It is often a simple thing, a roll of the dice, the turn of a card or a chance meeting that changes one’s life forever. For Josh Campbell and Morgan Conely it was a seemingly harmless chain of events. The finding of an ancient hand written book containing two scrolls, a fight after school and performing a ritual that neither of them believed in.
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Excerpt from chapter five: The voyage of the Uniaedean
Old Mrs. Moon peeked out from behind distant clouds, and wondered what foolishness the men scrambling around the Uniaedean's deck, or as it is called in the common tongue, The Dark Hunter we're up too, before going back to her work of lighting up the land and sea beneath her broad smile.
The great black ship lay heavy in the water, burdened by barrels of dry fish, casks of spring fresh water, salted oinker meat, bread, oranges, apples, sweet cakes, the best wine that money could buy, wood for the galley, and piles of round ballista stones.
Salty crewmen wiped sweat from dark tanned brows, drank deep of fresh salt air, leaned up against rails, up against tall masts, sprawled on the deck scuffed by leather shoes going back and forth for hours. Doubt and fear shone in the eyes of the sailing master and the cook, the ballista captain and the ships cabin boy, and all the rest of the crew.
They trembled inside, and tried to drown their misgivings with the thought of promised gold. There wasn't enough gold in all the kingdom's of the Misty Lands to lure them on a voyage to this distant unknown sea, but Cairicel, their captain of a hundred voyages command their loyalty and their devotion. To him, nothing could be refused, not even to sail in to the face of death if need be.
The ebbing tide tugging on the hull of the ship whispered seductive words to the dark wood of its bottom, "Come with me Dark Hunter. Come with me, and I'll show you wonder's you've never dreamed in seeing. I'll take you to distant seas, to strange dangerous shores, and if you obey my, I'll bring you safe home again."
The captain studied his men with care, noting the weariness of slumped bodies, the fear in their eyes, and made up his mind to give them one more night on shore.
He called, “Go ashore men. We’ll wait until the sun wakes before we unfurl our sails.” The crew of the black ship cheered their captain’s words. “I have some gold pieces for you,” the crew cheered again, louder this time.
“There will be no waiting for the sun to wake,” Aonas's back stiffened, clenched fists were waved beneath captain Cairicel's nose. “You made your pledge, "he roared, "You made your pledge to Adelard that you would set sail when your ship was full. That’s why you will get so much gold. Is your oath of no meaning?” Venom dripped from words sharp enough to slice an oinker roast paper-thin.
Cairicel stepped back, swallowed hard, steady eyes kept to Aonas's reddening face. He growled, “Hoist all sails, we must do our masters bidding.”
The crew groaned and went unwilling to their task. Arm muscles bulged with great knots, hands calloused by years at sea and salt water pulled hard on halyards, pulled men up masts that pierced the sky, unfurled midnight black sails, and belayed them in swift certain movements.
A toothless old sailor broke into an ancient song of the sea and ships, "Our great ship will fly before the wind, fly like a bird before the wind. Fly like a bird before the wind, fly to lands far away. Our great ship will fly like a bird before the wind, and come back to safe harbor again."
One by one, the sailors dumped their grumpiness into waves splashing against the hull, waves beckoning them to adventure, put smiles to cracked lips and joined in.
In spite of the anger still surging through the ranger's guts, his grim visage softened, his left foot tapped out the rhythm of the song, and a smile tugged at the corners of a stern mouth, until lips tilted upwards.
In spite of the weight in her hold, and on her deck, the great ship tugged at two thick binding ropes fastened to the large posts dockside like it was a child's toy out for an afternoon sail. The captain called to the waiting shore men, “Unleash the bindings.” Two great wheels were turned, two tethering posts tilted, two binding ropes that held the Uniaedean fast, slipped and splashed into the sea. Cairicel shouted, “Bring in the ropes.”
The ship shot through the water like an arrow shot from a giant bow. Water seethed at her prow, whitened around the stern, and waves from her wake splashed against the wooden dock. Aonas stumbled, caught a nearby rope, and laughed into the wind.
A wicked grin flashed across the captain's broad face as he shouted at Aonas, “What course good master?”
Aonas raised the seeing stone, clutched it tight in white knuckled hands, and followed the beam with calculating eyes, “To the north and east for now.”
“Not yet, we must first clear the shallow place or it will tear the bottom from my ship. Our voyage would be over before it truly starts,” Cairicel winked at the helmsman. “When we’re in safe waters Allador, obey this good man.”
Aonas shouted, “Easy as she goes.”
Allador turned the ship’s guiding wheel to his right. The strong off shore breeze billowed the dark sails outwards, tightened the halyards, until they threatened to break.
Aonas called, “Now back a little.”
