VOLUME EIGHT NUMBER THREE FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT

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+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME EIGHT NUMBER THREE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb *Consummate Love Jim Owens *Legend in the Making 'Orny' Liscomb Date: 080587 Dist: 393 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial Well, I suppose it is appropriate that a Dargon story containing a wedding would appear directly after my own marriage. This past Saturday (August first), we gathered our close friends at a nearby YMCA camp on Lake Maranacook. The weather was beautiful and the ceremony went perfectly. The reception featured steak, barbecued ribs, and corn on the cob, and was held outdoors. An excellent time was had by all, and I might venture to state that the bride and groom are very happy together. My thanks to everyone who attended and to those well-wishers on the network. Plans for Pennsic are coming along very quickly now, and I shall expect to see people there. We shall be trying to get the Dargon project authors together on Thursday if possible. The newlyweds will be there all week, and may be found at the Endewearde campsite. Our banner is a blue field with a silver tower and wreath in the center. Alternating black and gold rays eminate from the tower. We shall be the only Endewearde representitives attending, so once you have found our site we should be the only tents there. Anyone at Pennsic is welcome to come looking for us. So that is the news. As for this issue, we have an extra-special treat for you. The first story is the continuation of Jim Owens' story begun in "Ornate Love", and provides a fitting conclusion. The second story is my own "Legend in the Making", which has been in the works for over 6 months. I hope you find great pleasure in it. My regards... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Consummate Love Levy trembled as he poled the raft closer into shore. The cedars towering above his head shaded what little sun the early winter provided, bringing a chill to Levy's body. The water soaking his pant cuffs was cold, as was the air. It wasn't the cold, so much, that was making Levy shiver, however, but nervousness. Finally, after almost five months, he was going to see Sarah again. Levy still recalled that day in early summer when he had stood on the dam at the end of the lake. He could still remember the shock he had felt when the wave swept him over the face of the dam, and the look on Sarah's face as she watched him being swept away by the flood waters. The months had dragged by, at first, as he recovered from the wild ride down river. Then, as he worked to earn enough money to make his way back north to where Sarah lived, time suddenly seemed to speed up. It has only a few weeks ago that the trader had showed him the utensils, ornately carved like the ones Sarah had in her house. Once he tracked them to the town, it was only a few days searching before he once more found the artificial lake that surrounded the island Sarah lived on. Levy guided the raft up to the dock. He tied it to the mooring, then climbed onto the dock and ran to shore. He ran up the steep path towards the house. As he ran he called. "Sarah!" Levy watched the slatted windows in the house above as he ran. "Sarah!" He reached the house and ran to the door. He found it heavily latched and tied. He ran down to the workshop where Sarah made her crafts. It too was locked. He stood there, his heart sinking to his feet. Now he knew why there had been no smoke, even on those cold days while he was building the raft. Now he realized that he had not seen her boat below at the dock. Sarah was gone. Levy searched the whole island. Finding nothing, he returned to the house. Cutting the cords that tied the door shut, he entered. A search showed that Sarah had taken all of her clothes, and all the household goods. The food was all taken as well. Levy re-sealed the house, and with a heavy heart, returned to the raft. Levy poled the raft back to his shoreline camp. It was dark when he got there. He started the fire again, and fetched his stuff from the tree where he had stashed it. He ate a cold supper, and then went to sleep. The next day Levy broke camp. He loaded up his horse, and began to lead it around the lake. He reasoned that Sarah had to hide the boat somewhere, as she could not leave it out in the open, nor could she take it with her. Therefore, somewhere along the lake there were marks where a large object was pulled from the water. He had gone about a mile when he spotted the trail. It led right up the clay bank, and to a small clump of trees. There, hidden under a large pile of dead branches, was the boat. Levy quickly found hoofprints, and the chase was on. For days Levy followed the tracks, cold and wind his constant companions. Finally the tracks turned onto a small path. At the end of the path Levy found a small house. When he reached it, he found it too boarded up. A larger path led south from the house. Levy followed it down into a small village. One simple question to the local innkeeper told him what he wanted to know. One week ago, Abel, the owner of the small house, had shown up in town with his sister, Sarah. He had asked the innkeeper, an old friend, to watch his house. The two had purchased traveling goods, and had ridden west. Levy thanked the man, and started off. Levy rode hard for a week. He stopped in the towns along the way, asking questions and buying supplies. In each town he found people who remembered a man and a woman traveling together, and through these references he managed to close to within two days of them. By that time they had changed directions, and were headed south. By that time also, however, snow had started to fall. As Levy started into his second week of trailing Sarah and Abel, he ran into a blizzard. He rode for a day and a night solid to get to the next town. By the time he got there he was almost frozen. He spent two days in the inn, waiting for the snow to slow enough for him to travel. He used the opportunity to earn some money repairing the old town clock. By the time the snow let up, Levy was itching to be off. He thanked the innkeeper, and started riding. Levy's luck turned bad after that. Halfway to the next town he reached a fork in the road. He chose the southern fork, assuming Sarah and Abel would have also. When he reached the next town, however, no one remembered two recent travelers. Levy then rode to the next town, hoping that the town's people just didn't remember them, only to find no trace of them there, either. Heavy with worry, Levy turned back. One day out of town another storm hit, forcing Levy back to the safety of the inn. It was three days before it lifted, and by then Levy had caught cold, and couldn't travel. When he overcame that, he headed back up the trail. The snow made travel hard, and it was a week and a half before he made the fork again. A day later he rode into the first town along that road. Levy rode up to the inn. He tied up outside, and strode into the main hall. He found the innkeeper tending fire. "Good Sir! Might I have a word with you?" Levy was slightly out of breath. "Of a certainty, young man. What might I do for you?" The innkeeper stood up straight, wiping his hands on his apron. "Have two travelers passed this way recently, a man and his sister? It might have been some days now." "Any reason in particular you'd like to know?" The innkeeper eyed Levy carefully. Levy was used to such reactions, having gotten such from other innkeepers. "I must speak to the lady of very personal matters. I've trying to find her for six months now, and I lost them back at the fork in the road. Have you seen anyone like what I'm looking for?" "I'm sorry, young man, but of a truth, I've not seen any man and woman traveling together for almost six months. I believe you mean them no harm, and I'd like to help you, but I can not. If they came this way at all, they must have ridden right on through, as I'm the only innkeeper in town." The look on his face was one of sincerity. "Thank you. Thank you very much." Levy's whole body drooped. He was exhausted, cold, and no closer to finding Sarah than he was before. "Might I spend the night? It'll be dark after a while; I've no stomach for riding further today." "But of course! Take your horse to the stable, while I make room for you." The innkeeper walked off. Levy ploddingly unloaded his horse and released him to the stable. He carried his gear to his room, and sank into a deep, sorrowful sleep. From then on life held little joy for Levy. Town after town he stopped at, but no one had seen or heard of two travelers like Sarah and Abel. The winter grew deep, and the snow with it. He wondered if he shouldn't