White Wizard - Cover

White Wizard

Copyright© 2014 by Feral Lady

Chapter 5

The river was relatively swift traveling and the wetland view was full of wading birds and saltmeadow cord-grass, in the distance we would catch sight of people erecting temporary dwellings on tiny flat dirt islands. Thus far the people building the small arched reed houses were far enough away and too busy to notice.

"Are they from your tribe Coven?" I asked. "No they are a separate low-status tribe known as the Berben. They are known as the fish net hunters," Coven said. "I see," I said, not understanding at all.

The channel forked out like many fingers splinting among the dense tall grass but Tharin verbally guided us to the channel leading to the main village. The next flat open finger of dry land was more elevated, with two women dressed only in long coarse brown linen shirts. They worked as a team field dressing a dead water buffalo. We could see large drying racks, and a fire. The current swept us by them, a spear throw distance, their back to the river. They never saw us. The men too ashamed to utter a word. I could see salvaged hearts, lungs and livers, a small hand cart partially loaded with meat, then we were past. "This must be the outer limit of the marsh village."

I paddled us around the next river bend and saw the village set among dozens of islands. Each tract of land held no more then two tiny reed houses or perhaps a house and animal pen. There were three distinct islet chains that ran parallel to each other. Each chain or finger of islets was connected with a wood walkway or boat pier. But the three land chains were about 60 feet apart and not connected. "Given the tiny size of the homes and reed construction I believe these are temporary structures." I thought. One islet was larger then the others and had a long mud coated building.

Coven said, "Veer off the channel towards the Galit's house," pointing to the mud building. "Who is Galit?" I asked. Coven explained, "We follow the authority of the hereditary Galit. That is the title of the headman of the village."

A group of children, perhaps half a dozen, were washing in the shallow river and looked spooked as I steered the dugout towards them. Tharin said, "They have never seen a pale skinned man nor such black clothes. Before today none of us have seen such a strange skin coloring."

I looked at my brick-red sunburn hands and said, "Well you will really be surprised at the creamy white skin under my shirt."

The Galit's islet had a prominent dock which I did not want to use without his invitation and aggravate the man more than necessary. So we landed on the river bank as a boy darted into the mud building. I nervously ran my fingers through my hair, not sure what protocol to use with the village leader when I had three of his men tied up. Drenched with sweat from paddling, my clothes stuck to me uncomfortably. I gulped, "This is the uneasy introduction I have been waiting for Tharin. Coven. I ask you only be honest with the Galit regarding who attacked who. I hope the fact you should be dead rather than alive is not forgotten." There was no doubt in my mind Oralf was unrepentant and would sink a knife in my back at his first opportunity

We could see a number of Mahogany colored women stop working on the next island. An unfriendly look passed their faces then without missing a moment they moved to the Galit's walkway. Each of these tall women had a long stick or a knife in their hand. By the time I had cut the rope between Oralf's legs and corralled them to the entrance of the building, the women arrived behind us and men walked out the door. I stood in a relaxed pose with my staff gently at rest in one hand. A tall elderly man with a bony body, pointed face and long greasy black hair had an air of command.

Spread out around the pointed face man were two bodyguards and a striking middle aged, ebony colored woman; she provided a vivid contrast to the villagers in both features and coloring. They had round faces and Ebony and I had narrow faces. We both looked up to the villagers and eye to eye to each other. Ebony grinned at me with her misshapen teeth. Warmth radiated off her. She wore a black leather corset armor that was both protective and stylish on her small frame. The brass studded armor was sleeveless and criss crossing black straps added lift to the front for support. Horizontal brass buckles held the armor together but we could see a bit of her black flesh and belly button. A final gaze revealed tight fitting black leather shorts showing well defined muscular legs. A knife and sheath strapped to her legs above each ankle sandal. "Appropriate armor for a hot climate," I thought.

