“I need to leave this night.”
“I can ferry you on the morrow. After the Morning Song.” A robust man with a grim expression continued tightening and knotting the ropes on his small ship, paying almost no mind to the young man before him.
“I’ll pay you double.”
“You could offer me triple, and the answer would not change, lad. Where’s your head? It’s the eve of the Autumn Falling. My woman would have my skin if I missed the celebration. It’s all the Littles have spoken of in days.”
“I understand, but I – “
“No, lad, you don’t understand,” the man finally paused his work and turned to look at Davon. “Don’t you remember the Autumn Falling Festival from your childhood? Never thought I’d see the day a young Komaen would not want to participate. Stay the night. Even if you don’t care for the Festival, you can sleep by a warm fire and share our evening meal before you set off to that star-forsaken land.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Davon argued. “I need to leave. Tonight.”
“Oi? And what’s the rush, lad?” The man frowned now. “In some trouble, eh?”
“My business is my own,” he tried to sound firm.
“Aye, that it is,” he spoke carefully, “and if you want my business, you’ll stay the night and let me ferry you after the Morning Song. Otherwise, I cannot help you.”
“Aekoon assured me –” Davon began, but the man interrupted, swinging his body easily over the rail and landing on the dock in front of Davon.
“Did he now? Aekoon assured ye?”
“I have to cross tonight. Aekoon assured me of your help.”
“Last fellow I ferried for Koon did not return,” the man glared. “Sure you know what you’re doing, laddie?”
‘I have no idea,’ Davon wanted to say. He wanted to tell the gnarled fisherman that he could trust no one – even Aekoon. He wanted to say that he was already weary from being hunted. He wanted to strike the man square on the jaw for calling him ‘laddie’ as if he was a silly child. He wanted to strike the man for being right. He wanted to strike the man just for the sake of it. Davon repeated himself.
“Aekoon assured me.”
“Aye,” he man rolled his eyes and rubbed his gray-whiskered chin, “Aekoon assured you. Did he assure you of your safety in that desolate land? Did he assure you of a friendly welcome from the ancient Ilonies? Did he assure you the Ohrian Cats wouldn’t rip your feeble little body to shreds?” He pushed a finger into Davon’s chest. “Aye, Aekoon assured you, but you’ve no idea what you’re getting into, do you? Most folk who are dumb enough to venture there never find their way home; those who do are not the same. I’ve been to Ohr three times. Take it from me, laddie — you’d best stay here.”
“You were dumb enough to go there three times?” Davon regretted the words before they left his mouth, but he could not suppress them. He clenched his teeth, awaiting the man’s anger. Instead, the man laughed a deep, loud rumble that Davon could feel trembling in his feet.
“Aye, lad — I was! Never quite found what I was after. No one ever does.”
“I have no choice. I must try. And Aekoon assured — “
“Aye, enough!” The man shook his head, resigned. “Stars above. Say his name again and I’ll throttle you with my bare hands. Get your things and meet me back here in thirty minutes. And don’t be late, lad.”
“I have everything I need.”
“Then go stretch your legs in the market. There are no markets where you’re headed. You’ll want some food for the journey.”
From the shores of Wicket Lake,