Part 2 of 2
Metamor Keep: Casting Off
by Charles Matthias
The Venture was a cargo ship and looked the part,
wide and shallow of beam. The upper deck spanned
the entirety of the vessel from gunwale to
gunwale, though a good portion along either side
was little more than open lattice above the
benches for the rowers. Charles gazed down into
the dimly lit oar benches and assumed two or
three men could seat each oar, of which there
were a good two down on each side of the vessel.
What a crew they would have if the oar ranks were
full! The effort simply to move the boat and a
hundred men would be no mean feat, much less the
tonnage of trade goods. He could only marvel at
the scope of the endeavor he had embarked upon.
For his sake, for Jerome, Malger had shouldered
the financial burden of supporting not only his
family, but the pay of an entire ship and its crew for he knew not how long.
Just below the top deck was an open passageway
from bow to stern, blanked by heavy beams and
only broken by the spar of the mast piercing the
deck from above. Between the beams hammocks were
neatly strung, drawn close and empty while the
crew was, ostensibly, spending the last of their hours in Menth.
A single broad shouldered, stooped man met them
at the base of the gangway stair, his rheumy eyes
sizing them up. Ye lot our fare, aye? He
growled though not unpleasantly. His voice was
rough by years at sea more than a gruff manner.
Aye, Malger nodded, moving to the fore. And you are?
Mogaf, galley master, yer grace. The man
knuckled his brow and bowed, though hardly
affecting very much change in height considering
he was already stooped by years spent belowdecks.
I'll be preparin' yer meals and sundries, an'
overseein th' care of yer animals too. Saw th'
wolf and serpent above, Ah did, meanin' them, not
yerselfs, he corrected hastily with a quick
glance at the group slowly gathering at the base of the stair.
The dragon will see to itself, good sir. Malger
smiled with a slow nod in return. And the wolf
was once a man, like us. The Curse was not so
kind to him as us, but he has a man's mind. He
paused and pursed his lips, whiskers angling
forward before lying back and drooping. And a
wolf's nature, I might warn. He's still learning
to grasp the enormity of his change.
Ah, aye then well, ah'll be lettin' 'im be on
'is own, then. Turning the man shuffled down the
passageway toward the bow. Cabins fer yer grace
're up t' th' bow. Be a sight more rough when th'
water's up, but be forward o' th' bilge s' not
quite such a bite t' th' nose, aye? Cabins fer
th' rest 're below. Wit no cargo t' speak of we
put up some partitions, like, so's ye'll have
some pervacy an' all. Coming to a wall at the
bow end of the passage he waved toward the lone
door, and a gangway leading deeper into the ship
to one side of it. 'Fraid be naught below thems
but th' bilges an' ballast, so's nae let the little 'uns be wonderin', aye?
They'll be in good hands and under watchful
eyes, master Mogaf, never you fear, Malger assured him.
With a nod the man made his way through them back
toward the stern. Good, good. Galley be in th'
stern. He paused to glance at Malger, then
Charles and Kimberly, taking in the children held
among them. Won't be a'fttin' fer yer lordly
mouths, ah'm jes a ship's cook. But it'll keep ye
full and healthy like. Yer grace. With a bob of
his head and a touch of knuckle to brow he turned
and shambled into the dim shadows toward the stern.
He seems put out, Garigan opined laconically,
earning an uneasy chuckle from the others.
Couldn't give a damn if we've got fur, or three
eyes. He shrugged and peered down the nearby
gangway into the darkness below. Well, I'll go see about a cabin.
Secure one for me as well, lad, Malger said,
turning toward door before them and pushing it
open. Despite being wood exposed to the endless
damp of the sea the door opened smoothly with
little more than a rasp across the jamb.
Charles, you and the Lady Kimberly will need
this cabin. I daresay you'll need the space.
Malger? Charles quipped in surprise. I'm sure
the Captain expected you to...
I'm sure he did. Malger nodded as he stepped
inside, securing the door open with a strip of
leather bolted to the wall within. But I need
only enough space for myself. You've an entire family.
Just within the entry was a short corridor with a
door to either side, beyond which proved to be
two smaller rooms hardly larger than closets.
