I finally finished another Metamor Keep
story. Thanks to Ryx for his help with this.
Part 1 of 2
Metamor Keep: Casting Off
by Charles Matthias
May 27, 708 CR
Three long days of journey brought them a few
hours from the port city Menth. The moon, a
sliver shy of full, was already limning the
eastern sky, while the western glowed bronze with
the setting sun. Two fires brightened the
roadside, and an assortment of Keepers more than
two-dozen in number shared their warmth after
enjoying a hot meal. Three well-laden wagons and
a noble's carriage flanked the fires, offering
them some privacy in a land not touched by
Metamor's Curses. An evening breeze brought hints of the sea.
Charles reclined against a stone, one hand
holding the chewstick between his incisors, the
other rubbing the soft flesh of his tail, while
he stretched his toes near the fire. He watched
his children scampering and tumbling about in the
grass while his wife Kimberly and the fox
Misanthe looked on, intervening when their play
brought them too close to the fire. Mercifully,
due to their young age, they had managed to sleep
part of the journey each day; but it left them
full of boundless energy when they awoke and kept
most of the retinue busy trying to protect them.
More often than not they had bounced from one
side of the wagon to the other or capered along
the verge of the trail; even letting them ride
with the knights or upon Pharcellus only offered
a moment's respite before they wished to scamper
again. Erick seemed to be the most curious and
adventurous, darting from discovery to discovery
when he was not chivying their escorts for
stories of battle or lessons in sword. Luckily
many of the horses were intelligent residents of
Metamor and did not startle when rats leaped onto
their backs or darted beneath them; their calm
demeanor kept the normal horses from spooking.
Charles hoped there would be room aplenty for
little scampering rats when they took to sea.
Malger entertained the company with a spirited
tune on his flute. Egland and Intoran accompanied
the marten on cookpots, wringing melodic tamber
from the cast iron by deft strikes with the
pommels of their knives. Larssen the giraffe and
the human Maud danced to the music, Larssen
taking care not to step on his wife's delicate
feet with his hooves. The youth Van and the ram
Dallar clapped in time. Versyd and the other
horses shouted encouragement between needling
each other to join the dance. The gull Quoddy
watched them from his perch atop Malger's wagon
and tapped a webbed foot in time to the beat.
Sir Saulius and the bison Hesgebaern were busy
inspecting the real horses, though their heads
turned from time to time to listen. So too it was
with the other rats who checked over their wagons
with as much care as a mother inspecting her
children for bumps, bruises and bites. And far
overhead Jessica and Weyden circled, swooped, and
soared, both to keep watch and to stretch their wings.
Only the two dragons, Garigan, and Jerome relaxed
with Charles. Garigan stretched in the grass,
eyes searching the sky; his toes twitched with
the rhythm but nothing more. Pharcellus who had
taken a human guise once they left the Valley
perused the set of maps Kayla had procured for
them while surreptitiously keeping an eye on his
younger brother. Lindsey and Jerome lay next to
one another as the young dragon combed his claws through the wolf's black fur.
Animals most of them appeared, and yet it seemed
wrong to look at the wolf and know it was his
friend. Jerome startled them all when he rose on
four paws in the morning looking no different
than a wild beast. But Lindsey assured them it
helped Jerome stay himself if he 'let the wolf
out' from time to time; none of them objected
further but they had all kept a respectful distance from his wagon.
Charles sighed as he gnawed.
What are you thinking about? Lindsey asked.
Tomorrow we enter Menth. Tomorrow we enter a
world beyond the Curses. We did so in secret
before; at least for most of our journey. This
time we do so openly. All the world will see
beasts who walk as men. My children will be seen
as vermin. They've never been treated as vermin
before, Lindsey. They've been loved; never hated.
Will they remember the look of disgust they will
receive because they are rats? I remember the
looks we received in Breckaris and in Sutthaivasse.
Lindsey tilted his head to one side and offered
him a draconic grin. They are still young. They
probably won't remember any of this except for
the stories you tell. He ran his claws between
Jerome's ears and the wolf lifted his head from
his forepaws. But if any man dares threaten
them, Pharcellus and I can eat them!
Charles almost choked on wood splinters. Eat
them? You should not be using dragon humor, my friend!
Lindsey laughed. I doubt I could ever do such a
thing! I may be a dragon but I am still a man
too. He twisted his long neck and nodded toward
the red-haired young man. Pharcellus smiled over
the top of the maps but said nothing.
