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fantasy novel chapter 42
questing hero novel text online
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Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.

THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD by Hugh Cook - Chapter 42

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Chapter 42

        They waited in hiding for three days, then slipped back to an unsuspecting harbour and stole food, some barrels of water and a two-masted sealing boat.
        As they toiled north in the open sealing-boat, Togura learnt more about sailing than he'd ever wanted to know. He learnt under the worst possible conditions. The boat was too big for two men to handle easily. It leaked. The seas were rough. It rained. An autumn storm beat them about like milk in a butter-churn. They lost their water-barrles overboard. They ran out of food.
        And Draven, impatient, bad-tempered, screamed, shouted, cursed and roared abuse. Togura, sleeping between lurches of the sea, sometimes had nightmares in which Draven - swollen to the size of a giant - roared at him:
        "Gazzen the hull-skit! Batten the lee! Clabber the gasts, the legs are slipping! Sheet the wind, you spittle-spawned moron! Dirk up the kneecaps!"
        And he would wake to find Draven screaming at him in some half-coherent sea-jabber; sometimes, stumbling about the boat with the seas washing around his ankles, he found it hard to say when Draven's talk ended and the dreamtalk of nightmare began.
        The sea was endless.
        The sea was a windstalking wasteland where waves ate each other and hungered for the bones of men. It was empty, empty, empty. No place to sleep; no place to lie down. They were always cold, they were always wet, they were always tired, they were always hungry. Heartsick, sea sick, sick of the roiling waves and the slathering spray, Togura longed for land.
        "Turn east," he said, when the weather favoured them with a sunrise.
        He knew the coast of Argan lay to the east. They could make land easily, and swiftly. But Draven kept them driving for the north.
        "We need to make Sung," said Draven.
        "Why Sung?" said Togura.
        It was his homeland, true, but all he wanted now was some land which wouldn't buckle under him from moment to moment.
        "Log Jaris is the man to help us now."
        "Log who?"
        "You know. You met him. The man at D'Waith with the head and the horns of a bull."
        "Oh, him!" said Togura. "I thought I'd imagined him."
        "Dream on. And while you're about it - bail."
        He did bail.
        He bailed the boat dry.
        It rained.
        "Good," he said, drinking.
        "Very good," said Draven, slaking his own thirst. And then, to the sky: "Okay, that's enough now! You can give it a shake and put it away!"
        But if this advice was meant to stop the rain, it failed. The rain grew worse. So did the wind. Soon the boat was thrashing about in a regular storm.
        Night, at last, fell, and with the coming of night the storm abated somewhat. Soon it was dying, then dead.
        "You steer," said Draven, yielding te tiller to Togura. "I'm going to sleep."
        "Which way do I steer?" said Togura.
        "I don't know where we are or where the hell we're going," said Draven, completely disorientated by the shifting stormwinds. "So just keep the winds behind us."
        "But what if we're going the wrong way?"
        Draven, weary, almost too tired to think, scanned the sky for stars, finding none. Sunrise would give them direction. Till then ...
        "You're right," said Draven. "Let's haul down the sail and we'll lie ahull."
        That they did, and were soon sleeping sweetly while the boat drifted through the night. Much later, they woke, almost simultaneously, to the sound of surf breaking on rocks.
        "Braunch out!" screamed Draven.
        "What?" cried Togura.
        "Zelch the pringles!"
        Togura, not knowing what a pringle was, or how to zelch it, stood there wringing his hands. The next moment he was flung face-first to the deck as they went surfing into the rocks. Timbers grunched, graunched, despaired and tore open. Smash-batter waves pummelled their way into the boat. Draven, with a cry, was swept overboard. Togura heard his screams jousting with the surf, then - silence.
        Silence, at least, from Draven. The wood-wave cacophony continued. With a dreadful sound of rending timbers, the boat broke apart. Togura clung to a piece of wreckage. He was swept into the sea.
        Where was the green bottle?
        With Draven.
        Wet, cold, shivering, frightened, Togura clung to his bit of wreckage, swearing and sobbing, cursing sea, waves, wind, water, pirates, quests and adventures in general.
        Incautiously, he let his feet drift down.
        He touched something underfoot.
        He screamed:
        "Gaaaa!"
        And wrenched his feet up, in case the sea serpent below felt them and bit them off. The waves knocked him around a bit, but he was so terrified that he hardly felt them.
        For a while he floated around in a state of helpless funk, then, slowly, logic began to assert itself. They had ripped the boat apart on some rocks. He had now been swept past those rocks, but, still ... rocks suggested land. So ...
