11 Journey to Weshaven
Brother Sammil was never fond of the sea, especially the waters around Northport. The seawater currents made it difficult to navigate ships safely around the island. Two days of brisk winds, turbulent waters and crashing waves were difficult to endure.
The Molly Red was in the open sea now, with favorable winds pushing the vessel towards Mercil. Sammil stayed below as the continual rolling movement made him feel nauseous. The calmer waters finally provided him relief.
Walking out of his quarters, he entered a darkened hall. It was an open area where the ship’s crew rested at night, now emptied. Light spilled into the room from the round portholes facing the quarterdeck. He could see activity, but without hearing any sound.
A solid oak door sealed the room from the outside. With a little effort, Sammil pulled it open. Seabird squawked their approval of the improving weather. They gently rafted on the ocean’s surface currents, alongside the Molly Red. Some lifted high into the scattered clouds, carried by thermals.
The massive ship had several decks and levels between Sammil and Captain Munro. Standing at the bow’s upper deck and leaning over a rail, he shouted instructions to his crew. Noticing Sammil, the Captain beckon him to the bow.
Sammil stepped down the starboard ladder and onto the Gun Deck. He continued down another ladder that led him to the Main Deck. Several shipmates climbed the Mainmast to adjust the riggings. The wind filled the mainsail, displaying the symbol of the red whale breaching the water.
There were all sorts of activities on every deck. Some crew repaired the damage inflicted on the ship by the storms. Others climbed to the crosstrees to inspect the different masts and sails. Sammil saw the pride of the Captain and crew of the Molly Red.
The ship seemed to glide through the water, unimpeded. Sammil climbed the last ladder to the Forecastle, pausing to catch his breath. The Captain gave him a hearty welcome, as they clasped forearms. “Glad to see you about, my friend. What do you think of your travel so far?”
Sammil shook his head. “I thought we would sink to the bottom a few times.”
Captain Munro laughed and tugged at his beard. “This is the most excellent ship in these waters. It would take more than a storm to bring her down.”
He leaned over the railing and roared at a deckhand, “Matey, tell the quartermaster I will eat now!”
Captain Munro turned to Brother Sammil, pulling his long hair back around his ears. “Come to my quarters, and let’s break bread.”
He led the way down the ladder to the Captain’s quarters below. There was a carved emblem of the Molly Red set in front of a well-worn helm. Below it was the phrase, “tempestas procella vitare non potes.” The Captain pointed to the wall and said, “You should have read this before we started our journey.”
Brother Sammil smiled. “You are familiar with the classical languages. A proper translation is ‘Weather the storms you cannot avoid.'”
“Excellent!” exclaimed Captain Munro. There were two sets of doors on either side of the emblem. He pushed one of the double doors open and shed his coat. “Sometimes, I forget how heavy this layer is until I take it off.”
Sammil looked around the vast room, everything clean and in its place. At the center, in front of a bank of windows, was a long dark table fastened to the floor. A well-padded red chair, locked into a channel, allowed the Captain to move towards or away from the table.
There were documents and other materials waiting for the Captain to review. Above the desk was an elegant oil lamp, ready to shed light. Rope tied with fancy knots kept chairs and a bunk stationary against the wall.
Brother Sammil turned around and saw a large map of the Mainlands and Rylie Glen. It hung on the wall between the two sets of doors. Color-coded lines and notations, no doubt, captured important navigation details.
A quick knock at the door announced the arrival of a boy carrying a flat board of bread, fruit, and cheese. He had tied a flask to his belt that bumped his leg as he walked. Placing the tray on the table, the boy said, “The sea biscuits will need a few more minutes of soaking. Anything else, Captain?”
Brother Sammil watched the boy as he untied the flask. His right arm had a branding number visible through his linen shirt. “That will be it, my lad,” replied the Captain.
As the boy left the room, Captain Munro waved his hand. “Come, pull up a chair, and eat something.”
Sammil loosened the loop holding a chair against the wall and placed it at the table. “I see you still hold to that barbaric practice of branding debtors.”
Captain Munro, already at the table, looked at him. “Now, Brother Sammil. Let’s not venture into a lengthy discourse before we have eaten a morsel.”
“Then I will speak of another matter,” Sammil said as he positioned his chair before sitting. It was light with two thick leather straps, fastened by brass nails, on the seat and back. A velvet cushion attached to the bottom strip provided some comfort.
“This may test your memory,” he continued. “About eight years ago, you brought a young boy and his father to Northport. The father returned to the Molly Red alone. Do you remember?”
