Boteras Rookeri-Sharmin aka Boddy
Boddy was impressed. The Pink Lafdi wasn’t exactly a small cockle boat such as his father had used to cross the Luant. But did Disa know how to handle it or did she know. He was glad about that, though of course the boy Garwy was helping. And those two kept the three men on their toes as they teased the lugger first this way then that, catching the wind, driving it faster, forcing Boddy, Jonesi and Trefan to jump or to duck else be knocked into the water. It was a wonder Boddy had time to notice the sky. Though how could he miss its dazzling orange.
“That’s Heli setting,” Trefan said. “I’ve been figuring this, with nothing to do. Something to keep the thoughts busy, eh.”
“Yeah, great, wish I’d thought of it.” Though his eye had remained on that fast-moving boom, his thoughts were frantic, in fear for Eshe.
“See, it’s like this,” Trefan said, and Boddy was glad of the distraction. “An eclipse occurs when a moon passes between us and Heli. Right? And right now all three are passing and blocking her light. But I think it’s Medusa giving the colour. Though she’s the farthest moon she’s also the biggest. And her body is the same rust-like colour. Aye, I’d say it’s Heli’s rays striking Medusa that’s casting this Kolza-colour over the sky. Kolza, the oil?”
“Oh! Cols Oil.” Yeah, Boddy supposed it did look that colour. “Great, fine, yeah, it sounds logic. Except for one thing. If the moons were still in front of the sun it still would be dark. In eclipse. Yeah?”
Trefan chuckled. Then reached a calming hand to Boddy. “No offence, I apologise. Just, I had this explained when I was a boy—and believe me, my tutor tried by every means before I could see it. Though the moons are moving, so too are we on this Earth, but moving faster. One day, one month—“ He made twirling motions with his finger. But then he changed it so he held an imaginary globe in his hands. “So as we rotate, so we move out of alignment. Then we go all the way round and, loh, tomorrow, in the morning, we again approach the alignment. Meanwhile, elsewhere on this Earth, they see the eclipse—in the Old World. Right?”
“Yeah, I guess . . . I just wasn’t thinking. But, yeah, fine, I can see that now,” Boddy said.
“Then, you recall how dull it was the day before the full eclipse. Like it was overcast but worse? Well that will repeat, probably for several days after the moons have moved on. Medusa particularly. She almost crawls, with her seventy-six days of orbit.”
“Yeah, like this boat,” Boddy said and had three voices correct him. “Lugger.”
“Ay, but she’s not slow,” Disa said. “It’s this having to catch the wind, she’s not the best vessel for it. And it would be easier if we could set a known course. But he is crazy, all over the water.”
They had twice braced themselves for a close encounter. If they could kill Kalamite, or at least disable him, then get someone—it would have to be Garwy—onto the Rose . . . But if Kalamite found himself under attack he’d then threaten Eshe as a means of holding them off. Thus it was safer for her that they merely followed. But the day was passing, coming now to sunset. And the tide, previously ultra high, now was ebbing. Yeah-zo, the estuary was nigh drained dry. Disa declared she’d not seen it so low. Islands known only through the sounding-lines now were exposed.
Despite what seemed a meandering course, Boddy noted their general heading still was fixed on the spit. He was surprised at how far that spit extended before it curved round to an almost-embrace. When he’d first arrived he’d thought the estuary, part of the Luant, was merely a river. Natzo, it was as vast as the sea, its southern shore visible only from the top of Wood Tower, and that on a clear day.
Yeah-zo! At last, the spit loomed before them. “Is that sand?” he asked Disa . . . Garwy . . . Trefan . . . anyone?
“Shingle,” said Disa.
“Pebble,” said Garwy with an apologetic look at his lafdi.
“Stones,” Trefan said. “Not easy to stand on if we have to fight.”
“Yeah, and we will—have to fight, that is. Ghats, man, I can’t imagine him giving her up, not after tracking her for however long.”
“Since the day she arrived,” Trefan said. “I did all I could to protect her.”
“Yeah, but not easy once you got yourself banished.”
Trefan grimaced. “That was the tattagoose stirring.”
Boddy looked round. He’d suddenly realised he’d not heard Jonesi’s voice for the entire duration.
“I’m composing,” he answered Boddy.
“Great, yeah, fine. But now stop the composing and play. Looks like we’re finally there.”
“Looks like he deserves to lose that barque,” Disa jeered. “Hay-la, the lorel! Just look at it.”