Ostensibly those were for the servants of
whomever would be using the cabin. The end of the
corridor opened out to a relatively large,
considering they were at the bow of the ship,
somewhat triangular room. At the apex of the
triangle was a simple bedstead built to
accommodate enough bedding to satisfy a pampered
lord though it was still bare. A table was
secured to the floor to the right and a bureau to
the left complete with mirror of polished bronze.
We'll have to see about arranging things for the
children, but it's certainly better than a mere
cabin in cargo. Malger nodded approvingly as he
looked around. There were no port holes but some
square ports in the ceiling proved themselves to
be covered hatch windows to the deck above. Not
big enough for a man to use as a way in or out
but sufficient to let in the sun and redolent salt air.
The cargo space below the main and rowing decks
proved to be spacious. The forward portion of the
hold had been partitioned by sturdy, though
clearly temporary, wooden walls creating a dozen
cabins. More than enough for the entirety of
their retinue and more. From the middle of the
hold rearward it was open, save for the heavy
wooden beams and mast. Aft of the mast the
ceiling was open and through it sunlight spilled
into the hold, revealing a large slab of wood
five paces to a side on which all of their cargo
was piled. Ropes secured at each corner rose into
the sunlight, clearly the manner by which the
cargo had been lowered from above. The light also
revealed ranks of boxes and barrels along either
wall, the scent revealing they carried water,
food, and various sundries for their journey.
Spare ores were slotted along the top of the hold in wooden racks.
As above, hammocks were strung between the beams
though all of them were toward the rear of the
hold, beyond a curtain wall of canvas which
divided the cargo hold forward and aft at the
mast. At the moment it was drawn open to either
side while crewmen loaded the ship. Two were
present, young men perhaps nearing their late
teens, rough of look and wary of countenance as
they paused in their labors to look at the gaggle of passengers.
No mo' cargo comin' down. One of the young men
offered diffidently, nodding toward the huge
pallet and their property. So's ye can leave the
lot there, er to yer cabins as ye like. As he
spoke the sunlight abruptly waned and vanished
with a heavy wooden boom from above. The main
deck hatch had been closed, plunging them into
darkness but for a single lantern swaying above
where the two men were working. Gots jes a mite
t' lash in, then we'll be ashore 'til th' tide.
They left the two men to their tasks and
retreated past the cargo cabins, making their way
back to the main deck. Charles squinted at the
sun, blinding bright after even their brief time
below. A few crew had appeared during their
absence, men will small bags slung over their
shoulders, crossing the deck to the mid-ship
stair. A trio of them abruptly stopped whatever
laughing conversation they had been engaged in
and gaped openly when they spied the passengers clustered near the mast.
This is going to be awkward, Malger observed.
The tide would turn in early afternoon, so the
Keepers busied themselves moving the cargo from
the pallet and bringing it to their cabins.
Misanthe helped Kimberly arrange the state cabin
so it would be comfortable. The large bed was
more than enough space for all of the rats and as
the children were used to sleeping huddled in a
pile Kimberly had seen them do this often
enough after a morning of rough play they laid
the little quilts down at the footboard and the
larger quilt at the head. Charles and Garigan
brought the three trunks of clothes, grooming
equipment, and all else he knew they would need
and placed them wherever they would fit and not
get in the way. The four children scampered about
the room, explored under the bed and in the two
anterooms for servants, and pestered their
parents with questions, most of which began with Why.
Once everything was to their satisfaction,
Charles and Garigan left the children with the
women to help Malger. The marten had selected the
cabin next to the ferret's own; both were big
enough for a trunk of clothing or two, a hammock,
and not much else. They found Malger reclining in
the hammock, staring down at his toes in the wan
light of the single lantern. He regarded them
with a mercurial grin and shrugged. It will be
even more comfortable when we are out to sea! Has Captain Calenti arrived?
Confused, Charles asked, I thought you already spoke with him ere we boarded.
Aye, I did, but only to inform him of our
arrival. He twisted his body all the way around
and landed with a muffled whump on bare paws. Let us go topside and see.
And be seen. Garigan suggested. No sense hiding from the crew.
