Stone and Fire: Chapter 33

“Feel the air against your skin.”  Jurgen swung the quarterstaff near Rien.  “Trust your ears.”

Rien stuck his tongue partially out of his mouth as he screwed his face up in concentration behind the blindfold.  When Jurgen aimed the next blow, slowed, at him, Rien suddenly swung his own staff up.  It hit Jurgen’s staff, though the angle wasn’t quite sufficient to completely deflect the blow.  Still, it brought a smile to Jurgen’s face.  “I got it.”  Rien ripped the blindfold off.  “I hit it.”

“Good job.”

The sound of activity from the hall drew his attention, and a moment later Rutger came bursting through the door.  “Rien, Rien.”  Rutger grabbed his little brother’s hand.  “Come see what I got.”

Jurgen watched Rutger drag Rien out of the room, then gave a small shake of his head.  “Hello, little brother.  I missed you too.”  He tossed the quarterstaves into the corner, then followed the boys out.  A whoop of glee from Rien had him quicken his pace, and he emerged into daylight to see two stallions, both nearly golden in color save for their black socks.  “Well now…”  He glanced at where Liam was standing, then frowned at his brother’s expression.  “Liam?”  He put a hand on Liam’s shoulder.  “Everything alright?”

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again.  “The horses are twins.  Such a birthing is considered sacred.”  He turned back to look at where Rutger was stroking the nose of one of the stallions, while the other butted up against him for a share of the attention.  “A gift for a prince.”  He exhaled.  “I hope he understands the magnitude of what he was given.”

“Things aren’t alright, are they?”  He folded his arms.  “You’re back sooner than I expected.”

“Diantha’s with child.”  Liam looked back at him.

“Yeah, she…”  The smile died on his face.  “Liam.”  He started shaking his head.  “No.”

“They’ll not survive the birthing, Jurgen.  Efua can…”  Liam sighed.  “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”  Jurgen looked away.  “Me too.”

#

Diantha leaned back, resting her head on Efua’s shoulder.  The other woman sang softly in her language.  She found the tune comforting even though she couldn’t understand the words.  “You lost a child as well.”  She looked up at the Ilael woman.

Efua went silent for a moment.  “Yes.”  She exhaled.  “I do not know if the babe was Wendel’s or Jurgen’s.”  She swallowed.  “I’ve considered asking Liam, but the question always dies in my throat.”  She looked down.  “There will not be another.”

“I’m sorry.”  Diantha sighed.

“My grief was long ago.”  Efua stroked her hair.  “You should rest.”

#

Jurgen was staring off into the distance when Liam joined him on the balcony.  “She’s asleep.  I think Efua dosed her.”

Liam nodded.  “She did.”  He leaned on the railing.

“I should be upset.”  He rubbed his thumb against his palm.  “But all I can feel is relief.  Diantha’s going to be okay.”  He swallowed.  “She hurting now, but she’s going to live.  My children won’t lose their mother.”  He straightened.  “How is your family?”

“Mbali has taught Zuri how to swim.  She takes to the water like a dolphin.”  He looked in the direction of the ocean.  Part of him wished he could bring his daughters here.  Wished he could let them play with Jurgen’s children, let them teach each other.  “I prepared a testament.”

“Are the next words out of your mouth going to make me break your nose again?”  Jurgen turned toward him.

“I have to prepare for possibilities, Jurgen.”  He exhaled.  “Someday, Wharf Tower will belong to Petrus.  I’d like…”  He straightened.  “When he becomes a man, I’d like to take him with me for a while.  Perhaps as long as a year.”

His brother went silent for a moment.  “Liam, as much as…”  He swallowed.  “Rutger will never forgive you if you take Petrus and not him.”

“I took Rutger to Petobae and —”

“Liam.”  Jurgen shook his head.  “I know you know better than that.”  He sighed, then he frowned.  “What do you mean Petrus will inherit the tower?  You have kids.”

“My children aren’t Wilders, Jurgen.”  Liam shook his head.  “When it comes to my holdings here…”  He turned and leaned his back on the railing.  “Your children will be my heirs.  Petrus is the best choice for the tower, as it borders Valyk lands anyway.”

