“I’ve got some of my kinsmen scouring the towns to the north of Weros for more ships and men,” Sorgan advised Zelana one evening a few days later during the customary meeting after supper in his former quarters. “The word’s getting out that I’m hiring and that the pay’s good, and that’s making things go a lot faster than I’d thought they might. We’ll probably have our fleet put together before too much longer.”
“I certainly hope so,” Zelana replied.
“I’ll be sending the advance fleet to Dhrall in just a little bit,” Sorgan assured her. “I’ve been holding off until my cousin Skell joins us. He’s more reliable than some of my other relatives.”
“How’s Skell going to find Lattash, Cap’n?” Ox asked. “That coast stretches on for a long way, as I recall.”
“I could go with them and show them the way,” Longbow offered.
Sorgan shook his head. “I need you here, Longbow,” he said. “You’re the only man I know who can shoot arrows through knotholes from a hundred paces away, and that’s one of the things that I use to persuade others to join us.”
“I could go with them, though,” Red-Beard suggested. “I’m not doing anything here but growing longer whiskers, and I don’t imagine that my beard—splendid though it is—has persuaded many to join us.”
“It makes sense, Sorgan,” Zelana said, “and if your cousin follows Red-Beard’s advice and spreads his fleet out, they’ll encounter other Maag ships out on the face of Mother Sea. Then they can say the magic word ‘gold’ to the captains of those other ships, and we could very well have twice as many ships approaching the coast of Dhrall than we sent from the coast of Maag.”
“That’s the way we’ll do it, then. You’re paying, so we’ll dance to your tune—but not until Skell joins us. He’s a lot more responsible than some of the other ship captains, so he’ll be able to prevent any enthusiasts from raiding the coastal villages instead of preparing to meet the army of the Wasteland. That would irritate your people, and I could lose half of my army before I even get there if the other Dhralls are even half as good with their bows as Longbow here is.”
It was foggy the next morning, and Longbow stood near the bow of the Seagull, listening to the voices coming out of the fog from nearby ships. Sounds, he noted, always seemed to carry farther in the night or in dense fog. Perhaps there was some sort of agreement between the eyes and the ears involved.
Red-Beard came along the deck from the stern and joined Longbow. “Murky,” he observed quietly.
“I noticed that myself,” Longbow agreed. “I don’t think this would be a good day for hunting.”
“The fishing might be good, though.” Red-Beard looked around and leaned closer. “Zelana wants to have a word with you,” he said very quietly. “Something happened during the night that’s bothering her.”
“I’ll go right away,” Longbow replied in a similarly quiet voice. Then he spoke a bit louder. “Do you suppose you can watch the fog without any help, Red-Beard?” he asked. “I should probably go find out if Zelana has anything she wants me to do today.”
“I think I’ll be able to manage here by myself,” Red-Beard replied. “I’ll have somebody fetch you if it gets to be more than I can handle.”
“Very funny,” Longbow muttered.
“I’m glad you liked it,” Red-Beard said with a broad grin.
Longbow went aft toward the stern of the Seagull. Red-Beard was from a different tribe, but Longbow liked him anyway. The present crisis was altering many of Longbow’s preconceptions in ways that would probably have been impossible no more than a year ago.
He tapped lightly on the door to the aft cabin.
“Come in, Longbow,” Zelana’s voice responded.
He went on into the low-beamed cabin that smelled of tar and quietly closed the door behind him. Zelana was sitting in a chair behind the nailed-down table, and she had a slightly worried look on her face. Eleria was standing just behind her, and this time she didn’t come running to Longbow with her arms held out.
Red-Beard said that you wanted to speak with me,” Longbow said. “Is there trouble of some kind?”
“I think there may very well be,” she replied. Then she looked him full in the face. “I believe that the time’s come for us to clear something away. Have you ever heard of the Dreamers?”
Longbow shrugged. “It’s a very old story. It tells us that the coming of the Dreamers will be a sign that the elder gods will soon go to sleep.”
“It goes quite a bit further than that, Longbow. Time tends to distort things, and old stories don’t always come out the same as they did originally. The story of the Dreamers deals with the current situation, and it’s ultimately the Dreamers who’ll confront the Vlagh.”
“And defeat it?” Longbow asked.
“Well, we can hope, I guess.” She looked at him in a peculiar kind of way. “You already see where I’m going with this, don’t you, Longbow? Yes, as a matter of fact, Eleria is one of the Dreamers, and she’s already stolen you away from me.”
“I did not!” Eleria protested.
“Don’t try to deceive me, Eleria,” Zelana accused the child. “You’ve been just a little obvious.”
“I like him, Beloved, that’s all. I wouldn’t steal anything from you.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” Zelana said angrily. “You stole my dolphins, and now you’re trying to steal my most trusted servant.”
“Maybe if you were nicer to them, they wouldn’t be so eager to come to me,” Eleria declared. “You’ve turned mean and hateful lately, Beloved. What’s the matter with you?”
Longbow gave them a cold look. “I’ll come back some other time,” he told them in a flat, unemotional voice. “Let me know when you’ve settled your differences.” He started toward the door.
“You come back here!” Zelana screeched.
“I don’t think so. If you two want to scream at each other, I’ll just be in your way.” Then he left the cabin, softly closing the door behind him.
The silence coming from the cabin was louder than thunder.
Longbow went over to the rail and stood looking out at the fog while he waited.