Captain Munro took his sea biscuit out of the water and took a bite. “I don’t always recall my passengers, but this one I do remember.” He opened the flask and took a swig before offering it to Sammil. “Why do you ask?”
Sammil took a drink, too bitter for his liking, then returned the flask to the Captain. “I’ve grown fond of the young man and wondered about his journey to Northport.”
Captain Munro moved the food board closer to Sammil before continuing. “His father kept a close watch over him most of the journey. But he made it to the main deck a few times on his own. Quiet and reserved would best describe him.”
Sammil wasn’t sure why he asked. He hoped to learn things about Theotello that would help explain recent events. It still wasn’t clear to him why he had to travel to Weshaven. “Yes, and the boy remains the same today,” was his response.
The Captain popped a few grapes into his mouth and pointed at the Chronicler. “Are you looking to write something about the lad?”
Sammil objected, waving his hand in defiance. “Oh, no. There are few stories ever written about Chroniclers. No, this is more about understanding Theotello. That’s the name he has chosen.”
Tugging at his beard, a sign he was thinking, the Captain broke into a broad grin. “Well, I know something you haven’t heard. Before he left my ship, he says to me ‘That young boy over there is innocent of his crimes.'”
Sammil became interested. “What boy and what crimes?” he asked.
Tearing out a chunk of cheese, Captain Munro bit down and chewed. “There was another boy about Theotello’s age on the ship. I took him in from Southport before we sailed to Mercil. Lord Luka Dey of Casselberry accused him of murdering a noble.”
“How is that possible at that age?” Sammil gasped.
“I didn’t believe it either,” the Captain assured him. “But, if I didn’t take him as an indentured servant, Luka would have killed him. I had to brand him and take him on board the ship to protect the lad.”
“And that’s when Theotello saw him on your ship as you traveled to Northport,” Sammil responded.
“That’s right. Theotello never spoke with the boy. And then he says to me that he is innocent and that I should take him home.”
Sammil wasn’t ready for food, but he took a bite of his sea biscuit. “So, what did you do?”
Captain Munro raised his shoulders. “I ignored him.”
That wasn’t quite the way Sammil thought the story would end. But then the Captain continued. “I wasn’t going to think about it again until another passenger walked down the ramp. It was a woman dressed in a dark hooded tunic. Never saw much of her face, but she had piercing eyes.”
Sammil knew the description was of Oona Sera, ruler of Weshaven. He held his breath, wondering what he would hear. The Captain had a bewildered look on his face. “She stopped midway, turned to me, and whispered something into her hand.”
“What did she say?”
Captain Munro leaned back and shook his head. “To this day, I do not know. But it was as if her words took flight and struck me on the side of my head. Suddenly, everything became clear. I knew at that moment that Theotello was correct.”
Sammil pushed his chair back and stood. He thought how unusual Theo and Oona focused on the indentured servant. Placing his hands on the table, he leaned forward and asked, “What did you do?”
“I brought that young boy to my home. He wouldn’t tell me his name, so I gave him my father’s name, Josah. Eight years later, he’s become a son to me, like my other two. He was the last person I ever branded.”
Captain Munro heard the familiar single note made by a pennywhistle. A crew member, high on one of the crosstrees, must have sited their destination. He stood and turned to the windows. There was Mercil in the distance, the largest port of the Mainlands.
“I don’t brand people anymore. I buy their services from their masters, when I can, then set them free. Most have chosen to say on the Molly Red.”
Sammil discerned the Captain’s words were real. “Where are your sons now? Are they on the ship?”
“Josah and my two other boys,” the Captain said while gazing at Mercil, “are in Bon Abbi. I am to meet them back at Southport in less than a fortnight.
“Bon Abbi?” Sammil blurted out. He thought about the coincidence between Theo and Oona connecting with Josah. “Theotello is in Bon Abbi. He left a few days ago.”
Captain Munro looked over his shoulder. It wasn’t difficult to see Brother Sammil’s concern. “Are my boys in danger?” he asked.
Sammil closed his eyes. He was too tired to use his gifts when speaking with Munro but knew he had to try. But the Chronicler was too far removed from Bon Abbi to know. “I cannot tell.”
The Captain turned back to the window, as the ship sailed closer to the port city. The second whistle blew. “You need to gather your things now. We’ll arrive in Mercil in short order.”
“Captain, I am not clear why Theotello is in Bon Abbi. But I can tell you that he runs towards danger, not one to shrink back.”
