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The Solitaire Crow - Ivinia - 5

5 The Whaling Islands
O between the Month of Peoni,
When all the morning sway -
Comes a tide of Larani morn,
On here does stray.
Light the summer's waking,
Yet spring takes the day,
For on here the Flowers bloom,
Water gayest burbling brook.
But look not past the breeze,
Into tumulting torment,
For that way lies the winter,
Though it hides behind
Autumn's lament.
Ifor's Cry ca. 600 TR

One would think that the ship would immediately dock in the nearest available harbor, with the great vista of a mountain peak stretching not so tall as an Ivinian spire. But the Watcher knew something about this island – was very small, but at the crest of a range of such isles. So he directed the Commander to sweep all the way round – and check every view. And it was good that they did so, because while the mountain was bare of trees, and even bushes – their was an opening which they could spy at the limits of Green's eyesight. Coming closer, where everyone could see it, it was obviously some sort of dragon, or other such thing. But they did not know if it was inhabited.
“So your sure that this is new?” Questioned the Commander.

“Surely so, there was no such place when the Ivinians last checked this island, at least as far as any were willing to tell.”

“It does not seem to be inhabited.”

“Only very large dragons live in a single place. Most go from reach to reach, thus to feed on the local sheep, cows, deer and moose – or what they can catch out of the sea. And there are only a few large dragons, most of them are small. I do not know if the small ones grow in to larger ones. But the dragon holes are populated by different dragons.”

The Commander just nodded. “The other thing that we should look for is the undead ship. I have not forgotten about her, and I do not think it has escaped your mind either.”

“No, indeed not.”

Each of them stared out over the island, which was surmounted by a shield shaped peak, and rapidly dwindled. It looked like it had just appeared there, in many parts of the volcano had nothing on them – not even grass or lichen. In fact, the black rock looked almost pristine and new.

“Each time I see her she is a bit larger, she is still growing. In you look at the crevices near the water, you can see how they are active – not just the peak.”

“Why do not you settle this place?”

“It still too new, but there was a village about four islands down, on a much larger rock. But no one has heard from them in five years – though what took them one will never know, no one goes there – it is forbidden.”

“Forbidden?”

“Captains law. Which is a orally transmitted thing. But law none the less.”

“So what you are saying is that the islands are inhabited by magic creatures?”

“Not magic so much as large. And there may be people who do not wish us to know anything about. That is aside from any fell creatures - undead and the like.” The creatures of Morgath, and his demon Kyss.

“Where do you want to place the dragon ship?”

“Right here, where we can look at the vast maw. You never know when it is going to lose a dragon, or acquire one.”

“You think it is likely that there is something living in it?”

“Or will be soon, as said before. Dragon holes do not rest for long, at least this is what my pitiful experience tells me.”

“You have more experience than any except the elves, and they do not talk about it. And I have tried.”

It was up to the Commander to pick the crew: Green, Ebasethe, and the Watcher. Normally, he would not even consider the Watcher, but he detected an eagerness to set on this island again. If things went well, he would send everybody to catch their legs, because the rowers were not seaworthy.

The boat was dropped in the water, and the three men went over the side – the dragon ship was only a few feet above the boats draft. It was not like a Dak, or even a Nivik – the older kind of ship, with its keel outside of its dock, way older ships had it. Nivik was slenderer then a Dak, as well as having no main deck – thus the crew is protected by tarps, or other canopies.

As they went in with the boat, it was not sand, or pebbles, but a thick mass of black which clumped together unevenly. This was new here, and he knew it from fjords which were under the spell of active volcanoes. It was clear that this one was very active indeed, and as they surveyed the rocks, they could see steam coming up from a variety of places. They could even see hot molten lava coming up from the depths. Clearly, be volcano was active – more than it had been the last time the Watcher came.

Somehow, all of the knew that quiet was to be observed. So they beached the boat about 100 yards in, and begin to explore the area. Mostly it was a lush form of green and yellow grass, though many flowers were in bloom. There were at least 30 varieties, and then the Watcher stopped counting them, there were other things that needed attendance. Ebasethe was clearly amazed, he had never seen such a place, and looked about eagerly. Green however was much less impressed, it was both professional and personal. Clearly he would rather have trees and bushes with which to hide among, but it was also that there was no glamour to it, no sense of wonder. The Watcher, however, felt a cool breeze, and only cirrus clouds overhead – and for the moment was happy and content. But the dragon hole, and creeping air of undead kept him wary. Thus, he looked at the flowers, the bees, and other forms of insect life, but only for a moment – forcing his eyes upwards, to the ridge which was before them, and even up to the sky.

And it was up in the sky which something happened, he did not know what, and he looked over to see that Green had seen it first and was motioning with his arm. It was a dragon, black in color, and seemingly circling something else then them.

