“I’m not entirely sure,” Longbow confessed. “All I’ve done in the past has involved stabbing my arrows into the venom sacks on a dead one and then leaving the body in the forest for the vultures.”
“I don’t think that’ll work too well here, Longbow,” Red-Beard said. “We’ll have thousands of them stacked up on the beach, and things here in Lattash might start to get fragrant along about midsummer.”
“Burn them,” Rabbit suggested. “Eleria’s wind should carry the smoke on up the ravine, and that might make life unpleasant for any enemy snake-men left up there.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we had some way to store the venom in jugs or something like that?” Keselo asked. “If we need to repoison our spear points later on, we should have a supply of venom handy.”
“It’s not a bad idea, Longbow,” Red-Beard agreed. “The potters here in Lattash could make jugs for us, but fooling around with something that’ll kill me if I happen to get a drop of it into any scratch I happen to have on one of my fingers doesn’t light any warm little fires in my heart.”
“I think maybe I should have a little talk with One-Who-Heals,” Longbow said. “If anybody can come up with a safe way to do this, it’ll be him.”
“Wise move there, Longbow,” Red-Beard agreed.
The river continued to rise for the rest of that day, but it crested late the following afternoon, and then the flood slowly began to subside.
Skell’s brother Torl arrived with about seventy more Maag ships about noon on the following day. Rabbit was fairly sure that Captain Hook-Beak had expected more ships, but Torl was at least as sour as his brother, so he seemed to put people off. Torl’s ships anchored near Sorgan’s fleet, and the harbor of Lattash was now choked with ships. All that was left to do was to wait for the river to go down.
Longbow conferred with the old healer of his tribe at some length, and the old man gathered a sizeable number of young men of both tribes and began to train them in the process of draining the venom from the bodies of the dead enemies that were beginning to pile up along the berm and the beach at the river mouth. The procedure was moderately revolting, but it produced dozens of jugs of the deadly venom. One-Who-Heals firmly instructed his pupils to smear lard on their hands before they went to work, and that seemed to provide enough protection.
The bonfires on the beach sent a thick cloud of black smoke up the ravine, and Rabbit was profoundly thankful that he wasn’t upriver at Skell’s fort.
Rabbit and Keselo stayed in Zelana’s cave for the next several days, periodically going down through the village to have a look at the water level. A wary sort of friendship began to grow between them as time inched its way along, and Rabbit came to understand the Trogites a bit better. They weren’t as rowdy as Maags, but then, who really was?
Longbow had gone up to the rim above the ravine to keep an eye on the flood, and time seemed almost to stand still as everyone waited for the flood to subside. That, of course, would be the signal to start.
“I need to talk with the cap’n,” Rabbit called up to Ham-Hand as he eased Red-Beard’s canoe up alongside the Seagull in the steel grey light of dawn several days later.
“He’s still asleep, Rabbit.”
“That’s too bad. I just got the word that it’s time to go to work. You want to toss that rope ladder over the side? I’d better wake him up myself. Longbow told me a few things that the cap’n needs to know about.”
Ham-Hand pushed the rolled-up rope ladder over the rail. “I hope Longbow knows what he’s talking about,” he said dubiously. “If another one of those big waves comes down the ravine, we could get washed on out to sea.”
“The Dhralls know a lot more about these spring floods than we do,” Rabbit replied, nimbly climbing the ladder, “and they’ve got a lot at stake here. Longbow’s not going to take any chances. You might want to hear this, too.”
“All right,” Ham-Hand agreed as they started aft. They went on into Sorgan’s cluttered cabin, and Ham-Hand touched the sleeping captain’s shoulder. “Rabbit’s here, Cap’n. He’s got some news for you.”
Sorgan sat up yawning. “What’s afoot?” he asked Rabbit.
“Longbow came back from up on the rim, Cap’n,” Rabbit replied. “He says that the water’s going down, and the benches on both sides are clear now, so it’ll be safe for us to start up the ravine. We’ll need to pick up our swords and spears before we go on upriver, but the Dhralls have dipped them all in that poison, so they’re ready to go now.”
“That still makes me go cold all over, Rabbit,” Ham-Hand complained. “I didn’t hire on to fight no wars with poison.”
“That wasn’t our idea to begin with, Ham-Hand,” Sorgan told him, “but if our enemy wants to play that way, we just about have to play along.” He looked over at Rabbit. “Has the river gone down enough for Skell’s people to get back into their fortifications?”
“Longbow said it’ll be another day or so before the river goes back to where it belongs, but he wants us to be in place on those benches on the off chance that the invaders realize that the benches would be the easiest way to come downriver. Zelana doesn’t think they’re that clever, but Longbow doesn’t want to risk it.”
“I’m with him on that,” Sorgan agreed, pulling on his boots. “You’d better send word to Narasan, Ham-Hand. Tell him that it’s time for us to go upriver.”
“Keselo’s already taken care of that, Cap’n,” Rabbit reported. “He stood on the beach waving a stick with a piece of cloth tied to it. He told me that the Trogites came up with that notion a long time ago. If two Trogites can see each other, no matter how far away they are, they can talk by waving flags at each other. He’ll be going up the north bench with us when we start up the ravine. Narasan thinks it might be a good idea if you two can talk to each other even if you’re on opposite sides of the ravine.”
“Them Trogites are just full of ideas, aren’t they?” Ham-Hand said.
“They spend a lot of time fighting wars,” Rabbit told him, “so they think about ways to make it easier. We sort of do the same thing by blowing horns, but I think their flag-waving might be quite a bit more complicated.”
“Do you and Keselo get along very well?” Hook-Beak asked with a speculative sort of look in his eyes.