Julian climbed off the nearest wagon and wiped
his hands on his breeches. He drew up his tail
and snagged the tip between his fingers. We will
draw eyes. Some will be curious; some will be
afraid. But this is Menth. Many of the merchants
here have been traveling to Metamor for years
now. They are used to seeing people like us and
they know we are not beasts. They are just not used to seeing us in Menth.
In sooth. I shall try not to worry, Charles
added before gnawing on his stick again.
I intend to make sure they do become used to
seeing us here in Menth. After we leave you with
your ship, we'll spend some time in the merchant
district. I'm sure there are many things they
want we from Metamor can provide!
And your wagons can carry.
Julian's red eyes glimmered in the firelight.
We're going to need more wagons. I wish I could
convince those horses to work for me. Ah well, there will be others.
Charles laughed beneath his breath and relaxed.
There are plenty more still living in the Glen.
And there are plenty from Bradanes who will need work.
We shall see. Julian stretched and sat down
next to him. He was about to lean against the
rock when his eyes narrowed, staring at Charles's
back. You have a flower growing out of your tail.
Oh, it blossomed? Charles set his chewstick in
the grass and reached both hands to feel his tail
root. The little vine, a few days ago no more
than a tendril, had grown its first bud while he
slept. Now he could feel delicate petals; he
could not see them but he knew they would be
purple like the vine clinging to his stable walls
at the Glen. I thought it would wait for the morning.
Why do you have a flower growing out of your tail?
It was a gift from the Wind Children. It saved
our lives last year when a strange plant in the
Marzac swamps attacked us. He laughed at
Julian's incredulous expression. I have no idea
who the Wind Children are, but we met them while
journeying through Åelfwood. I was stone still
and they planted a vine in my granite flesh. It
grew into the massive vine you've seen I keep in
my stables. Somehow it can slip in and out of my
flesh without hurting me, and before we left it gave me a seed.
A seed I planted within my flesh, and as you can see, it too is growing.
Lindsey chuffed as he stroked the wolf's ears;
Jerome panted as he leaned into the dragon's
claws. He's telling the truth. I remember the
Wind Children. They shaped leaves and flower
petals to appear as our faces before giving
Charles his vine. Even the Åelves were surprised.
Even Zhy... Lindsey lowered his snout and
thumped the end of his tail. Even Zhypar was surprised.
Charles leaned over to pat the dragon on his
side. He glanced down at Jerome and felt his
heart tighten. Sitting back up he forced a smile
to his whiskers and put his hand against the
rock. And, like I said, I was rock at the time.
The pink flesh of his hand hardened and grayed
before disappearing within the stone. Julian
gasped and scooted away on his tail.
I... Julian stared for a moment before shaking
his head. Are there any more secrets you wish to share?
Nae, Charles withdrew his hand and returned it
to flesh. Nae, there is nothing more. It has
been a very strange year. He touched the scar
around his right eye. It has changed all of us.
Jessica's feathers are black. I have this scar,
can turn to stone and have a vine growing from my
tail. Lindsey is a dragon! And Jerome... He
sighed. The wolf lifted its head, golden eyes
peering at the rat, waiting. Jerome, my friend, needs our help. And so we go.
You forgot to mention one change, Julian noted
with a smile returning to his whiskers. We have
left the cellars behind. Forever.
He gripped Julian on the shoulder and leaned
forward until their snouts touched. Few things
have made me happier, Julian. Thank you.
His fellow rat returned the grip. Thank you,
Charles. Now go. Dance with your wife. Don't
waste such good music with moping.
Charles gave him a firm hug. There was nothing
more to say. He went and danced with his wife for a song or three.
Malger searched the dreams. He did so at leisure,
his pace and manner laconic. During the day the
travelers acted as if they were out for nothing
more than a pleasurable stroll to the next
village. At night the tensions and worries were
loosed and given shape. He witnessed brigands
striking them down with swords, mighty waves
swallowing the ship whole, slavers leading the
children away in chains, and even an apprentice
to Sideshow capturing them in cages for his
terrifying menagerie. Malger would not add his own anxiety to the dreamers.
Instead, patient and slow, he offered a bit of
joyful song or a whisper of encouragement into
each unsettled dreamer. It was never enough to
chase the nightmares away, but they were never as
frightening again. And after each offering,
Malger withdrew as quietly as he had come and continued his search.
