The Voyage of the Visund -4-

The castaway and her clothing are in shocking condition. This raises many questions, some of which dare not be answered by those who know. Examination of her belongings reveals yet more puzzles, and the time taken means that the Visund will not reach her intended stop for the night. Once a suitable place for camping has been found, a furious argument then develops...

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The Voyage of the Visund

A tale of Anmar by Penny Lane

4 - A Night on the River


Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2018 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



Maralin was shocked because he had never expected to meet another transferee, certainly not on this voyage, possibly not ever again. The Beings just didn't work like that - that he was aware of. Then, to compound matters, there was the state of the person in front of him.

He assumed that the body itself would be intact, since it would have been grown afresh to deliver to Anmar. However, the state of the clothing indicated that the previous owner must have died violently on Earth before transference occurred. What that person was wearing carried its own implications, too.

The upper garment was a military-style tee shirt of olive green which hung loosely on the slight build of the woman. This was badly torn in several places and was liberally splashed with dark stains that could only be blood. The trousers were military combat pants, colored with a camouflage pattern of overlapping red, green, brown and orange triangles, and these were similarly loose except across the hips. They were also blood-stained, although there were no obvious rips or tears.

Around the hips was a khaki webbing belt with a serious looking knife scabbarded on the right side, dangling loosely now below the bench. Both hilt and scabbard had blood on them. The feet were inside good quality hiking boots but these appeared to be of a civilian make rather than military issue. There may also have been socks, but the baggy legs of the trousers obscured the tops of the boots.

"What do you mean, of Earth?" Eriana's voice intruded on his thoughts. "Oh, you mean, because of the trousers? An interesting design, I deem. She is wounded!"

"I think that you'll find that her body will not have so much as a single scratch on it," Maralin said, turning. He let out a breath. "Shit! This complicates matters no end, doesn't it?"

He exchanged a meaningful glance with Wallesan, who nodded back.

Prell said, "What do you mean, her body has no scratches? Can you not see the blood, the tears in her attire? We must examine her, tend her wounds!"

Maralin suddenly became aware of the impossibility of their situation. How could they possibly explain to any of these people what had just happened? This could be tough, and although he and the Duke knew all too well what was going on, they were oath-bound to keep quiet about it.

At least Eriana has some idea what might have happened. We need her on our side.

But we can't tell even her what has really happened! Shit!

Wallesan took over with a cautionary wave. "Pilot, you shall not examine anybody today. Let the guardswomen have that task, this is a... young woman... a woman, at the very least, and our conduct must be proper in such circumstances."

Prell had the decency to blush. "As you say, Your Grace. I did not intend to imply... Um, how shall it be done? There is no privacy here for such a task."

Wallesan looked at the men crowding around the bench to get a look. "As you say. We need a clear space. Eriana, your advice?"

Before she could reply Maralin said, "Highness, if I may, things may have fallen from her pockets when she was lifted. If you would send some of your men to search the ground around where she lay. They will soon know if they find something that shouldn't belong there."

"An excellent idea, Maralin. Lars! Take four and go over this island thoroughly. Maralin, if you would carry the woman back to the stern, the girls can examine her there." She turned to her men. "The rest of you, once Maralin has passed, come to the bow so that we do not slip off the sandbank."

Maralin went to the woman and unbuckled the belt, pulling it with the knife from under her body and handing them to a surprised Eriana. There were some whistles from the men at the apparent size of the weapon.

"Highness, if you would leave the knife alone for now. We may find useful clues before you pull the blade."

He lifted the body, discovering that it was heavier than he expected.

She's not that small, really. Just a bit thin. Might not have been well-fed for a while.

Um, this is a brand-new body! What the heck is going on?

He carried it through the crowd, who parted to let him pass. Then came Bennet and Semma, followed by Eriana and Wallesan as Lars called out instructions to the men in Norse. Prell and Kalmenar also came but stopped either side of the mast, with the rest of the crew crowding behind them.

Maralin laid the woman down on the edge of the stern deck and stepped back. Bennet went to the body and began lifting up the torn tee shirt.

"Careful," Maralin warned as Eriana came to stand by him. "She may not have anything on underneath."

I know she doesn't. If she had done I would have seen it through the rips in the tee shirt, but I can't tell them that. This is going to become very tricky before we have something sorted out.

Bennet turned briefly towards Maralin and then lifted the shirt once more, peering beneath it.

"Tenant, you are right. She wears no bodice nor bra nor any other clothing." She looked again. "You are also right about her body. What I can see is as clean and injury free as my own." She lowered the shirt and turned to Maralin fully. "How is this possible? Why would she have put such attire back on in this state? Would she not have at least washed the blood off first?"

Maralin gestured. "You'd better look at the rest first. Undo the button on her... trousers... then undo the zipper."

"What is a zipper?"

Yikes! They don't even know that! Oh, this is going to be wonderful.

"A zipper is a kind of closure for clothes and it comes from Earth. When Princess Garia was found, she was wearing a pair of trousers a bit like those, only hers were blue. They had a zipper as well. Do you know of Guildsman Fulvin, in the palace?"

"Aye, Tenant, of course."

"He has looked at that zipper and found out how to make them here on Anmar. I thought you might have known of such things. Here, I'd better come and show you."

