THE SEA HAG by David Drake
THE SEA HAG by David Drake
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
The tower quivered when the dragons roared at the village perimeter, where they guarded the community of Emath from the jungle beyond and the things in it.
The noise startled Dennis. He didn’t much like heights, and he was holding onto the railing of the highest of the palace’s crystalline spires. He’d thought maybe he could see his father’s boat from up here.
He’d been wrong. There was no sign of King Hale or the net-tending skiff which the king had rowed to sea alone this morning and every other morning for the past week. Far out on the horizon, the glittering needle of Banned Island pinned the dense gray-green sea to the blue-white sky… but there were no sails, and no little rowboat either.
“The heart which worries,” said Chester, “makes its owner ill.”
“Do you have to keep saying things like that, Chester?” Dennis snapped to his companion.
“Indeed I must say them, Dennis,” Chester replied smugly. “It is to speak such wisdom that I was fashioned.”
The lilting voice came from somewhere in the featureless forty-pound metal egg that served Chester as head and body combined. Dennis knew his companion well enough to read Chester’s tones as clearly as the facial expressions of a human speaking… but Chester had a right to be smug; and anyway, it didn’t do any good to get angry with him.
“Well, talk then if it satisfies you,” Dennis replied, half resigned and half sulky. “But I don’t see that it’s ever done me any good, your wisdom.”
He turned from the sea to watch the dragons. It was market day, so the Wizard Parol was opening a path for visitors through the concourse which the great beasts prowled—ready to tear and devour anyone who tried to enter Emath unbidden from the jungle.
Dennis craned his neck, but even so he could barely peer past the new houses of stone, wood, and tile built right up to the perimeter’s inner edge. Emath was growing, had been growing fast for as long as Dennis was old enough to notice. He could remember when the village was only a straggle of shanties against the walls of his father’s great crystalline palace…
Or he thought he could remember that; but memory was a funny thing. The present bustling community didn’t have much to do with that dim past, when he’d walked clutching the hands of his parents and looking up in wonder at a new world.
Emath had changed. Her fishing boats were richly successful. The magnificent harbor—the only good one on a coast wracked by storms—made her the center of exchange between human traders and the tribes of lizardfolk from the jungle of the interior.
And Dennis had changed even more. At sixteen—in three days more—he was as big as a grown man; as strong as most; and quicker than anyone else in Emath.
He was Prince Dennis, who wished his father didn’t row out to sea alone—and that Hale didn’t when he was home snarl as savagely as the dragons on guard.
“The man who sold me to your father on the day of your birth, Dennis,” Chester said, “had intended to keep me for himself forever; saying that I was a great marvel.”
“And indeed you are a very great marvel, Chester,” the boy agreed, reaching down to stroke the smooth metal of the little creature’s case.
He was suddenly glad to have a friend who stayed a friend: who didn’t glare at him with unexplained anger, like Hale; or cling and cry like Queen Selda, and neither of them able to say what was wrong.
Or even admit that something was badly wrong. It was the uncertainty…
Chester reached up to Dennis with one of his eight ropy limbs, legs when he walked and hands when he chose they should be. “He said to me, ‘Can you not silence your silly wisdom, Chester?’ And I told him, ‘The fault of every character comes from not listening, master.’ And he sold me to your father, saying that I was just the thing for a child babbling nonsense.”
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