The bodyguards seemed equally deferential to Pointed Face and Ebony. The left bodyguard was large and portly, holding a crude heavy crossbow with the bolt aimed at the sky. He wore a simple brown, sleeveless, leather armored vest. Buckskin pants dropped just below his knees. His ankle sandals were a complimenting matching pair to Ebony's footwear. The bodyguard on the right was an especially large stout soldier. A wide black mustache dominated his oval face and it seemed a natural fit to his heavy build. His massive muscles loosely held a short iron sword swaying just above the dirt. A fine brass studded leather armor vest hardly contained his barrel chest. "It looks like sleeveless armor with covered leather shoulder pads are the normal warrior gear around here," I mussed privately. To complete the look, Fuzzy Mustache also had buckskin pants with a sword belt and fine looking brown leather shoes.

"My name is Von Solon. I am a peaceful traveler looking for sanctuary for the night," I said with humility. A soft mumble emanated from behind Oralf's duct tape.

Pointed Face asked, "Why are my men bound and gagged?" I did not want to explain Oralf yet nor free his mouth to poison the introduction.

I took a calculated risk and with a flamboyant hand gesture, I said, "Coven will you provide the simple facts of our chance meeting?"

My face revealed none of the petrified feelings churning within me. I was surrounded and if things went terribly wrong, a nasty crossbow bolt was waiting for me. I had an expressionless face as Coven spoke.

A faltering breath and Coven said, "We had just built a fire to boil water and the stranger who looked half drowned on a sad looking raft landed on the weir's sandbar. All of us felt uneasy looking at a pale skinned man dress in odd black clothes. He opened up his arms wide showing no weapons talking in fast weird words. Oralf declared him a marsh demon trying to enchant us and launched his spear at Von. We followed in the attack and he captured us." I stared at him, relieved.

Pointed Face asked, "Tharin what say you?" I looked at the boy willing him to back up Coven.

"The stranger dodged Oralf's surprise attack. Oralf became enraged, bidding me to run for another fishing spear as he grabbed mine. When I returned from the dugout Von Solon had a staff in hand and Coven and Oralf were advancing side by side with spears leveled. With speed like a striking snake Von struck Oralf down and knocked Coven out. He just touched me and I slept. When I awoke we were tied up while Von sat at our fire." Tharin took a deep breath after his torrent of words.

Pointed Face commanded me, "Release Oralf from the green magic binding!" I knew what was coming.

With my free hand I ripped the duct tape off his mouth while looking into his wicked eyes. "Hope that hurt."

Oralf took it in stride. "Yes this magic user can enchant at a touch. He but touches Tharin with the tip of his staff and the boy collapsed like a broken reed."

"I am no boy," Tharin said. The men just grinned. Oralf frowned and continued, "I made it to the dugout before he touched me too." Oralf searched the faces of the men. I thought, "You just told them all you ran."

Pointed Face smoothly stated, "I am satisfied."

The bodyguards visibly relaxed. Fuzzy Mustache sheathed his sword. Behind me I heard women whispering to each other. I realized beads of sweat were rolling down my armpits. A shadow slid across me and knife in hand Ebony cut the ropes from the boys.

Oralf screamed at me, "You are a demon. You blooded me. I am right in this!"

Ebony stepped between us still holding her dagger. "I think you are lucky to be breathing. If you had thrown a spear at me," her words trailed away. Another loud voice spoke.

Pointed Face, clearly the headman, said, "I grant Von Solon guest status. There is no blood feud here. Is there Oralf?"

Oralf pushed through the women and ran over the island walkway. As I watched Oralf run, a gangly red-brown woman caught my attention. She had beetle-black eyes, a lean figure and long fingers holding a pouch. She rolled her eyes and pushed past me into the mud building.

Coven walked away as the crowd dispersed leaving Tharin, Ebony and Fuzzy Mustache talking to me in front of the Headman's door.

Tharin simply stated, "I live alone and you are welcome to stay the night in my home." My mind was still on the young woman. I asked, "Tharin who was the woman with the pouch?" Tharin responded, "Palus is a healer. She is the youngest daughter of the Galit's third wife."

Ebony's eyes danced with delight. I immediately chided myself for asking about a woman in front of Ebony. "Something strange about Ebony. There is something bigger going on with her." Almost on Que, Ebony said, "She is impressed with you but very much focused on dealing with an outbreak of Marsh Fever."

I could not help stroke my male ego. "How do you know she feels that way from just looking at her?"

