The Urn of Ravalos
by Rebecca Day
"The captain wants to see you."
I did not bother to look up from the plug I was whittling. I doubted that the bo'sun
was speaking to me. As a carpenter's apprentice, I wasn't the lowest crewman on
the Fox, but I certainly wasn't the sort of person the captain would call to his cabin
to share his rum ration. We'd been tied up at Kulhran Harbor for a good three days
taking on cargo and making repairs and this was the first chance I'd had to just sit
in the sunshine. And it wouldn't last. Kulhran was well named -- port of rain.
Already I could see thunderheads massing to the west.
"Aeduin, lad, he wants to see you now."
I scrambled to my feet. Geberich, a good-natured man whose face had wrinkles
running in seams deeper than the mines of Bel, looked unusually dour.
"What's it about?" I couldn't remember any infraction or error I'd made of late. It
had been a rough sea, but I was finally settling into this life that had been thrust
"Two mages in the captain's cabin." Geberich stomped off towards the rigging,
but not before I saw the fear in his eyes.
Mages. Five hundred miles and two years gone, and still I couldn't escape my
past. With deliberation, as an act of faith that I would return to finish what I had
started, I set aside my knife and the almost-finished plug, brushed the wood debris
from my trousers and tried, best as I could without mirror or water, to tame my
wiry hair, to wipe the smudges from my face. I had spoken with Captain Teilos
just once before, when I was brought on board. Our paths did not cross, and I was
content to have it so. There is a certain peace that comes from being nobody.
That peace, I felt certain, was about to be shattered.
I made my way aft. The ship was largely deserted, with most of the crew either
taking liberty or replenishing the last of the supplies. Or hiding from the Watch.
Whether the Fox was a privateer or a pirate ship depended largely on your point of
view. Not exactly pirates, not exactly traders, not exactly smugglers. Captain
Teilos took whatever jobs he could manage to get, and in these times, that
sometimes meant looking down the wrong side of Justice's sword.
I tapped lightly on the captain's door.
"Come," he said. I swung the door open. Captain Teilos, a slender man with
pockmarked skin and sleek hair the color of a bull seal's, sat at his battered
mahogany desk staring out the open porthole. It was early spring, and the northern
breezes were strong and bracing and carried a hint of the steel scent of rain. The
mages were nowhere in sight, but I could feel their presence, like a distant itch in
"Aeduin. Yes. Thank you for coming so promptly. You were once a mage, I
"A journeyman only, Captain, and not a very good one, I'm afraid."
"But you can work magic?"
You don't work magic. If anything, magic works you. But I'd never be able to
make him see that. "Of a sort. I have the Talent, certainly, or I'd never been taken
into the magery, but my training and experience are minimal at best. May I ask
what prompted this question, sir?"
He scowled, looking down at a stack of papers tacked to the surface of his desk
with pins and weights made of sand in cloth. Nothing on a ship stays still unless
it's forced to it. "An educated man shouldn't be wasted carving plugs and patching
I said nothing. I was quite content with my plugs and holes.
"And you know how to keep quiet too. Good." Captain Teilos ran his hand
through his hair and gave a half-smile, then looked back down at the papers. "So
here's the thing, Aeduin. Two mages, and I don't trust mages any further than I
can heave them, no offense." He glanced up at me.
"None taken." In truth, I agreed with him. When the press-gang had dragged me
out of the coracle, after my initial panic at being in the hands of pirates, I had felt
relief. I had been forced into the life of a mage, as was every boy whose Talent
bloomed, but it had never been for me. Every moment of that life had been like
walking a tightrope over a pit of tigers.
"Well, these two mages have offered me five hundred royals to secure passage for
themselves and their cargo to Konodaro. I asked to see said cargo. They got
belligerent, so I pressed the matter. They've brought it to be inspected and I want
you here. They say mages can't lie. Not sure I believe that, but even if it's true,
sometimes the truth is bad enough. With you here, I've got an advantage. Will
they know you?"
