Stone and Fire: Chapter 10

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Jurgen set his axe down, then folded his arms atop the pommel.  Diantha blinked as she came over to where he was.  “Aren’t you supposed to be…”

“Shhh.”  He nodded.

She turned in the direction he was looking, then put a hand on his shoulder.  “Blood and ashes, he just cut a man in half vertically.”

“Yep.”

“Huh.”  She tilted her head.  “Okay, refresh my memory.  We were sent as reinforcements…”  She stared at the warrior.  “Why?”

“Mother looked at the numbers and noted Clan…”  He let out a low whistle.  “Well, that’s one way to take down a knight.”

“That poor horse.”  Diantha winced.

“Right.”  Jurgen picked up his axe, and set it on his shoulder.  “Let’s go meet this guy.”

#

“You’re doing it wrong.”

Liam exhaled, and set the section of sail down.  “Still?”

“You go back over the stitch like this…”  Adaeze took the needle from his hand, then demonstrated.  “So even if it gets cut it won’t unravel.”  She raised an eyebrow.  “Why are you worrying about sewing sails?”

“Everyone else on the ship knows how.”  He couldn’t quite keep the defensiveness out of his voice.

“They start giving us patches to sew when we are about six.”  She shrugged.  “Keeps our hands busy during lectures so we don’t start pestering each other.”  Then she took another look at him.  “But you never got a chance to learn.”

“That’s why I’m trying to learn now.”  He sighed.  “My first time making landfall on one of the shoals, Baako handed me a bucket and told me to fill it with clams.”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “It took me about an hour to get somebody to tell me what a clam was, then another hour before it occurred to someone to tell me you’re supposed to dig them up.”

“You know all these big things.”  She patted his hand.  “People just expect you to know the little ones too.”  She leaned forward.  “I bet you know how to ride a horse.”

“Yeah, I…”  He blinked, then slowly turned to look over the rest of the crew.  “The Ilael don’t have horses.”

“Not a one.  Nowhere on the boat to put them.”  She shrugged.  “Next time we’re on land and can get the chance, will you teach me?”

“You want to learn to ride a horse?”  Liam raised an eyebrow.

“It looks like fun.  Is it?”

“Usually.  Sometimes it depends on the horse.  Horses have their own brains.  Sometimes, they go where they want instead of where the riders want.”

“Like dolphins.  Some ride them, but it’s more like holding on and swimming alongside.  Enu does, sometimes.”

“Pretty sure Enu is a dolphin, he just pretends to be human sometimes.”  Liam grinned.

#

Diantha couldn’t help but take a second look at the warrior.  Not many were larger than her own husband.  She’d considered discussing with Jurgen the option of inviting the man back to their tent.  That had been before he’d opened his mouth.  Jurgen was staring at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face.  “They asked for parley.”

“Yeah.”  Pauwel nodded.  “But we’ve barely got enough parley this year to…”

“Pauwel…”  Jurgen took another deep breath.  “The Thatelans…”  He ran a hand down his face.  “Asked for parley.”

“Yeah, I know.  They were shouting about it.  Never knew they were so anxious about their booze.”

“Their…”  Jurgen stared.  “What?”

“Their booze.”  Pauwel looked at Jurgen as though he couldn’t comprehend why Jurgen would ask the question.  “You know.”

“Their…” Jurgen’s eyes suddenly widened.  “Blood and ashes, man.  You’re…”  He shook his head.  “Barley?”

“Yeah.”  Pauwel nodded.  “They’ve got strange accents.”

“You’re telling me the Thatalen forces have been trying to surrender for the past two hours…”  Diantha ran a hand down her face.  “And he thinks they are demanding beer?”

“You…”  Jurgen turned to her and pointed at Pauwel.  “See if you can…”  He exhaled.  “I’m gonna go…”  He glanced at where the Thatalens were pushed back.  “Yeah.”

She watched him go before turning to the confused looking warchief.  “Alright…”  She slowly nodded.  “I’m going to need you to start detaching your…”  He gave her a blank look, and she sighed.  “Tell your people to all get back over that hill.”

#

Adaeze glared.  “You tie him up.”  She put her hands on her hips as she stared across the captain’s desk.

Uduak blinked, then her eyes widened.  “You mean Liam?”

“You tie his ankles together and gag him when he goes to sleep.”  She shook her head.  “I thought you adopted —”

“Adaeze.”  Uduak sighed.  “Sit.”

“Is he a prisoner?”

“No.”  Uduak shook her head.  “Sit.”

For a moment, she just stood there and kept glaring.  Then she sank into the chair across from the captain.  “You tie him —”

“You were told about the dreams?”  Uduak raised an eyebrow.

