The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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41. Reinforcements Arrive

The Green Lady docked ten days later at the port of Livanso, in the north-eastern angle of the Inland Sea. To the north, in the distance, the land rose into mountain and forest. Jenna looked west along the coast, to where, somewhere over the horizon, would be the shores of Atlar, and home.

Or at least, a distant corner of the same country as home. The deck of a ship on a mysterious mission most likely involving monsters was not so very foreign to her as her own village, in many ways.

Livanso was the main port of the most northerly Duchy of Andaro, which spread out north into the mountains and far inland to the east. It was called something unpronounceable like “Sinjlagj”. Rather, that was how it was written down; Jenna had not yet managed to wrestle with what it was called.

On the dock, fair-haired and blue-eyed people were carrying things, and pulling ropes, and selling fish. Celandine’s mother had come from here, Jenna had heard, and this was where the queen had got her light-brown hair and those blue eyes. God alone knew where she had got what looked out at you through them.

Among the sailors and fishermen with sapphire eyes set over tightly wrinkled, sunburnt cheeks, were a group of grim and green-hooded men. Park Rangers of Atlar, by the looks of them. Among their suntans and beards, she met a pair of green eyes in a pale indoor face.

“Ash!” She turned away from the railing, confused for a moment. Derk had seen him too, and ran down the gangplank to pull him on board, so she only had a few seconds to think what to say.

“I ...” She couldn’t say anything.

“What are you doing here, Ash?” asked Derk.

So that was her first question dealt with.

“Looking for you,” said Ash. Said to Derk, this probably included both of them and possibly the entire crew of the Green Lady. But he turned to her next.

Now it was his turn to be unable to say anything.

“How did you know where to find us?” asked Derk, after a moment's silence.

“Doctor Grey told him,” said Jenna. “Right?”

“Yes. But actually, I was only here to catch a boat to where I thought you were going to be. Yet here you are, and you seem to be unloading equipment.” Ashlin gestured to the crew, fetching and carrying between the deck and the shore. “This is bad, isn’t it?”

“Just like the old days,” she agreed, “yes, it is quite bad.”

“Still, the three of us back together. Almost makes you miss Justin.”

“Almost.” Jenna allowed that much. “He was a nuisance, but you got used to him, like an annoying brother.”

“I thought he was your brother?” said Derk.

“How dare you!” laughed Jenna, punching his arm.

“Well, you said he was like one!”

“So what if I did? I can say he’s like a brother, but if you say you think he is my brother, you’re saying I’m like him.”

She turned serious then.

“Is there any news Ash? About Justin?”

Ashlin looked up into the hills in the distance.

“No, he’s gone, and I suppose for good. Doctor Grey says there’s nothing to be done, and won’t send the rangers out to bring him back, because there are eye witnesses say he killed a lord. There’s no question of arguing self-defence if you kill a lord and you’re a commoner. If he’s taken he’ll be hanged. Then there’s his other problem; that isn’t going to get him a fair trial either. I hope he’s got the sense to just disappear.”

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