Nine

It was a perfect harbor, except that it was inaccessible to ships because of spears of jutting rock. The sky was still glazed grey from yesterday’s storm, the clouds moving at a surprising speed unnoticed because of the lack of definition caused by the glare. They had furled the sails and lowered the mast, pushing out the oars again. Now they hovered, not quite in the mouth of the harbor. Efeddre gazed out toward the shore.

“Whiteblade sign?” he asked.

Gerril shook his head. “They don’t like it that closed in,” he said, pointing at the harbor with two sun-browned fingers. “Too shallow to really hunt. You’ll want to go to shore there, it’s sandy. The rock’ll slice you open. You’ll hafta be careful about it in the water.” Efeddre nodded.

While Idishe and Gerril discussed how to reach their rendezvous after the harbor, Efeddre stepped over the two benches between them, and sat across from her.

“Give this to Litin and Alan,” he said, and handed her the corked flask of rethor. It was heavy for its size. Ridiath held it lightly, almost afraid that just by holding it she would break it. “If I don’t meet you at the peninsula north of Gidriod in a twelveday, Ashur, Alan and I have an agreement to leave me.” That peninsula was a long way north, and Ridiath didn’t know how far he had to travel. Something sharp hit her stomach, not quite alarm, a coming to the precipice of the unexpected.

“If you don’t reach it in time, how will you find us?”

“If I need to find you, I will.”

Everyone watched, silent, while Efeddre bared himself to his skin, Toney holding the boy on his hip. Packing his clothes into a netted bag, Efeddre tied it around the child’s shoulders. Swinging his legs over the side, he slipped into the water, treading slowly.

Efeddre abruptly became blurry, as if her eyes had gone bad only in the space that he occupied, the world around him crisp and clear. His body shifted, grew, like the billowing of smoke, making the air hotter. The galley rocked with the sudden displacement of water.

When he came back into focus, Efeddre was nearly as long as the boat, pale brown coat and black markings, his muzzle and head held just above the water. Cuddling the boy close, Toney kissed the top of his head, breathing in his smell. As he settled him on Efeddre’s shoulders, the child buried tiny hands in his fur, looking back at them almost with curiosity. Efeddre flicked an ear back, still treading. No one said anything.

As he began to turn and paddle toward the shore, Ibleton suddenly called out, “Good luck.”

They watched him grow smaller and smaller, finally hauling himself slick and dark onto the beach. Ridiath could still make out the boy’s pale back perched behind his shoulders, until they disappeared into the brush.

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