The sky was a slab of slate. The people of the village were inside their houses. Not long before, there had been hurried preparations. The pulling in of laundry, gathering of tools, the covering of the boats in the harbour, all these were complete.
      The village of Gerry's Port waited for the storm. The air was calm. The grass trembled and small waves lapped against the docks. Edna the gossip sat beside her husband Gimal. Mangest sat inside his shuttered general store with his sons Yejah and Tallie and the village folk who had decided to shelter there. Horrie and Tanar smiled cautiously at the grateful traders who they sheltered in their home. Yonni the widow opened her shutters a crack and peered out at the sea. Lightning flashed in the distance, highlighting a small dark shape upon the sea.
      A wind rose and began to howl around the village, toying with the thatched roofs and the canvas tarpaulins. A cry arose. "There's a ship out there!" Suddenly, the storm broke. Cold water fell from the sky in an avalanche of rain. Jeg, a lanky dark youth, ran out into the storm, bent over as if that would keep the water off him. He shielded his eyes with his hand and peered out through the rain. There was certainly something out there. It was closer now, and it looked like a ship, but the rain made details impossible.
      The sky flashed with lightning, freezing the rain in its place for a split second. In the flash he saw the outline of the ship, black against the angry skies. Jeg's clothes were already soaked from the rain. His boots made squishing sounds as he ran to the dock. The ship was headed towards them, but it was riding a foamy sea. The dock was slippery in the rain and he nearly lost his footing. Again, the lightning flashed. The ship was closer now. It was too small to weather the storm. The silhouettes of the sails were torn now.
      It was still too far away. Far too far to swim, even on a clear day. Jeg retreated to the storage shed which lay on the ground near one end of the dock. He wiped the water from his forehead and squeezed his hair. He shook himself vigorously to get the water off. It would be a quarter of an hour before the ship arrived, if it arrived at all.
      Jeg heard footsteps behind him. Someone was running up to him, hissing curses as he did. The person ran past the shed to the dock, and Jeg recognised his best friend Kerv. Kerv was neither short nor tall. His round face had a bit of mud on it. His black hair was shiny with water and he was shivering slightly. He was also bewildered that the dock was empty. "Jeg?" he called. "Where did you go?"
      "Come in here," Jeg replied. Kerv startled to hear someone so close behind him. As he turned, he saw Jeg inside the storage shed. Shaking his head, he came inside.
      "Jeg, what's gotten into you?"
      "I don't know if it's going to make it," Jeg replied, his eyes locked on the ocean.
      "The ship. I don't know if it's going to reach the dock."
      "Why shouldn't it? It's moving towards us."
      "Yes, but we're on a peninsula here. The ship is coming almost straight across. If it's a little bit too far south, it smashes into the side of the point. If it's too far north, it passes us and sails on into the open sea."
      "Jeg, you know your mother's worried sick about you. After your father--"
      "That's why I'm here," interrupted Jeg, with a quick stare at Kerv. He lowered his eyes to the heaving ocean again. "Tell her that. There could be people on that ship."
      "Jeg," Kerv said, waving his hand in front of Jeg's face. "He's dead, you know."
      Jeg batted Kerv's hand away in irritation. "Of course I know. But maybe, if I'm here, I can save someone else's father. Or someone else's son. Now are you going to go and tell my mother, or are you going to stay here and help me?"
      "Sheesh! It's Kerv, remember? Of course I'll help you. But what do you want?"
      "Help me look. You've always had sharper eyes than me. If we start to see the left side, it's going to crash. If we start to see the right side, it's going to miss us."
      The pair of friends settled down and began to peer through the rain. The wind howled about them and thunder rolled from time to time. The air was cool, so they moved closer together. The rain hissed on the ground, made thudding sounds against the roof and gurgled in the ocean. The longer they watched, the slower the ship seemed to move. They watched and waited.
      The ship began to loom larger and larger. It was not far off, when Kerv said, "I can see a side!"
      "Which one?" Jeg demanded.
      "The right one!" Kerv replied.
      "No!" Jeg screamed. He shook his fist in the air.
      This ship was close enough that it seemed to turn in the sea as it passed them. The only things that really turned were their eyes. Suddenly, there was a blur of motion on the side.
      "What was that?" Jeg said, turning to Kerv.
      "Someone jumped ship." Kerv said, pointing to a dark spot in the ocean.
      Jeg stood up and pulled of his shirt. "You're not going in there, are you?" whispered Kerv in shock.
      "Go and tell them that someone's jumped ship. Make sure they bring blankets for two. Please," he added, trying to soften the order. Then Jeg pulled off his boots and ran onto the dock. As he dove in, Kerv turned away and raced back toward the village.
      His parents startled and the candles flickered when Kerv threw open the door. He said, "Bring some blankets. Jeg's jumped in."
      "He's done what?" demanded Kerv's mother Lundil.
      "I think I saw someone jump out of the ship. Jeg's trying to rescue him."
      "Then we'll need two sets of blankets," commented Kerv's father.
      "Yes," said Kerv, too frazzled to stay focused. "Yes, he said that. Bring blankets for two."
      "We can get some from Edna and Gimal," Lundil suggested.
      "Fine!" exclaimed Kerv. "Can we go now?"
      "I'll do that," said Kerv's father. "Go down to the dock and I'll meet you there."
      "Really, Kerv," said Lundil as they left the hut. "No need to be rude. Try to keep calm."
