“I’d say that if she can do things like that, Zelana and her family don’t really need all the armies they’ve been hiring,” Rabbit mused.
“It might just be that you outlanders are important for something else,” Red-Beard said with a slight frown. “Maybe she wants a lot of outlanders here just to watch while she’s turning the world inside out. Then, when they go back home, they’ll be able to tell all their friends that trying to come here to the Land of Dhrall could be the worst thing they could ever do, because if they try, they won’t live long enough to spend any of the gold they steal.”
“I think she’s already convinced me,” Rabbit declared with a shudder. “It might take her a little longer to get through to the cap’n and some of the others, but I think they’ll get her point—eventually.”
“The only trouble there is that time might run out for them before ‘eventually’ gets here.”
The Maag fleet continued to sail north along the coast for the next several days, and at some indeterminate point they left Zelana’s territory and moved on up into the Domain of her older brother. Rabbit had noticed that the borders here in the Land of Dhrall were seldom marked by rivers or any other significant—or even noticeable—landmarks. It seemed that boundaries in this part of the world existed in the minds of the people rather than on the ground itself. The natives didn’t seem to have any problems with that informality, but it appeared to bother Sorgan Hook-Beak quite a bit, and he came out on deck quite often to ask Longbow or Red-Beard if they’d moved out of Zelana’s territory yet.
Then about midmorning on a hazy autumn day the Seagull rounded a jutting point of land, and there was what appeared to be a fishing village just ahead. Dahlaine came out of the cabin near the stern and joined Sorgan up near the bow. “We’ll stop here, Captain Hook-Beak,” he said. “Now we get to start walking.”
Sorgan looked at the village. “That’s not much of a town, Lord Dahlaine,” he said.
“I wouldn’t even call it a town, Captain,” Dahlaine replied with a faint smile. “We have to go inland several miles before we’ll reach the home of the local tribe. The fishermen here usually pack up and go on back home when winter arrives. Winters aren’t very pleasant out here.”
“That makes sense, I suppose,” Sorgan agreed.
Rabbit noticed that the somewhat scruffy-looking huts of the village were almost identical to those in Lattash and the village of Chief Old-Bear, and the natives standing on the beach were dressed in leather clothes much like those of Longbow and Red-Beard. They might live in a different Domain, but their cultures appeared to be nearly identical.
Then a tall, lean native with dark hair pushed a canoe down the sandy beach to the water, nimbly stepped into it, and paddled on out toward the Seagull. As he drew closer, he slowed. “Ho, Longbow!” he called out, “what are you doing in that floating house?”
“Resting my feet, Athlan,” Longbow called back. “Walking isn’t all that much fun anymore.”
“You know him, I take it?” Rabbit said quietly.
“I’ve known him for a long time, Rabbit,” Longbow replied. “His name’s Athlan, and he’s a good hunter. I’m just guessing, but I’m fairly sure that he was sent here to guide us inland to the main tribal village.”
“What’s afoot, Longbow?” the native in the canoe called.
“War lately. The creatures of the Wasteland are starting to get restless.”
“I thought you’d have killed them all by now.”
“I left a few of them alive to give you something to shoot arrows at. Dahlaine’s here, and he wants to talk to you.”
“I’m not the chief of the tribe, Longbow,” Athlan protested, pulling his canoe in beside the Seagull.
“I know that, but Dahlaine wants you to see enough of our outlander friends so that you can tell the members of your tribe why they’ve come here and what they can do to help them. Is your old chief still alive?”
“Just barely. His son, Kathlak, is sort of filling in for him. He goes into the chief’s lodge and when he comes out, he tells us that the chief wants us to do this, that, or something else. We all know that the chief probably isn’t even awake, and that the orders are coming from Kathlak himself, but we don’t make an issue of it.”
Longbow dropped a rolled-up rope ladder down to his friend, and Athlan climbed on up. “Where did this thing come from?” he asked, looking around at the Seagull.
“There’s a land off to the west of here, and Zelana went on over there to hire outlanders to help defend her Domain. I’m sure that the man in charge of those outlanders will want to talk with you, but this little fellow here is much more important.”
“He’s not very big, is he?”
“He doesn’t have to be big, Athlan. He makes arrowheads that are probably the best in all the world.”
“Is he really strong enough to split rocks?” Athlan asked a bit dubiously.
“He doesn’t split rocks or chip points and edges. He makes arrowheads out of something else.” Longbow handed his friend one of the bronze arrowheads Rabbit had forged.
Athlan carefully ran his thumb over the arrowhead. “What is this,” he asked Rabbit, “and where can I find some?”
“You won’t need to find any of it,” Rabbit told him. “I’ve got several hundred of them already, and there’s more on the way. It’s a metal called bronze, and I heat it in my forge until it melts down into a liquid. Then I pour it into a baked clay mold. After it cools off, it stops being liquid and goes back to being solid, but it’s in the shape that you’ve got right there in your hand.”
“Where does this ‘bronze’ come from originally?”
“I haven’t got the faintest idea,” Rabbit admitted. “When I need some of it, I buy it—or steal it, if nobody’s watching. People have told me that bronze is a mixture of two different metals that aren’t very good by themselves, but once they’re mixed together, they’re much better. There’s another metal called iron that we use for knives and axes, but it takes a much hotter fire to melt iron.”
“There aren’t any of these peculiar things here in the Land of Dhrall, are there?”
“I’m sure that there are. I’ve even seen red-colored rocks that are almost certainly iron ore. I can heat iron in my forge to make it soft enough to work with, but my forge doesn’t get hot enough to melt it.”