"Well -"

"I said I'll show you. I won't expose anything, I promise."

He came and lifted the flap, showing them the slider of the zipper. "If you pull that down as far as it will go, those brass teeth will part. Then if you undo that big button, you'll be able to pull the trousers down and check for injuries." He had a thought. "There might be a problem, though. I doubt that you'd be able to get the trousers up again. They look somewhat tight across the hips to me."

Bennet gave him a stare. "If that is so, Tenant, then how did she get them on in the first place?"

Maralin had a vision of herself as a teenager struggling into a pair of skinny jeans. "Trust me, it is possible, but not while she is lying limp like that." He held up a hand. "All right. If you would wait a moment, please. It looks like I need to have a word with Her Highness."

Maralin turned and walked back over the benches to where Eriana and Wallesan stood.

"Highness, Your Grace, from what I have seen so far I can definitely confirm that this woman has just arrived from Earth. From a brief examination it does not look as if she has any injuries, um, physical injuries, that is. There may be something we haven't seen yet. Going by our past experience, it is possible that on Earth she was a man, not a woman, which may explain the poor fit of her clothing. She would be the same as Garia, right? Male there, female here. Whether that is true or not, I do not think it would be a good idea to let her stay in those clothes. There are going to be enough questions as it is, without her standing out because of what she is wearing."

Eriana scowled but nodded. "Aye, as you say. For the blood and the holes, if for no other reason. Do you yet know anything more?"

Maralin sucked air through his teeth. "Highness, I can guess a certain amount but the clothes may tell me more once we can examine them. What's in the pockets may give us clues as well."

"You mentioned pockets before. What are they?"

"Oh... I'll show you once we get the trousers off, it has lots of pockets. Even the labels may tell us something."

"Labels?"

Oh, dear. "Aye, labels are little slips of cloth inside which tell you about the size and shape of the clothes, and probably how to wash them as well." He had an inspiration. "Your attire is from the Palace wardrobe, is it not? Inside each piece is sewn a label with a number that ties the piece to you through those little shelves in Lady Dyenna's office. These are something similar."

"Ah! I understand. What, then shall she wear? We have no Palace Wardrobe nearby," she smiled at Wallesan, "nor the wardrobe of a Duke's domain, to provide for her. We have packed barely sufficient attire for ourselves as it is."

Maralin said with a smile, "Well, we know that Bennet has a spare traveler's dress, don't we?"

"That is true." Eriana looked around at Prell and Kalmenar, at the rest of her men crowding behind to get a good view of whatever was happening. "We cannot change her here, I deem."

"What?" Wallesan objected. "Surely, an oar or two, a piece of tarpaulin held up, to curtain off the stern."

"Well, aye, but..."

As she tried to think of a practical way to achieve a rough screen, Prell came forward. "Captain, if we tarry for much longer then we will not reach our next stop this evening. See, already the sun begins to lower."

She looked into the west, where the sun had already disappeared behind a bank of cloud. "Oh? How far have we yet to go?"

"How far is not the problem, Captain, but how long it will take us. At least two bells of sailing, most likely."

A shake of the head. "Too far, on strange waters, if the visibility fades quickly enough. We shall remain here overnight and continue tomorrow. This is acceptable?"

"Of course, Captain. Vessels often do so, there are not so many as swift as this one on the Sirrel, excepting only the galleys, of course."

Eriana grimaced. She had spent many nights sleeping on the Visund while on ocean voyages, and on a ship more crowded than it was this time, but it would still be cramped and difficult.

"If we may camp on this bank? It will afford us more room, and we may have a hot meal."

"Ah, Captain, I would not set up camp here, the bank is too low. If a squall comes during the night, the river will wash right over it."

"As you say. It looks like we'll all be sleeping on the benches, then." Eriana had a thought and turned to Maralin. "Speaking of sleeping, why does she not wake?"

"Captain, we have only two properly recorded instances of somebody arriving from Earth, myself and Princess Garia. Nobody can remember what happened to me, they had more pressing matters to attend to."

Wallesan agreed. "Indeed! Along with my people, we were being thrown out of Joth!"

Maralin resumed, "As for the Princess, we have a reliable witness in Jaxen, who says that they found her about mid afternoon and that she woke briefly to eat something in the evening. After that she did not waken again until the middle of the night, possibly four or five bells later. My guess is that this woman will probably not wake properly until tomorrow morning."

Eriana looked frustrated, which Maralin could appreciate. He turned to survey the river and pointed.

"Captain, if we cannot camp here, how about over there? That looks like a more permanent island, it has trees and scrub."

The indicated island lay beyond two more of the low banks like the one they were grounded on. It had maybe ten to twelve smallish trees and the surface could not be seen through the undergrowth.

"Aye! Pilot, what say you?"

Prell nodded. "I agree, Captain. It is a small island but appears safe enough. I believe it has been used before by others but I have never ventured there myself. There should be plenty of room for all and," he glanced at the woman, "room enough for any privacy you desire." He hesitated, then added, "I still find it difficult to believe that she is uninjured, Captain. With all that blood, surely..."

Eriana gave him a hard smile. "Then the sooner we have moved and made camp, the better, is it not so?"

With that she turned and began giving commands in Norse, commands that caused actions which confused many of her passengers. The men began rummaging in boxes and crates before coming up with several fearsome looking axes. Many then jumped off the bow to spread out among the tangle of driftwood that blocked the upstream end of the island, collecting both straight poles and chunks of shorter brush. Others began to ready the Visund for a brief movement to the indicated island.

She turned to see the others watching in amazement. "It will cause us little delay," she explained. "If yonder island has been used before, then there may not be much firewood to hand. I merely seek to ensure sufficient supply."

As she spoke Lars came up to her and handed her something black and metallic. "Highness, Vynil discovered this."

"What is it?" With the object in one hand and the knife belt still in the other, she was finding it difficult to handle the object. "Wallesan? Any ideas?"

Wallesan took the object, turned it over and promptly gave it to Maralin. He knew immediately what it was, a magazine from an automatic handgun. Peering at the slot along the side he saw three shells left, from a possible eighteen to twenty or so.

"This is definitely of Earth manufacture," he reported. "It is a magazine from a hand gun, possibly one that looked something like your Personal Pistols." He shook his head. "Without the gun itself this is of little value. This thing can hold maybe eighteen to twenty rounds, I would guess, but there are only three left. Why she did not use them up before changing magazines I could not say, and I doubt we'll ever know."

Eriana had been told sufficient about guns in Palarand that she understood most of what Maralin had explained. Both Maralin and Garia had described modern Earth weapons to a select group and she knew that the 'magazine' was part of one.

"How so, Maralin? When she wakes, will she not tell us?"

"It isn't that simple, Highness. When Garia and I awoke, we both had amnesia, we had no memory of who we were or anything like that. It was about five days before our memories came back, and even then neither of us remembers much about what happened when we left Earth." He had a sudden thought and paused, considering, before adding, "There might be more to explain, Highness, but not now. It would be better to leave all this until we have set up camp over there."

"As you say! Let us be ready to move once the foraging party returns. Here," she handed the knife and belt back to Maralin, "it would be better if you looked after these for now."

With bundles of firewood on board, the rest of the men prepared themselves to row the short distance upstream. Two men at the bow used oars to gently push the ship away from the bank and Tor expertly reversed the ship into the stream. It was only a matter of a few moments before they had reached their target. Here, they found a place where the river had undercut the bank slightly, providing a makeshift wharf which meant that the Visund could be properly moored alongside without having to be run up onto the thin soil.

Men now bustled about, unloading several of the barrels and some sacks onto the ground in the center of the island. Others began unlacing the sail from the yard and folding it, ready to carry it onto the island. The praam was lifted off and lowered into the river, being secured from the stern of the Visund by a painter. This exposed cooking equipment, two large round flat-bottomed pots, each about half a stride wide and a foot deep. These were already packed with cooking and eating utensils as well as turned wooden plates and thin metal mugs, enough for the whole crew. Four men carefully carried them onto the island.

Everybody else climbed off, spreading out to see what was there. An obvious sign that the island had been used before was a large blackened patch on the western side, down wind, of the small clearing among the short trees. Scrub concealed the clearing at the center of the island, but as the Visund was clearly visible moored to the western side it would provide only privacy and not secrecy.

"We will put the big shelter up there," Eriana pointed, "the fires there and there, the latrine there, at the tail end of the island, and we'll require a separate shelter which should go there, I deem."

This last indication was at the upstream end of the island, where the undergrowth gave way to another tangle of driftwood and debris.

"As you desire, Captain," Tor responded, going off to issue commands.

A rope was strung between two of the tree trunks, at about two and a half strides up, two of the larger men had no trouble reaching that high. The trunks were then guyed to prevent them bending under the expected load. The sail was brought and stretched over the main rope, making a shelter large enough that all could comfortably fit under. Foraged poles held up the corners, with more ropes making all taut. However, it was apparent that neither Eriana nor the other women would be sleeping here tonight, because a sheet of tarpaulin was used to make a similar, but much smaller, shelter where she had indicated. This had other lengths of tarpaulin around it to provide a certain amount of additional privacy.

Lanterns were lit and hung around the inside of the shelter. Once the bulk of the work had been done most of the crew came and sat inside, relaxing and talking among themselves in Norse. Adin, the ship's cook, supervised the lighting of the two fires while others took the two cooking pots and filled them with river water which had been strained through a specially-designed canvas bucket.

Eriana had a sudden thought and turned to Prell. "Pilot! Is the water of the river safe to use for cooking?"

"Captain, this far along the river the water will have no salt in it, you will be pleased to know, but of course the river is where the contents of every sewer will end up. I doubt any would care to drink from it except at extreme need, but if boiled for more than a quarter of a bell you may consider it safe enough."

She grimaced. "Adin, you hear that? The water is not to be trusted, boil it for more than a quarter of a bell." She turned to Prell. "We have had experience of bad water, we will follow your advice, pilot."

The castaway had been taken behind the 'women's shelter' by Bennet and Semma, who managed to remove her clothes and replace them with the traveler's gown that Bennet had worn the day before. Bennet emerged carrying the woman's clothes, bringing them over to the command group of Eriana, Wallesan, Maralin, Lars and Tor.

"Tenant, you were right about the... zipper, did you call it? I have never seen such a thing before!"

