Saturday, May 21, 2016

Handmaidens of Petra: Wufwolde, south

“What in Khoronus’—?” The big red-haired Traladaran’s question died in a cracked whisper.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to wait,” Jasna said. Her smirk was cut short as the stone under her foot turned, and Halav hauled her, sputtering, from the Wufwolde. 

Katarin caught the girl as Halav hoisted her onto the raft, slapping her back.

“Serves you right,” the weaver said. She looked over the shoulder of her dripping friend, and flashed a smile at Halav. His own was brief, and then he was bellowing orders to the bowmen, making ready to cast off.

As the raft was pushed into the current and the three bowmen scrambled onto the hastily-assembled mass of logs, Halav and Zirchev worked long staves, keeping them far enough from the stony shore not to run aground, but not far enough out that the  current’s bite would tear the raft apart.

After perhaps an hour, the steady rhythm of the staves in the water, and the bobbing of the raft itself was enough to lull the girls — huddled together as much for warmth as for lack of space on the raft — into exhausted slumber.

A hand shaking her shoulder awakened Jasna from a dark, dreamless sleep. She shivered, reached for a blanket that wasn’t there, and then sat up straight, blinking.

It might have been morning. Or it might have been late afternoon. All she could see around her was a thick, clinging gray mist. Behind her, where the Queen lay, the fog was washed with a sickly greenish light that emanated from the stone Morana held against the blankets.

Standing above her and the others, two of the bowmen hauled at the long staves, pushing the raft along.

“What happened to the current?” Jasna asked. She leaned to one side, reaching towards the edge of the raft.

“I would not,” the shrike warned. Her voice, like the gentle ‘plok’ of the staves as the bowmen poled, seemed perhaps a bit to close, too loud, hemmed in by the thick fog.

“This isn’t natural, is it?” Katarin asked.

“It is not,” the shrike said with a shake of her head.

“Is it your doing?” Brynne asked.

Again, the shrike shook her head.

“I think I liked her better when she was barking orders,” Justin said.

Petra the Younger cocked her head, brushing her hair away from her ear.

“Something ahead,” she said, motioning for the bowmen to slow their work.

Jasna closed her eyes, but all she heard was a lackluster lapping of water against the raft, and the muted creaking of wood and hempen rope and leather.

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