Alladur sneered, let go with a string of curse words that would make anyone but a sailor hardened by many ports cringe, glared at the ranger, glared at his captain and turned the wheel as bid.
“Hold her steady,” Aonas turned his unrelenting gaze onto the captain. “Would you have some men build a safe place for the seeing stone? It should be near to the steersman so he won’t sail wrong. Have a trustful guard keep watch, because if this be lost or stolen there will be no journey and no more gold.”
A tall thin man coiling ropes near the helm paused when he heard Aonas speak the last words. He grinned and went back to his work. All the while thinking, “Ah my quick way home again.” He resented going on this voyage because he had become a father of three sons and his wife was still sick. The only reason he had agreed to come was for the gold, but his desire to be home and his worry for his wife and new children tugged at him, growing stronger with each wave that splashed onto the polished deck.
The captain faced the sea, hiding the red of his face and the anger burning in his eyes. He mustered calmness before turning to speak. “Goroth, get wood and tools. Make what this man bids you to. Ranger, there will be no need to set watch over your stone. I have long known these men, they are brothers to me and I trust my life to them. The steersman will be guard enough. We have a hammock slung with the men for you,” the captain clenched his teeth and bit back the curse words forming on his tongue.
Aonas kept his shoulders square, his back straight and his words sharp, “I’ll sleep on deck. I prefer the good dark time air to breathing that, which has been breathed by other men. If we lose the stone, Adelard will take your life and that of your crew. No one forced you to make this oath, but I’ll make certain you fill it or die in the trying. You seem not to know how great the need is for Arragoth to have a King. The whole of the Misty Lands is arming for war and reapers shears are being beaten into swords.”
The captain shrugged, “Do as you will. His deep voice, filled with anger, softened a little, "When the storms come, and they will before we see land again, the hammock with my men will seem a treasure to you. Anst, you’ll take the helm from Allador when the great North Star first wakes." He strode to the companionway and disappeared below deck.
Aonas's hands lingered on the resting place for the seeing stone, caressed each joint, each knotty strut and seemingly satisfied he crossed the deck to the stairs leading to the ships belly and went below. He reappeared in a moment, with a hammock thrown over his shoulder, and with swift, deft movements tied the binding ropes to the railing. He opened up his pack, removed two covering cloths and pulled them up to his chin. Aonas’s eyes drank deep of the sky brimming with winking stars before he closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep.
It seemed to Aonas that he'd just closed his eyes when the bucking and thrashing of the great ship woke him up. White bonneted waves poured over the stern and washed across the tilting deck.
He leapt from the hammock, raced through cold, ankle deep water to the helmsman, and filled the surrounding air with loud sighs when his eyes settled on the seeing stone, nestled safe in its nest.
A white-faced Cairicel held the helm in steady hands, and busy grumbling men lowered the sails. The stars lay buried within heavy folds of thick black veils.
Aonas yelled, “What’s wrong? Are we sinking?”
“The bindings between the wheel and the rudder have broken,” Cairicel turned away, keeping the naked awful lie to himself. "The Ranger must never know that some one has cut the bindings. There is no way of knowing by whom. I should never have made that blood oath." Hands that held a helm without wavering, hands that in past times thrust a blade into a man's belly, twisted it before pulling it out without a quiver, shook.
Aonas raged, “Broken, broken,” spit formed at the corner of taught thin lips, rolled unnoticed into a day old beard, large hands clenched and unclenched, fingers caressed the dagger on his belt. “Did you not see to them before we left?”
“If you had not been in so much haste it would have been done.” Lying to anyone had always been an unknown, a hated thing to the captain. He muttered, "When I find who did this evil thing, I'll tell the ranger and beg forgiveness from him," into the wind "Until then…No ranger, it will not be long until new bindings have been set.”
A rough voice called from below, “The bindings have been set captain.”
Cairicel gripped the helm, steadied his resolve to catch the guilty man, kept his eyes fixed on the seeing stone, and turned the wheel to correct the course.
A gust of wind sang through the shrouds and top gallants, caught the side of the ship, rolling it to the right, spilling foamy water over the side. The captain held his breath until it righted, shouted “Furl half of the sails. Anst take ten men to the pumps, make certain the lower belly of our ship gets dry.”
Aonas yelled, “Anst just make it nine, I need to take my mind off of what might have happened."
Cold chuckles followed him down the ladder, followed him to the belly of the ship, lingered in his mind as he bent to the task at hand.
Bright beams dripping from a sun peeking over the bow, peeking through gaps in the sails, brushed across Aonas's eyelids and pulled him out of a dreamless sleep. He lay still for a moment, enjoying the gentle wind's breath caressing his forehead and arms, playing with his hair. Dark eyes took in the billowing sails, tight against their bindings, swept upwards to the turquoise blanket soft above him, moved down to Cairicel at the wheel.
He breathed deep, hungering for a taste of meadows massed with red roses, pink star flowers, powder blue flowers of the moon, hungering for campfire smoke, roasting oinker, crisping fish, hungering for the laughter and jokes of his companions, but he only found the tang of salt, the crying of sea birds, and the cold curses of rough men.
Cairicel's eyes darted from the seeing stone to the way ahead, back to the seeing stone. Steady hands mated to the helm turned it starboard, back to port and starboard again. He called to the stretching, yawning ranger, “Your awake, come and take the wheel, all men work on my ship. Food will soon be ready for you to break your fast.”
Aonas stood up, rolled his night covers into a tight bundle, put them in his pack, untied his hammocks bindings, rolled it up and walked over to the wheel.
“How liked you our little dark time adventure,” the captain grinned.
“I would sooner have my feet set to the land then spend another night like this."
The captain's warm laughter melted the last of the tall ranger's anger. He managed a smile as the man spoke.
“That was only a mild wind, wait until a full storm blows and then last night will seem pleasant.”
“I find no jest at nearly being food for the fish. May I see the rudders binding ropes?”
“If I’d known you wished to see them I wouldn’t have had them thrown away. We don’t keep things of no use on the Uniaedean,” a wide wicked grin flashed across Cairicel's face. He faced the bow, kept his voice devoid of emotion, kept the lie, his lie inside. "Come and take the wheel my good ranger. I'll have no slackers or lazy men on my ship.”
The sun woke for the second time of their voyage and Aonas had been out of his hammock long before it peered into the sky. He stood at the wheel guiding the ship in the direction the seeing stone pointed. The Uniaedean, or as he preferred to call the ship, Dark Hunter, came alive at the touch of his hand on the great wheel.
The water frothed and sang its mysterious song and the dark prow cleaved through the waves. Aonas felt the life of the sea flow into his hands through the wood. He breathed deep. The wind blew steady from the west and pushed strong against his broad back.
He enjoyed the power he felt and thought for a moment, “I could get use to this,” and then let this dream slip away. He could not desert Adelard, not now, not ever. Though they were not brothers of blood, a brothers bond lay between them.
“Where’s Anst,” Cairicel’s tapped the ranger on his right shoulder.
“I sent him below before the stars slept,” Aonas paused for a moment. “I now know why you have such love for the sea and for this ship. It handles better than any horse that I’ve had the luck to own.”
A broad chest puffed out. A deep voice filled with pride, “My Uniaedean takes its life from the sea and from the man that guides it. You have a master’s touch when it comes to guiding my ship. When our voyage ends I would have you for my crew, and if you were to will it, you will be second in command to me.”
Joy filled laughter rang out in the clear morning air drowning out the song of the wind. “It would be a great thing to walk at will on this deck and be free from land. Even when I am far from the sea, I will smell the freshness of the salt air. My desire will be to feel the wind on my back, see sails full with its breath, but my oath lies with Adelard. It’s stronger than a blood oath. I live only to do his bidding, and give my life for him if need be.”
Cairicel touched the ranger on the shoulder, “These be strong words and well spoken. I smell food being prepared. Go and break your fast.”
Reluctant, he surrendered the wheel to the captain's strong sure hands, turned, walked the short distance to the narrow ladder and disappeared below deck.
After breaking fast, he returned to find a dozen men with small round stones in their hands polishing the gleaming deck. Others were lowering some of the dark sails. The wind, now from the North West, blew stronger and colder, pushing the great black ship forward through the white-topped waves. Goroth occupying Cairicel’s place at the wheel, leaned away from the wind, and kept brown eyes fixed where sea swallowed the sky.
The Captain, standing at the stern between two of the four rear ballista, looked up into the sky, filling with dark, angry looking, thick veils, trying to bury the sun within their depths.
Aonas, catching the rhythm of the ship, rolling as she rolled, swaying as she swayed, made his careful way to the stern. "Your ship is well armed. Are your men any good with the weapons?”
Cairicel, kept his eyes fixed on the brewing storm.
The ranger cleared his throat loud enough for the helmsman to hear, and raised his voice, "Are your men any good with the ballista?"
The furrows etched deep into the captain's brow smoothed out a little. His eyes left the sky and centered on Aonas, “I have sorrow, but my thoughts were on how mighty the coming storm will be. What were the words of your speaking?”
“I asked if your men are any good with the ballista.”
“None better. When we have a calmer day I will set out targets and let you see. I hope you will not mind a bit of wind,” Cairicel laughed.
“Were in for a storm then?”
“We are. Worry not, this ship will show any storm its heels. I have sailed through waves forty ells and higher, came again safe to harbor.” Joy, pride and love for his ship, love for being at sea during a storm, filled his voice, melted away much of its roughness. “It will be a while yet. Perhaps not until after the sun sleeps.”