"You'll certainly be seeing zippers in the future, I can guarantee it." He took the bundle. "Is this everything?"

"It is, Tenant. She wears strange clothes, is she then a warrior like ourselves?"

"Hmm. I don't know, not yet."

Eriana asked, "It is true, then? She has no wound, no bruise upon her body?"

"No wounds at all, Highness, though there appear to be one or two fresh bruises. Nothing of any significance, I would say."

The Princess turned to Wallesan and Maralin. "So. We have her clothes, her knife, everything she had about her. Sit now and explain this to me, if you would."

She pointed to the ground next to one of the trees from which a lantern had been hung. Maralin could have wished for something brighter but he had been on Anmar long enough to have adjusted to the local conditions. The six sat down in a small circle and Maralin put the clothes in the center, retaining the knife belt.

She asked, "What of this mystery weapon? Why did you not wish it exposed before? Is there some custom that attends such a weapon?"

"There are knives on Earth that have customs like that, but I don't think this is one of them. Highness, there was much to do and I didn't want this to be a distraction, that is all. You know what will happen when your men see the blade. Let me first look at the scabbard."

He turned it over and found a manufacturer's label on the back, but that was soaked in blood so couldn't be made out in the uncertain light. He then pulled the blade, causing the expected whistle from everyone present, and drawing attention from the others in the shelter. It was, as he had suspected, a bush knife that somebody would choose to take for a trip to a national park, say, or some wilder destination. A proper professional tool, too, not what a day tripper might buy. The handle looked like it could be deer antler, perhaps, or a plastic imitation of such. The blade was about a foot long and had a finely ground edge to the machined and grooved blade while the back had serrated teeth for much of its length.

"Gods! What a blade!"

Maralin smiled. "I thought you might like it, Highness. Now, let me look closely -"

The blade was smeared with blood and the two fine grooves either side were filled with it.

"It has been used, and wiped, but not cleaned properly. Possibly he or she never had the chance."

Kalmenar started. "He or she, Tenant? What do you mean? Surely that person must be a woman? I cannot believe it a youth!"

Wallesan waved a hand. "Later, Kalmenar. Let Maralin examine all and then we shall tell you all we know."

Maralin held the knife up to the light, examining the back edge closely. "I do believe that there are some grains of sawdust here mingled with the blood. The knife has been used to cut wood, though when in the sequence of events I do not know." He gave the knife not to Eriana, as she had expected, but to Lars. "I doubt you can damage it, Sir, but treat it gently."

Eriana objected with a waved arm. "But -"

"Highness, the other clothes are more important."

Next came the trousers, since Maralin knew from the way they had felt that there were things in the pockets. The label indicated a US manufacturer, but that meant little. Items like this could be found in almost every corner of the world.

"Here, Highness, these are pockets. See, there are two at the front here, two at the back and one on each thigh. Pockets like these save the wearer from having to carry a bag or pouch." He held the trousers up for all to see. "We call this style cargo pants because of the two pockets on the side and I have no idea why. Both men and women wear them on Earth and, as you can see, they are of a practical nature. Not all will be this color or design, though."

In the right front pocket was a bulky lump which proved to be a wallet.

"Ah! Now we're getting somewhere."

The contents proved to be the first surprise.

"Uh, Canadian dollars?" He shrugged. "I suppose he... she could have come from anywhere in the world, really. Didn't have to be the US again."

There was a significant wad of Canadian dollar bills and that made Maralin wonder. If this person had gone to some wild place, then why so much coin... cash?

There were two credit cards, a Starbucks loyalty card and a driver's license. Maralin turned this over and had another surprise.

"Okay, everybody, we have a name for our mystery guest. It's..." He trailed off. Something seemed wrong here, although anything was possible on Earth these days. "It's Dugald Fairbairn. Dugald would be the given name, Fairbairn is a family name. Only, the picture doesn't match our person."

Wallesan said, "Did you expect it to? If he has been changed to a woman, as you believe, would the picture now be wrong?"

"Aye, Your Grace, but... How can I explain this? Firstly, that name is definitely Scottish, which is about right for an Alberta driver's license. Only, the description says, blond with brown eyes and our new friend has dark hair. Of course, we don't know what color her eyes are yet. Secondly, he would have looked more like me, if you like, since our racial origins are similar, only she has some far-eastern connections. Did you see the eyelids?"

"I did, and wondered what manner of people she came from. Have you an answer?"

Eriana asked, "Alberta, what is that?"

"Oh, Highness, do you remember in the federation talks, Garia spoke of another union of countries to the north of the United States? Alberta is one of those, one which has a number of people called Scots living in it if I remember rightly."

"Ah, I remember now. What is this about the hair?"

"Highness, on Earth women frequently choose other colors for their hair, it is part of their appearance, much as face paints are. Dyeing it takes a while but only has to be done every so often when the roots grow out. On the other hand, men do not usually change the color of their hair, not men of his age, anyway. It appears that he had bleached his hair, for some unknown reason, when this picture was taken."

"I see. You know his age as well? That thing tells you so much about him... her?"

"A certain amount. His age... the birth date is a few years earlier than mine, but since we don't know how dates translate between Anmar and Earth, all I can tell you is that she will be about... twenty-six, maybe twenty-seven in Anmar years." He waved the card. "This is essentially a document that tells anyone that the named person has trained enough to be able to drive one of our cars... our self-propelled vehicles. It is also used for ID."

