The Teeth stretched from the mainland in the east to the island of Fortönn in the west. In most parts, they were little more than reefs or shallow spots of land, treacherous to all vessels that dared brave them. Yet some did, smuggling goods through the narrow straits to be sent further south. In response, the ships of Thusund patrolled the Teeth in swift, light longships, able to traverse the dangerous waters with unmatched speed.
The harbour of Fortönn provided a home for the longships and their crew. After each patrol, they returned to the island, mooring at the pier. The arrival of such a ship caused commotion among the dockworkers, for despite the stormy weather last night, the sailors brought captives with them. Three of them, one old, two young, along with a humble fishing boat tied behind the longship.
Most of the crew handled the mooring except for the captain and a few of his warriors, ushering the captives to disembark. The young man did first, helping the young woman to step from the ship to the pier. The sailors pushed as much as aided the old man, laughing a little at his anxious behaviour. A few curt remarks from the captain cut the amusement short, and he gestured for his prisoners to follow him. With mute looks, Brand and Jana did so; the fisherman, who had risked his life and boat to sail them through the Teeth, whimpered as they went along.
Fortönn was little more than a rock, providing no arable land other than meagre grazing for sheep and goats. Despite this, the island was fortified with a strong keep overseeing the harbour, holding a large garrison overseen by a knight. Besides patrolling the Teeth, Fortönn lay furthest south-west of all harbours in Adalmearc, making it the last port before any journey to Alcázar. The island not only provided supplies to the many ships of Thusund, but it lay as the first line of defence against enemies from the South.
At the castle, the arrival of the prisoners caused a few reactions. A clerk met them in the courtyard while the nearby guards and servants stared, making the most of the disruption to the monotony of castle life in an outpost. The captain of the vessel whispered a few words to the clerk, who in turn sent a messenger boy into the keep. Another brief exchange followed, and the old fisherman was taken away.
“What will happen to us?” whispered Jana.
“I cannot say,” Brand mumbled.
They only waited briefly before two Order soldiers appeared from the keep and beckoned for the two remaining captives to follow. With Jana holding onto Brand’s arm, they did as obeyed.
One soldier ahead of them, one soldier behind, they were led up the stairs to enter a small room. It appeared to be a study of sorts, with a desk holding quill and inkwell, though neither seemed to be in use much.
A knight stood by the window, overseeing the harbour. He turned as the soldiers and prisoners entered, clearing his throat. “Usually, our ships find goods being smuggled, not passengers. The old man is of little interest, I was told, but you are a strange pair, seeking to enter Adalmearc unseen. If you have any explanation, I suggest you speak fast.”
“I shall, Sir Hákon,” Brand replied. “We have met before.”
The knight furrowed his brow. “I have no memory of you. Knowing my name does not prove acquaintance.”
“It was a few years ago. Sir Athelstan returned from Alcázar, and his ship made port at Fortönn. He and his squire dined with you that night before their journey onwards. My clothes are ragged, but if you imagine that I wear the colours of the Order, perhaps you recognise me.”
Hákon squinted his eyes. “I do not believe it!” Surprise painted his face. “Adalbrand of House Arnling, squire to Sir Athelstan. I remember well our visit from the most famous knight in the realms, but I never imagined to find his squire before me in such a state and situation.”
“Much has happened since then,” Brand admitted.
“Indeed. Our island may be remote, but I have heard of your exploits – and your exile.”
Chagrin took hold of Brand’s expression briefly. “That is true.”
The knight raised a hand to quiet him. “I have heard many rumours, but what matters now is your presence here. You were found in forbidden waters. Can you explain, or must I pass sentence?”
“I went to Alcázar to gather information about an imminent assault,” Brand said quickly. “The Kabir of the city plans to attack the realms, starting with Fortönn. Once the winter storms end, you will find yourself under siege.”
The knight narrowed his eyes. “Is this trustworthy information?”
Brand nodded. “I saw the ships myself, gathered for war. Both in Alcázar and Maleth.”
“Not only that,” Jana interjected. “My – the Kabir has allied himself with Labdah. They will lend ships as well. A fleet large enough to transport thousands of troops.”
“And who are you?” asked Hákon brusquely.
Jana looked at Brand, who gave a slight nod. “I am Lady Jana, daughter to the Kabir.”
“This tale grows taller and taller,” the knight muttered.
“She helped me flee the city. We only entered the Teeth because we had no other choice, and because it is vital the realms are warned,” Brand stressed.
“If this is true, I must prepare,” Hákon mumbled. “I need aid. The marshal must help me.”
“Will you write him?” asked Brand.
“Better. I will send the pair of you to him. If your tale is honest, you may convince him in person. I will need every soldier, every sack of food this keep can hold.”
Brand exhaled. “Excellent, sir knight. We will be happy to relate everything to the marshal.” He glanced at Jana. “Though I must ask. My sword was taken from me. The blade is sacred to me.” Next to him, an expression of slight exasperation crossed Jana’s face.
“Fine,” the knight said. “It will be returned to you.”
“And the fisherman who went with us. He only trespassed into forbidden waters to help us, that we might warn the realms. It would be a sorrow to see him punished for that,” Brand continued.
Hákon raised an eyebrow. “A knight who cares about a fisherman? You are strange, my lord Adalbrand, but I shall consider leniency.”
“My thanks, Sir Hákon.”
“Guard, find some food and bedding for our guests tonight,” the knight commanded. “I will find you a ship. Now excuse me. I must write to the marshal.” He took a seat behind his desk while Brand and Jana left the study, accompanied by the guards.
The keep had a large hall for meals, where Brand and Jana brought to. Despite their nominal status as captives, the guards left them alone, and they were given bowls of porridge to serve as a meal.
“That could scarcely have gone better,” Brand remarked, digging into his food. He spoke quietly, in Suthspeech. “We will be on the mainland soon, and our warning will be heard by the right ears.”
On the other side of the table, Jana kept her eyes on him rather than her meal. “You never mentioned that you were an exile.”
Brand looked down at his bowl. “It is not a source of pride for me.”
“That changes our situation drastically. I am the daughter of an enemy to the realms, and you are an exile.” She exhaled slowly. “We are entirely at the mercy of other people.”
Brand finally looked up. “It is not desperate. I have many friends still.”
“I hope so.” Jana finally picked up her wooden spoon and pushed it through her porridge. “What else should I know?”
“I will tell you everything in full,” Brand promised. “We have a sea journey ahead of us with many idle hours on a ship. Plenty of time to tell you about it all.”
“Very well.” She took a spoonful of her meal, making a face. “You said we will be on the mainland. Where is this marshal we are to meet?”
“Sir Asger, marshal of Thusund,” Brand elaborated, scraping his bowl empty. “He resides in Herbergja. It is fortunate for us. From that city, we can with ease travel onwards.”
“None of your vaunted friends reside there?”
He shook his head. “I had people waiting for me in Portesur, which is not far. But they would have expected me to return weeks ago from Alcázar. They may have moved on.”
“So where should we go after Herbergja?”
Brand stretched his neck. “I am not sure. I will consider our options, and we can decide. We have time, after all.”
Jana filled her spoon again, staring at the sludge. “I cannot believe you pressed the knight about your sword.”
Across the table, Brand spluttered with laughter.
The two prisoners turned guests were given separate quarters for sleep; Brand lay in the barracks with soldiers, Jana with the servant women of the castle. As morning came, they met again in the hall, breaking the fast together with the inhabitants of the keep.
“Is anything amiss?” asked Brand as they sat down. As yesterday, he stuck to Suthspeech. “None gave you any trouble, I hope.”
Jana stared with despondence at her bowl of porridge. “No. The other women kept their distance. I would kill for a bath and some fresh clothes, but asking for either felt like tempting fate.”
“Perhaps we can accomplish that today,” Brand considered. “We may be stuck a few days on this island before passage can be found for us. I doubt they would begrudge us a bath, if I am the one fetching and heating the water.”
“I would be grateful,” Jana told him, slowly working her spoon through the meal.
An Order soldier made his way through the hall; in itself, not remarkable given the many other soldiers present, except he carried a jewelled sword in one hand. He made his way to Brand and Jana’s table. “This is yours, I was told.”
Brand eagerly seized the scabbard, caressing the hilt. “Give the knight commander my thanks.”
“You should hurry,” the soldier continued. “Sir Hákon has arranged passage for you. The ship will be ready by the time you make your way to the harbour.”
“Already?” exclaimed Jana.
“That’s what I was told.” The soldier shrugged. “Go as soon as you’ve eaten. It’s the only ship in port making ready to depart, you can’t miss it.” Without further words, he left them.
Brand and Jana exchanged looks. With a despondent expression, she dug into her meal.
The pair left the keep soon after, walking to the harbour. As promised, while most vessels clearly lay moored, only one longship was prepared for departure.
“I am amazed we will be underway already,” Jana confessed.
Brand trailed her by a few steps, fumbling with his scabbard. He only had a rope around his waist, serving as a poor sword belt. “The knight understands the importance of our news.”
They walked down the pier to reach their erstwhile destination. A handful of sailors stood or sat scattered around the ship. One of them, with a horn hanging by his side, looked up at them. “You’re my passengers, I take it. There can’t be other people around with your description.” He glanced at Jana with her expensive clothes turned to rags and Brand, wearing a worn tunic and a jewelled sword tied to a rope serving as his belt.
They both nodded. Brand jumped into the ship, helping Jana to step aboard.
