18 April 2007

Day Seventy-seven

The second day of our harbouring in Amen'wraith has been one of great activity and some incredible discoveries. At first light I was awakened by Ahlek, and together with Stump and others of the Assistants we organised ourselves for our day ashore. As with the other parties that have gone before, we have a set number of tasks to perform, and a very tight schedule that must be kept to. For us this day shall be devoted solely to the finding of the herbs, fungi, and other roots and earths needed for our craft. Of all the supplies we require it is these that are the hardest to procure, and so we will spend our day in this pursuit.

By first light our party was ashore. Already the beach was crowded, many of the gatherers camping in behind the dunes, taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep on dry land. By the time we were able to make it to shore there was already great activity as lifeboats and skiffs were being filled with the fruits of the previous day's scavenging. Together with Ahlek I made my way to the head of the beach and there found a well-trodden pathway into a broad stand of forest. We did not have to go far to find everything that we were looking for.

In the shadows of gigantic trees the two of us began the task of searching out what we needed. In the depths of the forest our surroundings were alive with activity. Birds sped through the shadows, their wings bright flashes of colour mixed with long lines of sunlight that pierced the canopy above, and everywhere there were insects, engaged in the endless movement of their short lives. The undergrowth was thick in places but within its growth we found much of what we needed. Fungi and aromatic herbs sprung from bark and root, special earths and humus proved attainable at the grasp of a hand. Carefully we did our work, filling our packs and the additional bags that we had brought with us. By midday we were almost finished, only one task remained.

The day had turned warm and with the light of a clear sky cutting through the branched canopy above we took the time to take lunch and enjoy, for a short while, the feeling of firm earth beneath us. Regardless of the misgivings I have felt about the convenient perfection of this island it was good to sit against a tree-trunk once again and feel the texture of dirt between my fingers. The smells and grit of the forest proved a potent balm for senses that had been too long saturated with the salt of the ocean. I can say that lunch tasted all the better for it.

While we had the time I talked with Ahlek on what we had experienced on the journey so far, and in that conversation came to know him better. Unlike most of the Assistants he is young, but very bright, and the owner of a dry wit that finds humour in the most unlikely of events. It surprised me greatly when he turned our conversation to the subject of the island and its bounty. As we talked he expressed his own opinion that it was a shame that we could not tarry longer here. Such was the vitality of Amen'wraith he proposed, that it would have made the perfect sanctuary for the Fleet, and a possible home for us all. But that was the problem, and it plagued him just as it unsettles me. Everything we need is no further than arms-length away and it had struck him that it was all too easy, too convenient for travellers as ourselves that had seen such hardship. For him it had the smell of bait, an enticement drawing us all into a trap. I could not help but agree.

With the midday meal finished we returned to the last task of the day. To the north of our position there had been found a small pool and cascade. Such a location provided the hope of finding a particular lichen that is in great demand as a curative for infected wounds. Of all our medical needs this was the one item that is most highly prized. According to the party that had found the pool on the previous day, it could be found a half hour's walk further within the forest.

As it happened it did not prove difficult to find the waters. The cascade fell from a plateau high above, and made such a noise that we heard it a long time before it came into view. On the cusp of a small rise the pond lay before us as a wide, shallow pool, bordered on most sides by the treeline of the forest, which emptied noisily into a fast running creek that flowed away to the south-west. Carefully we made our way to the base of the cascade, skirting the edges of the water as we looked for the tell-tale russet colouring of the lichen. At the base of the falling waters we found what we were looking for, and then spent a good hour removing small pieces of the lichen from its purchase between rocks and upon the cliff-face itself. We were well pleased with our efforts and after taking a moment to drink and clean ourselves turned to begin our trek back to the beach.

Only then did Ahlek Norahm see the small figures that were watching us. Putting out his arm he brought me to a halt and then crouched upon the trail, pointing into the trees ahead of us. I immediately saw what he was gesturing at and dropped to one knee as well. Within the shadows of the forest stood dozens of small figures, no taller than my outstretched arm, but definitely human-like in form although very thin and gangled in appearance. For a few moments we waited, watching as the figures stood motionless in the undergrowth before disappearing back into the forest's depths. I can record here that my pulse was pounding in my ears as we watched them. I do not know what they were, nor whether they could have meant us any harm, but I was glad when they retreated back into the shadows.

