Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Abyss & Sea 21


After some discussion with Baia, the two monarchs immediately called a council of all the peers and, since Soreans regard master shipwrights as a sort of nobility, master shipwrights of the realm. This, while done with speed and even haste, took a week to organize. In the meantime, Disan ordered all the ships that had been built to be fully stocked and provisioned and Baia oversaw the sorting and, toward the end of the week, the beginning of the packing of items in Neyat Sor to be transported to the dock warehouses and, ultimately, the ships. It was busy work, and by the time the council came, they were both tired.

As to the council, it was not exactly a success, but it was also not the disaster Disan feared it would be. He began from the beginning, with the experience of the cavern and the message he had received; then he gave, more succinctly and without dwelling on details, the messages received from the Seven Sisters and in the inn that was not an inn. Disan had continually worried that everyone would think he had gone mad, so he called the guards he had had with him to testify of their experience to the council while under formal oath, since it was the only one to which he had any kind of witness whatsoever. Of course, the guards each could only testify that they had stopped at an inn that had seemed perfectly normal until it suddenly went completely dark and they had found them in a barn. But everyone listened attentively. Then Baia spoke of the occasional strange things that had happened, and particularly the earthquake, suggesting that these were omens. Finally, Disan gave, for their consideration, his proposed plan for evacuating the entire kingdom within the month, and the council broke for refreshment and reflection.

When they returned, there was considerable argument over what should be done. While Disan had feared that they would dismiss his plan completely, his fears were not fully justified; both Baia and Disan were well respected, and Baia's point about the earthquake did carry some weight with some of those at the council. Responses were baffled or troubled, but never dismissive. However, in the course of argument it became clear that there was wide agreement that his timetable was impossible. To leave so quickly would require them to leave almost everything behind, and haste was dangerous, and properly preparing for a journey took time, et cetera, et cetera. The council began to coalesce around an alternative plan to begin the evacuation in six months. Baia was able to argue them into agreement that there should be some advance ships sent out well before then to prepare the Axen and Wisan repair stations abroad to receive an influx of people, and Disan, seizing on a suggestion that had been made to leave in stages (they had meant, beginning in six months' time, but Disan ignored this), managed with difficulty to talk them into agreeing that the first major stage should set sail in two months. That nobody was satisfied with this was clear, but they did agree.

"Of course," Baia said drily when the council had been dismissed, "while you are hoping somehow to be able to talk them into moving faster, most of them are hoping to find ways to further delay it, and perhaps are hoping that something will prevent it altogether."

"Yes," said Disan, sadly. "I suppose we are all inclined to temporize. To leave all things behind and journey who-knows-whither on nothing more than a warning or a promise -- I doubt anyone can easily have so much trust. I sometimes wonder what they would do if we just left and told them to follow. Perhaps there are a few who would."

"Perhaps," said Baia. "But as we would then be breaking the law in the Orikhalh Tablets that for any anointed ruler to leave the borders of their kingdom, an anointed ruler must remain, perhaps they would simply use that as an excuse to dismiss us entirely."

"We have permission from the Powers."

"Yes, but nobody could make them believe that if they did not wish to believe it."

Such a large and public endeavor could hardly go unnoticed, and even if the other courts in the Great Realm had not had informants in the Sorean court, rumor, swifter than any Sorean ship, soon spread the news throughout the kingdoms. Rumor is not a kind or even an evenhanded reporter. Strange plans and bizarre motivations were attributed to Disan, and it would perhaps not have been uncommon to hear it said that he had gone even more mad than Canthan. A few letters even arrived from other courts with questions that, while very circumspect and indirect, were clearly attempting to gather further information. After some discussion, they agreed to send a letter to all the other courts explaining their intent and reasons and urging the other kingdoms to do something similar; Baia wrote the letter. In the next few weeks, the number of non-Soreans around Soromir and Neyat Sor increased noticeably, and some of them did not even try to keep secret that they had been commissioned to discover what was really happening in Sorea. Asaia was recalled to Tavra, ostensibly due to the severe illness of a family member, but, Baia suspected, probably also to be questioned for information.

Nonetheless, the plans proceeded. The ships were all provisioned. Places were set in Soromir and the other port cities of the kingdom to register for berth and sections of cargo hold. The population of Soromir slowly swelled, and many did register, mostly the very old and loyal or the young and adventurous. The more experienced of the former and the more responsible-seeming of the latter were given berth on the advance ships, which set out as planned. Of course, that was the easy part; Soreans send out ships all the time. The rest would be much more difficult.

