Chapter 6: The Old Man in the Woods
The rain had ceased and a canvas covered him by the time he next knew the world. Before the opening of his eyes, sound came to him, and he heard the lapping waves of a calmer sea, the rush of a light breeze, and the crackling of a small fire. For many minutes he remained thus, until he heard a voice speaking to him. Its sound was familiar, but his mind would not let him recognize the speaker, nor understand their words.
With a great effort Brandyé rolled to his side, and discovered that it was damp sand upon which he was lying, for his nose dug into it and breathed it in before he knew it. He spluttered and snorted, raising himself and trying to blow his nose with his hands. If nothing else this brought him fully to his senses, and as he opened his eyes and looked about him, he saw Khana was sitting on a log beside him, a small fire burning before him.
“Alive you are,” he said, and Brandyé was this time able to focus and understand his words. “Your passing I feared.”
Brandyé tried to speak, but his throat was cracked and dry, and no sound could come out. Khana held to him a small flask of water, and he drank deeply, though it burned his throat. “Thank you,” he managed.
Khana nodded, and passed to him some biscuit. Without thought Brandyé took it and ate it in two bites, for he was suddenly ravenous. Khana offered him more and he ate that too, until his hunger had abated slightly. He tried to speak again, and managed, “How is it, that alive I am?”
“Nearly drowned you were,” said Khana. “Also into the sea I was cast, but on some boards I floated. Dead my crew were, I thought, but then you I saw. You swam, and so keep you afloat I did. After many hours upon the shore we were thrown, and a day since then it has been.
“By some chance food has arrived. To the shore many of my barrels came, and those with meat and water they were.”
“Of the others, have you news?” asked Brandyé. As he looked around and saw that only he and Khana were in this place, a chill came over him that was not of the cold.
“I do not,” said Khana. “Not of my crew, nor of the others.”
This recalled to Brandyé, all in one swift memory, the impossible and terrible events of the past night, and he looked swiftly to the sea, fearing to see a dread monster coming upon them anew. Instead, there was nothing but the sea, which was calm that morning. There was no sign of the colossal beast, but to Brandyé’s dismay he saw the ruins of several ships, many no more than shattered hulks, a few of them burning and smoking.
He saw that they were in a small cove, and to the North a spur of rock extended into the waters, but over it and from afar drifted further smoke, and Brandyé knew it was the remains of the town, which he would later learn was called Voènarà. Neither the Cosari nor the Green Folk had been spared that day, it seemed.
Khana waited as Brandyé observed all of this, and then said, “Home, some of our ships must have gone. Too few in the bay there are, and sunk every ship can not be.” But thought his words were of confidence, Brandyé nonetheless heard the uncertain fear in the man’s voice, and was struck by it. Never in his time with him had he seen Khana show fear, and his own fear grew with the knowledge that so brave a man as Khana was shaken.
Turning to the fire, Brandyé said, “If so, then alone we are. What shall we do?”