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After moon set darkness enfolded the schooner, The Martyr’s Wife. The last of the raiders still dripping lake’s water clutched blankets, murmured and jostled. With the death of Pastor Throwby and his sprit’s pronouncements still fresh in their minds all fell quiet for a time.
Baron Brightmoor hugged his pregnant wife and pulled her blanket more closely about her, “Captain, raise the anchors. Let us move with the current. Our enemy may choose pursuit,” he said.
Tomlin, The warrior Priest of Martyr’s Cavern, snuggled a blanket about Reade Beryl. He stared into the night, “The moon has full set. Cloud covers the stars. We will need more light than now hangs unlit among our rigging.
“More light than our storm lanterns, more light than we possess, must shine to enter river’s mouth. And to hang light is to be found.”
The Captain said, “North Shore bristles with rocks, whirlpools, and shallows; a danger in full sun.” As if the list weren’t plenty and enough, this last added revelation shook the captain’s voice, “And the channel shifts of times,”
The Lady Irene purposefully stepped into Tomlin’s line of sight and let her blanket drop to the deck. Thus nude, she pointed theatrically and called, “Look,” pointing into the darkness astern.
Reade Beryl and the werewolves left animals and returned human. Other returning raiders male and females had stripped for safety in the long swim, even the pregnant Lady Brightmoor, to the schooner. The childish Irene sought inclusion and identification with their number by disrobing. Thus she bathed in the buttery light of the first lit storm lantern, lit and held by her own hand.
Her flawless form stilled the sailors work and brought every eye aboard to her scalding beauty, “Look there!” She called in true alarm; pointing and hopping.
Few glanced away, in the near distance emerging from lake’s mist a vessel under sail showed light in lazy pursuit.
Reade took a step away from Tomlin’s safe embrace, “So, they follow do they? Without fear it seems.”
“Light and plenty. Hoist full sail,” Called the Captain. Sailors hastened.
At first without audience, save Tomlin, Reade raised palms to the yellow glow from ship’s masts. Her blanket slid away. Her hands closed to fists, and grasped the air; golden tendrils of light followed the motions of her arms. The lamps’ warm radiance squirmed in her grip. Holding light himself she pulled again and again beginning a coil of rope-like luminescence. Her bare form seemed fitting and natural for the sweaty labor in hand. Glided twine, a ball of cold light, grew before her; grasped by toes, free rolling, stopped by a knee.
Her beloved Tomlin stared. But another critiqued her work, “My Rival seeks to outdo me, and she has,” the Lady Irene clutched her own mouth with both hands and began to shiver from the cold. Tears rolled down her cheeks
Sweat boiled on Reade’s brow. More coils of light formed before her. On trembling legs she staggered. With trembling arms she pulled and wound; and again, and yet more.
“What lewd dance is this? Tomlin, look at me,” the fifteen year old Irene shivered but accepted a blanket after a second call to Tomlin produced a glance and an unforced smile.
But with Tomlin’s attention returned and along with ship’s company and even Irene, watching, the panting Reade Beryl split her newly formed globe of shimmering fluorescent light in two with a slow, closed-eye nod. She pointed and the first part bounded from the bow. A second gesture from Reade and the remainder streamed from the stern writhing a serpentine show of cold fire.
To the front, a thousand dollops of light hovered moving northwards lighting the way; indeed pointing the way. Off the stern the pursuing schooner hit the first light-snare and swung thirty degrees off course. With nine-hundred ninety-nine to follow, its pursuit wavered.
Her knees quivered and her thighs shook. Reade beryl collapsed onto the deck. Tomlin knelled at her side and lifted her head and shoulders, “Wine! Wine and water,” he called grasping the bare sorceress. He gently wrapped her with his cape and soon dribbled wine and rain water onto her mouth. Rewarded with parted lips and a small pink tongue seeking the moisture he sighted deeply and quoted The Book: “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure.”
A lime, thrust into his hand soon yielded its juice as well. Reade licked juices; panted and coughed. Soon she sipped wine and water and bit lime. The words of The Book soon passed her lips as well, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether pure, and whether right.”
