Quentin sat upon the cold stone of the harbor wall, kicking his feet against the thick green moss. Toli stood beside him like a shadow, arms folded across his chest, gazing out into the harbor. Squawking gulls hovered in the air, noising their protest of these two humans invading their sunning spot.
“The ships are gone,” sighed Quentin. He swung his gaze over the broad, empty dish of the harbor. Only two ships remained behind of all that had sailed a week earlier—both needed repair and were getting nowhere very soon. Quentin had already inquired after them.
“They will return,” replied Toli. He had a knack for stating an obvious fact in a most enigmatic way.
“Undoubtedly. They will return. But it may be too late for us.”
Quentin got up from the low slanting wall, which, for the most part, kept the sea from running through the streets of Bestou. “I don’t know what to do now.” He sighed again and brushed his trousers with his hands.
“Wisi thera ilya murenno,” said Toli, his eyes still searching far out to sea.
“The winds speak out . . . what?” Quentin’s translation halted unfinished.
“The winds blow where he directs,” replied Toli. He turned to regard Quentin again. Quentin could not help noticing his servant still held a strange, distant light in his eyes.
“Mmm,” said Quentin thoughtfully. “Then we will leave it to him. Come on. We’d better look after the horses.” Casting an eye toward the sun, he gauged it to be nearing midday. “I could use something to eat, myself. What about you?”
The two climbed the long sloping hill upon which Bestou was built and which ran down from the forests above to plunge into the sea. They had left the horses in the care of a farmer on the outskirts of Bestou, not knowing if horses would be welcome in a shipping town.
In no time they were through the town. Bestou cuddles the whole length of the crescent bay but has no depth. The merchants crowd the waterfront; above them stand the houses of the wealthy ship owners who make their homes in Bestou; beyond that lie the widely scattered stone-and-timber dwellings of the hill folk and farmers.
The two walked back to the farmer’s tumbledown house at their leisure. When they arrived, Quentin spoke to the farmer, whose wife insisted that they share their midday meal. Toli led the horses to water and turned them out to crop the new green grass around the house.
The travelers and their hosts ate huge hunks of brown bread that the farmer’s chattering wife toasted at a small fire on the hearth, along with great slabs of pale yellow cheese. Several times during their meandering conversation, the farmer mentioned the horses with admiration, especially the surpassing strength of Balder. “I will wager he can work, that one,” he said, as if imparting some great truth.
“Balder is a warhorse,” explained Quentin. “Trained for combat.”
“Aye, and such a strong one too.”
“Well . . .” Quentin winked at Toli. “Have you some chore fit for a horse? Then we could see what he could do.”
“Oh no. No. I wouldn’t think . . . Well, but there is a stump in the field. But no . . . Do you think he might?”
“We shall put him to the test,” said Quentin, rising heavily to his feet. He had not eaten so much since leaving Dekra, and that was many days ago. “It is the least we can do to repay your kindness.”
“Do not trouble yourselves for us,” said the farmer’s wife. “We are glad of the company. A farmer’s lot is a lonely one.”
But Quentin could see that they were both very pleased. He enjoyed being able to help them; it gave him a warm feeling. Serving, he thought.
“This stump has vexed me raw these two years. It sits in the middle of my new field,” the farmer explained as they tramped out to the spot where it stood.
Horses, though not unknown on Tildeen, were rare enough. They were not needed for travel; there was no place to go, and Bestou, being a port, had little use for them. Only a few of the better-established farmers owned them for working the land. But those were very few and fortunate indeed.
They had rigged a harness for Balder made of leather straps and rope. Nebo, the farmer, carried a long, sturdy branch to use as a lever. Quentin led Balder, and Toli carried the harness. Tisha, the farmer’s wife, bustled along behind them.
After several attempts and much adjusting of the rustic harness, Balder lowered his head and leaned into his work. The ropes stretched taut and threatened to snap. Nebo, Quentin, and Toli hung from the branch, nearly bending it in two. Tisha, standing at Balder’s head, coaxed him on with soft words.
There came a loud pop underground and a long, wrenching creak. Balder’s smooth muscles bulged under his glossy coat. And then, suddenly, the stump lay upon its side, dangling moist, earth-covered roots in the warm spring air.
“Hoo! Hoo!” the farmer shouted. “That is the strongest animal I ever saw! Hoo! Wait until Lempy hears about this! Hoo!”
“Now, Nebo,” said the farmer’s wife, “remember that you promised to make sacrifice to Ariel if that stump be moved in time for planting. It be moved. The god requires his due.”
“Ah, yes. So I did,” drawled the farmer reluctantly. “I will make sacrifice of a silver bowl at the temple.” He hesitated. “Though I would rather buy a new plowshare.”
Quentin listened to this exchange with a curious sinking sensation. “Please, make no offering to the god Ariel. Such is not required. Only help another when you may; that shall be your sacrifice.”
The eyes of the farmer and his wife looked strangely at him, and Quentin suddenly felt foolish. He should not have spoken.
