In a flailing of arms and a loud and painful splash, Brannir, had fallen into the water. His ship had been rammed by a Theocracy war barge. As a rigger, he had been up in the sails, trying to shift them to turn the clumsy Coghlandish vessel from its course to avoid that occurrence. Obviously, they had failed. It had been a tight race, their ship was outmatched by the barge, but as they had started the inevitable struggle to try to outsail the oar-driven vessel of the Theocracy, a sleek black elven trimaran had heaved over the horizon, making great speed for the two ships. At that point, they had still been dueling for position. Nothing on the water was faster than trimarans, they had very shallow draft, and their pontoons, that they ran upon were shaped cunningly, to cut through the water like knife blades. However, the elven captain must have missed his mark to cut across the two ships' bows and had instead rammed his incredibly fast vessel into the barge. Else the catapult-hurled fire buckets from the barge had managed to actually hit the helm of the elven ship, which Brannir though more likely.
If that was so, the Theocracy's captain's celebration had been short-lived, for the elven ship had inflicted grievous damage to the barge, rending its hull deeply, but at the same time, driving the ship into the 'Raging Dragon, ' Brannir's vessel. Upon the impact, the Coghlander had been knocked from the rigging, and plummeted into the water. The three ships, now locked together were still being pushed along by the winds that blew northward. However, Brannir was being pushed southward by the prevailing currents in the waters. He was growing cold quickly, though, this water came from north of Coghland, itself, and was frigid with the arctic's chill upon it.
There was a deal of flotsam on the water, debris from the collisions. Chunks of oar, and even a pair of bodies of men, clad in black leather, with their heads sewn into black masks that covered all but their mouths and nostrils. Theocracy slaves, probably oarsmen for the massive banks of oars that drove that behemoth through the waters. As he searched for some floating thing large enough to get himself mostly out of the water upon, he came across another body floating. He swam to it and turned it over. It was a woman, an elven woman. Her skin was dark, though, not like the elves he had seen in the Windy Isles, back when he was a bodyguard for a Ghantian merchant. It was the color of burnished oak, a rich brown with golden sheen. As he looked at her, her eyes snapped opened, revealing a color of gray so light, they looked all white. She coughed water, and sputtering turned her eyes upon him. Her face twisted to a grimace of terror, and she began to yell in some unintelligible tongue. The next thing Brannir knew, he was almost thirty feet from her and decelerating, skipping over the water as it he were a stone hurled by a giant to skip upon his vast pond.
He splashed to a stop, bobbing in the water, and the elf woman was regarding him warily. She seemed to blink a few times, then her expression changed subtly, she did not seem upset any longer, but a look of deep worry remained. She turned toward the ships, receding quickly from the two of them. She shouted something again, bringing a hand out of the water and smashing it back down in frustration. Brannir knew a curse when he heard it, no matter the language.
She looked around herself, a slight expression of desperation in her features now. And then she started chanting, or singing. As he watch, she started to lift from the water, her body floating upward smoothly, as if being hoisted by invisible hands. She kept rising until her feet were clear of the blue-green waves. Then she looked at him again, and he felt himself being lifted as well, it felt to him like his whole body was being touched at once, and embraced by air. He was now also floating above the water. Only the highest crests of the waves beneath their feet reached their sodden shoes.
He was relieved to be free of the chilling water, though, as it would have surely killed even a large figure, such as himself, in fairly short order. As he bobbed over the water, he felt himself moving, he was drifting toward the elf, like a dandelion seed on the wind. She was scantily clad, wearing only a loincloth, bound to her with a metallic-looking belt, and a very small tunic, that only covered her shoulders to just under her breasts. The loincloth was very narrow, and barely served to conceal her pubic mound, but he was little worried for ogling at the moment. Her face was a mask of concern, her very sharp features seemed rapt in concentration. He heard splashing and looked down to see boards and planks moving toward them in the water, and coming together under their feet.
"You will need to bind them together, Coghlander." She said. She was speaking Coghlandish, though it was accented with rich and musical tones. It was lovely, but very eerie. Brannir nodded and then fell into the water, as the unseen forces holding him aloft let him loose. He pulled his short knife from its scabbard, and began to cut the legs from his pants, a dicey endeavor when in the water, but he managed, as he was a good swimmer, and he was also again desperate to get out of the chilling ocean.
