The sea didn’t smell the same, but then Darag was no longer home. The sun fell unbroken by cloud, much less by leaf, onto the sprawling city that rested between long fingers of land. The merchant ship he sailed on navigated a deep channel in clumsy slowness due to cargo sitting heavy in its hold. It gave Darag a chance to study the approaching city, which was good. He really wasn’t sure he was ready to set foot in it.
The restlessness that had driven Darag to leave his home in Lus na Sithchaine evaporated the moment the merchant galley rounded the first peninsula of the Archipeligo of Bellaia. Kith did not normally leave their homes amid the forest of the north. Darag knew no one in this city. He had no one to turn to for help. If that weren’t enough, his skin which was patterned like bark, kept him from blending in.
The city shimmered in the heated air. Marble buildings colored like pastel shells with more open arches than walls rose on the hillside above the water, far above the thick palm trees that fought for space at the edge of the city. Stone ruled here unlike home where the trees held dominance. So that is how Darag thought of Portoreayl, as a forest of buildings. It gave him enough confidence to walk off the ship when it docked, though he kept his head down and his hood pulled low to hide his face.
The harbor front teamed with more people than Darag saw in a typical week unless there was a council, and the skin colors were just as varied as the Kith, though most held only one tone per person. Between the bustle and the variety of skin and dress, Darag hardly thought he’d be noticed even if he pushed back his hood. But he wasn’t used to the sun and kept the cowl low.
Darag let the crowd of people, ox or donkey drawn wagons, and occasional horse lead him uphill into the city on stone streets worn smooth by the multitude of traffic over years. Buildings rose around him like canyon walls, though they were very porous ones. No glass graced the wide openings like the houses of Drufforth, the port from where he’d left home. Instead, the wide openings welcomed breezes and curtains of gauzy fabric blocked, barely, views of the living areas. Occasional gusts brushed back the light cloth enough to offer Darag a view of low couches with sumptuous cushions, gilded tables holding fruits and pastries, and flowering plants.
The smell of flowers suffused the air, even more than the nearby sea. Flowering vines twined up the fragile columns holding aloft roofs, grew in containers in any unused corner, and leaned over the edges of rooftop gardens. Darag hadn’t noticed the plants when he’d been on the ship. The buildings instead of trees had distracted him. But now he could see the thick riot of plants climbing over the old buildings. The scent of them, though far different from his home in the forested north, gave comfort. Living plants were near kin to one whose soul was part tree.
The upward winding street finally leveled and widened. The foot traffic had brought him to a market. Vendors in ramshackle wooden booths filled an open space between buildings. Here palm trees rose above the crowd. Birds in the fronds tried to drown the shouting of people selling wares, fruit, jewelry, and cloth. Darag lost himself in the newness of it. Here coin was coin. It didn’t matter the color of hand that paid.
Full from tasting new fruits, at least new to him, he wandered to the outskirt of the market that showed no sign of slowing though the light grew dim and the air cool compared to the brilliant sun warmth of the day. Just like Drufforth, between market and harbor lay taverns. Unlike Drufforth, the walls were not made of living wood. It was his first time inside one of the buildings, which was so airy it barely felt indoors at all. Nor did the room he secured from the barman. Its open arches looked down to the bustling harbor where the setting sun gilt the tops of masts and the forested ridge of the western peninsula. The eastern peninsula and the quiet waters between lay in the blue darkness of early eventing.
It was Darag’s first night in a foreign city. The sounds and smell of it slipped around his rented room on the evening breeze. Watching stars emerge to compete with the last rays of the setting sun, Darag changed his mind. His restlessness had not abandoned him as the ship rounded the archipelago. It had been cured. He smiled and headed downstairs to see what else he would find in Portoreayl.
The warding stones fascinated Darag. They held back the seething mass of the tropical forest, keeping roots, leaves, and animals from crossing into the city. That was what everyone said they did. Darag could not fathom how. Stones place a hundred feet part should not be able to keep out life.