"My magery was in Marfras. It's unlikely."
"Yes, not many travel so far." Teilos gestured for me to take a position beside him.
He crossed the tiny cabin in three steps and called up to the quarterdeck.
"Gentlemen, I'm ready."
Footsteps, slow and measured, and two men in dark crimson robes suddenly filled
the tiny cabin. They kept their hoods up, which was a mark of subtle disrespect.
One hides one's true face from the unworthy and inferior. The leader was so tall
that his head brushed the ceiling. His companion was small, about my height, but
round and squat, making him appear much shorter. He clutched a wooden crate
about the size of a large lapdog to his chest. At a nod from the taller man, he set it
down upon the captain's desk with great deliberation, as a mother relinquishing her
only babe. The crate was covered with the faded remnants of painted sigils, closed
with a slender silver lock.
"Captain." The taller man pushed back his hood revealing hawk-like features and
smiled so that his teeth gleamed in the lantern light. "Here is the cargo in
question. As you can see, it is nothing. A trifle. One of hundreds of similar boxes
from the treasure room of Beladon, utterly harmless."
Now that troubled me. It was said that the great treasure room of ancient Beladon
had contained a thousand thousand magical objects, carefully collected by twenty
generations of emperors. Half of them were undoubtedly frauds. Half of the rest
were harmless trinkets -- spells to change the color of hair or eyes, spyglasses that
would show the viewer a loved one or an enemy. Child's toys. Of the rest, some
were malignant, but of limited scope. A bow that would send an arrow through the
soul of an enemy, enslaving his essence to the bow's master. Scrolls that would,
when read aloud, cause the reader to wander forever in a fog of confusion.
Weapons to be used against one opponent only, no more than the magical
equivalent of sword or pistol.
A few, an infinitesimal few, were something else entirely.
I bent down so the mages could not hear me without use of their Talents. "Ask
him to open it." Even if I couldn't identify the contents, their reaction to his
request would tell me what I needed to know.
Captain Teilos gave the two shrouded mages a measured look. "Nothing rides on
this ship that I don't see. Open it."
"For what we are paying, we are entitled to privacy." The taller man loomed
across the desk casting shadows over Teilos's papers and pins.
"For what you're paying, you're entitled to precisely what I give you," Teilos said
calmly. "If you don't care for my terms, then I suggest you take a walk down the
docks. There should be two or three merchant ships under Kolhrani flag and at
least one galley of the line. I'm sure one of them would be delighted to assist you
in your . . . errand."
Any ship under a flag would ask questions, keep records. The two men looked at
each other, and I could see their gloved fingers flying in the secret speech of
mages, but at the angle, could not make out their words. Silence extended like a
long rope letting out an anchor. Outside the captain's window, a gull called and
the ship danced lightly against the anchor as the seconds passed by with
At last, the taller man, who I decided to call Hawk as it was unlikely he'd ever give
me his true name anyway, clenched his fists. Their silent conversation was done.
The shorter, Dwarf, I named him, worked the lock, lifted the box's latch and
reached inside. He took out a simple gold-painted ceramic urn, gently rounded in
an arc as graceful as the wings of a swan in flight. The lid was carved with an
ancient and achingly familiar keyhole pattern and sealed on two sides with hoary
wax. I did not need to look further. If the urn were turned upside down, the
maker's mark on the base would be three triangles. I knew this urn. Knew it well.
Captain Teilos reached his hand forward to touch the lid.
"Don't!" Hawk's hand shot out of his robe and grasped the captain's wrist. "It is
not for you."
I stared at the thing, and the thing stared back. It sang in my blood, touched the
heart of my magic and twisted it into white-hot agony. "It's the Urn of Ravalos," I
"How do you --" Dwarf began, but Hawk swiftly cut him off.