By the time of this encounter it was already mid-afternoon, and being mindful of our need to return to the beach, we hurried on our way. With the possibility of the creatures at our backs we did not stop to enjoy the beauty of the forest. After our brief encounter we concentrated instead on every shadowed patch of undergrowth or tree-limb that overhung our path. Neither of us could sense if there was danger to be found here, and in the absence of such knowledge we moved all the quicker, our legs propelling us swiftly on our way. I do not know about Ahlek but I held my harvesting knife all the tighter as we ran for the beaches.

It took us little time to return to the shoreline. Sweating from the exertion we lumbered out of the forest to find the beach a hive of activity and industry. Dozens of boats lined the water's edge and for the entire length of the sands there could be seen cargo being loaded and the passengers from many ships enjoying the pleasures of a few hours ashore. At the very end of the beach however, there had begun a much more serious undertaking. Upon heavy trestles and bracings the long, thin structures of three new masts were taking shape. Trees had been selected and felled on the preceding afternoon and now ships-carpenters were busy with the difficult task of cutting and forming the natural bends and knotting of the raw timber. Under other circumstances it was a job that would take considerably longer than the three days we have at our disposal, but only the forming of the masts is to be undertaken on the island, everything else is to be done aboard ship once we have cleared the entrance to the harbour and have found ourselves again in open waters.

Within this hive of activity myself and Ahlek began the search for those Healers that were ashore. We had all been given our specific tasks to perform, and with the conclusion of our own mission it was necessary for us to find the others and await the first lifeboat back to the Dromannion. It proved to be a straightforward endeavour. Upon an area of flat sands in behind the first line of dunes the Healer Faren had raised a small pavilion to cater for any medical needs that might arise whilst we were ashore. There we found Faren himself and a number of Healers from other vessels in the Fleet. Most of those who had been sent out into the forests had not yet returned, so both myself and Ahlek took the opportunity to rest in the shade of the spreading canvass and recount to the Healers what we had encountered in the depths of the forest. To my surprise the creatures were already known to Faren. Hunters had found sign of them in the early morning but they had avoided all attempts at contact. The Maturi calls them Morg, an old name for forest-spirits that are said to inhabit the far eastern regions of the Haarn Kingdoms. By his telling such spirits can be malicious creatures but here they have harmed no-one and instead have kept a discrete distance. All who now venture into the forests have been told to leave them alone.

With our story told we settled back to await the return of the other Assistants. For a time we rested and then began the unavoidable work of preparing and packing our herbs and earths for transport back to the Dromannion. Faren was particularly pleased with the lichen and questioned us at length about where we found it, and if there was any that remained to be collected. It was as we went about our task that I overheard the Healers discussing a turn of events for which I had no previous knowledge.

Whilst we had been out in the depths of the nearby forest a small party of dwarvendim had left the beaches, their mission to ascend the highest of the summits that rested in the island's interior, their goal the snow-capped peak of Troga'hem. The reason for such a mission seemed unknown to all who now spoke of it, but the nature of the party that had left the safety of the beaches was most unusual. Of the men that had departed two were known to me, one being the Maturi Hedj and another, a young man known to his dwarvendim brethren as the Shadar Len. The remaining four members of the group seemed to be carriers, hefting the gear that would be needed for the Maturi and Shadar to make an ascent of the peak. From what I have observed over the past weeks it is these two men that provide the leadership of the dwarvendim.

To leave the hurried activity of the beaches does not appear wise, but it is not for me to judge. Even the casual conversations of the Healers have left no doubt that their thoughts are divided on what it might mean. It seems however that the entire enterprise has the full backing of the Fleet Captain. If this is so then there must be meaning to it, and no doubt we will all find out what its purpose is later. It is curious though.

