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The Ships of Air
The Fall of Ile-Rien
So we made ready to leave the shore of the Isle of Storms, in hope of never setting foot on it again.
-- "Ravenna's voyage to the Unknown Eastlands,"
V. Madrais Translation
Tremaine picked her way along the ledge, green stinking canal on one hand, rocky outcrop sprouting dense dark foliage on the other. She was exhausted and footsore and at the moment profoundly irritated. She said in exasperation, "All they have to do is get on the damn ship. Is that really going to be so hard?"
"It's the eyes," Giliead told her obliquely. He and Ilias were just ahead of her on the narrow shelf of rock, both men having a far easier time of traversing it than she was. The mossy water a few feet below was foul-smelling and stagnant, inhabited only by weeds and the occasional brightly colored snake. These canals cut through the rocky island in several directions, leading to and from the stone buildings that housed entrances to the deserted waterlogged city that wove through the caves below. The builders, whoever they were, had used black stones twenty or thirty feet long to line the watercourse, stacking them like tree trunks in the same way they built their underground walls and bridges.
"The ship doesn't have eyes."Tremaine struggled along, sweating in the damp air. The canal was overhung by the twisted dark-leaved trees; the overcast sky made it even more dim. For years the island had been a trap for seagoing vessels and the crews who sailed them; the whole place felt as if the corruption in the caves below had crept up through the roots of the stuntedjungle.
"That's the problem," Giliead said, glancing back at her as he brushed a branch aside. "She just looks like -- "
"A big blind giant," Ilias supplied, balancing agilely on the slick stones. They were both Syprians, natives of this world on the other side of the etheric gateway from Ile-Rien.They were brothers, though only by adoption, and they looked nothing alike. Ilias had a stocky muscular build and a wild mane of blond hair, some of it tied into a queue that hung down his back. He wore battered dark pants and boots with a sleeveless blue shirt trimmed with leather braid. Giliead was built on a bigger scale, nearly a head taller than Ilias, with chestnut braids and olive skin, dressed in a dark brown shirt under a leather jerkin. Both wore more jewelry than had been fashionable for men in Ile-Rien for many years -- copper earrings, armbands with copper disks. Ilias also had a silver mark on his cheek in the shape of a half-moon, but that wasn't meant to be decorative.
Tremaine let out a frustrated breath as she ducked under a heavy screen of pungent leaves. She was the odd woman out, with short mousy brown hair and sunburned skin. She was wearing Syprian clothing too, a loose blue tunic block-printed with green-and-gold designs and breeches of a soft doeskin. Her clothes were a little the worse for wear but in better shape than the unlamented tweed outfits she had left behind in Ile-Rien.
At the moment all three of them were covered with bruises, howler scratches and patches of mud and slime from the walls of the underground passages.The last few days had been nothing but fighting and running and swimming and falling, and Tremaine just wanted everyone to quietly get on the ship so they could get the hell away from here. She had also gone to a great deal of trouble to steal the Queen Ravenna for just this purpose and she wanted her new friends to like it. So far they had stubbornly refused to share her enthusiasm. Even Ilias, who had actually sailed on the ship briefly.
"It won't matter how big the ship is as long as she sails by curses," Giliead continued frankly. "They're never going to get used to that."
Tremaine knew he was probably right, though she wasn't ready to admit it aloud. Syprian civilization was considerably more primitive than Ile-Rien's, and they regarded any mechanical object, from electric lights to clocks, as magical.Worse, Syprians hated magic, since all their sorcerers were murdering lunatics. It was a minor miracle that they had managed to get to this point, where a woman from Ile-Rien who was a friend of sorcerers could talk about this subject with Syprians at all. It helped that they were a sea people and fairly cosmopolitan, despite their prejudices. "But the Ravenna doesn't use magic," she pointed out. "The steam engines -- " She stopped when she realized the words were coming out in Rienish. If there was a Syrnaic word for "steam engine" the translation spell that had given Tremaine the knowledge of the language hadn't seen fit to include it. "There's boilers, and you put water in them, and burn coal or oil or something, and the steam makes it go. It's not magic," she finished lamely.
Giliead and Ilias paused to exchange a look; Giliead's half of it was dubious and Ilias's was ironic. "They always say that," Ilias put in. He had spent nearly one whole day in Ile-Rien and now qualified as the local expert. "Wagons without horses, wizard lights, wizard weapons, there's an explanation for everything."
Giliead shook his head as he started forward again. "If that's our only way off the island, we're going to have trouble."
Ilias nodded. "It doesn't matter about me, I'm marked anyway," he said matter-of-factly. The mark he spoke of was the little half-moon of silver branded into his cheek. It was what Syprian law said anyone who had ever fallen under a sorcerer's curse should wear. "And Gil's exempt from the law because he's a Chosen Vessel, but it's the others I'm worried about. If the people in Cineth harbor see them come off that ship, they could all end up ostracized or worse. And some of the younger ones come from pretty good families, they could still have a chance of getting married."The Ships of Air
The Fall of Ile-Rien. Copyright © by Martha Wells. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.