"This urn holds the remains of one of my ancestors, and I am moving it to my
"And for that you're willing to pay five hundred gold royals?" Captain Teilos
leaned back, arms folded across his chest. I watched the mages carefully. This
was the Urn of Ravalos, without doubt. They could not lie -- they were geas-bound to honesty. But like all of their kind, they would have been trained to bend
the truth to the breaking point. I ran their words again through my mind, analyzing
each syllable for nuance and shade of meaning. Sometimes what was not said was
as revealing as what was. His ancestor's remains might well lie within the Urn, but
they weren't alone.
"Other members of my family do not wish my ancestor's remains to be moved.
They may try to stop it. By force," Hawk said.
"By magic?" Teilos glanced up at me. I shook my head slightly. They wouldn't
use magic, for any magic powerful enough to retrieve the Urn would put it at risk
of being destroyed.
"No, no. Just ordinary force," Hawk assured. "Swords, cannon. And even that, I
assure you, is highly unlikely. What I predict, Captain," and I could hear the false
smile in his voice, "is a dull and uneventful journey. Easy money. Do we have a
"I need to consult with my . . . er . . . advisor."
I stifled a laugh. He could hardly have said, 'I need to consult with my carpenter's
apprentice.' As the two mages stepped outside, I went to the door to seal it against
eavesdropping. A simple spell, one even I should be able to manage. But my
stomach lurched with nausea at the unfamiliar expenditure of energy, and I
collapsed against the door, sweat pooling on my forehead.
"Don't take the money."
"It's a lot of money. You're going to have to give me a reason, Aeduin."
I studied the Urn, which, surprisingly, they'd left uncrated and unattended on
Teilos's desk. Though I had seen drawings, I had never been allowed so close
before. It both repelled and attracted me.
"It's the Urn of Ravalos." That ought to have been reason enough.
Captain Teilos shrugged.
"The Battle of Ravalos. Have you heard of that?"
"Something vague, half-remembered. From the schoolroom or a song."
I turned away from the Urn, towards the open porthole, gulping in blessed stinking
salt air. "Captain, a thousand years ago, give or take a century, the Beladonian
empire was besieged on all sides by barbarians who had been whittling away at
their territory for several generations. The emperor at the time was Osirius --"
"Osirius Magnus? Him I've heard of. We took a chest of his coins off a
Marfrasian merchant galley three summers back."
"No, his great-grandson, Osirius the Cursed."
"I'm guessing he didn't end well." Captain Teilos poured a shot of whiskey from a
silver flask he kept in his boot. Surprisingly, he handed it to me. Just as
surprisingly, I took it and tossed it down.
I shook my head, letting the burning liquor settle. "No, sir, he really didn't. He
decided to put an end to the barbarian threat once and for all, and led the entire
Beladonian army, a hundred fifty thousand men or so, out to the Plains of Ravalos
in Stohl. As Osirius didn't bother to expend any energy on intelligence he didn't
know that the barbarian horde numbered at least twice that. Of course, considering
his arrogance, he wouldn't have cared."
"One of us is worth ten of them," Teilos observed. "Hardly an original thought,
"Yes. Except they weren't. The barbarians were superb warriors. The armies
fought three days on the Plains. The bards say the blood ran in rivers, and men's
legs tangled in the viscera of the dying as they walked."
"War, my mage-turned-carpenter friend, is not pretty. That's why I am not in any
form of military service. I like being a privateer. I fight, I run away, I live to fight
again. No damn fool general can order me to sacrifice myself for his lost cause."
Outside the window, the sun was setting. Dusk came early this far to the north.
My silence spell would not hold for much longer, especially if those mages were
working against it. They were masters. I was a failed journeyman. "Anyway, to
make it short, at the end of the three days, the entire contingent of imperial troops
lay slaughtered. The emperor was taken and executed in a rather disgusting
manner that I won't share with you --"
"Thank you," Teilos said dryly, and poured himself another whiskey.
