Cloak of the Two Winds

BOOK: Cloak of the Two Winds
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Cloak of the Two Winds

Jack Massa

Published by

Guidance Communications, Inc.

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual sorcerers, pirates, or witches, is purely coincidental.

Cloak of the Two Winds

Copyright © 2016 by Jack Massa

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any means now known or hereinafter invented, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

 

For Arthur and Kathryn Hinds,

and all of their ship's crew.

"In such company as this, I do not fear injury,

and I would see a wonder."

One

The freezewind had blown in the morning, changing the sea to ice. Under an overcast sky the ice stretched in all directions, gleaming with a light of its own—a pearly light born of witchery. So all the seas had gleamed for an age on the world of Glimnodd.

Two of the Iruks had climbed from the hunting boat and were skating around on the ice. Two others could be seen on board the open, forty-foot craft, at the helm and atop the mast. The Iruks wore garments of deerskin and fur, with leather harnesses and hooded capes. Curved hunting swords and long knives hung at their sides. The skaters moved on ivory blades cunningly strapped to their sea boots.

Leaning on the massive bone tiller, the one called Lonn glanced at the two skaters from time to time. Otherwise his squinting gaze stayed fixed on the north, where a low dark ridge marked the Cape of Dekyll, the only visible land in all the bright emptiness of ice and sky. The Iruks had been lying off the cape for two days now, waiting. They had sailed to this spot because Lonn had dreamed that a merchant ship would pass this way, unarmed and laden with treasure.

"I don't believe that ship is coming," Karrol declared. The taller and brawnier of the skaters, she had glided up alongside the stern and stopped, looking pointedly at Lonn.

"I still believe it will," Lonn said. "Didn’t the freezewind blow this morning? Haven’t I said all along that in my dream we captured this galleon on ice?"

"Yes," Karrol said, "the freezewind blew this morning. And because we were lying at anchor the boat got frozen in, and it took us half the day to chop free. The freezewind often blows this time of year. That is why Tathian merchants don't sail in this season. Their galleons are slow and too easily caught in the ice."

Lonn made no answer, but continued staring toward the Cape of Dekyll. He was starting to regret convincing the others to follow his dream.

But the dream had seemed
so vivid
, the opportunity so rare and vast. The Iruk people believed in dreams, especially ones that came during a hunt. And as leader of the
klarn
, the hunting band, if Lonn had not argued forcefully to follow such a dream…Well, what kind of a leader would he be?

"This is senseless," Karrol said. "One day we are hunting yulugg with twenty other boats, chasing a good-sized herd. Then Lonn happens to dream of a ship. Now we lie off an empty point of land, alone, and nothing happens. I'd rather Lonn had dreamed of yulugg."

"Perhaps Lonn will dream of yulugg," Eben called from the masthead, "when the season comes for hunting ships."

Karrol snorted, and out on the ice Draven chuckled. Lonn clenched his jaw and glared at the north. He was beginning to wish he
had
dreamed of yulugg.

There were six in Lonn’s klarn, three women and three men, all of them young, none older than twenty, though all were full-fledged warriors. At the start of the season they had taken a sacred oath, to sail and hunt and fight together, share warmth, food, and shelter. A klarn might last for many years, or it might be ritually dissolved at the end of any hunt. The way things were going, Lonn thought gloomily, he'd be lucky if this crew lasted the season—a sorry outlook indeed for his first voyage as a klarn leader.

Karrol hoisted herself over the rail and sat down heavily in the stern. "I think we should go back to the hunt. I'm going to call a meeting."

"We've had a meeting on this already," Lonn said.

"Yes." Karrol was unstrapping her skate blades. "We agreed to come here and wait for the ship. So we've waited two days, and the ship hasn't shown. I say it’s time to reconsider."

Laying the skates aside, she rose in a graceful movement and stalked toward the forward end of the boat.

Sliding by on the ice, Draven threw out his arms in a shrug, then let them drop, slapping his sides as he showed Lonn an amused smile. Draven never seemed to lose his sense of humor.

Lonn shook his head. Pointlessly, he glanced at the windbringer, a four-foot fern-like creature that stood near him in a bucket of seawater. The windbringer looked back at Lonn through its single green eye. Though capable of understanding and making human speech, windbringers seldom had much to say to people.

