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By the time the three ships escaped from Narin Bay, it was clear to all that their being pursued was far from over. A dark storm brewed in the west and now Fadlemir and the others were sure it was advancing…
Fadlemir gave the orders to come about on a broad reach to the north. They couldn’t have asked for better wind. The two other ships followed in kind and soon after released the extent of their sails from all three masts. The winches worked, extending the massive wings to the port and starboard sides, finishing each vessel’s bird-like visage. With the course set, the order was given to trim sail, and all at once, the flagships of Ligeon surged forward.
Their bows plied the waters like swords, winnowing one glistening side from the other. The hull slipped through the water effortlessly and left a seamless wake behind. As each ship heeled over, the leeward wing cut the water on the far side and helped to stabilize the ship. The windward wing was trimmed even further to force air around the mainsails, adding precious speed to their route.
“Captain,” one of the deckhands shouted. Fadlemir made his way to the bow and looked over, peering down at the leaping dolphins that now accompanied them.
“A sign of blessing,” he called to those around him. They smiled for the first time that day, happy for the company and for the favorable winds.
“Goodrin,” Fadlemir turned to his second-in-command, “you have the helm.” The man nodded in acknowledgment as Fadlemir moved back to mid-decks and slipped below. He entered into the storage rooms, laden with huge casks of water, wine, and mead. Other barrels contained grain and flour, and beside them instruments for cooking. Stockpiles of wood for fires were bundled tightly together, and metal prongs and skewers for spits stacked to one side. Row upon row of weapons lined an adjacent wall. Swords hung from brackets, dangling like gleaming teeth; spears were lashed together in manageable clusters, easily hoisted over a shoulder and hauled above decks; and various forms of shielding, designed specifically for battle at sea, were stacked neatly in one corner.
Fadlemir continued through the barracks, the musty smell of human dwelling and old bedding filling the air. More than a few of the injured men already slept soundly in their swinging cots, wrapped up like butterflies in cocoons swinging back and forth in a lazy summer breeze. The light was dim here, the sounds a mixture of creaking wood and chains combined with the steady lapping of water against the hull. Beyond that, the dull snores of the dreaming crew.
He passed into the ship’s lounge, a large room reserved mostly for royalty, decked out in lush carpets, lavish furniture, and grand paintings and carvings depicting the realm of Ligeon. Passing through the lounge, Fadlemir ducked under a low door and emerged into the King’s Quarters, an even grander room than the previous with a massive four-poster bed taking prominence. Three attendants hovered over King Anondo’s leg like pigeons on a handful of seed.
The men spoke in hushed tones. Fadlemir stepped aside as a fourth attendant brought in a bucket of fresh water then excused himself. Fadelmir then moved to where the King lie. The men used fresh cloth, dipped it in the water, and cleansed the wound again. The sheets were stained red and soaked in water and blood.
Fadlemir drew closer and noticed that it was not just Anondo’s foot that bore the brunt of the damage, but his whole body was wracked with bruises and lacerations. Blood and dirt were caked like clay on his skin, now riddled with black and blue splotches. His tunic was matted and torn, his leather armor severed as well as the flesh beneath. But it was his lower leg they seemed most intent on.
“He’s losing too much blood,” one of the men said, now aware of Fadlemir’s presence. “We can’t make it stop.” The man removed one of the cloths for Fadlemir to see. The flesh was chewed right off the bone around the ankle, a foot dangling loosely.
Anondo moaned from the pain, too fatigued to do anything more about it. He lay nearly motionless, slipping in and out of consciousness.
“Cut off his foot,” Fadlemir said flatly.
The three attendants stared at the Captain.
“Leave it, and the flesh will rot, eventually tainting his blood. Then he’ll lose his leg. From there, it may kill him. Act now, cleanse and seal what is left, and he’ll keep his leg and his life.” Fadlemir spoke forcefully. “Those are my orders.” He withdrew his own sword and handed it to the nearest attendant. But the man just stared at him. “Fine.” He pushed him out of the way and placed a piece of wood beneath Anondo’s ankle. The King groaned. “I am sorry, my Liege. I sacrifice the little to gain the greater. I know you will understand in time. Forgive me.”
