Chapter 25 – Run Aground

Selera stood on the cliff above the cove, the first blush of pre-dawn on the distant horizon. A faint glimmer of fire on the edge of the desert, giving way to deep, rich azures bleeding to dark blue, then black sapphire. Directly overhead and leading to the opposite horizon, far over the ocean butting the Talkenerren coast was a sprinkling of stars, the last of the night bidding farewell before the waking of day. It was going to be another stifling day blanketing the desert, cloudless, merciless and without reprieve until night would sweep the heat away.

 

She watched the colours shift slowly, breathing deeply, trying to force down the anger that was threatening to boil up and through her. Her eyes hazed with ghostly blue as she struggled to hold in her tears. She swallowed with difficulty, the lump of grief in her throat almost threatening to choke her. Selera threw a rock into the distance toward the dawn, screaming wildly in frustration while strangling her power, keeping it in check. She turned away from the vibrant colours on the horizon and looked down into the cove. The Lychen’s Fiddle lay, listing to starboard, its hull almost completely clear of the water and exposed. It looked a sorry sight, missing most of its main mast and thoroughly beached. Pools of light shed by lanterns illuminated sections of the hull, the men and women of the Fiddle momentarily stopped, their faces turned to the top of the cliff as they heard the echo of their spell-runner’s scream of anger and frustration. In the silence that followed they returned to their work, preparing the ship for repairs.

 

Selera saw the Captain far below, his broad shoulders and strong frame instantly recognisable. She could feel his eyes looking up at her. He was standing at a table set in the sand. Directing the deck hands and laying out the strategy for the day. The Fiddle had to be seaworthy by dusk, ready to reap the swell of the high tide. They had been securing the ship after the battle, small repairs being enacted, gear being stowed. When one of the ship’s engineers knocked on what was left of the Captain’s door. Selera remembered it clearly, the Captain’s expression, the urgency of his movements as he walked with purpose out onto the deck. Without a word she had set the papers she had been pouring over down and had followed him, but a few steps behind. They followed the engineer down into the belly of the Fiddle, where a team of sailors were hectically shifting things out of the way, water already sloshing around their shins as the light from the lanterns shifted.

 

The big man, the Captain, her husband started barking orders, tearing at crates as more of the crew arrived to assist. She had moved out of the way as he reached into the dark swirling water. He pulled the trap door open that accessed the lowest recess of the ship, the small compartment that ran the length of the keel. He disappeared into that murky darkness without a second thought. Seconds stretched into minutes, the immediate crew working together to clear this deck, moving everything up one deck and out of the slowly rising water. After what seemed like an eternity he returned, his large shoulders bent over as he rose from the water, keeping his head low, as not to smack it on the beams above. He did not speak as the water streamed down his face and dripped from his hair, but met her eyes and shook his head. She knew her fears were met, they had taken damage when they rammed the enemy vessel. It was then that Darius, the first mate reached them.

 

A quick discussion ensued, culminating in the decision to make for the same cove that their enemy had launched their attack from. To await high tide and run the Fiddle aground. She knew that reaching the Enclave the following day was out of the question. The heat from this part of the world had been slowly damaging the ship’s timbers, making them brittle and weak. Damage they would not normally take was now a very real risk. She listened as her husband spoke to Darius and the crew hands explaining the cracked plank on the hull, nearby the keel. The timber had split with the grain in a couple of places allowing water to leech into the ship at a steady rate. Without Sialin’s skills to temporarily knit the timber back together, they had no choice. Throughout the day they guided the Fiddle closer to the concealed cove. Taking their time as low tide shallowed the draft to such a degree that they would hit ground in the inlet.

 

Selera had renewed her armour on the hull, burning through her magical reserves, giving the planks a second skin while the teams worked to clear the water that was pooling in the Fiddle’s innards. Topside, Darius tirelessly manned the helm, guiding the ship as they awaited the rising tide of late afternoon. For entering the narrow inlet was a tricky prospect, even in fair weather. The Captain and crew prepared the lowest deck to the inner of the keel, clearing cargo and pumping water that still gradually seeped in despite Selera’s best efforts. Spare timbers they carried had already been brought topside and lashed to the deck in preparation. The crew was ready, running the  Fiddle aground for swift repairs had been done before and every member of the crew knew their place in the upcoming undertaking.

 

When the time came, Darius made his run at the cove’s inlet, the tide half-risen as the afternoon swept toward sunset. Darius and the Captain using the heady flow of water that poured into the cove from the tide through its small inlet to propel the ship deep into the small bay. The crew braced, with Selera shielding the ship from further damage as the Fiddle was run aground, using up its momentum as it sheared its way up into the sand of the small sheltered beach. While the sun dropped below the horizon, the crew worked by the light of lanterns, digging a channel in the sand along the keel with the aim to roll the Fiddle aside, exposing the damage so that it could be worked upon. As the crew toiled through to midnight, finally settling the ship at an angle, Selera slept. The Captain had insisted after she collapsed the first time, spent from maintaining her spell-craft on the hull of the Lychen’s Fiddle and the morning’s battle. She remembered waking in the night. She lay on a blanket on the sand, facing Sialin; her face peaceful as she lay unconscious, etching itself into Selera’s mind. She remembered reaching out and touching her apprentice’s face. All she could hear was the lap of the water on the shore. Rolling over, she saw her husband’s silhouette, the big man sat, his broad, strong back facing her as he looked up at his beached ship while the crew slept. He had released his customary short ponytail and was gently humming to himself, the deep rumble from his broad chest lulling her back to sleep.