“Are not girl children known by their doings?” mused Tomlin.
“Maybe we are better seen in our talkings,” Reade gave an easy laugh.
“Kiss me?” she said. He did; softly upon her now silent mouth.
Irene bit her finger and wept silently into her blanket.
“Course north, helmsman,” the Captain’s word became their flight.
In the post-midnight hours their adversaries seemed, indeed were, out of sight so deep the dark that they seemed gone with the chase over. The last watch of the night began. Dawn three and more hours away found the pursuit progressing no longer in favor of The Martyr’s Wife.
But as morning neared their pursuers grew yet closer and Reade’s light snares illuminated them again. What first seemed newly risen stars grew and flew, but too close to the ground. Some fell a short distance and burned on the surface of the water; a pale sick phlegm yellow that stood apart from the creamy glow of Read’s sorcery.
Twelve points of light followed the schooner Flying and swollen to the size of peaches revealing an assault; “Crows! Crows approach! Dead astern. They clench those weird fire-stars,” the agitated lookout nocked, pulled, and let fly an arrow. She missed.
Screaming she emptied her quiver and killed but three whose remains hit the water causing flash-fire resembling a smith’s hammer in use; sparks and all. Three burning whirlpools gurgled and scarred the face of the lake. The pursuing schooner hit one of the few remaining light snares and for a moment the separation of the two vessels increased.
For only a heart’s beat the sick phlegm yellow light glowed all about the enemy’s ship, then their separation closed by half.”
“More magic; one of The Seven must…,” the Captain’s voice stilled, for the first of the fire balls hit the deck.
Tomlin wielded a longbow as tall as himself. With four shots he dropped three crows short of the Martyr’s Wife with attending explosions and murmuring whirlpools of filthy confusion. But six puke yellow fire stars now burned on the deck.
Howler the wolf roused from his lethargic slumber sought relief and raised a leg raining a yellow not unlike its own upon the nearest sickly fire-star. The leaping flames all but set the unwary animal aflame. He ran about seeking shelter and knocked several sailors to the deck.
The other wolves, Treadlighter the alpha, and Sniffer the second toady, without a plan, bristled and growled. Baron Brightmoor pulled his sword and advanced but for a time there was only flame.
Reade struggled up on one elbow, “Draw thy weapon, My Champion, the need is near.”
Without hesitation Tomlin filled both hands; dagger left and sword right. Drawing back its weapon a nether shade-warrior sprang from the wolf piss enhanced pyro-magic and stepped towards the pregnant Lady Celisity.
Brightmoor blocked the blow but it brought him to his knees and pealed his sword of an edge; tip to guard separated in two smoking pieces. Too hot to hold, the one in his hand joined its brother on the deck searing a knarred hissing brand.
Reade struggled to her feet and removed the rose crux and black opal talismans from about her neck and dropped them with their chains over Tomlin’s head and about his throat.
He quoted The Book: “When a sentence is not executed evil is encouraged. Nothing can be established through wickedness and last, but a righteous root cannot be moved.”
Tomlin’s sword cleaved the demon in half and he tossed each piece over the side with his dagger.
“The others,” called Reade, “Growing in their own times will be worse.
The Lady Irene called for the wolves to anoint the other five fire-stars, “There and there raise your legs, O night prowlers. There remains these five dim and un-grown. Work your magic,” she stifled a laugh. But Howler, Sniffer, and even Treadlighter cringed and tried to hide behind a coil of rope.
Irene took Reade’s wine goblet and doused the nearest. It went out, “Wine,” she yelled, but only got stares from the crew and whines from the wolves.
“I blessed that whole cupful, but I dare not . . .” Tomlin blocked a blow towards his head using his dagger and crossed swords with two more of the remaining five conjure-spirits, He fought three in two directions. The remaining two pulsed and grew.
Irene spit into the flagon in her hand and dribbled three drops of the result on the near conjure-spirit. It hissed. It ceased to grow. It began cursing wildly and blindly, “Throwby isn’t the last; only the first. Death to The Book! And His Children!” its curse-work expended its un-life force until only a canker remained smoking and shrinking.
