I have never felt so absolutely drained. It’s like a cloud had settled over my mind. Perhaps I have overtaxed my divine powers. Only time will tell. I walked on to the standing stones, Scrabble chattering away as we made our way through the jungle.
“Let’s go down to the beach.”
Scrabble pranced on my shoulder, and I took that as a yes.
We covered the distance from the standing stones to beach without difficulty. While there was not a true path, I could see where we, and perhaps others, had gone before. When we came out of the shadow of the trees and looked out over the beach several things became immediately apparent. I had not come this far, physically, since I mended the castle and the standing stones temple.
The beach stretched beyond my vision to either side, curling around the island and being lost in the shadow of the jungle to north and south. The three blackened remnants of the bonfires remained, but otherwise the beach was pristine. The two small boats I had attempted to fix were gone, which was a disappointment. There were no footprints on the beach, which surprised me. Honestly, I don’t know if the wind and rain could’ve obliterated the churn of battle or the back-and-forth of me burning the dead. The white sand shone in the light of the day and I really wanted another beer. The lagoon was beautiful, and I thought it would be marvelous to just sit with my toes in the sand, a shade overhead, and a cold beer in my hand.
I was mesmerized, and beyond exhausted. That is my only excuse for missing the other changes. Scrabble noted them right off, but didn’t get agitated about things until I sat on the sand.
There were three ships at anchor out beyond the reef. One was a xebec, like the Tabula Rasa. The second was a galley crawling with croakers, and the third was a carrack. I knew at least two of these ships, I realized. The galley was the Leaping Tadpole, captained by a croaker named Borcus. Or had been the last time I saw that ship. Borcus was large for a croaker, with a quick wit, and a ruthless streak when it came to the Hand of the One True God. I remember his black and green mottling, and the way spots the size of my palm ran along either side of his face, and down his neck. His crew has won the Leaping Tadpole from the Hand,
The Carrack was the Battle Toad, captained by one Gobbledygook. She was smaller than Borcus, but craftier. Her coloring ran to tans and yellows with four green slashes across her back, like claw marks. Her crew was a mix of croakers, hobs and humans. Leastwise, that’s what I recalled.
The final ship, the Xebec was furling their sails, and had the sweeps out, moving toward the island.
That’s when I realized something else. The wrecks and shoals were gone.
“Holy cats,” I said to Scrabble who patted me on the cheek. “Just how far out did my mending go?”
He made a quiet comment I could not understand and we watched the boats with open mouths.
The Xebec was the Tabula Rasa. I sat down quickly in a near faint. They had been taken by pirates and cannibals. What in the name of all the gods had transpired.
The Rasa put in anchor on the far side of the reef and a small skiff was launched. I couldn’t see who exactly was on it, because my eyes were watering too much. It wasn’t until they had cleared the reef and were making their way to the beach that I saw who was there: Adeline, and her navigator, Dorn were in the prow. Behind her several others rowed.
After a bit, I managed to climb to my feet and walk down to the shore where I stood while they closed the final distance. I am not ashamed to say I wept, the tears rolling down into my beard. It was still mostly singed, but it would grow back in.
Adeline leapt from the boat and ran through the surf toward me. I went down to meet her and she threw herself in my arm. Hugs are one of the few times where I deeply missing the second arm. Oh, the upper arm still exists, and can sort of add to a hug, but without the rest of it, I always feel awkward, like I’m spinning in circles.
She sobbed against my chest, muttering and cursing, but clinging to me like we may drown otherwise. Dorn climbed out of the boat with the help of one of the rowers and I recognized him as one of the original crew. She stood on the sand and watched us, her arms crossed, and a look of wonder on her face.
“How in the seven hells did you survive, boy?” she said when she approached. Adeline just squeezed me tighter.
Scrabble chattered in my ear for a moment, then bounded off Adeline and landed on Dorn’s shoulder. The old woman seemed to be expecting it and turned slightly to give him a solid landing.
“That’s Scrabble,” I said, and the old woman laughed.
While the others were putting in anchor, a huge ship came around the end of the island from the north. I recognized it as the galleon that had been stuck out on the reefs.
They had not been kind to us the first time we passed them, so I stiffened. I guessed that Angelo was their captain, but I didn’t want another battle.
Adeline felt me stiffen and pulled away, turning to look in the direction I gazed.
“Is that the ship that tried to board us?” she asked.
She cupped her hand around her mouth and called out to one of the new boats that was heading to shore from the Leaping Tadpole.
One of them waved, signaling that they had understood the message and turned to warn the ships.
“I think their captain is a friend of mind,” I said. “Can you do something about holding off a battle while I run fetch him?”
Adeline rolled her eyes. “You are nothing but trouble,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. “I’ll delay things here. Don’t dawdle.”
She walked down to the shore, barking orders at the crew of her skiff and they made ready to return to the Rasa.
Dorn stayed on shore with Scrabble, the two of them carrying on some form of conversation. I have no idea if either understood the other, but that wasn’t holding them back.
I turned and ran back into the jungle. Time to fetch Angelo and the others. We just found our ticket off this island, and I’d love for it to happen without bloodshed.
Funny how far away the castle felt all of a sudden.