65. Water and Sky

After riding nearly two days in streaming rain, they reach the shores of Lake Amm Borod near dusk.

Darkness is gathering about the riders. The clouds above hang lower than the day before, and they look heavier and darker still. At least the rain is no longer as severe, though its steady fall envelops them like a thick fog and drips in silver rivulets from cloak and spear and armor. Till has not seen the mountaintops in the West since the rainclouds came. The landscape surrounding them now is colorless and gray. But in front of him is a sight like none he has ever seen.

The lake is endless!

The most water Till has been near in all his life is the stream that flows through his village, and the pond it forms by the mill. But this lake goes on and on to the right and to the left like a giant’s mirror. If there is another shore on the facing side, it remains hidden in the drizzle.

The island—the Forbidden Island!—is a dark shadow out on the water, more a hint than anything else. The sight fills Till’s heart with foreboding.

They stop in front of a pier built out of white stone, wide and sturdy enough for three or four horses to ride on shoulder to shoulder. On each side of it, a forest of reeds three times as tall as Till sways in the breeze.

The ferry will land here to take him away. This is the end of his road: beyond these stones, beyond these waters, an unknowable, uncharted fate awaits him.

Lord Osdath shouts a command, and the soldiers dismount. Hargis remains on her white steed, with half of the men on each side. Lord Osdath and Till stand in the middle of the pier, and then everyone kneels when Hargis herself dismounts.

Till looks up briefly, and sees her standing next to her horse, a row of twenty kneeling men holding spears to either side of her. She is dressed just as she has been for the length of their journey, in her dark coat and hooded cloak made of oilcloth, much like the one he is wearing. Although she is young and not very tall, from this one glance he would be able to tell that she is someone very powerful, even if he had never before met her, or if he didn’t know that she is the Guardian, whose duty it is to bring the Faith to the entire world and who can command kings to do as she wishes.

And here, at the end of their long ride north, it becomes very clear to him that he, too, will have to obey her, whether he wants to or not.

Hargis walks past the soldiers to the end of the pier and looks out over the water. Osdath and Till join her, but the soldiers remain behind with their horses, waiting. Next to Hargis, something stands on the pier. As they come closer, Till sees that it is a huge horn, like that of a cow but much bigger, and entirely black. He can’t imagine what kind of animal it may have come from, unless perhaps it belonged to a cow larger than any he has ever seen at home. It is mounted on a pillar made of white stone carved with many symbols that he cannot read.

Hargis stands by this horn and waits for them to approach. No one speaks. The only sounds are the rain and wind stirring the reeds, and small waves lapping at the pier. A strange call rings out from afar, a cry so sad and haunting that it makes Till’s chest feel tight. Some bird, unseen and forlorn, somewhere in the grayness.

“Call the ferry,” Hargis commands.

Lord Osdath takes a deep breath and blows with all his might into the silver mouthpiece at the horn’s pointy end.

At first, no sound comes out, there’s only a strange quiver in Till’s ribcage. The quiver swells to a deep, haunting note that expands through the air until it seems as if the sky itself is groaning in anger or despair. It travels across the water like an invisible ripple. From all around arise the cries of startled waterfowl.

A small flock of mallards erupts from the reeds and shoots skywards into the rain, squawking angrily. Even the waves on the lake seem to rise higher and lap more loudly against the white stones of the pier.

The eerie note loses itself in the vastness of water and sky.

For a time, nothing happens. The waiting seems endless. Suddenly, a shape appears on the water, a small outline against the shadow of the distant island.

A boat!

A figure stands in it. Others are seated, rowing with large wooden oars. The boat comes slowly but steadily closer, and Till knows that it is his fate he sees approaching, whatever it may be.

Once this ferry bears him to the island, he will not be able to leave again.

NEXT: An Oath Unremembered

 

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