Hugh woke up starving, his mouth dry, and sore everywhere. He just lay there on his back for a while, staring at the ceiling, thinking. Slowly, he sat up, letting out an inadvertent groan. He rubbed both his knees a bit, took a deep breath, and stood up. He slowly took a few steps forward, rolling his neck around, rubbing his shoulder, and basically just tried to ready himself just to leave his room.
After a minute, he walked outside, and he felt like he was hiding his discomfort well. He walked to the entryway and saw no one he recognized. He asked a woman passing by if she knew where the twins were.
“Kane and Lang are playing with the tibear in the yard.”
Hugh went outside, looked around, and saw the twins brushing the large beast.
“Hugh, you missed dinner, and breakfast. You’re just in time for lunch, though,” the dwarf said upon seeing Hugh approach.
“I guess now that you’re awake,” the giant said, “We’ll eat and then go out in the boat.”
Hugh nodded. He put his hand on the tibear, which was lying on its back, arms and legs splayed out, like a huge, furry starfish. Hugh rubbed its belly and smiled as it moaned.
“We have to get one of these, maybe two,” said the dwarf.
“We’ll see,” said Hugh. “I’m starving, when do we eat?”
“Now we’re talking,” the dwarf said.
They left the grounds and went to the market. They got a large smoked fish and a head of lettuce, which the twins paid for out of new purses tied to their belts. Hugh suggested they eat by the fountain. They sat on the edge, tearing off pieces of fish and wrapping it in lettuce. Hugh kept his eyes peeled for Theoson, but he didn’t see him at all by the time they finished. Hugh also noticed the body was gone.
They found Henry back at Walker’s home, who had arranged for the old man’s body to be wrapped in silk and given a funeral procession through the town. They walked alongside the donkey-driven cart on the way to the docks. People they passed turned to watch them pass by and they offered their condolences for the deceased.
When they reached the boat, the old man’s body was carried on a large stretcher by Hugh and the twins on board. It was a relatively small ship, with two masts, two triangular sails and a handful of crew members. Henry accompanied them, as well as another man who had followed them in the procession who the three of them didn’t know, and before long the ship was out of sight from the land.
“Is this far enough, do you suppose?” asked Henry.
“This is fine, I guess,” said the giant.
The dwarf went over to the body and began lifting the stretcher.
“Um, are you going to say anything before you just throw him over?” Henry asked.
“Oh, I guess,” said the dwarf. “Like what?”
“Usually, people talk about the person a bit before they are laid to rest,” said Henry.
“Okay,” the dwarf said. “He was an old man when we met him, blind, maybe a little nuts, but always interesting to be around. I remember he was always eating things he shouldn’t have… uncooked beefnuts, grass, dirt, animal dung… and of course that poisonous mushroom that killed him. He died before his time… which is an odd thing to say about someone so old, but really, he was so spry that I bet he’d still be here today, standing with us on this boat, had he not eaten that mushroom… although, I don’t know why we would be here, on this boat now, if he hadn’t died. I guess you might say that we’re all here today because of you, old man. You, who wouldn’t tell us his name, and who might actually be a crazy, murderous king or something. We travelled all this way just to make sure you got your mansion under the sea, to fulfill what may very well have been your dying wish. May the Eagle guide you now, in death, as it did while you were alive. Good bye, dear friend.”
Everyone stood there for a bit, and the giant shook her head. “I’ve never heard a eulogy in my life,” said the giant, “But I’m pretty sure that was the worst one every given.”
“Shove it, you overgrown sack of piss.”
Hugh put his hand on their shoulders. “Guys, it’s time.”
The three of them lifted the stretcher, brought it to the edge, and the dumped his body in. It hit the side of the boat before splashing into the water. They all watched and it floated in the surface further and further away from the boat.
“Uhh… I don’t think it’s sinking,” said the dwarf.
“Bodies don’t sink immediately,” said one of the ship’s crew members. “If you wanted it to sink, you should have added some sort of weight to it.”
“Well, thanks for the advice,” the dwarf said.
“No one asked me for any advice,” the crew member replied. “I didn’t want to ruin your… solemn ceremony here. I figured you knew what you were doing.”
“We don’t,” said the giant. “We have no clue, really.”
“What do we do now?” asked the dwarf, as he watched the old man’s wrapped body bobbing with the waves.
“Well, the easiest thing would be for us to bring the body back on, then we can weight it down with something. We have rope, canvas bags and some ballast rocks under the deck. We can probably get it to sink that way. Or, you can just let it drift. It will sink eventually, and we’re far enough out that it probably won’t wash ashore.”
“Probably?” the giant asked.
“Well,” the crew member said, scratching the back of his neck. “I guess a storm could easily wash him in. He might float for a few more hours, but after that he’ll sink.”
“Can we stay with the body and make sure it goes down?” asked the giant.
