the Kalborea's rudder and steerage lines had been broken, and without the ability to make any heading other than that provided by the wind, had been forced to ride the storm as far as it would take them. Three days of wind and wave put the ship far to the north, and in those days of tempest the crew struggled to keep the ship afloat.
When finally the storm had passed Captain Lovar and his men began the task of returning the Kalborea to seaworthiness. The rudder had been splintered by the power of the storm and in their desperation the crew tore out planks from the lower decks to provide the timber for repairs. It was at this time that the wind once again grew in the south, blowing a chilled bluster that pushed the vessel further northwards. It would be some days before the wind once again eased and the ship could be fully repaired.
In the midst of these troubles the passengers and crew of the Kalborea could not know that they were drifting closer to a rendezvous that would change the destiny of the entire Fleet. Without knowledge of the whereabouts of their sister-ships, the Captain saw no alternative but to sail westwards and hope that at some point their paths would cross. He knew the general direction in which the Fleet would be moving but could not tell how much distance they might have travelled. The best chance at finding them again would be to travel to the north-west. It was his hope that as the Fleet sailed dispersed over a wide area, he might sight one of the outlying vessels and thereby make contact. He would keep what flares that remained to him for such a welcome sighting.
I cannot record here what tribulations must have confronted the lost ship in its passage to find the Fleet. Whether the Kalborea found its way peacefully, or fought to survive every day that passed is currently unknown to me. I can say that the ship shows sign of bad weather and at least one destructive impact against its port gunwales. A hastily patched tear in the side of the ship gives testament to violence but I have been unable to speak with any of crew. Most of the Healer's Assistants have been busy on this day assessing the health of the newcomers to our Fleet, and making lists of the survivors, so as to record and know who it is we now sail with. The story of the Kalborea remains sketchy, and in its brevity I must apologise.
A further twenty days passed as the Kalborea headed into the north-west, enduring storm and gale as they forged their way to a hopeful meeting with the remainder of the Fleet. What they found instead was the Cembrian ships, lost upon the wide ocean, languishing without hope, desperation breeding in their hearts.
It was a call from the stern watch that brought the Kalborea to turn about and make northwards. Masts had been sighted against the horizon and thinking that they had found the Fleet, Captain Lovar made full sail for the waiting ships. To his surprise he found instead the remnants of another fleet, one that was in desperate need of hope and direction.
For the Cembrians the appearance of the Kalborea out of the southern horizon was a salvation given up by Providence itself. With the Adoracian ship came news of a New World in the west, and of another Fleet somewhere upon the wide ocean. No proof was asked for, and with the decision of Captain Wilbrims to go where the Kalborea led, the remainder of the Cembrian fleet followed.
In this manner were the Cembrian ships brought back to the knowledge of Men. At the forefront stood the Kalborea, purposeful in its knowledge that there was a New World in the west, and in its wake rode its charges, spread wide to increase the possibility of contact. Hunger still haunted each of the ships, the hand of disease touching many as they made their way towards the Midreach. Now however, they would not stop, and with the Kalborea made sight of the Arboron, itself searching for lost ships. Such is the circumstances in which the Cembrians came to our Fleet. I am sure that it shall be a story retold by many. On this day I must wonder as to how much of what has transpired is the doing of Shalengael. On a wide ocean it must be more than just coincidence that we have found each other. This is a question I will ponder but know I cannot answer.
Day One Hundred and fifty-eight
A manifest has been conducted on the ships of the Cembrians and their number has been counted at twenty-two seaworthy vessels. Two of their fleet have been surveyed as too damaged to continue and the total count of souls aboard amounts to three thousand two hundred. There has been little choice but to strip the two damaged vessels of all that is useful and redistribute their passengers aboard the other ships of their fleet. We have spent the day in this pursuit, adjusting for the newcomers and giving aid where it has been needed. On the coming morning we are to begin our return to the Midreach, and as I write I can feel the wind changing. It veers now from the east, a favourable bluster that should have us on our way forthwith.
It is fortuitous that we stand only a few days from the Midreach as the Cembrians bring with them nothing but their ships and themselves. Food and other provision have been distributed to all the newcomers and it is hoped that we will have enough to keep us all hale until we have anchored in Clan'dael. Although many have succumbed to illness and affliction the Cembrians have not been idle, helping with the work of the improvement of their lot as we lay at anchor. I have found two of their number to be experienced Healers, men of great knowledge who bring with them a different type of healing skill. It will be interesting to find time to talk with them.
Just as was the case with the dwarvendim, the Cembrians have proven to be distinct in both mannerism and behaviour. Unlike the dwarvendim, the Cembrians are to a person, tall and lean in appearance. At first I put this down to months at sea with little in the way of food, but it is apparent that these people of the northern realms have a naturally lean aspect. This is most noticeable in their Captain Wilbrims. He has struck me as being both a competent commander and slightly eccentric in manner and dress. He is loud and forceful in his opinion, having little regard for who might be listening as he discusses the business of his ship. In truth I cannot decide whether he is a trustworthy man, or a pirate who has found himself in a position of responsibility and is trying to mask his true nature. I can say however, that the Captains of his fleet follow him without question, and because of this Captain Duschet has given him the same status as is allowed the Maturi Hedj. It will be interesting to see how such different characters will conduct the business of what is now such a large fleet.
In the course of my duties today I have noticed something of note, and wonder if it will prove of importance for the future. Those of the Cembrians that have been aboard have mentioned in conversation that there are more than just people of their own nation aboard. In the course of their flight southwards they have brought with them members of the Haldar and the Faen'eth as well, and a number of refugees from the Alnar Plains. I have heard also in such conversations the newcomers referring to themselves as the Kalborean fleet. It would seem that the arrival of the Kalborea at their darkest moment has had a more profound effect upon them than Captain Lovar could possibly have imagined.
To take into account the differing peoples who make up the newcomers I have decided to refer to them in this journal as Kalboreans. It is a name they seem comfortable with, and has already been put into use by others aboard. I have no doubt it will take hold as Captain Wilbrims has used it loudly on a number of occasions, and amongst his own people seems able to move their opinion at his whim.
Day One Hundred and sixty
The winds blow briskly out of the east and the Fleet makes a straight line now for the Midreach. The weather has blown into a gale, whipping up the sea and throwing ragged strands of cloud westwards as harbingers of our approach. The Fleet is spread wide, the lean form and raked masts of the Kalborean ships easily sighted amongst the larger vessels of our number. Two days of easterlies has seen us closer now to our destination, and a further two should see us touch the northern edge of the Midreach. The Straits of Elanna now lay as our only passage to the western shores of the islands, and I expect that once the shoals and stony cliffs of the Midreach are sighted that we will turn southwards, looking for the Straits and the safe harbours that lay beyond. After such a long time at sea I cannot wait for the sight of grass once again.
Day One hundred and sixty-one
On the evening of this day the northern edge of the Midreach has been sighted. As expected we have turned to the south, keeping a parallel course to the rough coastline that borders these islands. As was foretold by the Maturi Hedj there is no safe anchorage beneath these cliffs. A jagged coastline of dark grey stone looms before us, snaking its way southwards, edged by upthrusts of sea-washed rock that stand as broken teeth to the forces of wind and tide. It is an inhospitable barrier, against which any ship that journeys too close could not survive. In the approaching dark the pillars of stone stand tall against the surging sea. There can be little doubt that a ship's graveyard lies within the tumbled stone that must lay just below the waterline. We are giving it all a wide berth.
