The Tower: Chapter Three - The Longboat

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Chapter Three

"Our goal at last!" Sittius is exultant. "It will be good to feel solid ground beneath my feet once more! Lina? Where are you, woman?"

"Behind you, in the shade of your bulk" comes the reply.

"What say you about this cliff?" asks the youth. "Amongst us, only you have claimed skill at climbing. What think you of our chances if we attempt entry this way?"

Lina smiles up at Sittius. "Unless we land and try the cliff we shall never know. If the cliff can be scaled we should all be at the top in a matter of hours. If we trek through the jungles it might take days."

"I think that the overland route might be a better choice," counters Sittius."It will be longer, to be sure, and likely fraught with danger. But I like my chances rather better with an enemy I can fight than with a fall from a cliff-face."

"I agree with you, fellow Kothian," ventures Tamas. "As a warrior I prefer to fight my way through the jungle rather than dangle from ropes."

"I haven't done much climbing," says Anteus, "But the hardest part of the job would be that of the first climber. Once the ropes are secure going up shouldn't be that hard. Ishtar knows it would be far swifter than stomping through the jungle." He lowers his voice. "Frankly I'm not sure our employer would survive such a trek."

Bright blue eyes glitter as Lina looks around the assembled group. "The greatest risk is to he .... or should I say she who climbs first." Shrugging slim shoulders, "I will take that risk. If the climb is too dangerous then I'll come back down and we can take the boat to land elsewhere and trek through the jungle, filled as it may be with savage and poisonous beasts."

"You'll not go alone!" Sittius protests. "It is folly to send one of our number alone. Who knows what might assail you on the climb?"

Anteus regards Lina. " I would be willing to help you... If I wouldn't be getting in your way up there."

Lina goes to gather her few weapons and belongings, stuffing some rations into her satchel with a skin of watered wine. She shoulders the ropes, thin line and grappling irons and makes for the boat.

Sittius looks at Sarrencius and grins. "What of you, Aquilonian? Surely you have a plan. Perhaps one that involves you staying behind to guard the boat?"

"I'm with you, Lad," Sarracenius declares, fastening his leather armour and gathering his spears and throwing net. He hides a wry smile as he humps his gear to the longboat.

Veredan is already on deck, the hood of his dark cloak thrown back, his white hair blowing in the early morning breeze as he peers through the early morning mist at the shore. Jubal and the Mate grunt and curse with the effort of unshipping the longboat, but soon it is in the water, nestling comfortably againt the Marlin in the calm swell of the ocean.

There is more grumbling and cursing as the longboat's occupants and their belongings find their way unsteadily aboard. Veredan is more agitated than the sell-swords have ever seen him, berating them for their clumsiness and lack of speed. He carries a weapon openly for the first time, a long knife of the type used by the Ilbarsi, clearly of fine craftsmanship. His only other luggage is a small chest.

With Veredan in the prow, and the rest of the band at last safely installed in the boat, Jubal settles himself in the rower's seat, his broadsword strapped to his back. The longboat pulls away from the Marlin, quickly picking up speed with the power of Jubal's smooth, even stroking of the oars.

The Marlin is in deep water, but the longboat reaches the shallows quickly, and the shoreline still a good five hundred yards away. And the shallows are treacherous. Through the clear water it can be seen that the floor of the ocean is littered with boulders and sharp fragments of rock. Only the longboat's shallow keel allows it to navigate these waters unscathed, and even then some of the rocks pass by a little too close for the comfort of nervous passengers.

Veredan gazes steadfastly at the shoreline through crimson eyes, oblivious to all except the squat purple building that was once a tower. It is difficult to tell the building's height from the boat or how much of the structure remains intact. The top floor has a curiously truncated appearance, as if sheared off. All too soon the looming cliffs block his view, putting a stop to further speculation for the time being at least.

Lina wrinkles her nose as she scans the shore, and her expression betrays nothing of her thoughts. As the longboat's prow grinds on the pebbles of the small beach, she vaults lightly over the side without a word, the first to reach land.

By the time the longboat has been beached and the gear unloaded, Lina is to be found at the foot of the cliffs, staring intently upwards. The rock face is scarred and pitted, cracks and fissures providing hand and footholds for those with the sight and skill to find them. But an overhang thirty feet up will make this no easy climb.

An expectant hush falls over the scene. A hundred feet above waits the silent jungle. Down on the beach the waves lap quietly against the hull of the beached boat. The loudest sound is the beating of each adventurer's heart.