"The barbarians took their dead and wounded off the field to attend to in their own
way, piled the imperial corpses around a pyre and incinerated them. Burned them
to ash." I turned and stared at the Urn.
"You can't seriously expect me to believe that the remains of a hundred thousand
men are in that thing? Even cremated, a human body takes up a good bit of space.
The damn thing would have to be as big as the Fox!"
"Magic," I reminded him. "The inside of the Urn is larger than the outside. It will
hold whatever it is designed to hold."
Teilos's eyes narrowed. "Can you put a charm like that on our hold?" I could see
stacks of gold royals dancing in his head.
"That technique is lost."
"Perhaps by study of this urn, you could regain it?"
"You have a great deal of faith in me, captain. Every mage in the Five Lands has
been trying to work that one out since we began to rebuild the mageries."
A small bell tolled the hour. "As unpleasant as this little story is, Aeduin, it's quite
literally ancient history. I see nothing in it that should prevent us from making an
easy five hundred royals."
I picked up a linen towel from the floor and keeping the cloth carefully between
my hands and the Urn, lifted it back into its box and latched the cover. "The
Beladonian mage who created the Urn put a curse upon it. If the contents of the
Urn mix with the Tears of Mhear, the warriors within will arise, undead and
undying, to seek vengeance on the barbarians who destroyed their empire."
"Seems a bit stupid to me. Why didn't the fellow just reconstitute them right then
and there and send them after the barbarians?"
"I've no idea. So much of that time is lost to us."
Teilos stood, adjusting his worn leather jerkin. "So the whole thing might well just
be a myth. That could be a jar full of sand."
I felt my eyes drawn inexorably back to the Urn and shuddered. "I don't think so."
"Well, as long as we keep the thing away from these Tears of Mhear, we should be
"Mhear was the Beladonian goddess of the sea, Captain. The phrase 'Tears of
Mhear' is generally held to mean salt water."
I could see that set him back, but five hundred royals is a mighty enticement.
"Look, lad, even if, by some off chance, the Urn takes a dunk, and assuming this
spell or charm or whatever it is actually works, there's nobody for the dead men to
fight. Those barbarians are long gone."
I stared at him. "Captain, those barbarian tribes went on to establish the Five
Lands. Those barbarians are us."
We took the job anyway, as I knew we would.
Five days out, we'd just rounded the Knob, headed for open sea, and my dreams
were troubled. Skeletal armies and hulking, rotting bodies wielding verdigris
swords strung with seaweed carved my flesh away by inches. Sun-rotted corpses
littered a valley floor while the dark shadows of ravens rippled over them. I could
hear the Urn of Ravalos all the time. It throbbed like a dirty cut, whistled around
my head like wind howling off the northern ice plains. And I was hardly the only
one affected. The entire crew seemed set on the edge of a precipice. Tempers
flared, small slights turned into great gaping wounds, and every man was ready to
make port and be done with this voyage.
Davin, who slung his hammock next to mine and was the nearest I had to a friend,
was the first to approach me.
I'd come off watch and was gnawing on a leathery piece of hardtack, trying to blot
out the thrum of the Urn and wishing I had a larger rum ration. Davin slumped
down next to me, covered in tar and stinking of sweat and fear. "Aeduin, the men
asked me to come talk to you. They want you to go to the captain for them."
There is no privacy on board ship. I sensed the presence of the others, lounging
around the hold carefully looking away, pretending to eat or carve or count their
small treasures. "The quartermaster's the one to take your troubles to, or the
bos'un. Not me. I'm nobody."
"Quartermaster's not a mage --"
"Neither am I," I said, but I set my hardtack down, half finished. Let the rats have
it. I had no appetite left.
"You're the closest we got." He glanced around, uneasy, as if the foreign mages
might somehow be listening. Which, of course, they might have been. "There's
something off about that damn crate, something wrong with this whole voyage.
And now there's an uncanny storm behind us. Chasing after us, and I say it's
because of those mages."