Malger nodded. Let them look. Let them gawk. Ere
the voyage is done they will admire we Keepers!
They returned to the main deck, their beast eyes
easily navigating the shadowed hold and passages.
All three shielded their faces when they returned
to the full light above. A moment more and they
could see what their ears had already told them,
the main deck was beginning to fill with seamen
returning from whatever haunts they'd enjoyed in
port. A good dozen inspected the oar locks while
another checked the rigging and cleaned up after
the many birds who'd perched on the gunwale.
Reclining at the prow and half sprawled across
the leaping dolphin masthead was Lindsey, with
Jerome sitting on his haunches and Pharcellus
standing akimbo between them and the crew.
Charles started walking toward them and both
ferret and marten followed a pace behind. The
red-haired young man smiled when he saw the
Keepers, turning his head so a gentle breeze
ruffled his long hair. A lovely day for casting off, is it not, your grace?
Malger chuffed, eyeing the dragon on the masthead
with a smirk. It is. If the weather favors us we
will make remarkable time. I thought you were going to fly the first few days?
To their surprise, it was Jerome who replied. His
voice was guttural and felt at times both a snarl
and a whine coming from a wolf's muzzle, but they
could still hear the man in it. I asked to come
aboard. Staying on the wharf felt like being left behind.
Charles wrapped his fingers about his chewstick
but did not lift it from his beltloop. I'm
sorry, Jerome. Would you care for a tour of the
Venture? It's going to be your home for a few months as well as ours.
Jerome backed his ears and shifted on his
haunches; his shoulders spread outward even as
his snout drew back into his face. The black fur
of his back softened until it was a tattered
Sondeckis robe. His eyes, ears, legs, and tail
remained those of a wolf. A softness touched his
features as he half-stood on beastly legs,
resting a clawed hand on the gunwale. Thank you,
Charles. Thank you, Malger. But I think I would
rather wait here until it is time to depart.
After this morning hiding in the wagon, I need
open air. I need for... He stopped himself, a flash of pain crossing his eyes.
Charles glanced at the dragon who had spread his
wings to soak in the noon-day sun. Lindsey,
Pharcellus? Would you care for a tour? I'm sure
Malger would be pleased to show you.
Lindsey craned his neck and blinked. Will I fit below decks?
Malger nodded. Aye, as long as you do not
stretch your wings or lash your tail. We'll give
any crew we meet below a bit of a start, but they may as well get used to it!
Garigan, why don't you go with them. I'll keep Jerome company here.
The ferret nodded and after both he and the
marten stepped out of the way, Lindsey uncurled
himself from the masthead and with his older
brother followed the two Keepers toward the
gangway below decks. All of the crew working the
main deck kept clear. Charles watched them for a
few seconds before turning to his fellow
Sondeckis. Jerome had fallen to a crouch but was
mostly man-like. He slumped his arms and head
over the gunwale and stared out to sea. White
clouds drifted across the sky, flocks of birds
enjoyed the air, fishermen plied their trade, and
the waves gently undulated to the horizon.
Charles reclined next to him and gnawed on his
chewstick for almost a minute. How are you doing?
I wish I could lope in the woods with you and
Garigan and take down a deer. He sighed. I need
to be a wolf; I ache without it. I know it is what... he... did to me, but...
Do you remember when I was stone? I had needs I
could not explain to you or anyone else back
then. I thought in ways human tongues cannot
express. I do not understand all you mean when
you say you need to be a wolf, Jerome, but I
understand the need of a nature forced upon you.
Jerome grunted, triangular ears lifting and
turning as the crew prepared the oars; the heavy
spars groaned and the wood of the oarlocks
creaked as they scraped against each other. I
won't run off. I want to reach Sondeshara too.
I never thought you might.
They stared at the sea listening to the lap of
waves and the noisome cries of roustabouts making
the last preparations for the Venture. Nothing
more could be heard, not even the bustling noise
of the city. Charles wondered how Julian,
Jessica, and the rest of their friends fared as
they toured the marketplace. He gnawed his chewstick.
Rat eyes let him study Jerome as well as the sea.