Karrol stopped in front of the mast and lifted the flap of a low tent of white and gray hides. "Brinda, Glyssa. Wake up! Eben, come down from there."

"I can hear you plainly from here," Eben answered. "And one of us should keep lookout, in case Lonn's dream comes true."

Brinda and Glyssa had kept the late watch until sunrise, then worked all morning to help chop the boat free of the ice. Still, they scrambled from the tent immediately, tightening loose garments. Their hoods were back, revealing typical Iruk faces—tawny complexions, high cheekbones, slitted eyes accustomed to squinting.

Brinda, lean and muscular, was Karrol's older sister. "Why did you wake us?" she demanded, looking around sleepily.

"I want to have a meeting." Karrol said. "To decide if we should stay here or go back and hunt yulugg."

"You could have waited till we'd finished sleeping," said Glyssa with irritation. She was smaller, delicate for an Iruk woman.

"We've wasted enough time here already," Karrol said.

"We can hunt yulugg any time," Glyssa said.

"You can sleep any time," Karrol answered.

"
Not
if you keep waking us up!" Glyssa said.

"Your argument just became pointless," Eben called from above. "The ship of Lonn's dream is rounding the cape from the east."

His heart leaping, Lonn caught sight of the vessel, a dark speck emerging from the distant hazes. "Just as I dreamed," he cried. "And we’re the only boat here to claim it!"

"That's no galleon," Eben shouted. "Too small, and the rigging is different."

"Whatever it is will sail right past us if we don’t get moving," Glyssa called, pulling on her boots.

"Right. Jump to it!" Lonn yelled. "Karrol, Draven, loose the moorings. The rest of you lay on the ice sail."

The crewmates leapt to obey. However much they might argue over plans and decisions, a boat could have only one skipper. In the heat of a chase or a battle, it was Lonn who gave the orders.

The hunting boat was called a
dojuk
, made of wood, bone and hide, with one short mast and lateen rigging. Twin outriggers gave it stability in the water, while their bronzed bottoms served as runners on ice. By necessity, all seagoing craft on Glimnodd could sail both frozen and unfrozen waters. But the sleek, lightweight dojuk was especially swift and agile on either surface.

Draven and Karrol were out on the ice, prying loose the spikes that anchored the boat. They tossed the lines to Lonn who stowed them onboard, then returned to his place at the helm. Meantime Brinda, Glyssa, and Eben hoisted the long yard and made fast the halyard, then unfurled the stiff sail—made of hide stitched with sinew. They secured the sheets, then climbed overboard and placed themselves along the hull and the outrigger planks. Together with Karrol and Draven, they pushed the dojuk, their ridged boots giving them footing on the ice.

As the boat slid forward Lonn leaned over and spoke to the windbringer. "A fast one now to start us, Azzible. And tonight we'll be the richest klarn in all the Iruk Isles!"

"I will wish for it," Azzible replied in his quiet, reedy voice.

Windbringers were unique among the plant-creatures of Glimnodd in that they were fully sentient beings. They were unusual among fully sentient beings in that they could summon gusts of wind by wishing for them. In the wild, this faculty kept them free of certain insect parasites. Among humans, the ability endeared them to mariners of all nations. Most sailing vessels carried at least one windbringer, or
bostull
as they were also called.

Azzible closed his one eye and entered a state of trance. His wishing luck was good, for in a moment a gust appeared, stretching the dojuk’s sail. The mast tilted, leather lines creaking. The dojuk spurted forward and in its motion came alive to Lonn. He braced his feet apart and steadied the helm, wrapping both strong arms around the tiller and clutching it to his side.

Whooping with excitement, his mates scrambled to keep up with the iceboat and jump onboard. Karrol and Brinda hauled themselves over the bulwarks. The others climbed onto the outriggers, then perilously clambered over the narrow planks back to the hull.

The wind-made ice was slick but uneven. The dojuk bumped and rattled as it gathered speed. The rush of air increased to a roar. Lonn shouted above it, ordering his crew. He gave Karrol and Draven, the strongest with himself, charge of the sheets, the steering lines. They stood at either rail, four paces in front of the tiller. Brinda and Glyssa passed out quivers containing steel-barbed, ivory spears, then took their places amidships. With a quiver slung over his shoulder, Eben climbed the ratlines to the masthead.