He had only seen traces of the Matthias child
each of the nights on their journey. Sometimes it
was a flash of ears and tail disappearing into
mystic underbrush, other times it was little
scampering tracks left in the path darting from
dream to dream. He did not blame the child for
running away; here in the dreams he was without
mother or father to protect him. And while there
was much he could say in the waking world to help
the little rat, the true teaching must take place in the dreams.
Which meant little Charles would need to stop running and hiding from him.
Malger did not have long to wander among the
dreams of his traveling companions before he
found the tell-tale sign of the boy. Paw prints
which sparkled with moon-glow dust trailed
through a nook of stone and trees. He followed at
a leisured pace, listening for dangers and
threats but hearing none, and watched.
The paw-prints ended inside a little hole in a
tree far larger than its neighbors. It reminded
him of the mighty redwood the Matthias family
lived in, though the shape was distorted with a
profusion of twists, branches, and whorls. The
hole appeared too small to squeeze through but as
he neared it swelled in size. He crouched at the
entrance, peering into the dream without entering the dreamer.
The dreamer was the other Matthias boy, Erick. He
could see a fantastic world of forest where
everything was exaggerated with knightly banners
draped from tree branches and familiar animals
capering about. Erick and his brother Charles
were both wearing armor and battling each other
with massive swords. They laughed as they swung
and squeaked as they dodged each blow.
Malger chuffed in surprise. Little Charles had
entered his brothers dream to play with him.
He watched their play for a time and then
reclined against one of the gnarled roots
conjuring a happy tune from his flute. A small
bitterness touched his heart; there had never
been any simple play between him and his family.
But this was one pain among many he had taken for
himself over the years; he surrounded and
cornered the hurt with grace notes, captured it
with a trill, and scattered it from his heart
with a boisterous arpeggio. He would let little Charles have his brother.
His thoughts strayed to the stone altar, the
massive crow, the scarred rat, and the child
between them. What little his goddess had
explained to him still left him confused. It was
a riddle within an enigma lost in an archipelago
of mysteries. Would he ever understand? Would any
of them? And what pain would there be in
understanding? A sour note touched his flute with those thoughts.
Malger blinked and stared down between the roots
to find a rat child staring back up at him,
little paws curled around the tip of his tail.
The boy gazed at him as if he'd been waiting
there for hours. The marten sucked in his breath
and let the flute fall from his muzzle. Hello, Charles.
Whiskers twitched and dark, protruding eyes
blinked while over-sized ears flicked up and
down. For a moment the child appeared more alley
rat than knight's son. And then he spoke, his
voice anxious and interjected with little squeaks
Yet it penetrated the marten more deeply than the
melody he had chased his childhood regret away
with. You not dream for yourself.
He smiled. Nay. You and I walk the dreams of
others. I will teach you how. I will teach you
how to help and protect the dreams of others, and
how to protect yourself from them. The boy only
stared at him and rubbed his fingers over his tail tip. Do you know who I am?
Daddy says you Archduke Sutt.
Very good. But as I am your teacher, you may
call me 'Master Sutt'. Do you understand?
The boy blinked and nodded. Master Sutt.
Bye-bye. Before he could react, the little rat
fell to all fours and scampered into the dream
brush leaving only moon-glow paw-prints behind.
Malger chuffed and shook his head. It was a start.
May 28, 708 CR
A half dozen wary guards watched the caravan once
it emerged from the forest; the four at the gate
exchanged anxious words, while the two manning
the gatehouse parapet looked down with curiosity.
For many minutes traveling Keepers and resident
men merely eyed each other until the distance
between them had closed to a few wagon lengths.
One of the guardsmen stepped forward and held up
a hand. The three behind him rested hands on
sword pommels while the tower guards knocked
arrows to their bows but did not draw. What...
what brings beast men to Menth and so many? The
man demanded gruffly, narrowing his gaze to stare
up at Malger, who had ridden forward from the
train. You... State your business!
From his lofty perch astride Versyd Malger
offered the guards a reproving stare. Beast
men? He scoffed with perfect aristocratic
annoyance, glancing back at the wagons. Do not
caravans of Menth journey to Metamor and back?
Does not your lord swear fealty to Duke Thomas of
House Hassan? As a horse is he, too, a 'beast
man'? Egland and Intoran rode forward slowly to
flank Malger. Charles and Saulius rode beside the
first wagon with his family; four little rats
peered over the side of the wagon, noses lifted
to the pungent air of a port city for the first
time. Jessica, Weyden, and the other soldiers
stayed back along either side of the second
wagon, their hands upon the plainly visible
pommels of their weapons. Lindsey and Jerome hid
in the final wagon beneath a stretched canvas.