I can gladly report that I have now fulfilled my penance as a member of the dogwatch, and find that although I am happy to be free of the duty I will miss the solitude that comes with it. The Dromannion is a crowded ship, where a piece of free space can be hard to find, and the open air of the crowsnest is a small pleasure that I relinquish grudgingly. I have however, been returned to my full duties as a Healer's Assistant and with the additional needs of the Kalboreans, have little time to consider what I might have lost.
It is in my mind though to volunteer for a dogwatch upon the mainmast when the opportunity arises. Although there are those who consider it at odious duty, I may yet find myself aloft once again.
Day One Hundred and sixty-three
The Straits of Elanna have been sighted to the south-west and the Dromannion is to be the first through. On its previous scouting mission the Equinox has shown it safe for navigation and Captain Duschet sees no reason to delay our passage any further. The Fleet will follow but it will be a tentative path that we will travel. The Midreach coastline has proven to be a rugged shore and it will be no different as we traverse the Straits. From the accounts of Captain Rendell a more hospitable shoreline will not be encountered until we have passed well beyond the western mouth of the passage and then turned north towards Clan'dael.
At mid-morning we passed the eastern cusp of the Straits of Elanna before turning onto a north-westerly heading. At both sides of the ship I have seen high walls of stone that reach to a height far greater than that of the Dromannion's masts. From these high cliffs we have heard the fall of stone and the screeching of sea-birds but there is little sign of danger. The Kreel are nowhere to be seen and it would appear that we have left them in the south. They must have nesting-grounds upon the islands of the southern Midreach and do not seem disposed to flying any further northwards. I am sure that their absence from our lives gives me no great concern.
The Straits are wider than I had expected though, the navigation of the passage an easier affair than had been described by the Captain of the Equinox. It seems almost out of place that a part of our voyage should prove easier than anticipated, and those officers who inhabit the wheeldeck have relaxed visibly as we have pushed further into the passage. It has been slow going though, the speed of the ship measured against the need to move carefully in an unfamiliar setting. Crew at the bow of the ship take constant soundings of the waters and are ever watchful for sign of submerged hazards. I have been told that at our current rate of travel we should be out of the Strait by evening.
Day One hundred and sixty-four
This morning has been spent at anchor to the north of the western exit of the straits. Overnight and through the early hours of the day I have watched as each ship of the Fleet has made a tentative emergence into open waters on this side of the Midreach. The Straits of Elanna have given us no cause for dismay thus far, the cliffs bordering the passage opening into a wide channel as we made for open water. On this side of the islands we have found a very different aspect to the Midreach, one that gives us all hope that the accounts of Caren'thal the Younger will prove accurate.
What I can see in the bright light of this morning is a line of islands spreading into the north and another archipelago extending far to the south. In the north the islands are bordered at their western shores by low cliffs and stone beaches, the land sloping down from the rugged cliffs of the east into a series of shallow valleys and open grasslands in the west. The islands of Clan'dael should prove to be far larger. If Fate looks kindly upon us we should find food and the materials necessary to repair our ships.
Word has been circulating through the ship that the move for some of our number to stay in Clan'dael is growing stronger, even though we have not yet seen landfall and cannot know what awaits us there. Most aboard see the islands as another step on our path to the New World but for some the voyage has already been too much, a journey too long in progress. Whether those who wish to stay will be allowed to disembark is still to be decided. It would be a sad thing to see familiar faces leave the ship, but it might also lessen the overcrowding that is a constant circumstance of our daily lives. Such decisions must be left for Captain Duschet and I am glad that it is not for me to say.
Our objective lies at least a further day's sail to the north but is close enough that I can smell the pungent odours of grass and wet earth upon the wind. Against the ever-present smell of the sea it is a powerful motivation to move on. We must wait however until all of the Fleet has passed safely through the confines of the cliffs. Once all are through we will make sail.
Day One hundred and sixty-five
We have encountered further delays but finally this morning the Dromannion has set sail for Clan'dael. The three largest islands of the Midreach lay ahead and we now make good speed in our quest to find a suitable harbour. The Allahard and the Castaal have moved ahead of the body of the Fleet to look for a safe anchorage and it is said that we will get word from them by this evening.
The day has turned fine and warm. In the lee of the islands the wind is lighter and the ship has been set with extra sail to push us faster northwards. As is always the case my duties are constant and the needs of the Dromannion do not cease just because we are approaching landfall. The crew is at work and the normal routine of the ship goes on. We have all spent time however, looking to the north and east, searching for the first signs of the main islands of the Midreach. The ship is alive with the anticipation of finding Clan'dael as it has been described in the writings of Caren'thal. I cannot help but hope fervently that we will find more than bare islands and crumbling cliffs.
Day One hundred and sixty-seven
It is said in the legends of Caren'thal the Younger that when the adventurer first spied the cragged coastline of the Midreach that he thought he had found the edge of the world. After months under sail the shoals and cliffs that confronted him seemed a natural barrier to any attempt to journey further westwards. In his mind there could be nothing beyond except perhaps for the habitations of the suns and the moons, a void of rest for the celestial beings as they took their ease after crossing the sky. It was only after finding the straits of Elanna and Shabel that Caren'thal discovered the world to be far larger than he could possibly have conceived of.
It was the intention of Caren'thal that he would take his ship, the Longreach, as far to the west as it was possible to go. Before leaving the Midreach however, he needed to find water and began a survey of the islands to the north, his hope that there might be natural springs and a quiet harbour in which to shelter. It was by this route that he discovered Clan'dael.
What he found upon the three largest islands in the north was a land of wide forests and grasslands, bordered to the north and east by high mountains. The largest of the islands he called Auren'dael, and it was there that he found both the shelter he needed and the fresh water that would prove vital to his journeys to the New World. It was there that he also found mysteries that would remain unsolved in his lifetime and in the lifetimes of his descendants. Little could any of us realise that such mysteries might still be waiting, silent and patient through the endless panorama of the years.
Our first sighting of Auren'dael came in the evening, an hour before dusk, just as the suns of our world had almost ended their descent into darkness. Off our starboard bow, the sails of the Avernell and the Castaal hove into view, clean white shapes against the deepening blue of the sea, both making quickly for our position. Without need for communication the Dromannion changed course, and with the two scout ships turning about led our vessel into the gathering dark. At our backs the rest of the Fleet followed, each turning with the Dromannion as it made for a large island that rose out of the horizon ahead.
At first there was not much that could be seen, the gloom of night quickly wrapping the world in darkness. But as the island loomed closer the first of a series of landmarks came into view. Upon a long seawall of carved stone stood a huge statue of a robed, hooded figure, at least four times the height of the Dromannions mainmast. Staring out into the setting suns, the faceless figure stood one arm raised, pointing into the west, as if showing the way. Behind it stood another, some two hundred metres distant, and then a further nine, all evenly spaced along a seawall strewn with fallen stone. With the memory of the earth-spirits still fresh in our minds all of us on deck looked immediately to the Captain and the Maturi Hedj, but there was to be no call to arms here. The statues were just that, the remnants of some long-lost dominion, carved in a time that we could not know of and etched with the wear of long exposure.