backtrack, in hopes of finding the trail again, but he just couldn't stir himself to turn back. Weeks plodded by as Levy worked his way further southwest. It was a grey afternoon when Levy sighted the bloodmarks in the snow. The road was well trampled, but lonely. Levy hadn't seen a traveler since morning. When he saw the crimson drops, he stopped immediately. They lay on the side of the road, in unmarked snow. He looked around carefully. Seeing no one, he dismounted quietly and examined the marks. They were drops, as if someone had cut their hand, and then shaken the blood off onto the ground. There were no other marks around, however, so Levy remounted and rode on. He hadn't gone far when he saw the tracks leading off the road into the woods. He dismounted, and examined them. It was no great surprise to him to find copious bloodmarks in and around the tracks. Levy sat there, torn. It would just be asking for trouble to follow the tracks into the trees, away from the public road. On the other hand, a known danger can be dealt with. It was naive to believe that someone who struck once would not strike again. Levy thought for long moments on the question. Finally it was the thought that perhaps he could help someone that prodded him off the road and along the trail. Levy carefully stalked along the trail. For the first few hundred feet, the trail appeared normal, except for the small traces of red. Once the road faded from view, however, normality vanished. Levy was horrified to see a large blotch of blood spread across the snow. Levy quietly pulled his sword from his saddle. He looked at it for a long moment. Levy had used a sword before, but had never killed a man. Dozens of stories ran through his mind, stories of fights, stories of battles. He hesitated, then carefully slid it back into its sheath. He bent his head for a moment, in silent prayer, then continued. He didn't have far to go. A few hundred feet further in he found a body, sprawled across the snow, a sword wound across its head. It had been stripped of everything but its blood-soaked clothes. There was no horse, although from the tracks leading away from the body the man had been mounted. Levy stood there, shaking. He didn't recognize the man, but death is a frightening thing even in anonymity. Finally, Levy got himself moving again. He looked around, to be sure the attackers were long gone, then began digging a grave. As the winter was already deep, he finally found a good use for his sword: breaking through the frozen top layer of sod to get to the softer soil below. Once the body was interred, Levy started following the tracks. He reasoned that the last thing he wanted was to be wondering where the murderers were. Levy tracked the murderers for the rest of the day, and the morning of the next day. Just after noon the trail came to a stream. Levy followed the tracks down the stream. Soon Levy could see the stream was coming up to a small pond. Leaving his horse tied to a tree, he crept up to within sight of the pool. Around the pool was gathered four bandits. They were speaking in a dialect so thick Levy couldn't understand half of what they said. They had a small fire going, and they were roasting some small game. One of the bandits got up and walked to the road, to check for travelers. Levy quietly drew back into the trees. Levy quietly returned to where his horse was tied. He untied it, and started leading it westward through the trees. After a bit, he turned north again. Levy led his horse quietly to the roadside. He wanted to give the thieves as wide a berth as possible. He came out onto the path about fifty yards west of where the pool formed. Cautiously he poked his head out of the trees. The path bent, and he was only able to see the pool area. There, by the water's edge, stood a lone figure. Levy's heart almost stopped. It had been many months, but he still recognized the figure at the pool. It was Sarah. Levy's mind and heart started to race. He snatched his sword, scabbard and all, from where it was stuck into his pack. He started running back towards the pool, along the path. Sarah, oblivious to him, walked out of sight along the pool's edge. Levy doubled his already pounding pace. As he neared the pool, he caught sight of Sarah again, alone still. She looked up in surprise, and then broke out in an astonished and delighted smile. "Levy!" Sarah started to run toward Levy. The two met, and caught each other. Sarah started crying, but Levy had no time for a tearful reunion. "Keep quiet! Don't make any noise!" Levy whispered loudly into Sarah's ear. "Let's get out of here!" The two turned to leave, but Levy found the way suddenly blocked. Two bandits stood there, grinning. Levy started to turn to run back into the woods, when something hit him, and he blacked out. He came to on the ground. He started to sit up, and caught sight of Sarah struggling in a bandit's arms. He started to get up faster, and was rudely yanked to his feet by strong arms. He was whirled around by two more bandits to face the fourth. "Well, what have we here?" The man grinned a dirty smile. Levy never found out what the man considered him to be, for there came a hoarse yell from behind him. The bandits all turned to look, and Levy twisted around as well. There stood Sarah, watching as her previous captor struggled in the grip of a newcomer. The man was short, and dressed in black leather. His short, dark hair was the picture of perfection. He took the burly bandit by the shoulders, and shook him savagely. Then, faster than Levy could follow, the man in black lifted the bandit straight up, and then threw him in the pool, where the bandit floated lifelessly. One of the bandits holding Levy let go, and stepped towards the newcomer. The other, finding himself alone to handle Levy, smashed Levy in the face with a forearm, knocking Levy to the ground before moving himself to take on the stranger. The forth bandit stepped over Levy as well. Levy, cradling his aching head, watched as the first bandit drew his blade and slashed at the man with one stroke. The blow was clean, aimed right for the man's midsection. The only problem was, when the blade reached the man, the man wasn't there any more. With a blurringly fast move, the stranger ducked UNDER the blade, then threw himself at its wielder. The two crashed back into the third bandit, who fell. The swordsman steadied himself, then tried another swing. This the man merely blocked, grabbing the sword arm, pulling and twisting it. The bandit stumbled forward, doubled over. There was a loud crack as the newcomer delivered a savage kick to the thief's throat. The stranger let go as the murderer fell in a heap. The bandit who had fallen got to his feet. The black-clad man approached him. The thug stabbed at the other's midsection, but the other twisted away, grabbing the base of the blade in his bare, right hand. The stranger pulled on the blade, dragging the murderer forward. The stranger then twisted the blade around, dragging the arm with it, and plunged the sword into its owner's back. The newcomer released his grip as the body fell. The last bandit had watched the whole affair from several steps back. He now drew a small dagger. He drew back his arm, and was felled by a blow to the head from Levy, who swung his sword without even taking it out of its sheath. Levy stepped back as the man in black stepped up to retrieve the dropped dagger. Levy watched in shock as the man calmly slid the blade between the criminal's ribs. Levy just stood there, as Sarah ran up, and embraced the stranger. Levy looked around at the four bodies. Rarely had he ever seen so much death in such a short time. His stomach started to churn, but with an effort he pushed it down. Levy stepped over the inert forms to where Sarah was hugging the man. The stranger extended his right hand. Levy took it, noticing that there were no cuts on it at all. "Thank you. You saved my life, and Sarah's. I'm ..." "Levy. Levy Barel. I know. I'm Abel." Levy reeled. He had expected Abel to be a farmer, not a vicious fighter. Still, Sarah was showing no discomfort around him. Abel released Sarah and turned to the horses. "Let us go. This is not a good place to be, anymore." Levy followed, not having any argument. They mounted up and started to ride. Sarah leaned over and gave Levy a hug. "I've found you! You don't know how I worried!" Levy returned her embrace awkwardly, afraid he was going to pull her from her horse. "I was looking for you, too. I...kind of left in a hurry." Why do I feel so awkward all of a sudden? thought Levy. All this time I've been looking for her, here she is, and now I don't know what to do! "You were looking for me then?" "Yes. After you got washed away, I couldn't rest until I knew what happened, so I packed up and went to my brother for help." "How