Do we demand human men who come to Metamor's gates state their business?
The mustached man in charge of the gatehouse
gawped a couple of times before regaining his
composure, realizing by dress and stature, even
if he was some sort of furred creature, he was of
a far higher station than a mere town guard.
Such caravans do journey to Metamor and we are
loyal to the House Hassan. But all visitors must
state their business in Menth; especially the rare visitor from Metamor.
Malger snorted haughtily and let both hands rest
upon the front of his saddle. Sire, He muttered flatly.
Sire? The guardsman blinked.
Aye, Malger snapped. Do I look a passing
churl? Now, I have hired a ship berthed here in
Menth. My companions wish to do business of their
own in your marketplace. Leaning forward in the
saddle Malger fixed the guard with a hard
penetrating stare. Unless you wish to deny us
entry, which I am sure to tell his Lordship
should I need to return to Metamor with my
business unfulfilled, you will let us pass.
The guard chuffed and cleared his throat, then
stepped aside. We are not accustomed to Keepers
here, he explained with a slight bow. Even
here, where the cursed of Metamor are known, you
would do best not to wander freely. The two
guards on the tower lowered their bows while the
four at the gate stepped aside. Malger nodded his
thanks even as Versyd trotted with regal air into
the city. One by one the wagons followed. Little
Baerle and Bernadette waved at the guards as they passed.
Charles smiled at his children and tried to keep
his smile as he gazed about the city beyond the
gates. Menth was a port town and trading center
for the Northern Midlands. Wide streets allowed
easy passage of commerce from both northern and
eastern city gates to the marketplaces and the
wharves. Already he could see the tall masts of
sailing vessels over the top of the clustered row
houses. His nose wrinkled from the scent of refuse even the sea could not hide.
The streets were filled with vendors selling
fish, fruits and vegetables as well as garlands
made from flowers, townsfolk buying them, and
children playing. The presence of so many
Keepers, particularly beast-cursed Keepers, was
noticed the moment their wagons rolled through
the gates. Charles could almost sense the ripple
of news radiating through the town as a palpable
force. It was the children who took the keenest
note of the Keepers, pointing and gawking in
surprise. Brave boys rushed up to get a closer
look. Charles watched a pair daring each other to
touch the tip of his tail dangling off Malicon's
flanks; neither could work up the courage or
shame the other enough to be so foolish.
Soon all eyes were upon them and the raucous
noise of the streets died down to a susurrus of
curiosity. Charles could hear their whispers if
not their words. Their eyes were uncertain; some
were afraid, others merely curious. A few even
appeared excited as if they'd always hoped to see
a beast-cursed Keeper one day, without having to
risk the curse itself by visiting. Some took the
hands of children and kept them from coming any
closer, but most of the young boys were
unattended so they continued to pace the beast
men of the north and their train of wagons.
Charles's four little children waved and called
out happy greetings to the other children and for
a time their high-pitched voices were about the
only ones heard upon the streets of Menth. He
scoured the crowd looking for faces filled with
disgust or hands reaching for vegetables to
throw; of the latter he saw none, but scowls were
easy to find. Despite their disgust at the sight
of animal-shaped men, he was grateful to be a
rat; the shape of his head made it easy for him
to watch everyone along the road without turning.
A tense half-hour followed as they maneuvered
three wagons and the Sutt carriage down the wide
street toward the wharves. Guardsmen watched them
and the people thronging the streets to catch a
glimpse of them with one hand on their weapons.
Some from the crowd followed after them, while
others rushed to the streets ahead of them.
Merchants grumbled curses as their booths were
swamped by gawkers. Charles and the other knights
did their best to appear imposing but not
threatening. Malger rode with snout lifted high,
noble elan undisturbed by the regard of the crowd.
Charles breathed a sigh of relief when the road
turned onto a broad, flat esplanade overlooking
the wharves. Official looking houses loomed over
the street, each bearing a sign upon its lintel
and many dangled pennants from foreign lands from
their windows. At least two dozen ships of
various sizes were moored, most of which were
crawling with roustabouts heaving cargo and
supplies. Soldiers wearing the sea-green livery
of Menth patrolled the esplanade and stood guard
at both ends. They permitted the Keepers passage
but shooed away most of the gaggle of curious townsfolk.
Malger turned to beckon him forward and he nudged
Malicon ahead until he was even with the marten.