Fadlemir grasped his sword with both hands and raised it high above his head.
With a swift swing, the blade severed the bone, the dead limb falling to the side.
Anondo cried out and rolled slightly, aimlessly grabbing his thigh. Tears poured from his eyes.
Fadlemir pressed clean cloth against the gaping wound and then addressed the attendants. “The consequences are on my head. Wash the wound. You there,” he faced the man who had brought the water, “heat an iron, or a sword, anything you can find in the ship’s fires until it glows red, and bring it straight away. Go!” He turned back to the others. “When the wound is thoroughly cleansed, burn it shut and bandage it. Make sure he drinks and gets his rest.”
But they all stood there, stone still.
“Get him some wine, man!” Fadlemir yanked one of the men forward and shoved him out the door. The other two snapped to attention and started to wash the fresh opening. Satisfied with his orders, Fadlemir left them to their work and returned topside.
The first thing his eyes looked to was the following storm to the west. The sky had darkened considerably save for the consistent flashes of light emanating from within. It took on a sickening blue-green hue that Fadlemir thought quite unusual. He moved back to the helmsman.
“Captain, I daresay it seems to be moving,” said Goodrin.
“I know,” Fadlemir acknowledged. “It’s following us.”
“Aye, though I wasn’t going to say it.”
“That’s because it sees.”
Goodrin hesitated. “Sees?”
“It lives, if that can be said, prompted by the hand of Morgui to consume us.”
“Is that all?” Goodrin tried to lighten the mood.
Fadlemir only entertained a brief smile. He looked up to the sails and searched for any luffs, but his eyes saw nothing. “We’re getting everything we can out of her?” he asked Goodrin.
“Aye, that and a little more.”
“As I thought.” The two other ships were right on their heels. “One advantage of the storm is the strong wind. At this rate we could make an eastern passage into Tontha in four days, maybe three.”
“An unexpected boon indeed,” Goodrin agreed.
“Press her, Goodrin,” Fadlemir encouraged him. “Press her hard and fast. Let me know when you are tired.” Goodrin nodded, and Fadlemir left him to work the deck with the others.
• • •
It had been a full day, reaching fast across the Faladrial Ocean. The wind continued to buffet the soul of each vessel as they careened northeast toward Tontha. The ancient wood groaned under the constant barrage, the storm berating every piece of canvas hoisted into the sky. And despite their efforts, the men could not seem to pull away from the foreboding black that pursued them.
A deckhand roused Fadlemir.
The Captain stood and ran a hand over his face, and then through his hair. He looked around. A few other men took their shifts of fitful rest beside him, hidden below decks from the brunt of the wind, but not from the sound. It howled, beating against the hull and running through the shrouds with terror. How he had gotten any rest was hard to say, but his fatigue had certainly bested the blowing without.
Fadlemir glanced at the man who woke him. “How is she?”
“All secure and trimmed hard. The men are rotating as ordered.”
“Me?” The deckhand was not used to being asked how he fared. “I’m well, my Captain.”
“Good, get some rest. Take my place, would you?”
“Take my place. You look like you could use it.”
“Aye,” he obeyed. “C’symia.”
Fadlemir left the man and walked back through the ship to the King’s Quarters. He peered into the great room. Anondo lay sleeping in the bed, now covered in heavy blankets. Fadlemir pressed the door open further and walked in. The attendant stood promptly and waited for Fadlemir’s orders.
“How does he fare?” the Captain asked.
“The hasithe-morna persists,” the attendant replied.
Fadlemir walked quietly beside the bed and touched the King’s forehead. He lay shaking, his skin hot to the touch and growing hotter. His hair was damp and his skin wet with perspiration. The Captain then reached down and lifted off the covers.