did I get ahead of you? I know we didn't pass on the road..." "We stopped at a friend's house just after the big fork. We spent over a month there before moving on." "Well, I'm glad we found each other. We...need to talk." The three of them eventually camped for the night. Levy found himself sleepless, however. All he could think of was actions in the fight. Finally he sat up, running his fingers through his hair. He put on his shoes and squatted by the fire. He turned at a sound behind him, only to find Sarah stepping up beside him. She kneeled down beside him. "What's wrong? Couldn't sleep?" She herself had that soft look that told Levy he had awoken her. "No. Something is bothering me. Something I did today." He poked the fire with a thin branch. "If you mean that fight at the pool, there was nothing else to do. Even Abel was fighting. Normally Abel wouldn't hurt a fly." Sarah rubbed Levy's shoulder. "That's fine for Abel. But what about me?" Levy paused, gathering his thoughts. "I first found signs of that group yesterday. There was blood on the road, and a trail leading into the trees. I followed the trail, thinking it was the best action. The blood got heavier, and I drew my sword. Then I started thinking. Who am I? What was I going to do with that sword?" Levy huddled down closer to the ground, and Sarah put her arm around him. "Could I rely on myself to fight off someone? And what gives me the right to decide that my life is more important than someone else's? I could only come up with one answer: I put the sword back. And yet, when I saw you standing there, by the pond, with those murderers all around, the first thing I did was grab my blade." "You wanted to protect me. Anyone would have grabbed a weapon." "Yes, but what had changed? I was still the same man, I hadn't changed. No one had appointed me as judge over those men. What good are all my fine truths if I only use them when it's convenient?" Levy looked at Sarah. "And yet...I couldn't have let them hurt you..." Seeing the expression on his face, Sarah spoke. "We all do what we think best at the time. Sometimes we regret it later, but it's done. We just must live with it, and go on." She stood, and started to go. "Wait." Levy took Sarah's arm and eased her back down "We're alone now, probably the last chance we'll get for a while. I want to talk to you." Sarah remained silent, so Levy continued. "After I was washed down the river, I spent a long time recovering. Not only did I have to get well, but I had to pay off my debts to those who nursed me, and earn enough money to buy a horse and some stuff. Then, the first thing I did was go down to Dargon, to an old friend of mine." Levy paused. He felt so unsure of himself, he didn't quite know what to say next. Sarah just sat there with questioning eyes. Levy stood up, and stepped over to where his pack stood. From it he took a roll of leather. Sarah stepped up beside him and put her hand to his side, as if to stabilize him. Levy led her back to the light. "I asked him if I could go through the old records. He allowed me, and so I looked all through the old records, and I found this. It's the family crest that we had before we got our present one." Levy unrolled the leather. On it was inscribed a colorful image, a family crest. Sarah gasped. "...but that's...that's MY family crest!" She looked at him, suddenly expectant. Levy stood, feeling panic coming on. He knew what he had planned to say, but now he wasn't so sure he wanted what he had planned to ask for. "What's so interesting that it must be discussed at night? Night is for sleeping, not talking." The two turned to see Abel approaching. He too looked like he had been awakened from comfortable sleep. He squatted by the fire, warming his hands. "Levy couldn't sleep. He was thinking about that fight today." Sarah laid her hand around Levy's shoulder. "I know how he feels. If I hadn't been told what to do, I would feel the same way." Levy looked down at Abel. "What do you mean?" "I saw, in a dream, a man telling me I would meet bandits along the way today." Abel's voice lowered. "He said that I was not to let them live. I have no authority to take life," Abel paused for a moment, "but the one I serve does. I only kill for him." The three sat in silence for a moment, than Levy returned to his bedroll, his thoughts only on what Abel had said. Sarah followed him, silent. Abel was still by the fire when Levy fell asleep. The next day the three saddled up, and continued southwest. Travel was safer, but the weather got worse. The trio had only gotten a few days down the road when another heavy storm stopped them. Once more Levy took the opportunity to repair the town clock. Levy stood inside the old town hall, staring at the mechanism. It was a water-powered clock, and over a hundred years old. Like many of the time pieces in the area, it had been built by a wandering group of clockmakers. Few people knew how to set it, and no one knew how to fix it. Levy had studied clocks under one of the best clock makers in Dargon, but even so the workings of the device appeared intricate and mysterious. Sarah had accompanied him to the hall, and she now sat near one of the many lanterns, watching him. Levy hefted a broken cogwheel. "This has to be the key. Every other cogwheel is in place. But where does it go?" "Look for an empty spot." Sarah hugged a blanket closer around her damp shoulders. "I have...there aren't any. Maybe this is a spare or something." "Then it wouldn't go anywhere. Maybe something else is wrong." "Clock makers don't leave spare parts. Everything has a place, so therefore this has a place. But where?" He set the broken wheel down, and picked up a replacement he had cut in the village smithy. He started walking around the device, examining the mess. "Well, I'm sure you'll find where it goes." Sarah's voice was quietly confident. "Levy, what was it you were going to tell me, that night, after that fight by the pond?" Levy stopped for a moment, without looking at her, then continued his search. "I wanted to show you that I had found your family crest, and that we are actually related." Sarah got up, and started to follow Levy as he circled the clock. "For some reason that doesn't surprise me. You remind me a lot of my father." Levy stopped and looked at her. "I do?" "Yes. You're both so confident, so good at making things work, making things happen. When I'm with you, I think of him." Sarah's voice softened at the mention of her deceased father. Levy looked up at the mechanism as Sarah looked away. Suddenly his eyes widened. "Ahah!" He ran around the clock, grabbed a stool, and then ran back. He placed it on the floor in front of a particularly large gear, and climbed onto it. He stared intently upwards for a moment, then sagged. "No, there's already a gear under there." He climbed back down. Sarah looked at Levy for a moment. "Do they put gears underneath other gears?" Levy turned and looked at her. "Yes, they do. Why?" Sarah led Levy around to the other side of the clock, and pointed upward. Levy followed her finger. There, high above the floor, was a large gear. Sarah grabbed one of the lamps from the floor, and shone its light upward. There, just visible between the gear's teeth, was a stout rod. Levy seized the ladder, and climbed up. He took the gear he had made, and carefully levered the larger gear out a bit, exposing the rod. He then carefully slid his gear onto the post, meshing its teeth with the larger gear's second, inner set of teeth. He had to tug on another, large, spoked gear to make the new gear fit, but it did, dropping cleanly into place. Levy then jumped down, and released the power shaft brake. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, the clock moved back into motion. Levy grabbed Sarah in a big hug, which she returned. "It works!" Levy held Sarah at arm's length, looking into her eyes. "However did you see that?" "I was studying the movement too, when you asked for that light before, and I just saw it. I was wondering what it was for, but didn't know until you told me about that other, hidden gear." Levy looked at her for a moment. "Sit with me, please." The two sat of the cold wood floor. Levy took Sarah's hands in his. "Were you ever betrothed to anyone?" Sarah looked confused. "What does it mean to be betrothed?" Levy swallowed, his arms starting to tremble. "We you ever promised to anyone in marriage?" Sarah's eyes sparkled. "No..." "Will you marry me?" Sarah only paused a moment. "Yes." The two sat there for a moment, then fell into each others arms. It was a sunny spring day when the three finally rode into Levy's village. The first place they stopped was at Levy's father's house. There he presented his bride-to-be to his parents, thus completing the first step of the ritual of marriage. The next step was to ask the village Elder to marry them. As Levy's father was the village Elder, they didn't have far to go. With the first round of formalities out of the way, the festivities could start. It wasn't often the son of an Elder got married, and especially not one as well known as Levy. Elders were rich, and could throw good celebrations, and Levy had many rich friends, who could also throw good parties. Further, everyone in town liked Levy, and they all contributed to the festivities. Finally, after word got south, to Sarah's relatives, many of them came north, and they were rich, and they brought a lot of food, drink, and gifts. By tradition, the couple had to wait a two months between announcing their engagement, and actually marrying. Most couples hated that time, for it seemed to drag on so. Levy and Sarah never even noticed it. By the time all the gatherings were over, it was time to prepare for the actual ceremony. The morning of the wedding found Levy walking up the path to his father's house. He was dressed in his formal, tribal dress, dark red wool with brightly colored bands of needlework. Tradition had mostly spared him, as the groom, from any wedding day rituals. He was grateful for that, having spent the morning alone, preparing himself mentally. As he neared the house, however, joyful squealing told him Sarah might not be so solitary. He walked up to the door, and knocked. His mother opened it, but did not come out, standing instead in the entrance. "What do you want, Levy?" She was in a good mood, but seemed to be restraining herself. "I'd like to speak to Sarah, if I can." He tried to peer inside, but his mother held the door even closer shut, only allowing her head to show. "Levy!" Levy could hear Sarah calling from within. Her voice was followed immediately by intense giggling, and then by a delighted shriek. The window beside the door exploded with a shower of warm, soapy water. Levy stepped back, barely avoiding getting wet. "I'm sorry, you can't see her until the wedding. We're giving her a bath right now." From inside the house came more giggles, followed by splashing, laughter, and the sound of someone getting slapped, somewhere. "Uh, OK. Tell her I love her." Levy tried once more to peer inside, in vain. "We will. Now scoot." His mother pulled her head inside, and closed the door, leaving Levy to head off for the barn, where the wedding was to take place. Levy found his father talking with the village fathers. He greeted them all, and they all wished Levy well, and then he and his father took a walk, to talk. "Are you ready, Levy?" Eli was also wearing his formal clothes, which in his case were rather bulky. "No. Were you?" Eli laughed. "No. I don't think you can be. Sometimes I think only married people should get married. I mean, it's the most important thing in the world, and we leave it to total novices." Levy laughed. "I suppose. Well, this is it. As long as I can remember I've looked towards this day, and now it's here. And I'm so nervous I'm shaking." He held out a quivering hand, and his father laughed at the sight. Levy dropped the arm back to his side. "It's silly. After all, Sarah's just a woman. She isn't going to hurt me; she loves me. Why else would she marry me?" "Right. Just remember to treat her like that. You have to live the rest of your life with her...start it right." They arrived back at the barn, having walked a big circle around the yard. By this time the guests had started arriving. Levy and his father, as per tradition, greeted them at the door. As the barn started to fill, noon crept up, and soon Levy was sweating under his wool clothes. It wasn't all the heat, however. Soon it was time for Levy to move to the front of the barn with his father. Mattan, Levy's younger brother continued greeting the guests. With nothing else to occupy his time, Levy started to shiver in earnest. He stood in one spot, not moving, rehearsing what was to follow in his mind. His feet almost left the floor when he heard the shout from outside. "Here comes the bride!" Levy turned to face the open door. People crowded in the way, but they soon parted. There, leading the wedding party, was Sarah. She was clad in her clan colors, also red, but a brighter shade. Tradition was kind to her, allowing her a muff to hide her hands in. Levy's felt as if they were going to fall off, they were so awkward. Sarah was smiling, a nervous, but beautiful, smile. Seeing her, all alone in front of her party, facing so many people, many of whom were strangers, Levy felt for her, and, finally, stopped shaking. She joined him at the front of the crowd. He took her, and for the first time, publicly kissed her. The crowd started chanting the word 'Amonta', an ancient word meaning 'lovers'. As the tempo and volume increased, they parted, and then Levy leaped onto the platform with his father. He reached down, and helped Sarah up as well. They turned and faced the chanting but expectant crowd. Levy raised both arms and shouted. "Listen all you people!" The words rang out above the chant. The people, expecting this, immediately stopped. "This day I take this woman, with her permission, as my bride! If there be any challenge to this, speak now!" There was no answer. Levy hadn't expected one, but had there been one, he felt ready to accept it. "Then she is mine, and I am hers, forever!" Eli stepped forward and joined their hands. "Inasmuch as there is no challenge, I now pronounce you man and wife." As the two embraced and kissed, the roof rang with the massed shout of 'Issi!", another ancient word that meant 'two, yet one'. Eli turned to step off the platform, when something hard and heavy brushed up against him, almost knocking him over. He looked up, to see a short stout man standing between him and the kissing couple. The man was wearing shiny, black leather, and had immaculate, short hair. "Listen to me, now, all you people!" Levy and Sarah looked up startled. This wasn't part of the ritual. Sarah gasped in shock. "Abel! What are you..." She stopped in amazement. Abel's eyes were shining brightly from within. Levy stared at him as well, as a silence fell over the crowd. "Mark this day well! Mark it for many years! For I tell you a great thing!" Dead silence reigned in the building. Abel's words echoed off the walls. "Of this union shall come a child, a man child, and he shall do many marvelous things! He shall be of great renown, and shall be a blessing to many people!" Abel blinked then. Instantly his eyes were a normal, dark brown. He looked out at the assembled crowd, who were all staring at him. He paused, momentarily overwhelmed. The brief inspiration that had led him to the platform was finished, and now it was just him. Then he opened his mouth, and yelled what seemed to be the right thing to say. "So let's celebrate!" The celebration continued well into the night, and would continue for weeks to come. A delegation had arrived from Lord Dargon himself, bringing enough food to feed the mass of people well for a dozen days. The newlyweds, however, as most newlyweds do, had other, more pressing business, and left shortly after dark. Levy and Sarah arrived at their new home just as the fireflies started to come out. There they found a fire burning, their bed neatly made, and the traditional nightfruit resting on a bare table. Together they sat on the bed, and, as per tradition, together bit into the red fruit. They then broke into soft laughter as the juice ran down their chins, something that, if it wasn't traditional, was at least common. Levy leaned forward and licked the juice off Sarah's chin, ending with a kiss. She reciprocated. They ate the rest of the fruit, and kissed again. "It's finally over. We're married." Levy embraced Sarah firmly. "At last." She ran her hands over his back. "You don't know how long I've waited for this." Sarah chuckled sultrily. "Oh, yes I do." Just then came a knock at the door. Levy frowned, then got up. He walked over to the door, and opened it. There stood the Ariel's, neighbors from a mile away. "We wanted to congratulate you!" Abe Ariel shook Levy's hand vigorously, and his wife gave Sarah a hug. "We're going home now. See you tomorrow!" They then walked off into the dark. Levy and Sarah looked at each other, and then laughed. Levy shut the door, and they walked back to the bed. Levy grabbed Sarah and pulled her down on top of him. She squealed happily, and then started kissing him. Levy kicked his shoes off, and with his feet pulled hers off as well. She slid down beside him, and they embraced tightly. Then there came another knock at the door. Levy got up. I hope this doesn't get to be a habit, he thought. At the door there stood John, a fellow apprentice at the smithy. "Just wanted to congratulate you! And you too, Sarah!" "Thank you, John. Have a good night." Levy