      "But mom," said Kerv, "Right now, every moment counts. That sea is rough."
      When they reached the dock, they scanned the sea for Jeg or the sailor. There was no sign of them. The ship was sailing away from the village, the mast broken. The howling wind hid any sounds, and the constantly moving waves obscured vision.
      Suddenly, Kerv saw Jeg break the surface some distance from them. "Jeg!" Kerv cried. "Are you okay?"
      "I found him!" was the faint response. Kerv squinted into the rain, and saw that there were two of them, Jeg holding the stranger's head above water. "He went under a minute ago."
      "What about you?" Kerv screamed against the gale. "Can you make it back?"
      "I think so," Jeg replied. "I'm so cold!"
      "Keep swimming," Kerv yelled.
      "I'm doing that already!" Jeg said with some irritation. He was swimming a sort of desperate backstroke with one arm holding the stranger.
      Kerv's father rushed up with more of the blankets. "I'm going in," Kerv said, his teeth chattering.
      "No you're not," said Kerv's father. "No sense throwing good money after bad."
      "I don't care what you say. I won't leave my friend to die." Kerv said, turning and starting toward the end of the dock. His father grabbed him by the shoulder with his gnarled fisherman's fingers. "Let me go!" Kerv demanded.
      "Kerv," said his mother, "there's still a good chance he'll make it."
      "And if can't swim any further, you can go then. Only, for Han's sake, be careful."
      The moments that followed stretched into eternity for Kerv. As Jeg maintain his painful progress, getting weaker with every stroke, the villagers slowly gathered around him. Suddenly Jeg stopped. He seemed to converse with the air. Kerv made ready to go after him, but Jeg nodded to himself and started again his tortuous swim. He reached the dock soon after and was lifted to safty by as many hands as could grip him at once. He was a difficult weight to lift, because he refused to let go of the stranger from the mysterious ship.
      "Apparently, this Jeg says that his dad appeared to him just like that in the middle of the ocean," said Ralah to her husband Jorvic. "Of course him and the stranger were deathly ill. The man from the ship's got an awful fever. At least, he did when the traders left the village. The boy's on the mend, though. No one knows who the stranger is, or why he's there. He's been asleep and raving the whole time. All they can tell is that he's a foreigner."
      "From where?" said Jorvic.
      "Not too far," Rala replied. "Grochin or Sornia, so they say. Got yellow, thin hair and a pointy nose. Got a scar over his eyebrow."
      "The left eyebrow?" Jorvic queried.
      "You know him do you?"
      "If that's a yes, then I need to go," Jorvic said. Rala noticed him rub the old scar on his shoulder.
      "To Gary's Port?"
      "Yes, my love. It's a point of honour."
      "Well. How long will you be?"
      "Two days there and back," Jorvic muttered, "a day or two in town..." He added, out loud. "About six days. I'll send word if I need to stay longer."
      "All right, then," Ralah sighed. Her husband had never behaved this way before. She saw him fumble in the back of the closet and pull out his old sword. "Han's heart! Do you really need that?"
      "I might, and it's much better to have it than to wish I did."
      "I don't know what to say. I've never seen you act like this."
      "I'm sorry about this," he said, rummaging in the closet for travel clothes. "I'll tell you everything about it when I get back. And I'll get back in once piece, I promise. I have to get there as soon as I can."
      Rala pursed her lips. "Well, goodbye then," she said.
      "Goodbye, my love." He stood at the archway and blew her a kiss. The he turned and strode outside. A few minutes later, Rala heard the sound of Jorvic's horse trotting away. She settled down and waited for six days. At the end of the sixth, she waited still.
      It was a strange time for the quiet village of Gerry's Port. Now there were two strangers in the town. Jorvic was almost as inscrutable as the fevered man. The only information he provided was that the fevered man's name might be Turlon. Jovic spent nearly as much time with Turlon as Jeg, who had been recovering from exposure in the same hut.
      Jeg and Turlon had a strange relationship. All day, as they waited for the sickly man to become lucid, they would exchange glances. Jeg had quickly learned that Jorvic was not interested in small talk. He was not exactly unfriendly, but he made it clear that he had important things to think about.
      Jorvic was about as tall as Jeg, but he was much thicker set, most of the extra mass being muscle. His features had certain similarities to those of Turlon, but they seemed muted. His hair was brown, his eyes a gray-blue. He had a sword with his baggage, and he spent a great deal of time polishing the rust from the blade. And from time to time, he rubbed the scar on his shoulder. He seemed like the central mountains to Jeg: big, quiet, immobile and distant.
      Finally, on the third day, Turlon awoke. Jorvic was the first thing he saw. "Jorvic!" he cried. "Was it all just a dream - I know I've been sick - was it just a dream that I had a wife and daughter and lost them both?" Turlon's eyes narrowed. "No. You're older. This isn't an army infirmary."
      "No, the army was a long time ago. It is strange to see you hereabouts," Jorvic said. "The tale about your arrival is even stranger."
      "This is Gerry's port?" queried Turlon. Jorvic nodded. Turlon sagged back into the pillows, as if crushed by the weight of the news. "Then it's true. I hoped it was a delusion--some kind of fever- dream."
      "What burdens you, my friend?" said Jorvic.
      "Crimson fever took the one, and General Ratlief took the other. And I'm here because I hoped you would help me."
© Copyright 1995 Aaron Bentley
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