A week into the second month, Baia set out of Mir Salal. Disan had been reluctant to agree to any plan splitting them up, but as Baia noted, if this were to succeed, they would have to ensure that everything was properly organized in ports besides just Soromir. And as it would give her the ability to see to her father's evacuation, Disan agreed, as long as Baia promised to return to Soromir as soon as organizing the first stage of evacuation in Mir Salal was done.

"No later!" he said when they parted. "I love you greatly. Return to me soon."

"As soon as I can," said Baia, and she was off.

A few days after she left, Asaia returned from Tavra. Disan, surprised, asked her politely how her family was, to which she glumly gave a vague answer, and then he sent her on to Baia in Mir Salal. What a strangely spiritless and moody girl, he thought as she left. But the endless lists of things to be done soon chased it all from his mind and he thought about it no more.

In Mir Salal, Baia found that she had her work cut out for her; very little had been done, and that in a piecemeal fashion. To meet the expected deadlines, she had to work very long days, and always fell into her bed at night, exhausted. This occupied almost all her time, but she did have two surprises that broke the monotony. The first was the arrival of Asaia, whom she greeted warmly and happily. Asaia was more moody and taciturn than ever, but always put off Baia's worried queries about her health aside, insisting that her place was by Baia's side.

The second was the arrival of an additional guard from Neyat Sor. Disan's message with them was vague, saying little more that there had been trouble, which he would talk about more fully when they met again, and asking her to be wary. This worried Baia, particularly the vagueness, which suggested to her that perhaps something very serious indeed had happened; but no matter how she pored over the letter, it was impossible to squeeze more information from it, and she was soon caught up in the organizing again. And, in any case, although Baia was more careful, there seemed no signs of any unusual trouble in Mir Salal.

As the day for the ships of the first stage to set sail approached, Baia began to receive letters from various nobles whom she had originally scheduled to go. Their letters held an endless number of apologies, but there was death, so funerals needed to be done, and there was illness, so they would have to postpone to the next stage, and various accidents had befallen that prevented them from getting to Mir Salal on time. It was a veritable epidemic of deaths, sickness, and accidents, and that was not even counting all the people who simply wrote to say that they could not make the deadline. Baia at first tried answering the letters, an action that did occasionally result in the nobles sending small groups, mostly a mix of people of infirm body or dubious character, but soon the letters were too many for response. Nonetheless, a handful followed through, not necessarily enthusiastic, but unwilling to break a promise given or to refuse to support their queen, and among the common folk in and around Mir Salal there was more willingness than Baia had expected. She was relieved. To be sure, the support and cooperation was mostly from people who were not well settled, for one reason or another, and therefore had less to lose in setting sail, but it looked very much like the first fleet of ships from Mir Salal would be, if not exactly full, nonetheless far from empty. Sometimes, however, Baia reflected that it would only get harder, and whenever she thought this, she felt deflated.

The day at last arrived. The whole endeavor in Mir Salal was behind schedule, but Baia was relieved that it was not by much. The very first ships could be loaded immediately and hold anchor at sea until the rest were finished, and it would not be more than a few days before she could return to Neyat Sor and see Disan again. She saw personally to her father's embarkation, then, having set people in charge of finishing, she returned to her father's now empty house with Asaia and her guards to prepare for the next day's loading. It was long, tedious work, and she soon had Asaia bring her bread and wine for a meal. Baia ate and drank as she went through list after list to makes sure that nothing had been overlooked. 

It grew warm and humid, then grew warmer and more humid; she found herself sweating and breathing heavily. Soon she recognized that the weather was not the reason; she felt ill. Moment by moment she felt more and more ill and it grew harder and harder to breathe. She stood up to call to Asaia for help, but the young woman was sitting on the floor, eyes glazed but weeping, staring into the distance, hugging her knees to her chest, and rocking back and forth slowly. Baia looked at the cup of wine and knew then that she had been poisoned. Honey Witch, she thought, but she said nothing out loud because she could say nothing through the constriction at her throat and her heavy gasping, growing heavier and heavier. She collapsed to the floor, writhing, still gasping.

She had a dim sense of some shouting and other people in the room, but she could not pay attention to that. Her vision went red, then black. As it did so, she seemed to hear a voice, a powerful voice, a voice that shook the air around her and reverberated through her bones, and yet somehow seemed very distant and far away, and slowly getting farther and farther away: