Sacha Comes to Stepping Stone (4)

Continued from Chapter Two | Matin | Barbarians: The Rocans Attack (3)

Castor’s powerful line held and bent with astonishing flexibility. Ambrose might have been in charge, but Castor had taken command. He had planned his exit; he had been forced to show his entire fleet, but he also made it ready to fall back to an aggressive defense. Castor clearly had decided he was not going to lose his entire fleet the way Rowen had.

The Rocan retreat was frenzied but coordinated; I lost Pollux in the melee, I never even spotted Castor and the Flyers vanished as if they had never existed. And while we had pushed deep into the Rocan Sea the Rocans held us at their horizon. I controlled a tight blockade from the west to almost northwest part of the island, nearly the entire range of routes back to Scalia and their former lands. For the next week we recovered bodies, sunk unsalvageable ships, compiled our Rocan kill log and our own roster, and searched any bits of Rocan wreckage they had left behind for maps, logs; any pieces of useful tactical or topographical information. We unsurprisingly found nothing; they had destroyed what little they might have actually brought into battle, including themselves; we never found one live Rocan.

Now more than four weeks after the battle, Dmitri and I sat with the cartography team aboard the Eagle reviewing the latest rendering of a map of Roca. Over the years, we had confiscated countless maps but very few of them consistently matched another so they all became wholly untrustworthy. Some were obvious fakes meant to deceive us. Others were drawn from the unreliable memory of a visitor decades after. They were all practically useless: the Rocan government must have outlawed or at the very least discouraged any official mappings of their most sacred land. Vena, Cetaluna, Scalia; all the archives had been emptied of anything useful. 

The coastal mapping job was more than a little dangerous: renderers went out at dusk on scouting boats and risked discovery by Rocan patrols who viciously defended the sea that remained under their control. Though the sketches were filling in nicely they did not yet show an opportunity for a landing. Besides being remote and aggressively patrolled, the island’s north to southwest crescent sides were mostly steep unscalable walls – or easily defended from above should we attempt to land on a rocky beach.

I poured myself some wine, sweetened water mostly, and handed the bottle to Dmitri. Beneath us, the sea shifted; it was a mildly choppy today. The tilt was a matter of course. It was still mid-June and the weather had not completely evened out.  The sky was overcast and had been releasing light rain showers in increasing intensity throughout the day.

“How long until we can get around to the southeast?” I said.

Dmitri shrugged and passed the bottle around the table. “It’s tougher…they’re a little more aggressive on that side.”

“Means they’ve got some weaknesses to protect.”            

Someone knocked on the door. Before anyone answered, Marcus, my personal doctor and the fleet’s lead surgeon, walked in. He was not happy. 

“Sacha’s just arrived,” he announced. He did not approve.

“He’s been begging me for weeks,” I said, somewhat apologetic. 

Sacha was my young brother who was more like a son. We had the same father, Hugo, but not the same mother. Luckily he had never known Hugo and his life was better for it.  Now almost sixteen, he was eager and energetic, but not as ready as I was when I was near his age for the raw bloodiness of open warfare, but wanted to come to Stepping Stone; he wanted to see Roca.

“We’re in active war,” Marcus said.

“We’re in stable active war. He’s almost sixteen. I wasfourteen when I was out with the fleet and it was far more dangerous then.”

“And I’ve been sewing you back together ever since,” Marcus said.

Sewing, setting, resetting, extracting –

The ship rocked again, harder this time. Marcus’s face scrunched up.

“You’re looking a little green, there, Marcus,” Dmitri said and offered him the bottle. He declined; the last thing he wanted was an intoxicant, mild as this was.

“You should be drinking water,” he said.

“That’s basically what this is,” Dmitri said.

“I heard you had long night,” I said to Marcus. 

“Six surgeries,” he reported, “Two amputations; I’m sending them back to Scalia. They’re useless.”

“Arms or legs?” Dmitri asked.

“What?” he said. 

“Arms or legs? What did you cut off?”

“Arms. One arm each.”

“Below the elbow or above?”

“One below, one at the shoulder.”

“Right or left?”

Marcus lost his patience. “They could be you tomorrow.”

“I’d just strap on a prosthetic and get on with it.”

“Just like you do for the ladies,” I said.

Marcus snorted and the cartographers laughed. Dmitri was about to respond, but Sacha bounded in and shouted:

“Matin!”

He was nearly as tall as me, but his face was angelic, his eyes excited and innocent; all the world was still new and entirely possible to him. His dark hair was still wild and unkempt like our father’s but exuberant and free. He went straight to me and hugged me.

I knuckled his head and his hair. “When are you going to shave this?”

He shrugged. “The ladies like it.”

He made the rounds with Marcus and Dmitri and met the cartographers. He immediately fixated on the maps. He traced his finger along the northern coastline, in his head imagining what it looked like in life.

“This is it?” he said.

I nodded. “This is almost it.”

“When can I see it?”

“Soon.”

Roca was like dreamy magic to him; he had no sense of the danger because I was his guardian. I kept him safe. Unharmed. Alive.

Continue to Roca is Crumbling (5)


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