Year 1, Spring
|Credit: Roy Lathwell|
“Bury her,” she told Striker Perin, looking out her window at the sea, grey and cold as her thoughts. “Do it properly, and erect a marker. She had a name—Linya sam Tiegs—so give her a proper grave.”
“It will be as you wish, notable,” said Perin. “But indulge my curiosity: why do for this one, what we could not do for the thousands of others?”
Jira sighed. “Most of those had no name. Or no name that we could put to them. And Perin, I am weary. We burned so many bodies over the winter, I fear the soot will cover the entire Northern Reach forever. We had to cover the burial pit last week for the smell. And the smell of death is one I hope to be done with for a good, long time.”
“Understood, notable.” Perin saluted and departed.
“It’s over,” Protector Jira said to herself, trying to believe it. Not a year ago, people began to go mad, for no known reason. It spread across Camac’s vast domain like a virulent disease. Many who kept their wits fell victim to those who did not, or simply died in the general chaos, or killed themselves in despair over loved ones. Jira herself had considered the latter.
Spring is the time of renewal, she reminded herself. But what is there to renew? Take twenty of the folk. Twelve of them fall to The Madness. Seven more perish, by the hands of the mad, starvation or accident, or their own hands. One is left to carry on, the horrors of the last few months forever etched on her mind. Could this tiny remnant re-establish order? Was it even worth trying?
Jira left the window, crossing the room to a map of Termag. Jira marked the places in her mind. Rumors said the great cities—Camac, Stolevan, Vlis, Koyr—were all smoldering ruins, and that seemed likely. There had been a brief message from Protector Kontir of Stolevan, claiming the cities east of Stolevan had managed to maintain a semblance of order. Captain Phylok of Isenbund had traveled across the Eastern provinces, to see how they had fared, and now his ship stood in the small harbor outside the Keep. Perhaps that was a good omen—Phylok’s safe return on the same day the last mad soul took her longest journey. Any hope was worth clinging to, these days.
“Notable,” a runner called from the door that Jira had left slightly ajar. “Captain Phylok.”
“Enter, in all peace and harmony,” she said. Phylok was a Westerner, short but broad and strong. Jira, a Northerner and a sturdy woman herself, stood nearly a head taller.
Phylok saluted. “Noted Jira, I am ready to make my report.”
“Good news, I hope.”
“As I see it, good and bad. The Eastern provinces were stricken hard, perhaps not quite as hard as ourselves. However, every one of them with any semblance of government has declared independence. Most refused us harbor. We can expect no help from the East.”
Jira shrugged. “And the southern coast is too far away to focus on anything but its own needs. As expected, it seems we are on our own.”
Phylok paused, gathering courage for a question. “Have you received word from any other quarter?”
“We have heard from Captain Anlayt. He was able to gather survivors in the acropolis outside Koyr. They have named it Ak’Koyr.”
“But not Camac?”
“First Protector Nisodarun fell to The Madness,” said Jira. “Perhaps Captain Anlayt has made a survey of the Gulf, but he did not see fit to give me any kind of report beyond the fact of his own survival.”
“Perhaps we should join him there. I’ve seen the acropolis, it’s defensible, and the climate is better.”
Jira gave him a sour look. “If relocate we must, climate be damned. I would rather relocate to Isenbund. Captain Anlayt is… intractable.”
Phylok looked down. “If summers get much shorter, we may have to abandon Isenbund. The remnant is in good order—we gathered three, perhaps four hundred sane folk into the city—and the farms above the city were not greatly damaged. We were organized enough to bring in the harvest, and we actually have a surplus of food, but this was the first winter in the last five that we were able to feed ourselves.”
“Good thing. There has been little we could have done here.”
Phylok nodded. “Indeed. So what do we do now?”
Jira thought a moment. “As unpleasant as Anlayt is to deal with, we cannot shun him—or any living, sane soul—in these times. We shall ask him if he has surveyed the Gulf, and what he has found. But, as much as it pains me to do so, I believe I must make this request in person.”