“What? I thought The Book was a she,” said Irene. She forced the empty flagon over the last fire-spirit. A sound rang out from the cup like a group of strong men trying to beat their way from an iron kettle with steel hammers, but the goblet didn’t even move.
“What if it lied?” muttered Reade and by force of will stood. “A demon lying; imagine that. Ha!”
Tomlin demanded attention, “Somebody, help me!” Demonic sword blows rained on the warrior priest from three directions. He parried and blocked, and blocked, and blocked; weapons crossed two at one time and one after another, after another. Steel sang and the demons cursed, “Lifeless be, just like me. Lifeless be just like me.”
Reade spoke into her outstretched palms, “Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand. Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil. In light there is no darkness.” She extended her hands and a royal lavender dust fell through her fingers onto the deck. “We went through fire and through water: but are brought out into a wealthy place,” she added.
Hopping like rain on rocks in mid-summer, the raging purple dust turned liquid and began a burn-melt of the demons from the soles of their feet. With his dagger left to its own resources using the edge of his sword Tomlin delivered plunging two handed kill-blows to the heads of his adversaries; three to three, one stroke each.
He stepped on the stunted one producing a juicy-crunchy existence-ending moan. And when he pulled his dagger from deck’s planking and tipped the empty blessed flagon with its point. Nothing was there.
The Captain, as all, still stared wild eyed at the three, Tomlin, Reade, and Irene.
Tomlin said, “Can you put on more sail? Can we move faster? No doubt other tricks smolder within our adversaries.”
After a pause that made the ship’s master appeal addled, he still stuttered some, , “We-ah, we-ah could. We can; more sail? Hoist the spinnaker. ”
“Head for the Troll’s Trickle,” rasped Treadlighter the wolf.
The Captain’s head cleared, “That’s right. We can make the Quail’s Rest River, and leave the lake a full day sooner than going straight up The Martyr’s Tears. The whole trip will be shortened. But not in time only by length.”
“It makes a big difference on foot,” said Treadlighter.
“But it feeds Trident’s Cove, with its whirlpools,” said Tomlin and then quoted The Book, “Turn ye not aside from The Book and His ways for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are a trackless waste.”
“What?” said Irene, “Would it not make better sense to say; Sail ye not in whirlpools, for ye shall drown?” Her flawless face contorted in confusion.
The Captain began a quote, “The Way is always plain to the righteous . . .” But stopped in favor of nautical knowledge, “Three streams enter the lake at the mouth of the Quail’s Rest and make the waters treacherous. Often two or three or more whirlpools make their way into North Lake. Entering the cove is treacherous but the spot is marked by towering rock formations on either side; night-glowing load stones that pull steel and confuse any compass. From here the gate is north and makes no matter, T’is close. Look!”
Every ear filled with the sounds of rushing waters. The vortices, beyond sight, beyond the portal called a warning that only the deaf could ignore.
Ten royal strides wide and twenty royal strides high, coral pink runes glowed from the southern faces of the tall sharp edged flint boulders. Reade said to no one in particular, “The first and the last figures of the Gray Tower’s rune work, Orepay and Anisette, the beginning and the end. But the path between a solid blackness obscures way and safety…”
Reade called to what remained of her cold light fire-stars, “Now be ye fountains of light: in thy sight reveal the way, the paths of life and truth.”
Baron Brightmoor began a droll monologue, “A rather pithy but nonetheless complex spell,” his critique died in favor of, “but look. Now the way is lit,” he pointed, and watched the fire-stars become spark laced whirlwinds, still butter yellow but streaked with blood red flames and sitting in the whirlpools like so many buoys.
Lightning slithered snakelike over the schooner; hissing with thunder’s clap following hard on; assaulting each ear. Cloud to cloud it flexed and stretched itself towards the Martyr’s Wife. The wind filled sails to near bursting and the ship cut water.
Like a marksman unsure of his range and windage, lightning struck in front of their ship and aft; port and starboard; then again and again tightening with each stroke.