Davin's weather sense was well known -- he could sense storms coming days
away, and I trusted him now. The mages of Marfras would be coming for their
stolen Urn. They would never have sold it or abandoned the trust they had held for
centuries to strangers. They would come with all the force of their magic behind
them, riding a storm they'd craft out of air and water and blood. They'd come,
skimming the waves like a flock of gulls, and I would have to decide whether I was
mage or sailor. Which oath bound me, which life compelled me. I could not help
Davin. I could not even help myself.
But he was waiting for an answer, so I put my hand on his shoulder, trying to be
comforting. "I think --"
"Sail ho! Sail! Off the starboard stern!"
We froze for the barest second, then, as if a spell had been broken, scrambled and
shoved our way up the ladder to the main deck.
"Sail!" Cupper, in the crow's nest, pointed frantically behind us. We rushed to the
stern, men straining to see what he, with his spyglass, had clearly made out. Sails,
far distant, but growing. White and full, being driven by a wind that somehow did
not touch us. I could feel, more than see, the wall of water behind it. Weather
magic, old and powerful.
They had come for the Urn.
The two mages must have felt it too, for they'd come out of their cabin, Hawk
looking up at the gathering clouds, Dwarf behind him wringing his hands in a
parody of the finger speech. They pushed their way through the crowd of sailors.
"We must outrun them," Hawk said. "I will instruct the captain to put on all
"Speed? Speed from where? We got hardly any wind!" Geberich hurried from the
forecastle, shoving us every which way. "And you, you lazy dogs, get to your
We jumped to our places, scrambling up the rigging, heading below to man the
Fox's two paltry cannons. My job at times of crisis was to man the ropes that
controlled the jib and generally do what I was ordered to do. The Fox didn't fight
-- she ran. She was a sloop, built for speed, not strength. But there was no wind
and the sails lay slack and limp against the masts. No wind, and yet the other ship
was still coming on.
"How do they have wind? We're cursed!" said Davin.
"It's the gods-be-damned box! Toss it over the side!" said Geberich. His words
sparked a chorus of agreement.
My heart hammered within my chest and the two mages exchanged glances. They
could not allow it to fall to the sea. Nor could I. I was sworn to protect it.
Captain Teilos erupted out of his cabin, spyglass in hand. He took the ladder to the
poop two rungs at a time and studied our pursuer. Lowering the glass, he turned
and caught sight of me. "Aeduin!"
I dropped the limp and useless rope I'd been holding and scurried up the ladder
myself, the two mages close behind. From this higher vantage point, I could
clearly see the ship which followed us. They'd unfurled their flag -- the azure
dragon of Marfras.
"Suggestions?" the captain asked, raising one eyebrow.
"Give them their property back," I said, all pretense falling away. Dwarf began to
sputter like a leaky bilge.
"You stole that Urn from the Marfrasian Magery. Don't bother to deny it."
"Why should I deny it?" Dwarf said. "The Marfrasians had no more right to the
Urn then we do. By displaying it openly for any fool to steal they put us all at
"The men on that ship," Hawk said, grabbing at my arm. "You're one of us. Don't
you bother to deny that! Look at that ship. Look at it!"
I knew he meant for me to look with more than just my physical eyes, so I
stretched out, listening within for the familiar voices of my order. I heard nothing
but chaos, jumbled confusion. Noise. They were not my people.
"They will use it for the worst possible end," Hawk said. "If they get the Urn,
they'll take it to the heart of the Five Lands and raise the army. Not one man,
woman or child will be left alive when they are done."
"How do you know that?" Captain Teilos asked, but I already knew. Hawk's
betrayal weighed on him like a sodden cloak.
"Because he's one of them."
"No longer." Hawk glanced up at the oncoming ship. "Captain, you must fight. If
you cannot run, it is our only option."
"Can't you do some weather magic of your own? I don't like our chances in a
fight." Teilos stroked the hilt of his sword, and I knew what he was thinking.
