And Just West Of Civilization

Lea frowned, “Why is that? What’s on that side of the island?”

“Eels,” he looked into the sky and guessed they had enough time to get to the beach before the sun went down completely if they ran, “Ones you don’t really want to tangle with. When high tide comes, they flood the caves, and you don’t want to be there when that happens.”

“How do I get there?” She asked.

“How fast can you run?”

She swallowed, “Fast enough. Su Jin, get yourselves out and away from the water. We’re heading your way.”

“Got it,” she replied, and Lea hung up.

“Lead the way, Bregðask.”

Bregðask told Hilda that he’d be back, and while she seemed confused about what he could be doing with a foreign woman, she nodded and told him to be safe.

Bregðask led the way towards the northern side of the island, hoping that they would get there fast enough. It was a fairly inaccessible section of the island, but if they hurried, they could get through the caves to them relatively easily. They reached the forest quickly and skidded down to the muddy basin where the caves began as the sun began to set. At high tide, just after sunset, the basin would be filled with seawater and eels making it the best eel fishing spot on the island.

“Hope you’re not claustrophobic,” Bregðask said as he called an orb of light into his hand to light the path through the caves. She followed behind him without hesitation and gasped as the cave’s walls lit up around them.

“What is this?”

“Most of the archipelago has crystal caves running beneath them, Calder is no exception. The crystal of Calder seems to absorb and exude magic in places. The north side is usually charged with the magic of the ocean. It’s what makes the eel congregate there and into that basin we came through.”

“What about ocean dragons?” Lea asked as she shimmied through another tight passage, and they reached a larger area.

“Dragons don’t like eels,” he said off-handedly.

“I meant the other side,” Lea said, “Crystal caves like this are usually double-sided. This is nothing like the caves beneath Harulf.”

He wouldn’t think so since Harulf was farther north and was probably made of the kind of crystal that only exuded magic.

“I haven’t seen one, but it’s possible,” Bregðask said and ducked under an outcropping of rock, “You said they came on a boat, right?”

“It crashed is what Su Jin said,” she said as they entered a large cave and ran through it. He could hear the ocean getting closer.

Soon enough, the sea wind swept across them, and he heard someone scream.

Bregðask turned, something in him acting before he could think about as a bolt of crystallized sand, no larger than an arrow, shot through the air and pinned the eel that had nearly wrapped itself around the dark-skinned woman’s neck in the sand.

She struggled back from the edge of the water on her bum leg as further down the beach another woman with dark hair and a pale complexion struggled with a larger man. What the woman did not have in strength she made up for in skill driving a strike into his chest and making him gasp as his ribs cracked inward.

Lea’s eyes hardened and a gush of wind carried the man off the woman, screaming into the sea. He didn’t recognize the man but recognized his clothes as a zealot of the goðar.

It seemed like they were more involved with hindering this project than anyone could have anticipated. Lea grabbed the woman who struggled to get away from the water and dragged her up the beach as the other woman rubbed her throat and walked towards them.

“You alright?” Lea asked the dark-haired woman.

“Just fine,” she waved her hand, “Not the first time I’ve almost been choked to death. Goodness, don’t act like it’s a big deal. That bastard made me lose my hat.”

Lea shook her head, “Jyoti?”

The woman with a rich brown skin tone and long, black wet hair nodded shakily and shivered, “I-I’ve never seen eels like that.”

“They’re native to the archipelago,” Bregðask said, “They grow that big because of the magic in the water here, and they get much bigger than that.”

“How much time do we have until high tide?”

Bregðask kneeled byJyoti’s leg and winced. He didn’t think he could heal it on his own, but he could at least splint it and take away the pain. They were also both soaked and had little time to get into something dry and warm before the chill would start getting dangerous.

“Not long enough to get you through the tunnel,” Bregðask said and glanced back to the rising water, “Where’s the boat?”

Su Jin pointed to the boat bobbing on the ocean, “There.”

“How…?”