It came each of them, almost simultaneously, to move to a thick band of another sort of grass – almost 7 feet tall and as much across. This was a true green with only a little bit of yellow. They rushed inside of it, hoping that the dragon was looking for something else – and that it was not searching for the correct moment to pounce on the ship, because that leave them stranded. And that would mean that there was only a very small chance of being picked up by an Ivinian whaling ship – or anything else that might stop by this island. Whaling ships were not known for picking up loose stragglers in any event.

So they watched it slowly looping around, adjusting for both yaw, pitch, and roll in its hunting for whatever it was. Clearly it was not looking for denizens like themselves, and what was more surprising – it was not looking for a ship. Clearly it was looking for something else, perhaps it was measuring the heat which was coming off of the island. But whatever it was, after an hour, it then departed for the islands far away – which they had just barely seen when they launch the boat. They saw white mountain caps in the southeastern direction.

Its long ornate body then disappeared, with the ridges of its body undulating its way. But it looked back occasionally, with a trust of its head, and a bit of green flashing – which could be seen for an extraordinary way.

“That was not meant for us, though I do not know who it was meant for.” This remark came from Green.

A rumination came from the Watcher, who then replied: “ I think it was checking whether or not the island was inhabited, and unless I miss my guess, that was not the dragon which carved the hole.”
“Why not?” Asked Green.

And then Ebasethe piped up: “It would have stop... stopped.”

At this Green nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. But that means that another dragon either seceded, or their will be another dragon to contend with.” This took a moment for Ebasethe to parse, clearly he was not stupid, but this was a language that he did not speak well.

They were clumped together and seated on their hunches, when a distinct snap registered with all Green and the Watcher, though not with the priest. A normal person would have thought it to be a rustle in the grass – but that was not the case. Immediately the two of them stood up, and moved there heads ever so gradually to where the noise had been coming from. Immediately, both of them caught a flash of dirty blonde hair decking beneath the grass, which was probably female – and decidedly prone. The Watcher raise his voice: “We can see you, so you might as well come out.”

It took a moment, amidst the wind swirled grass – but gradually a thin, and middle aged woman stood up. She was decidedly plain, but had an intense grey eyed stare – she was obviously intelligent. Though it was that she was then, it was not for want of food, but and asceticism which marked her hands and body. She raised an arm, as if to say, she was not going to contend with them at all. All at once there was a hard edge to her feature, but a gentleness. But in her left hand was a quarterstaff, which meant she could defend herself quite well.

“It was when the twig broke that you were going to find me. It was truly stupid of me, and not the sort of thing that I would do. I suppose I should introduce myself: I am Gwynwyffer. Yes, that will do for me. What are your names?” the rush of her voice, and the patter of its expression, was a torrent. Even Green could not understand it quickly, though the Watcher could. Then she continued: “ please tell me if I am speaking to quickly, it is a habit of mine. I try to slow things down, but in my hurry to express everything – I usually forget that not everyone speaks as quickly as I do, or masters languages as succinctly. And as for why Ivinia, and not something else, one of you is dressed in the Norse custom. And I would guess that that would be a lingua franca. Your eyes tell me that at least two of you know what I am talking about, even if my words come out too fluidly.” indeed, her words were an onamonapia of sound – a melodious symphony of noise – which was largely unexpected.

“Why are you here?” Asked the Watcher.

“I was left here as a punishment. They could not in good course kill me, but they would do everything but, and by them I mean the Ivinian raiders. I assume that they would find me dead, but that is a bad assumption, because there are several things to eat – if one is not particular. And I have other things to worry about then the nourishment which I consume.” Her green dress was skittering about from the nervous energy which she had.

“Could you speak more slowly, and with simpler word - words?” The priest asked.
And At that moment, Gwynwyffer slowed very far down, almost as if she were speaking pidgin, or some form of trading language. The effect was palpable, as if she were slowing down intentionally. “I am sorry.”

Then Green spoke up: “How long have you been here?”

“They dropped me here during the longest night. So six months, give or take.”

“And you have eaten what is on this island?”

“The thermal pressures do not just give heat, they also form food.” For a moment she meant to say “sustenance”, but thought the better of it.

“We are exploring the island, but obviously you have done a great deal more than we could. It is very surprising that you have stayed alive this long.” Commented the Watcher.

“One has to live.”

“Most people would have starved, or nearly so.” At this point the Watcher looked to the sky just to be sure that the dragon was not looping back.

“I can only vouch for myself. And living is by far the best option.” She opened her mouth to say something else, but thought the better of it.

At this point, Green asked: “Have you gone up to the dragon's hole?”

“I reached the mouth, and their was a terrible smell. Like sulfur, only worse. If you know the Agrikans, it is the kind that they deal in, especially when summoning their demons.”

“They really do summon demons? I heard that was a myth.” Green took this moment to align his cloak just so.

“I know of at least one that does so.”

“Where there is one, there is more.” The Watcher look at the hills, wondering whether they had exhaust they secrets.

Gwynwyffer looked at the priest, “The Agrikan do things on a wide scale. Almost as if they were turning out galley ships, the way the Azeriani do. A practice that was invented by Agrik.”

“You have been a long way around the world.” as he said this the Watcher was faintly impressed on his face.

“You do not know the half of it. I have been three quarters of the way around the globe, driven by Earthmasters, though I did not do anything about it. There was one person who unlocked the secrets, and three of them – while not masters of it – could from time to time reach in to the pseudo-stone and teleport us to a different place.” What she did not say, was that she remembered every detail, and thus when they were going to a different place, could recollect every detail.

It was clear that this had to be processed, because pseudo-stone was an object left behind by Earthmasters – and no one there had the smallest clue how to manipulate them. That they could be a form of teleportation was extraordinary. And all three were awed by the prospect.

Green recovered first, and asked: “You came through pseudo-stone?”

“That is why I am in this place. They did not want me to use a pseudo-stone to teleport. Even though I tried to say that I could not do so of my own accord. I do not know where they took my companion. One of them could unlock the pseudo-stone.”

“Even trying was a blessing.” Replied the Watcher, still looking at the hills.

“In my experience, Sarajin is – I was quite disabling but that is not quite correct – and honorable god - that is the right word. Thus for every transgression there is a penalty. And since I had no one to watch for me, the trail by combat was out. Not that I would have taken it, mind you.” She had gone back to speaking higher and more quickly.

“So they tried to, why not put you to death?”

“There were a number for that position, yes. But the position that I was doing something, though they knew not what, for Sarajin finally held the day. So I was put off on the next whaler to go to these parts, and spend what remained of my life, in their minds, freezing cold. But plans came out differently. Perhaps they knew something about what their god wanted after all - whose to say?”

“Do you want to go back to the ship?” The Watcher looked at her directly.

“I have been here six months, waiting another day will not hurt me in the least. And you would like to go to the hole, and smell the aromas from within.” so with that the began climbing towards the dragon hole, with Gwynwyffer sticking with the Watcher and the priest. Green, however, would pop in to view, and then pop out again – often appearing in a different place. He was energetic, and had to reign himself in.

At last the reached the hole – which was at least 40 feet in diameter. The outside was black, and within 30 yards, it spouted down.

There was indeed an odor, and it was as Gwynwyffer described – like sulfur only riper and more dense. But none of them until the very last minute covered their faces, because they wanted to imbibe the odor for themselves. Gwynwyffer was not affected, but all of the others finally wrapped their noses.

“You are gifted with understatement.” Kicking his foot on the blackened rock as he did so, the Watcher eyed Gwynwyffer with a renewed respect.

“You wanted to know what it smelled like, and I complied. Nothing more nothing less.” she uttered back in amusement.

Green looked at the two of them and ventured a question: “Do we want to go down there?”

“I would have done so already. If going down there is what you want to, that will be to your god or goddess.” With that she kicked a black stone in two the darkness and listened to it fall down, as if to enunciate what would be happening. The long fall into darkness had sobered the other three, and there came an unspoken agreement that they would not go down, unless something urgent depended upon it.

The sun was at the top of the hole, engorging with orange and yellow the depths which it plumbed. Their was storm clouds coming, and at last they turned their back – hoping that this would be the last time that they stood there. On the way down, a small brown bird was chirping, and that reminded them all that there was no noise at the top.

All the way down there was conversation, but not what you would expect: Gwynwyffer and the priest were harmonizing the intricate language which he spoke. At first, Gwynwyffer would ask in Ivinian – but gradually she passed questions in his tongue, and got replies in it. By the time they were off the mountain, and in the sea of grass – she was more fluent than he was. As the whispers of stalks were pending down the forth them – and they were almost to the boat in the distance – she was able to hold a very crude conversation with him. Which was impressive, he had taken a week to do the same thing, and he was readily acceded to be a master of languages.

The tide had come up and down, but it did not reach the boat had all – the Watcher had made sure of that. Gently popping were the sounds of insects, who had been waiting for this time to mate. In the distance, a flurry of water crashed down a gorge which was over 50 feet long, which had not been there when they left. Obviously, a glacial ice had broken – and this was the flood. There were what looked like flowers, but when looking at them, they could not be flowers because at least half of them were in the water. They were currant feeding to marigold, when finally it occurred to the Watcher that they were starfish, which he had never seen before in all his journeys. As much as he would like to pick one out, the boat beckoned them – and they would have to tell everything about their journey.

He wondered if Gwynwyffer was what she seemed – but a glance in her direction told him he should not be worried. If she could beat all of them, then there was nothing to be done – she was some form of demon, or perhaps undead. In any case, they would decidedly be finished.

All the way along, the boat was slashed by waves from the South – it was that a storrm was brewing, and they were just beginning to feel it is wrath. The clouds congealed effortlessly, but there was no sign that it was anything other than natural. It was not the high clouds, reaching all the way into the atmosphere and topped by a thunderhead – but the wall that says it will be rating for a long time. It was at this point that the Watcher had thought about the progress from the ships point of view, and how they saw four, not three, bodies – and what they might make of this. But then, they would find out almost immediately.



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