They were larger, would have a bigger crew complement. More weapons.
Dwarf shook his head. "No. Even if your man here helps, it would take twice our
number. Don't worry about the cannons. They won't risk sinking this ship.
They'll grapple and board."
The other ship, a huge three-masted square rigger, was making for our starboard
side. A massive grey-green wall of water reared up behind the enemy ship like a
cliff. She was coming on under the force of the storm's momentum and would be
on us in moments.
"We fight, then," Teilos said, and drew his sword. "Prepare for battle!" He
wheeled away from us, heading downship. "Prepare for battle! Move like your
lives depend on it!"
My first battle, and no time to prepare my soul for Return, and neither priest nor
priestess to shrive me in any case. We lined up before Geberich who passed us
each a weapon; cudgels and long knives for the common sailor, cutlasses and
pistols for the more experienced. The rounded hilt of my knife dug into my hand
as I stood trembling, waiting for the other ship to close.
"Stick with me, Aeduin, and you'll be fine," Davin said, grinning. Whatever fear
the Urn had ripened in him had fallen away with the promise of action.
"Why don't we fire the guns? I know why they don't fire at us, but surely we
don't care if they sink?" The sky was turning a horrible charcoal grey as the force
of the magical storm covered us.
"Guns are on the port side, they're approaching to starboard. We could try to turn,
but with no wind, it's a chancy thing."
The shouts of the enemy became audible over the roar of the sea. They lined their
deck, clothed in the colors of the Red Clans, shaking their weapons and howling
curses to their blood-stained gods. Mercenaries.
Davin aimed his pistol and fired. Across the water, a man fell. "Got him! Listen,
stay low, plunge that knife into bellies and legs, whatever you can reach. Don't
A hiss of arrows rained down on us. Davin fell, a long shaft sticking from his
throat. For the space it took to take a man to breath, the ship stood frozen in the
unnatural calm. Then harsh iron smashed onto wood -- grappling hooks, heavy
chains clattered onto our deck and the Fox lurched sideways. They had us. The
ship shuddered as the enemy vessel slammed against it. The mercenaries, like a
flood, poured over the side. Our men moved forward to intercept. The clash of
steel, the sound of shots and the screams of men hung heavy on the trembling air.
I fled. Boys of noble birth are trained to arms from childhood; the common lot
fight as easily as they breathe. But mages may not strike a man in anger; the
magical orders ascribe, officially at least, to peace. To stab a man, to feel the force
of the blade slicing through his body as his life drained away? I couldn't do that.
So I dropped the knife, thrust poor Davin's pistol into my belt and fled down into
the upper hold.
There it was. The cursed Urn lay half out of its crate as though Hawk and Dwarf
had made an abortive attempt to remove it to safety. It was safer here in the
security of the hold, out of sight of the enemy. Out of sight of everyone but me.
Footsteps echoed on the decks above me. They'd be searching the hold soon. No
time to think. I grabbed up the Urn and ran, thinking only to take it as far from the
water as I could. Up, then, up to the deck, I darted through the thicket of swords,
protected by some god or fortune. Men were dying around me, pierced by arrow
and sword, shot through by pistol, but I remained untouched. I would have said it
was magic, but I was no mage. I was a pirate, and I carried my booty tucked close
to my chest.
To the crow's nest, away from the battle and the stench of blood and powder. Fear
sped my passage and strengthened my arms and legs for the unfamiliar climb.
From so high, looking down on the fighting, it seemed like a child's game, like the
tin soldiers boys would push around a table, pretending to be Javitz at Melanolia or
some other famous general defeating their nation's foes.
But never did tin soldiers bleed so nor cry out for their mothers. I looked away,
away from the Fox, which had become a death ship, and studied the enemy ship
from this higher vantage. Its sails now hung as limp as our own. Beyond it the
wall of water waited. All the power of the storm held in check in by the mages on
that ship -- seven in all, I saw, standing in a circle with heads bent in fierce
concentration. If they released their hold, the water would overwhelm us all. And
they would have to release it. That much power had to be grounded eventually.