Munro hung his head, then turned to face Brother Sammil. “There is a storm brewing across these lands that has nothing to do with the weather. I sense it. I see it.”
Sammil didn’t want to confirm what the Captain expressed, but he was right. “Do what you can to bring those boys back with you,” he told the Captain. He paused a moment, then walked away when there was no response.
Brother Sammil traveled light, carrying clothing and personal items in a leather bag. It didn’t take long for him to get his belongings packed and return to the main deck. With skill and ease, the First Mate brought the ship to the pier, allowing the momentum to carry it to the moorings.
The soft bump confirmed they made it to Mercil. The ship’s crew went into action, securing the vessel, and lowering the gangplank. Sammil slipped the bag strap around his arm and neck. Then he adjusted the weight before he started down to the pier.
“Wait, Brother Sammil,” he heard Captain Munro shout behind him. The gangplank board bounced as he made his way to the Chronicler. “Take this with you.”
Sammil reached for the walking stick offered by the Captain. A twisted pair of branches polished to a bright shine had a metal cap on the bottom. A round gray stone attached to the top was easy to grip with some weight to it.
“I know you don’t travel with anything to defend yourself. This stick will ease your burden when you walk distances and offer protection. Anyone hit with that stone will feel pain.”
Sammil tapped the gangplank twice with the walking stick, then nodded his acceptance. “You are a most gracious host, allowing me to travel to Mercil at no cost. And now you offer this gift.”
“I could tell by our handclasp that your intentions are honorable, ” he continued. “Theotello and the woman, Oona Sera, told you to care for Josah for a reason. I don’t have the gift of seeing the future. But I can tell you this…”
Brother Sammil looked into the Captain’s eyes. “There is a story that is unfolding before us of a struggle against darkness. We’ll all be counting on you to play your role.”
He turned and walked down the ramp without looking back. “Grace and peace to you, my friend!”
Mercil was the largest city in the Mainlands. The Molly Red docked where the deep waters kept her hull safe. That meant Sammil would have to walk some distance before he made it to the city center.
Every pier had a ship tied down, each with someone shouting orders to their crew to load or unload cargo. Sammil thought of the Northport wine Captain Munro carried on the Molly Red. It pleased him to think the wine would sell in Mercil with ease. And as in the past, the Captain would share the revenue with Northport.
The constant sound along the pier was overwhelming at first. Sammil kept a sedentary life, ordered and predictable. And now he was in Mercil, at the busiest port and with no idea how he would journey to Weshaven.
Sammil relied on an old map he found in the Mercil library back home. He knew the road to Weshaven started at the city center and then continue west. But there were no details beyond the borders of Mercil.
He heard the stories that Weshaven was a hidden city. Only those summoned could enter. Sammil hoped Oona Sera’s invitation eight years ago was enough to get him into the city.
A row of colorful merchant warehouses dotted the pier. Carts rolled down the roadway. Merchants invited travelers to stop, browse, and buy their wares. The warm breeze off the waters made the Chronicler lower his hood.
Sammil slowed his pace as a strange feeling overcame him. Someone was following him. He stood at the first cart he came to and asked the vendor if someone stopped behind him.
“Why, yes, my Lord,” replied the vendor. “A striking fellow with white hair. Never seen anyone like him before.”
“Don’t stare at him,” whispered Sammil. “Is he carrying a weapon?”
“No, my Lord. But he seems to be waiting for you to move.”
Sammil reached for a coin he kept in his pocket and slipped it to the vendor. “When I walk away, would you step in front of the man, so I have time to slip away?”
“Delighted to help,” the vendor grinned, as he made a sale without an exchange.
Sammil nodded his head and quickened his steps to the end of the pier. He heard the vendor shouting, attempting to impede the man’s progress, but to no avail. “He’s following you, my Lord!”
The city was around the bend. Sammil thought he could blend into the crowd, hide in a building or doorway if he made that turn. But as he came to the end of the pier, another man blocked his path. He had blazing red hair, light skin, wearing a dark cloak.
Sammil stopped and took a step back. Then he heard someone say, “Brother Sammil.”
He whirled around and stared at the white-haired man. “We are here to escort you to Weshaven.”
“Weshaven? How did you know…?” The Chronicler stumbled at his words.
Offering his hand, the white-haired man said, “I’m Gedare, and he is Tasia. Oona Sera has asked us to keep you safe.”
Sammil hesitated but clasped hands with Gedare, wondering what history he would encounter. But he couldn’t read the man. There was no history or intention to extract. And yet, he didn’t feel he was in danger.