Ah, Sir Matthias. Yonder is the Venture Swift.
He gestured four ships down the line. The kasshet
hull was long with a wide-bottomed keel and
almost two-dozen oarlocks per side. A single mast
with rigging prepared dominated the center; a
leaping dolphin decorated the prow. Dozens of
men, sweaty from labor, moved supplies up the
gangplank, checked the oars, tightened the rigging, and cleaned the deck.
She looks seaworthy enough. Will there be enough room for everyone?
If we only carry supplies for the voyage,
Malger replied. Captain Calenti knows to expect
us today, and with our welcome this morning I
expect he already knows we are here. You are free
to see the Venture for yourself. I must find
Calenti and ensure everything is satisfactory.
Charles nodded and stroked one hand down his
pony's neck. Then I suppose it is time we said
our last goodbyes and parted ways.
Garigan, Kimberly, and Misanthe helped the four
children out of the wagon, while Pharcellus
lifted the canvas from the last wagon so Lindsey
and Jerome could crawl out. Jerome was still a
black wolf; he kept close to the wagons where he
wouldn't be seen. Larssen and Dallar lifted their
supplies from the second wagon and set them down
on the stone esplanade. Charles watched them for a moment before dismounting.
Erick, he led Malicon by the reins around the
first wagon to where his fellow rat knight
watched. Sir Saulius, I leave my steed in your care until I return.
Saulius dismounted and took the offered reins. I
shalt care for thy steed as my own, Sir Matthias.
May Eli speed thee and protect thee and thy family on thy way.
They hugged, patted each other's backs, and
parted. Nothing more needed to be said. Charles
thanked each of his friends for their help on the
journey to Menth and wished them an easy return
home. They in turn wished him a safe journey as
Saulius had. A few he embraced, but only a few.
They had been saying farewell for almost a week;
the actual parting was welcome.
Charles, Garigan, and Pharcellus carried their
supplies down to the stone wharf next to the
Venture while Malger disappeared to seek out the
Captain. The pier was slick with sea foam; the
waves sloshed against the stone and made the oars
creak in the locks. Even next to the sea the
sludge of the city made the air foul and he did
his best not to breath in too deeply.
Lindsey and Jerome followed along behind the
trio, both on all fours; they continued to the
end of the pier and did their best to stay out of
everyone's way. If anyone remarked upon the odd
pair it was with no concern of the large black
wolf for it strode alongside a dragon. A dragon!
On the Menth docks! Gawkers clustered as close as
the guards would allow, crowding nearby piers and
the balconies of roofs of surrounding buildings
to point and chatter like magpies spying a
sparkling coin lying on a crowded street; alluring but unattainable.
After setting down the trunks and casks of
clothing and what few personal items they dare
bring on such a long voyage, Charles stretched
and stared back to the esplanade at his friends.
Saulius had hitched Malicon to the back of the
wagons and Versyd was now on two hooves helping
to rearrange what little was left between the
wagons. Jessica, Weyden, and the rest of their
patrol group apart from Larssen climbed aboard
the wagons for the return trip. Versyd joined
Hesgebaern on the carriage. One by one they
turned the wagons around and started back north.
Charles did not look away until they had
disappeared behind the cog moored next to the Venture.
Pharcellus! A squawking voice called from above
him. Charles lifted his head and saw three birds
circled down from the mast before the midday sun
blinded him. Shielding his eyes, he blinked the
spots away as the sea birds landed on the wharf.
When he could see clearly again he recognized the
black cormorant and puffin as Quoddy's brothers.
The gull had flown ahead to find them and now
their voices were filled with excitement and joy.
It warmed his heart to hear it. Lubec stretched
out his wings and cawed, Pharcellus! Lindsey!
Are you ready to see the sea we know and love?
The dragon masquerading as a young red-haired man
smiled and pumped his fist. We are ready, my
friends! We merely wait for yon Archduke's return
with the Captain of this fine vessel. Are you ready?
Machias bobbed his head. We're going to do a
little more fishing while you wait. Don't worry, we'll keep Venture in sight!
Lubec folded his wings behind his back and craned
his neck to the sky. I think you'll like the
fellow Calenti hired to help protect us all on
the voyage. If he ever comes down...
Pharcellus and Lindsey peered up. Charles and
Garigan did too, both shielding their eyes.
Jerome panted at the end of the dock, eyes lost
to the sea. Far overhead a shape circled slowly.
It was larger than a bird with an oblong shape.