He’d found the warding stones because he missed the forest of his home after the week spent exploring Portoreayl. No matter the restlessness that had drove him from his home when such a desire was uncommon to his soul bound people, after a week of stone buildings instead of towering trees Darag missed being surrounded by more than potted shrubs. But the warding stones made him hesitate.
There were paths and gates in and out of the city, heading into the dusty foothills above its expanse. But there were none that walked the shoreline or into the jungle that overran the two peninsulas stretching into the sea to the south. He didn’t want dry dust, but the chaos of entangled forest life that reminded him of his home. Maybe if he could sit along the shore of this forest he could find what he liked, or what had driven him from the one he called home.
It wasn’t until he watched a bird fly between two of the stones that Darag grew confident enough to try to cross. He was far from home and family, a stranger who worse, looked strange. The cities of the Archipelago of Bellaia were not a place he wanted to be injured, especially over something as silly as a desire to sit under a tree. Taking comfort that the bird had entered the city so he should be able to return as well, Darag stepped across the invisible line between stone city and growing forest.
His skin tingled, but that was the extent of any effect he felt. Whether other local creatures felt something worse, Darag couldn’t be sure. He stepped back onto the stone pavers of the city before fears grew. Pressure on his lungs, but that was all. The warding stones did something even if he could not say what or understand how. For all the power he possessed, the stones were beyond him.
The forest he understood. The plants were different than those in his northern forest, but they responded to his power as he walked amid their rampant chaos. Ferns turned their leaves so he could see where to step, saplings bent away to allow him to pass. This was the power of the Kith.
Soulbound to a tree at birth, any Kith could affect and alter plants to some degree, be they living or dead. Some Kith were better at weaving, others built ships or wooden wares, some grew plants. For Darag, all three, anything he thought of, came as naturally as breathing. For a Kith, he was skilled. And also odd. He knew of no one else save his mentor Laith Lus who had left the forest. Being soulbound did not usually come with a desire to wander. And it would certainly limit how much time he could stay away.
The pull to return northward grew stronger every day. When he gazed idly at the city, he’d realize he stood facing northward. His dreams were of his tree, unprotected and unwatched in the forest of his home. Part of him wanted to return, but he still didn’t know what had pushed him to leave when his mother and sister had begged him not to go. When his friends had shifted away as if afraid they too would suddenly yearn for something outside of their world.
Only Laith Lus had understood and assured his family that such things were once not so uncommon. The war of the orders almost nine hundred years before when the new Church of Four Orders had demanded the Kith join, and then fought to force them, kept the Kith from traveling. Laith Lus, the oldest of the Kith living, remembered the war and knew of the times before the Kith remained only in their forest and allowed no one to pass.
The Kith had won that fight. They did not belong in the Church because their powers were not like those of the other Elementals. They did not control earth, air, water, or fire. Because they controlled dead plants, the Church called them Earth Elementals, insisting that the strange ability to control living plants stemmed from their spirit connection to trees. The Kith didn’t care what the Church thought. So a war had been fought.
Just as a small battle waged in Darag: return home without knowing why of all of his people he’d wanted to leave, or stay and resist the urge to stand before the tree linked to him to be assured it was healthy and safe, to feel its roots at ease in the soil of his people. Those were his choices and they’d begun to consume his thoughts. He no longer saw the uniqueness of the city. He thought only of stay or go?
Head too full of too little, Darag leaned with closed eyes against a tree along the shore. Its roots sheltered him. It wasn’t the same as being home, but it eased the struggle in his soul. Maybe enough to release the clouds in his mind.
“Why is your skin tattooed like that?”
On the shore stood a boy of about twelve, barefoot and wearing the remnants of pants that would be far too short for him even if the cuffs hadn’t frayed to mid-calf.
“Why are you outside of the city?” Darag countered.
The boy blushed, downcast glance darting toward Portoreayl. “You’re outside too,” he pointed out. Darag laughed. “So why did you tattoo your skin like tree bark?”