"ID? What is that?"

"ID stands for identification." Even as he said it he knew that it sounded somehow wrong. The local letters that corresponded to 'ID' did not occur in the local phrase that meant 'identification.' "Um, what I mean is, this is a document that proves that the person described on it is the one carrying it. It shows his name and address, height, date of birth, weight, hair and eye color. Oh, and the photo, of course. That means that someone can look at it and immediately see if the person carrying it is likely to be the owner."

"Photo?"

"A small picture. Here, have a look for yourself."

Maralin gave the card to Eriana who scrutinized it closely before handing it to Wallesan.

"This is one of those ideas that Garia brings us, is it not?" she asked. "I do not think that I would understand, should you tell me how such a small picture can be made. It is not a drawing, nor is it a painting."

"Actually, Highness, the method is not all that difficult, as I recall, but it took a long time before we could produce things like that." He pointed to the card, now in the possession of Kalmenar. "I don't think that now is the right time to go into anything like that."

"As you say, Maralin." Eriana gestured. "Is there anything else in those pockets?"

Maralin dug into one after another, finding nothing but a blood smeared handkerchief in the left front pocket. "I guess this was used to wipe the knife. Oh, wait a moment, there's something in one of these."

In the left thigh pocket was a flat, black rectangle with a glass front and a Motorola symbol on the back. It appeared undamaged so he attempted to turn it on with no result.

"What is that?"

"We call these cellphones," Maralin explained. "Um, they can do lots of things, though I'm not familiar with this particular model. You can make voice calls to somebody who has another one of these, wherever they are, or you can send them messages. There are other things they can do, but I doubt this one can be used for anything right now. It has batteries that need charging, which for now means taking it to Palarand."

"Voice calls? What do you mean?"

"Please, Highness, leave it until later. I want to look at the rest of this clothing first."

Putting the phone down beside the wallet, he folded the cargo pants and placed them on the ground. The next item was underwear, which clarified one outstanding question.

"Right," he said, holding up the item. "These are called Y-fronts because the seam on the front looks like the English letter Y." He frowned. There was nothing comparable in shape in the local alphabet. "This proves almost conclusively that the person we found was a man on Earth. No woman would ordinarily want to wear Y-fronts, they would choose something more suitable."

"What do you mean?" Kalmenar asked, still holding the license card. "It proves no such thing! That person is a woman, she could never have been a man! Mayhap she stole all these strange things from their rightful owner, possibly in the murder which caused his blood to spill on these clothes."

Lars twitched and flexed his fingers. Maralin was in no doubt that, given the chance, he would have thumped the little noble. He reached forward.

"My Lord, if I may put the card back in the wallet, I do not want to lose such valuable evidence... thank you. You have doubts but I will answer them shortly. Let me finish with these clothes."

Socks and boots turned out to be nondescript, but definitely not of military issue, not unless the US or Canada, or wherever they had come from, had suffered a catastrophic shortage of funds since Maralin had last walked on Earth. The tee shirt, however, had a Canadian label but was of Chinese manufacture. Since most clothes were now made in the Far East this was not unexpected. Maralin straightened it out and examined the lines of rips going across the front, together with the four puncture holes in the back.

"I think I now know how this person died," he said. "He was attacked by a bear."

"A bear? What is that?"

"It is a very large wild animal, Highness, and there are some kinds that do live in that part of Canada... I mean, Alberta. Imagine something about twice as high as Lars and three to four times as heavy. It is covered with thick fur and can walk on two legs or four. Instead of the hands we have it has flat paws, with extra long and sharp claws coming from the ends of the fingers." Maralin demonstrated by hooking his fingertips. "It will be these claws that made these rips in the cloth. Round the back, look, there are four more holes where the claws of the other paw pierced his body when it grabbed him."

Kalmenar was restless. "He, him, you keep suggesting that this person was a man! Yet she has no injuries, is still alive and not killed by this supposed animal of yours. Would not the simpler explanation be that this woman either killed the man for his belongings or stole them from the body?"

Maralin tried to be patient. "If she had killed him, his clothing wouldn't be damaged like this, My Lord. If a bear had attacked the man, it would have done so for the meat. In order to have gotten the meat from the lower body, it would have needed to tear the trousers as well as the shirt. While these trousers are covered in blood, they are intact, My Lord. This is not the explanation. We know what has happened and we shall explain it to you."

"A wild story about coming from another world, I suppose."

"My Lord, presently there are three known instances of people traveling from another world, Earth, to this one, Anmar. This woman will be the fourth. The first was a boy called Yves Perriard, and he was captured by Yod and forced to give them the secrets of guns and maybe other things. The second was Princess Garia, who was found in the southern mountains by Master Tanon and taken to the palace. You probably know what happened then."

"I know she was found, that is true, but the story is preposterous! It breaks all the provisions of the Great Convocation!"

Wallesan quietly put in, "The Great Convocation, My Lord, requires proof of any such claim, as you well know. Your King, along with myself and certain others, have been shown that proof. Regrettably I have no authority to reveal that proof to you myself but you may have my oath that such proof exists."