Boddy was looking. Kalamite had driven the barque into the spit. If he’d expected the shingle to hold it he was mistaken. He’d not credited the weight of the mast and the sail. Her hull lurched at an alarming angle, her rose-yellow sail pulling it further as it caught the wind.
“He ought to have furled it. It’ll rip.” Ghats, Disa was angry. Boddy didn’t understand.
“The Rose is one of her ships,” Jonesi said.
“Mayhap he hadn’t the time,” Trefan consoled—and then shouted, “There!”
He’d sighted Kalamite. He was then cresting the spit, Eshe dragged behind him. She wore a black hood—maybe a sack. And by her repeated stumbles and falls Boddy could guess her hands were tied behind her back.
But what now was he doing? Bending, moving, bending, crouching.
“Picking up stones,” Jonesi said.
“Spew on him, man!” Boddy swore. “Have we thought to bring shields?”
“And we expected him to be launching missiles?” Trefan said.
The first missed. The range was too far. Without using a sling no way would they hit. Yet how could they hope to disable Kalamite and rescue Eshe if they had to duck what might become a barrage of stones. And where was she now? Ah, there: that dark bundle just short of the crest. Were there Jacobs up there? Were they dying?
“What did we bring we can use?” Boddy asked and was answered at first by unanimous silence. Then Jonesi suggested a cloak, a gaff and a sword, and demonstrated how. Yeah, great, it would break the impact. But it also would block their vision.
“We’ll bring her in landward of him,” Disa said.
Boddy frowned. Jonesi nodded towards the embraced estuary.
“Ah. Yeah. But make sure you keep us out of his range.” Those stones were coming fast now, raising tall plumes as they plunged into the water, and already two had clipped Pink Lafdi’s prow. Boddy himself kept a safe distance from Disa and Garwy as they released the bowlines and lowered the yard.
“Now lay low,” he told them and leapt over the gunnels—a pappy name for a lugger that carried no weapon.
The stones crunched and rolled underfoot. He ought to have taken Jonesi’s lead and composed body and mind to act together; then he’d not have to think where to place his feet. Jonesi, prepared, was swift and silent. Belatedly, Boddy applied his training. It wasn’t the noise that bothered him but an accidental rick of his ankle. At least he was ready with his make-shift shield, his cloak taut between spikes of gaff and sword. Yeah, great, fine, but would that cloak snag and delay him when the weapons were drawn? And Ghats and rats, three men to take down the one? The Dragons would laugh at him. Yea, fine, and maybe the Dragons would lose them the girl.
Ouch! Ghats, man, those stones were coming at force. Despite the muffling cloak one still had caught him. Yeah, but, Gods, it was nothing. The three companions walked on.
It was a slow advance: the slope, the stones, the littered corpses of various Jacobs (not all were the small nereids they’d seen at the wharf). And now they’d been dead for some time, were they still poisonous? Their flesh would be poisonous if ingested, every child knew it: do not eat the seeds, do not eat the amphibs. This New World was poisonous to them. What would they have done had the Avatar not brought so many strains with him? His ship must have been a veritable Ark.
Arrgh! Something moved by his foot. But he laughed. It was only sea-wrack disturbed by a stone.
And on they walked in a slow advance towards Kalamite Keefer—who of course was backing away. It was frustrating. Boddy wanted to rush him, javelin thrusting. Yeah, great, on stones that would rumble and tumble him over? But the way this was moving, all they’d achieve was to push him over the spit and into the sea.
Jonesi moved in closer. “The nugget! Do you see? So busy gathering stones to hurl at us, he’s left Eshe behind.”
Boddy nodded. He’d seen it. Eshe lay in a heap, midway between Kalamite and the companions. “Tell Trefan to grab her, we’ll cover him. Agreed?”
Jonesi edged closer to Trefan. Boddy watched. Jonesi held up a thumb. Boddy nodded, a smile beginning. They’d soon have her back, no problem. Snatch, cover, into the Lafdi and away. What could go wrong?
“What in the name of the Great Avatar is that?” He’d only then seen it, rising up from the seaward side of the spit. By its head and neck he thought it a goblin—but massively big.
“Nats, spats and slammit!” Trefan groaned. “A bo’ab.”
“A what?” Boddy asked.
“A goblin but legless, and trebly rapacious, trebly poisonous.”
Great, yeah, fine. And where was Eshe? Right there in front of it, waiting to provide it a crunchy meal. Trefan and Boddy almost collided in their rush to save her.