watched while John disappeared into the dark, then shut the door. A few minutes later two more people walked up to the door. It was two more neighbors, from across the next creek. It was a harried Levy that opened the door, and a rumpled Sarah that accepted a hurried embrace. The neighbors didn't seem to notice, however, and left cheerily. A few minutes after, when yet another family stopped by to give their congratulations, it was an empty house they found. Levy held Sarah's hand as he led her down the path to the quiet brookside. There they found a small meadow, far from any houses. There they spread the still-warm blanket, and there they lay down. After they kissed, Sarah whispered to her new husband. "You're a wonderful, wise man, Levy." "You're a wonderful, beautiful woman, Sarah." He kissed her. "What do you think your brother meant by what he said?" "I don't know." She kissed him, carressing the back of his head. She lay back, on the blanket. "He said we're going to have at least one child." Levy leaned across her. "At least one." Sarah put her arms around his neck. "How many children do you want, Levy Barel?" "A thousand!" He started kissing her neck. "Well," she answered, smiling broadly, "we'd better get started!" -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Legend in the Making Victor Kent quietly admired the schooner Victory Chimes as she rested at dockside. She wasn't really an attractive ship, with her gaff and boom rigging, but she was a ship that had filled Kent's childhood dreams. In fact, she was a ship who filled the dreams of many, both children and young sailors alike. For many years, the stories of Captain Smith and the mysterious VC had been told by the men of Dargon to their children, and Kent was one of those young lads whose heads had been turned by the call of adventure. His father had been a merchant, and had often returned from work with tales he had heard from the docks, and more often than not the hero of the story was the derring Captain Smith of the Victory Chimes, a swift three-masted schooner. When he was seventeen, Kent had signed onto a packet ship as a galley hand, and got his first taste of reality on the high seas. But now he was a man, and a year ago, at the young age of twenty-three he had been given the command of a merchant bark owned by the Fifth I merchant shipping firm. Yet now he was about to give up his first command to become first mate on the Victory Chimes. It had hardly been a fortnight since the word had gone out - the VC was putting to sea! Despite the legendary accomplishments attributed to the vessel and its captain, the Victory Chimes had performed little more than routine merchant liner shipping within the rather limited memory of most people. But the word was out that Captain Smith was going to take her on an exploration mission, and that he needed crewmen. The tales of the captain's bravery and wisdom echoed through every bar in the port section, spreading through the town of Dargon proper even to Dargon Keep and to the villages surrounding the port city. As quickly as the news could spread, men came from far and near to become crewmembers for the trip. Kent had listened to the rumors, and had decided to talk to Smith about taking him on as first mate for the voyage. This was, indeed, a dream come true. He carefully set his foot on the gangway, and stepped aboard. Captain Gordon Smith stood majestically on the castle as the Victory Chimes was let from her moorings. He was dressed in attire befitting a captain of a merchant vessel, and his white hair drifted casually in the salt-tanged breeze. In the port, there was a very large crowd gathered to watch their departure for unknown lands. Smith noticed that it was no longer only children who came to see the VC off, as it used to be. Today there were sailors, merchants, some warriors, and even a few dignitaries, their eyes all focused upon his figure and his ship. The harbor was filled with craft not only from Dargon, but from many other nearby ports. As the VC slowly glided by, the onlookers excitedly waved their caps at the crew, a few of whom returned the gesture. Standing tall and aloof, Smith tried to give them the best show he could, but his heart really wasn't in it. He thought to himself perhaps he should have coaled his white hair earlier, but it was too late now. Soon enough they would be out to sea, and the few straggling craft that followed the Victory Chimes would turn back towards port, and he would be able to relax. The crowd's fascination with him had set him in a dark mood, and he mused silently to himself as he let the mate, a young man named Kent, guide the schooner from the harbor into open sea. The first two weeks of travel went very well aboard the VC, Kent thought to himself. He had been given complete command of the ship by captain Smith, and he had revelled in commanding the legendary black ship. The weather had been sunny and the winds equally favorable, and they had made good headway, steering consistently west by northwest. However, Kent noticed the beginnings of a storm coming up from the southwest. Shortly after midday he had one of the crew notify the captain in his cabin, and he returned with the order to maintain their course if possible, and to come about high to the windward should the winds come from the southwest. Within the hour the storm was upon them. Kent set the westerly course and lashed the wheel down. He stayed above deck with three other crewmen to take any necessary actions. Due to the westerly bearing, the swells broke over the port bows, setting the deck awash with foam and freezing spray, and Kent was forced to luff the ship and ease off the sheets to keep her from capsizing. Kent tried to gauge their course, and felt sure that they were being pounded leeward, far to the north of their original position. By late evening the storm had subsided, although the seas were still heavy and the wind drove consistently from the southwest. As the night wore on, Kent maintained his course, although he was aware that the ship was still being driven far north of where they intended to be. When morning arrived the seas had calmed, yet Kent could feel a distinct chill in the air. In fact, as day broke, several large ice formations could be seen floating some ways off. They had, indeed, been blown far off course, and were now much farther north than the port they had set out from. Kent was in the process of trying to chart their position when a cry rang up from the crew: land had been sighted! The conning mate, Lees, had sighted a mountainous island rising from the sea several leagues to the north, yet he insisted that it showed no signs of snow. As the captain came on deck, Kent climbed the rigging up to the halyards and looked. The island was small but it rose from the water directly into a large, forested mountain, and the slopes were lush with vegetation. The sky about the island was tainted a strange silvery color. When he returned to the deck, Kent reported to the captain. The sun had warmed the chill from the air, and the captain immediately set sail for the island. However, as they approached the island, the air grew distinctly warmer, until Kent wondered how such a place could exist within the cold climate so far north of Dargon. The island appeared to be the cap of a vast underwater mountain, rising abruptly from the sea. The steep slopes rose in jagged cliffs, making it very difficult to imagine that anyone could live there, though occasional lush valleys ran towards the mountainous center of the island. However, the most bizarre aspect of the island was the vegetation. Kent could identify many plants he had seen growing only in tropical areas in Baranur, far south of Dargon, and yet all the plants and trees had leaves which had an almost-visible quicksilver sheen to them. The captain decided to search for a suitable place to anchor and proceed to explore the island. They hadn't followed the coastline for more than twenty minutes when they came upon a suitable harbor. However, as the VC entered the lagoon, around the edge of the woods there appeared a small collection of primitive huts. There were people living on the island! In fact, not long after the huts came into view, an indecipherable holler went up in the woods as the ship was noticed by the inhabitants. Within minutes a handful of dugout canoes were on their way across the lagoon and towards the ship, the natives bellowing their greetings and gesticulating comically. Kent laughed as he saw one man run into the shallow water and leap awkwardly into a canoe, dumping himself and the two previous occupants into the drink. The captain ordered the anchor dropped, as the VC was soon surrounded by smaller craft, her deck overrun by curious and anxious natives. Oddly, Kent noted that their