"It's morning." Silah said sweetly as I emerged from the darkness.
The world around me was suddenly excessively normal. The veil she had thrown over my mind had lifted as the first moments of sunlight lit the room around us. She lifted herself from me, and moved to the window that overlooked the harbor.
I sat forward and could see from the bed that the sun had touched the very top of the lighthouse. I fell backwards hitting my head on the wooden frame. I grunted with the impact and felt a sudden nauseousness. The thin mattress and lumpiness of the bed made my body ache in ways it shouldn't even after a good night's rest. In this state, I wondered if I would be able to stand at all with the aches and pains I had accumulated over the recent days. I rolled my eyes, feeling grit behind them and, just beyond that, a headache that was getting ready to pounce.
There was a fast rapping at the door.
"By the gods." I muttered, then croaked loudly, "Coming!"
"What good are you both if neither of you listened to a word I said." Beidrick's insistent voice rattled through the door.
Both. Danin must have also stayed out much later. At least I'm not alone in this. I pulled the door open with the thought.
"Gods, man! Get decent! Hell, you're making me feel inadequate." He pressed a hand to his forehead covering his eyes.
I glared at him.
"I'm awake. I'll catch up with you down at the boat." The words ground roughly out of my throat.
He unmasked his face and took a tentative glance past me into the room. He froze for a moment as he saw Silah. I looked back and saw her looking through the window, the pale light splashed across her naked form. She turned toward the door with a smirk.
"Hey… Silah." He said faintly and raised his hand with a shy gesture.
I shut the door hard with a grimace.
"Hey!" Beidrick shouted then spoke more softly, "I'll just wait for you down here."
"All night?" I gave Silah an incredulous look.
"You told me to get you up at first light." She said with a sly grin.
"I think you misinterpreted what I said. Intentionally, I'm sure." I squeezed the sleep from my eyes and pinched the top of my nose, "Did we even sleep?"
"I caught you dozing once or twice, but I quickly took care of that." She moved over to the water pitcher and poured it out in the basin.
She caught some of the water with her hands and ran them over my shoulders. She wet my face and eyes, wiping the sleep away. She smiled absently while grooming me, then looped her thin arms around my waist while looking awkwardly up at me. It was hard to imagine that this was the same woman who lingered in my head all night. My breath caught in my throat with the memory. She grinned up at me and squeezed lightly.
"Yes. It was … beyond expectation." They were my thoughts, but her words. "And, yes. You're right, we should take these moments where we can."
I gave her a tired, satisfied smile and nodded.
"I'm not dressing for this event. Shirtless and breeches is all. Perhaps we can sleep properly after we get done with all of this?"
"We'll see. I'm not sure it's within my capacity to leave you alone." She said, eyeing me hungrily.
I chuckled, pulling on breeches and binding the twin sheaths to my back. I pulled her close and gave her a quick kiss on the lips and willed her to her greatsword form without warning.
"No fair." Her voice echoed in my head with mock disappointment.
I sheathed her, feeling the blade in contact with my bare skin. This sheath was exposed, protecting the edges, but not the flat of the blade along my back. It allowed me to maintain contact without twisting the blade.
I made my way out the door and down the inner stairs leading to the external door. The flimsy lock nearly burst as I grabbed the door's handle. Beidrick was outside, his face flushed.
"You'll have to tell Silah I'm sorry." He looked mortified, looking back at the apartment. "I'm not sure what got into me. If you had been there on time, I wouldn't have had to come here! On second thought, tell her I blame you for that."
"Well, she is…" I began to gesture over my shoulder.
"Don't tell him!" She pressed into my head quickly, interrupting my thought. "I want to hear this for myself."
I dropped my hands and shrugged.
"I remember flirting with her, but…" his eyes widened and he lifted his hands suggestively, "How would it be to wake up to that every morning? You're a lucky man, even if a bit brutish and terrifying."
I raised an eyebrow and looked at him, but he was spinning off in his own words. Silah was revelling in the attention from his words as Beidrick's mouth sped on. I could feel a little envy start to creep in as he doted on her without realizing she was listening in on all of it.
