“Could you have a word with Narasan?” Longbow asked Veltan as they walked on down to the beach. “I think we might want to have Keselo with us in the north country. He spent a great deal of his time studying when he was younger, and he carries a lot of information in his head that we might need in Dahlaine’s Domain.” Longbow smiled slightly. “Rabbit and I came to realize that if we named something, Keselo had probably studied it.”
“He is quite learned,” Veltan agreed. “I’ll have a talk with Narasan before I join Gunda and Ekial in that little yawl. I’m fairly sure that Narasan will agree. I’m sure you noticed that Narasan’s going off to the east just to mollify sister Aracia’s sense of having been offended because everybody didn’t rush over to her Domain to defend her.”
“I don’t think that’s entirely true, Veltan,” Longbow disagreed. “Red-Beard and I were talking outside your map-room when Aracia and Dahlaine were arguing, and we sort of agreed that your older sister’s problem wasn’t so much offense as it was fear. If the descriptions we’ve heard of her part of the Land of Dhrall are anywhere close to being accurate, she doesn’t have anything that even remotely resembles an army. She has farmers, merchants, and priests, but no soldiers. If the creatures of the Wasteland attack her Domain, there’s nobody there to resist. That’s why she wanted both the Maags and the Trogites to go east. She’s more than a little self-centered, of course, but it was fear that was driving her.”
“Now that’s something we hadn’t even considered,” Veltan admitted. “It does sort of fit, though. We all get a bit strange and confused at the end of one of our cycles, and the rest of the family assumed that she was being driven by pride, and that being adored by all those priests had dislocated her mind. We never even considered the possibility of fear. You might want to pass this on to Dahlaine and Zelana and see what they think. It could explain Aracia’s odd behavior here lately.”
Things were a bit crowded on board the Seagull as they sailed south from the house of Veltan in the late summer. Sorgan obviously wasn’t too pleased when Zelana and Dahlaine appropriated his cabin, but it did make sense, since they had the children—Eleria, Ashad, and Yaltar—with them. Maag sailors frequently spoke to each other in colorful terms, and it was probably best to keep the children in a place where they couldn’t hear certain words.
Also, for some reason that Red-Beard couldn’t really see, Dahlaine had insisted that Omago and his beautiful wife, Ara, should join their party. There was something about Ara that Red-Beard couldn’t quite understand. She was beautiful, of course, but very peculiar things seemed to happen quite frequently when she was around. It could just be coincidence, of course, but Red-Beard was more than a little dubious about that.
For right now, however, Red-Beard had something a bit more serious to worry about. Once the Seagull and the rest of the Maag fleet were past the south coast of Veltan’s Domain, they’d be sailing north along the coast of Zelana’s part of the Land of Dhrall, and there was a distinct possibility that they’d pull into the bay of Lattash for any one of a dozen or so reasons.
It took him a while to work up enough nerve to speak with Zelana about the matter.
“Are you busy?” he asked her one bright, sunny morning as the Seagull raced down along the east coast and Zelana was standing alone near the bow.
“Are we having some sort of problem?” she asked him.
“Well, I hope not,” he replied. “Do you think you could see your way clear to persuade Sorgan Hook-Beak to avoid the bay of Lattash?”
“Is there something wrong with Lattash, Red-Beard?”
“New Lattash,” he corrected her. “Old Lattash was just fine, but it’s not there anymore. It’s New Lattash that’s got me worried.”
“And why’s that, dear boy?”
“Boy?” Red-Beard found the term to be a bit offensive.
“It’s just a relative term,” she said, smiling. “What’s troubling you so much, Red-Beard?”
“I’d really be much happier if word that I’m here on the Seagull didn’t leak out anywhere in the vicinity of the new village.”
“It’s your home, isn’t it?”
“Well, it used to be. After my uncle White-Braid came apart when Old Lattash was buried by that lava flow, the villagers decided that I should be the chief.”
“It seems that I’d heard about that. Did I ever congratulate you?”
“No, and I think I’d like to keep it that way. To be honest about it, I didn’t want to be the chief, and I still don’t. If I’m lucky, these wars in the other parts of the Land of Dhrall will go on and on for years. I’ve never wanted to be the chief of the tribe, and I still don’t.”
Zelana laughed. “You and my sister make a very odd pair, Red-Beard. She wants all that authority and adoration, but you keep running away from it.”
“How can she stand all that foolishness?”
“It makes her feel important, Red-Beard, and being important takes some of the sting out of the fact that our older brother outranks her in this particular cycle.” She paused, looking thoughtfully at Red-Beard. “You do know about our cycles, don’t you, Red-Beard?” she asked.
“Sort of. As I understand it, you and your family stay awake for a thousand years, and then you hand your task off to some younger relatives and take a long nap. Is that anywhere close to what happens?”
“Fairly close—except that your number isn’t quite right. Our cycles are twenty-five times longer than one thousand.”
Red-Beard blinked. “You’ve been awake for that long?” he asked her in a voice filled with wonder.
“Not quite yet, but it’s getting closer to naptime. When our current cycle began, people—your species—were at a very primitive level. They hadn’t even discovered fire yet, and their most sophisticated weapon was the club. In many ways, this is the most important period in the history of the world. The man-things—your species—spend most of their time changing things. That makes this particular cycle very significant—and very dangerous. There are some things that should not be changed—and that brings us to the Vlagh. Do you know anything about bees?”
Red-Beard shrugged. “They make honey, and they sting anybody who tries to steal it. Honey tastes good—but not so good that I’d want to get stung a thousand times just to gather it up.”