Kalamite saw. He wasn’t having it. Stones abandoned, he balled towards them. The bo’ab heaved its body higher. Yikes, the wretched thing was all neck!
Trefan scooped up Eshe, almost snatching her out of its jaws. Boddy slashed at it with sword. It pulled back and hissed.
Mustn’t get bitten, mustn’t kill it. How the Ghats am I to get rid of it? And where was Kalamite? He could hear metal clashing. That would be Jonesi; they must be fighting.
Boddy jabbed at the monster—and he’d always had fear of them. He dropped the gaff and used the javelin. It had a longer reach. No need to replace one meal with another, hey. Those fangs, Ghats, they were dripping venom!
The bo’ab swung its massive head. Boddy leaped back—and fell. Yipes! And, Ghats, now he’d dropped his sword. Natz to the sword; he clenched his hands around the javelin, using it to push at the lethal goblin. Once, twice, thrice spiked, the fourth time wary. Hey, the creature was learning. The next time—A-hey! It pulled clean away. He was back on his feet, a sweeping look round. Now what was happening?
Trefan had Eshe and was heading towards Disa aboard the Pink Lafdi. Kalamite and Jonesi were slashing each other an arm’s length from Boddy. And that loathsome bo’ab?
Courage recovered, it rose from the sea, head suddenly high over Boddy–and crashing down on him. Boddy, fast acting, sent Jonesi flying as he scooted away.
It was then the massive venomous bo’ab sighted Kalamite. Unfortunately Kalamite had seen it too. He ran, slithered and slid down the ramped stony spit. The bo’ab, intent on a feast, heaved its long legless body up and over the slope, its neck hypnotically swaying as it extended.
“Forget about him.” Jonesi tugged at Boddy, pulling him back. Cautiously they eased away, wary eyes fixed on the bo’ab—which thankfully remained fully intent upon the runman.
He reached his yellow-sailed craft. How he shoved it off the stones with that dragging sail . . . yet there he was, clambering into it, a pole in his hands to free it from the shingled spit. Thwarted, the bo’ab turned away from him.
“Get into the boat! Get away!” Boddy yelled at Disa.
She refused, her head shook at him.
Ghats! Now he had to draw the bo’ab’s attention away from the women. He climbed to the spit’s broken spine along with Jonesi. For a moment it looked like the diversionary tactic might work but—in the name of everything holy what the Ghats was this?
Kalamite, instead of sailing safely away, had set his prow towards the Pink Lafdi. The massive, venomous, slithering beast had seen him. Its body, endlessly rising out of the water—how long was the beast?—flowed over the ridge. There was no doubt the bo’ab was intent only on Kalamite. But why? Though what the Ghats did it matter.
Disa and Trefan, having seen what was happening, grabbed Eshe and Garwy, jumped out of the Lafdi, and headed up slope.
The beast was fully the Luant side of the spit. Boddy and his company were fully the seaward side of it. He watched, head barely cresting the shingle ridge.
“No!” he cried. That Bisonian son of rutting pack-saddle! For all his danger he had grappled the Lafdi and now was tugging her back to deep water. Their boat—yea, yea, all right, their lugger. He was up and over the top and sliding down and waving the javelin—now his only weapon—in threatening manner. Where was that bow with its magnificent reach? Murky take it, it was still in the boat—Natzo, the lugger.
Kalamite called something back to him. But with the shingle rolling beneath him and the wind and the distance that noleless buffer was putting between them, he couldn’t hear it. The beast turned its massive fanged head, its unlidded eye fixed upon Boddy. Boddy swallowed. Yeah, great. It mightn’t have been the best idea to expose himself in following the tattagoose. Yet, by one means or another, he had to retrieve that boat – Ghats, he meant the lugger. How to do it? Not by simply wading in and swimming.
He eased back, judging the length of the beast’s long neck. He needed to get the other side of it . . . It watched him, its head swaying high on its now-erect neck. Watched Boddy. Now Kalamite. Now him. Now again the escaping runman.
Boddy was almost down to the water’s edge when it struck.
Kalamite, Keefer Papa of the Runman Order
Kalamite rubbed at his crotch. He wasn’t obsessed with his billy the way that Matikkas was. Nix! Not at all—yet he rubbed all the more. It’s just he’d been savouring what he’d do to the Javanese spy and now he had lost her. Aiya, how had that happened? It was that Verth-handed Twin. And now, loh, he had that weaselly, treacherous, traitorous Trefan in tow. Aiy, and Breken hadn’t believe him. Huh! Well Breken would see when Breken reaped all that Breken deserved. Kalamite wasn’t feeling at all friendly towards him, not friendly at all. He and that Raseltop-Twin had ruined his mother’s gift to him. Ruined it! Where were her beads?
