The Next Task

Posted on November 29, 2010


This story is Part 28 in the Fire and Water series. It follows Abduction. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

Lourlan awoke and sat up in bed, her head spinning even as the remnants of her dream evaporated in the night. Slowly the shapes of the bedroom resolved themselves into familiarity, and her heart ceased pounding. She was alone.

She rose and went into the kitchen, looking for Malen. He was there, sitting in the dark with a cup of tea. When he sensed her, he got up to pour a cup for her. They sat together at the table over their tea, the silence full and solid between them. Finally it was Malen who spoke.

“You couldn’t sleep, either.” It was not a question. She shook her head.

“If I do, I have foul dreams. I can’t remember what it was now.”

Malen sipped his tea, the shadows of his face darker than the night around them. Lourlan felt the expression he wore even though she could not see it.

“I dream all the time since… since the battle,” he said, “but all I remember of those dreams is a blinding white light, and then emptiness. And there is a strange hum, and I feel drawn to it against my will. That’s when I wake up, always terrified.”

“Yes,” Lourlan said. “Now that you say it, I recognize it as my own dream. It’s what I dreamed just now.”

A shudder ran up her spine. She got up and lit a candle. She set it on the table and sat down again. Malen’s eyes were troubled as they watched her. She knew what he would say before he spoke.

“Findol…” She nodded, feeling tears well in her own eyes.

“What they must be doing to him, and to his friends,” she said. “I can’t bear the thought. I feel so… There must be something we can do to help them, but I can’t imagine what that might be. This waiting…”

Malen nodded and reached for her hand.

“I know,” he said. “I know.”

There was a sound outside the cottage, as of great wings beating the air. A moment later there was a light knock on the kitchen door. Malen went to answer it. Lourlan’s heart leapt to her throat when she saw Aubele and her daughter Shaila Pearl standing there, and Yryn’s blue-green bulk behind them.

“Forgive us if we have disturbed you,” Aubele said. Malen stood aside, and she and Shaila entered.

“Is there news?” Lourlan said. Aubele embraced her, and they all sat at the table. Malen poured more tea for everyone.

“We have had no word of Findol or Coanh or Varala,” Aubele said, but she looked at Lourlan and Malen as though she could see the dream haunting them and recognized it. “But I do have some information, and a task for which you could be of help.”

“Anything would be better than this endless waiting,” Malen said.

“We are going to get our friends back,” Shaila said. “Peldanir and the Sorcerers of the South mean to design a ship from the wrecks the Nurain left behind. When it is completed, Peldanir and I will use it to go to Nur and rescue your son and Coanh and Varala.”

Malen and Lourlan gazed at her in awe.

“But we need someone who knows how to build a boat,” Aubele said. “You, Malen, are a fisherman who has built his own vessels for many years. Lourlan, you know how to live both in the water and on the earth, and how to move between them. That knowledge might be useful to the builders as well.”

“I’m happy to do whatever I can,” Malen said, scratching his head. “But I’m sure a Nurain ship is utterly different from a simple seafaring fishing boat. I wouldn’t know how to begin to fashion a craft that could sail between worlds.”

“We have Peldanir and the wisdom of the Sorcerers for that,” Shaila said. “You show them what a well-made boat needs, and together you will build something beyond anything we have yet made in Vael. You’ll build a ship that can bring Findol and his friends home, and protect the borders of our world in a new way.”

Malen looked at Lourlan, and she could see hope stirring in his eyes. She felt it in her own heart.

“When do you need us?” she said. “And where will the ship be built?”

Aubele and Shaila smiled at them.

“Peldanir and the Sorcerers are studying what’s left of the Nurain ships at the site of the battle,” Aubele said. “And Yryn has agreed to carry you there immediately, as soon as you can make ready.”

Malen and Lourlan gazed out the open door at the dragon, who lowered her head to look back at them out of one eye with an eager snort.

“You mean–” Malen began.

“I can fly over the mountains with greater haste than you could go on foot,” Yryn explained. “Time is of the essence.” Lourlan’s stomach flipped briefly.

“Fly. In the air. Like birds,” she breathed.

“I will assure your safety,” Yryn said.

“I must get word to Crigh and Marlagh, Coanh’s parents,” Malen said. “Crigh may be a farmer, but he has an eye for putting things together. He’s helped me build my boats more than once.”

“My messenger is with them even now,” Aubele said, “and Eron is ready to take them. And Aurmid has gone to fetch Varul Storyteller, Varala’s mother. Shaila and I will join you and the builders as soon as possible. This is a new day in Vael, and this undertaking will require all our knowledge.”

That might be true, but Lourlan sensed another reason for Aubele enlisting their aid: so that the parents of the missing could have something to occupy them and give hope to their waiting.

“Thank you, my Queen,” she said, and Aubele nodded, smiling.

Lourlan stood and said to Malen, “Well, my love, we’d best get going. That ship won’t build itself.”

They made ready and went outside, and as Aubele and Shaila bade them farewell, they climbed onto Yryn’s shoulders. She bore them away over the mountains to help save their son.

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