His face, other than the ears and the golden
eyes, was the same stocky man he'd grown up with
in Sondeshara. But where the Jerome he knew had
been calm and reserved, almost unreadable to
those who did not know him, this Jerome was wild
and ever on alert. The tattered Sondeckis robe
covered a pale muscular chest and back covered
with long scars he'd never spoken of. The fur
began at his lower back, a dark black glimmering
with moonlight, thick and soft all the way down
his misshapen legs and the heavy paws and thick
claws digging into the deck. A long tail dangled
between those legs, twitching back and forth with every anxious thought.
He wished he could become a wolf to join his friend in the forest.
There will be many woods along our journey if
you need a night to run and hunt. Charles turned
so he faced Jerome. I know we cannot run with
you, but it is something for when you need it.
Don't give in too much. Guernef had to warn me
many times from thinking like stone. We are
Sondeckis. We are brothers, Jerome. I will make
sure we reach Sondeshara together.
Thank you, Jerome replied, a smile touching his
lips. Charles set his hand on Jerome's shoulder.
He felt the man's flesh tremble a moment and then
all was still. Jerome took a deep breath and said again, Thank you.
Charles smiled and together they watched the sea.
No tour of a sea vessel would ever take long
there was not enough space to tour unless you
were giving the tour to a dragon. Lindsey was a
young dragon and small enough to fit on the
leaping dolphin masthead, but his long
quadrupedal body found navigating stairs and
maneuvering through the tight corridors below
decks a challenge. Pharcellus offered helpful
advice to his brother every step of the way,
while Malger and Garigan gave him as much room as they could.
You can change into a human shape, Pharcellus,
Malger pointed out after Lindsey almost tore one
of the partitions in the hold out while squeezing
his hindquarters and tail around a narrow bend.
Is this not some dragon magic you can teach Lindsey?
I don't have enough magic yet, Lindsey said
while craning his neck to inspect his tail for
scrapes or missing scales. I am starting to feel
normal walking on all fours; I know I'm not an
animal but it still seems wrong.
It is not wrong for a dragon, Pharcellus
reminded him with a faint chuckle. And you will
grow into dragon magic soon. If I could, I would
transform you while aboard the Venture, but I can only change myself.
Lindsey clicked his tongue against his fangs and
lifted himself onto his haunches, bringing his
serpentine neck up to eye level. If I get much
bigger, I won't be able to fit below decks at
all. How do we even live in caves?
The red-haired man laughed and wrapped an arm
about Lindsey's neck, cheek to dragon cheek, You
will see, brother! You will see. Now, is there
anything more to see of this Venture?
Malger shook his head. This is pretty much
everything. We should return to the main deck and
see what is keeping the Captain. I thought we would have cast off by now.
The tide is starting to turn, Garigan murmured. High tide is almost over.
How can you tell?
The ferret gestured at the floor of the hold. I
can feel it in my legs. The waves. They just...
it feel like they are pulling away from the wharf.
Malger narrowed his gaze at the ferret likely
it was some sign of his Sondeckis powers and
asked, Are you sure you are not secretly a sailor?
I am not. I've never seen the sea before today.
I know lad. But I have been on the sea many
times and I feel nothing. I only know because I
consulted the charts! Malger flicked his eyes to
the two dragons and then at the deck above them.
Let us see the sky again. I think Lindsey needs to stretch his wings.
Lindsey had an easier time climbing the stairs
back to the main deck. All of them breathed in
relief when they felt the sun on their faces
again. Malger noted Charles and Jerome leaned
against the gunwale at the prow, the many sailors
going over the rigging and the oars a third or
fourth time, and a general air of expectancy. The
three arctic bird brothers were perched on the
port-side gunwale Lubec had his wings spread to
dry them talking with a middle aged man in
comfortable and colorful attire beyond the means
of any common sailor. Malger smiled and started toward him.
The dark-haired and olive-toned man turned, and
an exuberant smile etched into his weathered
face. Your grace! Welcome aboard the Venture! I
understand you have already seen to your passengers.
And everyone's gear. We are ready to depart at your command.