skin, very little of which was covered in most instances, was slightly dark, and that it also bore a strong sheen of that unnameable hue. In fact, he noticed that their eyes all were strongly shaded with the odd coloration. Kent watched as perhaps fifty islanders ran from one item to the next, not doing much damage. He watched as one man examined a capstan, then kicked it, then moved on to the anchor ropes, then went to examine a doorknob. Kent laughed heartily at the native's expression when Lees, the lookout, opened the door and emerged from the galley, much to the islanders' fascination and surprise. Each of the crewmembers was soon surrounded by several native men and women. The ones around Kent rubbed their fingers through his dark hair (which seemed to be their method of greeting), and then proceeded to talk at him in their language and pinch and investigate his skin and eyes. He patiently let them have their insistent way, and imagined that his skin color somehow must be as strange to them as theirs was to him. As evening finally fell, the crew could see that a large fire pit had been arranged by the beach, and that preparations for a huge feast were being made. The captain had the crew gathered on deck and, upon the urging of the natives, launched a boat for the island. Those crewmen who could not fit in the dingy were gladly accepted as honored passengers in tribal canoes. Despite Victor's opposition, the captain did not order any of the crewmen to stand guard over the ship, reasoning that the ship was within sight, and nothing could happen on it without their knowledge. Besides, who would want to be left out of the evening's proceedings? The trip to shore was chaotic, but uneventful. The crew was finally assembled by the fire pit and guided to a large mat, made of fragrant, freshly-cut grasses. There they were seated, each with a native upon either hand, while the women brought exotic foods for their men and their guests. Standing at the head of the 'table' was a large wooden depiction of what appeared to be a bear. Stained with various colors, the massive saurian watched silently over the feast. However, a cold shiver ran down Kent's neck when he noticed that the bear's eyes had been painted with a stain of that ever-present quicksilver glow he had seen in the plants of the island. The feast went on, with each course outdoing the previous in strangeness. One of the drinks the crew was introduced to was mildly intoxicating, and many had drunk far too much of it. Several left the area at the coaxing of buxom native women, but Kent spent most of his time trying to talk with one of the natives. He had learned that the man was named 'Zut', but that you had to accompany the sound with an rise in tone and shrugging of the shoulders. It appeared that the natives used the same words for several different ideas, and accompanying gestures often made clear which word was correct. Just watching the natives talking to one another had set many of the crew into gales of uproarious laughter. Many had made comic imitations of the speaker, who then addressed the individual again, apparently to correct the pronunciation or gestures made by the crewman. Kent had tried to communicate with Zut, but hadn't achieved very much. He had tried to ask the native about their chief, but Zut had emphatically pointed at the bear statue, saying "Tsiti!" Kent figured that the native had interpreted the concept of 'chief' as 'god', and had shown him the totem of Tsiti, their animal-deity. He spent some time trying to get the native to learn some words in his tongue, but only was successful in teaching him 'Victor', 'victory', and 'skin'. The following morning, most of the crew were again assembled upon the mat and fed. Kent was somewhat troubled by the fact that Zut was not at the meal, and tried to ask another native why Zut was not present. The native looked at him and babbled. "Zut! na'hai Tsiti!" While speaking this, he managed to somehow shrug his shoulders, make motions like waves with his hands, and then close his eyes. Apparently Zut had something to do with Tsiti. Kent wondered. Perhaps Zut was a priest, though he carried no markings or demeanor that differed from the other men. He tried to tell the native to bring him to Zut. "Bal'oa nia tsapful," replied the native. Somehow Kent got the impression that the conversation was ended, though he really had no idea why. After breakfast the native urged Kent to follow him away from the village and into the island. Kent talked Captain Smith into coming along, on the basis that they would be exploring the island. Most of the crew had all gone in separate directions, but would be back by nightfall. With that, they were off into the mountainous and overgrown island interior. They followed a worn footpath through the woods, but the existence of a path didn't make the going much easier. The trails had been made for bare feet, and were too soft and spongy for boots, which Kent and Captain Smith soon removed. The guide had led them on a trail which led high into the interior area of the mountain, and the going was very steep and very warm. It was some time after noon when the guide excitedly beckoned them towards a rise in the trail. As Kent climbed up the rise, what he saw was one of the most beautiful and most bizarre scenes he had ever seen. They were standing at the top of a huge cliff which fell away several hundreds of feet to the sea. The view looked down upon the northern shore of the island, which the VC had not scouted. The view was breathtaking, but even more startling was the view to the north of the island. Several leagues distant was another island, yet this one was nearly flat, and about it there was a strong, visible aura of the strange color they had seen only in shades in the plants and animals of this island. There was no question that the northern island was the source of the unnatural hue. "What in hell is it?" came the captain's exclamation from behind Kent. The native, seeming to understand, simply replied "Tsiti." Kent tried to describe his thoughts to the captain. "Apparently, Tsiti is the bear figure we saw at the village. They seem to worship this being, and that island is somehow linked with him. It's obvious that they must think it's sacred. But that's about all I know." The captain pondered silently for a moment. "Damn. Well, we're supposed to be exploring and adventuring. I guess we can't very well turn away from something like this, can we? Let's head back to the village and round up the crew." With that, he turned and began carefully picking his way back down the path. Kent gave the native a reassuring look and followed. The afternoon was cooling off, and the early twilight shadows were beginning to lengthen as the group plodded down towards the village. Captain Smith immediately had all the crew gathered by the beach, and described what they had seen that afternoon. He planned to have the crew spend that night on board ship, and in the morning set sail northward to explore the other island. The crew had enjoyed their stay on the island, and weren't at all pleased about returning to the Victory Chimes; however, they decided to endure it after having convinced several native women to accompany them. The night passed quietly, and the following morning the natives were asked to leave the ship, and the VC set out from the harbor. They skirted the coastline fairly closely for most of the way, and so it was not until near midday that they began to see the strange color appear pronouncedly in the sky to the northward. Finally they came around a headland and saw the northern island. Many of the crew turned away from the bizarre vision, yet many stood gaping at the unnatural sight. The flatness and lack of vegetation on the island made it seem even more alien than the rugged mountains of the southern island, and even Kent stood dumbfounded by the potency with which the abnormal coloration had contaminated the area surrounding the lifeless, featureless island. Kent could sense the tenseness of the crew as the ship left the coastline and headed across the stretch of open sea between the two islands. As the noontime sun beat down steadily, Kent began to see heat waves rising from the water. His vision became more blurry and he thought he had become sick, until one of the crew staggered to him, complaining of the same symptoms. After asking several other men, he concluded that the color was somehow effecting their vision. He stumbled aft towards Captain Smith. "Sir, the crew can't function... the waves, the color is blinding them!" Smith stood immobile and replied, "We'll make an anchorage soon, Kent, and go ashore. I won't flee from a little sea-blindness!" Kent made his way to the rail and watched the island through his blurred vision as they approached. It was broad and