He had good, nimble hands, used to working knots in cold air. The water complicated his efforts, but he managed to have the board lashed together in just a few short minutes. The resulting raft was tiny, but he thought it would hold them both afloat. He looked up and she smiled slightly, revealing perfect, but mahogany brown teeth, then her eyes closed and she collapsed into the water.
With panicked strokes, he managed to swim to her and drag her back to the raft, and heaved her onto it. She was not petite like the elves he had seen in the Windy Isles, and he guessed she was his own height, or just shy of it. He feared at first she was dead, but she breathed as he slid her onto the rough wooden boards. He pulled himself onto the raft, and looked for their ships. He saw them, now two or more miles north, and still moving away. Smoke billowed from one or more of them, and there were sounds like distant thunder coming from the north, explosions that were surely mighty up close.
The raft was not very secure, and flexed in the water. He moved about it and tightened the knots he had used to bind the boards and checked them again. It seemed a bit more stable now, and felt as if it would hold a while. As he finished and sat upon the planks, he looked at the elven woman again.
She was pretty, he supposed, but very alien to his eyes. Her deep golden-brown skin was very smooth, and showed no hair. Her eyes slanted down from the outside slightly, reminding him a little of the women he had seen with Ghantian merchants from Niliwan. Her hair was maybe the most interesting feature, though. It seemed to have two totally separate colors. Black beneath and copper-hued on the top. The black hair was cut slightly longer, and formed a stripe around her head, about a hand wide. The copper hair rested over this like a cap. Both edges were cut perfectly evenly and straight, the black stripe terminating just above her shoulders. There were two long plaits in her hair, threaded intricately and subtly with strands of both black and copper interwoven, these were almost two feet long, and had shiny beads set into them, forming another pattern in the beads. She had no other ornamentation, however, no jewelry nor badges.
He himself wore a pair of canvas trousers, as was common for sailors of his folk, and a linen shirt. He had high, heavy boots of brown leather on, and a belt matching them. He was a broad shouldered man, rather typical of the large Coghlanders. And he was tall, even among his own kind, standing almost six feet and six inches. He was not as burly as some of the warriors of his kind, but he possessed muscles hardened by constant work on the seas, and was a strong man. His own hair was a yellow blonde, and he wore a neatly trimmed beard and mustache of the same color, but slightly darker.
As he watched the elf lie there, he found that he liked her appearance more and more. She was exotic, to be certain, but she was definitely female, and had a very nice and muscular body. She was well curved of hip and had, again unlike her western cousins, ample breasts. The main reason he knew she was elvenborn, rather than a type of human, was her ears, he could see their delicate points through her fine hair.
He shook his head, and finally stopped staring at the elven woman. He looked about them, hoping to espy land. There was none in sight, and the ships, still billowing smoke, were beginning to sink into the waters, moving over the horizon. As he watched them he heard her speak.
"Thank you for removing me from the water, Coghlander." She said.
He turned to look at her. She was sitting up, and regarding him with those nearly-white eyes. Then she, too, looked toward the receding ships, and her face fell. She now looked very worried, and very afraid.
"I'm sorry, they moved away too fast." He said, looking rather crestfallen himself. "Unless you can magic us to them?"
She shook her head slowly, and looked at him again. "I cannot." She said, with a sound akin to resignation in her voice. He noticed her mouth did not move along with her words. She was not speaking his language, he realized, but was using magics again. This time to make herself understood by him.
"You must be a powerful magician." Brannir said, looking at her with awe in his gray eyes. "Your abilities are impressive."
She smiled at that. "Were that they were more useful in our plight, however." She said.
Brannir nodded at that. "Aye." He said. "Would that."
The sun was now low in the sky and its bottom edge touched the waters to the west. "It will be dark soon." She observed. "It will grow cold."
The Coghlander nodded again. "Aye." He said simply. Then he said. "My name is Brannir." Deciding that introductions were in order.
She looked at him a moment. "Desella." She said. "I was the navigator on my ship." She nodded toward the north. "The 'Thunder Wing.'"
He nodded at that. "Our vessel was the 'Raging Dragon.'" He said, also nodding to the north. "I would like to thank your folk for trying to help."
She laughed at that, a pretty sound, with an almost musical quality. "We would not have shunned helping you, but we knew not you were there. The Black Thocracy barge obscured you from our sight."