The Avernell and the Castaal took us past these figures and then into a wide natural harbour that was bordered on each of its shores by steeply sloped hills. Upon these slopes lay the ruins of a city, one that extended by steps to the summit of each hill, and upon the highest of these hills stood a tall citadel, towers broken, its walls crumbled with age. In the red glow of last light the ruins stood out, orange against the dark stone of the hills. It is in the quiet waters of this harbour that we dropped anchor, and in the encroaching dark have set lanterns to guide the remainder of the Fleet to our side. After much travail we have finally arrived in Clan'dael.
Day One hundred and sixty-eight
The day has begun with great activity, the plans and objectives of our stay in full operation with an exodus of passengers into the confines of the ruined city and its hinterland. Along the shoreline the ships of our Fleet have made anchor, a line of vessels that extends around the entire length of the harbour. In the quiet of the morning I have seen a continuous embarkation of people and equipment, steadily spreading into the ruins as we determine what this island can offer. It has taken little time to find the city deserted and without danger, a ruin of immense age where only the decrepit nature of the stone itself provides any cause for concern.
As with our sojourn in Amen'wraith we have all been given tasks to perform, and at the start of this day I find myself part of a surveying team charged with the job of mapping the harbour and its surrounds. For the Captain of the Fleet this is an important charge, a task that he wishes completed within our first two days ashore. Our Surveyor says that this is a job that can be done so I have been seconded to his team as a Medical Aide. Apart from being on hand if any misfortune should fall upon any of the Surveyor's complement I have found myself reduced to the role of porter, carrying my share of the equipment required for the task.
So far it has proven difficult. To complete a proper survey of the harbour and its environs we have spent the day trudging over the length and breadth of the ruins, laying out markers and taking angles and measurements. Most of this has been achieved in short order but the main objective of our day lays at the highest point on the hills that border the harbour. This will be our task for the afternoon and will require climbing and a head for heights.
The only benefit of my duty has been the ability to see at close hand the activities of the Fleet as we take advantage of our stay here. The crews of each ship have lent all their efforts to repair and refurbishment. Parties have left to explore into the forests of the south looking for suitable timber and there is a possibility that a new foremast will be fashioned for the Dromannion. On the shoreline and within the closer borders of the ruins people are busy with their duties. I have seen many taking the time to enjoy the feel of firm ground beneath their feet before beginning their tasks.
For myself the ruins themselves have proven of the greatest interest. Apart from the huge sentinels that line the seawall, the ruins are very much human in size and function. We have found wide streets and large areas of fallen stone that outline substantial buildings, market squares and temples. The stone that remains standing shows a high level of artifice, but curiously there are no inscriptions or evidence of language of any type. Even the shards of pottery I have found in our wanderings are completely plain, without design or decoration. I cannot infer anything from this but it does seem strange to me. I can say that the pieces I have found have been made for human hands and that makes me wonder who these people were, and how they met their demise in such a distant place.
The more I travel the ruins the greater is my sense that this city was the home of Men and for many of our number this has only strengthened their resolve to stay. From reports gathered in from the many parties that have fanned out over the island it seems that all the basics required for settlement can be found here. Rivers and other watercourses flow from the mountains in the north, the ground is rich and deep, wide grasslands covering the interior. To the south are forests, not unlike those of Amen'wraith, and the dwarvendim have already located evidence of both quarries and mining in the east. We have found little to show that settlement could not flourish here and this has put in the minds of some the strong intention to remain.
To this end Captain Duschet has asked for a poll to be taken of all members of the Fleet, to ascertain who might wish to stay. It is his intention to remain here in Auren'dael for at least three weeks and has decided that those who wish to settle here may do so. I can see his purpose in this regard. Our ships are overcrowded, short on space and most limited in their ability to store provisions for what still may prove to be the longest leg of our voyage. If some wish to remain it may make the chances of a successful voyage to the New World for the rest of us all the more possible. It has fallen to the responsibility of the Administrators to conduct the poll. For my part I have decided that I will be going on to the New World. In my heart I know that it is there that my destiny lays.
For this day my writing must end. Ahead is the promise of a long climb lugging equipment to the citadel that stands high above the harbour in the east and I am being called to my duty. I can say truthfully that the exertions of this day have left me tired and I am not looking forward to it.
Day One hundred and sixty-nine
Day One hundred and sixty-nine of our journey finds me lying upon a bed in our Surgery aboard the Dromannion, nursing a broken ankle and, I am ashamed to say, developing a deep resentment of the Surveyor and his craft. I do not find the experience of being injured a pleasant one and now remain unable to move, waiting for Faren to attend to the setting of the bones. Like our ascent to the citadel I am not looking forward to it either.
Thankfully Lanja Narris has taken on the burden of my care and I find her attentions most agreeable. She does however seem intent on making me repeat the circumstances of my injury. For a reason I cannot determine she seems to find some humour in it but thankfully I need only state it once for this journal. As might be said for the beginning of many stories it all started out so simply.
With the striking of the first bell after midday the Surveyor's party left the activity of the shoreline and struck out for the citadel. Sitting atop the highest hill that bordered the harbour it was the last remaining landmark that needed measurement, and from its lofty vantage most of the markers that had been placed in the morning hours could also be remeasured and checked. As a process it was something I can say honestly that I did not understand.
The Surveyor was meticulous in his task, checking and rechecking every angle taken, remeasuring every distance that seemed important, and always applying notes and other scratchings to a roll of parchment that remained constantly under his arm. It was an arcane business that would, he assured us all as we laboured under the weight of his equipment, be of great help in planning for the settlement of the city.
When we arrived at the base of the hill in question we found a series of wide levels that extended up the slope to the base of the citadel itself. Each of these levels was connected by large, extensive stairways that reached upwards before ending at the gates of what was once a fortified hilltop. From our position at the root of the stairs it was impossible to tell how far we might need to walk to reach the top, but as I looked at what was before us I could feel the weight of my load growing all the heavier.
In the bright light of a clear afternoon we began our ascent. In the party stood six men, the Surveyor at the front, followed in line by those of us who had been chosen as his pack animals for the day. Each of us was loaded with equipment, and in the warmth of the afternoon we all soon came to feel the labour of the climb. It proved fortunate that the makers of this ruined city had built their stairway in shallow levels and had left landings evenly spaced upon its ascent where the weary might rest. Within the hour we reached the top and as we passed from the highest level of the stairway found ourselves upon a wide platform of stone that opened into a courtyard and a single high-arched entranceway. Here was our entry to the citadel itself and the Surveyor took no time to rest before moving inside.
The citadel proved to be a straightforward affair, an octagonal-shaped fortress enclosed within a single high wall. Crumbling circular towers reached at four opposing corners and a stout inner Keep made up what must have been a redoubtable fortification in its heyday. The most unusual aspect of the citadel stood upon the western face of the hill, a long bridge of stone that arched out from the parapets as one might expect a half-made bridge, reaching out into nothingness. Extending from the western wall of the fortress it proved to be a flat walkway that ended in a small landing of octagonal stonework.
From this high point it was the Surveyor's intention to make the last of his measurements and triangulations, and with its completion return to the Dromannion to begin the task of drafting the maps that were the object of our labours. First however, he commenced a survey of the citadel itself, plotting and marking the walls and other buildings within their ruined perimeter. This kept us busy once again until the last hour of daylight, placing markers and rolling out long cords of measuring tape. Such was the focus placed upon this job by the Surveyor that when he realised the lateness of the hour he quickly grabbed up his parchments and made for the high platform.
