Pahwon seated himself on the raised bow, looking out over the river. The strange shoreline weaved along the horizon; the landscape dotted with thickets of short, spiny trees and small dry bushes. The unfamiliar sights gave him a feeling of unease. The sun loomed in the distance, casting long shadows over the desolate landscape. It surprised Pahwon how different the countryside was just few days upriver from his home.
He looked over at the still silent Hiwei, wondering what she was thinking about. She was staring down the river, a blank expression on her face. After a moment of whatching her stare, his eyes fell on Sapphire, who seemed to be stirring.
â€œHey, Hiwei, do you know why she lost consciousness?â€
â€œMust have over exerted herself,â€ Hiwei replied quietly, still looking down river, â€œMagic Wielders can only do so much before needing rest. She did a bit too much.â€
â€œInteresting,â€ Pahwon said, walking closer.
â€œSomething we all have to keep in mindâ€¦we magic wielders, that is.â€
â€œYeah, I got that.â€
Hiwei turned around at last and looked back at Pahwon. The two looked at each other for a moment before their conversation came to an end. Sapphire groaned and then sat up between them, instantly becoming the centre of attention. She felt the slightly wet planks slowly rocking beneath her, an excellent sign her escape plan had gone off without a hitch. The others looked back warily, which was not what she expected.Â She put on a confident look and glanced around at all of them.
â€œSo, that must have went rather well.â€
â€œIf you say so,â€ Tossmek muttered.
â€œAh, yes, so, are we voyaging to Samek as intended?â€ She asked, clapping her hands together. â€œOh, and is there food? I am quite famished.â€
â€œThe supplies are under that hatch,â€ She said pointing to the stern.
â€œThat is not really much of a deck,â€ Sapphire commented, stepping over to the hatch.
â€œRight, whatever you say,â€ she murmured. â€œCould you explain why were those people shooting at us?â€
â€œIt, well, they are pirates.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not an answer,â€ Tossmek snapped. â€œNow really, what happened?â€
Hesitantly, Sapphire reached under her traveling cloak, pulling out a bundle of papers and large envelopes. She held them up for Tossmek and the others to see.
â€œI acquired information documents from the administrative office, and those men did not take kindly to that.â€
â€œThey tried to kill you over some documents?â€ Pahwon asked surprised. â€œI thought pirates would be after wealth.â€
â€œWell, I did release their horses and cause injury to at least two men during my daring escape.â€
Tossmek shook her head, considering that this woman might be an imbecile. Still exasperated, she decided to get her boat in shape. She walked back to the tiller, Hiwei moving out of the way so she could take the â€œhelmâ€ of the ship. Once situated on the aft deck, Tossmek pulled slightly to the left to straighten the boat, still unsure of the odd woman. Still, Sapphire had saved them and seemed to be attempting to help them, she thought. In her own odd way at least. The Tub sailed slowly up the Dossiger River for a time, the sun dipping low on the horizon. The sight reminded Hiwei she had someone to attend to.
â€œPahwon, I think I should change your bandages.â€
â€œOh, ok then.â€
He sat down on the gunwale, trying not to lean backwards too far. Hiwei pulled up his sleeve and began carefully peeling the old bandages off. A prickling pain shot through his arm with each tug. Pahwon tried to look at the scenery and concentrate on that. He stared transfixed at a large spiny tree, which seemed to stand out from the others. An uncomfortable pulling sensation tugged at his arm, forcing him to look over the tree even more closely. Then the bandage came loose with a sting, and the wound was open to the air. Unable to resist the urge, Pahwon looked at his arm.
A reddish tear in his skin ran over the top of his shoulder held together with a messy crisscross of black thread. The wind stung the raw flesh. Hiwei quickly ran her hand over a new bandage, sending a magical glow over the cloth. Now sterilized, she wrapped the clean dressing over Pahwonâ€™s wound, the stinging sensation subsiding once it was securely tied. With the shoulder now redressed, he looked down at his leg, the large stitches in the cloth clearly marking where it had been struck.
Gingerly he pulled up his skirt revealing the dark stained bandage. Cringing at the sight, Pahwon looked away as Hiwei did her work unwinding the bandage. Strangely this did not cause Pahwon any pain. Hesitantly, he looked down and discovered that the wound was gone. A small patch of very light colored skin hung over his most serious injury. He reached down and pressed on the spot, feeling only a slightly sore sensation. Feeling very grateful, he turned to Hiwei but she had already turned away to look over at the horizon.
â€œHiwei, are you ok?â€ He asked softly.
She shifted slightly at the question though remained quiet. Finally she nodded weakly, still remaining silent.
â€œMy leg, itâ€™s looking almost good as new.â€
â€œIf you say so,â€ she replied quietly, still looking uncomfortable.