“We need to keep him cool,” he instructed. “Until this breaks again. Then cover him back up as I told you before.”
The man nodded.
Fadlemir removed some of the bandage to view the wound. It was red and swollen, leaking yellow and white fluid.
“When was the last time you cleaned this?”
“I don’t remember, Captain. Perhaps two hours ago?”
The attendant asked it more like a question than a statement. Fadlemir was beginning to show signs of frustration. The emotions came upon him suddenly, so fast in fact, that he did not even notice his own propensity to bend toward them. Granted, it was not all this man’s fault, for indeed the extreme circumstances in which each man found himself were reason enough for dire concern, but since this attendant was the unfortunate soul closest to Fadlemir, he got the brunt of it.
“You don’t remember?” Fadlemir covered the wound back up and turned slowly. “You don’t remember how long ago you attended the injuries of your King?”
“Hold your tongue,” Fadlemir spat. “What you have is no small duty. If I ask one of my men, ‘When was the last time you watered your horse?’ he replies, ‘Just a moment after we finished dinner.’ If I ask a soldier, ‘When was the last time you sharpened your blade?’ he says, ‘Three days hence.’ How much more when I ask you about the wellbeing of your King!”
“I’m sorry, my—”
“Indeed!” Fadlemir marched to the door. “See that it’s cleaned immediately. I shall not need to remind you again.”
“Aye, sir,” the attendant uttered.
Fadlemir walked out and closed the door firmly. He made it about three steps into the lounge before his words caught up with him, and everything else he was feeling, for that matter. It was as if a wave washed him off his feet.
He suddenly saw the finality of each issue flood his soul, and his own hands helpless to keep it all together, like tapestries unraveling from high in the sky. He saw himself running to and fro, trying desperately to pick up the threads and keep them from pulling away from the images they so masterfully portrayed. He reached out to steady himself, grabbing the back of a high-backed chair.
Ligeon, the beautiful country that had once been a gleaming jewel of Dionia, was now fading into oblivion, ransacked by more Dairne-Reih then he could ever count; his men, hewn to less than half of what he had left Mt. Dakka with, were beaten down and desperate for hope; and his beloved King, once valiant and strong, was now a crippled mass of trembling flesh, and that at his own hand. He knew his words to the attendant had been severe. He would apologize later.
The storm that threatened to destroy them all now seemed almost an afterthought to him, his head swimming in doubt and inadequacy. But oddly, it was the one thing that brought him back to reality. It was the one thing he could try and match wits with.
He shook the encounter with the attendant from his head and took a deep breath.
“Who I am under pressure is who I really am,” he muttered to himself. “You must help me, Most High.” He rubbed his face and then moved back through the barracks and then into the storage room.
He looked around.
A wave of inspiration struck.
He mounted the stairs and emerged above. The strong wind dispersed any lingering feelings of dread. He moved aft and looked toward the encroaching storm. It was then his eye caught something he had never seen the likes of.
“What in the name of the Great God is that?” he asked Goodrin, staring at a strange, snake-like tail that danced between sky and sea.
“It appeared at dawn,” Goodrin confessed. “Started like a vapor. Before long it grew, spinning wildly.”
“It does not bode well.”
Goodrin nodded. “And we’re not making any headway.”
“Have you gotten any sleep, Goodrin?” Fadlemir inquired, brushing off the previous comment.
“Enough,” said the helmsman.
“Hardly so, I think.” Fadlemir cast him a wry eye, and then addressed the storm. “It’s gaining. So we must be faster.”
“Lighten our load. Everything we don’t need goes over.”
“If we raise her out of the water, even a span, we gain time. And we must make landfall with time to spare; this beast will take us at sea, or on land. The coastal mountains are our only hope. But we need time to secure their protection.”
“As you say, Captain.”
“I have the helm,” Fadlemir said. Goodrin moved forward and began giving orders. His voice rang out amidst the howling wind, bellowing and barking to the men.