“That asshole pushed it back out to sea and tried to get on it, but it didn’t quite work out the way he planned.”

“Is it too far to try and pull back?”

“Will we actually be safe in that little boat?” Jyoti asked with a hiss of pain as Bregðask finished the magic splint.

“Tide’s too high, and you’re bleeding: no,” Bregðask said, “We’ll have to go up, but before that, take these.”

He gave them each a crystal from his pocket.

“It’s so warm.”

“It will help dry your clothes and keep you warm. The temperature drops quickly and you’re both soaked.”

“Up?” Lea asked as the two women tucked the crystals into their shirts.

“Hope you’re not afraid of heights,” Bregðask said as he stood and looked up. There were trees at the top of the cliff above them, and the stone seemed solid, “Also, let’s hope this works?”

He envisioned a staircase receding into the cliff to reach the forest above and willed the rock to move. Slowly, it obeyed and shifted until a staircase appeared, and the ocean roared behind him.

“Let’s get moving,” he said as the two women helped Jyoti onto her feet and up the staircase. The sun disappeared beneath the horizon as the ocean began to surge. Bregðask followed behind them as the tide began to rush towards them and the glinting eyes of eels approached the staircase through the dark water. He just had to get them high enough that the tide wouldn’t be a problem, but the tide was coming a lot faster than he imagined it would. The eels glared up at him through the water as it rose, but they made no move to jump out and attack him the way they usually would attack anyone else.

He walked away from the water slowly, meeting the eyes of the eels in the water as the staircase finished itself and led above the water’s surface up to the top of the cliff.

When they reached the top, Bregðask frowned down at the water. Among all the strange things that seemed to be happening to him recently, or throughout his life, that had to be the strangest.

“Let’s get you to the healer,” Bregðask helped Jyoti onto his back and carried her.

“You’re stronger than I first figured,” Lea shivered and he gave her a crystal of her own.

He shrugged, “It comes and goes.”

When they arrived at Svala’s home, the town below was lit for dinner, the sky sparkled with stars and an aurora bourealis eased the darkness of the night. He knocked and the door opened. With a grateful sigh, he led them into the warm home. As the island’s elder and healer, she was one of the only people on the island allowed to cast spells without being looked at strangely. Her door opened so long as she was inside without her needing to be at the door. She’d told him once that she’d added the spell because she was at once too old and too lazy to hurry to the door every time a young Viking nearly cut off a limb.

She was also one of the only people who didn’t look at Bregðask like he was a mistake.

Svala came out from her backroom, took one look at him, Jyoti’s leg, and signed three simple sentences before returning to the back room.

You deal with this. I’m busy. Tell them I’m not that old.

“What did she say?” Lea asked.

Bregðask winced, “She said no formalities and for me to handle it. Don’t worry, she’s been training me since I was little… well, smaller.”

Lea laughed at that, “Are you always so self-degrading?”

“Oh no, this is a very mild version of it.”

She grimaced at that but said nothing as he went to the wall of jars and pulled the one he thought he’d need. He remembered Svala’s teachings, but he wasn’t exactly confident in his healing spellwork, so he mixed a salve that would do the most good even if he didn’t manage to get the spell right.

Jyoti hissed as he cleaned and packed the wound, but seemed to relax as he cast the spell over her leg. Svala returned just as he asked Jyoti to flex her leg.

Jyoti grinned, “Definitely better.”

You’ve been studying more than I thought, Svala signed, Maybe I can retire sooner than death.

Bregðask laughed, “I don’t think Svein would be too keen on that.”

She shrugged and waved her hand before signing, He’ll get over it along with everything else, or I’ll beat it into him like I did his father.

Bregðask snorted back a laugh and looked at the three women, “Well, you’ll need a place to stay, I can take you to the inn if you’d like.”

“That would be great,” Lea said, “Thank you, Bregðask.”

“Welcome to Calder,” he said with a grin, “Sorry the welcoming committee sucked, but a cup of mead should cure you.”

Su Jin laughed, “I’ll need at least four.”

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