As I think on it I should have been more mindful of where we were, and not been so rash in my own actions, but a need for haste comes with its own dangers and on this day it was I who paid the price for it.
The Surveyor called for two of us to follow and motioned for a number of instruments on tripod stands to be brought to him. I was nearest to one and instinctively gathered it up and made after the Surveyor. The man was in a hurry and held his parchments under his arm. It is a curious thing but it was in my thoughts just prior to their snatching away that they seemed to be held in a precarious perch, and as soon as he rose above the shelter of the broken western wall was caught in the grip of a stiff easterly bluster. Off went the man's hat and as he grabbed for it, so did his parchments take flight from under his arm. Yelling to all and sundry for someone to catch the papers before they disappeared into the harbour below we all raced for them. I was nearest to where the parchments first made ground and as they scattered across the broken stonework raced to recover them.
It was not that I cared that much for them, I just did not wish to have to redo all the time and labour that had been expended on their making. As the papers were blown towards a gaping breach in the walls I ran, and as I grabbed for them did not notice the steep slope that fell away on the other side. Before I could stop myself I had toppled over the edge, my last conscious thought the sight of the Surveyor's papers fluttering down behind me, sharply white against the dark blue of the sky. Then all went black.
I awoke to find myself where I now reside, aching temples, a sore chest, and a swollen ankle the price paid for my carelessness. For today this is all that I can write. I hear Faren in the corridor.
Day One Hundred and seventy-one
It has been two days since my injury and as is the custom with such damages I have been confined to bed, my leg braced and strapped. A thorough examination by the Healer Faren has shown me to have a broken ankle, a concussion and three broken ribs. It is his determination that I will not be mobile for at least three weeks, and will be unable to return to my duties for at least five. It distresses me greatly that I have been rendered infirm at such an important time but there is naught that can be done about it. I am confined now to bed rest, and to battle the soporific effects of boiled gamba root, an ugly concoction that eases the pain in my leg but leaves me light-headed and unsteady.
About me the activity of the ship continues. On the beaches a new foremast is now being shaped for the Dromannion and I have been told by Ahlek Norahm that it will be ready within the week. From my bed I can hear the sounds of men and women at work, most involved in the packing and stowage of supplies brought in from the island's hinterland. It should come as no surprise that the provision of a large ship is a complex and extensive task, one that requires considerable effort and time. Although our holds still contain substantial supplies the needs of the new settlers, and the unforeseen addition of the Kalboreans to our number, has meant that we must be diligent in our efforts to restock. The sounds of this work have been a constant backdrop to my recuperation and a reminder of my need to heal quickly.
I have been the object of many visits during the course of the last few days, mostly my fellow Assistants enquiring as to my health. One visit was more notable than the rest and it came as quite a surprise. At the time of the evening meal the Shadar Len attended my bedside, asking as to the nature of my injuries and if I would be up to a visit in the morning. It seems that the Maturi Hedj has some questions for me and wishes to take the time to ask them. I do not see any good reason to say no and the Shadar left happy with the appointment. What the Maturi may wish with me I cannot say. The morning will no doubt give me my answer.
Day One hundred and seventy-two
In the early hours of this morning the wind turned westerly, blowing off the open sea at our anchorage and rocking the Dromannion in the swell it has raised with it. We have been fortunate in the first four days of our sojourn here to have been favoured with clear skies and warm suns, but the weather has turned and I have been told that a cloud bank now moves towards us. We are in for a nasty change.
I must record here that it is not only the weather that has changed. In the quiet of the night I awoke suddenly from a dream to find myself sitting upright, a churning feeling in my stomach, a strange anxiety grinding at me that I could not fathom. At first I placed the unease at the change in the pitch of the Dromannion as it rode at anchor but there was something else, something alien to my thoughts that kept me awake for the remainder of the night. Laying in bed did nothing to quiet the anxiousness I felt. It was only with the rising of the suns that the strangeness left me and I was able to return to sleep. My rest was short-lived however, for no sooner had I put my head down than the Maturi Hedj arrived, ready for his interview and with the benefit of a full night's sleep at his disposal.
It can be said that the Maturi Hedj is an interesting man, one who commands the absolute attention of his people, and who seems very comfortable with the authority that he wields. Although he stands roughly at the same height as myself, he is powerfully built and possesses the immense strength common to all his brethren. In his robes he is an imposing figure and in the confines of the small space that is my berth in the Surgery he commanded all the room that was available.
To talk to him however, leaves the impression that he has never needed to solve any problem with force. Behind the imposing figure of the man hides a keen mind and it did not take me long to realise that the mundane conversation he began with was only the prelude to a subtle interrogation. In a way it was not surprising that the Maturi had come to see me. From his questions it was evident that he believed that I had information regarding the disappearance of Shalengael and seemed intent on confirming that I had some part in it.
I can record here in my writings that the Maturi wished to know all that I knew of the northerner, and what I understood about the disappearance of the man. Carefully he tried to find out what I knew but there was more to his questions that quickly became apparent. In his words there lay a double meaning to each enquiry, a subtle implication that I had full knowledge of what happened to Shalengael, and he knew that I was aware of what he was doing. We were talking in a public area, where any number of people might overhear what we were saying but he couched his words in such a fashion that I could be in no doubt that he knew that I had been in attendance when Shalengael had disappeared.
The game of words went on for only a short time, I had no intention of betraying the trust that Shalengael had placed in me, and the Maturi accepted easily that I was not going to give him what he wanted. As he motioned to leave he placed in my hands a small talisman, a necklace of leather strapping that held in a small metal clasp a thumb-sized teardrop of polished black obsidian. I thanked him for the gift and he departed. It is in my thoughts that he will return. He does not seem the kind of man who would give up that easily.
The remainder of this day has proved uneventful. Although the weather is now turning the activities ashore have not lessened. I can see nothing from my berth in the surgery but the ship is alive with frantic effort and the noise of that work can be heard clearly. It is unfortunate but few of my fellow patients are in much shape for talk, so I spend my time instead trying not to move my leg and waiting the long hours in the hope that someone may come to visit. In this solitude I have made up my mind firmly that if I must once again save someone's parchments I will let the wind decide their fate. It will be a long time before I shall forget the pain that comes with having an ankle reset.
Day One Hundred and seventy-three
The work of the Fleet continues and I continue my exile from the world with growing frustration. Along the harbour's edge temporary accommodations are being erected for those who are to stay behind, and it has been decided that the ruins are to become the new home of our settlers. Apart from the fine harbour, the ruined city has also given up a number of its secrets, including a salvageable sewer system and a network of natural rock cisterns that will provide all the fresh water that could be required by those that are remaining. The dwarvendim have taken on the refurbishment of these facilities as a project well suited to their skills and I can say that I have not seen Lanja Narris as excited as she now appears. The working of stone is a skill natural-born to her people and they seem almost privileged to have the opportunity to return something so ancient back to service.
I have heard from Faren that the muster of those who are to remain has been completed. In total one thousand-eight hundred souls are to remain. These settlers have already removed their belongings from the Fleet, and have begun the process of ensuring their accommodations are complete and that they have everything they need to make a life here. Included in this number are sixty of the dwarvendim, who have volunteered to remain and help continue the rebuilding of the city. Although Captain Duschet has his misgivings about leaving anyone behind, the settlers and the Captain have come to an arrangement which seems to meet the needs of both.