"No need for that, love." She clucked reproachfully in my mind at the thought and I could feel her shake her head.
We moved quickly through the streets to the docks where the boats had been since the sky had started to lighten up. Unfortunately, as Beidrick had explained it, we were simply going to do drills to prepare for what was to come. Danin was moving across the docks as we approached. Beidrick ran ahead and caught up with the dwarf.
I was already exhausted and I could see that Danin was not much better off, but his sharp eyes were ever watchful as he picked up on each task and order that Beidrick explained. The current crew hailed from all walks of life. I had even heard one of them talk like someone from Six Crates in Dowry. While I was worried about who I was working with, we all meshed well under the dedicated eye of Beidrick. He barked out orders and we drilled until every action was almost automatic.
"We haven't even raced yet, Beidrick. Give us a break." I yawned and stretched feeling hungry gnawing readily at my insides.
He shook his head with a disdainful glare.
"Your own fault. First you said you committed be here. Then you said you'd get a proper night's rest." He jabbed his hand at me, "Be accountable for your actions, man! You've got to realize that if I win this, er, if we win this. Those other captains can't say anything bad about me for a whole year."
Shortly after that, he called for a break anyway and we gathered around the water barrel, draining it quickly. We watched as citizens started to line the docks, some had flags with Acionna's colors, others were sitting along the wall, their legs dangling high over the harbor waters. It was some time before we started to see familiar faces. Rana appeared first. She was dressed in her more usual rustic garb of thin leathers and straps.
"I don't think your girl is going to make it." Beidrick said, shaking his head at my misfortune, "That's not encouraging."
I chuckled knowingly while shaking my head. This prompted him to look at me, trying to understand my reaction, then he shrugged absently. Silah's laughter echoed through my head, nearly vibrating my skin.
High Priestess DuLak appeared, striding confidently by a wagon full of barrels. Elena was close by, too, tending to whatever the High Priestess needed. The barrels showed the markings of the go Brach brewery with the Shatterhammer symbol on them. They were put at the head of the docks where each ship was moored. There were seven ships total that had lined up for the event.
While the other crewmembers looked as cobbled together as Beidrick's own, a captain with a wide red beard had an unusual crewmember. He was a massive, brilliantly white man who stood out from among all of the others. Thick black tattoo's lined his body aggressively accenting a plentitude of scars. His arms were impossibly large for a human. There had to be something more than natural about him?
"You're about his size, right?" Beidrick said to me at me as I looked out at him.
I shook my head, then shrugged. I hadn't seen a human who was as big as I was and this man was as intimidating as they came.
"We are getting underway!" A shout came from the harbor wall.
The voice was Elena's, bellowing instructions as she read them from a parchment. The High Priestess likely would find it unbecoming to raise her voice, even though this was Acionna's event.
"When the bell rings, each captain will move to the barrel, pick it up, and take it aboard the ship. Then each boat will shove off and move toward Mermaid Rock, round it, and return as quickly as possible. You will then dock, and bring the barrel to these tables here." She flagged down in front of the raised platform she was calling from. "You will then need to empty the barrel by filling the provided mugs and drinking the contents until the barrel can no longer be emptied. The winner will be the first to have all crewmembers on the stage and ring the bell."
Elena took a deep breath, coughing slightly before continuing.
"Do you understand the rules?"
An echoing roar of "Aye!" rang from each boat. There were no strangers to this event, besides the scant few of us. The gleaming white, tattooed man seemed to be just as lost as I was.
Have you seen anyone like that? I questioned Silah silently.
"White skin and white hair is what some call an albino, it's a condition that happens in nature." Silah stated in the darkness. "It has even happened among my own kin. Usually they would be sickly and surrender themselves to death early."
I was startled by the amount of information.
This memory of yours. It is going to take some getting used to. I thought with a chuckle.
"Believe me, if anyone understands, I do." Her voice echoed with some trepidation.
"Ready?" Elena shouted, then rang the bell vigorously.
Each captain ran quickly down their dock and retrieved a barrel. We were cheering Beidrick on, but he seemed to have difficulty grappling the unwieldy container. Two of the other Captains beat Beidrick to the boat and were already giving orders to get underway.
