Noah was perfect in his generations. These are the generations;
Genesis 6:9 & 10:1
“Amis, take hold of the sail rope and don’t let go.”
Sem gritted his teeth and hefted the cross-bolt higher. It was a heavy weapon to hold one-handed but it was the only weapon effective enough to protect them. If that masark decided to leave off devouring their haul of fish, trapped helplessly in the silken ropes of the net and turn on them, the cross-bolt was their best chance.
“Hang onto it,” he growled to his tall cousin, “I’m going to cut the rope.”
Amis gave him a horrified glance but redoubled his efforts to hang on to the whipping sail. The boat steadied and Sem leaped forward to grab the high side.
He wrenched his long-bladed knife from its spot on his hip and gripped the blade between his teeth. The boat kilted dangerously to one side as the masark chomped down on the net and shook its enormous head trying to get a mouthful of the delicious fish. The great inland sea stretched, shimmering as far as the eye could see. Leaping fish dotted its surface and occasionally a bigger aquatic creature leaped out after them.
Sem stared at another disturbance out on the lake. He had never seen a serale in this large, sheltered lagoon off the Great Lake but he dreaded seeing the giant, serpentine head whip out of the water and hover over them with its long neck. It was more dangerous than the whale-like masark. Sem often came here. There were lots of fish in the deep, natural harbour but it was a deadly dangerous place. He grabbed the cord that attached the net to the boat. He had to drop his cross-bolt to reach the knife. The boat gave another great lurch as the massive creature in the water pulled again.
His father had warned him against fishing today.
“It’s the wrong time of year, Sem,” he shook his fine, greying head and pulled worriedly at his beard, “the great water beasts are active gearing up for the mating season. We can live without the fish. Prepare for a journey into the city instead. I have some fine fabrics that need to go to Arca.”
“The city disgusts me, Father. Just going there makes me feel like I need to bathe for a week.”
Sem knew his father continued to hope he and his brothers would discreetly source connections with a good family in the city. There were none. The scourge of the Fallen One was increasing and so many of the Ancient Bloodlines were compromised. A couple of uncorrupted families that Noesh had secretly contacted either had no daughters or they were already married. There was only so much enquiring one could do when one was supposedly hundreds of miles away.
Still, Noesh sent his sons to the city as often as he could find a legitimate reason to do so. The city was a good week’s ride away. From their mountain fastness they had so far escaped the detection of The Fallen One’s regime. In secrecy, they continued to gather and prepare great lengths of wood for their undertaking. Taking trees from the forest without the Fallen One or his Earthborn sons noticing.
Noesh had vanished, popular story went, although rumour had it that he would return one day with his sons and drive the invaders out. As for the young lords: Jaffith, Ajalon and Sem, everybody knew they’d travelled far from Arca to their mother’s ancestral city, a lengthy journey across the vast mountains, to aid her people against invasion of a Fallen One.
Sem and his brothers were reluctant to enter wicked Arca and when they did they were heavily disguised. Much better for the people to believe they were far away instead of holed up close by in a secret mountain fortress known only to Noesh’s immediate family.
“I feel terrible urging you to go to the city, son. My great fear is that you’ll be discovered and killed!”
Like all the old ones. Noesh held death in horror and dismay. Before the arrival of the Fallen Ones, death was a rare and catastrophic event as lifespans lasted hundreds of years.
Sem did not like going to the city at all. Living away from it hadn’t hardened him to the everyday violence and atrocities committed against the vulnerable. Since the Fallen One came, the people had learned many new ways, new technologies and new evils. Death was common. No one could travel without protection, not even for the simplest market place errand. As for Sem, his worry was betraying his father. If caught in Arca, he would be tortured until he revealed Noesh’s whereabouts. In urging the people to turn back to the Other, his father had also revealed to the Fallen Ones that their time was nearly up.
Now, as he hewed at the thick cable desperately, Sem wondered if perhaps he should have gone to the city. No, it would be better to die from a sea monster attack than at the vicious hands of a two-legged monster in Arca. Slowly, ever so slowly the tough threads gave way under the wickedly sharp knife. Would they part soon enough? The boat lurched again, this time water slopped in over the edge and Sem, in his position hanging over the side, splashed in and under the water.
For a moment he was face to face with an enormous mammalian eye. Its great teeth were tangled in the mesh. The great thick slab of its body undulated slowly from side to side. One swipe from the five metre long pectoral fin would smash him to a pulp. The creature blinked and kept hold of his mouthful of fishy net. Finally the last scrap of cord gave way and the boat righted itself with a rush and Sem clung grimly to the metal ring that held the stubby remnant of cord.
