By a Bridge of Bones - Chapter 3

Fantasy written by kidkboom on Thursday 5, July 2007

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Ch.3 of my current w.i.p...

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CHAPTER 3 He should have been dead. He knew it. Yet in some manner than confounded all the odds in the universe, Earvin the Black awoke. He rolled over in the wet sand in which he lay. Or rather, he tried to roll over. Something was stopping him. And something was burning across the core of his back when he tried. His mind raced in panic; what had happened? Was he paralyzed? Fell from deck? What about the treasure? And Davaste? And-- Oh, right, he thought, collapsing in futility back into the wet sand that sucked at his salt-laden beard. The knife. He heard singing, sweet and angelic and virginous and all things that drew one to it. And he relaxed. The singing grew louder. ------- Earvin the Black was seated at the head of an infinitely long and infinitely fine dining table, something the likes of which the haughtiest of Leorian socialites could not have matched. Thousands of plates lined the table, golden and shining, beacons in the gleam of the candles that flickered from within golden candlesticks, each one itself in possession of a hundred other candles. The light was glorious; their flickering patterns confounded the eye. Earvin blinked. There were figures at this table. Or weren't there? He felt there must have been. He wiped salt and sand from his eyes. Yes, he thought to himself as he peered, now seeing with more focus. There were a number of figures at this table. Two, at least, he could be sure of. Perhaps thousands, unless some of them might have been reflections, he pondered to himself. Then they spoke, and he listened intently, leaning his head into his elbows. The two women that sat nearest each other, their sides to him and facing each other, appeared suddenly to be in an intriguing conversation with one another. The one on the left, who was devastatingly beautiful, with hair so blonde that it seemed almost gray or blue or white from his hazy vantage point. Earvin played with his eyes again to no avail. The second, across from the blonde, was a woman with very dark hair that seemed to almost be black, but yet clung cantankerously to some devious shade of midnight blue. Earvin began to think his eyes were playing a number of tricks on him. He decided to give more attention to his ears. "He must know," the blonde said sharply now to the dark-haired woman. "He must be the one who tells them." "Are you a fool?" the dark-haired woman replied. "There is no way he is suited. No pure heart, here. No pure intent. How can you trust so blindly?" "Ssssssshhhhh," the blonde calmed the other now, and the sound was like the ocean breaking upon rocks in the distance. "It is my choice, sister. It always was. It will be him." "He is not the one," the dark-haired woman snapped in response, her eyes a painfully bright blue, hot and flaming. "He knows nothing of the Three Tears." "Then tell him!" the blonde shouted, her voice now heavy and churning with her anger. "Tell him!" "No," the dark-haired woman responded. At this moment two large men appeared behind the blonde woman, one brown-haired, slow, with shoulders wide and an even stare in his dull eyes, and the other his opposite, red-haired, quick-handed and speedy in his movements. They seemed to know and dislike each other as they entered the room, yet they both listened here to the words of the dark-haired sister. "See it done," the dark-haired one spoke to them, and even as the blonde screamed in a frothing fury, the two men began to drag her from the table and out of the dining hall. Earvin looked at the blonde. She was captivating; he felt a love for her within him, as if she was a very familiar face to him, an old lover that he had only recently forgotten. Now she looked at him directly now, frothing, and screamed to him. "You!" she howled, her voice like a seastorm. "You are free! Go! Find the Three Tears! I have made my choice and they cannot change it!" Earvin stared back with a squint, waving at her and smiling, though he felt he must have looked foolish. Suddenly she flared at him. "GO!" And at this sound, the dining hall melted away from him, and the chairs and the table hung in a blackness that seemed to decay their form. They turned to lights and shadows and lost their substance. Earvin suddenly had the familiar feeling that the ground was no longer solid. And as he tried to stand and found himself falling into nothing, he saw that the blonde as her frame disappeared between the two men in the distance was now a wash of blue, like an ocean crest. And her sister, who was leaving him now as well, was a grey-blue haze, like a cloud, hanging over a storm. Earvin was no longer feeling entertained. He felt the wind pass upward past him as he fell through the solid black. He began to wonder what he would hit when he landed. His body twirled in the pitch. ------- In a part of the ocean that no Provinceman had ever mapped, there existed a small island, the Westmost in a chain that extends onto a continent and, indeed, a great expanse of land that many royal explorers back in Iaah would have given a limb to visit. The little island did not have a name in any of the tongues known to the people of the Provinces, but it did have a name to its indigenous inhabitants. They called it Rkwari, and they called themselves the Ibiko. They were just one of a very many small tribes that could be found spread across this chain of islands, and they had minor if any communication with the more civilized areas of the world; Rkwari, in fact, had none. They had never seen a truly civilized individual before. A shame, then, unto the honor of all the nobles, priests, kings and high-minded people of dignity and self-respect that inhabited Iaah, that the Ibiko tribe's first contact with the people of the Eastern continent would be this specimen. Earvin the Black, the pirate, criminal, hoodlum, man of low moral fiber and indeed, a ne'er'do'well in the eyes of the majority of the law in the Provinces. Yet these innocent indigenous people did not know of any of this. They knew only that his skin was a