He dug into his pocket while trying one-handed to tether the rope. What was the name of it? Lanyard? Bowline? The cunning rope. He used it to steady the tiller. Cunning tiller, kept leaping away from him. And that sail, it was lurching him over. If he could run with the tide it would carry him into shore. And where were those sweet sucking beads?
Deuce and nats, he gave the last one to her, to the spy. But he’d had to quieten her, the fiery filly. Aiya, what a cat, hissing and spitting and raking his flesh. He rubbed at his face.
When he got back to Lecheni he’d go straight to Wood Tower. How remiss of him, to first be away and then not to stop, not even a moment to pay his respects—to meld his naked body to hers, to—again his hand went to his crotch. The rope burned his hand as it streamed through his fingers, the tiller bounced and knocked hard into him. He lay on the—what’s the name for the floor of a barge, apart from smelly and dirty and sloshing with water? But he needed this little relief. Ach, nix, no beads!
Sifadis Lafdi, Shore House heiress
“Nix, Boddy, nay!” Sifadis screamed and was up on her feet. Scrambling in stones. Trying to get some solid toe-hold to climb the cascading hill. On hands and knees she reached the crest. Then over and skidding headlong down the far side.
The bo’ab had Boddy’s body, dragging it into the water. She could see an arm—only the one. Nay! Nix, nay! Her beloved, her husband. The bo’ab’s tail disappeared under water. All she could see now was its undulating back. Two small mounds, how deceptive. And it was no longer pursuing the runman. The tide, again on the rise, was carrying Kalamite and Pink Lafdi fast to shore.
She crawled the rest of the way to the water’s edge. At the turn of the tide that water had gently lapped the shingle. Now it was throwing itself with force at the barrier. Carried by its agitation, Boddy’s arm bobbed. With a suicidal disregard of the Jacobs mating and dying, she was into the water.
Nearer now to Boddy’s body, her arms straining towards him, her hands seeking a purchase, there was Trefan and Jonesi come to help her. With strong warriors’ arms, they lifted his lifeless body. Water poured from his waterlogged clothes. His hair hung from his head like sea-wrack. She could not stop the tears that were flowing.
Trefan carried the body back to the spit and up the slope, his hefty boots better for the shingle. He laid the body away from Eshe who now was stirring, her breathing steady, relieved of whatever the drug the runman had given her. Her lips were unnaturally red. Sifadis wanted to lay with him, to cradle him in her arms and to love him. Her eyes so stung, she scarcely could see. But she needed no sight when his lack of breath could be easily felt.
Trefan lifted her bodily out of the way, and shushed when she started to shriek. “Jonesi knows a way.”
Jonesi pressed on Boddy’s chest. How would that help? Yet water spouted. Was that what he’d swallowed?
“What if he’s poisoned?”
“I see no marks on him. He seems only drowned.”
Only . . .? Hay-lah-ay, she with her shipping and fishing, she knew that a drowned man was dead.
Jonesi kissed him. But he was her husband, it was her place to kiss him!
Trefan gently pulled her back. “He’s blowing life into him.”
Jonesi was the Creator? And how did Trefan know this when she did not? Trefan wrapped his arms round her. She’d not realised till then how she shivered. The wind was rising with the tide returning and the night sky covering all. She was wet, she was cold. Trefan wrapped a cloak around her while she watched intently what Jonesi did.
Boddy spluttered of a sudden, and coughed and gagged. Jonesi helped him to sit while he expelled it. Then he laid him back down, atilt on his side.
“He lives?” Sifadis couldn’t believe it. Though of course he did: the dead didn’t cough and spew.
Jonesi nodded and smiled.
“Is that Boddy?” she heard Eshe ask.
“Aye,” Trefan said. “But he’s fine.”
Sifadis stood and turned and looked around her. “Ay, Boddy is fine, but is he able to walk? Only, loh, the tide is flowing, and we have no vessel, and it’s a mighty long way along this spit.”
She didn’t say of the Jacobs. They all could see them, thrown up by the waves, to die on the shingle and release their poison. She didn’t say, either, of the bo’ab that might yet return to devour each one of them. She didn’t know what had attracted it. It was unusual they came this close to land.
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