"You cannot possibly -" Kalmenar shut up with a gasp.

The Duke's eyes glinted. "You name me a liar? Be careful of your words, My Lord. I'm sure that Her Highness would be willing to lend you a sword, should you continue. You would not require it long, I deem."

Kalmenar stood and bowed. "Your Grace, I humbly beg your pardon. If you say that such proof exists, then I must accept your word, of course." He turned to Maralin. "You spoke of three. Who was the third, then?"

"I was the third, My Lord. I was left in a ditch at the side of the highway near the gates of Joth, on the night that the city was taken by those of Yod. It was assumed that I had stumbled or perhaps had fallen from a wagon. Along with many others, I was evacuated to a distant town and eventually my memory returned. His Grace has kindly offered me protection since, should Yod have learned of my presence, they would have sought me as they did Princess Garia."

"You? You come from this other world? What did you name it?"

"Earth, My Lord. Not a very interesting name, but that is what it is. When I was found, I was wearing only a nightdress... a woman's nightgown, though I did not know it then." Maralin took a gamble. "Though my memory of my last moments on Earth are poor, I vaguely remember waking to find my... sleeping chamber... in flames. It appears, from what we know, that to be selected for transfer here one must be at the point of death there. It would seem to be that way in this woman's case too."

"But these clothes are those of a man! Battered, bloody and torn though they are, even I can see that!"

"As you say, My Lord. Since our old bodies are no longer suitable, new ones are provided when we arrive at Anmar, but all our clothing, and any item we are carrying or have about our bodies, is transported as they were. All those items are placed around the new body, so that they will be available when it wakes up."

"But you are a man! That is obvious to me. Do you tell me that you were a woman in this other place?"

"I was, My Lord, just as Princess Garia was a young man on Earth and became a young woman here. Perhaps the process for creating new bodies sometimes gets things wrong."

"I did not believe that story then and I do not believe it now. I must needs accept that Her Highness, and perhaps yourself, come from some distant land by some means, but, changing from a man to a woman, or the other way round, that is preposterous! Such things do not happen!"

Prell looked uncomfortable. "My Lord, I must disagree. When I was a child I knew a boy who, when he reached the point at which he should have become a man, grew into a young woman instead. It caused a big fuss until we learned from the healers that occasionally others had done so as well, going from boy to girl or from girl to boy, and maybe being not one thing nor the other."

Wallesan added, "There are one or two such in Joth, My Lord. It does not happen very often. You are welcome to visit them and ask questions if it would settle your mind."

Kalmenar was stumped. "Well - Your Grace, I have just been told very many things which seem unlikely to me. It will be difficult for me to accept some of them without proof." He changed the subject. "If I may turn the conversation to more practical matters, Your Grace. What shall happen to the woman, once she revives?"

Prell said, "Your Grace, she must be rendered to the authorities at our next stop, that is the custom. Normally, a port on the same side of the river as she was found would be chosen, since it is most likely that she fell into the river from that side or from a vessel upon it."

Both Wallesan and Maralin said, "No!" together.

Wallesan added, "It would be too dangerous to do so. Did you not hear Maralin say? Yod went to war with Palarand over Princess Garia, who arrived in this way. Dangerous, also, because this woman has no knowledge of our world, of Anmar, at all. She would be at the mercy of any person in authority who could tell her anything at all, she would not know if it were right or wrong. No, she cannot be handed over to any authorities, she must needs remain with us. We will ward her until such time as she discovers her purpose in these lands."

Kalmenar saw an opening. "Your Grace, it is the age-old custom of the river we speak of here. To ignore it may be to create a difficulty between yourself and Duke Bardanar of Brugan. It is possible that some compromise may be found."

Wallesan gave a short laugh. "Hah! You'll not get round me that way, My Lord. I spoke with Bardanar the day we sailed, at breakfast in Dekarran. He knows of Earth and those who came from there. I believe that you will find that he would be of the same mind as I am."

Kalmenar tried another angle. "Your Grace, I am still unsure just how this woman came to the sandbank we found her on. Surely she must have either fallen from some vessel or been washed there by the current?"

That was easy for Maralin to dispose of. "My Lord, if she had been in the water, the bloodstains on her clothes would probably have been partly or completely washed away by now. As you can see, the crust of blood is still on the shirt she wore. The items in her pockets would have been affected by the water as well and it is easy to show you that they have not."

The little diplomat was stubborn. "It may be as you say, Tenant, but that still leaves an unanswered question. If she did not come by water, how did she get there? Do you suggest a grakh dropped her there?"

Ignoring the slight to his name, which implied that as a lower rank he should leave such business to his betters, Maralin replied, "My Lord, I can only advise you that those of us who arrived from Earth did not come by land, water or air, we simply appeared wherever we were found."

"Appeared? What mean you? Do you imply the use of magic, then?"

Oh, I wish I could turn that damn phone on and then I would show this know-it-all some magic!

"I mentioned no magic, My Lord, as you are well aware. I assume some machinery was used by whoever brought us here, machinery we do not yet understand."

"So you have to invent mysterious machinery to explain her presence here! Machinery that you cannot even prove exists! Tenant, you speak fantasy."

Wallesan interrupted mildly, "My Lord, I assume you are familiar with the palace in Palarand?"