That must have been what they intended. Once they had the Urn, they would
disengage, allow themselves to drift to a safe distance, and then let loose the storm,
trusting in their larger and more capable vessel to safeguard them while we would
founder and die. I glanced down; Captain Teilos's sword flickered furiously
against a man half a head taller with arms as thick as the Fox's mast. The battle
was not going our way. I'd been a fool to think I was safe in the crow's nest.
Their mages would scry the Urn's location and they'd have it from me as easy as
having the skirts off a thrupenny whore. The Urn would be taken, and I would be
twice forsworn; once as a mage for failing to guard it, once for running from battle.
I raised my hand to shade my eyes from the blinding sun and looked east. At the
very limit of my sight, I saw a haze of green. Land. We were so close -- if the
Urn could be got safely to land, it could be buried, hidden. The wall of water was
to our west. When it came crashing down, it would drive us towards the land. All
I had to do was break the concentration of that circle of mages. And protect the
Urn from the sea.
I exploded with hysterical harsh laughter that sent a gull perched atop the mast
wheeling into the sky. How could I do all that? A failed mage, a carpenter's
apprentice? But I had to. The spell to repel water was one of the first they'd taught
us; it was useful in protecting our scrolls and books from rain. But half the time on
rainy days, the ink ran down my scrolls in black rivulets. Half the time, I'd come
to class drenched and dripping to the derisive taunts of my peers. This would have
to be one of the other times. I couldn't fail, not now. A man screamed, and,
smelling smoke, I looked down to see the mainsail ablaze. There was no more
I set the Urn down at my feet then drew magic around me like a cloak -- a thin
cloak barely fit for a beggar, but it would have to do. I pushed with my mind and
sent the shimmering veil of protection around the ancient jar. Hold, hold, hold. I
drew the pistol. It held but one shot, and I had never fired before. But I knew the
Trying to ignore the Fox trembling around me like a dying man gasping out his last
breath, I steadied my hand and took aim at the tallest of the enemy mages. The
cloak of power still burned around me, the force of the magic gripped me like a fist
thrust through my gut. Guide my shot, I thought, praying to my power, to the gods
of magic, to the open sky and the waiting storm. From far below, I heard Captain
Teilos call my name.
The force of the pistol's retort knocked me back into the rough boards of the
crow's nest. As I struggled to rise, I heard a roar like thunder, saw the wall of
water rushing towards us, a black mountain of salt-stink. The joined ships lurched
and bucked as the wave hammered down on us. Then I felt nothing more.
I came to myself with my head resting on a hard cushion of sand, my legs half-submerged in lapping waves. Every inch of my body ached as though I'd been
beaten. Debris and wreckage floated around me, pieces of ship and bodies. I
staggered to my feet and turned away from them, not wanting to see if they were
friends of mine. A little way up the beach, I saw the slender figure of Captain
Teilos sitting with his back to a spindly tree, staring down at something in the sand.
Blood streaked his clothes and he bore a purpling bruise on his left cheek, but was
otherwise unscathed by the both the fight and his journey through the waves. If I'd
not known better, I'd say he had magical protection to survive when so many had
died. He showed no surprise at my presence.
"I should have known you weren't dead, lad. It would take more than a storm to
kill you." He continued to stare down into the sand. I followed the direction of his
The Urn. It had survived, but some force had broken the seals. The lid had come
off; the contents spilled onto the beach. But what spilled out of it looked like sand.
Just plain beach sand, yellow-white and gritty, interspersed with the occasional
flash of white shell. Or was it bone? Was this what the remains of a hundred
thousand dead men became with the intervention of time and magic?
"Is it sand?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know. But I wouldn't want to be on this beach when the
tide comes in, just in case."