It has been agreed that any who wish to stay behind may do so. However, the Captain has promised that if the New World is indeed to be found in the west then he will return ships to Clan'dael to retrieve any who may wish to continue on. It is his estimation that even if settlement proves difficult here that the settlers will be able to survive at least two years. Once our presence has been established in the New World ships will be dispatched to the Midreach to ensure that all is well. If not the settlers will be gathered up and returned to rejoin our number, sure in the knowledge that a new home awaits them.
To my knowledge this has been deemed acceptable to all, and from what I can find out from those who come to the Surgery has given many others cause to think on whether they should stay behind also. It is compelling to consider the notion of remaining and building a life here, safe from the vagaries of an unknown sea, but in this matter I have decided my course. It is in the New World that my destiny will be found. I cannot think of any reason to delay it.
Day One Hundred and seventy-five
Today has seen great activity within the harbour and ruins of Auren'dael. The Fleet rocks at anchor, safe from the strength of a southerly wind that has churned the ocean out beyond the headwaters of our sanctuary. The work of the past days has left us with holds now full again with the supplies needed for the remainder of our voyage. With these needs met the attention of all has turned to providing the best start for the settlers that are to remain. With thousands of hands put to the task the roads and boulevards of the city are being cleared, the broken stone and other debris hauled to quarry pits where it is to be reused as building material and road base.
Amongst all this I remain constrained to my bed. I can only imagine what changes are being wrought upon the city but I find that in my isolation I have come to notice changes in myself. It has started as a mere prickling sensation in my feet but there is something happening to my body, a strange warmth that flows around my limbs in waves that come and go. I have mentioned nothing about it so far to those who tend me. It is uncomfortable in its own manner but I somehow know that it has nothing to do with illness, or the injuries I received in my fall. Instead I have a sense that I should just let it take its course and see what happens. Whether I mention anything will be determined on it getting any worse.
Day One Hundred and seventy-six
In the early morning a squall passed over the island, bringing with it a veil of rain and mists that have endured over the course of the day. With the weather keeping most under cover I have been blessed with many visitors and a continuous stream of news on what is happening within the city. Ahlek Norahm has been my most conscientious visitor today and from him I have gained information on a most intriguing discovery made by the dwarvendim.
For the past three days the dwarvendim have been engaged in two main projects, rebuilding the water cisterns that extend as a network of underground caverns, and making repair to the high citadel so that it might be used as a sanctuary in times of danger. In these tasks they have committed great energy and it was during the clearing of the Keep upon the highest point of the citadel that they made a most remarkable discovery. Beneath a mound of ancient rubble the dwarvendim uncovered an entryway to a stairwell that descends deep into the stone beneath their feet. A short exploration showed the stairwell leads to a temple complex beneath the Keep that appears to be in good order and which extends for some distance into the hills east of the city.
It was within this complex of corridors and elegantly laid halls that the explorers found a pool of liquid that has confounded any attempt at identification. From the words of Ahlek it appears that the pool is circular in shape, contained within an elaborately carved container of stone that stands almost waist high. It is notable that this is the only decorative carving that has so far been found within the city and is said to be of an extraordinary quality. The dwarvendim themselves have said that they have never seen anything like it, but it is the liquid it contains that has left all who look upon it stumbling to describe what it might be.
To the eye it appears as water might in the last light of day, fluid but almost metallic in nature. Only one man has had the courage to place his hand within it and reports that it is hot to the touch but cannot be scooped or taken in any way from the pool it resides in. The Maturi Hedj and his Shadar have given no clue as to its purpose and for the moment it remains a mystery. The temple complex however, has proven empty but for this strange remnant and until further investigation is to be left well alone.
Other mysteries have also emerged within the hinterland of this island. Our hunters and gatherers have found more than a dozen ruins, all smaller than this harbour-city but all in a similar state of destruction. Roads have also been uncovered and at least two temple-like structures that overlook the rugged eastern cliffs that proved so foreboding on our approach to the Midreach. It seems that Auren'dael was once the seat of a sophisticated culture that has, for reasons that it is too early to fathom, come to a crushing end in a time so ancient that all that remains are the broken ruins of their works. Of all that we have found here there is only one fact that seems beyond dispute. The cities and temples of this island were fashioned for the use of Men. How they might have come to be here, and why they met such an end, are questions that will have to be left to the settlers to consider when the time allows.
The welcome attention of my visitors today has lessened the frustration that being confined to bed has wrought. The strange warmth that ebbs within me continues but the uncomfortable sensations have passed. Instead I now feel a sense of wellness within me that I can feel working at the sprains and fractures that keep me bedridden. In the dark of night I find that I cannot sleep anymore, and in those quiet hours my mind races with insistent whispers that talk not to me but to each other.
I could, if I wished, believe that I am going insane but there is a rational calmness to the voices that is both reassuring and compelling. Within their conversations I can understand little, they talk of the future and of past glories whilst taking no notice of my presence. I listen though, intent on the to and fro of their discussions. I do not know why but I feel it is important to listen, and in the dark it is something to do as I lay awake.
These are not the only changes that are now subtly emerging. There are times when the wind is blowing strongly that I can feel an energy focusing itself within my hands and forearms. It is a sensation of warmth and fire that moves along the palms of my hands and out into my fingertips before retreating. Like a coiled spring it gives me the feeling that if I knew how to, I could make it unleash itself, bursting from whatever constraints hold it within me. These feelings of power have been increasing within the last few hours and of all that has been happening to me it is this which causes me the greatest concern. In my mind I know that these changes have everything to do with the demise of Shalengael and my proximity to his magics but I do not know how to stop them. I had better tell the Healer Faren when he returns.
Day One hundred and eighty-one
This morning I was awoken by the hand of Lanja Narris at my shoulder. About the bed stood the Maturi Hedj, Faren, Ahlek Norahm and a number of my fellow assistants. I can confess that I was surprised to see them there, the small area of my bedspace fully surrounded by their concerned faces. At first I thought that I must have done something but Faren quickly explained their obvious relief at my waking. He informed me that I had lapsed into a coma and for the last five days have lain without moving, my body rigid with a high fever that could not be broken.
I have no knowledge or remembrance of these days past. In fact the only memory that lingers with me is the thought that I needed to speak with Faren, but had failed to do so as he had not returned to the Surgery that evening. All else is a fog that gives me no insight into what might have happened. But something has happened nonetheless. Whilst I lay upon my bed the Healers gave me a full examination. All sign of my injuries have disappeared, my ankle now fully healed. Carefully I was helped onto my feet and apart from a slight nausea was able to stand without difficulty. I could not help but notice the glances exchanged between the Healers. Injuries that should have taken weeks to heal and months to fully recover from had disappeared as if they were never there. It was a mystery that I knew would be fully investigated but as I answered their questions I could feel that the energy that had been growing within me had dissipated, the voices that had kept me company within the dark hours had gone. In the light of the morning I felt completely as my old self.
For today at least I am to remain in the Surgery then I am to be returned to my duties. I thank providence that I need not stay any longer than that.
