The Tale of Captain Johne

The Eve of the Summer Solstice


We We set sail this morning and by early afternoon, the mountainous crags surrounding Minoc were lost to the southern horizon. Our going has been slow, for the winds have been frugal today, even when Faulina summoned them with her magic. I would implore Sutek to raise his will against the weather, but he has already paid his passage, and it would not be fair to ask any more of his services.

I must admit that I had my doubts about Astarol, but thus far, the minstrel has kept his end of our bargain. He is a good man, a friendly one, and kind, especially with the few children on board. Faulina enjoys his company as well. If the three of us could be together for some time, I think we could become vast friends.


* * *


Evening had fallen by the time we rounded the northeastern coast of the Isle of Deeds. Faulina and I stood alone on the bow of the Ararat, the glow of her staff surrounding us, the melody of Astarol's mandolin faint from Ararat's stern.

"'The Dream of Lady Nann,'" Faulina whispered, listening to the minstrel's tune. "It has been many years since I heard that song." She smiled. "Our passengers spent the afternoon dancing to his pipes. Even those who took ill from the sea forgot about their sickness. He has a way with people."

"A way with the ladies, thou dost mean," roared a warrior who strode up to us. Red braids and a beard burned beneath the shadows of his helm. The surcoat covering his suit of chain mail blazed with a fiery orange. He stopped, towering over us with a menacing frown. His muscles rippled as he crossed his arms and then, slowly, he released a forlorn sigh. "I have never faced a foe such as he," he muttered. He glared at Faulina, his eyebrows coalescing above his bulbous nose. "'Tis thy fault, I suppose. Ever since Johne found thee, I have not had need to worry about competition. I suppose that I am out of practice." The air shook with the thunderclap of his snort. "Bah! As if porting that mage, Sutek, is not bad enough. A quiet one, he is, and a quiet mage is a deadly mage. There are rumors he was born in the Abyss itself. And the folk of Minoc, they spoke of him opening the dungeon Covetous with a single word!" He peered darkly at the enigmatic mage, a faint figure who stood separated from the folks clustered around Astarol. "Does he do naught but count the stars?"

"He was certainly not born in the Abyss, Nosfentre," Faulina chided. "He is the student of Lord Shalineth, overseer of the Lycaeum, and a good friend of Sir John, the astronomer."

"Meaningless names to me," Nosfentre grumbled. "Perhaps thou shouldst tell Astarol. I am sure he could make something out of it."

"Art thou envious of the minstrel, Nosfentre?" I asked.

"At least the stories I tell are true!" Nosfentre puffed his cheeks in exasperation. "Great Earth Serpent, indeed! I wager the man would shriek if he saw so much as a snake. Yet he has the ladies believing he's Lord British himself!" Then he winked at me and pointed at Faulina. "Watch thy back, Johne. He's likely to steal her away."

I laughed. "I do not need to watch my back, Nosfentre. I have thee to do it for me. Just as I always have. Thy blade hath saved me more than once."

"Aye, that is true." He withdrew his broad sword from its scabbard. The dark, violet jewel in the sword's hilt glittered in the moonlight. "'Tis a good blade," he said, as he sheathed it. He appraised us with solemn eyes. "Given to me by good friends. A shame the three of us shall have to part when we arrive in Britain." He clasped his hand on my shoulder, the closest Nosfentre ever came to an embrace. "I wish thee both good health and safe journeys when I leave."

"Do not worry about us," Faulina said tenderly. "We are proud that thou hast been asked to join Lord Blackthorn."

"Pride is not a virtue," Nosfentre said with a smile.

"No, but honor is," she replied. "And it is the highest honor to serve in Blackthorn's company. His desire to uphold the virtues in Britannia is known to all. Since thou dost refuse to take pride in that, allow us to do it for thee."

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