“Sem. Sem! Are you alright?” Amis howled through the gusty wind.
Sem spotted the cross-bolt and leapt to scoop it up in one smooth, athletic bound. The valuable weapon was scarce and difficult to replace. He slammed into the mast and hung on, laughing, the adrenalin surging through his veins.
“I just came face to face with a masark and lived to tell the tale!” he roared still laughing.
“Cut it out, Sem!” Amis shouted, “That monster is still down there chewing on our fish. It’ll be after us next.”
The end of the boat swung sideways and the boat turned around. Peering over the side, Sem could not see the great sea monster. Only the swirl in the water, drawing the boat after it, showed the direction the creature had gone.
“Phewwww,” Sem drew the back of a shaking hand across his face, “that was close, Amis. Too, too close.”
“What about the net?” Amis’s face looked innocent enough but in the deep blue of his eyes mischief glinted, “What story will you concoct this time?”
In the short weeks he had spent re-visiting Tetrahin, Amis had been on more than one hair-raising adventure with his cousin, Sem.
“I guess we’ll just tell them a masark took it,” Sem grinned back at him.
“I am not coming with you again,” Amis said, a corner of his mouth twisted and his tone rueful, “I don’t want to end up dead.”
His voice trailed off as he spotted something high above the trees.
“What is that?”
Sem was beside him in a second squinting in the sunlight.
“It looks like this is not our lucky day, cousin. Get down. Take cover however you can. First a masark and then a shimerith! If it spots us we’re in big trouble although it seems to be moving fast.”
The two men crouched low in the boat watching the shimerith as it grew bigger, getting closer. The great fire-breathing creatures were deadly dangerous. This one was big and curiously alone. A rogue perhaps.
“It’s heading straight for us!” Amis crouched as if to leap into the water.
“Don’t move,” Sem commanded, gripping Amis’s arm painfully, never taking his eyes off the creature in the sky, “something’s not right.”
The shimerith had been flying as straight as an arrow, now it dropped skimming the very tops of the trees. Right at the edge of the lagoon it swooped down as if landing in the water.
On the back of the shimerith, Sambeth cried out, “Now, Pip!” and then, “Jump, Rija.”
The two girls let go of the shimerith and hurtled into the water, disappearing and sinking like stones.
Sem half stood staring at the spot where they hit the water.
“What was that?” Amis murmured, open-mouthed with surprise, turning to watch the vanishing shimerith.
He did not see what his sharp-eyed cousin saw – the faint golden impression of a manlike outline; a Fallen One heading after the flying creature.
“Down,” Sem hissed, “down, man,” he looked at the place where the objects had splashed into the water, “they haven’t surfaced yet.”
Amis looked at him in amazement, “You are completely mad, Sem.”
His cousin didn’t reply he was still staring at that spot on the lagoon.
“Quick, Amis. Move that sail around. Quick, man, quick!”
Amis sprang into action muttering to himself, “First it’s down, then it’s move. He’s totally lost it.”
Then he saw the two slim bodies slowly floating upward, still deep in the water. Their arms were splayed out, limp. Dark hair fanned out around their heads like a strange black cloud. As he watched, one began to struggle, tangled in her garment. The other, a dark dye drifting from her hair, remained ominously still. He turned to stare at Sem who was quickly stripping off his loose-weave shirt.
“Quick, we’ve got to get them out before they drown.”
“But the masark…” Amis started to say but Sem was gone.
He dove cleanly into the water. In seconds he reached Rija. Frantically, he pulled the scarlet dress draping around her until he could grab at the cloud of unbound hair. He drew her up to the surface. Now the two men worked swiftly as a team. With a mighty heave, Amis lifted her up over the side of the boat.
“Cousin,” pure alarm rippled through Amis’s voice.
He pointed to the far side of the lagoon. A deep eddy could be seen swirling in the water.
“It’s that damned masark. Get in the boat. Right now.”
Sem looked back into the water.
“I can’t,” he said simply and pushed off again toward the other girl.
‘Just focus,’ he thought, ‘Ehyeh, protect me.”
He churned through the water and reaching through an inky haze, grabbed the other girl and frantically swam back toward the boat. He could see the terrified face of Amis staring toward him. The surface of the water started to rise and fall, displaced by the body of the huge masark.
