With the retreating boat finally out of Aimon’s range, he decided to hike back and retrieve the caravan. This left Alexey, Gledrick and me with a few hours to kill. I searched the tents, finding nothing but a few grotesquely-soiled, woven cloths. I assumed they served as bedrolls. The wind had picked up, driving a touch a winter from the northwest. After moving the putrid blankets out of the tent, I found the smell tolerable and the wind much less biting.
The crunching sounds of 40 people walking into camp woke me with a start. I reassembled myself quickly, stepped out of the tent and helped direct the vagabond prisoners toward the boats. I was surprised to find two smaller boats in addition to the mid-sized skiffs. Gledrick and Alexey found them during a search along the shore while I napped. Though I didn’t intend to sleep, once again I’d failed to pull my weight.
Loading the boats with people and gear took some time. It’s a good thing we were not rushed through the process by the enemies on our trail. We were able to take everything except the livestock. Hopefully, one of the mules or horses is clever enough to lead the way to Hammer Hill. As I watched a few men struggle to load some of the gear, my thoughts went back to Brogue, who could have loaded the boat single-handedly. My moment of regret shattered when Gledrick started pushing me into one of the larger boats. I found a seat toward the middle, thinking that might be the best position against the roil of the Lake of the Clouds.
The trip was cold and swift. Except for the distant south, towering mountains surrounded us like Gods looking down on their creation. Great plumes of snow whirled off the highest peaks. The two skiffs quickly outpaced the two smaller craft. I felt pretty fair during the voyage, keeping my stomach tightly under control. The only time I started to feel sea-tossed was after a swig of Gledrick’s brew. I was sitting still, even rocking a little with the boat, focused on the distant horizon where Hammer Hill would soon show. Suddenly, a thick, hairy arm stretched over my shoulder holding a water skin.
“Put some hair on your cookies,” croaked the voice of the dwarf.
One swig later, I could no longer anticipate the rolls of the skiff. I’d roll right while my stomach and the boat went left. I never actually got sick, but the strain pushed me to my limits. When Gledrick offered another swig, I told him his brew was best enjoyed on dry land and I would wait for such a time. The arm withdrew, but I suspect it found another victim.
We all heard the staccato cries of the hammers before we could see Hammer Hill. As we came within view, we could hear sawing and construction sounds that were not typically part of the cacophony. As we drew even closer, there was a sparkling moment of recognition. A cry went up from the docks. People ran to the end of the pier. Others ran toward the town center. Fingers pointed. Hands waved. Voices called. Even Burdick Chainsunder, in his great bearskin cloak, lumbered down the dock.
“I never doubted,” he shouted more than once over the open waters.
Finally docked and moored, we piled out of the boats. There were hugs, tears, silent gasps and great cries. During the commotion, I slipped away from the docks and made my way to the University. It seems Gledrick had a similar idea. I saw him down the street, as he faced a small boy brandishing a tinker’s hammer, holding a lid to a small pot, and wearing a cloth roughly folded into the shape of a wizard’s hat. The dwarf pulled up short. (heh) “Brave lad!” he declared, sending the boy scurrying off with a grin his cheeks could barely contain.
Dadrigor greeted me warmly, showed me to my room, where a great stack of books waited my return. He brought a warm cup of tea as I looked through the titles. “These are them?” I asked. He nodded.
“Thank you, my friend.”
He nearly smiled as he backed out of the room.
I couldn’t even finish the tea before slumping over the desk into a death of sleep.