different shade from theirs, his clothes of a wildly different design and material, and that wholly he was a puzzling find for them. One of the gatherer boys of the tribe had been combing the eastern beach at dawn, in search of crabs who came out of the water only at sunrise, when he saw the body. He ran up closer to him. He looked on him with horror and sickness, for there was a large and shiny stick of rock stuck in his back, and his blood was dark and deep, and he was not moving. Shaking, but brave, as his people were, the young boy shook the man. He did not respond. So he listened, like the shaman had talked to them about, for the spirits of breath. And when he heard the spirits within the man, he ran back to the shaman in the center of their village. The shaman had said a prayer when he saw the man, something that the boy did not fully understand, for the shaman spoke very quiet and very fast. But then he had several of the men from the village carry him carefully, with the stick of rock in his back still facing upwards, back to an extra grass-bed that the shaman kept within his own hut. The shaman bid the people to leave him then with the man, and they left him alone in the hut. The shaman sat in his chair for a long moment, staring at the man. The man did not move. The shaman sat for a very long time then, in the quiet of his hut which was a distance from the noise of the ocean, and he listened to the spirit of breath within the man. The shaman knew the spirit of breath well. It was the hand of Suall, the goddess of the breeze, the air, the wind of the storm and the cloud that carried the rain. The shaman went over to the man, whose limp head sat, turned sideways on the surface of his bed. His belly was still down and his wound was still up, for the shaman knew this was the way he should lie if he was to heal. The shaman felt the man's lips to see if Suall's sister, Shay the mistress of waters, was with the man as well. His lips were dry. Shay was not with him, and he considered this. Yet, thought the shaman to himself, indeed she must have given him her favor, for him to still carry the spirit of breath even washed up from the ocean. There was a terrible storm the night previous, the shaman knew, and if Shay had spared him his life from its fury, then he had her favor. He brought a bowl of his own drinking water to the man's lips and put his mouth to it. The shaman's black-haired patient weakly drank some of the water, then collapsed again. Now the shaman sat back for a very long time, smoking his pipe, and speaking with the ancient Ibiko spirits, conferring with them in the way which he had been elected by his own people to do. After a very long time, the shaman stood, confident of what the spirits had instructed him to do. He retrieved a small stone flask from one of the many he kept for use in his hut, drew from it a very tiny bit of a small and pungent yellow paste, and put it on the patient's tongue. Then he walked out, on to tend to his other business. Earvin the Black lay in silence, sweat beading heavier upon his unmoving brow, as day passed into sunset and then into night. He began to stir as the drug took its effect upon his body. ------- Earvin awoke again, this time sharply. His head craned up from the ground where he lay, taking in his surroundings. He was on the deck of a ship. He squinted his eyes. There were ropes, pulleys, buckets and other gadgetry attached to the mast and the rest of the deck - it was the Lady! he thought to himself. Back on my ship! His heart leapt in joy. He leapt to his feet dashingly. But when he did so, he reeled in pain, screaming at his back, howling from his chest. He was still on the deck, belly down against the cold wood of its planks. Something was holding him down, pinning him. He craned his neck again, unable to leave the deck of the ship. He could hear singing. The blonde woman again? But it was howling now, a baying like wind through sails. He strained at the frothing ocean air to hear better. "Go!" he heard again. He was now sure it was her again, the blonde woman whom he had longed for. But her voice was inconsistent, and the wind stole some of her words. "Find the Three Tears that can... tell them all, the Brothers and... ...I gave to you in love, and you must repay.. Go.... are preventing me from... You must have strength...." His mind strained, clawing at understanding, but it was useless. And then there was a sharpening, a shrilling of the baying that he was struggling to comprehend. It was as if it were a scream, but from something infinitely large. Earvin felt himself melting back into the deck as the ship disappeared. He did so miss that ship. ------- The night was long and heavy and wet with the air of the sea and the remnants of the storm that were passing by overhead. The sounds of the wilderness beyond the village could be heard, loudly chirping insects in the trees and bushes in the distance, sawing away at the night and adding an intensity to the hot evening air. The shaman walked back into the hut and looked over his patient. After a second, he went to a collection of his own possessions, grabbed a small jar of red liquid and a long heavy yellow sheet of canvas, which was made by the weaver in the village. The shaman stood over the patient, and with a quick, powerful motion, pulled the offending weapon from his back. The body of the patient rocked and jolted with pain below him. Quickly the shaman threw the red liquid onto the wide, bloody wound. Then as the patient writhed in his unconscious state, the shaman wrapped the canvas around the middle of his body tightly enough to catch the blood from his wound. Then he walked out again, leaving the poor man to his own devices. ------- Earvin the Black awoke. Again. From his horizontal position, he very cautiously explored his surroundings with his eyes alone, first one, then the other after it. This was all seeming terribly familar to him, and he did not want to be fooled by another apparition. His skeptical eyes reported his position to be lying prostrate on a small, sweaty, blood-strewn pile of what felt like old, dry grass, was itching his skin terribly, and was running the course of his abdomen in a very uncomfortable way. Beyond