The table was covered in potatoes and carrots, leaks and radishes, vegetables that Tulla had never seen or handled before. Peri had introduced each to her as he chopped them up and dropped them in a soup, and after tasting the broth she decided that she was glad she had never seen them before. She liked the sweet roots that could be harvested on the island in the depths of the woods, the mushrooms and turnips that boars hunted for in the ground. Those were proper vegetables.
“How do you like the soup?” Peri asked.
“It’s wonderful,” Tulla said, wiping her mouth to remove all trace of the flavor from her lips. “The flavor is so rich though, I couldn’t have anymore.”
“That’s quite alright, I’m not sure what it is you’re used to eating on your little island. I could only hope you would enjoy this.” Peri beamed as he took the bowl away and put it in a bucket next to the fireplace. He collected the dishes there every day and at sunset would waddle down to the river to wash them. Dego had said he didn’t see the point, since everything tasted the same anyway. When he said things like that, Tulla considered cutting out the boy’s tongue.
She was still unclear how they had arrived in the cartographer’s home, and even more, what had happened to their clothing. Tulla had been fortunate to remain wrapped in her deerskin, but Dego and Shem were stripped of theirs, meaning they had washed ashore naked. Peri was kind enough to give them some of his “less fitting” clothes, garments that Tulla could never believe he would have fit in. Shem was nearly bursting out of the brown tunic he was given, though he seemed to like the pants. Sitting in them must have been severely uncomfortable, Tulla thought, something confirmed when Dego instead took another tunic and wore it around his waist. He looked a little silly, but he was at least more comfortable than Shem.
While Tulla continued sampling the different ingredients that Peri had stored in his cupboard (a strange device that seemed overly cumbersome, though Tulla could not argue against its usefulness), the boys sat at the table looking at the maps that Peri had made. They spent hours admiring the different continents and attempting, with some meager tutelage from the map-maker himself, to read the names. Silverhide sat coiled up on the table, barely moving since they had gotten there. Dego was worried that it had been sleeping for so long, but Tulla pointed out that they knew little about the creature and that this might be normal.
“You’re not actually learning to read,” Tulla pointed out one evening. “You’re just seeing the name and remembering what it looks like. It’s like seeing a deer and remembering that’s what it’s called.”
Dego had given her a blank look for a few minutes before saying, “Well, isn’t it the same thing?”
“It’s not the same thing,” she had coldly responded. “If you could read you would be able to read anything, not just the same names you’ve been taught over and over again.”
“I can read,” he protested, taking out one of the other maps and examining it carefully. He planted a finger down over one name and declared, “This one is called ‘Geh-suh’.”
“Actually,” Peri said, “That is “Gez”, as in ‘geh-zuh’.”
“But it’s got the same snake-looking thing from over here,” Dego said, pointing back to the map of Dynesia at a number of names.
“Well, the language we speak is a funny language. The letters don’t always have the same sound. It depends on what other letters are there.” He stroked his chin, then continued, saying, “Think of it this way. When you chaps go hunting, you change your method depending if you are alone or with each other, correct?”
“That’s true,” Shem said, looking up for a moment before looking back at the map. His eyes had been glued to the parchment, not to learn the letters he claimed, but to remember the mountains and forests. He reasoned that together he and Dego would be able to read and navigate the land with the map.
“I see what you mean,” Dego relented, slumping in his chair. “I don’t like reading.”
“You’ll get the hang of it,” Peri chuckled. “No one finds reading easy or enjoyable at first, but if you get to grips with the language…” He drifted off, lost in thought. “The things you will read are just wonderful.”
“Peri, do you know where the…uhm…’Harrier’ comes from?” Shem asked hesitantly.
“Do you mean the mutt?” Peri scrunched his nose as he peered at the boy through his glasses. “I have to say, I’m not sure where any of the creatures came from other than the careful hands of the Everliving Gods.”
“No, I mean…the Harrier, some…pirate,” he said quietly. Tulla could see the shame dripping off the poor boy. “He visited our island once, seemed to leave an impression.”
Peri’s face spread in shock. “You mean the Fanged Harrier? The Scourge of the Seas?”
“Yes, him,” Shem responded flatly.
“Well, he comes from up here, in the Kingdom of Sontra on the shore of the Frosted Bay. I believe he was from a small town outside the High Kingdom, although if you believed what everyone there said, he was a man born in twenty or so different towns raised by a few dozen different mothers and fathered by some hundred men.”
“Why would anyone want to take credit for knowing a pirate? They seem like filthy monsters,” Shem spat back. He had to give himself a shake to calm down.
“Had a bad run in with some pirates then? The Harrier or someone else?” Peri asked, settling back in his seat, hands clasped around a cup of steaming tea.
“Some pirates came to our island recently…it’s sort of why we had to leave,” Tulla explained. She hated that Shem was putting himself through this. He had complained repeatedly over the course of their short boat trip how he despised being the son of a ‘man like that’.
“I see,” Peri nodded. “You should understand though; just as with men, pirates come in all forms. Some are despicable people who would steal the light from the sun if they could and leave the rest of us in utter darkness, just to make a profit. But…there are those who are nobler, who have something they believe in and fight for.” He smiled. “That is the kind of man the Harrier was.”
“What did he believe in?” Shem asked, leaning forward in his seat, curiosity scrawled across his brow.