It was an easy theory to adopt, far easier than the truth of his people or power. But Darag had not been able to hide who he was from his family. He didn’t feel like hiding it from a stranger either.
“My skin isn’t tattooed. I was born this way far from here.”
“So why are you here?” Versea asked.
Darag glanced at the skinny boy he’d met on the forested shoreline outside of Portoreayl. Versea hunted between boulders on the shore for timbered remains of broken ships. Curious about a child who dared to venture outside the protection of the city with nothing more than a sharpened stone as a knife, Darag had followed Versea along the water line, getting the boy’s name if not much more out of him.
“Where I am from the forest comes down to the shore. I guess I’m a little homesick. I was trying to decide if I wanted to return,” Darag answered.
“You’re not on your apprenticeship?” Versea asked. “You look like you should be.”
Darag chuckled at the scold in Versea’s tone. “My people do not have apprenticeships as yours do. They rarely leave home, which is why you’ve never seen anyone with skin like mine,” Darag pointed out.
Versea grunted in acceptance, distracted by a board wedged tight. He yarded on it until the tangled mass of weed, wood, and barnacles broke free, tumbling along with him into the shallows. Darag tried not to laugh as he helped Versea to his feet. The boy didn’t mind the dowsing. He did look upset by the condition of the board though. Examining the rotted end, Versea sighed and dropped it into the sea.
“Are you simply looking for shipwrecks or is there a purpose to this?’ Darag asked.
Versea blushed. “I want to apprentice as a sailor, but no captain will ever take me if I don’t know anything about sailing. I’m trying to build a raft or sailing skiff, anything so I can learn. Otherwise my mom will apprentice me to a cook so I can bring home leftovers.”
Darag took in Versea’s threadbare and frayed too short pants again. What the boy hadn’t said was that his parents had no money for a luxury like a sailing skiff. Though he had admitted that extra food was enough of a welcome addition that his parents were organizing their son’s future around it. Laith Lus had told Darag about much of the lands outside of the Lus na Sithchaine. He knew of apprenticeships and that folks made their own way in life, a concept that had drawn Darag. For the Kith, life involved community. Food, fabric, and shelter were shared and easily come by. No one, but him, wanted for anything.
“How long have you been gathering boards?”
“Since the last rainy season. Four months? A ship broke up outside of the peninsula and the debris came all the way to the harbor. A lot of people scavenged good wood for houses and such. I’ve got a stash of lumber above the high tide line. I think it is almost enough.”
“And it doesn’t bother you to want to learn to sail after seeing a shipwreck?” Darag asked, amused and impressed.
Versea glanced at him and shrugged. “I hate cooking.”
Darag remembered when life was that simple. Answers were yes and no. Life was to be long and peaceful. And then his father had weakened. The tree his father’s soul was bound to shed yellowed leaves by branch fulls when no tree in the forest ever lost more than a handful. Laith Lus had tried everything, and as the most powerful of the Kith Darad had believe Laith Lus would succeed. His father’s tree would heal. But Laith Lus had failed. His father had died as his tree died. And one morning over a year later, Darag had woke up and wondered what lay beyond the forest. Now he didn’t know where he headed or what the day would bring. Including meeting a little boy with dreams bigger than he realized.
“Do you know anything about building a boat?” Darag asked.
Versea’s face scrunched, anger in his voice as he snapped, “Do you?”
“Yes, actually I know quite a lot.” Versea dropped the one good board he’d found and stared at him.
Versea’s mound of lumber was a poor boy’s treasure trove and a sailor’s nightmare. The boards held cracked ends, bits of rot, and gaping nail holes. Darag wanted to give the boy a lecture on how foolish his idea was, but the boy’s hopeful dark eyes reminded him too much of his young sister. Though older in years that Versea, she looked younger, and was by Kith reckoning, than this boy. And she’d followed Darag around with much the same expression, as if he could answer the question of what had happened to their father, and if it could happen to their mother, or him, or her.