“Are you a priest, young master?” questioned the farmer cautiously.
“I once belonged to the Temple of Ariel,” admitted Quentin. “But I follow a greater god now. One who is not honored by silver.”
A look of relief appeared on Nebo’s broad, good-natured face. “Then I will make the sacrifice you and your god suggest,” he said lightly, happier than ever. He had moved the troublesome stump and had saved the price of the silver bowl too. This new god, whoever he might be, impressed him very much. He clapped his hands in childlike glee.
“I am tired,” announced Quentin. “I have eaten too much, and the sun makes me drowsy.”
“A nap, then,” Nebo declared. “A little sleep is a good thing.”
Quentin awakened with a grudging reluctance. The air was cool, the sun warm upon his face as it spun to the treetops, having crossed over the high arch of heaven to begin its descent toward evening. Toli sat quietly beside Quentin, having awakened some time before.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” asked Quentin, pushing himself up. They were lying on a small grassy hill beside Nebo’s small farmhouse.
“It is time to go back to the harbor,” replied Toli.
Quentin looked at his friend, holding his head to one side. “Now? What makes you say that?”
Toli shrugged. “I feel we should. Something here tells me.” He pointed to his chest.
“Then we will go. We will leave the horses here for now.”
“No. I think we should take them.”
“As you say.” Quentin was agreeable, though he did not see any point in taking the horses into town; they would only have to walk back again. Better to let them rest. But it was not worth discussing on such a bright, brilliant afternoon.
They took their leave of the kind farmer and his wife and struck out upon the rocky lane toward Bestou. Descending to the bowl of the harbor, they could see the whole of the town, the harbor, and the blue sea beyond, glimmering in the distance.
They walked along in silence, listening to the horses clopping peacefully behind them; the fresh scent of grass and growing things hung in the air. Quentin thought that in such a place, on such a day, he could forget all about his task. Forget about kings and wizards and fighting and hiding. He could lose himself in these hills, in the idle drone of the bees buzzing among the wildflowers, nodding their pink and yellow heads in the breeze along the road.
Quentin stirred himself from his contemplation of the dusty tracks they walked upon. He turned with a question on his lips and drew a breath to speak. The question died at once and the air spilled out between his teeth when he beheld Toli’s face.
That distant light once again burned in the Jher’s dark eyes and lit his features in a strange way. It was as if he stared into the future, thought Quentin, beyond this time and place, or perhaps very far into the unknown distance.
“What is it? What do you see, Toli?”
“A ship comes,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“A ship?” Quentin scanned the harbor. He saw nothing. He looked beyond the harbor to the sea—nothing there. No object showed on the horizon at all that he could see. He looked long to the north and south as far as he could until the hills on each side restricted the view. “I do not see a ship,” he admitted at last.
Toli said nothing more, and so they continued down the hill once more in silence.
They reached the houses, then the cobbled streets where the merchants had their stalls, and then the harbor wall itself, where they had sat that very morning. Quentin searched the horizon again, as he had all the way, to see what Toli apparently saw quite plainly.
The streets were brisk with activity. The fishermen in their long, low-hulled boats had returned from a day’s work. Women with cane baskets hurried along to gather in groups around the fishermen spreading out their catch on the stone streets. Gulls nattered sharply overhead, hoping for a morsel.
Quentin took in the activity with mild interest—he was still discovering in little ways life in the world outside the temple. It all seemed so new; he felt himself drawn like a wild creature to a domestic abode to wonder at another kind of life. Commonplace yet foreign. Strange and ordinary at the same time.
Toli stood as a tree trunk rooted to the spot, his eyes fixed upon some spot in the distance.
There was no point in arguing with a Jher about anything, so Quentin tied the horses to a big iron ring, set in the seawall, that served at other times as a mooring for ships. He hunched down to wait and allowed himself to drink in all the various industry around him.
The sun shone low behind them, and the shadow of the seawall flung itself out into the gray-green water of the harbor. Quentin swung himself up and turned toward Toli. He had been watching a man with a barrow full of shellfish sort through his wares, separating the living from the dead.
“How much longer will we wait?” asked Quentin. His tone spoke of mild concern.
“Not long,” replied Toli with a short inclination of his head.
Quentin followed the unspoken direction and turned toward the harbor. There in the pinched mouth of the harbor, sailing slowly ahead, streamed a ship—a large ship with sails stained orange by the late-afternoon light. Quentin’s jaw dropped as he gaped in amazement at his friend and at the ship.
Toli at last relaxed and smiled. “The ship is here,” he announced. His voice carried a triumphant ring, as if he had conjured the ship by willpower alone. Quentin believed that in some mysterious way the Jher had made the ship appear and would not have been more surprised if he had. Toli, after all, had many unusual abilities that Quentin was still discovering.
The ship drew closer, and soon Quentin could make out the masts, the rigging, and individual sailors moving about the deck. He could also see, from the way the ship seemed to limp from side to side, that something was wrong. The ship, now very close, moved through the water stiffly, with an awkward list—first to one side, then to the other. But instead of anchoring in the center of the lonely harbor, the ship proceeded to come up close to the wharf.