By the hour before nightfall all the parties had returned to the beaches, and loaded with the bounty of Amen'wraith we were ferried quickly back to the Dromannion. Many of the Fleet's number have decided to stay ashore on this last night. The long swathe of the beach is lit brightly with the many fires and lamps of those wishing to make the most of the only piece of firm ground that might be found for many months. Although it would be my wish to spend the night ashore it is something that our duties cannot allow. The supplies need unpacking and proper storage. It is a job that must be done quickly and will take most of the evening to complete. Hopefully there will be time in the early morning to return to the island one last time.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

13 April 2007

Day Seventy-six

The night has passed slowly with the anticipation of our landfall, and beneath the rising suns of morning the Dromannion is at full sail, making steadily for the entrance to a great harbour that lies ahead. We have come far to reach this point in our journey and what stands before us fills our hearts with hope. The islands of Laerion have been described by the Maturi as verdant islands in a wide sea, but what we have discovered exceeds all expectations.

In the twilight of the previous day the Fleet met the southern-most tip of the Laerion islands and in doing so quickly moved northwards. According to the dwarvendim the main island of this archipelago, known to Caren'thal the Younger as Amen'wraith, lay only a dozen leagues to the north. Upon Amen'wraith, it is said, we will find safe harbour and a bounty of food and fresh water, enough to replenish our stores and spare us from any further rationing on our voyage westwards.

With this great boon ahead we sailed north until shallow waters and the gloom of a moonless night forced us to furl sail and drop anchor. It was at first light that we again returned to our course and by first bell of morning the island of Amen'wraith loomed before us. For the best view of the approaching land I found a position high on the foredeck balustrade. Both Stump and Ahlek Norahm were beside me. Amongst the gathering crowd we were but a few white robed men in a crush of people as we all strained for our first views of landfall.

In truth I can say that I am not sure what I was actually expecting. A large number of people crowded upon the different decks of the Dromannion, watching as we skirted the southern edge of the island, looking for the safe harbour described by the Maturi Hedj. As was foretold the island is substantial, consisting of long sand beaches, wide plains of trees and grasses and a series of mountain summits that rise into the clouds some distance inland. I am unsure as to its actual size but it must extend for at least fifteen leagues from north to south and three from east to west. On the heaving deck of the Dromannion we all stood silent, watching as the island slid by, but it was not the size of island that enthralled us.

Amen'wraith is a paradise, an answer to the hopes of a Fleet that has spent too many weeks at sea. Never have I seen grasses so verdant, or snow-capped mountains so crisp and white in the sunlight. The beaches glow yellow in the light of morning and the forests are a vision of unrestrained vitality. At every turn can be found flocks of birds gliding upon the winds, or herds of great beasts roaming the plains. There is nothing about the island that I can see as having been disturbed by the hands of men. It is as pristine a place as could be found in this world, yet there are even greater wonders to be found here and the greatest of these stands at the entrance to the harbour.

Given the extraordinary state of the island's plant and animal life, it should not have been a surprise that the best of its harbours lay as a quiet tranquil haven. Formed as a wide circle encompassed by two huge headlands, its entrance beckons as a narrow gateway that opens into a cove of quiet water. Straddling both of these headlands lay a huge natural archway of stone that stretches overhead, blocking out the suns as we sailed carefully through its gigantic arch. At the base of each root of the arch stands a huge spire of stone, roughly formed but immense in stature. Each has the appearance of great age, weathered and broken by the forces of time and exposure.

To the western edge of this natural harbour spreads a wide arc of sand-lined beaches and a series of shear cliffs that line the harbour's headlands to the north and south. The beaches are to be our landing points and with the winds gusting from the east it did not take long for the entire Fleet to sail into the huge harbour. By midday every vessel of our number was at anchor and the serious business of our stay commenced.

Much has been planned for, but our time here is limited by the warnings given by the Maturi. With the Fleet arrayed across the sheltered bay the first of many small boats went ashore, and from that point a large encampment has grown quickly upon the sand-beaches. As we have only three days it has been decided that we shall work day and night at the tasks we have given ourselves. Hunters and gathering parties have already begun to delve into the forests to the west and a number of large trees have been selected for cutting. I have been scheduled to go ashore at first light tomorrow with the other Assistants and I am looking forward to the chance of standing upon dry ground once again.

