Tirien’s bell tower loomed closer on the western banks of Juni and I found my gaze straying to it often. The Countess had noted my presence, and when she expressed thirst it was Galo who left to make sure a pitcher was brought. Disabusing them of the assumption that I’d sensed something wasn’t worth the effort. General danger was real enough, even if this danger was more immediately to me. I tried to keep an eye on Valredes. For a while he was talking to the dark-haired man I assumed was Lord Menrellos. Probably a son or cousin to the Menrellos who had been the Regent of Dalyn when it was first conquered. But then Valredes moved, and I couldn’t look for him without twisting around noticeably.
I was wondering melodramatically if I would ever sleep again when a large black bird swooped down and perched on the deck rail just a few feet away. The women made little gasps of surprise at the raven’s unceremonious appearance. “Rabanki,” I breathed.
The raven cawed, flew to my shoulder and plucked one of the white feathers from my crown before I could decide if I should swat at him or not. Rabanki took off back toward the western bank. I narrowly kept the snarl off my face but turned instinctively to follow the bird’s flight. He swooped over the water—a flagrant victory swoop, I thought—then passed over a couple boats, losing hold of the feather as he did. I did snarl, then, watching the impossible creature disappear in a loop around the royal barge. Rabanki…by Fornern.
I scanned the boats on the river, looking for my stolen feather, not that I could get it back. It had fallen on the canopy of a flat little pleasure boat not far from the royal barge. I sighed, resolving to watch the feather until we passed it. After a moment I realized that this barge, like many others, was keeping pace. Unlike the others, it was drifting closer. I leaned forward, there were men in the boat, and they were not dressed for a party. No, not human males. Fornern’s fists. Those were pointed ears. Elves. With grappling hooks and weapons and grim looks.
An attempt on the Countess—or the Queen—here, now, by elves, would be almost as disastrous as success. Ayglos must’ve seen them and sent Rabanki to warn me. Rohhel bless her damn bird. I had only a heartbeat to decide. With a gasp, I swooned and toppled over the rail into the river.
The water closed over my head, neatly plucking the feather crown off and leaving it bobbing on the surface. I dove immediately, fumbling at the buttons on my light coat even as I reached a hasty greeting to the Juni. Lady of Moors and Mountains.
The Juni’s voice was strong and clear; Daiesenda of Many Waters.
Will you help me defend Angareth? I shucked the coat, the linen drifting away in the current like a jelly fish, and made for the underside of the little boat.
I felt assurance shudder through the river. Laying my hand on the flat belly of the boat I asked the Juni to keep this little boat and its occupants away from the big one. Part of me wanted to sink it, but that would draw too much attention—if the Juni would do that. I felt the subtle shift in the upper current and grinned. A moment later I located the pole they were using to steer and wrenched it away. Swimming to the side furthest from the royal barge I surfaced and hoisted myself aboard.
Three elves on the port side spun at the rocking of the boat and the sound of water, the navigator at the stern was still gazing after his pole.
I grinned at them and they gaped. I was shocking; laced blue, the pale clothes clinging, my harness of knives exposed, arisen from no where. “The River says to leave that barge alone,” I said in Angari. “You can come with me peaceably to explain yourselves, or I will make you come.”
One sneered. Two charged.
I hurled myself away from them and at the navigator, hitting him at the hips and flinging us both off the stern. The elf clawed for the surface, and I let him, committing him to the river’s care and diving back for the others. The two were at the stern, one with a sword ready, the other looked like he was futilely reaching for the navigator. I went for the third elf who was at the prow, playing counterbalance. I leapt for his neck, a shark after a seal. He splashed into the river with a cry and his companions yelped as the boat bucked.
Darting under the boat, I popped up at the stern and heaved my weight up, tipping the boat further as the elves scrabbled back from the edge. The Juni faltered, uncertain about capsizing the boat. Fair enough. I vaulted on board instead and threw myself at the prow, righting the vessel. The elves were disorganized now, staggering to their feet. Drawing Shiharr I pounced on the nearest, heaving him around and laying the blade against his throat. “Stop!” I snarled at his companion.
The elf hesitated, hand hovering just above the sword that had fallen in the confusion. He looked from his companion to me, and said in heavily accented Angari, “Others return, let him go.”
“You think so?” I answered in Angari. Content they not know I understood Terrim. “The River has them, and the River is with me.”
The elf straightened a little, leaving the sword where it was, and dared a glance over the side. I didn’t turn away from him. I didn’t want to know how many bystanders we had, and I trusted the river to keep the others out of reach. Bring me to the shore, I willed the river. I needed support to take them all alive, I had to hope Ayglos or Jemin would be making for the riverbank.
“Meddler,” snarled the elf, turning back to me. “The blood of land and forest does not concern you.”
“Hot springs are water,” I snapped, “And you pollute them with blood.”
“The Angari pollute them, we would have them pure.” The elf looked at his companion then grabbed for his sword. A price worth paying, apparently.
As the elf came at me, I plunged overboard with my prisoner. The elf in my arms flailed in panic. I released him enough for me to sheath Shiharr, then caught hold of him again before he could get far. I earned a solid blow in the shoulder from his thrashing, and narrowly avoided a blow to the head. I glimpsed other nymphs in the water just before we broke the surface again. The elf gasped for air. We weren’t terribly far from the elf in the barge, and he was trying to use the sword to paddle the boat. I didn’t know where he was trying to go, but even without the Juni’s intervention he wouldn’t get far. I could see the other two elves trying to swim but not making any headway.
Rabanki swooped into view and then flew a wide circle around me. I squinted up at him and watched as he made for one of the longer piers. There was a burly figure there, I thought. I started for it, asking the Juni to bring the boat and the other elves. The river seemed relieved to bring them toward shore, and it occurred to me that her folk were likely asking her to help the boat and its occupants—seeing only a boat in distress. I was glad Ayglos had spent time befriending the river, I was doubtless treading on his favor. What I didn’t know was if he’d made friends with the River Folk who were now drawing close.
Thank you to my lovely readers!
You keep me writing!
If you like Zare’s adventures, don’t forget to like, comment, and share! Also, consider supporting on Patreon for as little as $1/month.
Patrons, don’t forget to check out Zare’s Patreon for chapter format, maps, first looks, and other cool extras.