flat and lifeless. He couldn't make out either the southern island or the sun clearly, as his eyes began to burn and redden. Soon they dared not approach the island any closer, so Smith ordered the anchor dropped a suitable distance offshore. Captain Smith had the crew gathered abaft and addressed them. "I have decided to send a party of men ashore to explore this island, and find the cause for these weird lights. I shall be in charge of this party, and the rest will stay behind at the ship. Now, who is willing to venture ashore?" At this, the men began to mutter lowly between themselves. At length, a voice spoke up. "Captain!" One of the crew, a man named Jason Black, stepped forward. "Most of the crew don't want any part of this island. It's not something honest men should go poking at. If you go messing around in things like this," he nodded towards the island, "there's nothing but harm going to come of it." The crew seemed to be in consensus, and Kent began to suspect that a mutiny was brewing, but another voice spoke up, that of Lees, the lookout. "Jason, when you and the others signed up for this voyage you were all set for adventure and exploring. The captain has seen more than his share of the world, and if he's not scared of this, then neither am I. I'll go with Captain Smith, even if I'm the only one!" With that he joined Kent and Smith before the group, who continued to favor Jason's opinion. No one else stepped forward. "Very well, then. I shall go and explore this island with Kent and Lees." Then, looking at Black, "I shall deal with your lack of enthusiasm later. Now, prepare to lower the boat." Soon thereafter Lees was rowing the ship's boat towards the island. The haze of the midday sun bore down upon them, and Kent found it difficult to make out the shore. The captain sat in the dory, cursing the crew and the island beneath his breath. They arrived at the shoreline and stepped out onto warm, black sands. They pulled the boat high out of the water, and headed inland, occasionally stumbling on unseen rocks. Kent's vision became worse and worse, and their progress slowed and became more arduous with each step. The heat waves blurred his vision almost completely, making it difficult to see the terrain in front of him. As they plodded forward the blinding alien color became stronger, and it became more and more difficult to continue. Kent had to fight the need to rest. He began to wonder why he had ever signed on with the insane captain Smith. His feet seemed leaden, and his very soul was dead tired. At length the captain ordered a halt and collapsed to the ground. After a moment, captain Smith asked Lees to go forward a bit, to see if anything could be seen, but not to go far. The lookout continued on, and was gone from sight almost immediately. Kent sat down near Smith and rubbed his burning eyes in vain. They weren't having any luck in finding an explanation for the bizarre color, and he was about to suggest that they return to the ship when he heard Lees cry out in fear. He forced himself to his feet and joined the captain in stumbling towards the sounds. Kent outpaced the older captain, who continued to stumble behind him as Lees' yells turned to pain-maddened screams. Kent continued to rush forward, and suddenly came upon a scene of sheerest terror. Before him stood a huge monster, which had attacked the seaman. The beast stood half again as tall as Kent, and looked vaguely bear-like. However, it was covered with thick black scales, and its eyes were faceted like those of an insect. In those eyes burned a searing flame of that color which Kent knew was from hell itself. The beast had ripped off Lees' right arm, and held him by his left. Kent tried to master the screaming fear which was building up inside him, but he knew that Lees was already beyond rescue. Suddenly, from Kent's left, captain Smith staggered forward and into the beast, which turned and sent a powerful taloned fist in a wide arc towards the old man's head. Kent leaped forward and tackled Smith, taking him backwards and out of the range of the monster's blow. On the ground, the captain immediately turned and ran, crouching low to the ground. Kent followed, trying to keep within sight of his superior. After several minutes of blindly stumbling away, they began to slow their retreat, but suddenly the beast came down from above them. As he rolled to his left, Kent thought he caught a glimpse of leathery wings behind the beast. Again the two ran in the direction they guessed the ship lie, although now they did not slow their pace. Kent was never sure how long they stumbled around the island in their color- and fear-blinded madness. Finally, they came upon the black sands of the beach, and followed it until they came upon the Victory Chimes' boat, which they quickly launched and returned to ship. There Jason Black stood on the deck, waiting. "Where is your friend Lees, captain?" Smith didn't even answer him, but began giving orders to weigh anchor and unfurl the sails. Kent looked at the seaman and said "Lees is dead." Apparently the sailor saw something strange in Kent's eyes, for he turned and began making ready to sail without further inquisition. Despite the onset of darkness, the VC made its way away from the island and set a southwesterly course. The captain retreated to his cabin and left Kent standing orders to continue on their present course until they reached the islands of Bichu. Through the night Kent reflected on the event, and thanked Mitra that no one else had been killed by the hell-spawned monster. The westward voyage had been a tiring one for Kent. They had spent forty five days sailing southwest from the arctic islands, and Kent had begun to understand why so few ships had made the crossing to Bichu. He had not imagined there could be so much empty sea in the entire world. The captain had remained isolated in his cabin, leaving the command of the Victory Chimes to young Kent, who was somewhat angered that Smith hadn't turned out to be the brave adventurer he had been portrayed as in the now distant stories of his youth in Dargon. He gazed westward towards their destination, the mystical land known as Bichu. Nothing broke the endless horizon, which completely encircled them, blue upon blue. He had known of men who had gone insane upon long voyages. They had stared at that unchanging horizon so long that they were convinced that it was not the horizon at all, but a tapestry hung to deceive them, and that it was closing in on them. His thoughts were interrupted as Jason Black climbed up to the poop to speak with him. "Any idea when we'll see land, Victor?" "Not yet. Maybe a week or so. Can't be much more." The seaman looked down nervously for a moment, then faced the mate straight on. "Kent... you're a good mate. You know that the skipper isn't fit to command a ship. All he's done on this voyage is sit in his cabin and drink. He had us bring him another keg of brandy this morning. And when he hasn't been drunk, he's led us into trouble." "Oh?" Kent knew that Black didn't trust the captain, but to speak this way, he must have friends who felt the same way. The crewman read his expression perfectly. "Most of the crew are with me. They saw what happened to men who trust the captain - men like Lees, rest his soul. Now we know you're an able commander, and we aren't going to die for the captain's mistakes. You obviously should be in charge of the ship." Kent's thoughts raced. The captain obviously was not capable of command under these circumstances, but Black was asking him to lead an outright mutiny against the captain who was the hero of every seafaring story in Dargon! "Look, Jason. I don't want you boys doing anything. Let it be for now - the captain isn't doing us any harm so long as he's in his cabin. I want to talk to him myself. Can you keep the crew from doing anything?" "That I can do, at least for a while." With that, Black elbowed Kent in the stomach and stepped down towards the bows, leaving the mate wondering if it had been a gesture of friendship or of warning. Kent stood at the door to captain Smith's cabin. He had thought out what he was going to say to the aging captain, and all he had left to do was to gather his nerves and say his piece. After a few moments of silently wishing that the problem would resolve itself, he rapped upon the wooden door. From within a response came, and Victor Kent opened the door and stepped inside. Smith's cabin was a mess. Of course, Kent had seen it before and wondered at it, but as he thought about it, he realized that captain Smith had lived in the same room for probably more than twenty years. Spending that much time in one place, one could expect a man's home to be cluttered. Smith sat in an upholstered chair, a goblet of brandy close by, idly gazing at a huge chart