 

The next time she woke, his big hands were waking her, she looked up into his reassuring eyes. She noted the tracks of tears he had shed silently in the night when no one watched, his guarded vulnerability, which drew her in, intrigued and ensnared her years before. He did not speak of his past, despite how it tormented him, and she did not ask. The loss of her young siblings had both lit a fire in him and had brought a measure of despair. As she had watched his eyes, she could hear the crew stirring in the dark before dawn. He had leaned down and kissed her cheek gently before he stood, his firm and imposing mask once again in place.

 

She started to make her way down the sheer cliff, stepping warily along the narrow walkway that had been cut by long dead hands into the face of the cliff, she could see the crew preparing for the light of dawn. Some already were working on the damage, removing the cracked planking by lantern light, others were working on cleaning up the remains of the main mast, correcting the rigging on the heavily slanted deck. Above her the edge of the sun broke over the horizon, sending a sliver of light on the far wall of the cove. From below she heard a murmur of voices as the mood of the crew improved. The sound of axes and hammers started as they got to work on preparing and cleaning the gap where the hull’s planks had been removed.

 

A few minutes later she reached the bottom of the cliff, walking through the narrow band of palms and salt grasses sandwiched between the beach and the cliff. Without a look she passed the shallow cave at the base of the cliff, pushing aside fallen palm fronds that obscured the path. What frustrated her the most; they could not leave until the following morning without risking further damage to the ship. At the least, she could watch over Sialin and continue decoding the documents her parents had left. Now that her focus was different to just attempting to decipher the device’s purpose at the behest of the Enclave, any clue or detail could prove useful. Selera stepped out onto the white sand that made up the beach as the light of morning steadily grew. The sight of the Lychen’s Fiddle partially laying at the midpoint between the vertical and horizon was sobering. Further along the beach, a few dwarves were felling palms and sawing them into rollers. Darius and the Captain were inspecting the underside and the armour plated keel for further damage as the crew worked around them. She was sure the Captain was taking stock of the overall condition of the hull’s planking. Knowing her husband as she did, his current expression was not good, neither was the First Mate’s.

 

Turning aside, she headed for the table that had been set out for her up the beach, just under the first of the palms. A satchel lay on the table, without even checking its contents she knew it to be the designs, research papers and detailed sketches of the device that had stolen her siblings away from her. Giving it the briefest of glances she walked to the cot that Sialin had been moved to. A gauze netting tented around her, to keep the insects from feasting on her vulnerable form. Ducking under the netting, Selera sat at the edge of the cot, checking Sialin over. Firstly checking behind her ear, relieved that Groyven’s sigil still glowed as an undefined disk of gold. She remembered the look of fear in Sialin’s eyes in the immediate moments after the children were taken. The pain. She rested her hand on Sialin’s chest, feeling her breathing evenly. Selera’s eyes narrowed slightly, there was almost unnatural heat radiating off Sialin’s upper chest. Quickly unbuttoning the shirt that she had changed the fyrelf into yesterday, she parted the fabric.

 

Selera frowned further, the golden seal of destiny glowing hotly under Sialin’s skin above her right breast, ‘I hope you can feel it, bastard. You should be here with her instead of making her wait.’

 

Selera shook her head, finding a strange admiration in the seal’s intricate design and its striking similarities that she could not quite place. Those who were blessed or burdened with the Demon’s Thread, were cursed in a fashion. Destiny had a way of bringing them together, no matter how far apart their kind was spread. If their other half was out there, they would find each other, without fail. Their meeting would always be circumstantial, and within days the brand would form of its own accord, an amalgam of their sigils, the partner’s sigil always more prominent. Binding their fates together. In most cases, the bond was welcomed and celebrated, the attraction and emotional intimacy between the couple already formed or in its infancy before the sigil took shape. But it was not entirely unheard of for its arrival to be unwelcome or a curse.

 

Selera had heard the tale of their meeting, many a time in fact. But at this moment, seeing her closest friend struck down, she meant her words. She hoped he could feel destiny’s plight. As she buttoned the shirt back up, she remembered her own meeting with the Captain, just a meeting of the eyes as they passed on a street. Those eyes burnt into her mind, simultaneously making her weak and her blood boil. That night, he had hunted her down, as she did him, their union more of animalistic instinct and heightened desire; the memory alone setting her afire inside. She caught herself looking down the beach, watching him as he carried a timber for the hull over one shoulder as if it were a matchstick.

 

Her destined was truly an anomaly; he towered over other elven males by a head. His powerful limbs thick and muscular, his chest and shoulders banded and solid. He sought to contain the thread of the demon within him at all costs. He had told her once; when she had woke to find him sitting aside their bed as silent tears tracked down his face, that within her he had found his peace, the control he had sought for so long. He only let his guard down when they were alone with each other, such fragility and vulnerability at startling contrast to the authority and strength that he demonstrated among others. She found her mirror in him, her own capacity for destruction at times terrified her.

 

Leaving Sialin be, she returned to the satchel, opening it and starting from the beginning, searching for anything that would be useful, searching the scribbled notes for clues. She had spread the diagrams over the table, but the only common mark were a set of small crosses in the top right and bottom left corners of the pages. She felt that desperation was clouding her mind, every moment her siblings were moving further away, harder to find. Any clue that she could uncover, a reference to a place, what powered it, even a note on the materials used in its construct would give her something to focus on, something constructive to set her mind to. Selera started to scrutinise each page carefully as the sun was finally free of the horizon, casting its light far across the desert as the crew toiled on the beach, repairing the Fiddle.

 

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