“Come, we’ll take you to our carriage,” said Gedare.
He turned to the right at the end of the pier and walked down a narrow cobblestone road. Sammil didn’t get the time to take in the sights. But he enjoyed observing various merchant stores, some with extra living spaces above.
Gerdare kept a brisk pace, with Tasia following Sammil a few paces behind. The city was alive with people walking in all directions. Some stopped at a corner long enough to share a story with whoever would listen.
Work carts crowded the avenue, some stopping to fix something or sell trinkets. The heat and their pace made Sammil sweat. He pulled out a linen square and wiped his brow. “How much further?” he asked.
Neither of the two men responded. Sammil was about to question where they were going when the buildings gave way to the city center. It was an expansive space with lush grass, flowering bushes, and trees in every direction.
Sammil spotted another dark-cloaked person waiting nearby. They held the reins for two horses hitched to an open carriage. The dark wood wagon with gold accents complemented the black mares. They grew restless as the men approached.
Gedare helped Sammil into the carriage that had two padded benches on opposite sides. He sat facing the horses, favoring forward motion. Tasia climbed in and settled across the Chronicler.
Releasing the hold of the reins, the dark-cloaked person pulled back the hood. It surprised Sammil to see a young woman, petite in size with long golden hair, whispering to the horses.
“This is Bria. She will navigate us to Weshaven. I’ll be sitting up front, while Tasia will join you inside.”
Bria jumped up to the driver’s bench next to Gedare. She took the reins, snapping them to start the horses in a slow trot. The red-haired man stared at the Chronicler, never speaking a word.
“How long is the trip to Weshaven?” Sammil asked Tasia.
When he didn’t get a response, Gedare turned slightly and shouted, “Tasia doesn’t talk. But he’s a great listener.”
Sammil grunted. “Great,” he thought. “This will make the journey go by faster.”
Bria led the horses beyond the city center at a slower pace. The cobblestone road was bumpy and hard on the wheels. But beyond the lush green commons, the trail transitioned to dirt. It weaved through the rest of Mercil, perfect for their horses and wagon.
The further they traveled away from the city center, the smaller the buildings and crowds. It wasn’t long before they reached the city gates. Guards occupied the towers on either side. One of them waved their approval for the travelers to continue their journey.
Clusters of building and people found life outside of the Mercil walls. Scattered farms dotted the landscape, the source of sustenance for the growing city.
“How long before we get to Weshaven,” shouted Sammil.
Tasia stared at him with no response. Gedare glanced behind him as the horses transitioned from a casual trot to a full run. “Get comfortable, Brother Sammil,” he shouted back. “It’s a long two days journey.”
Sammil looked up at the clear skies. He hoped the weather would cooperate and not rain on them. He wondered how he would endure two days, bouncing along with a companion who didn’t speak.
With a sudden movement, the red-haired man bent down and tugged at something under his bench. It was a cloth bag with leather ties. Loosening the top, he reached in and retrieved a flatbread and handed it to Sammil.
Not sure what he should do, Sammil examed the bread, flipping it back and forth. “What’s this?” he asked.
Tasia motioned for him to eat. When Sammil hesitated, the red-haired man tore a chunk and popped it in his mouth. “Alright, I see this isn’t a harmful thing to consume.”
Sammil ripped a piece of flatbread and ate it. Within seconds, he felt his body relax. His eyes were heavy with sleep. He tried to fight it but soon gave way and stretched across his bench.
It was the deepest sleep Sammil ever experienced. Every movement of the horses and carriage encouraged him to continue his rest. After what seemed to be but a few hours, the horses slowed their pace until they stopped.
Sammil felt someone shaking his shoulders. He rubbed his eyes, still tired, but wanting to awake. With a slow yawn, he opened his eyes. Their carriage stopped in front of iron gates and gleaming walls. The sunlight made the bricks dance and sparkle.
“Welcome to Weshaven,” Gedare said, smiling.
As the gates opened, Bria drove the horses through a smooth road. Unlike the earthen materials used at Northport, Sammil marveled at the buildings. They were bright and inviting. People walked down the road, some entering buildings. Most stared as the carriage halted at a grand set of stairs.
At the bottom, clothed in a white flowing tunic trimmed in gold, was Oona Serra. She took a step towards the carriage. Sammil felt confused, as he remembered the dark shrowd she wore the first time they met.
Without a greeting to Sammil, Oona said, “Come. The balance of this world depends on the message you carry.”