Lonn sailed on a long northeasterly tack, aiming to intercept the merchant ship after it rounded the cape. As the vessel drew closer, he could make out details—an oddly squared hull, two masts, and elaborate fore-and-aft rigging.

A Larthangan coaster: Lonn had seen the type before, but rarely.

"Not Tathian at all!" Eben yelled from aloft. "Larthangan."

This fact did not trouble Lonn. Larthang was even more remote and fabulous than the Tathian Islands. Besides, the ship's exotic, painted appearance rang true to his dream. The coaster was broad of beam and roughly twice as long as the dojuk. It was moving fast, but Lonn knew it must be clumsy on the ice. He marked the ship's course and shifted his rudder slightly, leaving the coaster wide space in which to turn.

South of the cape the Larthangan came about, booms swinging, two of the four runners heeling off the ice. By now those on board must have spotted the dojuk's sail. But given the northerly wind they had no choice but to beat west, on a course closing with the Iruks. The coaster came off its turn with speed, and Lonn could see they were laying on more sail—hoping no doubt to outrun the dojuk.

The two vessels approached at a right angle, and Lonn held his course until the coaster had almost run past them. Then he swept the tiller to one side and yelled the command to come about. The Iruks jumped to it, casting off lines and hauling in others. As the dojuk turned the long yard spun round the mast, altering its tilt, then snapped into place as wind caught sail. Slowed momentarily, the iceboat gathered speed on its new tack.

Both craft raced westward now, leaving the Cape of Dekyll astern. The speedier dojuk steadily made up distance, and soon Lonn could count the sailors scurrying about on decks and rigging. He spied the helmsman atop the rear deck, shouting orders through a megaphone and glancing over his shoulder at the hunting boat. No armored men were visible on board, just as Lonn had dreamed.

"Ready your spears," Lonn shouted to his mates. He moved the tiller to veer in close.

"Steady," Karrol advised. "Not too near."

Annoyed by her caviling, Lonn edged the dojuk even closer.

They were running even with the Larthangan now, in easy spear range. The Iruks waved their weapons, whooping and roaring. Lonn called out in Low Tathian, the common trading tongue, ordering the ship to turn upwind and surrender, promising no harm to the crew.

Suddenly the coaster swerved, right in front of the Iruks.

"Look out!" Karrol yelled.

With no room to copy the turn, Lonn jerked his tiller the other way. The dojuk hiked high off the ice, outrigger and yardarm just missing the coaster's stern as they soared past.

Nearly thrown from the masthead, Eben regained his balance, swore and flung a spear at the fleeing ship.

"I said you were too close," Karrol screamed.

"Trim sail!" Lonn answered.

Slowed by the sail's position the dojuk came off the hike, jolting violently as outrigger struck ice. The Iruks readjusted their lines and in moments they were back on course, gliding in pursuit of the racing two-master.

This time Lonn steered to windward of their quarry, and told his mates to throw their spears as soon as they came within range.

Once more the Iruk boat outstripped the coaster, approaching this time on its starboard side. Lonn left more room than before, and when the Larthangan came about the dojuk matched the turn with ease.

They sailed now on a northeasterly tack, and for the third time the dojuk pulled even. The Iruks yelled and cast their spears—streaks of ivory arcing through the gray sky.

One sailor plummeted from the rigging, a spear in his side. The other crewmen aloft hesitated, then abandoned their exposed positions as the spears continued to fly. On deck most of the sailors cowered below the rails. A few picked up spears and threw them back, but their casts fell short or else missed wide, behind the dojuk.

"No warriors on board," Lonn shouted. "I dreamed it so!"

The Larthangan helmsman tried to veer away, but the dojuk now moved like the coaster's shadow. Unrelenting, the Iruks threw their spears, and Lonn saw that at least one more of the crewmen had been hit. The others on deck shouted in panic and gestured frantically at the helmsman.

"Turn upwind and save all your lives," Lonn called to them.

BOOK: Cloak of the Two Winds
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