"C'mon, Beidrick!" I shouted and Danin whistled.
"It's not helping, gents." He grunted, breathing heavily as he put the barrel on the floor of the boat a little harder than he should. "Push off! Go go go!"
There was a splash as some of the other captains let their loads get away from them and splashed into the water sputtering.
I heard panic as one sputtered and yelled, "I can't swim!"
I sat, manning a set of oars opposite Danin.
Beidrick was tapping out a rhythm for the strokes.
"Nice and even, gentlemen." He called down to Danin and I manning the oars. "Raynard, use the wind where we can. We're on course and looking good."
Beidrick issued a constant stream of updates. His words were welcome as something to focus on as sweat began to stand out on my arms. Whatever poison I had poured into me last night was quickly finding it's way out again. I felt weary and weak as fatigue began to set in, but I continued to pull my weight.
Ahead of us, I saw the red bearded captain's boat rounding the rock, the large albino man was sitting easily between two sets of oars, powering through them with an uncanny amount of force. I looked on him in wonder as they sped along.
"They're going to be tough to beat, but we can do this." Beidrick called out.
"Taking this corner right can keep our momentum and get us ahead. We just have to time it right." He pointed to the sail with an eye on Raynard, the man from Six Crates. "Watch your heads, boys."
He pulled on the rudder to ease in and then flagged to Raynard to let the sails shift and catch hold. The boat jerked forward.
"Oars up! Oars up!" He called to us.
We rocketed past second place and began gaining on the red bearded captain.
"If you can keep up, you can put the oars in again, but quickly, gentlemen. We're almost to the harbor." He called out, leaning on the rudder again.
I looked to Danin and he nodded, we dropped our oars to test how fast we were going and began to churn the water for the second straight away. We crept closer to the first place ship and I saw Danin reach his hand out and held it toward the boat.
Suddenly, there were shouts coming from the other boat.
"Captain! We're taking on water!" A shrill voice called out, probably a very young shipmate.
"Plug the leak!" He barked.
"I can't see one. It's just filling up, Captain!"
The captain looked at the sky then around the sides of the boat, now looking toward our boat. I glanced at Danin whose hand was still outstretched. The boat was getting heavier in the water and the drag was slowing them down considerably.
"I see you, cheat!" The captain's face twisted into a nasty scowl as he jabbed a finger toward Danin.
Danin shrugged and stretched his hand out in the opposite direction, as if to work the strain from his muscles. I looked at him with some consternation and he winked slyly.
We sped forward into first, gliding easily into the harbor while Raynard tacked expertly in tandem with Beidrick's handling of the rudder to line up at the dock. There was a clunk as the boat settled into place and shipmates immediately bounded off, tying down the mooring lines.
I was on my feet and took the barrel in hand easily, running it out to the tables.
The boat that had taken on water was passed by third and fourth place. Whatever Danin had done triggered other trouble as the boat bumped against the dock, it began to list as it took on more water. The large albino had bounded from the boat with the barrel, but the captain looked on in horror as his boat lingered just below the surface.
We had set up the barrel and bashed it in. Filling wooden mugs with the Shatterhammer ale that Bromm and Sig had donated to the races. Danin and I were faced off, hearing Sig and Bromm loudly making bets on who would be carrying whom. Bromm bet on me, but Sig was intent that it would be Danin who carried me.
I grimaced through the chugging. Each mug drained, I felt it swirl in my empty stomach. Between the exhaustion and my empty stomach, I could sense my doom. My vision began to dance after the fourth mug settled in.
"You are almost there." Silah whispered distantly, darkness edging in on my vision.
Bleary eyed, I pressed on, feeling the full weight of everything that had happened over the last two days. I felt the ale spill around my mouth as I leaned back. Suddenly, there were arms and hands everywhere and I blinked slowly, attempting to pull everything into focus again.
"Where… where are we going?" I said, trying to form the words.