Versea’s problem was actually very easy to solve in comparison. “This should be enough to get started,” Darag told the boy. “It’ll take a few days, but I can make a small boat from this. We’ll have to find something better for the mast and boom. Plus the sails.”
“Don’t you need tools? I only have the head of a hammer that I found,” Versea said.
Darag did not know how much to tell him. He was away from home and in a city where Darag had seen, and avoided, Priests and Priestess of the Church of Four Orders every day. The last thing he needed was Versea to bring them to him.
“You have a secret,” Versea said. “You won’t help me.”
“I do,” Darag said, hesitating still. “I will still help you, but if I share my secret with you, you must swear not to tell. Or you cannot watch me work on the boat.”
“Is it big secret?” Versea asked, eyes somber for one so young. Just like Darag’s sister.
“A very big secret.”
“Don’t tell me. I won’t watch you. I… told my little brother something once, something I wasn’t supposed and got someone hurt. I don’t want to do that again.”
That wasn’t the answer that Darag expected. But as Versea gazed at his lumber pile, sweeping Darag with the same somber look as if he trusted all of his dreams to Darag, and walked away, Darag realized the lad was earnest. It took Darag a minute to shake off the sense of responsibility and focus on the wood in front of him.
He picked up the longest and heaviest of the beams. Under his hand and will, it lengthen and curved into the true line of a sturdy keel. Darag hoped his good deed remained simply a distraction from his longing to go north, and that it would not lead to the troubles Versea had caused once before.
“What do you mean you don’t know how to sail?”
Versea held onto the rail of his gently bobbing skiff with a possessive grip. He stared at Darag in complete exasperation.
“How can you know how to build a boat but can’t actually sail it?” Versea lamented.
Darag had to clear his throat to keep from laughing. “I can find someone. I’ve been busy the last few days,” he added, gaze falling on the little boat. “This was just a test to see how it rested in the water. And if you haven’t noticed, we still need a sail.”
Versea blushed, impatience fading from his face. “I’d forgotten about the sail. I think I can find something. How big will it have to be?”
Darag had a vision of Versea stripping the covers from his bed, if the boy even had something as nice as a mattress. “Actually, I can find something. I need to go to the docks anyway to look for a sailor.”
Darag had seen all he needed on the little boat as well as what needed to be fixed. The beam was too wide for a skiff of that length and the ship took the waves broadside. Darag doubted it would steer straight. The keel needed to be deepened. But Versea held onto the boat, rubbing hands along its length with such awe that Darag let the boy have some time with it. Watching him gave Darag the idea to add oars and oarlocks. If he’d done that, Versea could have a go of rowing in the small sheltered cove where they sat.
In the end, Darag had to prod Versea along, pulling the boat above the high tide line and then following the boy back to the city or Darag suspected Versea would have slept in the boat. The city had fallen into shadows by the time they reached the warding stones, making today the latest they’d returned. But Versea did not seem concerned that anyone would be looking for him as he glanced along the shore toward where his boat was stashed beyond the bend of the peninsula. He gave Darag a wave before scooting down an alley.
It had taken Darag eight days to fashion the boat for Versea, mostly because the wood the boy had found had been so foul as to be unusable. Not that Darag would admit that to him. He’d had to scavenge lumber or use power to improve marginal pieces. But he couldn’t create good boards from nothing nor remedy holes from wood worms. He’d done what he could to build a fine little skiff that would hold two as long as one was a child. Finding a small adult to teach Versea wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
For once Darag did not return to his rented room. Evening was the time to find a sailor who might be looking for work. Ships were docked with a few men remaining aboard to watch over them and their cargo. Most of the men who worked and lived on the boats were in places Darag had avoided since his arrival. Darag walked in the evening shadows along the line of taverns, cheap inns, and other places of evening commerce warily. This was as far as he could imagine being from the place and ways of his home, short of visiting the Temple of Solaire. And Darag guessed he might find more in common with the inhabitants in Solaire than he did those stumbling from bar to brothel.