He sighed, leaning back against the gunwale. It was clear she didnâ€™t want to talk about it, probably because it reminded her of that awful night. Pahwon shuddered slightly, the thought still made him feel very remorseful, and afraid. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to think of other things. The rocking of the boat reminded him of his hammock at home. He remembered, as though it was a lifetime before, his mother would swing him back and forth when he had trouble sleeping. He tried to think of what she had said back then, those comforting words he couldnâ€™t recall.
â€œHey, itâ€™s time to bag some rocks,â€ Tossmek said loudly, tapping Pahwon with her foot.
â€œThatâ€™s not it,â€ he replied, still in another time and place for the moment.
â€œWhat?â€ she asked confused. â€œWhatâ€™s not it?â€
â€œOh, sorry, I was day dreaming. Err, I mean, I wasnâ€™t asleep dreaming…uh, what are doing again?â€
â€œWeâ€™re going to fill these empty sacks with rocks from that beach.â€
â€œListen, Iâ€™ve thought about this and I think we need to pretend weâ€™re hauling cargo. So weâ€™ll fill these sacks with rocks from the beach and weigh down the boat with them.â€
â€œThatâ€™s an interesting idea,â€ Pahwon said optimistically, looking towards the rapidly approaching shoreline.
The boat neared the rocky shore, Tossmek readying a long pole. She used it to slow the craft before as it approached the deserted beach. A grating noise reverberated through the boat as they grounded out. Once it had come to a complete stop Pahwon, Hiwei and Sapphire hopped down to the rocky shore to begin the harvest. Tossmek remained on deck, wanting to be completely sure her prized boat would not wash away from her, and began filling the empty amphora with River water.
As Sapphire filled the first sack, something up the embankment caught her eye. She squinted through the thick brush and spotted several buildings not far from the shore. She turned and spotted several large stones protruding from the water in pairs, the remnants of a pier, or so it appeared.
â€œHey, I reckon I see something. Buildings, through those plants there.â€
Pahwon and Hiwei two stopped immediately, looking over closer at the embankment. Hiwei shivered slightly. Hoping it was nothing; she cautiously walked up to beach and pushed through the brush. It was immediately apparent to her that it was nothing of interest.
â€œItâ€™s just a north shore ruin.â€
â€œErm, not sure I understand.â€
â€œIâ€™ll explain when weâ€™re back on the river,â€ she replied, heaving her burden into the barge.
Wanting to know more, Sapphire began to stow the cargo. Once the last sack was loaded, the three onshore pushed the barge back into the lazy Dossiger current and pulled themselves onboard. Now back on the river, Tossmek her seat at the tiller and steered them back on course.Â After putting a comfortable distance between them and the shoreline, Tossmek decided to finish her plan.
â€œHey Pahwon, could you take the tiller for a minute?â€
â€œUh, ok,â€ he replied, switching places with her.
Once she was certain that Pahwon had control of the barge, Tossmek pulled open the supply hatch and produced a large canvas tarp. The large, thick cloth was pulled out onto the deck before being unfolded. Curious, Sapphire looked down at it and then to Tossmek.
â€œWhat is the tarp going to be used for?â€
â€œConcealing you,â€ She replied, flattening out the sheet. â€œRight, you lay down under here, weâ€™ll keep the boat going.â€
â€œI beg your pardon,â€ Sapphire blurted, â€œYou expect me to lie in the bilge of this river-barge next to sacks of wetted stones?â€
â€œUh, yeah, thatâ€™s what youâ€™re going to do,â€ Tossmek said slowly, unsure of how to react.
â€œIâ€™ll hide under there too,â€ Hiwei said straightening up. â€œSapphire, those men will come looking for us. Meaning a boat with four people in it.â€
Sighing, Sapphire simply nodded and took her spot in the bilge. Hiwei lay down next to her before Tossmek carefully concealed them beneath the canvas. Once certain that nothing looked amiss, she tapped the nearest lump.
â€œThereâ€™s a small jar of fruit between you and a few biscuits,â€ She said softly. â€œPlease eat quietly; I think another boat is coming.â€
A ship at least three times larger than hers loomed in the distance, slowly drifting up the river behind them. She cautiously prepared herself a small meal and acted as though nothing were amiss. While reaching into the supply hatch for a jar, she noticed that a piece of her cargo was moving. She gave it a gentle kick, hoping it would get the message.
With her supplies in hand and the larger ship looming closer, Tossmek chopped some vegetables on top of an empty crate and put the bits into a pot of water. After adding two chunks of dried meat, she cooked the mixture over a candle. Once lukewarm, she poured some out into a wooden bowl and offered the concoction to Pahwon. Feeling quite hungry, Pahwon took the bowl drank it down with one hand.