Quentin and Toli watched until the ship docked full-length against the wharf; then they untied the horses and walked along the seawall till they stood right alongside her.
“The Marribo,” read Quentin.
“A good name,” replied Toli, looking pleased with himself.
“It looks a good ship.” Quentin knew nothing of ships, but he liked the straight lines of the rigging and the coiled ropes on the deck, the way the sails had been furled expertly along their spars. Everything seemed right and in order to him; therefore, a good ship.
The gangplank had been let down, and sailors were busily engaging in various tasks, working efficiently. The captain, or so Quentin took him to be, stood at the bow and bellowed orders to the men below. There seemed to be some haste involved, which Quentin considered strange for a ship just reaching its destination.
“Captain, sir,” Quentin called out. It had taken him a full ten heartbeats to pluck up his courage to speak. “May I ask . . . ,” he began.
“I am not the captain,” the man hollered back carelessly. He jerked his thumb toward a man in a short blue jerkin descending the gangplank and in close conversation with a man in a leather apron who looked to be a shipwright.
The two stood head-to-head for some time before the shipwright hurried off. The captain sat down upon the ledge of the seawall and lit a long clay pipe as he watched his crew working.
“Are you the captain, sir?” Quentin asked again, this time in better control of his courage.
“Aye, lad. That’s me and here’s my ship. At your service.”
“And we at yours,” replied Quentin with a bow that included both him and Toli. “It is a fine ship too.”
“You know ships?” The captain squinted up at him, blowing smoke.
“No . . . I mean . . . I have never been on a ship before.”
“That is your misfortune, sir. Ah, the sea . . . I could tell you stories . . .” He lost himself in a cloud of smoke. “I am Captain Wiggam. Who might you be?”
“I am Quentin. And this is my friend Toli.”
“What can a seafaring man do for you, young gentlemen?” The captain stuck out a wide, dry paw, which Quentin shook with vigor.
“Could you tell us, sir, would you be going—”
Captain Wiggam cut him off. “We will not be going anywhere without our rudder. What cursed luck. Three days out she shears her hinge pins. Blast the luck! Took us two days to haul her about and four days to limp back to port.” He paused and drew another long pull on the pipe. “You looking for to go somewhere?”
“Yes, sir. We would go to Karsh.” Quentin spoke in a self-assured tone despite what the innkeeper had said about the place.
The captain’s eyebrows shot up. “Karsh!” He squinted up again and asked suspiciously, “What would you be going there for?”
“I . . . that is, we have friends in trouble. We are going to help them.” Quentin did not know for certain they were in any specific sort of trouble at the moment, but he could not have been closer to the truth.
“If they are anywhere near Karsh, they are in trouble.”
“Could you take us there?”
“Me? This ship? Never!” Captain Wiggam turned a hard face away.
Quentin stood speechless; he had no other course of action planned. But the captain, puffing furiously on his pipe now, seemed to soften somewhat. “We are bound for Andraj in Elsendor. I will take you there if you think that would serve you.”
“I do not know exactly where that is, sir.”
“Don’t you, now?”
“No . . . I lived in the temple. That is, until a short while ago. I was an acolyte.”
“Which temple? What god did you serve?”
“Ariel—in the high temple at Narramoor. I was going to be a priest.” Quentin thought he saw a glimmer of interest in the seaman’s clear gray eyes. There was a moment of silence as the captain considered this. There came the sound of hammering accompanied by the soft slap of waves against the hull of the ship.
“Ariel is the god of fortune and fate, the seaman’s benefactor. It would not do to disappoint him by turning aside one of his servants.” He tapped the pipe out against the stonework of the ledge and rose to his feet. “I will tell you this—I will take you to Valdai, around the peninsula from Andraj. I dare not do more. At Valdai there are those who go to Karsh on occasion. You may find someone there to take you farther than I dare to.”
Captain Wiggam looked at Quentin and then at Toli. Noticing Quentin’s troubled look, he asked, “Is there something else?”
“We have no money to pay our passage.”
“Oh, I see. Well, think no more on it. The Marribo is a cargo ship— though we sometimes carry passengers.”
“And we have horses.” Quentin attempted to diminish their size and number with a small, pensive gesture in their direction.
Wiggam winked an eye and appraised the two horses from where they stood tethered to a mooring ring a few paces down the seawall. “That is a problem,” he said. His solemn tone pierced Quentin with doubt. Then came another wink. “But no more serious than seaweed in your scupper. We have carried horses before. We are a freighter, after all.” He laughed, and Quentin laughed, too, in grateful relief.
The captain turned and started away. “I must see to the repair work now, my lads. Starkle will see you aboard. Tell him I said so.”
“When do we leave?” called Quentin as the seaman hurried aft along the hull.
“We leave as soon as ever we can—as soon as the rudder is seaworthy. Get your things aboard. We leave tonight.”