He chuckled as well. "Well, we thank you anyway. We were badly outclassed by that barge." Brannir said.
She nodded. "The 'Raging Dragon' was not large, I saw that much. She is not a warship?"
He looked at her. "She is, but she is meant to operate in groups of similar vessels, formed into squadrons." He answered. "The Dragon was making for Coghland for refit and crew rotation, we were surprised by the barge ourselves."
She tilted her head a little. "We had been seeking for that barge for days. It attacked one of our patrol vessels, several days ago, and sank her, only a handful of crew survived." She said, her eyes hard.
He smiled at her. "Perhaps our crewmates will scuttle her for us, by way of vengeance."
She nodded, and gave her own wan, smile. "Perhaps they will. However, that will avail you and I little." She glowered at the sun, almost beneath the waves for the night.
He crawled to just before her, and sat facing her. Then he took off his shirt, and held it out to her. "Please, put this on." He said. You will grow cold quickly in that slight outfit you are wearing."
She took the shirt, and put it over herself. "Thank you again. It is most generous of you." The shirt hung hugely on her, but would help keep her warm as the air chilled with the darkening of the sky.
Two hours later, they had spoken little, and both were cold. It was barely full night, and the moon had just risen. The light it gave was sufficient for seeing vaguely.
She was shivering, and he was near to it, despite his acclimatization to cooler weather, especially the bitter cold of Coghland's winters.
She looked at him. "Come, sit by me." She said softly. "We may warm one another somewhat."
He moved near to her and sat beside her. She put one of her long, slender arms around his waist and he did the same. His hand resting on her hip. She said. "You are warm, Brannir. Your folk must be very hot-blooded." She smiled at him.
He laughed at that. "There are those that say we are." He said. "Though I do not feel warm."
She leaned into him a bit. "I think, maybe, we should sleep." She said. "The cold is not enough to hurt us greatly, I believe."
He nodded. He did not think it was either, but it would be plenty cold enough to make them miserable. She scooted down to even out her weight on the raft as she laid down, and he laid beside her.
She pushed up against him and muttered to herself. A warmth covered them, not much, but enough to feel. "I am still amazed at your powers, Desella." Brannir said...
She smiled in the darkness. "I am but a mere apprentice of the arts, Brannir." She said.
His eyes widened. "Then I imagine a master is amazing indeed." He said.
Her enigmatic smile remained in place and she did not answer. After a few minutes, she was sleeping, though not well. He saw care still etched on her pretty, angular face. They were, truly in dire straights. Out of sight of land, with their own ships gone and engaged with an enemy vessel. Even if their comrades were victorious, there was little assurance they would turn about and come back for them. Their absence could well be ascribed to the fight, and not to falling overboard. As the night wore on, finally, Brannir fell into a fitful sleep, as well.
When morning arrived, the sun peering over the eastern horizon and casting low shadows across the waters, Brannir awoke. The Desella was sitting,.her knees drawn up to her chin and was looking out over the water northward. He looked at her and he said. "You seek for them with your mind?" He had heard many, many tales of magicians and sorcerers and thought them all to have the same abilities. Many could reputedly seek people out with but a thought, and even spy upon them.
She shook her head. "I do not know the magics of seeking men's minds." She said, looked at him. "You know little of magic. Is this so?" She asked.
He nodded. "I admit that, Miss, I know almost nothing on it, except that I have heard in tales." He replied
She inhaled deeply. "Unlike some tales say, it is not capable of just anything to anyone at any time." She said, peered into his eyes. "Every power is a separately learned formula, or skill, if you will." She smiled sourly. "I never learned mind magics."
The raft had loosened its bindings in the night, flexing over the waves as they bobbed in the water. He busied himself tightening them again, and using some more cloth he had still remaining to tie a couple of new lashes where larger gaps could be found in the planking. She watched him impassively.
"I grow thirsty." She said plainly. She looked at him. "If our shipmates do not come back to us, we will not last long, perhaps only two days."
He nodded. "Aye. Without water, we may well die that quickly." He said, hen he added. "If we're very lucky."
Her eyes showed sadness. "You would measure your luck in lack of suffering?" She asked.
Brannir said. "Aye Miss, I would." He glowered at the cold water. "Death by starvation of exposure would be more painful, by far, than by dehydration, though it will not be pleasant either."
She nodded to him. "Agreed." She said. "But let us not yet despair, for we are well enough and it has been but a single night."
