Lub-Kaden and a couple of her hunters returned with Afsan and Dybo to the beach near where the Dasheter was anchored. Afsan could see two shore boats, one heading out to the mighty sailing ship, the other coming from it back to the beach. It seemed that the Dasheter was not yet ready to depart.
On the beach were several passengers and crewmembers from the Dasheter, including Captain Var-Keenir. Keenir was obviously deep in thought. He’d been pacing back and forth along the beach, but with his regenerated tail swishing in such a wide arc behind him that it erased his footprints from the black basaltic sands.
Also present was a party of riders: a semi-ten of Quintaglios and their green bipedal running beasts. It quickly developed that Keenir and some of the others had run into this group out on the open lava plains that ran between the three forests that led away from this beach.
The running beasts had round bodies, lengthy necks, horizontally held tails, and legs that had elongated final segments to increase their strides. Their eyes were huge and round, and, rather than the solid black of Quintaglio orbs, they were a rippling gold with vertical oval pupils. The heads were tiny, making the eyes seem even bigger, and ended in drawn-out toothless beaks.
Hunter Kaden repeated her news about the Empress, and Dybo’s ascendancy. It was quickly agreed that he should return to Capital City as soon as possible.
"The Dasheter won’t be ready for another three or four days," said Keenir, whose pacing had stopped but whose tail, the regenerated part almost a chartreuse in the brilliant afternoon sun, still swished in the sand. "Katood has found a couple of leaks. I have a party collecting gaolok sap now so that we can seal the offending portions of the hull. And we’ll need provisions. Plus, of course, the crew is fatigued after our long voyage. They need some more time to run and hunt before we set sail again." Keenir turned his head in a way that made it clear that his dark eyes couldn’t possibly be looking at Afsan. "We’ve already had one mate go berserk. I won’t risk losing another."
One of the hunters who had come with Kaden spoke up. "There’s another ship, the Nasfedeter, moored not far from here, at Halporn, a port just over the border in Fra’toolar province. It’s a cargo vessel, carrying a shipment of new fishing equipment, ordered by someone at the palace." Few Quintaglios were partial to fish, but they were often fed to domesticated animals. "It sets sail for the Capital next even-day."
"I’ll go with it, then," said Dybo, already adopting a decisive nature. "Afsan, you’ll come with me."
"With the Emperor’s indulgence," said Afsan, bowing deeply, "there are some errands I wish to run here on the western shore. Would you give me leave to do so?"
Dybo wrinkled his muzzle. "Of course, friend. I’ll see you in the Capital … when?"
"Two or three hundred days. I’ll probably take a land caravan back, perhaps meet up with my old Pack, Carno, for a visit." He paused. "I’m sure you’ll have plenty to keep you busy at court."
"Very well," said Dybo, and he bowed the bow of friendship at Afsan.
"It’ll be tight getting to Halporn before the Nasfedeter sails," said Kaden, looking up at the sun to gauge the time of day. "You had best leave now, Emperor Dybo."
"I’ll see to it that they get packed up, Dybo," said Keenir, "and returned to you when the Dasheter arrives back at Capital City."
"Well, then, I guess I’m off," said Dybo. "Keenir, a most fascinating voyage; I thank you. See me at court when you return; you’ll be rewarded well. Afsan, any message for Saleed?"
"I think I’d better save what I’ve got to say until I see the old fellow in person." He shuddered. "It’s going to be a tough fight, I know."
Dybo clicked his teeth in sympathy. Then, turning to immediate concerns, he surveyed the assembled group. "And how should I get to Halporn?"
One of the riders stepped forward. "Val-Toron, at your service, Emperor," she said. "I’d be honored if you rode my mount; the rest of my party will be glad to escort you to where the Nasfedeter is docked."
"Right, then; let’s go." Dybo moved toward the running beast Toron had indicated. The two-legged creature turned its long neck right around to look dubiously at the rotund Emperor. It then looked back at its handler, who was standing now in a relaxed tripod stance leaning back on her tail. The runner tilted its tiny head at her in a way that seemed to say, "You have got to be kidding."
Two of the other riders helped Dybo mount the beast and get comfortable in the saddle. Then they rode off with the traditional cry of "Latark!"
Afsan turned to Keenir. "Captain, Saleed told me that the far-seer was made for you by an artisan on the west coast of Land."
"Did he? Yes, that’s true."
"Well, sir, we’re on the west coast now. I’d like to meet this glassworker. Does he or she live here, in Jam’toolar?"
Keenir wrinkled his muzzle and looked away. For a moment it seemed to have flushed blue, as if he’d been contemplating telling a lie. But then, when he looked back, his face was composed and its normal deep green.
"Yes, she does. Her name is Wab-Novato. But her Pack is Gelbo, and their home base is still a five-day hike from here, or so. It’s a long way, and I really don’t think…"
"Wab-Novato?" said a voice. Keenir turned. Kaden was standing within earshot. "I know her well," said the hunter.
"We’re from Gelbo; she’s a member of our base group. Quite a talent, that one."
Afsan’s tail swished in delight. "Will you take me to see her?"
"Of course," said Kaden.
"But…" Keenir stammered a couple of times, then looked away, his breath coming out in a long, hissing sigh. "Oh, all right. Have a good trip, Afsan. Just — just don’t mention to Saleed that I had anything to do with this."
"Why should Saleed care?" asked Afsan.
But Keenir did not seem moved to answer.