â€œThat was…interesting,â€ Pahwon said quietly. â€œWhatâ€™s in it?â€
â€œSalted camel meat, some turnip, and a couple other things I pulled out of the supply stash.â€
â€œOh, ok then. Itâ€™s not bad.â€
Tossmek took it as a compliment, settling down to eat her half. After finishing she decided to see what damage the gunfire had done. She walked up to where Pahwon was sitting, leaning out over the water to inspect the stern. Three splintered holes had been punched into the planks. She felt one of them, realizing that they would need to be patched. After the other ship passed, she thought, straightening up.
Slowly the large boat approached, moving figures on the deck becoming more distinct. Tossmek sat beside Pahwon and carefully blocked most of him from view. She leaned over, trying to conceal her face as well. After a minute she leaned against his shoulder, feeling a bit more comfortable. As she stared out into the dark river, the memories of that night flitted back through her mind.
The sensation of pulling Pahwonâ€™s heavy body towards the small raft; the shouting and gunfire echoing through the night; and that strange woman, who seemed even stranger now, keeping them all moving. It all seemed like a nightmare. Tiredness began to overtake her as she put more weight against Pahwonâ€™s shoulder. She looked out at the setting sun wondering how far they were from home. the weight of Pahwonâ€™s arm settled on her shoulder, the still weak limb shaking from the effort. As the other ship now passed her small barge a feeling of relief swept through her. For the first time since that terrible night she relaxed, and closed her eyes for a moment of rest.
A jolt pushed Tossmek forward and nearly down to the deck. Startled, she looked around frantically. The bright morning sun hung low in the sky, casting a long shadow of the barge over another rocky beach where they had landed. They had fallen asleep, she realized, and were now off course. Tossmek sat upright, pushing down on the lump below her.
â€œOoohhgg,â€ Pahwon moaned, rolling sideways.
â€œAh, oh, Pahwon, uh, sorry.â€
â€œIt-itâ€™s alright,â€ he said yawning, â€œI needed to wake up anyway.â€
â€œEh, yeah,â€ Tossmek said quietly, forcing a smile, â€œWe need to figure out where we are.â€
â€œSounds like a plan.â€
â€œAnd you need to bathe,â€ Tossmek added, reaching into the supply hatch and retrieving soap, â€œand wash your clothes while youâ€™re at it.â€
â€œUh, say what now?â€
â€œI want some cleanliness on my boat,â€ Tossmek said, turning towards the beach. â€œIâ€™m going to tie up the boat, and wake the other two. Hiwei, Sapphire, get up and help me!â€
Tossmek kicked at the lump under the tarp, stubbing her toe on a sack of rocks. She jumped back, grabbing her smarting foot. While massaging the painful toe, she realized that the other two seemed to be missing. Momentarily panicked, she hurriedly pulled off the tarp and looked around for signs of a struggle. Her mind began to run wild with fantastical imaginings of what might have happened, before a splash of water snapped her to reality.
â€œHey, Tossmek, could you hang my clothes up to dry?â€ Pahwon asked, â€œUh, Tossmek, whatâ€™s going on?
â€œHiwei and Sapphire are missing. Theyâ€™ve vanished.â€
â€œThatâ€™s odd,â€ he said quietly, cautiously looking up and down the river. â€œYou donâ€™t think they were captured?â€
â€œCouldnâ€™t have been,â€ Tossmek replied, â€œThey would have taken us too, right?â€
â€œProbably? Well, uh, could you hang my clothes up to dry please?â€
Tossmek grabbed the soggy garments and hung them on the bowline, putting a drying cloth in their place.Â Once that was done, she hopped down onto the shore and tied the boat to a pair of trees growing out of the rocky shoreline, glad to have the natural moorings near their landing site. After the ship was secured, she sat down in the shade for a moment, thinking about her next move. Frustratingly the shore gave no hint as to the direction the two might have traveled.
Before she could check up the embankment Tossmek felt a gnawing hunger in her belly. It was time for breakfast. Weary of pursuit, and hopeful that the two might return at any moment, she decided against a cooking fire. She clambered back onto her boat and fished out some supplies for a cold breakfast. As she was pulling out some oil and hard-tack, Tossmek noticed something stuck to the hatch. It was small piece of paper bearing Hiweiâ€™s neat handwriting.
â€œHey, Pahwon, I found something.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œA note from Hiwei,â€ She explained, before reading it aloud: â€œSapphire and I are taking a walk down the trail between the treesâ€¦â€
Tossmek looked, spotting a trail between two of the three trees.
â€œOh, uh, didnâ€™t notice that,â€ she mumbled, â€œEh-hemâ€¦where we hope to find a settlement. If weâ€™re lucky, we may be able to locate a pair of animals to ride. Two of us taking the land and two the river should help us avoid suspicion.â€
â€œHuh, so, thatâ€™s where theyâ€™ve gone to.â€
â€œI guess it makes some sense,â€ she said, chewing on the biscuit. â€œHmm, wonder what theyâ€™re looking for exactly?â€