Before long the crew had hauled everything they could from below decks, from grain sacks to wine vats, from the barrels of flour to shielding, plopping everything amidships. A second crew of men, those topside, heaved the precious but now lethal items overboard, to be swallowed quickly by the following sea. The large crossbows were dismantled and pushed over, even the ship’s anchor was cut loose and dropped with a massive splash; the only option from here on would be to beach the ships. The two vessels behind followed Fadlemir’s lead. The men even brought up the weaponry and prepared to heave them over.
“Not those,” Fadlemir ordered. “Everything but those. We keep the weapons.” The crew nodded and took some small pleasure in his words. That the Captain would allow them to maintain their own sense of security was mildly comforting. They stowed the swords and spears again, but everything else went.
A short time later, after a significant load had been unburdened from the ship, Goodrin returned to the helm and peered over the side. The ship was indeed riding higher, perhaps even higher than Fadlemir had guessed she would.
But he waited for the report.
“We’re higher—and faster,” Goodrin smiled.
“Aye,” Fadlemir said, looking up to the sails. “Ease out the mainsail,” he ordered. “She’s sheeted in too tight. And trim the foresails; we need to squeeze every drop out of her.”
“Aye, Captain,” Goodrin replied and was off.
Even the slight adjustments propelled them a bit more. And that was all Fadlemir was hoping for: a bit more.
For the first time that day, the fleet began pulling away from their dark pursuer. The wind maintained every thread of its strength, yet the storm was left trailing behind.
But not by much.
By the dawn of the second day, Fadlemir and Goodrin were able to make out certain landmarks along the shore to the east. Goodrin pressed the corners of the thick parchment map against the bulkhead and pinned them down with daggers. The dwarves of Ot had drawn the ancient scroll long ago. It bore the High King’s seal and the insignias of the Lords of Ligeon.
“We’ll make our landing there,” Fadlemir tapped a sharp curve that followed inland easterly and then jutted due north, just over the border into Tontha. “We’ll take cover in the lower foothills and weather the assault. When it’s over, we’ll move east and make for Mt. Dakka. Four days, I presume, six at the most.”
The swirling funnel-like anomaly that followed grew with the passage of time, not only in size and power, but in sound. The demonic hunter issued forth an odd whistle, harmonic, but far from melodious. Its rage was clear, its result certain. Judging from the way it sucked up the ocean and spewed it out from high above, Fadlemir knew that there would be no surviving an encounter with the beast.
As dusk hastened to a sky already dark with cloud, Goodrin had a hard time navigating the waters leading ashore. He used the rising mountains as guides, but they could not tell him what lay in the shallows ahead. He picked his course carefully, but knew most of it was guesswork. He read the surface of the water, discerning between wind ripples and rocky shoals. But it was terribly hard to see. Only the occasional flashes of light from behind gave any relief to his failing perspective.
Lookouts on the bow and in the rigging shouted back to him, indicating variations in color and texture of the water. But with the fading light, not even they could be sure of their readings. The waves were heavy but not unbearable. A slight rain was starting to fall.
Fadlemir was among those forward, leaning out on the bowsprit, a single line in his hand. He peered hard into the waves, focused on depth alone. The ocean floor rose in and out of his vision, vibrant and colorful one moment, and then dipping away into dark oblivion the next.
“Rocks off the starboard bow!” a lookout above shouted, hands waving. Goodrin threw the wheel hard to port and the boat lurched, turning in an ungainly motion. Men everywhere fell to the deck, tumbling against the bulkhead and slamming into the masts. The two other boats followed closely behind and matched Goodrin’s maneuver.
The rain came on stronger and made the deck increasingly slippery. Fadlemir knew the storm would not give them any quarter. A flash of light filled the low sky, followed by a terrifying crack that ripped through the air. The eerie voice of their pursuer was growing. “I hear you. I hear you,” Fadlemir spoke intimately to the encroaching monster, looming high over the water. “But by the name of the Creator God, you will not take us.” He stared into the sea, studying the bottom that passed quickly underneath. Suddenly, he noticed a strange tendency in the sand, and instinct told him to act.
