131. The Lake

The lake is vast.

Its banks seem to go on forever, lined by thickets of bulrushes, reedmace, and sedges. The road, at last, branches in two directions here. Along Lake Amm Borod’s eastern shores, Frithil explains, it continues to Fora Tanni, the mighty capital of Hestia, and indeed the Empire. They must follow its left and northward branch, along the sparsely settled western shores of the lake, until they come to that stretch of shoreline least distant from the Forbidden Isle, the Guardian’s island.

Stellia can see neither the island nor the city. In fact, she can’t see much of the lake, either. Though the day is fairly bright and clear, a mist lingers on the water, giving the impression that it extends into the clouds, into infinity. But the friar points out that even were there no fog at all, she would not be able to see the island from their current vantage point; it lies in the lake’s northernmost waters, near the mouth of a long fjord that zigzags among steep and ragged cliffs toward the Bitter Sea.

“We should move on,” Frithil says. “The soldiers are not far behind.”

“How do we know they won’t ride into Fora Tanni,” Nevynne says. “It seems more likely to me that boats would depart from there, rather than from some uninhabited stretch of shoreline to the North.”

“Your reasoning is sound,” the friar replies. “Most boats that go to the Forbidden Isle do depart from the docks of Fora Tanni. But those are supply ships carrying food and other goods to the island. The Guardian and her servants do not use that harbor.”

“I hope you’re right about that,” Nevynne says.

Frithil shrugs. “It is common knowledge.”

“So we need to find the Guardian’s personal pier. It wouldn’t be common knowledge, by any chance, where that is?”

“It has to be somewhere to the North,” Frithil says. “All we have to do is follow the shore.”

“But once we do find it,” Stellia says, “how are we supposed to cross the lake? I doubt we can stow away on whatever ship the soldiers take.”

Nevynne spurs her horse. “We’ll think of something when we get there.”

For the better part of two hours, they ride along the lakeshore, the tall reeds to their right, and mild hills covered with hazel bushes and beeches on their left. The sun, though already westering behind an unbroken cover of thin clouds, is surprisingly warm, and the gentle lakeside breeze just cool enough to be pleasant and welcome. The land around them is lush and green, and alive with birdsong, but with only sparse signs of human habitation. Here and there, the occasional shepherd tends his flock on some distant hillside. A more frequent sight are the cottages or huts nestled among the reeds lining the lakeshore, usually accompanied by a wooden pier with a boat or two dimpling next to it on the water. Frithil points out that though the Guardian holds the rights to Lake Amm Borod’s western waters, leave is given to all local folk to fish the lake’s rich stocks of pike, bream, sturgeon, and perch for their own consumption, and a tax levied only upon those wishing to sell their catch at market. Clearly there are many who avail themselves of the Guardian’s generosity, but none of the piers by the huts appear very large or sturdy, nor are any of the boats big enough to bear more than one or two passengers at the most.

As the second hour of their ride wears on, the Forbidden Isle begins to take shape far out on the surface of the lake, a foreboding shadow rising from the mist-shrouded waters. The sight fills Stellia with dread. The sun seems to be nearing the horizon with unnatural swiftness, and they have not yet found anything resembling a dock or pier capable of accommodating a larger boat or ferry.

They come upon it with such suddenness that they barely have time to rein in the horses, and they need to double back a few paces.

But there can be no doubt that they have found what they are looking for.

NEXT: The Guardian’s Pier


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