upon the port bulkhead. The chart showed the explored lands, and Kent had spent as much time as possible examining it, using the excuse of plotting their course. Smith looked up at Kent and motioned to another similar chair which stood back to the wall with the chart. Kent sat down, dreading what must come. At length he began. "Captain Smith, the crew has asked me to come talk with you." At this, Smith's attention became focused. "They feel that you haven't properly commanded this voyage, and that you've spent too much time in your cabin. They think you made some bad decisions back at those islands." "And they've asked you to mention this to me?" Smith countered. "And what do you think?" Kent hadn't considered his own feelings, but he tried to put them into words. "Well, you're not the leader I thought you'd be when I signed on in Dargon. You certainly haven't lived up to your reputation for wisdom." Smith leapt up angrily and paced back and forth through the room, thrashing the air with his arms. "Damn it! I left Dargon to get away from those asinine rumors! Can't you people just let me be?" The captain, recovering from this violent emotional explosion, sat back down again. "Well, I suppose you're right. I was hoping when we set out that it would be different, but I guess it's true." The captain paused, and Kent wanted to speak, but he hardly knew what to say. Eventually Smith went on. "Let me tell you a story. I have never told this to anyone, but I suspect that it would be appropriate to tell you now." The captain looked old and tired as he drained his goblet and motioned for Kent to fill it from a decanter on the table. "Many years ago, I got my first command. I had been working as a scribe before that, but I knew a friend in the harbormaster's office, and I asked him to see if he could get me a ship to command, despite my lack of experience or training. He finally came through, and I was offered a position as captain of a patrol sloop called the Victory Chimes. It wasn't this ship, mind you, it was smaller and older. So I went about my duties of stopping suspicious vessels, and so forth. "It was during the annual summer Festival that it happened. A pirate who called himself Soloman Banshee stole the Bard's Crown, which had been given to the winner of the minstrelry tournament for the past, oh, fifty years." Kent knew the object, for it was the centerpiece of one of the most important events of the Festival. He also recognized the story as the one where Smith had rescued the crown. However, he did not interrupt Smith, as it might cause another outburst, and Victor was intrigued at the possibility of hearing the tale in the captain's words. "At the time I was at sea, patrolling the northern coastline. My mate saw Banshee's ship sailing northwards. They apparently saw us at the same time, for they abruptly changed their course to put plenty of space between us and them. My mate, a strong lad named Larson, urged me to attack Banshee's ship, telling me that no pirate would run from such a small craft unless he had something precious and illegal on board, but I was afraid, and I gave the order to hold our course, despite the oath I took as a patrol commander." This was something Kent hadn't heard in the folk tales. Indeed, the truth was not quite the same as the myth. "That afternoon a storm blew up, and that night was a long and difficult one. Early in the morning the ship ran hard aground on a rocky headland that had gone unseen. In the morning, she lay hard on her side during low tide. I ordered the ship abandoned and struck out southward, hoping to come to a village. "Near noontime, Larson came back from scouting ahead. He had a sword wound on his left arm, but his face was sheer ecstasy. He told us that he had come across Soloman Banshee's camp, and dispatched the only sentry there. Then he slowly drew forth from his cloak the silver Bard's Crown. "We all wondered what to do, for surely Banshee would be back, and would miss the crown. Despite other advice, I decided to take the camp and wait for the pirates, and either destroy them or bring them to justice. We set up our camp in the middle of theirs, but failed to notice their arrival that evening. I was sitting by the fire, watching Larson pick over the food at the pirates' table, when Banshee slashed his back open from behind. I grabbed the pouch beside me, which contained the Bard's Crown, and ran like mad, while my crewmen were cut down behind me." Captain Smith paused, his hollow eyes staring blankly at the floor. Kent sensed that Smith's reputation wasn't completely deserved, and it appeared that the very event which caused his notoriety had not been one of bravery, but of cowardice. Smith took a long draught of brandy and continued. "I finally reached a village and bought a horse. When I returned to Dargon, the Festival was still going, and I was received as a hero. I was granted honorary barddom by the College of Bards, and Lord Dargon himself insisted that he build me a beautiful ship, which is this ship, the VC that everyone knows. "And so I was a hero to the people of Dargon. The tale grew more and more preposterous each month. The Victory Chimes was built, and I sailed ordinary voyages, but the legend couldn't be stopped. The following year I overheard a story in a bar that I had come across a chase between a pirate drumond and a merchant galley. The person had mistaken my name for that of Simon Salamagundi, who had actually done that." Kent started, and Smith noticed it. "Yes, Simon Salamagundi the stew vendor. He was one fine captain. Do you remember the story about a captain tricking a pirate king into forming an alliance with Dargon?" Kent nodded. The story he had heard said that that captain had been Gordon Smith. The old man frowned. "No, that was Salamagundi, too. My legend is a myth. It doesn't exist. I have never been a brave or wise man, I fear." "Then why did you undertake this exploration voyage?" The captain sat silently for a moment before answering. "Well, at first I thought that after all these years, maybe I could command men and a ship, and maybe do something good. Maybe after all these years, I could do something to deserve that reputation. Now I know better. But, I had another reason, as well." Kent looked puzzled. "I can't live in Dargon forever. I am a folk legend, not a man, and legends do not go out quietly. When we dock in Bichu, I will stay there, and live out my days there quietly and in peace, without young men looking at me as if I was a god." "And what of the ship? And what of the crew? We want to return to Dargon!" "And so you shall, Kent. When I leave you in Bichu, I will turn over the command and ownership of the Victory Chimes to you. You've commanded her well on this voyage, and she deserves a better owner than I." Kent could hardly believe his ears. Here was his childhood hero, saying openly that he wasn't a hero at all, and now the old man suggested that he would be given the ship of his dreams as soon as they made port! Kent tried to find words to say, but realized he wasn't even sure what he was feeling. "But... what will we tell people when we return to Dargon?" Smith smiled slightly. "Just tell them that I stayed behind in Bichu. They will find a fitting ending to the story of Captain Gordon Smith themselves, no matter what you tell them. He will die as a lord in Bichu, or lost in some foreign land." Kent spent a long moment in thought. "I'm sorry, Captain Smith. I understand now. I'll let you know when we make landfall." With that, he struggled to the door and left Captain Smith, a man broken by his own legend. The Victory Chimes lay up next to a large pier on the shore of Bichu, a mythical land with ways very unlike those of Dargon. They had been there almost a week, and the crew had enjoyed the time on land, but Kent knew that they would soon be restless to return home. They had been told that Smith was to remain in Bichu, which drew some odd looks, but no one had protested. Gordon Smith stood upon the wooden pier with the young captain, Victor Kent. Smith noticed that Kent had matured since the time when he had stepped aboard the VC to talk with Smith about being first mate for the voyage, and he was satisfied that Kent would make a fine captain. They said respectful farewells, and the young man boarded the ship and cast off. Smith stood upon the pier, watching the ship he had never felt he deserved move effortlessly from the port and towards her home, and he felt good. Perhaps he had finally accomplished something right, something worthy of a legend. With a deep sigh, he turned away from the slowly receding Victory Chimes and from the legend of Captain Gordon Smith, and walked quietly away. -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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