Fuzzy Mustache laughed and held his stomach, and said, "Derwen has the rarest of gifts from among the Convey. With MindTouch Derwen can read the emotions of anyone she can see." I could see he thought my question was hysterically funny.

"You read minds!" I exclaimed. A real panic rose in my chest. I failed to hide my apprehension of her reading my every thought about Palus' womanly form. Derwen smirked at me, saying, "Reading intentions and emotions is not reading thoughts. I can not read minds."

My face turned a bright crimson as a large sigh escaped my chest. Fuzzy Mustache laughed even harder and hit me between the shoulders. I was clearly making a fool out of myself with these new companions.

Fuzzy Mustache said, "They call me Hajin the Silent. I honestly have not had such a good belly laugh for cycles. Thank you." A tear rolled down his right eye. He continued, "There is nothing wrong seeing a pretty girl you like. Even if you are pale-ugly and short."

Tharin stifled a laugh. Ebony's eyebrows seemed drawn together pondering a thought.

I stared at the three of them blankly. My lips puckered, I thought better about responding to his jab, and sucked water from my water reservoir tube. Licking my lips of the water drops, I saw an astonished expression on Tharin's face. "You would think drinking water was magic," I thought.

Hajin whistled. "You have some interesting clothes and tools. Derwen and I would very much like to speak with you in private."

Derwen took me by the arm and guided me into Galit's home. The building was divided into two large rooms. The outer room had a number of windows which I was surprised to see had unglazed glass. A side door lets the breeze flow, in combination with the large main entry door it felt airy and comfortable. The floor was packed down dirt and a number of hardwood chairs lined the walls. Derwen lead me to a small circle of benches under a window where we sat down. The Galit must have been in the inner room with his family.

Derwen asked, "How did you arrive in the Rinsky Marsh?" Tharin and Hajin looked on with interest.

"How do you talk to an empathy," I thought. "You do not tell them your an alien from outer space." I took my rucksack, water reservoir and sticky station shirt off. I rested the equipment between my feet with the staff. My dirt covered body looked stained with sweat.

"Honestly, I do not care if you stare. I am sick of the filthy shirt and the constant load on my back."

The three of them shuffled their feet on the floor clearly looking at the equipment and shirt on exhibit. Derwen was giving my body a careful examination too.

I simply left out the escape pod. "My uncle and I were traveling in the swamp and he died a few days ago. We were injured and uncle Stephen died protecting me. I had a head injury and my mind finds no memories before the swamp," I said softly. They listened as I told the rest of the tale, explaining my feelings and decisions. I let all the pent up emotion out and found myself crying, releasing the sorrow and pain like a gentle rainstorm.

Derwen simply touched my arm and said, "Be at peace. You are now a guest of the Galit which means you will have food, shelter and friendly companionship. Hospitality is an important part of Amarian life. I am from Convey an island, one ship's day from here. Our hospitality is not as renown as the Amarian people but we hold our friends dear. I would greatly like to be your friend." I could see the honest compassion in her eyes.

Tharin had wide eyes but remained quiet.

A grizzled warrior, Hajin said, "Your adventure is noteworthy, very few travel deep within the Rinsky swamp and return alive to the coast." He touched my shoulder and said "I would like you to join with me and my men. You have grit."

A door closed behind us as I explained that a bit of fresh food and a bath is what was on my mind. A musical voice behind me said, "I will take you to the house bath and see to your food." My eyes shot to Palus and I mumbled a low thank you. "Follow me", she commanded. I grabbed my things and hurried behind her through the side door.

Outside a simple reed fence surrounded a large tub of water. Palus closed a reed gate behind us and said, "Undress and get in." I put my things down. Palus noticed my hesitation and giggled, "I am a healer and you are a guest in my father's home. Undress so I can get these dirty clothes cleaned."

Palus smirked as I turned my back and dropped my pants. The water was biting cold. Needles of cold water chilled me as I scrubbed patches of dirt covered skin. Palus and my clothes disappeared.

The chilled water pushed me out of the bath in no time. After I climbed out I saw a white linen shirt and a waist wrap hung over the door. I'd put two and two together and got dressed in them. Not too sure the wrap was on correctly, I opened the reed door to find Palus and three small girls. Now that I was clean and out of the marsh my nose drew in the scent of Palus. A pleasant earthy smell filled my senses.