It wasn’t that the Kith didn’t drink. Even as young as he was at almost thirty, which for the Kith equated to mid-teens, Darag was accustomed to brewed cider and some ale. But the Kith didn’t drink until drunk. And there were no bars in Lus na Sithchaine. The inn located in Drufforth was the closest thing Darag had seen to the establishments along Portoreayl’s harbors and its quiet peace felt nothing like the dangerous edge lingering in the dark streets of the city.
And love was another matter entirely.
Shunning any tavern that housed women who worked as more than a barmaid, Darag chose one that had more lanterns than most and where patrons could sit and order a meal, finding a quieter corner along the wall. The barmaid sized him up with a quick glance and demanded money when she took his order of ale and soup. He felt as young as he looked in her eyes, and even fumbled the coins as he handed them over. Which earned him a quiet laugh and a bit more warmth from the woman.
As he ate more off-duty sailors entered, the tempo and atmosphere of the bar picking up. A musician played the fiddle in the corner while men from two recently docked ships shouted jests over who would unload first in the morning. He hated to admit it, but Darag was at a loss. He’d begun to ponder looking for an older sailor along the docks in the morning when a man shouted, turning with his fist swinging. He struck the shoulder of the sailor behind him a glancing blow that sent the man stumbling into a table. He and the table toppled, spilling drinks as patrons leapt clear of the mess.
“Thief!” the first man yelled, pointing a weaving finger at the man sprawled on the floor amid beer tankards and foam.
The second man kicked a chair clear of his leg, his face red with anger as much as embarrassment and drink. “I’d na touch you!”
As voices rose arguing over who’d pay for spilt drink, the first man’s missing coins, and the man who’d been struck’s innocence, Darag eyed the distance to the door. That is when he saw someone slip out. The shouting had progressed to pushing as Darag maneuvered through the crowd. An early education in fighting given to all Kith kept him on his feet and able to avoid poorly aimed fists. It wasn’t a minute after the other man had left that Darag found himself on the street with the harbor before him. A shadow hurried through the lamplight to his right.
Darag had no reason to follow the man other than it was the general direction to his room. And that even though his actions had indicated this was the thief, he’d looked like a young sailor, no different than most in the room. He’d look like a man with a good trade by his clothes and tanned face, not someone who needed to steal. Maybe someone who wanted to?
Curiosity might lead to trouble, especially as the man made his way deeper into the waterfront area and completely away from any path Darag could pretend to take to his inn. Traveling as quietly as possible through the alien stone streets, Darag wished it was the forest. There the trees would hide him and soften his footfalls. He stuck to the shadows, attempting not to be too discreet. The last thing he wanted was a false accusation about bad intent leveled on him.
Along the warehouses where goods from the ships were stored, the man hurried. At the end of a building, a quick grab dragged him into the alley between two warehouses. Darag trotted faster.
“I was coming to find you.”
“Sure you were. That is why you are nearly an hour late, Skree. You better have it or I’ll not trust you with another item.”
Cautiously, Darag glanced into the narrow alley, thinking all the while he shouldn’t be there. Laith Lus would never forgive him. A dozen feet away three men stood around the one Darag had followed.
“I have it,” the thief said, pulling out a bag of coins.
The other man, tall and broad shouldered, and made all the more imposing by the large, dark cloak he was wearing, grabbed the bag, and hefted it. “That isn’t enough. It isn’t half the value I should get! You said you knew someone who would pay. Which means you are going to have to, Skree.”
The three men closed ranks around Skree, one striking him on the temple so quickly Darag didn’t see the punch until Skree’s head rocked back against the warehouse wall. One of the men whistled through his teeth and nodded down the alley. “We’ve got company.”
That was when Darag realized he’d stepped forward when Skree was hit. Skree’d slumped toward the ground, bent knees and the wall behind barely keeping the young sailor upright.
“Skree, did you bring a friend? Maybe he has the rest of my money?”
