The sea was unusually rocky that night. White caps spit foam at the moon and the spray numbed Xylepher’s ears and froze his nose. The boy rowed in rhythm with the other men, his young arms even shorter than the Xylonites that surrounded him so that his oars only tapped the surface. What good he was doing if any, Xylepher didn’t know. When his sculls did dig deep into the waves, the resistance was so abrupt the man in front of him had to help him lift his oar out of the water to prevent the sea from sucking the entire raft under.
Had Xylepher been able to see beyond the leather coats and fur collars that surrounded him, he’d surely retch. He was no stranger to seasickness. None of the Xylonites were. They were land gremlins, forest creatures. Some of them bragged about being allergic to water. Before this war with Hacatine was declared not one Xylonite would step foot on a beach unless of course the Wizard was there to prompt them. Here they all were now, taking chances, and facing their fears in the dark of night. They had to save Silvio. Though the weasels who towed the raft were experienced swimmers the surges were so violent the only way to keep the vessel connected to their harness was to row.
Even if and when they reach their destination, their burden was not going to be alleviated, not until they were all safe at home, back in the forest with their dear old king. This stormy ride was only the beginning. The black silhouette of the tall ship, it’s ghostly mast prodding at the moon, all but dared them to approach.
Every Xylonite knew who was commandeering that ship. Xylepher had heard stories about the wicked sorceress queen. Hacatine could stun you just by looking at you, turn you into stone, or a leech, or some horrible plague that destroys the very forest you call home. The men told him that if she sees you, if she takes you prisoner than it is better to dive into the dark and deepest waters of the bay, for being her captive would bring every kind of evil into your body and you would wish for death.
And now look at them! Heading directly toward her ship. Tugged by the weasel guard, rowing with all their might in a sea that would just as soon swallow them, to where their beloved Wizard King Silvio was being taken away as a prisoner. One could only hope he was still alive.
Xylepher glanced over his shoulder at the man behind him.
The older Xylonite kept to his work. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his curly hair pasted to his cheeks with damp. His lips bent down in a forever pout until he caught Xylepher’s gaze.
“Keep rowing,” the man whispered and before Xylepher could ask why the Xylonite continued. “We are no one without our wizard. Even as Silvio suffers in the burrows of that ship, we too are bound. We’re one. He’s our king, we are his kingdom. Can a branch live without its trunk?”
The man’s eyes looked deep into Xylepher’s prodding for an answer. Xylepher shook his head.
“Neither can we live without SIlvio.”
Xylepher turned around again and pondered on those words. The man was right. Until the Xylonites had decided to go to Silvio’s rescue the crowd of little people were confused, torn apart and in constant disagreement. They had a job they must do regardless of the sacrifice. Xylepher bit his lip and tilted his oars deeper into the water. He could have sworn in that instance the raft picked up speed. For the first time that night, Xylepher felt a satisfaction of doing something courageous.