“Hard to starboard!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
As if his voice commanded the very life of the boat, the ship listed to port but then surged to starboard. Men moved across the deck once more, but fewer of them fell, ready this time for the sudden shift. Fadlemir glanced back into the waves and watched as the bottom raced toward the surface, the shallows coming on quickly. He was sure they would run aground. He held his breath as the massive ship slid speedily over the sandy bottom, the keel surely not more than an arm’s length from getting buried. Then the sandy bottom dropped away. He glanced back at Goodrin and smiled. “That was close,” he yelled.
All at once the ship pitched forward, the bow digging deep into the ocean floor. The deckhands flew forward, toppling over anything in front of them. Those in the rigging clenched the lines as their bodies extended out over the water, footing lost on the slippery booms and ratlines. Heads cracked on solid hardwood, ribs snapped against iron fixtures. Bodies slid down the deck, careening toward the bow with all the speed the ship had held. A few of them cried out as they pitched overboard, some falling perilously from high above.
Then the second ship slammed into the first, burying its prow deep into her stern. The bowsprit burrowed through the transom and gouged the aft deck. Goodrin felt the planks beneath him bulge, and all at once he was hoisted into the air as the entire aft section of the ship was pushed aloft. Wood splintered, chains and lines snapped, and men hollered in the chaos. More men tumbled into the sea, and sailors from the second boat flew onto the first, thrown like flightless birds against the rigging.
The third ship turned hard to port, but caught the second vessel amidships, pulling it sideways. The second ship tore away from the first, ripping off the aft quarter of the boat and opening a gaping hole in the stern.
Fadlemir was barely holding on, his whole body dangling over the water from a single line now snagged around the forestay. Suddenly the line went limp and he looked up…
…the mast had given way and was falling toward him.
He kicked his legs and let go of the line, trying to put some distance between himself and the ruined ship. At the same moment, the mast raced down and slammed into the foredeck, breaking in two and shattering the deck planks. Fadlemir was swallowed in the waves and covered his head. Debris fell all about him, yet he remained still in his undersea protection.
His world went from one of total chaos, strewn with the shouts of men and the tearing of wood, to the underworld churning of bubbled blue. The sea swallowed the terror above like a whale swallowing a school of fish. Now only muffled sounds and bubbling gurgles journeyed through the depths, separating him from the catastrophic events above.
Fadlemir opened his eyes. He could not tell which way was up. His eyes darted quickly in the dim underworld, searching for clues. But then his eyes caught something unusual: light under the water.
There, to one side, he made out the submerged windows of the King’s Quarters near the bow. A number of lanterns burned brightly behind the glass. Fadlemir righted himself and then swam over, peering through the portholes. King Anondo had tumbled helplessly onto the floor, the room disheveled. But then he noticed one lantern burning a little too brightly. Only, it wasn’t a lantern after all.
The room’s massive rug was on fire.
Fadlemir struggled to the surface and took a gasping breath. He searched for a line, a chain, anything to get back topside. His eyes darted along the hull. He swam the length of the starboard side and took hold of some rigging, now dangling haphazardly in the churning sea. One hand over the other, Fadlemir fought with the ropes, banging against the side of the hull. The work was tiresome and he felt his muscles burning. His feet slipped and were caught more than once, twisted instantly in the swollen knot-work. But he was still able to pull free and managed to climb higher on his ladder.
Soon he was topside and tumbled onto the deck. All around men lay groaning, doing their best to stand, pulling themselves up on anything their hands could reach. Blood mixed with the salty waters and flowed between the boards. More than one of his men lay unconscious, tossed helplessly by whatever wave managed its way over the rails.
