3 March 2007
It had taken some time, between finalizing preparations with Roderick and gaining clearance from his father and working out the details of what he should take and say, but Michael Hudson finally stood in front of the Ravi River, north of Lahore. It was hot, much more hot than it had been when he left England, and he was still trying to get comfortable. To a certain degree, he was hopeful Iravati would be more tolerable.
The sun began to rise, and the river shimmered in a way that was only barely detectable through the spell he’d cast specifically to spot it. There, just upstream of him, was the actual entrance. He walked over to stand before it, set his bag down, and braced himself. It was no surprise to him when the gates of the city were suddenly thrown open from the river, and a group of naga soldiers rushed out to surround him. Each had a spear pointed at him. He held his arms up to show he had nothing in his hands.
“You dare return to Iravati, Hudson?” a larger naga guard demanded, slithering out behind the troops and approaching him.
“I have come to make restitution,” Michael answered.
“And why should we believe you?”
“You and I both know you aren’t the one I’m here to convince.” The guard’s eyes narrowed. “You may arrest or escort me, whatever suits you. But what I have here,” Michael said, nudging the bag with his foot; the soldiers tensed, “is a carefully researched plan that would allow us to undo the magic that severed Iravati from the world. It will require the cooperation, and consent, of the Queen of Heaven, and either a very powerful mage or a collection of mages. I would, of course, be willing to offer my services.”
“And you expect her to simply go along with this claim?”
“I hope to present it to her. I can only offer this; what your queen does with it is her business.” Michael and the guard stared at each other for a tense minute, then the guard yelled out an order in a language Michael didn’t speak. The spears were raised and the soldiers rearranged themselves to leave an opening in their ranks that led directly to the guard and the gate. The guard slithered forward, grabbed the bag, and returned to the gate. Michael felt a nudge at his back, and stepped forward. The soldiers kept pace with him. He sighed, lowered his arms, and entered Iravati surrounded by naga.
The ship tore through the sea faster than Benedict could remember ever moving. It plowed straight through waves, never rocking or lurching in any direction as its sails filled with winds he couldn’t feel and carried them on. Akshainie had pretty quickly made her way up the rigging, staying out of the way as much as possible and even helping when asked, but mostly taking full advantage of the view and the strength of her lower body wrapped around the mast to keep her in place. Benedict, on the other hand, stayed planted as firmly as he could on the deck, holding on to the railing and trying his best to keep the spray out of his face.
The ship cut southwest away from the Orkneys, dashing between Sweden and Denmark into the Baltic Sea, then into a river. Shortly after the river looked to be getting too narrow for Benedict’s comfort, the ship tipped forward and dove into the water, only to immediately emerge in another river. They did that three times, hopping from one river to the next, until the last river gave way to open sea again. The ship never slowed as it went, and continued to maintain speed as it turned up another river and flew along.
“The Indus!” Akshainie called down. Benedict looked out at the people along the banks and in the water as the boat passed harmlessly through them with awe. It certainly did look like Pakistan, or at least as much of Pakistan as he’d seen before, and then they took a tributary, and then another, and there was Lahore on their right. As suddenly as they had started, the ship ground to a halt, and Akshainie climbed down from the rigging. Benedict continued holding the railing until she reached him and held out her hand. The whole trip, near as Benedict could figure, had taken maybe an hour. “You coming?”
“Iravati, I believe!” Ingrid called as she and Tidh approached them. Benedict let go of the railing and nodded to Akshainie, who lowered her hand and turned to face the reunited pair.
“It is indeed! Thank you!”
“Thank you!” Tidh answered, wrapping his arm around Ingrid. “Without you, I’d still be lost in that cursed sea, bitter and alone.”
“What happens now?” Benedict asked, straightening his shirt.
“Now, we go back. I’m still under the authority of the Deep, and it won’t be happy bout me sailing halfway round the world without permission.”
“We’re going to confront the Deep,” Ingrid explained, “try to free Tidh from his obligation, make a new life for ourselves.”
“What if the Deep won’t give you up?” Akshainie asked.
“We’re ready to fight if we must,” Tidh answered, “together, this time. I don’t think it’ll know what hit it.” Benedict shook his hand.
“Godspeed to you all, then,” he said. Tidh nodded and called for the gangplank to be lowered, and after some more goodbyes Akshainie and Benedict took to shore. They watched as the plank was withdrawn, and Tidh barked out his orders, and the sails again filled with wind. The ship dove straight into the water and vanished. Akshainie and Benedict continued watching for a moment before she patted him on the back.
“We all need something to drive us, I suppose,” she said. Benedict agreed. “Come along, let me show you mine.” With that, she led him to the entrance of Iravati, and once it was opened for her, the two stepped below the river.
Tidh was standing at the bank of windows in his room on the ship, rocking slightly and praying the rosary, when Benedict and Akshainie entered. He quickly blurted out the last few words of the prayer before tossing the rosary on his desk and running to them. Before he could say anything more, Benedict produced the pelt and laid it out on the desk. Tidh took in a sharp breath and stopped, before reaching out and slowly running his hand through the fur.
“Oh,” he said, softly, “it’s beautiful. I should’ve expected nothing less.” He picked the pelt up, gently, and raised it to his face. He took a deep sniff, then fell backward into a chair and began to cry.
“Oh,” Akshainie said, “are we doing this?” Benedict rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Give him this,” he said, softly. Tidh looked up at them.