“I’ll, uh…”  Jurgen folded his arms.  “Next time I go to sea with you, Liam…”  He put his hand on Liam’s shoulder.  “I’ll bring Petrus.”

“Thank you…”  Liam smiled.  Then he shrugged.  “And I’ll just go ahead and apologize now for…”  He waved a hand.  “Well, you’ll see.”

“I hate you so much sometimes.”

#

“He left already?”  Diantha frowned.  “I thought he was —”

“Trust me.”  Jurgen shook his head.  “He needed to leave.”  He kicked a chair halfway across the room.  “Mother hasn’t given up on the idea of a navy.”  He pulled the chair back into position, then sat down.  “She wants to take the peninsula.”

“She wants to go to war with Solsthriem.”  Diantha gave a short laugh.  “She does understand that the moment we try it, Thatela is going to take a chunk out of the mountains.”

“Liam pointed that out, and she said that we could call for aid from Akobul.”

“Akobul…”  Diantha sat down across from him.  “The last time Akobul got attacked by another country they came running to us for aid.”

“Yeah, it was about that time it just dissolved into a shouting match and Mother blaming everything that has ever gone wrong in her life on him again.  You know, I’m starting to think he’s right that she’s going to try to kill him one day.”  Jurgen looked down and shook his head before looking up again.  “He’s been right about pretty much everything else.”

#

Adaeze stared at the scene on the deck.  Liam sat, cross-legged, eyes closed, his face locked in concentration.  Ama stood behind him, her hands on his head, her own eyes fixed on the clouds above.  Her hair stood out around her head like it was caught in a storm.

And the sails were billowing as they sailed against the wind.  The ship was bearing on a direct path, racing against current and breeze.  Ama’s ability to control the weather was chaotic at best.  On her own, she was as likely to summon a lightning bolt as she was a gentle breeze.  But when she latched on to Liam’s power, used him to focus…  “Storm’s mercy…”

“She’s still a child even.”  Efua nodded.  “Years yet away from her full strength.  And he’s not using his ability to its full potential either.”

“He tracks patterns throughout the world, Efua.”  Adaeze shook her head.  “He —”

“I know.”  Efua smiled at her.  “I am pleased he has learned to control his power.  I remember…”  She looked down at the two figures again.  “I remember him screaming when it took hold of him.  This is…”  She nodded, then looked up at the sky.  “This is better.”

#

“Drink.”  Adaeze’s voice was a firm command.  He took the cup from her, and tried not to wrinkle his nose at the contents as he gulped them down.  “And what have we learned?”

“To listen to Adaeze when she says I am overdoing it…”  He adjusted the cloth to keep his eyes shielded from the light as he laid back down.  “Because she is my wife and my captain and knows what is best for me.”

“And?”  He could hear the glare in Efua’s voice.

Ama’s voice answered from where she lay next to him.  “And that Efua is wise and learned in the ways of shaman lore and when she says something is more than I can handle I should pay attention.”

“Which means?”  Uduak’s voice came from the other side of the room.

“We will not summon whirlpools.”  Ama’s voice spoke in unison with his.

He heard them starting to leave the room, then heard Baako’s voice.  “I told you we were doomed.”  The door closed.

Then Ama’s hand gripped his, and he heard her let out a soft giggle.  “That was fun though.”

“Let’s try a waterspout next time.”  He grinned.

#

It wasn’t hard to read the disappointment in Rutger’s face as the boy read the letter.  “Hey…”  Jurgen walked up to him.  “Have you —”

“Lammert can’t.”  Rutger looked up at him, his expression heartbroken.  “He can’t get here for two more months, and I have to leave for my raid before the solstice.”

“I can take —”

“But you don’t know where to find an elephant.”  Rutger shook his head.  “I wanted to bring Mother an elephant.”  He glared up at Jurgen.  “You don’t even believe elephants are real.”

“I admit I’ve expressed some skepticism regarding certain aspects of…”  He trailed off when he saw the tear in leak out of Rutger’s eye.  He hoped whatever Liam was doing was worth it.  “I’ll take you down to Akobul and we —”

“Everybody…”  Rutger rolled his eyes.  “Raids Akobul.  If I ride into Akobul with you, they’ll just meet us at the village gates and shower us with gifts.”  He leaned back.  “You did that already.  And Lammert brought her a magic staff.  I gotta do better.”