the grass, he saw that he was surrounded by the walls of a hut, which looked also to be made of some sort of grass. There were stone and clay containers of all sorts in every possible spot in this little hut, and another grass pile across from him, lit brightly in thin stripes by sunlight breaking through the cracks in the grass walls of the structure. This, he thought to himself, was seeming to be real enough. He decided to stay exactly where he was for a moment, and see if his surroundings stayed where they were. He laid motionless and listened. In the air around him, he could hear the sound of voices in the distance, the general sort of collection of voices that one finds in a village. They were speaking, no language that Earvin could recognize, but definitely a sound he found comforting nonetheless. Earvin tried to turn over onto his side. The pain was sudden and searing now across his back, but this time it was quite expected, and not as terrible as it had seemed last time. He forfeited his attempt at moving, but even so he smiled. He should have been dead, he thought to himself. He knew it. By anyone's reasoning he should have been just another corpse of a thousand that had sunk to the bottom of the depths of the Great Western Ocean. Yet here, here he lay. He thought again about his dreams. He laughed. "The Lady Shay," he said to himself in enjoyment of the concept, though his voice was terribly hoarse. "Hello?" he cried a bit louder now, crackling through the terrible dryness within his throat. He wondered how much brinewater he had to have guzzled to do that to his voice. "Hello?" he tried again. A bit louder still, though not enough to carry a conversation. He would have to work on that, he told himself. He would have plenty of time left in which to do it, because he was alive. Somehow, amazingly and miraculously and stupendously, he was alive. At this moment a figure walked into the door of the little hut in which Earvin lay. It was a man, a very dark-skinned man with a thin frame and black hair and attire which absolutely astounded the sailor's eye. For it bore many different colors in intricate design, yet it seemed to be made of grasses and bits of wood and plant. Earvin began to wonder where exactly he was. "Mbu tri hwa," the figure said to Earvin, smiling widely. "Come again?" Earvin croaked in response. "Mbu tri hwa, affi," the man said again, his wide smile disarming to the injured sailor. "I haven't the slightest idea what you're saying, mate," he said, smiling back. The man nodded and laughed, and Earvin nodded and laughed too. "Mbu liakiai siburu, affi, iliffe edo dwmati," the dark-skinned man told Earvin matter-of-factly. Earvin had no idea what the man had said, but the matter-of-factness sounded exactly like all healers, doctors and medicine men did anywhere back in Iaah. So Earvin laid back down upon his rough bedding and relaxed. This man must be a healer, he told himself. Then I shall heal. Or try to, he thought as he groaned, remembering again that his wound disallowed him to move on the rough grass. Exasperated, Earvin went back to sleep. ------- Five days later, thanks to the skills of the shaman, Earvin stood triumphantly on the shores of the little island, which, he had worked out from the local figures of authority, one should call Ray-kwari, or Rikkiwari, or something like that. Arms at his hips, the black-haired sailor looked at least somewhat dignified as the hot spring sea wind rippled across the clothes he wore. Surely, Earvin the Black considered, any of the people from his home continent would have laughed as his dress. For he still wore the loose, tattered white shirt that he had been wearing when his partner so deviously tried to do him in. It still bore some of the stain of his blood dried on the back of it, mended in a couple areas with Ibikan palm-frond thread. Over the tattered shirt he wore the customary robes of the Ibikans, which are best described as heavy, wide strips of canvas laid diagonally across the shoulders and tied in the back to a skirt of the same canvas which hung down to about the middle of the thigh. It was brightly colored, red and yellow and brown as was the height of fashion on Rikkiwari or what-have-you, and absolutely at odds with the tattered black pants, cinched at the calfs where they met his boots, which were both of Iaan make. His long black hair had been groomed and cleaned by the Ibikans, as well, braided in a few spots, which, he had learned from his very stunted conversations with some of the young women of the tribe, was an honor to wear when tied into one's hair by a woman. Few of the men of the tribe were able to grow hair as long as Earvin's, and so his semi-conscious state had served the women well for practice. And though he had no sword, when he had said his goodbyes to the tribe, they had given him a few gifts, including some form of birdmeat dried into a salty jerky, and a few cuts of fruit which had been horribly withered and dried away, and looked completely unappetizing to Earvin, who had grown accustomed to the fresh fruits the Ibiko eat. They had also given him a spear, which he thought was a fine thing for a man with no sword to have, even if the head of the thing was only a bit of stone sharpened at the end. Far more important to him and his goal, though, Earvin had made sure to retrieve the knife that had come to this island in his back. He would see it put to good use, that much he was quite sure of. Earvin made his way in the heat of the day farther to the West, to the far side of the island from where the Ibiko made their home. In his few days with the people of the tribe, Earvin had worked out (mostly using hand motions to convey meaning) that the Western end of the island was a rocky shoal, and that at low tides, if one was quick, one could make it across to the next island, and so on, until they made their way to the great continent that lie even farther to the West. Earvin was unsure of exactly what he would find there, but the tribesmen were clear in their description of a big land, and that this land had many boats. Earvin the Black relished that thought as he continued on his way. -------

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