Palus addressed me, "These girls are my brother's daughters. They will carry your things to your place at the meal table." The girls seized the packs and Palus took the staff. I dawdled fixing my pants as the women walked away.

At the back of the house a small wooden table overlooked the channel. Tharin, Hajin and Derwen nibbled bread and drank wine at the table. Palus escorted me to the table and served me. We had a nice meal of fish with little table talk. "They are letting me get myself back together before pressing me further."

The little girls lowered their heads in shyness as they cleared the silver plates from the table. My favorite musical voice spoke from behind my ear, "Your clothes are ready for you if you wish to get back in them. They are a strange material. The washwoman was pleased to work on them for you." I got up and followed her back to the bath house. The sun would be down in a couple of hours.

We both grabbed for the reed door. She causally traced a long finger over my hand as if by mistake. No one else was around. She whispered, "You are clean, fed, now you will rest well tonight. Tharin has told me you will stay at his home tonight. We will feed you here tomorrow." Her final words sounded more like an order. "I'll be back," I answered.

Dressed in my black station clothes Palus lead me to Tharin. We bid our thanks for the meal and Tharin walked me over various walkways to his tiny reed house. Tharin talked about what an honor it was to be declared a friend of Derwen. The mystic had not visited the Galit since before Tharin had been born. The young man went on to explain he heard both Hajin and Derwen had arrived yesterday on a small Convey trade ship. They were consulting with the Galit about the birth of a child from Moon Father and Moon Mother. "These people can be so confusing sometimes, they must worship celestial objects," I thought. Tharin continued by saying Hajin visited once a year to recruit single young men for his mercenary company. The company was sponsored and equipped by a wealth Convey land owner and operated mostly in the Amarian Kingdom. Tharin hoped to be selected this cycle.

Distant horns blasted in two long sounds. The blasts repeated over and over again. Each two long blasts. Tharin was frowning. "Hostile Ship entering the channel from the sea," he gasped. "What are we to do?" I asked. My face heated up as he ran into his hut. A moment later he emerged with a round wood shield and light spear.

"We run to the rally point to form a defense near the Convey merchant ship. They must after the cargo ship," he said as we ran.

The rally point was the southern most island where men of all ages were loading into deep bottom rowboats. When a boat filled with armed men they pushed out into the river towards the horns. I saw six boats in the channel with ten men in each, all shouting encouragement to each other. A number of dugouts could be seen taking to the river too.

The village was not very close to the sea so the men rowed down the river taking deep pulls of the water. We went past a number of horn blowing sentry posts as we strained to get closer to the merchant ship. With a scan of the men in the boat I could see they were edgy. I gripped my staff firmly and gazed over the bow, feeling happy I was not given an oar. It felt like we were already a mile from the Galit's house.

The final bend of the river opened up a beautiful scene of the sea with an air that smelled different. A crisp air, fresh and salty, filled my nose. I could see the small wood merchant ship docked at a rock covered island. A simple one mast ship with a red pennant flying proudly had a dozen crewmen running around the deck. The dock was made of long flat planks over tree logs which connected to a large one story stone building. The island shore banks were filled with round glacial stones to prevent erosion. The ship was not getting ready to sail rather the crew was preparing to defend the ship at the dock.

The rowboats continued to row past the warehouse island and ship. Two small islands ahead dominated the main channel approach. Each island had a wooden blockhouse and earthen wall facing the sea. These islands were simple defensive positions rather than enclosed forts. The primary defense was a series of roped logs blocking the main channel. No ship could enter or exit uninvited. Protecting these islands on the far side were a series of sandbars as far as the eye could see, running the length of the estuary. No large ships were able to move among these interlocking sandbars, except through the main channel and then by the blockhouses. The long sandbar at the front of the islands were a weak point which attackers could land.

Our boats divided up and landed on different islands. Tharin and I ran to the earthen wall to get a good look out to sea. Other armored men ran into the blockhouse to gain access to the fortified roof. We could see a few crossbowmen pointing out towards the sea from the top of their blockhouse.

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