Somewhere, the moon shines above the clouds in a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 18 - Moonsight
The sun had gone down behind the clouds, though it probably made things no darker. And yet, I could see in a way that had nothing to do with light. At the moment, even though I had my eyes closed, I saw faces, all the faces of our little group. My own, or rather, the face I wore, that of Alenna doch Adelwalt; also Yungvalt Adelson, aka Valto, Alenna’s brother who wore the face I used to wear when I was Deputy Gus Gallant in another time and space; Kilda, my devoted serving girl; Haltine Rotgar den Proits, the boy warrior who was almost a giant; Zenner Lu Rennart, spy for the Remish empire and messenger from Alenna’s mother; Lillakatye, whose full name I did not know, warwife and possibly another time traveler; and the two hired swords, Cordle and Lang.
But I also saw another face, certainly not that of any of my friends. A rougher face, male, older with an untrimmed beard, wild eyebrows and a nose bigger than Zenner’s. Also lumpier, as if it had been broken at some time. And with a tattoo pattern on left cheekbone, not that uncommon in this world. The extra face had an intense expression, gazing into the distance, almost as if it were looking right back at Rotgar who led our little group.
I didn’t know where this ability to see with my eyes closed had come from and I suspected it I could do more with it if I knew how. “Someone watching us,” I said, hoping that speaking up would not break the spell or whatever it was. I tried to not move and to stay relaxed at the same time. The Gray moved under me at a steady rocking walk.
Valto beside me on The Black asked, Do you see someone with your inner eye, Swesel? “Where?”
I ignored him calling me Sis; I didn’t want anything to break my ease and focus with this new ability. Or was it new for Alenna? Don’t think about it. My view of the strange face widened to show a man dressed as a hunter in a short fur tunic and woolen leggings, concealed in brush, even to the extent of wearing twigs in his cap. He stared intently into some distance, and I knew we were the object of his gaze. He must be the lookout or spotter for the group of set-thieves said to operate on this section of the High Road.
All the images I saw were delineated, almost like drawings rather than photos. There were no shades or shadows and almost no texture. Beards and hair appeared as masses of fine lines. Images didn’t have motion either but were replaced about six times a second, each new picture slightly different as the subject moved. I could zoom in or out, close enough to count eyelashes or far enough away to see a whole body instead of just a face. The girl on the tall horse was Alenna, me.
I shifted my focus back to the extra face. Zooming out, I tried to get a sense of just where this man had his vantage point. It wasn’t Google Earth, but it had some things in common. Far enough out and the image became diagrammatic. Our party strobed six frames a second along a road and up ahead of us, Mr. Extraface. “To the right, there should be some trees, maybe half a mile away?” I said, almost whispering. I felt tense and excited, partly because this was just so weird, seeing things in my mind that I had no way of seeing with my eyes and partly because this situation might be truly dangerous.
“She has the moonsight,” Valto was telling the others. “The moon is in the sky, even if we cannot see him through the clouds.” Him? The moon is a him to the Bloddings, and the sun is a her; this is because they think of the sun as a ship and the moon as a beast I realized with one part of my mind while still intent on keeping my inner vision focussed.
Valto continued quietly. “When the sun is down and the moon is up, Alenna can sometimes see things others cannot.”
“Sao gehandverligt,” Lillakatye commented with a particular intonation that nagged me again about her inconsistent presentation as a native of this world. Sao gehandverligt meant “how convenient.”
I tried shutting out distractions and concentrated on my “moonsight.” The man in the brush was not moving, just watching. Would he watch us as we passed or would he send a signal to his confederates? Or had he already done so? I tried to widen the area again to see his confederates, but this did not seem to work. I didn’t understand the mechanism or the limitations of my new power and it frustrated me.
And we were still traveling on the road, making six or eight miles an hour in the odd gaits of the various horses. It was an awkward speed for a group of mismatched animals but one that seemed to work. In half an hour or a little more, we would reach the last of the weghusen before the walls of the city, and that last bit of road between roadhouse and city gates would be patrolled and safe from robbers. I could see our progress again in a bird’s eye view of our party with the hidden watcher ahead of us on the right. But I still could not locate any others. If they couldn’t see me, perhaps I could not see them?
Zenner was speaking. “This is a remarkable ability,” he said in Remish. He continued in his faintly accented Bloddish. “If the watcher is where she says he is, then his fellows would most likely be hidden behind the stand of beech trees twenty paces from the road.” He added more description, so the others could tell just which wood he meant, but I couldn’t quite follow his directions with my moonsight.
Instead, I watched as the hidden sentinel turned slowly and fired an arrow behind him. It must have been a signal.