The crew member slowly blew out a long breath, puffing out his cheeks. “I guess, it’s just… we’ll have to maneuver quite a bit to keep it in sight, and like I said, it could be hours.”
“But what if we – ” the giant stopped midsentence when she saw a shadow cross over the boat. She looked up, and everyone’s gaze followed hers. They watched as a giant bird swooped down and grabbed the old man’s wrapped corpse, then took off and flew away. Everyone just watched as the bird grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
“I wonder if that was the Eagle,” Hugh said. Everyone turned to look at him. “I mean, he was always talking about a great Eagle, and that sure looked like one.”
“Did that just happen?” the dwarf asked.
“Follow that bird!” the giant screamed.
“Follow that bird?” the crew member asked with a strained look on his face. “Lady, you better start flapping.”
Hugh tried to stop himself, but he started laughing. The more he tried to stop, the harder he laughed, until he was literally straining to breathe.
The giant looked at Hugh, then the dwarf, who was smiling. “It is pretty funny,” said the dwarf. “In a dark sort of way.”
“Well…” said the giant, “I guess… I guess there’s nothing left to do except go back to shore.”
As the ship was turned around, the giant continued staring off into the distance where the enormous bird had flown. She leaned on the ship’s railing and squinted, then walked over to one of the crew who was sitting down in the back, controlling the rudder.
“What’s off in that direction?” asked the giant.
“More sea,” said the sailor.
“So, it’s just sea forever?”
“No,” he said, “There’s land. That’s… south, south-east, so if you kept going in that direction, you’d probably see the Ruby Isles, and beyond that are the lands of the Silver Coast, which is a whole different continent, and you’d land in one of a few possible countries, depending on the precise bearing.”
The giant walked over to Henry, who was conversing with the man who had accompanied them from the estate to the docks. Hugh walked over as well.
“I need a ship to the Ruby Isles and the Silver Coast,” said the giant.
“That won’t be cheap,” said Henry.
“Henry,” said the man, “Think about what the girl just saw. She’s not asking to commission a ship. You know you could find her a merchant vessel already going there. She could get passage within a week for the cost of her labor. Just look at her,” he said, eying her up and down, “She could pull her own weight on a ship.”
Henry sighed. “Hugh, Lang, this is Brad. He is the… what is it you actually do, again?”
“Oh, I’m just a humble educator,” said Brad, bowing deeply. “I am but a quiet thinker, an instrument of the Divas, and a lover of discussion.”
“The Chancellor was one of his students,” said Henry. “And now you have hitched your wagon to your star pupil.”
“My star pupil is right now on Mount Ippa collecting plant and insect specimens. My most rich and powerful student… he is in the Chancellery.”
“Only you would think Wencelas greater than Chancellor Edward.”
“While Walker will one day be a footnote in history, the whole world will remember Wencelas long after the city of Polity sinks beneath the waves.”
Henry chuckled. “Like I said, only you, a teacher, would think a teacher would one day be more important than Chancellor Edward.”
Brad turned to Hugh. “I saw your performance in the arena last night. You were like an artist who painted with blood.”
Hugh looked away.
“Ah,” said Brad, smiling. “While I say that I’m humble, you truly are.”
“I’m more ashamed than humble,” Hugh said.
The giant touched Hugh’s arm.
“There’s no dishonor for you in being stabbed in the back,” said Brad.
“The dishonor was in killing twenty unarmed men.”
“Technically,” said Brad. “You only killed nineteen unarmed men. One was armed. In fact, at one point he was literally armed with an arm.”
“I must say,” Brad said, taking a step closer to Hugh, “And I mean no insult… but I would not expect this from the fearless warrior I saw slaughtering men just a day ago.”
“I’m not insulted,” said Hugh. “I…have you ever been good at something you didn’t like doing?”
Brad nodded, “Say no more. I understand perfectly. And such a messy business your unwanted talent is. It is actually inspirational that a seemingly monstrous murderer actually has a conscience.”
“Usually, I don’t do anything I would regret,” said Hugh.
“Let me guess,” Brad said, stepping even closer Hugh, and leaning in near to him. “Walker talked you into it.”
Brad clapped his hands and stepped back, chuckling. “That rascal! It’s nice to see my rhetoric lessons didn’t go to waste.”
Hugh frowned and looked at the giant.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said Brad. “If it’s any consolation, he didn’t talk you into doing a bad thing. Those men were criminals, and not just petty thieves stealing a loaf of bread for their starving family. Their actions caused others to die. They forfeited their lives.”
“He’s right,” said Henry. “You’re not a murderer, you’re an executioner.”
“Yes,” Brad chimed in. “The ethical executioner is always plagued with guilt, as anyone who takes a life ought to deeply question such a grave act.”
“Right,” Hugh said.
Hugh walked to the front of the ship and watched as the port came back into view.
To be continued…