I was being jerked around and felt the rough ground on my legs, distant shouts, and blurry faces. Then a ringing clatter accompanied by whooping and cheering. My head wagged as I attempted to look around, I laid back down hoping that it would keep the world from spinning and being so noisy.
Someone tipped up my head and was making me drink some horrible tasting ale.
"What is this?" I spat it out and exclaimed.
I could hear Beidrick's voice through the haze.
"It's water, you fool. Didn't you eat anything?" His voice had a certain mirth to it.
I blinked at him, bringing his bearded face into focus and gave him a sour look.
I gripped the mug and began to drain it. He pushed a crusty bread into my hand and I slowly started to recognize the celebration that was going on around us.
"Did we win?"
"Yes. There's a first time for everything. Although, someone said there was funny business going on." He glanced away, too far for me to focus, "But it didn't change anything."
Danin sat nearby, he had taken up another ale and was sitting on the bench, enjoying Rana's attention.
That dwarf is made of iron. I thought as my vision wavered.
A grimacing Bromm and a smug Sig walked up with mugs in their hands.
"You two…" I flopped my head with a shake, then leaned back and took a deep breath.
I raise my arms and gave them both obscene hand gestures. This elicited a chuckle from Sig, but Bromm leaned forward and patted my leg.
"You did well. But, perhaps, sailing isn't for you?" He said, his voice lilting characteristically as he smiled.
"Don't listen to them, lad. We won, didn't we?" Beidrick said as he pushed away and melted from my vision with a whooping and hollering.
I blinked at them and took a bite of the crusty bread, almost choking on the flecks of crumbs that rained from it. I sat up, coughing which sent my head spinning even more. Silah must have been lingering in the back of my mind, but she may have also been subdued by the amount of alcohol?
I continued to crunch on the bread and drink water, I reached back to grip Silah and grabbed air. I immediately sobered, looking wide eyed around the raised stage that I was leaning against. My vision, while still a wavering double vision, snapped into focus as I began to panic.
"You are Hakaar, correct?"
It was the voice of the High Priestess speaking with infinite calm. I followed her voice and saw her sitting quietly. She had been watching the festival's tumult at a safe distance. My greatsword, still sheathed, was on her lap. Her hands were resting gently on Silah.
"Forgive me if I ordered the removal of your weapon. You never know if you're dealing with the same person when they're drunk." She nodded. "Thankfully, while you look a sort, you are far different. There is more to the eye than one would suppose."
I stood, and mounted the stand, wavering on my feet slightly.
"I… that is precious to me." I said, stumbling slightly, my hand stretched out.
"It is yours. No doubt. Please, just let me hold on to her a moment longer." She said with a genuine smile, she patted to a chair next to her, "Please take a seat."
Her. The word rung out in my mind.
I looked at the small chair and balked, then slumped back to sitting on the floor, leaning against the podium.
"Destiny lines this blade." She said, running her fingers along the sword, tracing the runes that ran along its spine. "It's power, it's purpose, seems strangely suited for one such as you."
She turned her head toward me, her green eyes looking on me curiously.
"How did you come to possess her?"
I looked at her warily.
"Come now, Hakaar." Her face held some amusement. "There are people who wish to help. You can count me as one of them."
"In the Poulterhaud Mines. A knight died fighting a dragon." I said simply.
She nodded, seeming to recognize what I was saying.
"And, now, you're embroiled in the battle between planes." She stated, a sadness lining her voice.
"I'm defending my friends and their people. Where that leads is where I go."
She smiled and stood, holding the sheathed blade out in a firm grip.
"That purpose will have to be good enough." Her words were kind. "If you find yourself in need of help or guidance. Please, come. We are here to support men like you in whatever quest you find yourself on."
I pushed up from the podium shakily and took Silah from her hand, and bowed slightly.
"Thank you for watching over her." I said quietly.
"I could say the same." She gave a wide smile and returned to her seat.
"Oh, and, tell your friends that cheating will not be tolerated." Her voice was stern, "A sunken boat is a bad precedent to set at these events. We'll have to lay down new rules because of that."
"I wish I had that much control over them." I said, smiling. "You might want to work on those rules sooner rather than later."
(Get to know Akeron.)