Sailing the Furnace

Once we were well away from Laird and his posse, we stopped to sleep. Dela charged the chiller and I took the time to salve and bind her ribs. Then we nudged the sleeping pallets together. We were too excited, though, to fall asleep.

Over the past two days, we hadn’t talked all that much, at least not about our pasts. So, I told her about my first years, growing up in the warm, fertile lands below Port Andy. That led to the troubles I’d stirred up that sent me to the Brotherhood at thirteen.

She lay in my arms, listening, her eyes closed. I figured it was her turn to talk awhile.

“Where in God’s name did you come up with Del Benè?” I asked.

Dela opened her eyes, looked up at me and smiled. “He was my grandfather. I’m his namesake. I lived with him, in Edgerton, for five years before he died, out on a run. He taught me how to sail, how to run the Furnace. Most of those stories I told you I heard from him.”

She kissed me and for a time we remained silent.

“The pendent?” I asked, at last.

“He got that and the chiller the same place. Every time I ever asked, he’d only grin. The day he died, out here on the Furnace, I buried him, put on the pendent and took his place.”

“What are we going to do now?” I murmured, almost asleep.

“I’ll sell the skitter,” Dela said.

“You can’t,” I said. “It’s your baby.”

“That doesn’t matter now. We’ll go somewhere, back over the mountains. Buy some kind of little business.”

“You’ll miss the Furnace,” I said.

“Not as much as I’d miss you.”

That night, we kept a close watch, but no one followed us. As the days passed, Dela and I both began to relax. Rather than the long and silent hours of the westward crossing, we talked ‘til both of us were hoarse, making plans and sharing secrets. Making promises.

Making love.

The crossing passed quickly, but with Edgerton only one night away, we were forced to switch on the galvanic headlights, for the night sky had filled with clouds by the time we woke.

A storm had come upon us.

“It’s the Witch of the Wilds,” Dela shouted, to be heard above the rising winds. “Ain’t usual, this time of year.”

“Maybe we should batten down until it blows away.”

“Can’t,” she said, all serious. “We left the anchor back in Windswept.”

Then she grinned and poked her elbow into my side. “Relax, boy,” she said, giving me a decent imitation of Del’s rasping voice. “There ain’t a thing the two of us can’t weather.”

It sent a shiver up my backside, that echo of Tuck’s words, and it occurred to me that perhaps we’d forced Eken to leave me too soon.

I tried to remember Eken’s weather chant, but the harder I tried, the less success I had, until only bits and pieces came to mind. The winds’ ferocity increased until we could barely hear each other’s words, even when we shouted.

Then the first of the hail stones hit, pelting us, kicking up the dry earth in our path. We rolled on; the hail increased in size. Stones big as chicken eggs struck the varnished canvas of the skitter hard enough to punch right through.

Thick sprays of sleet struck the sails at sheer angles, spilling the wind from them. Visibility dropped below a dozen strides. Dela braked our forward momentum.

“I got to stop her,” she shouted. “I can’t outrun this and even with the lights I can’t see past her nose.”
Then we heard the roar.

Off to the north, a tall pillar appeared from the gloom, jet black against the gray. Dela leaned close until her lips were pressed against my ear. “It’s a devil! Biggest one I ever seen. We got to get out and get flat. If we don’t, we’re dead.”
I shook my head. “That’s no dust devil. It’s a water spout, what we would have called a Wind Dragon on the Eastern Sea.”

“This ain’t the ocean,” Dela said.

I shrugged. “Tell that to that thing out there. Mr. Soon could explain how it could be over land. He taught us weather science, but I never was much good at such.”

Dela set the sail to luffing, tried to dump momentum, but too late. The dragon seemed to target the skitter, roared its rage at our temerity. As it closed upon us, it grew larger and larger, until it filled the sky.

Just before it struck, Dela let go the control ropes and threw her arms around my chest.

“I love you,” she shouted.

“I love you, too,” I shouted back.
Then the Dragon was upon us.

The tail end of the skitter lifted. The land-sailer stood on its nose and stuck in the sudden mud. When the boom snapped, we went into a mad tumble and darkness snatched the world away.

Next: Attempting Miracles

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