Day One hundred and eighty-two
Another day passes as we sojourn in Auren'dael and finally I have been allowed to step upon the upper decks and see what progress we have made. After so long below it took me a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the morning, but in the light of day it is clear that what we have achieved on this island is extraordinary. The Fleet rests at anchor just as I had left it, more than half the ships dotted along the shoreline, the rest spread about the harbour. The ruins however has been transformed. To the north there has grown a tent-city, a collection of temporary accommodations that is quickly making way for more permanent housing within the ruins. All the boulevards in the centre of the city have been cleared and where ruins once stood a new settlement has grown of white-painted houses and other buildings designed to serve the settlers after the Fleet has gone.
To meet all the needs of the settlers the dwarvendim have introduced them to a new technique for the construction of dwellings and other buildings. Called durgat it is an amazing mixture of rock, sand and lime, plus a few other ingredients that I have not yet been able to identify. Mixed with water in the right amount in can be formed into blocks or moulded into any shape required. Within hours it sets as hard as the rock it is made up of, and with this material the dwarvendim have been able to build housing and other structures at an astonishing rate. I have been told that five dwarvendim can build a house easily within three days, and with hundreds of them involved in the work a new city has spread within the ruins. It is their practice to finish each new building by painting it completely in white. I believe any further decoration is to be left to the settlers.
Contrasted against the glaring white of the buildings, there has been a concerted effort to plant food gardens and tend to the many old trees that are scattered through the ruins. One tree in particular has caught my attention. Upon the second level of the city spreads a wide area of open ground, bordered by a low stone wall that many have surmised must have previously been a marketplace or a sporting arena. With the passing of the original inhabitants this space had become overrun with trees and shrubs. All of this had been removed except for a huge spreading Oak that sits squarely in the centre of the market. This tree has remained and it dwarfs everything else in the city except for the high citadel. The new residents of this land have taken the Oak as a symbol of their new-found independence, and its ability to survive the years in such stony ground does seem fitting.
I spent most of the morning watching as the work continued ashore. The Captain has said that we can only remain a further five days and then the Fleet must once again make sail. With a deadline now set for our departure the work crews have redoubled their efforts ashore and the crewmen of all ships now look to their own vessels for whatever repair and maintenance is still required. Ahead lays the second half of our voyage and there will be no landfalls before we reach the New World.
I am happy to say also that the Dromannion now sports a new foremast. Raised in the days I was unconscious it has been the focus of most activity aboard ship. I do not know the details of what is required to fit a new mast but it seems the crew have had to take down most of the rigging on the ship and rethread every rope and pulley aboard to accommodate it. It is an arduous task that will take a further two days to complete and I do not believe that any of the crew would have wished to do it on the open ocean. Such complicated maintenance is also being conducted on many other ships at anchor. I believe that whatever time we have left here will be put to good use.
In the early evening I was called to a meeting with the Maturi Hedj. The circumstances of my recovery have no doubt piqued his interest, and I attended his accommodations on the wheeldeck with the expectation that I would once again be fielding questions regarding Shalengael and the circumstances of his disappearance. To my surprise I have instead been invited to be a part of an expedition to view the pool of liquid found beneath the citadel Keep. My inclusion has already been approved by the Captain and it would seem that the Maturi greatly desires my attendance. I have agreed although I cannot see why it should be so important. We will be leaving at first light in the morning.
Day One hundred and eighty-three
The night has passed slowly but not because the voices have returned. When I first arose from my sickbed I could tell that the strangeness that had afflicted me before had gone, but now that a few days have passed I can feel that something within me has indeed changed. In the shadows of the night it is easier to sense the subtle differences that have been wrought upon me. No longer is the power that had grown within me uncontrolled. At first it remained hidden but I find now that I am its master, able to bring it to the surface at will. I can report that in the dark of the Capstan Well I have been able to summon the same energy that Shalengael had harnessed so effectively. Raising my hand, I thought on a light appearing at my fingertips and in response the faintest of blue shimmers appeared, surrounding my hand and then diminishing away. At first I came upon this new skill by accident but I have found that conscious thought, and considerable practice, allows me to produce the light and form it in any way I think fit. I can record that as of yet I can find no practical use for this, and the more I think on it I must confess that it may be nothing but an effect of being too close to the northerner during his conjurations. Until such time as I can determine what has happened to me I am going to keep it to myself.
As I must now make for the wheeldeck I am unable to write any further. The Maturi waits for my attendance and once this expedition has been completed I will be returning to my regular duties. I will leave what happens today to be recorded in tomorrow's entry.
Day One hundred and eighty-four
The day has started with fine weather but I find myself with much to think on and little time to fully understand what has happened to me. With only three days remaining until departure the Fleet is a hive of activity as final preparations are being completed. Unlike most who now labour at their allotted tasks I am now privy to the dangers that lay before us and have been instrumental in their uncovering. It would seem that Shalengael may have gone but he has left a legacy that still determines our future.
Upon putting down my quill in the morning past I went to meet with the Maturi Hedj and found both the Shadar Len and Captain Duschet himself in attendance. The Maturi's quarters are not large but a table had been set in the centre of his room and laid upon it was a chart of the waters ahead of us. It is unfortunate but most of the writings of Carenthal relating to this part of our journey have been lost. We know the New World lies ahead but what may exist between ourselves and these legendary lands in relatively unknown. The large blank spaces on the chart were a testament to this lack of knowledge and as I entered I could see that this was the subject of the earnest conversation they were engaged in. All talk ceased as I made my presence known.
For the Maturi there seemed little reason to delay our expedition. With a large canvas bag already packed at his feet he took the lead, gathering his three companions as he made for the door. Today, he proclaimed, we would determine the course that must be set to reach the New World. I had no idea what he meant but let him lead the way. Although I had thought the expedition was purely exploratory in nature it seemed the Maturi had determined a specific agenda for our small group. At that time I could not know what it was, but with this mystery in mind eagerly followed the dwarvendim as he made his way to the gangway that would take us to the shoreline.
It took a little less that an hour to reach the high citadel. Since recovering from my injuries I had been required to stay aboard and this expedition was my first chance to see the changes wrought within the city at close quarters. It is fair to say that most of the city remains in the state we found it. Ruined buildings and centuries of neglect are difficult to erase but the centre of the city has been reborn. Where ruination once ruled there now stands the kernel of a new settlement and from within the smashed walls and broken streets has arisen a town worthy of those who are to remain behind. It is amazing to see the way the industry of the peoples of the Fleet has been focused to this task. With streets cleared and new white walls glaring in the sunlight it is not hard to see that we will be leaving these settlers with the best opportunity to survive whatever circumstances may arise in our absence. Apart from the final roofing of a new civic hall there is little that still needs to be done. It is a credit to all who have laboured so hard.
As we reached the stairway to the citadel I felt the first pangs of a desire to go no further. I could not tell if it was some memory of my fall that made me falter, or if my new-found powers were telling me to choose caution. In the end it was a quiet word from the Maturi that got me moving. There was, he said, nothing that we might encounter ahead that could possibly cause me harm. On this he could be trusted. Together we made our way onto the stairs.