Multiple bolts struck the schooner setting both masts afire and killing the lookout. Her body fell to the deck with a sickening thud. A small bit of blood oozed from her dead mouth.
Reade stood amidships, raised both hands above her head. Rain beat upon her face and breast. In huge drops it ran down her arms, torso, and legs. Pointing four thin fingers at the storm, she spoke in a sharp commanding tone:
Fire on water lightly bears
Mire of magic tightly dares
Unseen clouds with thunder proud
Crosses swords with clashes loud
With the stolen spell unspoken
All desires of rage are broken
With the coming of the sun
Demon’s fire will be undone
Sun will storm to melt away
Until tomorrow is today
The somber serf has got away
The sorceress will have her say
Even as the last words passed Reade’s lips a final flash of lightning hit the mainmast and arced onto Reade’s forehead. Her skin puckered resembling a dry beach. Steam rose from her body. Her hair stood on end. Little fiery bits fell from her to the deck and burned; evil candles.
She flailed about grabbing at what seemed like nothing at all; scattering sparks of burning hair; tiny bits of burnt flesh? She hurled the nothing-wad aft, and yelled after it, “BE GONE.” She collapsed.
A sliver of thinnest light, a line broadened to a rope’s size and mushroomed to pumpkin size, hit the water in front of their pursuers; for six heart beats nothing at all. The new sound broadcast itself over the water and echoed from the rocks and shore. As if from a collision with one of the rune marked flint gate stones, the pursuing schooner groaned and splintered with many splashes, horrid poppings and then only the rushing sounds of the whirlpools remained.
“My beautiful Reade,” Tomlin cradled her in his arms and he touched her lips with his, “Reade?”
She moved, “Protect me. I can’t lift my arms. I can’t walk. I breathe with great effort.”
“Thy heart beats.”
“I still love.”
The sun pinked the sky from the horizon. The wind dropped to nothing at all. The Martyr’s Wife with her mainmast and main sail in heaps of ash about her decks gave an audible sigh. Creaking from every joint she slowed and backed with the current.
When the ball of the dawning sun first peeked over the lake the schooner eased backwards into a whirlpool and followed the spiral down and down. Water eased over decks. She sank.
Backwards and spinning slowly, but with a tunnel of open air towering and growing, sucked down and down, the ship ran faster and faster. Many cried out, Irene the loudest. Flame shaped, water polished rock enclosed the sliding schooner on all sides, overhead, and underneath. Mist crowded and suffused the air. Smells of scalded stone, flint on steel and even burnt wood came and went with every breath.
Tomlin clutched Reade and prayed. Even though held close and snug, Reade drew breath in heaving gulps and shivered. Descending a great drain, the ship dragged on a rocky slanted bottom; then slowed to a stop against what surely was the base of the gate stone above for seven of the runes decorated its side.
“Anisette, Reade called that symbol Anisette; the end. But Anisette’s a liqueur, what sort of fool names a rune aft . . .” Baron Brightmoor’s voice trailed to a soft murmur as he hugged his wife and thereby his son as well, “My Love, we live, we live!”
“The Book! We must save The Book,” Tomlin carried Reade towards Padre Throwby’s cabin.
“Where are we?” Lady Irene stared about. In the distance light from flames fifty paces high lit three cascading, swirling waterfalls that dropped creating a swift current into an underground lake. “Where can all of that lead?”
The cavern carved from water’s rage displayed whole walls of smoky quartz crystal coral pink, white and red. Whole walls of granite, and gneiss stood about as well. Fiery light boiled from cracks in stone. Dozens of columns fallen, broken, sidewise, and even straight, lined the grotto.
Voices called from the distance:
“A whole ship.”
“A wreck. Who?”
“We found it,” Called Reade.
“See if there’s a chapter on cave trolls,” said The Captain and turned to the helmsman. “Son, you can let go of her wheel now.” He complied but his fingers wouldn’t straighten.
“Why refer to a ship as she?” said Irene.
Lady Brightmoor found her voice, “Why do you care? Now?”
“To keep from crying.”
“Martyr’s Cavern is said to have a room like this but no one’s seen it in our time,” said Tomlin.
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