“The Harrier? He was a man of the people. At least, that’s what the people said. Rumor has it that he sent most of his fortune to the people of Sontra. What isn’t rumor is that he only attacked the Royal Navy of Gennessee. No one knows why he sought this fight, but he fought against them until the very last.”
“The last? You don’t mean…” Shem’s eyes went cold. “He’s dead?”
“Indeed,” Peri nodded sadly. “A month ago he was run down by the navy, stole some treasure from the king that the bugger was desperate to get back. He sent all but his best after the Harrier until they caught him, burned his ship and threw him into the Abyss to drown.”
“There’s no chance he…?”
Peri shook his head. “No man escapes the Abyss.”
Shem nodded. “I see…so he’s dead.”
“Why so glum? From the way you spoke of him I would think you’d be happy to hear of the man’s passing.”
“It is always a shame when someone dies,” Tulla said, making her way to Shem and putting a bowl of Peri’s rancid soup before him. Any food was better than nothing, she thought. “Even a dirty scoundrel of a pirate.” Shem did not stir as she put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently and then walking back to the cutting board.
For most of the evening they sat in awkward silence, Peri likely for not knowing what was on the minds of his guests, and the islanders for the sake of Shem. Tulla finished preparing her own soup, following Peri’s instructions from her first few attempts and created a broth that was wonderfully sweet with a pinch of salt (which she had never used before but was considering using in everything she cooked from that day on). Shem ate it in silence and went to bed early, and in the middle of the night Tulla could swear she heard him crying, though she would never ask him.
* * *
“Are you quite sure? I would hate to send you off unprepared.” Peri stood idly while Dego and the others packed up the sack he had given them. Dego had never possessed much more than his spear and skin skirt, but they were both gone now and all he had left was Silverhide. He appreciated the greenish tunic that Peri had given him, as well as the brown one he wore around his waist now, but he still felt that he looked silly. All in all, he had a few things to his name and they all fit comfortably in the sack along with the total of Shem and Tulla’s things. Their whole lives fit in a bag the size of Dego’s head.
“We have to go,” Tulla said. “Look at your cupboard. We’ve been here barely a week and it’s already bare. You didn’t even have to feed the worm for more than a day.”
Dego stuck his tongue out at Tulla, cradling Silverhide in his palm. The creature seemed in synch with the boy, hissing and then squealing in delight. She still wondered what the creature would taste like after it had been boiled…or maybe even roasted. The ways she wanted to hurt it were endless, but they all ended with silver scales on a platter.
“Well, I am sad to see you go, but as you must, you must. You should come back and visit some time, I would love to see you all again.” Peri’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh! You didn’t forget to take the map, right?”
“Are you sure?” Dego asked.
“Of course, of course…I’ve got so many. After all, it’s what I do,” he said gleefully, rolling up the map of Dynesia and handing it to Dego. “You should be able to recognize a few of the names fully by now, at least enough to get you to Genio.”
“Are you sure that’s where we should go?” Shem cut in. He had spoken briefly about wanting to visit Sontra, but that was halfway across the continent and who knew how long it would take them to get to Genio.
“Believe me boy, you should start with a crawl before you try to run. You’ll get there one day,” Peri said with a wink.
Dego tied the sack closed, slinging it over his shoulder then taking it off and holding it out for Shem. “You should probably carry this. I’ve got the map and Silverhide.”
“You are so lazy…” Tulla muttered, brushing past him and out the door. Shem followed right behind her leaving Dego alone with Peri.
“Thank you again for all your help,” Dego said, shaking the man’s hand and then running out after his friends, the door swinging to a close behind him.
Peri nodded thoughtfully, walking back to his seat at the table and sitting down with his cup of tea. He took a few sips before dumping the rest on the floor and pinching his brow. “You can come out now,” he called to the air. “They’re finally gone, Gods be praised.”
The flames in the fireplace died down to a smoulder before bursting into a large plume the size of a man. The flames stepped out on the floor, cooling before they made contact into the form of a girl. Her long, obsidian locks settled around her, nearly floor length, framing her pale eyes and face and the thin smile she wore.
“You did well, Sage. I worried you would not be able to see this through,” she mocked. “Especially looking like that.”
“Look friendly you said…look like a grandfather! I should have been something more viral.” The fat form faded away, leaving the Sage’s thin frame. He ran his fingers through his hair, glad he was able to do so again. “Once they woke up they never went back down, it was maddening! Do you know how difficult it is to maintain an illusion for even a day? Let alone a full week?”
“You did your job though. Sent them on their way to the Kingdoms and all that follows,” the girl said, sitting across the table from the Sage. “And if you think that illusion was difficult, imagine trying to be a fire for a week. I had to dance around those pots and ladles, just a nightmare…”
“Calm down, m’lady Tana. You got what you wanted, and you’ll have all the data you want soon. You’re just lucky I knew what I found,” he said. “I expect proper compensation.”
“Ah yes, your ‘compensation,’ I have it right here…” the girl reached into the folds of her green dress, then flung her hand out, a spray of fire washing across the room before her. She began to laugh until she saw that the Sage sat unmoved, unharmed and comfortable in the flames.
“Do you think I would blindly trust you? I walked out of here with those children and left this for you to find. You won’t find me at this point, but rest assured, I will find you. No one crosses the Specter Sage.” His threat complete, the Sage’s image faded away, leaving the girl to escape from the burning house of her own design.