OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


23. Brador

etween the shore and the Columbia, lies the floating carcass of a sea serpent. More than several thousand feet long, it is the largest creature they have ever seen. They soon discover that the waters around the body are filled with a school of vicious predators. The size of very large sharks, they tear at the body in a frenzy. Using Hugin as a go between, they learn that Master Crockett does not want to send the launch out into those waters. Haiku agrees, saying that in their frenzy, such predators could easily capsize the little craft. Hugin is again employed to good effect. He scouts the coast, finding them another beach some distance to the north. They rendezvous with the launch there, and although there are several close encounters, they are unmolested by the ferocious carnivores.

Some days later, they are taking the Columbia through a wide strait. It is the last leg of the journey before reaching the great Sanlorenz River. Suddenly, Tira sees a huge shape underwater. It is a serpent, similar to the one whose carcass they saw back off the shores of Ungava. The view is quite clear and she can determine that there are a number of humanoids clinging to the creature.

Crockett gives the order to prepare the ballistas and water cannons. They are brought to bear. When the creature surfaces however, it quickly becomes apparent that the weapons are pretty puny. The serpent is huge beyond belief! Over a thousand feet in length and a mouth over forty fee wide. It could snap the Columbia in two. The humanoids who cling to its harness remain underwater, all save one. This one acts as spokesman, addressing the ship in a sneering tone. He informs them that they have entered the waters of Belial, and they will have to pay passage if they wish to escape with their lives. The crew asks what the people want; they offer weapons made of non-corroding metal, gold, food: nothing is acceptable. Then the Sea Person tells them that he sees a number of young women on board. He tells them that they will let the Columbia pass in return for a human female of child-bearing years.

The crew is incensed of course. They ask why and are told that the speaker is one of the rare individuals of his species who can breathe both air and water. By mating with human females, they vastly increase their chances of bearing more amphibians. He openly sneers at Crockett's inability to just appoint one to go, calling them weak land-dwellers. He will give them until nightfall to choose a sacrifice.

All day long the crew plots a way to get out of this predicament. Finally, they hammer out a plan. It will take precision timing and a lot of luck, but they see no alternative. Haiku will be the sacrifice. It is obvious from the amphibian's manner that he does not expect a female to be a threat. Once on the back of the serpent, she will hack at one of the guide ropes that hook into its jaws and give the comparatively tiny humanoids control over the immense monster. At the same time, Hank and Kamlak will launch the Raven. Kamlak will drop onto the creature's back and cut another one. Also, Hank has made special line-cutting heads for two ballista bolts. These will be fired at a third control rope. Finally, the soldiers, guided by Gilead, will fire arrows at anyone trying to gain control of the 'saddle' on the creature's head, a kind of howdah.

For once, a plan comes together beautifully. The amphibian is indeed surprised and instantly slain by arrow fire. Haiku cuts at the rope and almost parts it. She does not get to try again, because the Raven will only have its line overhead for a split second. She grasps at it and is carried aloft. Kamlak drops and severs his rope. Since he has to work his way over to where he can be picked up, he is attacked several times. Aboard the Columbia, Crockett's spirit rope is thrown to the barbarian. Gilead and his archers rain instant death on anyone trying to gain control over the serpent. As Kamlak is pulled from the creature, ballistas sever another guide rope and archers put out one of the serpent's eyes.

The water erupts in great waves as the huge animal thrashes about. In it pain and rage it snaps at anything close, killing many sea folk. By the time the aquatic people recover, the Columbia is long gone...