"What? Your Grace, of course!" Kalmenar puffed out slightly. "I am a frequent visitor there, I know the place well."

"Then, have you seen the Great Clock which counts the bells? Do you know how it works?"

"Why, Your Grace, of course not! It is kept in a separate tower, that the timing may not be affected by those who have no business there. As for what is within, I have no idea. I assume that the clockmakers know their craft, though."

"As you say, but the Great Clock is no fantasy, My Lord, and neither may be the machine of which Maralin speaks. Just because we may not think of such a thing, it does not mean that others cannot."

Kalmenar spluttered. "Your Grace! But..."

Wallesan turned to Eriana. "But I am forgetting myself. Though the Visund is presently an embassy for myself and my party, it is the ship's captain who decides who is permitted to board her ship and when and where they may leave it. Your Highness, what is your opinion?"

Eriana already disliked Kalmenar so her first thought was to make any decision that would frustrate him, but then she considered the larger view.

"Your Grace," she replied formally, "it is my opinion that this woman should join our company and travel with us at least as far as Joth. By that time her memory may have returned and we will have a better idea of what we - and she - may face. If it proves that she is of Brugan, then she will be able to return to Brugan with a suitable escort, but with her wits about her. If not," she shrugged, "we may decide some other course."

Prell said, "Captain, I must protest. You do not know the customs of the river in this matter."

"That is true, pilot, but I am familiar with the others who have come from Earth and their abilities. If this woman is of the like, she may very well have knowledge and abilities of great use to all in the Great Valley. We must needs protect her until we can discover the truth." She turned. "Lars? You would add something?"

"Yes, Captain. If woman comes from mother world, then she be like Princess Garia. If she be anything as good, then we will look after her until. I give the Gods my oath on that."

There was a murmuring of "Aye"s from around them and Maralin looked up to see that the rest of the crew were now standing around the group, drawn there by the argument.

Most of these probably haven't a clue but they all know about damsels in distress!

I trust the Einnlanders - though I'll probably have to stop calling them Einnlanders... Eriana's crew, then.

"You!" Kalmenar made a mistake. "What do you know about what we are talking about? Do you know of river law and custom?"

Lars turned to face Kalmenar, his right hand balled so tightly into a fist that the knuckles were white.

"You speak too much, little man. If you not stop noise, I tie you to tree and leave you when ship goes."

"What do you mean? You can't do that! I'll starve! Nobody knows when the next ship may call here!"

Lars stared at him. "I did not say words 'alive' or 'dead', little man."

Kalmenar went white and shrank back. He looked at the surrounding men and realized that he was in a minority of one... or just possibly two.

Eriana clapped her hands. "Enough! It is getting late and our meal must be prepared." The men began dispersing, so she called through them, "Adin! How goes the meal?"

"Captain, the water is almost ready," he called back from near the fire. "I will boil for half an hour before adding fish. I could do with some help, though, these barrels are heavy."

Two men volunteered, so she turned to Tor, who had sat patiently through the whole conversation without saying anything.

"Tor, I think we'll need a watch set tonight. One each end of the Visund, one each end of the island. Make sure all sentries have whistles. I would prefer it if our ship was not stolen during the night."

Tor grinned. "I agree, Captain. How often to change?"

"Say every two hours. I don't want anyone falling asleep on watch."

"As you command, Captain."

Eriana next spoke to Bennet. "How is she?"

"She appears asleep, Captain. Should we try and wake her, once the food is ready?"

"I don't know." Eriana turned to Maralin. "What do you recommend?"

"Hmm. Normally, I'd say let her sleep, but if we did that she will be very hungry by breakfast time. We could try and wake her, I guess."

"Then we shall eat and then attempt to rouse her." Eriana shrugged. "If she does not wake, then I'm sure that we can find food or drink to offer later."

Lars held out the knife to Maralin. "What you want me to do with knife?"

"Uhhh... I think I was going to ask you to clean it, Sir. Aye, that would be a good idea, I think. Um, don't try to polish it or sharpen the blade, it has a special finish you could damage."

"I wash blade for you.. you give me holder?"

"Of course." Maralin gave the belt and scabbard to him. "I wouldn't try and wash that now, though. It will likely need careful drying, probably in the sun."

Eriana turned to Wallesan. "We should go and look at the woman, now she is modestly dressed."

"Aye," the Duke agreed with a nod. "Maralin, you had better join us." He scowled. "Kalmenar, you come too."

The four walked over to the smaller shelter and entered. Semma looked up, saw them and stood.

"How is she?"

"She appears to be sleeping normally, Highness. Is there some problem?"

"No, we just wanted to see her."

The woman lay on a blanket, with another over her despite the warmness of the late afternoon. The oriental eyes stood out but the rest of the face looked distinctly European. The hair was longer than Maralin would have expected, but if this person had been out in the wilds for some time, as he suspected, then the unkempt growth would be plausible.

The question is, what was she... he doing out there, wherever there might be? Have we just come across a trapper, a prospector, or one of those survivalist types? If so, why would someone like that be transferred?

Kalmenar said, stubbornly, "See? I told you she was a woman!"

Maralin suppressed a sigh and saw the Duke's shoulders go down at the comment.