Darag hesitated. He’d sworn to himself, his mother, and Laith Lus that he wouldn’t seek trouble. Not so far from home and not when the Church was so close and such a threat. And to do so here where his the ability to control plants would do him little good was folly. He’d only been trained to fight, but hadn’t ever.
Two of the three men approached, the last remained standing over Skree, who glanced toward Darag. Blood ran down across his eye and cheek. There was no fight in Skree’s look, just hopelessness. Darag stepped into the alley toward the approaching men.
“Give us the rest of the money, kid. We’ll let you and your friend go.”
Both men had a few inches in height on Darag and a least a handfull of pounds. And, unfortunately, both looked to be fighters. The one who’d spoken was the same who’d hit Skree. Which meant Darag knew he was fast when he threw punches.
The other man was the one who had seen him and whistled. Whistler distanced himself from Swift, at least as much as he could in the narrow alley. The two approached Darag from opposite sides.
Darag hugged the wall to his left, choosing Swift over Whistler. With him Darag knew what to expect, and Swift was right handed.
Swift leaned away from the wall as he launched a fist. Darag sidestepped the punch, grabbing Swift’s arm and yanking him forward. Swift stumbled, falling hard onto his knees with a grunt. With a growl, the second man charged.
Darag saw the dim glint of a knife at the last moment. Instead of bracing for a hit, he jumped sideways. A cut with a metal blade would harm him far more than a little blood loss. Metal was toxic to those soulbound with trees. Darag spun as Whistler pulled up short, turning his lunge into a slash. Darag kept turning, spinning inside Whistler’s reach and close enough to sideswipe his legs.
Whistler fell, the knife skittering a few feet away. Swift slammed into Darag from behind.
Darag kept himself from going down with a step forward as he wrestled Swift to keep his arms free. They stumbled into a wall, Swift turning to brace his back against the wall. Darag caught a glimpse of Whistler scrambling for his knife.
“Give it up. You took on more than you can manage,” Swift hissed in Darag’s ear.
Darag threw his head back and hit Swift in the nose, the force knocking the man’s head into wall behind him. Swift released Darag, who hurtled himself across the alley in Whistler, catching him around his waist. They fell in a tangle as the last man standing over Skree cursed.
Darag managed a punch to Whistler’s temple, which stunned him enough that he dropped the knife again. Darag glanced toward Skree in time to see Skree trip his guard. The man fell with a quick kick that connected with Skree’s head.
Swift and Whistler were down for the moment, the last man was rolling to his knees. Darag bolted upright, kicking the last man in his stomach as he raced by and hauled Skree to his feet. Skree groaned, eyes unfocused. Darag’s fingers tingled as he fed power into Skree, easing the injury to the sailor’s head as best he could in the few seconds they had.
“We have to run,” Darag said, dragging Skree with him down the alley.
Skree’s stumbling turned into a jog. By the time they reached the far end of the alley, they were racing side by side.
“This way,” Skree said as they reached the main road along the dock.
Skree darted left toward the city, running along the water’s edge in the shadows of the docked ships. Ducking under mooring ropes, Darag followed, hoping he could trust a man who’d already shown himself to be a thief. They passed three ships before Skree veered up the gangplank to a three masted merchant vessel, hopping over the rail with a quick leap. Darag made the same jump as the sound of footsteps echoed onto the main street.
Darag landed as quietly as possible, dropping into the shadows of barrels set against the mast. Next to him, Skree remained motionless, holding his breath to keep from panting due to the run. Together they waited. One of the three men walked buy, eyeing the ships as much as the road to the city. He swore before walking on.
Another minute passed before Skree released his breath and sat crosslegged on the deck. “We should wait here a bit longer, but I think we’ll be alright.”
“What about the ship’s guards?”
“That would be me,” Skree said with an awkward smile. “My post started ten minutes ago. I told Kifford I might be late and not to worry. If anything went wrong it’d be on my head. Speaking of which, what did you do to my head? It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Darag eyed the young sailor. “Why’d you steal money?”