Excellent. Thank you for sending Lubec and
Machias with your last message. Having birds who
are men as companions these last few days has
better prepared my crew and I. And now I have met
their brother Quoddy. I see this is one of the
dragons you spoke of. Lindsey is it?
There were too many people standing nearby for
Lindsey to stretch his wings, but he did stand on
his haunches; the serpentine arch of his back
brought him to a little more than man-height. He
craned his neck to meet the Captain's gaze. I
am. You have a marvelous vessel, Captain. With
your permission, when the night's are pleasant I may sleep by the prow.
At your pleasure, master Lindsey. Having a
dragon aboard will put to flight marauders faster
than a volley of Whalish fire! His eyes shifted
back to the marten. Now, your grace, will you
introduce the rest of your companions?
This is Pharcellus. He is an older dragon who
has mastered the art of taking human shape when needed.
I am much too big as a dragon to sleep aboard
your vessel, Captain Calenti, but at this size I can manage.
And two dragons will be even better! We are well
met! They shook hands and Calenti gave
Pharcellus a manly slap on the shoulder.
And this is Garigan, Sir Matthias's student.
Calenti offered him a hand, even as his eyes
narrowed. Garigan... you are a... weasel?
Ferret, he replied as he took the offered hand,
careful of his claws. We're related but not quite the same.
I shall remember. It is good to have you aboard.
When will we be casting off, Captain?
Calenti looked to the sky and nodded. My men are
ready. If the dragons and wolf are going to fly
alongside, they'll want to disembark now. Unless
you mean to jump from the gunwale?
The aft looks big enough, Pharcellus noted.
I'll have to learn how to at some point. But
today at least we will disembark and fly from the
wharves. Come Lindsey, let us fetch our friend and be off.
As the pair headed to the prow, Malger stretched
his back and felt a thrill of excitement build.
Captain, is there somewhere my companions can
watch while you and your men work? I am sure the
ladies and children are going to tire of the quarters below.
Bow and aft are big enough. Stay clear of
amidships when we are rowing; otherwise they can
watch from there too. Now, your grace, if you
will excuse me, I must see to my ship. The tide
is leaving quick and we must be on it.
As the Captain walked away, Malger glanced at the
gunwale. The three birds were already gone,
having flown higher in the rigging where they
could watch and keep out of everyone's way. He
chuffed to himself and looked to the ferret.
Garigan, let Charles know I'm going to bring his
family up to the aft to watch. And hopefully get
their sea legs. I know you and Charles will be
fine, but I do not know of Misanthe or his
family. Poor Versyd would have retched just trying to board the Venture!
I will let him know.
Charles smiled as he took his youngest daughter
from his wifes arms. Little Baerle wrapped her
arms about his neck and her legs about his
middle, while her snout nuzzled his cheek and her
tail thumped against his belly. Do you like your room and bed?
Aye, Daddy! Baerle squeaked as she looked
around the boat and wharf. Can we swimmin?
He laughed and shook his head. Not right now, my
treasure. Maybe later. He caught Kimberlys
gaze; his eldest boy squirmed in her arms trying
to climb onto her shoulders. How long have they been asking?
As soon as they saw the water. She plucked
little Charless hand from her face and chided,
Careful! You almost poked my eye!
The little boy ducked his snout. Sorry, Mama. Can I be on your head?
Misanthe had already given up trying to keep
Erick in her arms. The boy straddled her neck
with his legs and was holding on to her head fur,
snout framed by black ears. Malger was having
more luck with the older daughter Bernadette; she
sat in his cradling arms and pointed at each of
the bird brothers high up in the rigging and
tried to say their names. Charles could only
chortle as his wife surrendered, hoisting his
namesake on her shoulders like his brother. The
boy squeaked in delight, eyes wide and dashing from mast to sea and back again.
Isnt Garigan going to join us? Malger asked.
He jerked his snout toward the bow where the ferret reclined by himself.
Charles shook his head. He wanted to welcome
the sea as he put it. I think he wanted a moment to himself.
None of us will have much time to ourselves for
many months. Im sure Calenti will let him serve
in the crows nest if he asks.
I think Quoddy, Lubec, and Machias will be there ahead of him.