        Togura put his feet down again, and touched bottom. He whooped with triumph. A wave smashed him in the face. Blinking away water, he peered through the night, and saw a line of white breaking in the distance. Slowly, he began to wade toward it, and eventually dragged himself up on a sandy beach.
        The sky was growing light.
        Togura, shivering, shuddering, warmed himself as best he could, dancing round on the beach, singing, slapping his thighs, shouting. He was still at it when Draven, stumbling along the beach, found him.
        "Ho, madman!" said Draven.
        "You!"
        "None other," said Draven. "Have you got the green bottle?"
        "No, I thought you had it."
        "Pox and piles!" said Draven. "It's lost!"
        They spent half the morning beachcombing, and, at last, found it. But what now? They were, in all probability, on the Lesser Teeth.
        "No other coast in these parts has such long, sandy beaches," said Draven, distinctly gloomy.
        Togura did not need to be told that, if the people of the Lesser Teeth got hold of a genuine pirate like Draven, he would probably come to a sticky end.
        So there they were, marooned on a hostile foreign shore, with wet clothes, no food, no water, no tinder box, no shelter, and precious little hope of a friendly reception from the natives. It was, without a doubt, time to use the magic ring and get into the green bottle, no matter what the dangers.
        Togura took both his boots off, retrieved the ring, massaged his feet, wrung out his socks, put socks and boots back on, and, by the time he had gone through that rigmarole, had nerved himself up to act. Draven would doubtless be furious to find that Togura had kept the capture of the ring secret from him, but the green bottle was alleged to have all kinds of food and other good things inside, and that, with luck, would mollify the angry pirate.
        "Draven," said Togura.
        "What?" said the pirate.
        "I've got something to show you," said Togura, taking him by the arm as if to lead him somewhere.
        And, his arm linked with Draven's, Togura turned the ring on his hand. A moment later, they were in -
        A green chamber, not very well lit.
        "Blood's grief!" cried Draven, shocked.
        A moment later, something in the shadows by a jumble of empty barrels sat up. It was a man. A warrior!
        "Hold fast!" shouted the warrior, drawing his sword.
        Draven drew back to meet the challenge. And Togura turned the ring again - and was back out on the sands.
        He blinked at the light, gasped, shuddered. That was close! It had never occurred to him that there might be someone already in the bottle. And where there was one, there might be a dozen.
        What now?
        If he went back in, he might well be killed by the guard or guards inside. If he stayed outside, he might well die of cold and hunger. He looked around. The tide was beginning to go out; the wind was still blowing strong and chill, sending eager little waves scrabbling up the beach.
        Togura set off at random, determined to walk until he dropped, hoping that he would find shelter before he dropped. He was rewarded; at mid-morning he came upon a derelict little cottage with a little smoke rising from its ramshackle chimney. There was no door; Togura walked right inside. An old man tending the little fire turned and stared at him with sharp, bright eyes.
        Togura cleared his throat.
        "Good morning," said Togura, lamely.
        "A rather cold wet miserable morning, if I'm not mistaken," said the stranger. "Here's a blanket. Get out of those wet clothes and wrap yourself up in it."
        Togura obeyed.
        "Here," said the stranger, opening a leather bag. "Here's breakfast. What have we got? Black bread. One boiled egg. Some dried fish. I wish she wouldn't give me that horrible salty-shrivelled muck, still, if you're hungry you'll eat it."
        "Are you sure ..."
        "Am I sure of what? Am I sure I can spare it, you mean? Of course I can. I don't live here, you know! I'm a little richer than this. I'm just here to check on the property, Skyhaven we call it, my uncle's place till he died. My name's Gezeldux. And yours?"
        "Togura," said Togura. "Togura Poulaan."
        Gezeldux asked no further questions until Togura had eaten. Then, bit by bit, he heard the whole story. By the time Togura had finished telling his tale - Gezeldux was an inquisitive old man, and a diligent interrogator - it was evening.
        "You know," said Gezeldux, when Togura had finished, "I think you may have done better than you think."
        "How's that?" said Togura.
        "Why, if there's any such thing as a Universal Language, it has to be music. Get that triple-harp of yours to Keep, and, three crowns to half a pickle, it'll bring your odex to order."
        "You mean I've found it? I've found the index?"
        "Go. Try. See."
        "But how do I get to Sung?" wailed Togura.
        "Any boat can stretch across to Sung, no problem. Now rest. Sleep. You're overwrought. Sleep deep, and tomorrow we'll walk back to Brennan."
        So Togura slept, and Gezeldux, an honest and honourable man, made no move against him, that night or after.


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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.


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