“He warns the others that he has seen us,” I said. For a moment I seemed to see a hand taking an arrow from the limb of a tree and then the images of the unnatural vision I had been using broke like soap bubbles and I came out of my almost-trance with my eyes open and my own hand already reaching inside my coat to the slit in my overdress, the hidden pocket inside, and my Glock.
The world of textures and shadows reappeared, dim, gray and soft-edged in the quiet rain. The glimmer of the brightstone paving had faded after the unseen sun had set a little while before but it was still brighter than moonlight would have been had there been any moon showing through the clouds. And Valto must have known something for though I could not see the moon; I knew without a doubt that I could have pointed directly at it, behind the clouds. So very, very weird.
The rain still fell but now as soundless mist, thin with gaps that showed the trees all growing no closer than ten yards or so from the road. Our horses clopped along the roadway like coconuts in a fast-paced comedy skit. We had fallen into a new order: Rotgar and Valto in the lead, then myself and Lillakatye, followed by Zenner and Kilda each leading a pack animal. Lang and Cortle brought up the rear. No one had said anything for some time until one of the hired swords spoke up. “We’re close to where people have said the thieves set upon them.”
“Aye,” said Rotgar, “I ken you have it right.” He sounded excited, not worried at all. The dunkelnarry simpleton was looking forward to a fight. I wanted something to throw at him, something large and heavy.
Zenner chimed in. “Look to yourselves; we will be within a long arrow shot from those trees when we pass the next firebowl.” He meant the stone pits beside the road spaced every half mile or so that probably had something to do with the comfort of the crews that had made the road hundreds of years before.
The trees I had seen in my vision were barely visible in the dimness and partially concealed by the rain as well. How in the world could ambushers attack at a distance of a city block or more away in such conditions?
Lillakatye beside me murmured an answer, so apt that I wondered for a moment if I had spoken the question aloud. “They will use crossbows made fast to trees and aimed and tested in better light. When we cross a mark they are watching, they will let fly.”
“Scorpions,” Zenner remarked.
“Let’s hope not,” said Valto.
Lillakatye explained again. “Scorpions are heavy crossbows, too big for man-use. They are shot against walls and forts and can throw a shaft two inches thick and four feet long. It would be like to fix one on a tree trunk. Such a bolt could go right through both rider and horse. ”
The image made me sick at my stomach.
“Let us ride,” said Rotgar. “If they have been timing our pace, we can dunkel their aim if we run past them instead. Everyone keep up.” At a touch from his heels, his horse, Froggie, leaped into an eager canter, probably a dangerous rate in the darkness but maybe not as dangerous as a slower one.
I had worked the Glock out from the layers of my clothing now, holding it against my belly and the saddle with my right hand, the reins in my left. Lillakatye may have seen because her eyes got wide. “I didn’t know you could play the Glockenspiel,” she said. I frowned at her; sure she was being mysteriously humorous on purpose, and I wasn’t quite in the mood.
We all heard the deep sha-rang! sounds, moments after we got up to speed and at the same time that men broke from the cover of the woods a hundred yards ahead of us, a dozen or more on foot and four on heavy horses. It was hard to count them in the mist and gloom with the only light the fading steynbricht.
Something passed a yard or two over my head, and I heard a scream from behind me and Lang or Cortle shouting, “Helaskaite!”
“Stay low,” Valto ordered. “Don’t make a mark for their bowmen.”
Rotgar just screamed wordlessly, and he and his huge horse pulled away from us, charging toward the attackers.
Zenner was saying something about watching out for roadblocks. Valto followed Rotgar, a sword in one hand and a small round shield in the other, guiding The Black with his knees. He made a chilling sound, an ululation like the noise a panther might make.
The Gray needed no guidance; he leaped forward to follow his brother, taking me along. The reins were useless, so I dropped them, using both hands to raise the little Glock and point it up, over the heads of our men.
Lillakatye pulled alongside me, her face intent, a short spear in one hand and her axe in the other. “Boola-boola, kanobben,” she said cryptically. She too guided her horse with her knees, leaning close so I could hear her over the thunder of hooves on stone. “Wait till you are sure to hit one of them; bolts of Godfire are not easily renewed,” she advised.
I nodded, reflecting that even though she had not seen me fire the little gun, perhaps Rotgar had described it to her. Either that or she knew what a pistol was from her own past.
It also occurred to me that I had killed one person, the unlucky Hustab the Landsman, with my one previous shot in this world and apparently still had the same number of rounds I had started with. How did that work?
And then there was no time to think – they were upon us and we upon them.
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