The marten chuffed and nodded. How is Jerome?
As good as can be expected, Charles replied.
The wolfish Sondecki was back on the wharf with
the dragons. Pharcellus was helping the sailors
undo the mooring lines while Lindsey stretched
his wings. He should stay on board with us as
soon as he is ready. The crew will be used to us
in a day or two. Tomorrow I will help row;
theyll accept us better if we sweat alongside them.
And if the winds are all we need?
I will teach my children of the sea. You know
Charles flicked his eyes
toward the rigging and grunted. Malger suppressed a chuffing laugh.
Before the marten could offer more, the Captain
began shouting orders at the men in the oar
ranks. Wood groaned as the last of the moor lines
were collected and the sailors heaved the massive
spars in their locks. The paddles pressed against
the water, and they felt the deck jerk beneath
them. The wharves of Menth shifted and began
sliding backward. Kimberly gasped when she
regained her footing, staring at the city as it
drifted away behind them with each stroke of the oarsmen.
Daddy, Daddy! Were moving! Erick squeaked as
he bounced on Misanthes shoulders. The fox smiled through the discomfort.
Charles smiled and tickled his daughters sides.
No gnawing on your Daddy now.
Four Keepers and four children watched from the
aft as the Venture slid away from the wharf. As
soon as they were in the clear they watched
Pharcellus shift into a dragon. Sailors on the
other end of the wharf bolted up the esplanade
when the vermillion-tipped gray dragon stretched
his wings and lashed his tail. Lindsey helped him
secure the leather saddle and straps to carry a
man while Jerome hid from sight beneath an awning wing.
The fleeing tide drew the Venture far from shore.
They were joined in the water by fishing trawlers
and flocks of birds riding the waves. Flotsam and
seaweed marred the waves but the oarsmen plowed
through each. The grunting of the sailors and the
straining of the rigging filled their ears while
the pungent tang of salt and the dwindling refuse
of the city filled their nose.
After rowing for a few minutes, the Captain
turned the wheel and the Venture tilted to the
left. The sun shifted until it was ahead and on
the right; they were now heading south. The deck
beneath them shifted with the waves; Misanthe and
Kimberly reached for the gunwale to steady themselves.
Are you well? Charles asked, taking a confident
step toward his wife. Baerle finally seemed to
notice the way her siblings had climbed atop the
big peoples heads and dug her claws into the
back of his head fur to do the same. Charles
grimaced and helped her stand on his shoulders;
he could feel one of her little hands digging at
the burn scar around his right eye.
Kimberly tried to smile. Id forgotten how the
sea moves. I
I think Ill be fine in a
in a little while.
Misanthe slipped beside her and patiently moved
one of Ericks hands off her ears. I brought a
few things to help if you need them, milady.
Bernadette scrambled even higher on Malgers
head, trying to brace her foot with his ear as
she pointed at a shadow in the sky. Daddy, look atta bird!
They all glanced upward and watched as a winged
shadow descended from the sky. It circled around
the Venture a few times, and once it was out of
the sun, Charles could see the oblong shape clearly. It was not a bird.
Both he and Malger moved next to the ladies at
the aft gunwale as the gryphon came to a landing
on the deck between them and the Captain. Calenti
cast a backward glance and offered the
eagle-headed gryphon a smirk. Did you finally wear out your wings?
The gryphon dipped his head and folded his wings.
I waited until we were well away from the city.
Why worry about me when you have dragons on this voyage too?
Calenti laughed. My bravery stops at telling
gryphons what to do. But after seeing how well
they and our passengers were received, I see no
reason you cannot join us when we dock. Speaking
of, let me introduce you. The captain stepped
around the gryphon, who turned around in place,
golden eyes wide and intent. Your grace, allow
me to introduce the last member of our voyage,
Kurgael. I hired him to help guard the ship.
Between Kurgael and the dragons we have nothing to fear.
Well met, Kurgael, Malger said, sketching a
slight bow. It is good to have you aboard. You
seem comfortable around Keepers like us. Are you also from Metamor?