Charles frowned; he could make nothing else out;
Malger had said he wanted to hire another flyer
or two. Pharcellus seemed to know what it was as
he clicked his tongue against his teeth.
Impressive fellow. I'm curious how he was hired
given the warm reception the people of Menth offered us.
Quoddy shrugged his wings and took a step toward
the edge of the wharf. You'll have to ask him
when he decides to land. I think he's saving the
story so he only has to tell us once.
Pharcellus laughed and a moment later the three
birds leaped into the sky to scour the waters for
fish. Garigan lowered his eyes and blinked the
spots away before saying, I'm going to inspect
the ship. Do... do Sondeckis ever get seasick?
Young ones do, Charles admitted. I would be very surprised if you do.
Charles watched the ferret bound up the gangplank
and disappear over the gunwale. He noted the
oarlocks and pondered how many weeks he would
spend rowing; he was physically fit and would do
his share of the work no matter what anyone else
said. After a moment he turned to the two dragons
and his breath caught in his chest. Jerome had
shifted into a crouch, his muzzle retracted an
inch and his forehead swollen; there was no
mistaking him for an ordinary wolf. Yet his
golden eyes still peered across the waters
lapping against the wharf, sea foam and city
flotsam beating at the stones with each gentle
wave. The rat wondered if his friend even knew he'd changed.
Pharcellus's question snapped him from his
distraction. You may call me Charles when it is
just us. No need to stand on title among friends.
And I certainly would never lord a title over a dragon!
The red-haired man laughed and shook his head.
We dragons delight in your titles. They are one
of the threads binding your society and giving it
shape. And yours is a title of honor, O Rat Knight!
If you insist then! Charles offered him and
Lindsey a smile. Lindsey kept close to Jerome,
his vermilion-tipped gray scales bright where the
sun struck them, but said nothing. Have you
decided how you will be traveling?
Pharcellus smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
We will follow along on your journey; at least
at first. It will be bad enough for the crew without us three on board.
He nodded. Of course. I know you can keep an eye
on us with ease from the skies. And if we need to
send you a message one of the birds will help.
They will. As you saw, Sir Matthias, they are as
eager for this journey as we are! The dragon's
smile appeared to show fangs though his human
disguise had none. And your family?
My family will be fine. He waved one hand
toward them to reassure them. I am here to
protect them, as will be Garigan and our other
friends. Besides, should any threat arise I
daresay it will unlikely reach us before dragon
fire convinces it to go elsewhere. And... a
journey like this will be good for them all. If
it does not bankrupt us. I wonder what deal Malger has arranged for us.
What of the deal? asked a calm voice behind
him. Charles turned in surprise; the sound of the
ships groaning against the wharves had masked
their approach. Malger approached with one arm
draped over the shoulders of the slender red fox
Misanthe; she had dressed in a simple servant's
gown of gray and bore in her arms his youngest
daughter Baerle. The young rat's cheeks were
plump and dimpled with glee as her tiny fingers
clutched at the claw the vixen used to tease her
whiskers. Malger smiled at them with regal
aplomb, his eldest boy clutched in the tall
marten's other arm. Beside him walked Kimberly
with his middle children clutched one in each
arm; his second boy squirmed a little trying to
see everything. I believe it was a single merchant per soul per week at sea.
Ahh, there you are, and they! I was beginning to
wonder... His eyes lifted and he felt an anxious
worry at the price. I certainly hope the captain
is not demanding a coin for each of the wee ones similarly?
Oh, indeed so. Malger winked, casting an
affectionate look down at the rat child held
easily in the crook of one arm. Because babes
wail, or will be, once the Venture makes the
water. His gaze and then snout lifted back to
the rat child's father, pausing a moment to study
the hand-print scar surrounding the right eye.
But this is a price you needn't worry about, as
I told you. You are my guests on this voyage, Sir
Charles. You need know nothing more of the cost for it is not yours to bear.
Charles held out his arms and took his eldest boy
from the marten. Little Charles yawned and began
to gnaw at the leather armor over his father's
shoulder. And I thank you again! When do we disembark?
Captain Calenti will be here shortly to oversee
final preparations. With no cargo and the
currents behind us we have only a light crew. But
we will make quick time to Sutthaivasse
regardless. For now, unless you have need of
anything more in the city, we should board and secure all we have brought.
Charles shook his head. I am ready. Garigan is already aboard.
Malger smiled and swept his now free arm up the gangplank. Then shall we?
May He bless you and keep you in His grace and love,
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