The ascent proved less of a labour than I had expected. Without the added burden of the Surveyor's equipment the rising levels were far easier to traverse, and some quick repair work done by the dwarvendim had made the steps easily navigable. When we reached the upper landing and entered the citadel proper I found that the dwarvendim had indeed been hard at work. In the time given to them they could not have returned the citadel to its former glories. Instead they had rebuilt the collapsed walls and turned the fortress into a redoubt that would provide at least some protection if the settlers ever found themselves in need of a sanctuary. Large wooden doors had also been hung upon both sides of the entrance and a wooden battlement secured upon the western wall to provide some ability to defend the gates. All in all they had built an effective last defence for the settlers. Who could possibly attack them in the isolation of the Midreach was unknown but it seems necessary that such works should be in place. The truth is that none of us can know how far the reach of the Enemy might ultimately extend, and any defence must be better than none.
The Keep stands as a high tower at the centre of the citadel. An open entrance faces the main gates and with the Maturi still at the lead we moved quickly inside. Within the tower it proved to be very dark, on its lowest levels it has no windows or ventilation and in the gloom we stopped for a moment to light torches and organise ourselves for a descent into darkness. The stairwell that reached into the stone of the hill lay at the centre of the Keep's lowest level and with torches in hand we made our way down. The Maturi took the lead, followed by the Captain, myself and then the Shadar Len. In a tight spiral the stairs descended, the width of the stairwell no more than four metres. With torches flickering before us we moved carefully into the dark, taking each step tentatively until we came to a wide landing. To one side of this platform was an archway that opened out into a long corridor. I am unsure as to whether any of our party had been within the Temple before but the Maturi made his way confidently through a series of passages before finding a large domed cavern. It was here that the object of our expedition was to be found.
Like everything else that we had encountered, the Keep and the Temple beneath it were devoid of any decoration or artifice. Smooth clean walls spoke of technical skill and impressive engineering, and there was no doubt that the builders of all these ruins were sophisticated and skilled beings. The pool however, was a completely different thing. It was somehow out of place in a world of clean lines and precision, a piece of exquisite art that could not have possibly been the work of the architects who had fashioned the Temple it resided in. Here stood a paradox and a mystery, and I could not help but think of the last paradox we had encountered on our voyage; the island of Amen'wraith.
Sitting in the centre of the cavern it stood very much as Ahlek had described. Highly decorated and filled with the strange liquid, it felt so resoundingly out of place that I stood for a time trying to find some clue as to why it might have been put there. Thankfully the Maturi Hedj had the answers to these questions.
Only the four of us stood within the cavern and in the dark our torches flickered with a feeble light that barely illuminated the pool and its immediate surrounds. When I looked at it closer I realised that to call it a pool was misleading. To myself it looked more like a well, an opening into something deep and unfathomable and I was quickly to be proven correct. The Maturi took centre-stage in the drama that unfolded and I can record here that in that drama I played my part as well.
In the all-encompassing dark the Maturi approached the pool and motioned for me to move closer. Both the Captain and the Shadar Len stayed in the shadows. It was as we stood in the quiet that the Maturi asked me if I still had the pendant made of black stone. As it happened I had placed the pendant about my neck on the day he had given it to me and had not removed it. When I took it from about my neck I was amazed to see that it had changed. Rather than the polished black obsidian that had been given to me it was now clear, a perfect droplet of flawless crystal. With the pendant in hand he laid it carefully into the liquid in the pool and then stood back.
It is difficult to describe exactly what happened next. As we waited in the dark the Maturi explained what he had done and why. It was his contention that the pool was indeed something very precious. In the dialects of his ancient home the artefact was a Traebor'im'haram, a Well of Infinite Possibility, one of the most important gifts that could be bestowed upon travellers unsure of their way. Within the depths of the Well dwelt the power to conjure every possible outcome of a traveller's chosen course, every consequence, every fork in the road that could lead to either success or disaster. All it took to unlock the Well was the power of the Gaels, and in his foresight Shalengael had provided that power. He had given it to me, and the Maturi Hedj had drawn it from me with the obsidian pendant.
For a short time there was silence in the cavern and I must confess that when at first nothing happened I started to consider the idea that the Maturi was mistaken. I was of course very wrong. In the gloom it was difficult to see anything at first but then the carved surround of the well started to transform itself.
The entire surface of the well was carved as a complete representation of a simple forest scene, of trees and undergrowth captured in a moment of stillness. As a simple carving it could have been considered magnificent but it was much more than that. Within the depths of the trees could be found many animals and birds of the forest, all caught in motion, their backdrop the shadows and arching branches of a spreading canopy above. If you chose to look carefully it was possible to see deep within the trunks as if the scene extended into the distance. It was a beautiful piece of work that could hold you entranced within the cunning artistry of its form but that was not its purpose. Imperceptibly it was coming to life before us.
As if a wind was blowing through their many branches the trees began to move, bending slightly as the undergrowth and grasses at their roots bent and whipped about. The animals and birds disappeared only to return as fleeting images between trunk and foliage and with each passing moment the upper reaches of the forest began to grow, spreading out beyond the borders of the well, twisting and forming themselves into a wide bowl of endlessly changing branches. Within this bowl the liquid that had been quiet changed also. From its rest it arose as a sphere of perfectly black water, floating just above the constantly transforming branches of the forest below. Then the sphere began to ripple, a series of waves running across its surface.
Quickly the Maturi motioned everyone to come close. I remember distinctly that he had to shout at the Captain. He was awe-struck by what he was seeing and in those moments of transformation did not respond to the dwarvendim's whispered command. Hesitantly he took his place as the Maturi directed us to each stand upon one of four dark-coloured squares of stone. Each of our party stood at a point of the compass, surrounding the sphere as it hung suspended in the air before us. None of us could imagine what would happen next.
From within the centre of the sphere there came the slightest glimmer of blue flame. Like a light ascending to the surface of a deep ocean it grew and took on form, becoming clearer as it gathered power from within. Quickly the light engulfed the sphere, shining out, illuminating the entire chamber. It was only then that I noticed the roof of the cavern was a perfect dome. That realisation came to us all at the same instant, and in that moment the light speared upwards from the sphere in a column of colour and movement that washed across the dome. Images appeared, blurred at first but then sharper and identifiable. We all gasped as it became clear that we were watching the Fleet at sea, sailing into the west.
Without respite the images increased in frequency. In a surge of light and colour we saw the destruction of the Dromannion played out a hundred times, each showing a different end, each providing a set of choices that could be made that would lead to failure and death for the Fleet. Fire and groundings, attacks by the Behemoths, of Kreel and other denizens of the seas flashed before our eyes. Pinnacles of stone rose swiftly beneath our ships, crushing and impaling our vessels as their complements were thrown into dark waters. Storms arose before us and disease swept our ships, taking all in a multitude of brutal and senseless ways. It was an overpowering explosion of information and consequences that made no sense, but within the waves of imagery a single theme began to unveil itself, a subtle idea that became clearer as we stood assaulted by the power of the well. There was only one way to reach the New World without suffering the terrible consequences that were being played out before us. To find sanctuary we must go into the north-west and find the Sentinels of the Ashgard. It was only from there that we would find our way to the New World. All other paths would lead to disaster.
Its message given the sphere dissolved away, the moving stone of the well contracted and returned to a state of rest. In the cavern we stood quiet, all our minds filled with the images generated by the sphere. It did not pass by any of us as we stood dumfounded by what we had seen that within the fleeting images had been endless scenes of our own deaths, and of carnage and destruction that left us without any doubt of how we might chart our voyage to the New World. The Well of Infinite Possibility had done its job.