The sea was getting worse, and the boat lurched in urgent rhythm. Fadlemir struggled to keep his balance against the buffeting waves, picking his way slowly through the wreckage to the doors below. But he could go no further. The main mast lay straight across the entry, never to be moved again, except by the elements themselves.
Frustrated, and with time running out, Fadlemir spun around and looked for another access point below. But there were none. The twisting monster was much closer and all points leading belowdecks were blocked. He knew there was only one way to rescue his King. Suddenly a familiar voice sounded behind him. It was Goodrin.
Fadlemir rushed aft, bounding over sail and boom, only to find his friend pinned down by wreckage from the following ship. His legs were nearly severed, blood flowing steadily from his mouth. Fadlemir choked on his own tears, now face to face with the terror that was stalking them all. Goodrin tried to speak again.
“Hush now,” Fadlemir pleaded, dropping to his knees.
“I’m so sorry,” Goodrin uttered. Then he coughed a fine spray of red mixing with the rain.
“Come now, it was a fine bit of sailing,” said the Captain.
“I’m sorry,” said Goodrin again, growing delirious.
“I need you to stay here and man the helm,” Fadlemir instructed, handing him a chunk of the wheel that had broken off. The battered helmsman grasped the wood tightly.
“I can do that,” he replied, his voice weakening.
“Steady as she goes.”
“Steady as she goes,” Goodrin replied.
He would never speak again. His eyes lost their life, peering skyward. Fadlemir closed them and quickly got up.
What moments before had appeared to be a clean break to the shore had become a tumult of destruction. It had happened so fast. And lives were fading without hesitation. Any that survived now splashed in the waves, either struggling to get back aboard or making an effort to swim ashore, beating the storm. Only a few valiant souls remained behind, all occupied with injured sailors. Smoke was rising from the bow. Fadlemir had to save the King himself.
He bounded back through the broken booms and sails, and swung over the bridge rail. He tried to pick his way down the tousled rigging toward the churning sea, but his grip slipped, feet sliding into the knots. He felt a moment of panic as he toppled over backward into the water, now upside down. And his feet were stuck.
He sucked in a mouthful of water then lifted his head and chest out of the waves. He tried to wrestle his foot free, but it was twisted. He clenched his teeth and reached for the rigging, pulling himself fully out of the water. Soon he was high enough above his feet that he freed himself, and then finished his descent.
Once in the sea he swam forward and dove. His eyes quickly found the windows, now aglow with light. One look and he knew the fire had spread. Anondo still lay on the floor, unconscious. Fadlemir knew whatever he did next must be swift. He would have precious little time, and only one chance.
Pulling his knees up to his chest, Fadlemir positioned himself in front of the windows and then uncoiled himself, striking the glass. It did not take much as the massive pressure of the water already weighed heavily on the thin partition.
Fadlemir was sucked into the hull. He tumbled onto the floor, driven down by the gushing water, something sharp slicing his forearm, and then his thigh. Glass shards. He knew it would be pointless to contend against the raging force, so he let himself be swirled about, taking but one breath in the midst of the tumult. Soon the room would fill with water, and it would be easier to maneuver.
Now that Anondo being burned to death was no longer a worry, Fadlemir knew he had to keep him from drowning. The King’s limp body emerged face down in the churning froth. Fadlemir fought against the current. He reached out and caught hold of Anondo’s dangling arm, drawing him near. With his other hand, he flipped the King over and searched his face for life.
The room was nearly full. They needed to make their escape. With Anondo almost pinned against the ceiling, Fadlemir took a deep breath and dove, dragging Anondo with him. The work was difficult. Fadlemir felt fatigue fight him from the beginning. He kicked with all his might, one arm wrapped around the King’s neck, the other beating the water frantically. He reached out, pulling hard for every stroke. He passed through the window and then pulled Anondo through behind him. Once clear, Fadlemir kicked furiously toward the surface, bursting into the air, lungs aflame.