I was cursed, but I prefer to live on the cliffs
to the south. He lifted his beak and one wing,
gesturing to the three birds capering high in the
rigging. Lubec and Machias stopped by my nest to
tell me where they were going. It sounded like an
adventure and so I came along.
I am very glad they did.
Calenti cleared his throat and gestured at the
marten. Forgive me your grace, but allow me to
introduce you. Kurgael, this is his grace,
Archduke Malger dae ross Sutt of Sutthaivasse,
Sir Charles Matthias of the Narrows, his wife
Lady Kimberly and their children, and the Lady Misanthe of Metamor.
Kurgael glanced briefly at the rest but his eyes
stayed on the marten. Oh? I had heard
moment the gryphon's astonishment seemed to
envelop every muscle in his massive body. Tension
filled every sinew and for a blink of the eye it
seemed he might leap as a cat toward the marten.
But then he relaxed and a warm camaraderie
touched his avian eyes. I am glad to have a
chance to be of service, your grace. He turned
to the rat and bobbed his head. And to you as well, sir knight.
He then turned to greet both ladies, but before
he could speak, all four of the little rats
roused themselves from marveling at the gryphon
and squirmed free, scrambled down parents, fox,
and marten, across the deck, and up the startled
avian forelegs of Kurgael in an effort to reach
the feathered nape of his neck first.
Well, Id say weve had enough introductions,
Malger remarked with a thinly veiled laugh. You
wear rat very well there, Kurgael!
Little rat voices chorused, Can we fly you! Can we! Can we!
Charles wrapped his arm about his wifes middle
and pulled her close. Kimberly leaned her head
against his chest as they watched their children
play with the gryphon. He sighed and relaxed,
letting the rocking of the waves soothe his
anxiety. The voyage would be long and uncertain,
but they were making it together. He kissed his
wife between the ears, glancing at his friends
around the boat and in the sky above him. Sondeshara could wait.
Garigan leaned against the prow and stared across
the leaping dolphin toward the horizon. He knew
from studying the maps Kayla had given them they
would need to sail first south, then west along
the northern coast of Sathmore, before turning
south again until they reached Whales. From there
they would turn east through the coral basin gap
between Marzac and Boreaux and then follow the
marshy Boreaux coastline southeast. A journey of
five months, four if the winds favored them.
And at the end of the journey was a desert and a
city nestled deep within the desert built around
an oasis rising up from untold depths. A thousand
generations of Sondeckis had made this city their
home. The very sands thrummed with the power
imbuing him, a power until a few years ago he
never knew had a name. He had learned much from
Charles in the last two years and there was a
great deal he had discerned on his own. But in
the city awaiting them he would learn so much more.
He would learn to spin a Sondeshike.
He would learn to shatter stone with a song.
He would learn to shape metal with his fingers.
He would learn to move without sound and without muscle.
Perhaps he would even understand why he had been gifted with the Sondeck.
Garigan was grateful to Charles for all he had
shown him already. He was grateful to Malger for
helping them make this voyage. He knew they
journeyed to Sondeshara to help Jerome break
free, but he came because of the Sondeck. It needed to find its home.
Garigan dug his claws into the gunwale, savoring
the wind in his fur, thrilling with every passing league.
Cool sea air ran through his fur. He held tight
to the leather straps framing Pharcelluss neck
and shoulders. Each beat of massive wings pressed
dragon muscles into his chest; his breath fell
into rhythm as they ascended high above Menth.
Far below the Venture rowed away from shore into
the sea lanes; the sails were ready to capture the winds to take them south.
A journey of many months now begun. They would
reach the ancient city in the desert, the only
place in all the world he might be helped. Sondeshara.
To the north, he could feel something. His heart
ached for it. He could smell the warm earthiness
and feel the loam beneath his paws. He knew his
place in the world. He could see a wall with
glowing baubles. He had brothers to run and hunt with. He had a father.
A father he disobeyed.
A father aware of him.
A father beckoning him home.
He pressed his muzzle against the dragons hide
and forced his tongue to still; he would not
speak the words tumbling from his heart. Sorrow.
Regret. Remorse. Determination.
Forgive me, Father.
Gmorks Prodigal dug in his claws for the long flight.
May He bless you and keep you in His grace and love,
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