“Hurrrryyyy,” Amis roared.
“Here, take her.”
Amis pulled the girl into the boat with superhuman strength. Sem reached up as far as he could. His fingertips just snagged the high side of the boat. With muscles straining and cracking he heaved himself upward. It was impossible. He could almost feel the sharp teeth of the masark sinking into his flesh. Amis’s arm swung down and hoisted him up and over the side. They tumbled in a heap on the bottom of the boat.
They were up in a flash and looked over to see the massive bulk of the masark pass lazily by. It kept going.
“Lucky for us he was just curious,” Sem grinned and Amis’s grim face broke into a reluctant answering smile.
“Just as well for us too,” a feminine voice said behind them.
The dark haired girl had scrambled to her feet.
“Please, can you help my friend?” She crouched beside the still form of the other girl, “She hit the water hard.”
At once Sem was serious.
“Amis,” he said grimly, “we’ve got to get to land as quick as possible in case that Fallen One comes back.”
He straightened out the unconscious body of the girl and tilted her head back.
“What Fallen One? I thought it was a shimerith,” Amis’s tone was sceptical, “I didn’t see anything that looked like a–“
“Get going,” Rija screamed at him, “how could he have been so close?”
Amis took one look at her white, terrified face and leapt to the sail. The boat skimmed across the now calm waters. Sem turned his attention to the figure lying so still at his feet. He pushed firmly on the leather clad chest in several quick thrusts. Tilting back her head and pinching the small nose, he forced deep breaths between her blue lips. The braided hair lay in lines close to her skull falling free at the back beneath her. It was fair, he noticed, with a few dark streaks remaining, trickling black ink onto the wooden deck. One, two. One, two. He continued his efforts. The pattern of push, push, breathe, push, push, breathe was echoed by the rhythm of the boat slap, slapping across the waves of the lagoon.
“Come on,” he urged, “breathe.”
He rolled her carefully on one side, checking for wounds. There were none.
“What were you two doing?” he said between gasping breaths, “Riding on a shimerith!”
It was both an exclamation and a question.
Rija shook her head helplessly, “I don’t know. It was all her doing.”
She knelt beside him and put her hand on the unconscious girl’s forehead.
“Come on, Sambeth,” she pleaded, “breathe.”
“Sambeth saved me from…“ she paused infinitesimally but he noticed it, “she saved me by insisting that I jump on that creature.”
She turned her attention back to Sem, “I don’t know how she did it.”
Reaching the shore, Sem paused his ministrations and hoisted the girl up, gripping her under the arms. With a quick heave she was over the side into Amis’s arms.
Amis waded, knee deep through the water and scrambled up a steep embankment as if the weight of the girl was nothing. He dropped her, dripping and unconscious, on the thick green turf.
“Hey,” Rija remonstrated, “be careful!”
Amis’s glance was cold as she rushed over to Sambeth.
The jerking exit and thump on the ground completed Sem’s resuscitation efforts. Sambeth convulsed and coughed up a lungful of water. She spluttered and sat up.
“I heard screaming,” she murmured vaguely.
Her chest heaved and she sucked in glorious great breaths of fresh air. She looked in puzzled amazement at the strange men.
Her eyes cleared and she leapt to her feet and into a perfect defensive stance.
“Who are you?” Her voice came out scratchy and breathless, “Where is Rija?”
She looked suspiciously up at the dark haired man towering in front of her and edged back slowly. Her eyes darted around noting that they were now at the edge of the lagoon. Pip was nowhere in sight.
Movement flickered in her peripheral vision. She turned to see Rija standing beside the sharp-eyed man also with black hair. She understood that he was staring at her but wondered at Rija’s odd expression. Rija stepped in front of him and moved toward her.
“What happened to your black hair, Sambeth?” she hissed under her breath.
Sambeth felt the dripping of her hair, realisation dawning. She remembered the scarlet cloth stuffed in the top of her pack.
“Where’s my pack?” she blurted and Rija handed it to her.
She slipped the cloth out and tied around her head, tying it back at the nape of her neck. Her hair was completely covered. Her blue eyes met Rija’s.
Rija held her gaze for a heartbeat longer. Her lashes flickered and she turned back to the two men.
Sambeth wondered what she should tell them. There was no way that these men could have missed all that dye floating out of her hair. She shrugged internally. Well, they probably had bigger things to wonder about. They’d obviously seen Pip and would be incredibly curious about the circumstances surrounding the startling appearance of herself and Rija.
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