He chuckled, saying. "Aye, Miss, this is true." He looked at her. "And I have had many a shipmate not nearly so kind to my eyes."
Her smile was beautiful, radiating from her in a aura. "Well-spoken words for, as your people call you, a 'salty dog of the sea.'" She said.
He laughed happily at those words. "Do they call me that?" He looked into the distance, toward the north, toward their ships, and coincidentally, toward both their homelands. "I'll learn them a thing or three about calling me names." He murmured good-humoredly.
She giggled at his mock anger, and put one slender hand on his shoulder, leaning forward to reach him. "I, also, am glad to have a companion in this disaster for myself, though I wish it were not so, as well." Then she added. "And that you have a sense of humor about you, makes it doubly so."
He grinned at her, and noted that her arm smelled vaguely of spice. It was a nice smell, with a bit of fire mixed with subtle earthiness. "That is a lovely scent you wear, Miss." He said.
She smiled. "So my folk have been told for many a long year." She held her forearm beneath his nose. "It is our normal scent, Coghlander."
He sniffed appreciatively and deeply. "Then I am doubly fortunate, but you are now cursed. I smell not so appealingly after days at sea with but a barrel to wash out of."
She sniffed the air gently, and said. "I smell hard labor on you, and the sea, and I smell a bit of your anxiety over our peril." She looked at him. None of those are so bad, though the anxiety makes it somewhat disheartening. "I must admit, I find your odor far less offensive than I was told it would be, should I be within touching distance of one of your kind."
He chuckled. "Well, I am glad then, for this vessel is a bit small for two people who cannot abide one another's scent."
She looked about them and then took off his shirt as the morning sun warmed them. Handing it back to him, she said, "You will need this as the sun grows harsher in the day." She looked at his fair skin. "I will not be harmed greatly by it, though your skin where you were covered looks like it would."
He shrugged the tunic over his head and looked at her. "I thank you, Miss. I was not going to ask for it back." He said quietly.
She giggled. "Besides, your well-muscled body was distracting me." She said, her smile was soft and warm, and her eyes, as well.
He felt his loins stir at her kind words. Then thought that she was simply being kind in flirting with him so, and curbed his ardor. He looked at her body, though and said. "Now I will be distracted, even more so. You are quite lovely, Miss." He said.
She looked down, then smiled back at him. "We seldom need more garmenting on our island." She shrugged. "And on the ship, we enjoyed the benefits of a weather magician, who could keep the decks comfortably warm."
"I understand your people do not concern themselves in the affairs of men, how comes it you were among the isles?"
She looked at him carefully, with deep consideration. Then she said. "We have decided that the Black Theocracy cannot be allowed to wax victorious on the Isles of the Crystals. She indicated east with her chin. "They are dangerous enough as it stands, and to allow them unlimited access to the stones of power would make them a threat, even to our island."
He nodded. "I knew you had been in the area, and even heard other sailors tell of your ships attacking the black ships." He said. "But I only somewhat believed it, to be honest. I thought it was but sailor's tales, which can be taller than the masts on their vessels." He looked over the elven woman again. "Obviously, I owe those gentlemen a drink for doubting their words."
She giggled again. "I suppose you do." Desella said. "We have been lending what sea power we have to your cause, but it is not much. We do not build mighty sea vessels, and must acquire them from our kindred in the far west." She looked wistfully north. "The 'Thunder Wing' was our newest, we only received her three weeks ago." She looked down. "This was to be a training exercise for her crew."
He looked at her, somewhat aghast. "You are novices?" He asked. "The entire crew?"
She nodded, almost all of us. "Other than a handful of our Windir kindred, yes." She said, then she looked at him. "Myself included."
"What would lead you to attack a larger vessel with a green crew, Miss?" He asked, his face still incredulous.
She stared into his eyes. "We were aflame with rage over their sinking of one of our smaller vessels, an unarmed transporter of goods." She said. "The captain's anger overruled her mind, I fear." She raised her eyes to him and there were tears in them. "Think you that between our two vessels they could triumph?"
He nodded. "I cannot say." He said. "It is possible, I suppose, with a veteran crew on our ship and the special abilities that I have heard your folk possess." Then he glanced down. "But that is far from certain. Barges like that one have several hundreds of crew." His expression turned to that of a sour smile. "That is why we were fleeing them, though not very well."