Although others have priority on this first day of our stay here, and the duties of my craft have not lessened as I wait for my time ashore, there has been opportunities enough to look out over the island and consider its unusual nature. Much has been uncovered by the initial parties that have made their way into the island's hinterland. All reports that have made their way back tell of a land bursting with life, full of the provender needed for us to continue our voyage. There seems no aspect of this island that can be construed as ill-meant, and in that very fact I have a growing feeling that everything is somehow too perfect, too accessable for our needs. After the hardships of our voyage it all seems to good to be true.

As I write this I feel uncomfortable for I do not wish to appear ungrateful or mean-spirited. The island is indeed a paradise that seems tailor-made for the provision of everything that we might need to continue our voyage. There is something though in the abundance of its gifts that has me wondering if it might not be too convenient. I cannot help but make mention of the feeling that somewhere beneath the island's rich surface there lies a darker aspect, one that will rise to tax a full measure in payment for what we might take from it. The Maturi Hedj's warning regarding the spirits of this place sits in the back of my mind, and in truth I do not know whether my unease is in consequence of that warning, or whether it has its origins at a far deeper level.

I can say that such concerns are not mine alone. The Healer Faren and others have raised the question as to whether we should be taking anything from this land except that which can be plucked from the trees, or hunted upon the wide plains. Faren has cautioned that to take trees or to damage the island in anyway seems contrary to its pristine status, an affront to the gifts that it can bestow to us if we treat it kindly. Stump and the Maturi have been just as insistent, saying that we have a free rein to take what we need for our voyage, but that we should be tempered by respect for the untouched nature of the land. In their minds we tread in paradise at our peril. I have little doubt that great benefit can be gained from our stay here but we need to be careful. There is something here, I know it.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

04 April 2007

Day Seventy-five

At first light this morning the cry arose that we have been waiting for. To the north can be seen a tell-tale darkening against the horizon. It is mountains capped with cloud, and there can be no doubt that we have found the islands we have been looking for. If the map of the Maturi Hedj is correct we will find a chain of islands that extend some twenty-five leagues northwards. With the land clearly visible Captain Duschet has begun organising for the parties that shall go ashore. Myself and Stump are to be allocated to one such party, our task the collection of herbs and roots for the Surgery. It is to be a busy time, and one that has been set very definite bounds.

As soon as the watch gave word of the sighting of land the Captain and the Maturi Hedj called all the officers together. It has been determined that we may only spend three days roaming the islands, finding the provisions we require. It seems that Laerion is a paradise but one that harbours its own secrets. From the writings of Caren'thal the Younger the Maturi has determined that there are spirits that rest deep within its fertile soils, and these beings do not take to visitors kindly. Luckily the writings of Caren'thal tell that the spirits rest deep and take time to awaken. Three days shall be our limit then we will be unable to return. We may take advantage of any harbours we find but our stay ashore cannot extend beyond this limit.

It is strange to consider the idea that we must take into account the possibility of elemental spirits in modern times such as these, but the Maturi has explained that as Caren'thal the Younger has made reference to them, then we must take them as being real. Excitement grows amongst us as the islands approach. Faren has been told that by the end of this seventy-fifth day we shall make landfall.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

02 April 2007

Day Seventy-three

Today has seen the return of the behemoth and it has been a day of violence and death. It was at the striking of the last bell before midday that the vast creature rose from the depths and took up station in the midst of the Fleet. The seas were rough and a stiff wind was blowing across the line of our path to the north. In the swell and spray the creature seemed oblivious to our presence, content to rise and fall upon the surface of the dark waters. Many of our number came to watch the display and marvel at the size of the beast. Its smooth dark-grey body slipped in and out of the water with ease, maintaining a station in the centre of the Fleet.