“Let’s away,” the captain mumbled. “There’s room for you both to sit over there. Stay sitting or lying down. I’m not interested in wasting time fishing anybody out of the water, and as cold as it is, you won’t like it either.”
Brand’s lips became pursed, and Jana took hold of his arm. “Of course, captain,” she hurried to say, moving to the assigned space with Brand in tow. Around them, the sailors unmoored the ship and took their own positions. Soon, the ship was underway.
Seated at the bottom of the ship, the passengers could look just over the edge to see the sea beyond. On either side of them were rows of oarsmen, lending the vessel speed along with the unfurled sail.
“I have given your question some thought.” As before, Brand spoke in Suthspeech.
“What our options are once we reach Herbergja and have spoken to the marshal.”
“What conclusion have you reached?”
Brand stared at Fortönn, shrinking in the horizon. “I see two possibilities. The first is that I track down my friends and allies. Re-join them. I would be returning to war, but you could stay with my sister in Middanhal. She has coin to see you restored to comfort, and you would not have to worry.”
“While I do not relish the thought of being a burden to a woman I have never met, I can hardly complain,” Jana considered. “What is the other possibility?”
Brand cleared his throat. “One reason I went to Alcázar – I shall tell you the rest of the story soon enough – was because my life was threatened. Hired blades sought to kill me. I have made powerful enemies.”
She glanced at him. “That sounds ominous. Given your situation in Alcázar, I dread to think what made you flee from Adalmearc.”
“My predicament in Alcázar was my own fault,” he admitted. “Regardless, once I return to my comrades, my presence will be known. For better or worse, my name attracts attention. Once my enemies are aware that I tread on Mearcian soil once more, I will be in danger. As might you be.”
“And you have a solution for this?”
“There is only one way to avoid this. Rather than allow my return and name be known, once we have spoken with the marshal, we must disappear.”
She frowned. “Disappear? How so?”
“The forests of Vidrevi are said to be endless. I can hunt well enough if need be. It would be a life of poverty and simplicity, with nothing more than basic necessities to sustain life,” Brand explained. He turned to look at his companion. “But we would be free. None would know of us. None would chase us. We would live our days in peace.”
Doubt took hold of her face. “Could you truly accept such a lot in life? When I knew you as a boy, your mind was always on future glories, never a settled life.”
“I have known nothing but war for years. I am weary,” he admitted. “I have given everything to serve others, to fight and protect. So far, my reward has been exile and threats of execution, not to mention hidden blades meant to murder me.” He stretched his neck, staring at the distant keep on Fortönn. The weak winter sun was reflected in the grey stones of the fortifications. He moved his hand to cover hers. “Perhaps the gods have given me this chance for another life.”
“What of your friends that you spoke of? Your sister? Could you leave them all behind?”
“I already did, in a sense, when I went alone to Alcázar. They would have expected my return weeks ago. They must assume I am dead.”
“Some may choose a dwelling made from alabaster,” Jana quoted, “others find their heart amidst the oleaster.” The words were those of al-Tayir, the great poet of Alcázar. She cautiously turned her hand around to take hold of Brand’s. “We have some days until we reach the mainland, correct? Let us consider it until then.”
Eventually, the island of Fortönn disappeared from sight. Likewise, no other ships could be seen on the sea besides their own craft. Calling the ship’s boy to take his place at the helm, the captain moved down the boat until he could crouch in front of his passengers.
Scratching his beard, the captain let his eyes glance over Brand. “You are Adalbrand Arnarson,” he spoke. Whether he meant it as a statement or a question was hard to tell.
Brand returned the captain’s stare. “Yes,” he muttered at length. Nodding to himself, the sailor stood up and returned to take the helm.
“What did he call you?” asked Jana.
“Arnarson. On the islands, they keep to the old tongue in some ways,” Brand explained. “It is how they refer to House Arnling.”
“How did he know?”
“Good question.” Brand leaned forward, raising himself up. “Boy, come here,” he called out to the ship’s youngest crew member. Swiftly, the young lad did as told. “Do you know who I am?” Brand asked.
The boy smiled. “Of course! You are Adalbrand, the son of Arn.”
“Who told you?”
The smile turned into a grin. “We remember the stories on the thousand islands. In the hour of need, fighting the cruel men of the South, Arn came to our aid,” he related, sounding like a quote from memory. “It could never be hidden for long that a son of Arn had come to the islands.”
“Lad, some water!” yelled one of the oarsmen, and the boy leapt away towards the water barrels.
“I wonder why the captain cares,” mumbled Brand.
Jana took hold of his arm. “Our destination is east, is it not?”
“We have changed course.” She looked up briefly at the sun. Earlier it had been ahead of them, with the sail providing shade. Now it was to their right. “What lies north that we would sail hence?”
“The only city of importance would be Dvaros, home to the kings of Thusund.”
“What reason could there be that they would sail us hence?”
“None good, I fear,” Brand muttered.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.