The rain was pouring down now, the seas alive and wild. Fadlemir’s first breath was followed by a quick second, full of seawater. He held the King close, hoping he was breathing. Waves crashed over them, threatening to cast them back down into the depths, back into the darkness.
Fadlemir felt something strike his head. Small specks of light filled his vision, followed by a sudden pull to sleep.
But he could not—he would not give in.
Blood trickled into his eye. He was alert once more.
He turned and spied what had struck him: a large plank from the ship’s hull tossed about in the waves. With his free hand, Fadlemir reached out and drew the board toward them. It was all he could do to heave the King onto the plank, positioning him so as not to capsize it. He wiped more blood from his eye and choked on another mouthful of water. He then searched for the mountains, but the rain blurred his sight.
Fadlemir glanced over his shoulder and looked which way the ship faced; they had been heading straight for shore. He turned the board to face the same direction, holding it high in the water and propelling it with his legs. Then he worked his legs for all he was worth.
The board started forward, reluctantly at first, Fadlemir kicking it up a wave. Once he crested the top, they surged down the backside with increased momentum. But any pleasure was lost as he beat hard against the next swell.
The Captain’s legs felt like lead, muscles burning from fatigue.
Rest just for a moment, he thought. Just to catch your breath.
“Nay!” he roared, shouting against the waves and the rain. “I will go on!”
But the declaration did nothing to ease his pain. His head swooned and his shoulders throbbed. He cast a brief look over his shoulder; the sight of the swirling hunter behind him pushed him onward. It wouldn’t be long before the ravenous beast ate the ships. He had to keep going.
Suddenly, as they crested a swell, Fadlemir caught site of a wide white strand separating the sea from mountains that faded into a lowering sky. “Almost there, my King,” he said, not sure if Anondo could hear him.
The furious wind bit hard at the two men, whipping water in every direction, turning the ocean’s surface into a belated lament for a long forgotten respite. Fadlemir pushed onward, compelling his legs to kick harder than ever. He gulped down more than one mouthful, choking, vomiting, and then gasping for air. His arms began to shake, hands barely clutching the plank, shoulders knotted and spent.
His right foot struck bottom.
Fadlemir looked up. They were riding the surf into the shore. His left foot nestled into the sand, and in the next moment, he made to stand. But his weary legs buckled and the Captain stumbled, shoved forward over the plank by an incoming wave. He flipped off the side, Anondo spilling into the froth with him.
Another wave slammed into him, throwing him around with the churning sea. His shoulder struck hard against the bottom and his shirt filled with the abrasive sand. He drank sand and salt, his eyes stinging with pain.
Once the waves were through with him, Fadlemir sat up in the shallows and fought for clean air. He squinted, searching for Anondo. The King lie face down a short distance away, his limbs dragging on the sandy bottom.
Fadlemir climbed to his feet, stumbled once more, and clumsily splashed his way to Anondo’s side. He bent over and hoisted him out of the water, and then dragged him by the arms to the beach. A new wave roared forward and then crashed onto the shore, driving up the beach and pushing Anondo up even further. Fadlemir fell backwards, struggling to keep moving. He was so tired. He had to rest.
But still something within him told him to carry on. He had to get the King to safety; it was his greatest objective, and he would not fail.
Fadlemir pushed himself off his elbows and rolled onto his knees. Anondo floated on a thin film of retreating water. Fadlemir grabbed him as the water receded, and then stood. This time, he bent over and agonizingly hoisted the King’s limp body onto his shoulder, willing his knees straight. He turned and began walking up the beach, feet sinking deep with each step under the weight. There were no other footprints, just his. That no one else had made it to shore saddened him.
Until that moment, Fadlemir had almost forgotten about the tempest racing after them. But when a violent cacophony of noise went up from behind him, he knew it had reached the ships. He spun to see the whirling beast devour the three vessels, swallowing them completely out of sight. But not for long. Within moments he saw the boats lift out of the sea, held aloft magically, and thrown around within the whirling tail. In the next instant, they shattered, pulled apart into countless fragments.
Fadlemir looked on in disbelief. He couldn’t move. The destruction was so complete, so swift.
He looked to the ground beside him and saw a large shard of wood impaled in the sand. Fadlemir stared at it, his mind working; it looked to be a splintered section of mast. He looked back up and then studied the space surrounding the funnel; it was swirling with debris from the boats, spewing out like bones of devoured prey.
Fadlemir caught something out of the corner of his eye.
He turned. A huge object was flying right at him. Fadlemir dropped to his knees and ducked. The bulbous anchor housing—complete with trailing chain—whizzed overhead and tumbled, sand spraying everywhere. But the chain did not clear the two men before snapping back into Fadlemir’s side. The blow also struck Anondo’s back, and for the first time, Fadlemir thought he felt him respond.
Despite two broken ribs, the Captain was again aware that they needed to get off the beach. He stood and started forward. He had not taken three steps before another splinter from the ships slashed across their path, plunging into the beach. Then another object landed with a solid thud behind them.
Fadlemir began running. He could not feel his legs.
The strand was soon a deadly tumult, shrapnel flying everywhere. He neared the first signs of foliage. Already battered by the wind, the scraggly trees and shrubs were assaulted by a barrage of lethal projectiles.
Wooden shrapnel tore through the leaves, limbs severed and dropping to the ground, tree trunks blasted and torn from their rooting. Still Fadlemir drove hard through the underbrush, bounding over the dunes and dodging trees. He felt a few small fragments bite his flesh, certain he had been struck, but he did not lessen his pace.
A giant explosion of sand and wood erupted a few strides in front of him…
…a ship’s entire bow crashed to the ground. Fadlemir stumbled, but regained his balance and moved around the mass. This thing seemed to be aiming for him.
Still Fadlemir surged forward, now putting great distance between them and the beach. The storm gave up a deafening shriek, as if screaming in defiance. But Fadlemir ignored the tirade. Even the onslaught of rain didn’t seem to bother him. He was completely focused on what lay ahead: a strange opening in the side of a rock face…
…just big enough for a man.
With a sudden burst of renewed energy, Fadlemir pressed each stride a little farther. He heard another large object fall hard behind him, but he didn’t even turn to look. His eyes were fixed on the opening.
His lungs burned. Breathing was strenuous.
Suddenly three spears materialized, impaling the ground in quick succession. The Captain slowed out of wonder. Just then a few more appeared. And then a sword.
It cannot be—
But it was. The beast was alive. It knew.
A blade sliced Fadlemir’s calf. His leg buckled. He and Anondo spilled to the ground in a heap. The Captain rolled in agony. He grabbed his leg and tried to examine the wound; it was deep, the muscle severed from the tendon, now balled up behind his knee.
He looked up.
The cave was only a few strides ahead.
Fadlemir clenched his teeth and elbowed his way through the sand-rooted brush.
“You will not take my King,” he growled in defiance. “Not this time.”
With one arm hooked under Anondo’s shoulder, Fadlemir got on all fours, favoring his good leg, and began dragging his Lord forward.
The storm bellowed again, unleashing another barrage of shrapnel at the pair.
Fadlemir reached the small, chest-height opening, big enough for only one man to fit through at a time. The hole had been uncovered by the torturous winds, blowing aside plants and vines that had long since hidden it. The massive amount of rubble surrounding it suggested that the cave was much larger than the small gap appeared.
Fadlemir stood, favoring his good leg, and picked up Anondo. He leaned him against the rubble, and then hoisted him from the waist, shoving his head and shoulders into the hole. He grunted, trying to overcome the pain in his leg, doing his best to keep his balance. He repositioned his hands, but before he could push, the body moved forward. In the same moment, Fadlemir’s body was drilled through with countless shards of wood and metal, pinning him against the rocks. All he could do was look his last into the hole as two small sets of hands pulled Anondo from within.
– – –
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