As a precaution Captain Duschet ordered the Fleet to disperse, and called the bolt-crews once again to their stations, mindful of the possibility that the behemoth might decide to cause the same damage amongst us that it had caused to the dwarvendim. The ships of the Fleet had no time to find a safe distance before it did so.

As if on a whim the huge beast dived in the depths of the sea and then rose again at great speed. I do not believe it was a malicious act, more an expression of some great joy that it felt in its existence but for us the results were catastrophic. Out of the water it rose, its sleek dark body lifting high into the air before falling back upon the sea. It hit no ship on its descent but the force of its fall rose up a swell of spreading water that came at the nearest ships as a wall travelling at great speed. Without time to run or take hold those that were on deck watching the creature were hit with the full force of its breaching. From the vantage I held I could see what was coming and braced for the impact, those on the mid-deck were not so fortunate. The Dromannion heeled deep into the water as the wave hit and most of the spectators on deck were swept into the sea.

Immediately those ships that were close began firing upon the behemoth. From the Dromannion and the Allahard a rain of explosive bolts descended onto the creature, detonating into its side, tearing large pieces of flesh from its body. In an attempt to drive the behemoth away we succeeded quickly in angering it further and again it descended into the depths. This time however it breached directly beneath a ship named the Tau'neru. In a sickening crash of splintering timbers the ship exploded, throwing its human contents into the waters. Again the Dromannion and the Allahard responded, throwing their bolts straight at the creature as it hit the water once again. This time they detonated against something sensitive. In a series of explosions the bolts found their marks and the creature writhed within the waves before disappearing. I cannot conceive that we have killed it, but it has been injured enough that it then left us alone.

We had only moments to recover from the shock of the assault. People were in the water and survivors of the Tau'neru clung desperately to anything that was still floating. In desperation those that could swim jumped over the side and quickly lifeboats were lowered into the heaving swell. Lookouts called directions as dozens of small boats tried to pick up those that had been swept overboard. It was a time of great anxiety but in the end those that could be saved were taken back aboard. Many however could not be recovered.

The behemoth has not come back.

Maps of the Voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

17 March 2007

Day Seventy-two

Repairs to the Fleet have been completed and there is no sign of the Kalborea. After two days we can only assume that the ship was lost alongside its sister-ships in the violence of the storm. It grieves me to think that Captain Lovar and his crew have been taken by the sea but there is little that can be done about it. At midday flags were raised and in the growing breath of an easterly wind we have returned to the prosecution of our great adventure. It is noteworthy to record that no longer do we view ourselves as refugees. We may have begun this journey in flight, fleeing the suffocation of the Enemy, but with the new maps made by the Maturi Hedj, and the skilled cartography of Fanet Ari, our path into the west is now clear to all.

The Fleet still suffers from the effects of the last storm however. Many ships have been badly damaged, the Dromannion itself losing a mast and suffering a splintering of its starboard hull. Such damage has been repaired but we can now sail only as fast as the slowest amongst us and many ships have been reduced to a crawl, having lost sail and steering to the power of the Tempest. We have been assured that all damage can be repaired, it will however, require a quiet harbour and a new supply of long timbers. It is hoped that both can be found upon landfall with the islands of Laerion.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

10 March 2007

Day Seventy

With little wind to speak of the Dromannion has become busy with repairs. We cannot replace the foremast and the Captain has ordered instead that the decks be cleared and all other repairs be made before we continue on our way. There is still no sign of the Kalborea, and with a slight hope that the scout might find its way back to Fleet it has been decided that we will remain at anchor for the next two days. There is much work to be done.

In the early hours of the afternoon a cry went up from the watch. Something had been sighted to the south. I was on the wheeldeck at the time with the Healer Faren when all eyes turned to see what had caused the outcry. To my surprise the sky to the south was filled with the dark forms of dozens of winged creatures. My blood ran cold when I realised they were the reptilian beasts of the Enemy.