"My Lord," Wallesan responded sharply, "we have made our decision. Have you not understood a single word we have just spoken? If so, you are not the person to accompany Her Highness on her further journey."

"Aye," Eriana agreed. "You shall be taken to our next port and relieved of your responsibilities, Kalmenar. You may make your own way back to Palarand, it is not too far." She added, "For myself, I would be delighted to see the back of you."

"Your Highness, I only sought to prevent you from committing a mistake that could delay your journey," the diplomat replied. "It is now clear to me that I do not understand the nature of the problem that confronts you and His Grace. If you would accept my apology in this matter."

"We have made no mistake, My Lord. We have knowledge of these matters that you do not." Her lips thinned. "I may reconsider my decision, but if you are to remain on board I would hear no more disagreements from you."

Kalmenar bowed low. "As you command, Your Highness. I must needs accept your judgment in this matter."

"Good. Now, let us return and leave our guest to her slumbers."

In the main clearing, Maralin naturally gravitated to the two large cooking vessels presently boiling slowly on the fires. Adin looked up as he approached.

"Tenant? Is there something I can do for you?"

Maralin smiled. «I have some knowledge of the kitchen, as you may know, and I was curious as to what you were doing.»

«Ah, I see. The water will be ready shortly, see, the glass is almost empty. Once it is ready we will begin loading the fish.» As an aside, he added, «It is possible to eat the salted fish at need, but obviously it would be tough and make you thirsty. This way the fish is easier to eat and will be tastier.»

As he finished speaking he began lifting fish from one of the barrels and slipping them into the boiling water. Maralin started helping him and soon the whole barrel had been put in.

"But they will still be salty."

"The salt mostly goes into the water, Tenant -"

"Maralin, please."

"Maralin, then. Once they are nearly done we'll scoop out the fish and put them in the other pot to finish."

"I see. What else have we to eat with the fish?"

«There was a trader at the hostel selling bread to the river craft and I bought a bag,» he shook his head, «but it is not very good. It cost a lot of geld as well. There is also cheese and some dried fruit.» He shrugged. «It is about what we would eat at sea, Te- ah, Maralin. We can catch fresh fish but of course we cannot cook on board and we cannot eat them raw. Bread, fruit and cheese are mostly what we eat unless we can find a beach somewhere to cook a proper meal on.»

"What about other meats?"

"Some. There is a cousin of what they call a zinakh here that we can cure and smoke. That tastes good if done right."

After a short while Adin tasted a sample and declared the fish about ready. With a slotted spoon he transferred the fish to the other pot before his two helpers carried the first one away to pour out into the river.

Adin shouted "Food's ready!" at the camp and then asked, "If you would begin passing the bowls, Maralin."

There was enough for two hand-sized fish each - Maralin noted that Lars had three - and everybody received a flatbread and a slice of cheese. It was plain fare but good enough and very filling. There was a sack of dried fruit which anyone could top up with if necessary, but few seemed to bother. The only drink available was water, taken from the barrels that had been topped up at their last stop. Most, once finished, retired to the large shelter to find a place to rest and talk for a while before going to sleep.

"Your Highness, Your Grace," Maralin called as the bowls were being gathered, "If I may have a word before we settle for the night."

The two came over to him, curious. Maralin took them far enough away from the clearing that his words would be indistinct.

"I have just realized that our problem is even greater than I thought," he explained. "Do you realize that that woman was put there specifically for us to find?"

Eriana frowned. "What do you mean, Maralin? Surely a boat would have discovered her today or tomorrow."

Wallesan looked interested. "I think I know what you mean, Maralin. Eriana, these arrivals from Earth are never left to chance. Princess Garia was left on that mountain, beside the road, because those who sent her knew that Master Tanon would be passing very shortly afterwards. Similarly, Maralin was left close to the roadside so that it was certain that he would be found as people left Joth. I'm thinking that the woman was left where she was because the Visund was about to pass."

"I understand that, Wallesan, but I do not understand your point."

"The point is, Eriana, that we are the only people around who know about transferees and where they came from. We are the only people who know what to do with her. You heard Prell, if anyone else had found her, she would have been taken to our next stop and probably passed on until she reached Duke Bardanar... if she survived that long. I deem that there is a specific reason that she has been found by us."

"You may be right," Eriana said slowly. "But what might that reason be?"

"Until she gets her memory back," Maralin said, "we probably won't know, but that just means she has to travel with us until that happens." He had another thought. "If I can ask that her belongings, all of them, are parceled up and put away somewhere that Prell or Kalmenar can't get at them. We'll need to show them to her once her memory returns, and that will be days away."

"You think one might try to steal them?"

"I have no idea, Highness, but it would be better not to take that chance."

"Very well. I can find a waterproof bag to seal them in, and place it with my own gear. Will that do?"

"As you say, Highness, and thank you."

"Thank you, Maralin. You know of such circumstances as these and have advised us well today. If not for your words, we may have lost our guest tomorrow."

"Huh. Highness, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I just wanted to make sure we all knew what the risks were."

"As you say. Now," she looked at the clouds in the west, back-lit in red by the lowering sun, "I think it is time we all retired. I imagine that tomorrow will be a very busy day."

Wallesan snorted. "You have my full agreement there, Eriana!"



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