“Yes.”  She frowned.  It defied believability, but he had managed to lead the rescue vessels right to her and the other survivors.

“At times they take a firmer hold of him.  He speaks and cries out in his sleep.  He has risen without truly waking, and had Enu not noticed he would have gone overboard.”  Uduak sighed.  “His hands are not bound.  The cord on his ankles is just to keep him from wandering.  Awake, he can free himself of both gag and hobble in the space of a moment.”

“Is that…”  Adaeze hesitated.  “Is that why you send Efua to your cabin?”

“She is becoming quite good at determining which of his nightmares require immediate attention, and which are so far in the future that they are all but nameless terrors.  His gift is…”  Uduak smiled sadly.  “For all the good it does it is also a curse and burden upon him.”

“I…”  She slowly nodded.  “I think I owe you an apology, Captain.”

“No.”  Uduak smiled.  “You were looking out for my little lamb.  I cannot fault that.”

She started to rise, then sat down again.  When Uduak lifted an eyebrow, Adaeze exhaled.  “Captain, I would like to petition to serve aboard the Phoenix.”

“Adaeze, you are in line for a promotion I cannot offer you aboard my vessel.”

“I know.”  She took a deep breath.  “I want to…”  She trailed off.  When she looked up at the captain, she saw Uduak smiling at her.  “I…”

“My lamb does have a pretty smile, doesn’t he?”

Heat rose to her cheeks.  “Yes.”

#

He stared down at the creature laying on the blankets.  The tiny, mewling, helpless creature.  It made a few fumbling movements, then a soft mewing sound.  When he touched it, it curled its hand around his finger.  He heard Diantha laughing from where she lay on the bed.  “I know you’ve seen an infant before.”

“Not…”  He kept staring at the tiny figure.  “He has ten fingers.  With little nails on each end.”

“That’s the common —”

“And he has a nose and hair and…”  The newborn boy made the mewling sound again.  “He’s talking.”

Torin leaned over to look.  “I thought infants were only suppused to have ten toes.”

“Wait, it…”  Jurgen immediately shifted his gaze and counted, touching each toe with a finger of the hand the infant wasn’t gripping.  “Ten.”  He glared when Torin laughed.  “Ass.”

“He’s kind of squashed looking.”  Torin shrugged.

“I’ll make you squashed looking.”  Jurgen glared, then went back to staring at his son.  “He’s breathing.”  He touched the infant’s belly.  A moment later, he smiled.  “He peed!  Right out of his little penis.”

“Blood and ashes…”  Diantha turned to look up at Rozenn.  “He’s gone completely stupid.”

“I think it’s adorable.”  Rozenn grinned up at Jurgen.

“See…”  Jurgen nodded to his son.  “Rozenn thinks you’re adorable.”

#

“So this…”  Enu lay on his back, staring up at the sky.  “Is how I die.”

“You’re not dead.”  Liam shook his head as he stood over him.  “You’re not even injured.”

“Go away and let me die in peace.”  Enu waved a hand at him.

“Is he dead?”  Baako walked over.

“Yes!”

“He’s pretty lively for a dead man.”  Baako shrugged.  “How’d he do?”

“Two steps.”  Liam snickered

“Two…”  Baako stared down.  “I seem to recall someone saying it looked easy and he didn’t see what the fuss was about.”

“It’s not nice to speak ill of the dead.”  Enu glared.  He grunted when the horse leaned down and started sniffing at his face.  “Now it’s trying to eat me.”

“They are herbivores.”  Adaeze sighed.  She shaded her eyes.  “Okay, someone’s going to have to go get Efua.”

“I told her three times…”  Liam shook his head before grabbing the reins and leaping up into the saddle.  “Leaning forward makes them go faster.”

#

“Mother…”  Jurgen stared at Koert.  “Is what?”

“Marrying him.”

“Okay, I’m going to need you to repeat that in some fashion that makes some fucking sense.”  Jurgen sat down.

“With his father’s death he’s now the chief of a large border clan with considerable mineral wealth.  And…”  Koert trailed off.

“And?”

“I’m trying to think of a polite way to —”

“He’s a fucking idiot?”

“Yes.”  Koert nodded.  “That. Jurgen, consider it a moment.  She gains complete control over a third of the iron minds and…”  He shook his head.  “Do you really want that one running around loose in charge of a border clan?”

Jurgen winced, then nodded.  “Well, if he gets to be a problem, I can always kill him by telling him the weed that grows on the river bottom smells like taffy.”

“And on the bright side, I’m finding it very entertaining to see how many ways I can call him stupid without him thinking I’m paying him a complement.”  Koert shrugged.