I knelt beside the Urn and let the contents sift through my fingers. I felt nothing.
No hint of power, no thrum of magic. It was dead as rock. As sand. Had it always
been sand? Or had Hawk and Dwarf somehow managed to secret the contents
"You know, Aeduin," Capain Teilos said. "It occurs to me that you have an
opportunity here. You could take the Urn back to your magery in triumph. They'd
probably welcome you with open arms."
"The seals are broken. They'll know it's not intact." They'd know I failed as I had
always failed. I suspected the masters had been secretly relieved when I'd been
"So fix them. They're just magic, aren't they?"
"I don't have that kind of power."
Teilos laughed. "I saw what you did to those foreign mages. Don't tell me you
haven't got the power."
"I don't know what you mean. I shot the leader with Davin's pistol which
distracted the others."
Teilos rose to his feet and stretched, brushed the sand from the back of his trousers.
"Davin fired his pistol at the start of the battle. I saw that too. You don't know
much about guns, do you? That was a single-shot flintlock. Did you reload?"
Numbly, I shook my head.
"Thought not. It wasn't a bullet killed that man. It was magic. Your magic."
"I can't . . . I didn't . . ." But I had. The pistol had been the focus, but what had
burst through that barrel hadn't been lead and powder. It had been raw power. If I
could do that, I could remake the seals. I could fill the Urn with sand, remake the
seals and none would be the wiser. I closed my eyes, thinking of how my former
tormentors would have to pay me homage, how the masters would embrace me as
one of them. I could walk with kings. If I went back.
"By my reckoning we're about two days' walk from the Port of Bees. If any of the
rest of the crew survived, they'll head that way. The Fox is gone, but I've got
funds enough in reserve to get myself a new ship." Captain Teilos smiled. "I'll
need good men. If the life of a mage doesn't appeal, you might consider the life of
"Can't I be both?"
I'd only just discovered my power, to give it up without exploring it, without
seeing how good a mage I could be? I couldn't do that.
"Mages belong in mageries. That's how the world works, isn't it? The gift of
magic must benefit king and country, not be used for private gain. That's the
tradition." He spoke bare truth, but his tone was full of mockery. "The choice is
I watched him start up the beach. A strong breeze, a remnant of the false storm,
came off the sea, bringing the smell of salt with it. I remembered the feel of a ship
beneath my feet, how I'd struggled to learn to walk like a sailor. But now the land
felt wrong, foreign. I hadn't chosen to be a sailor any more than I'd chosen to be a
mage. I'd been shoved down those paths against my will and had done my best to
walk them, and to keep my two worlds separate as the world said they must be.
The Urn still lay at my feet, a reminder of how my two worlds had come together.
Whether or not it had ever held dead men's bones, it held me. I picked it up,
marveling at how ordinary it now felt. Had the Urn changed, or had I? With all
my strength, I smashed it against the tree. It splintered into gold-streaked shards
which rained down onto the ground becoming nearly indistinguishable from the
Awkwardly, I ran through the soft sand to catch up to my captain.
He didn't break stride, but looking out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him smiling
"So much for tradition, eh?"
"Tradition had us wasting a thousand years guarding a clay jar full of sand.
Tradition would lock me behind walls where I'd never feel the sea spray on my
face again. I can't give up magic, it seems, but I can't give up the sea either. If
you need a carpenter's apprentice, I'm your man."
"I was thinking of something with a little more responsibility. A pirate-mage
would make a formidable first officer, at least till you set your sights on your own
I started to say that I'd never want such a thing, then stopped, unwilling to close
any doors till I'd at least tried to walk through them. "Done."
I looked back at the remnants of the Urn lying alone and abandoned on the beach.
The tide was coming in, each white-tipped wave drawing closer and closer to
where it lay. Sand. Just sand. At least, that's what I told myself as I turned my
back on it.
The Port of Bees and a new life lay ahead of me.