Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chapter 18 (begun)

The Bargain

“So,” Johnny ventured, “where are we now?”

Roger had left the wheel and come up behind him again.  “Breen Lagoon.  Didn’t we cover this already?”

Johnny gestured out at the expanse of open water.  “This is a lagoon?  This is a whole ocean!”  He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.  “I thought that was the lagoon back there.”

Roger snorted.  “That’s just the selvage.”

Johnny looked blank.  “The what?”

Aidan broke in.  “The margin.  The verge.”

Larissa chimed in.  “The edge, they mean.”

Johnny looked back out across the water.  “But ... I thought a lagoon was a ... you know ...”

Larissa supplied, “A stretch of salt water separated from the sea by a low sandbank or coral reef.”

Johnny pointed at Larissa.  “Yeah, that.  What she said.”

Roger grinned.  “Not this one.”

Johnny nodded.  “No, of course.  Not this one.  This one is a ... is a ...”

“Place between places,” Aidan chipped in.

Johnny sighed.  “So ... where are we going, actually?”

Roger slapped him on the back, hard.  “We have no idea!”

Johnny rubbed his shoulder and stared back at her.  “Doesn’t that make it difficult to know where to go?”

“Aye, that it does.”

“What about your dad telling you should always know where you’re going, or whatever that was?”

“Wellll ... mayhap I should rephrase.  We do know where we’ll be fetchin’ up, ye know.  It’s just that we don’t have any idea at this precise moment how to get there.”

Johnny threw up his hands.  “And how do we figure out how to get ... wherever we’re going?”

Roger put her hands on her hips.  “We have Aidan for that.”

“Aidan again?”  Johnny looked over at the Water Guide.  “Seems like we expect a lot out of him ...”

Roger snorted again.  Loudly.  “Well, why under Shallédanu’s skirts did ye think we picked him up in the first damn place?”  A ghost of a smile flickered on Aidan’s face.

Johnny looked back and forth between the two of them.  “I thought it was something about monsters ...”

Aidan put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it.  “I did my part with the muck monster, Johnny, you may recall.  And, even though it seems like I didn’t do much for the remainder of the trip upstream, I actually did lay a protective charm on The Sylph here.  And now that we’ve passed into the lagoon, I have other duties to attend to.”  He looked back at Roger.  “Although, you know, Captain ... this won’t be all my doing.  I can but arrange the meeting.  Negotiation will be your department.”

Roger’s eyes sparkled.  “Bring it on, me hearty.  My line is taut.”  She turned back to Johnny.  “I was mostly pulling your leg about the monsters, back at the beginning.  I didn’t really think we’d need Aidan for that, especially before we e’en set sail!  Which just goes to show ye even a pirate captain with years behind the wheel can stand to learn a thing er two.”  She winked at Johnny.  “No, the real reason I thought we’d need a Water Guide on this trip is that we had to float all the way up a river through a swamp and then get into a lagoon so that we could figure out how to get to the ice fields.  Ye see the trim here?”

Johnny looked up at her.  “Wait, did you say ‘ice’?”

Roger cocked her head to one side.  “Aye, I did,” she said slowly.

Johnny closed his eyes and reached out with his new sense.  It was still there, so cold ... if the door in the sewer pipes had seemed like a light, this seemed like an icy draft.  He was still making mental analogies for things that he had no words for, but this was a decent enough description.  And, just like it can be difficult to find the source of a draft in a room sometimes, this was tricky to locate as well.  He concentrated harder; he could hear Roger talking to him, but he shut her out.  It was easy, since his hearing was dialed down again.  He cast his mind out, in all directions; throwing his arms wide, he spun around in a circle until he knew he had a fix on it, then brought his arms together and opened his eyes.  Larissa was standing with a hand on Roger’s arm.  Roger had her mouth open.  Aidain was studying him with a considering expression.

“There,” he said simply.

Roger closed her mouth.  “Are ye sure, Johnny?”

He nodded.  She looked over at Aidan, who was still giving Johnny that calculating look.  He glanced up at her.  “Oh, yes, I’d say that would make the negotiations much more palatable.  We’ll still need them to open the way, of course, but if we require only action, with no information, they will demand less in return.”

Roger grabbed Johnny’s shoulders and looked him full in the face, her grin bubbling up and her eyes alight.  “See, Johnny, I knew ye were here to help us out, and now ...”  Suddenly she leaned in and kissed him, full on the mouth.  Johnny felt her tongue lightly brush his lips.  Before he could properly react, it was over, and he was beet red.  Roger gave a short, triumphant scream.  “Yes!  Those bloody whores’ll never know what hit ’em!”  She gave Johnny a quick, bone-crushing hug and dashed off back to the wheel, still whooping with joy.

Johnny looked up, still trying to process what had just happened.  Aidan was now smiling at him with kind eyes.  Larissa was studying him, her head tilted ever so slightly to one side.  He opened his mouth to speak, but his brain was reeling.

“Wait ... did she say ‘whores’?”

section break


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