“He’s not being cruel to you, is he?”  Jurgen frowned.  There were men who didn’t like sharing their wives with bed-slaves.  Koert was a good man.

“No, not at all.”  Koert shook his head.  “If anything, he uh…”  Koert rubbed his neck.  “He’s been a little enthusiastic about assuring me he doesn’t mind my presence in the bed.”

“Yeah, well…”  Jurgen smiled as Rutger toddled over and demanded to be picked up.  He swung his little brother up into his arms.  “You’re getting big.”

Rutger held up a carved flute before putting it to his lips.  To Jurgen’s surprise, the resulting sound actually resembled a melody.  “Little brother, you’re getting good with that.”  When Rutger offered him the flute, Jurgen chuckled a little before blowing into it.  It made a sound like someone had squished a duck.

Rutger stared at him before snatching his flute back.  “No.”  The toddler glared.  He put it back to his own lips and played the little melody again.

“Music is…”  Koert laughed.  “Not one of your talents.”

“I’ll have to settle for being awesome, powerful, attractive to women, mighty, handsome, brave, clever, confident, charm—”

Koert groaned.  “You could try for modest.”

“Hah.”  Jurgen gestured at himself.  “About all this?”  He rolled his eyes.  “Why lie?”

#

She found him sitting near the prow of the ship, making notes in a small journal.  “You write down your dreams?”

“Just the ones I can’t make sense of right away.”  Liam looked up at her.  “Or when I’m trying to figure out how to change an outcome.”

Adaeze sat down next to him.  She hesitated a moment.  “After you pulled me from the water, I…”  She frowned a little.  “You saw something about me, didn’t you?”

“It’s…”  Liam frowned.  “One of the things I can’t make sense of.”

“Tell me?”  She folded her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them.

He was quiet long enough that she thought he wasn’t going to speak.  “You tie my hands above my head.”

“You saw me…”  She blinked.  “Tying your hands above your head?”

“I told you it didn’t make any sense.”  He gave her a defensive look.

“Maybe you were having a bad dream and…”  Adaeze frowned.  “Flailing about or something.  Uduak told me thats why they have to tether you.”

“It’s…”  Liam nodded.  “It’s possible.  You weren’t trying to hurt me.  You were smiling at me and…”  A blush rose in his cheeks.

“And…”  She raised an eyebrow.

“I liked your smile even before I met you.”  He couldn’t quite look at her when he said the words.

They brought a smile to her face anyway.  “Liam?”

“Yes?”

“I’d like to kiss you.”  She started to lean forward.  Instead of meeting her, he pulled away, scrambling to put some distance between them.  When she looked at him, his eyes were wide, almost as though he were afraid.  She blinked.  “Liam?”

“I…”  His breath came fast, in ragged pants.

“Liam?”

“Don’t.”  He shook his head and half closed his eyes.  She was still as he sat there, trying to get his breathing under control.

“I’m sorry.”  She drew away from him.  “I just…”

“They bit at my mouth.”  He said the words so quietly she almost didn’t hear.

“Liam?”

“When…”  He took a deep breath.  “I don’t want to speak of it.  It’s…”  He shook his head.  “I’m sorry, Adaeze.  I…”  He looked down.  “I can’t.”

“I…”  Uduak told her that sometimes he woke screaming, and had implied it wasn’t always from prophetic dreams.  Slowly, she reached out and put her hand atop his.  He was still for a moment, then he turned his hand over to grip hers.  “It’s okay, Liam.”  She waited for him to look up at her, then she nodded.  “I like your smile, too.”

Liam smiled.

#

“You’re…”  Jurgen starred.  “You’re going to have another baby?”

His mother smiled.  “After seeing my grandson, I almost couldn’t resist.”  She nodded.  “He’s a beautiful boy, Jurgen.”

“He can already grip a sword.”  Jurgen smiled proudly, then shrugged a little.  “He can’t lift it, but he can grip the hilt and I’m sure the rest is just a matter of a few more months.”

“Maybe you should let him learn to walk before you teach him swords.”  Koert grinned.

“Why?”  Pauwel blinked at Koert.  “Swords are important.”

“Yes, but…”  Koert sighed.  “You want to teach the footwork right away so he doesn’t pick up the bad habit of lunging.”

“Ooooh.”  Pauwel nodded.  “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Jurgen glanced at Pauwel, then looked at his mother.  She gave a small roll of her eyes.  “He’s an excellent warchief.”

“Yeah, if you point him in the right direction.”  He chuckled, then leaned forward to whisper in her ear.  “Please tell me this one is also Koert’s?”

“I fear we won’t know for some time yet,” she whispered back.

“Heh.”  He gave her a slightly pained look.

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