Aonas turned and walked over to the men were taking down sails, helped fold and store them safe, until only half of the dark sails tugged the ship forward.
White peaked water splashing onto the deck, washed over polished oak, poured back into the boiling sea. Once the sails were stored, the ranger choose a stone, knelt on the deck beside the other men, and put his strong arms and back into the work.
By the time, the sailors finished the mid-day meal, dark veils had swallowed the sun and the sky wept cold, large tears. Few tears fell at first but as the day grew older, they increased beyond counting, fell faster and harder.
Two sailors pulled the wooden stairway covering tight, keeping all but a few drops from finding their way into the ship's belly.
Cairicel shouted, “You may as well get out of the wet, send up Anst and Goroth. I will keep two at the watch until the storm grows weaker," drowning out the angry voice of the wind.
Large cold tears stinging Aonas's naked flesh, leaving welts behind, followed him across the slippery deck to the ladder way, drenching his hair, soaking his clothing, hammering against him until he slid the cover away, went down a few steps, and pulled the cover back into place.
The ranger shivered his way along a narrow passage, between the rows of slung hammocks, passed the captain's command, to Anst and Goroth before putting on dry clothes.
The two sailors pulled on clothes made from oiled oinker skin and left the warmth and dry of the ships belly.
The captain, looking like a drowned oinker, shivering like there would never be an end to cold, appeared below deck and called, "Get what sleep you can," to the crew. "It will be double watch tonight, and short ones as well, you too Aonas. You’ll be taking the mid-dark watch with me. Join me on deck when the watch bell rings four times,” he turned and made his way forward.
A shivering ranger toweled his hair dry, crawled into his hammock, pulled warm covers over him, closed his eyes, and tried to ignore constant swaying and bouncing of his bed.
Large, cold tears, powered by a wind threatening to tear the masts from their moorings pounded onto the Uniaedean’s deck, drenching the two at watch. The wind howled like a thousand lost souls through the sails binding ropes and the sails, but its violence didn't bother Anst or Goroth.
Goroth held a small candle-lantern in his right hand and another one hung near the seeing stone. The sailor thinking he should look around the ships railing and make certain everything was lashed tight, touched Anst on his right shoulder. When the steersman looked at him, he made a circle motion and pointed at the rail. Anst nodded and went back to watching the blue light on the seeing stone.
Goroth circled the deck twice before stopping by the wheel. He tapped Anst’s shoulder, indicating that he would take a turn at guiding the ship.
Anst waited until the wheel was firm in Gorth's right hand before taking the lantern from him. He circled the deck twice. Again, they changed places. Four more times the exchange took place and once again, it was Anst’s turn to inspect the ship’s rail.
The only sounds heard on the Uniaedean’s deck were the wind singing through the sails binding ropes and the heavy tears splashing onto the deck, bouncing high into the air and landing again.
Anst thought he heard a different sound when he passed the wooden ladder cover on his way to the stern. He paused to look. Since everything appeared all right, the sailor continued to his destination, one careful footstep after another. The skies tears grew less, but now loud boomers rumbled among the heavy veils that hid old lady Moon. Streaks of bright light flashed across the dark time sky.
A tall thin man hiding under the cover sighed, “That was close, too close,” and slid it closed. The sailor felt large goose bumps growing on his arms and little worms of fear gnawing at his belly.
He wanted to give up his self-appointed task, but the desire to go home, the desire to be with his sick wife and his newborn children overcame his fear. Once more, he slid the cover open and looked around. A glowing candle-lantern, held fast in someone’s hand swung back and forth in the wind.
He squeezed his rail thin body through the narrow opening, eased his bare feet onto the tear washed deck and closed the opening behind him. He clutched a heavy wooden peg in his right hand and hurried after the disappearing glow.
The tall thin man tried not to think of what would happen to him if he fell on the slippery wood.
Anst paused when he reached the stern, swore under his breath and bent over to retie a loose ballista binding cord. He got out, “Sloppy work, someone will..” For a moment, his world filled with a galaxy of stars, and a headache that would make a mountain cry out. The bright lights in his head dimmed, the pain faded into never ending darkness.
The man holding the heavy piece of wood tucked it into his belt, bent swiftly, picked up the lifeless body and heaved it over the stern. He turned and crept towards Goroth at the wheel.
Goroth, didn't hear the footsteps, didn't see the heavy piece of wood being raised into the air, but he felt it crash onto the back of his head. The creeping man caught the unconscious form in thin arms, lowered it to the deck, put his cheek close to the open mouth and sighed when he felt warm air touch his cold flesh.
To find out what happens to the crew and the great black ship, read, "Keeper of the Sword."