In an instant the ship came to life. Captain Duschet shouted orders to his officers and once again the bolt-crews took their positions. Everybody who was not needed on deck was ordered below and with the ship bristling with weaponry we waited for the attack that I was sure would follow. It was then that the Maturi Hedj shouted to the bolt-crews to hold their fire. He had been on the foredeck and was desperately forcing his way past the piles of wreckage that still littered the decks as the crews readied their weapons. As he made his way to the wheeldeck there was such a look of concern on his face that Captain Duschet repeated the Maturi's order, standing down his crews and waited for the dwarvendim to reach his position. By the time he had folded his arms Paderian Hedj stood before him.

The Maturi pointed to the south and gave explanation for his outburst. The creatures were Kreel, beasts well known to the dwarvendim and not dangerous unless attacked. Those that we had confronted previously were under the dominion of the Enemy, and it was the dwarvendim's belief that that control ceased as soon as they left sight of land. In a loud voice he explained that it was the time of their seasonal migrations and we would be safe as long as we did not antagonise them.

It took some convincing but Duschet relented and confirmed the orders to restrain his bolt-crews. Quickly flags were raised and the message was sent to the rest of the Fleet. No ship fired upon the Kreel, and instead we watched as the huge creatures swung westwards and disappeared into the western horizon. When they had gone the bolt-crews were stood down, but extra lookouts were placed upon the two remaining masts.

After this had been done the Captain turned backed to the Maturi and asked how he knew of the Kreel, and for that matter where they had gained their knowledge of the way ahead. There was no anger in his questions, they were given up as simple requests and the Maturi Hedj responded with a nod of his head. Their knowledge, he answered openly, was gained from the journeys of a legendary dwarvendim explorer known to his people as Caren'thal the Younger. Long before their subjugation by the Haarn the dwarvendim were a seafaring people who colonised the far southern regions of the old world. The Grey Sea was their second home and many expeditions were sent out into the unknown waters of the west to explore what might lay beyond the horizon. Most came back without success but the first voyage of Caren'thal took his ship, the Longreach, straight to the lands of the New World. It was a journey that took years to complete, but he was on a voyage of exploration and did not return until he had mapped most of the coastline of the lands he had found.

To this the Maturi gave pause. Most of these maps had been lost in the wars that had led to their enslavement. One map however had been kept by the elders of his people, and that map clearly defined the path to the New World. Paderian Hedj had kept custody of that map until the destruction of the dwarvendim fleet at the hands of the Behemoth. Now there was only one repository of its ancient knowledge and that was the memories of the Maturi himself. Of their understanding of the Kreel, that was hard won by experience and the events of their flight from the coasts of the Haarn. He then restated his firm belief that the Kreel would only attack if provoked.

Captain Duschet took in all that the Maturi said and then made one small request. If the knowledge of their journey was only to be found in the memories of one man then it needed to be reproduced. He motioned to his second officer and sent him on his way. There was one aboard the Dromannion well-known for his mapmaking abilities, and with the Maturi's help the Captain asked that a map of their path ahead be made, the purpose to then have it copied for every other ship in the Fleet. Paderian Hedj bowed slightly and agreed. Such a map would be made.

With the Kreel gone and a clear idea now in the minds of all who might have doubted as to how the dwarvendim are so certain of their path to a New World, we have returned to our duties. The remainder of my day has been spent in the company of Faren and Stump. Together we have quantified what remains of our herbs and other remedies. It is not a job that I particularly like but we all must take turns doing so. By our reckoning we are still well-stocked but we have no idea how long our voyage will continue. If the opportunity arises it will be prudent to replenish our stores.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms

16 February 2007

Day Sixty-nine

A new day has dawned and the news from the rest of the Fleet has proven disastrous. In the tempest of the previous day we have lost four ships, three of which have been confirmed as sunk, and one, the Kalborea, that is missing; a total of two-hundred and eighteen souls aboard. All were small vessels, and all stood little chance against the power of storm. The loss of so many has swept away any of the hope which had lightened the days prior to this tragedy. Many have been lost and in the relative calm that has ensued the Fleet has come together once again to take account of damage and make note of individual losses. It is a black day for which I wish to make no further record.

Maps of the voyage
The Chronicles of Arborell
A Glossary of Terms