“It smells like her. I…I don’t know how,” Tidh said. Benedict stepped forward and knelt in front of the captain. “I don’t know how I remember her smell.” Benedict rested his hand on the captain’s knee.
“You never forgot her, Tidh. Why do you expect yourself to have forgotten her?”
“I tried. For the longest time, I tried. I…I was so angry.”
“Well,” Benedict said, standing and holding out his hand, “it’s time to start setting things straight, right?” Tidh wiped the tears from his cheek, nodded, and took Benedict’s hand.
“I don’t know how this is going to work,” Tidh said, as the three walked toward the deck. “I think I just call her with it? And then she comes along?”
“Do we…wait for her? How’s she supposed to get here?”
“I can handle that,” Akshainie said. She shed her human guise as they reached the deck, then slithered over the edge. Benedict and Tidh, and the crew on deck, watched her go, then looked around at each other.
“Is she okay?” Tidh asked.
“She’s fine,” Benedict answered. “If she said she had it handled, she has it handled. Call your wife.” Tidh nodded, then looked at the pelt.
“How do I do that?”
“I think, if you’re in possession of it, you just…talk? Say what you want her to do?”
Tidh took a deep breath, clutched the pelt to his chest, and called out for Ingrid to come to the ship. The people on the deck stood around silently for a few moments after that, while nothing happened. Tidh sighed, then looked at Benedict.
“Do I do it again? Do I trust she’s on her way?” Tidh asked. Benedict shrugged, and then a column of churning water rose beside the ship. The crew scrambled and began shouting to one another, trying to steady the ship as it rocked from the impact. Benedict and Tidh braced themselves as the column bent toward them, and then crashed onto the deck. When the water withdrew, it left Akshainie and Ingrid behind. Tidh and Ingrid stared at each other for a long moment, then Ingrid’s eyes drifted down toward the pelt.
“Tidh? Did…did you…” she began to ask, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Akshainie slithered over to Benedict as Tidh stuttered out the beginning of a thought, then realized what was happening and stepped forward. He held the pelt out to her.
“I would never try to command you, Ingrid. I called to give it back.” He continued holding the pelt out to her as she stared at it. She glanced between him and it a couple times, then reached with shaking hands and slowly pulled it back. She unfolded it and threw it over her shoulders, clasping the front paws together to wear it like a cape.
“Tidh, I…about what happened back then—”
“I know,” Tidh said, cupping her face in his hand. “I didn’t know then, but I do now. It wasn’t your fault, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” She leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, and they both began to cry.
“What did you do, anyway?” Benedict asked Akshainie, softly, as they watched.
“I spoke to the water spirits in the sea. I knew they’d grant a selkie passage, if they knew to be expecting one,” she answered. “Word travels fast in the waters, by the time she tried to answer the call a path was open for her.” Benedict nodded, and he, Akshainie, and the crew continued to watch the reunited pair.
“What happens now?” Ingrid asked.
“Well. Far as I’m concerned, you’re still my wife, so you’re welcome to stay if you wish,” Tidh answered.
“We have so much to catch up on. Did you see the humans went to the moon?”
“The moon!?” Tidh practically yelled. Ingrid nodded. “In the fucking sky?” Ingrid laughed, and Akshainie cleared her throat. “Oh, right, yes. The priest and snake here, they found the pelt for us, and I owe them transit for it.”
“Well!” Ingrid exclaimed, looking at Benedict and Akshainie. “What are we waiting for? Get this ship moving, men!” The crew looked around at each other for a moment.
“You heard her!” Tidh yelled. The crew scrambled to their work as Ingrid and Tidh made their way back to Tidh’s cabin.
30 June 1989
Mortimer was awakened from a dream to the sound of an explosion.
For a few minutes he sat, convincing himself that it was just part of the dream. An odd part of the dream, for sure, but then dreams were generally odd. He rubbed his face and made his way to the sink to pour a glass of water. As he drank, he glanced out the window, and saw the fire burning the cursed isle. He nearly spit out the water when he saw it, and ran back to his room to grab some pants before making his way outside. When he reached the edge of the water behind his home, he found a young man climbing onto shore. The boy rolled over onto his back, his feet still in the water, and took shallow breaths as Mortimer ran to him.
The boy was badly burned, his clothes in shreds, a strangely colored splotch covering most of the left side of his face. He had leeches on his exposed and unburned bits of skin. The burns were extensive, and occasionally shared real estate with cuts or bordered bruises. Mortimer was no doctor, but he suspected if he didn't find one soon the boy would die.
"Hey, hey, stay with me," he urged, prodding the boy. "Come on now, I can get you seen. Can you talk? Who are you, what happened over there?" The boy's eyes slowly opened, and Mortimer recoiled. They were slit, like a serpent's eyes, and fixed on him immediately. Before Mortimer could get far, the boy's hand snatched him by the jaw. Mortimer took a deep breath and turned pale, his veins beginning to show as his body shuddered. The boy's cuts closed and his burns began to grow new skin. He sat up as Mortimer shriveled, finally letting go when the man turned to dust. As he stood, the leeches dried out and fell off. He stared toward the flames, the pupils of his eyes opening wide and the last of his burns healing over. Only the splotch on his face remained.
"I am the salamander, born of fire this night. I am blessed by Nachash as the beginning of a new order. I am the Barzai, and it is my solemn duty to bring this fire to consume the very heavens."