As we turned for the corridors that would take us back to the surface I noticed the Maturi scoop the obsidian pendant from the surface of the well and return it to his robes. He did not offer it to me and I must say that I did not want it. Nobody said a word as we made our way back to the world of light.
Day One hundred and eighty-five
This is our last full day ashore. Departure for the Fleet has been ordered for first light tomorrow and those of us that have not been burdened with last-minute tasks have been given leave to enjoy the island for one final time. For all the reasons described in this record I have had little opportunity to venture beyond the confines of the harbour and its ruins, and when given the chance to join a party of my fellow Assistants on an expedition into the southern forests I could not decline. The chance for fresh air and a bracing walk into the forests of Auren'dael seems a fitting end to my time here. Ahead lay months of travel, without hope of landfall, and we were all going to make this last day one that will be remembered.
Ahlek had heard from some of the dwarvendim that a lake was to be found only a short distance into the forests to the south, fed by cascades and surrounded on all sides by lush vegetation and a small stone beach. It was there, he assured us, that we would find a fitting place to spend our last hours ashore. None could see any reason to dispute this and in the mid-morning we set off, loaded with food and drink, our intention to idle away what time we had left to us in a state of relaxation and merriment. Just as we were about to disembark the Shadar Len approached and asked if he might join us. Today he also had been separated from his burdens and wished to make the trek as well. On such a fine day we could think of no reason to say no, and with the dwarvendim Shadar in tow began our small expedition.
To find the forests of the south required first a long walk along the southern reaches of the harbour. On all sides the ruins are bordered by hills and sea and to escape these boundaries it is necessary first to make for the shallow hills that sit in the south. Within these slopes can be found an old road that winds a path through the hills, and then opens onto a broad plain which in turn spreads into the forests of Auren'dael. Ahlek had said that the lake was only a short distance away but this proved quickly to be inaccurate. By the time we had made it beyond the hills it was nearly midday and it had become clear that the forests stood at least a further hour's walk into the south. Our high spirits, and complete determination to have a good time, left little energy for recrimination. The sky was the clearest blue, the twin suns shining in a sky devoid of cloud or bluster, and with our goal clearly set we trekked our way across the wide grasses.
I have never been one for the exertion of journeying great distances on foot, my life having been spent in the pursuit of my craft. Those times that I have been required to travel have always necessitated the use of a wagon or carriage. I found quickly on our walk that I do not have the stamina for such exertions and it was to my great relief that we found the edge of the forest in the hour after midday. There we rested for a time before moving on. The lake resided only a short distance within the trees and was large enough that it was easy to find without the need for a search. The loud murmur of its cascades proved a natural signpost to its location and in the mirror of its tranquil waters we set up our pavilion.
Ahlek had taken the time to procure a tent from which all but the canvas roofing had been removed. Beneath this shade we placed out our food and drink and in the warm air of a bright afternoon settled to take our ease. In this fashion we whiled away the remaining hours of daylight; eating, laughing and swimming in the cool waters of the lake. As we relaxed other groups also arrived and soon the stony beach was crowded with those that had leave to go ashore. It was a great day, one that I will remember long after we have left Auren'dael. To simply do nothing but relax in the warmth of a mild afternoon, engaging in easy conversation without the urgency of pressing duties was a balm for us all, one that was hard to see the end of. The lowering of the suns in the west could not be ignored and it was with some regret that we packed our gear and pulled down the pavilion. There was however, the matter of returning to the city and it was in the receding hours of daylight that I found myself with the opportunity to speak with the Shadar Len.
It was as we were within sight of the hills that he strode up beside me. At first we spoke only on the activities of the day but both his curiosity and my own could remain subdued for only so long. First I enquired on his given name. Before becoming Shadar to the Maturi Hedj he was known to his family as Agrindel and for a time we both talked on our lives prior to the coming of the Enemy. He had been a slave, as had all the dwarvendim, but early in his life had been chosen by his Elders to study as a Shadar with the only surviving Maturi of his people. It had been a hard existence in servitude to the Haarn but on this he did not wish to say much, for him the only thing that now mattered was the future. The subject of the Maturi brought me to the one question I had been wanting to ask since our expedition to the Temple.
With the suns setting a wind had begun to ease its way out of the south and with the breeze at our shoulders I asked the Shadar how the Maturi had known about the Well of Infinite Possibility, and how he had come to know that I held the power to use it. Agrindel paused only to ensure that no-one else could hear him become he replied. The answer he said was simple. Shalengael had left a letter for the Maturi prior to his disappearance. He had placed it away in the Maturi's belongings, in a cunning fashion that would ensure the dwarvendim could find it only after the Gael's leaving. Within its words were exact directions as to what to do when we arrived in the Midreach and where to find the power needed to activate the well. It seemed that the Gael's ability to divine the future had proven potent indeed.
What was more interesting was the Shadar's views on the well itself. He had learned from his master that it was in fact an extension of the Gael's ability to see the consequences of all actions as a continuous thread of cause and effect. In Agrindel's mind it was no wonder that so many of the Gaels faltered under the weight of such prescience. Without a disciplined mind the confusion of choice and consequence given by their powers must have seemed overwhelming. He was glad that such a gift was not his to control.
We talked for most of the remainder of the walk back to the city, and I believe that in that time we became friends. In the light of Elanna and Shabel our party retraced its way back through the hills and then into the illuminated harbour. Already aboard the ships of the Fleet the night watches were making final preparations for departure. Within the long lines of vessels the Dromannion stood out, its lanterns and braziers outlining a ship far larger than those that rode at anchor about it. In the cool of the evening our ship rose and fell to a light swell that had all the Fleet restless, like dogs baying for release from their leashes. Tomorrow we must leave this place. I will be sad to go but our fate lies in the west, and I can only hope that Providence will look kindly upon those that are to remain.
Day One Hundred and eighty-six
We have all been awoken at first light to the striking of the Dromannion's bell and the signals for all ships to make sail. Along the shoreline those who have now made Auren'dael home have gathered to say their farewells, and in the cool of the morning a stiff easterly has blown up, filling our sails and turning us to the west. The smaller ships of the Fleet are to make for the harbour entrance first, then spread to the north and south as the Dromannion and the Avernell clear the seawalls. We are leaving this place with a reduced complement, and less three small ships that are to remain as transport for the settlers to the other two inhabitable islands of Clan'dael. The Captains and crews of these vessels have chosen to remain behind. There is sadness in this parting but also hope that all will meet once again . Now however, we are to be separated and as I watch the people ashore I wonder what hardships will confront them as they try to build a new life upon these islands. I wish them success.
For us however the next leg of our journey must now begin. Ahead is the vagaries of the wild seas and the prospect of no further landfall until we reach the New World. Once again we have become a small world of humanity in a wasteland of moving water, but the wind is at our backs and our course is known. Across the leagues ahead of us lies the Sentinels of the Ashgard and a safe passage to the sea beyond. This is to be our fate and we will meet it as it may come.
Before I must begin my duties I should record one final item. Those of us that stood in the Temple and used the power of Shalengael to activate the well believe that his powers have now dissipated, lost like himself to the winds. I can write here that this is not so. I feel the energy of his gift still within me, flowing like a faint breeze through the core of my being. Whatever the Gael might have seen in our future still requires the exercise of his power. There is something ahead that solid ships and skilled crews cannot overcome alone. Of this I am certain.
The journal of Emmers Nahr continues in Volume Three...
Contents | Introduction | Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three
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