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In The Shadow of the Watch by Barbara E. Walton

In the Shadow of the Watch

by Barbara E. Walton
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Page 3

There were a few murmured assents. Alitza doubted that any of them believed this, in their deepest hearts.

Maren paused, then said, “Each of the five masters has braved the Gorgons to place a signet ring on their island. The five of you who bring back those rings will be our apprentices. I will stress that this is not a safe test. Aside from the Gorgons, who will quite literally kill you on sight, the island is home to many creatures who will try to block your way. Anyone who chooses to leave this boat is free to do so without consequence—other than a lost chance at an apprenticeship—but anyone who remains is expected to risk anything necessary to achieve the goal.”

A small girl with black hair shot a look at Alitza, then turned back to Maren. “Are we a danger to each other?” she asked pointedly.

“You’d best not be,” Maren said. “Hear this well: You may risk your own lives—indeed, we expect it. But anyone who is seen deliberately endangering someone else will have declared himself or herself permanently disqualified from the Sheriffs’ Council, and, should a crime have been committed in the course of the Quest, will face imprisonment at Veza’s Watch. Do I make myself clear?”

To this, there was much louder assent.

“Very well,” Maren said. “I’ll see you at the island. Good luck.” He whistled, and his winged steed flew to the boat, landing beside him and shaking his mane proudly. Maren nodded one final time to the crowd, then mounted the beast and flew off to the south.

The voyage to Gorgon Island took a week, traveling on the empty blue stretches of the Grand Lake. Alitza spent the first two days of it marveling at the vastness of the water and the blurred lines of the distant shores she could sometimes see. The ship-folk seemed incurious about these shores, dismissing them as useless wilderness land. The other would-be apprentices created their own little society, playing games on the deck, bragging to one another about their exploits back in the city. A few remembered their manners from time to time and asked Alitza to join them, but she was well aware that they didn’t actually desire her presence, so she cordially declined. Milek tried one or two of their little groups, but he didn’t stay in them, drifting instead to either Alitza or the crew.

On the fourth day, he had persuaded Alitza to come up to the high platform of the crow’s nest with him, to talk to the Windscryer, an old man with thin, wild white hair. If he had a name, he didn’t share it (if he even remembered it). This wasn’t the Windscryer with whom Milek had conversed in the past, but they knew one another nonetheless.

“Milek’s father is the finest captain in the fleet,” the Windscryer said. “He’s sailed from the north-lake to the south-lake, and knows every island and sandbar to the edge of the empire. But he didn’t know enough to keep this one’s nose out of old tomes.”

“My father wants me to do what I’m good at,” Milek said. He was obviously more at ease here than he was with the other apprentices. “I like Truthfinding. I’m good at it. I always wanted to do this.” He shook his head, and turned to Alitza. “They want me to be a captain, too.”

Alitza nodded. “When I was little, people expected me to grow up and be Poziman. Now, they think I’ll be a thief.”

The Windscryer raised an eyebrow.

“Alitza’s family name is Kovencer,” Milek said.

“Ah,” the Windscryer said. “I see now why the others shun you—not what I’d have expected for a pretty girl.”

“Papa’s made a name for me, all right,” Alitza said. “He’s sorry, if it counts for anything.”

“I think there’ve been worse,” the Windscryer said with an indifferent toss of his hair. “Now, Omlea Cor, she was Poziman long before your time, she used to have spikes on the piers, with lawbreakers tied to them… and sometimes worse than tied. Why she was—” He stopped abruptly. “Get down from here.”

Alitza stood. “What is it?”

“Serpent,” the Windscryer hissed. “Get down, it’s going to get rocky. Milek—”

“Already on it,” Milek said, and flipped himself over the hatch, jumping easily onto the rigging and crawling down.

Alitza looked out over the water. It had been mirror calm all day, but now, perhaps fifty yards off the starboard side, the lake was churning and lurching.

“Get down, girl!” the Windscryer commanded. “Get down, or I’ll push you off, so help me!”

Alitza didn’t try to crawl the rigging as Milek had done. She just took the rope and swung down to the deck. Milek was already reporting to the captain, and the crew was hastily shoving apprentices below deck. Most of them looked lost and bewildered. Alitza told herself later that she meant to follow, and would have, if the serpent hadn’t caught up with them at that moment.

A heavy, gray-green tentacle landed on the deck, throwing her off balance and tossing her to the floor of the now wildly rocking ship. She scrambled backward as the maned serpent rose up out of the water with a high-pitched scream.


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About the Author

Barbara E. Walton

Barbara E. Walton is a writer and librarian living in New Mexico. Her Amazon page is here.

Story Discussion

Stories by Barbara E. Walton

In The Shadow of the Watch by Barbara E. Walton

In the Shadow of the Watch

Alitza scrambled backward until she hit a barrel then pulled herself up on it, trying to keep her feet on the wet and thrashing deck. The serpent caught her movement and turned its head toward her, baring its teeth. Its neck was narrow and writhing, its claws lashing at the ship.

“Alitza!” someone yelled. She couldn’t have responded if she’d wanted to, and didn’t try…

Will Alitza survive? Will she earn one of the coveted Apprenticeships? Find out in this new original fantasy story by Barbara E. Walton, author of Quantum Leap: Odyssey.

Read More

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