“Rutger…”  Jurgen sat down across from him.  “It’s not —”

“Your father was a chief.”  Rutger shook his head.  “A warrior.  I can’t fight because my father was —”

“Hey.”  Jurgen glared.  “Who has been talking like that to you?”  When Rutger looked away, Jurgen sighed.  “Rutger, I…”  He put a hand on his little brother’s knee.  “There is more to life than war.”

“Easy to say when you can rip the arm off a troll.”  Rutger glared at him.  “Marja beat me in six matches yesterday.  She’s seven.  And a girl.”

He couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of pride in his daughter.  “Well, to be fair, her mother is known to be quite fierce.”

“I can’t fight.”  Rutger leaned forward and rested his head on his knees.  “But if I do good, and bring back something impressive, then Mother will let me go with Lammert and I can bring her back glory that way.”

“Rutger…”  Jurgen swallowed.  “Mother will love you no matter what you bring —”

“I am not…”  Rutger glared at him.  “A baby.”

“No.”  He exhaled, then he stood.  “You’re not.  Come on…”  He extended a hand.  “Let’s go plan you the best raid the Wild has ever seen.”

“I want an elephant.”  Rutger accepted his hand, but gave him a beseeching look.  “With a box for Mother to ride in.”

“I, uh…”  He sighed.  “Rutger, I’m pretty sure if elephants could live in the Wild, Lammert would have brought you back one by now.”

“I…”  Rutger paused, then frowned.  He chewed his lower lip a moment, then grinned.  “Yeah, he would have, wouldn’t he?”

“And probably named it Marigold or something.”  Jurgen rolled his eyes.

“Daffodil.”  Rutger shook his head.  “Daffodil is a much better name for an elephant.”

“Some days I wonder how I can possibly be related to either of you.”  He ruffled Rutger’s hair as they headed out of the room.

#

Zuri sat on his shoulder, holding the spyglass to her eye.  “Six.”

“Only six?”  Liam looked up at her.

She adjusted the spyglass, and looked again.  “Six.”

“Still more than I want to tangle with.”  Adaeze glared in the direction of the Manisar vessels.

“Bear fifteen north, cut around the edge of the reefs.”

“They won’t follow?”  Adaeze blinked at him.

“Oh, they’ll follow.”  Liam grinned.  “But they…”  He leaned forward to whisper in her ear.  “Won’t know to go around the sea dragon.”

“I love you.”  She pulled him down for a kiss.

“Yuck.”  Zuri wrinkled her nose.

“Silly —”  Adaeze blinked when Liam suddenly made a hissing sound before wincing.  “Liam, where —”

“It’s not the ship.”  Liam shook his head.  “Adaeze, I need to go ashore in Ocia.”  Her frown must have showed, because he gave her a pleading look.  “Please.”

Adaeze reached up to take Zuri from him.  “Alright.”

#

Jurgen laughed as he headed toward the small tent.  They headed for the southern border of Akobul to better ensure that the village wouldn’t simply hand over tribute when they learned who was raiding them.  And they’d gotten lucky.  According to the scouts, a small band of Thatelan merchants were passing through.  Perfect.  He opened the flap.  “See, what did I…”  He trailed off as he looked inside.  “Rutger?”  He stepped back out of the tent, and looked around.  “Rutger?”  He frowned.

His brother wasn’t with the horses.  His gold stallions had been left in the Wildlands, but the roan mare he’d brought as his mount was missing.  “Broos, have you seen Rutger?”

“Yeah, he saddled up about an hour ago.”  The younger man nodded.  “Said he wanted to do a little scouting himself.”

A chill went down his spine.  Rutger was no scout.  “Who went with him?”

“Nobody, my lord.”  Broos frowned.  “He said he wasn’t going far.  Just to take a look at the village.”

“I just came from the village.”  Jurgen shook his head.

“My lord…”

“You were supposed to be watching him.”  He caught the other man by the front of the vest.

“I…”  Broos’s eyes widened with fear.

He took a deep breath, then released the other man.  “Get the scouts.  Find my brother.”

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