“I’d ask you why’d you help me if you knew I’d stolen the money in the first place, but we’d most likely keep tossing questions at each other the next ten minutes.” Skree put a hand to his forehead, pulling it away and looking at the blood. “I do want to know why you helped me, but since I was in the wrong, I’ll go first.
“I met those men awhile back and they had goods, probably stolen, I know that. The whole lot of them has connections in Sardinia. But I know some markets in other ports and they said if I sold what they had, I could keep a share. Only the stuff wasn’t packed right and was damaged in a storm. They’re not nice men so I had to come up with some way to pay them.” Skree shook his head. “Stupid run of bad luck.” He eyed Darag again. “So why did you help me?”
Darag took in what Skree’d just told him. Finally he answered, “I need someone who can teach a friend to sail.”
Skree stared at him, looking away after a moment with a laugh. “I don’t want to believe you, but you just helped me and I don’t even know your name. Why’s this friend need to learn to sail?”
Darag flexed his shoulders and back. “The boy wants to apprentice as a sailor, but says no one will take him off if he doesn’t know at least the basics.”
Soreness was setting in quickly. Swift had gotten in a few good hits and he hadn’t healed himself. Skree looked fine with eyes bright despite the blood on his forehead and cheek. But Darag wouldn’t risk easing a few aches with Skree so close and already aware he’d done something.
“That’s true, at least here in Portoreayl,” Skree answered. “There are too many apprentices wanting to be sailors even with all the ships in harbor. You either have to know someone who’ll get you on a ship or know how to sail. And if you know someone with a ship, you probably already know how to sail. This friend must be young?” Skree asked at Darag’s nod. “You’re from the far north, right?”
Darag froze at the question, eyeing Skree more closely. “I’m from the north,” he said, tense again. “How do you know that?”
Skree shrugged. “Sailor’s stories mostly – of a port way up the coast where there are people with ways of healing and mending boats who also have strange skin. Like yours.”
“Just sailor’s stories?” Darag couldn’t see any indication Skree had elemental ability. But it didn’t mean someone in his family wasn’t a Priest or Priestess with the Church.
“You worried about someone else hearing you’re here?” Skree asked with a half smile. “You think I’m looking for more trouble? I’ll be avoiding those men the next week, and you just saved me a beating. I won’t be tellen I met you. This kid who wants to sail family of yours?”
“Not mine.” Darag leaned against the mast, growing comfortable with Skree despite their untraditional introduction. “Will you teach him? I’ll pay you. You need the money if you’re willing to make such poor deals. And my name is Darag.”
The young sailor in front of him leaned back bracing himself with his arms as he tiltedhis head to look at the stars. “Yah, alright,” he finally said, gaze dropping back to Darag. “I’ll help. Tell me where. I’m Skree, but I guess you already knew that. It’ll be interesting to figure out why you are helping me and some kid wanting to sail.”
Darag snorted. “I’m still trying to figure that out too.”
The next morning, Darag walked Skree to where the little boat was stashed. Versea was already there, sitting in the boat daydreaming. He jumped when he realized he wasn’t alone.
“I found someone who can help,” Darag said, beginning introductions without elaborating how he’d met Skree, who wore a scabbed gash above his right brow.
Skree raised an eyebrow at Darag when he looked over the boat, but said nothing. Darag suspected he’d just added a bit more to the sailors’ stories Skree had mentioned. He watched as Skree showed Versea how to rig the sail Darag had brought, and then guided the gently bobbing boat into the calm morning waters of the bay.
Alone on shore, Darag glanced northward, looking beyond Portoreayl’s stone bulk. That direction lay home and family as well as the resolution to the incessant pull on his soul. It offered safety, but not peace. At least not for him. He was going to have to be more careful if he meant to stay away.
“Starboard is right!”
Skree’s shout echoed across the water. The boat canted as Versea hauled on a rope, the small boom wavered over the deck before finding the correct side. Darag chuckled, wondering if Skree would teach him a bit as well. Versea was right, it was a shame he could build boats and didn’t know how to sail one. He walked down to the shore to pay better attention.