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"I saw both of the sky racers last night," Jemit said as he sat down upon the flat deck of the Delta One , a riverboat that plied the Twisted River. His boat had just halted for the evening so its riverswam could rest.
"That's nice. Means someone is finding a lover. I'll stay up to watch it with you tonight, if you want" Luni whispered, sitting beside Jemit.
The racers, two elliptical bands of color that frequently appeared in the night sky, usually appeared just after dark or just before light. Sometimes twice in a night. Both bands typically carried religious significance, though neither Jemit nor his wife, Master Gaffer Luni, knew much about their religion or any other. That was for the holies of other religions to know, despite the occasional claims by wizards that the racers were put in place by the people who came before the wizards. Jemit and Luni did, however, know several of the religious legends.
The two were riverers whose upbringing had concentrated upon reading the river, caring for their riverswam, moving goods upon the river, and learning to defend their customers and cargo against outcasts and other dangers. Their riverswam, an immense, green, graceful beast with four large flippers and a long neck, powered their boat along the normally slow-moving river.
Jemit captained the Delta One , a highly decorated riverboat working for Delta Lumber out of Riverport. His boat carried four battle banners signifying four victories in battle. That many was unprecedented for a riverboat, as such boats carried small crews of only sixteen men and women. Rarely did a riverboat win against other maritime forces, butcircumstances had heavily favored Jemit's boat in its one solo battle. In the other three engagements, his boat had sallied forth with allies.
Many on the river knew that Jemit and his crew had had little choice about their first fight since they couldn't have outrun their foes. Their riverswam, Stumpy, had broken a flipper while young. The broken bones were later fused by a wizard, which, in turn, assured two things: Stumpy could swim again, but he couldn't swim as fast as other riverswams. Knowing that Stumpy couldn't outrun any of his natural enemies or theirs, Jemit and his crew had practiced more than most crews learning to fight. Even so, they'd never dreamed they'd actually have to fight off anything more than limids, an amphibious predator that counted riverswams among its choices on the food chain. Clashes with outcasts on the river were rare.
Luni's feet dangled in the water within the well where Jemit's riverswam, Stumpy, spent most of his time. A shield net protected the inner space from the sterns to the bows beneath the two hulls. Spindle spikes, from the natural enemy of limids, bristled from the underside of the net, providing a sturdy defense under the water. Above the water, a single connecting deck spanned the gap at the sterns and bows of the two hulls. A limid would have to climb up onto the deck in full sight of the lookouts and any defensive gaffers.
Combined, these defenses made it safe for Luni to put her feet in without watching too closely. Besides, few limids remained active near sundown. Most people speculated that limids were active only when it was warm, because limids rarely frequented the northernmost portion of the Twisted River or other cold climes. Others claimed that limids were too busy eating by then. Regardless, everyone knew that limids tended to migrate south from some areas when winter arrived. That gave more credibility to the first theory.
Around them, the crew hurried to finish up their tasks as they settled in for the evening. Besides putting the shield net in place, they ensured the anchor was firmly down, holding the riverboat in place while five rafts dangled downstream from a Y-line attached to the Delta One 's twin sterns. Even so, a lookout remained perched on each hull's short mast for the purpose of spotting any still-restless limids.
"Junit picked out a riverswam today that she wants to be hers," Luni said. As their daughter, Junit was entitled to later be bonded at age five with a riverswam by a wizard. She would then train to become a river captain and command her own riverboat after fifteen years of training. That was predicated upon the overall proposition that she survived childhood diseases and accidents in what was a dangerous profession.
Jemit leaned back to stretch out beside Luni on the deck. "It's difficult to believe that she'll begin her formal training in just over three years."
"True. Time is passing quickly. Xarine should have her baby already."
"She's made Fra happy. He must have thought he'd never find a woman who liked him until she happened along. I think she made his long wait worthwhile by giving him a child so soon."
"Have I made you happy?" Luni asked.
"Very, though I'm not looking forward to leaving you in Riverport again for your casting."
"This is what happens when we rock the harbor," Luni said, using the euphemism that riverers preferred.
"Captain! There's something in the river! Coming this way!"
"It must be big and it's under the water," the second lookout shouted.
Jemit sat up quickly to peer down the river at the oncoming bulge in the water. A huge swell, stretching to touch both sides of the river, moved fast against the slow current. Grasses and reeds along the shore bent or momentarily sank before the oncoming wave. Even before the swell reached the Delta One , the ground shook on both sides of the river, causing the trees to shiver violently.
Before anyone could react, the wave passed beneath the rafts. Unavoidably, some goods shifted and fell from the rafts. The riverboat, as well, lifted up enough that the anchor dislodged. As the wave continued upriver, the Delta One was briefly carried with it. When the wave left it behind, the boat slowly drifted until its anchor caught hold on the bottom a short distance from its original anchorage. By then, the ground no longer shook both sides of the river. The only remnants of activity still visible were those few leaves that fell from the branches to land amid the dust on the ground or upon the water, where they were swept downstream.
"Is everyone all right?" Jemit shouted. He scanned around him, observing, in particular, the rafts he was contracted to tow. Their safety was his responsibility.
Copyright © 2007 David L. Kuzminski.