Gwennoís Return from Serpent Isle

            The monastery shook with a distant rumble I felt in my bones. I let the book fall closed in my hands and shivered. A chill had entered the building. It could mean many things, the monks in from their work in the fields, or a solitary man leaving to ring the evening dinner bell. The force of the door hitting in the stone frame felt much more urgent than any of that, however. My hands squeezed around the closed book and I waited for them; the Avatar and her beloved companions. Whether good news or bad news, I would be the first to know.
            I watched the library door swing open slowly. It was them. My heart knew. It trembled in anticipation. The air had cleared. Perhaps even the storm hanging over this isle had begun to move on. I got to my feet and they moved inside, two wraiths of men: my husband the archer Iolo and long-time companion of our hero, Shamino.
            "Where is the Avatar?" I stepped into the shallow hallway light. "Iolo? Thou lookest terrible." He reached a shaky, thin hand to me. He looked as if heíd seen a ghostóor watched her die.
            "Gone. Guardian snatched her from the Void." His hand wavered on my shoulder. I wanted him to sit. That was my first inclination.
            "The Guardian?" I asked gently, to his black eyes, "Whereís Xenka? Where is she, nothing like this was foretoldó"
            "Sheís gone too," Shamino stopped me in a slow voice. "She told us what happened, and left to the void. It was beyond her time." He looked down.
            "What of Balance?"
            "Restored. The serpents are together," Iolo wrapped an arm around my shoulders. Then his weight came down on me. I reached around his skeletal waist.
            "We have to get home. Whereís the ship?"
            "Deadlocked on dry land."
            "We should go to Erstam, or the Seminarium in Moonglow to see if we canst leave by magical means," Ioloís body moved with his words and I could feel rib.
            "Are you all right?"
            "Gwen, Iím fine," he tried to blow me off with a half-smile. "We should get to Erstamís as quickly as possible."
            "Thou met the Mad Mage?"
            "Aye, but he isnít very friendly. What makes thou think heíll get us home to Beast British, Iolo?" Shamino sounded flat, like someone let the air out of him. He stepped forward, a very pronounced limp stiffening his right side.
            "Tomorrow," I said. "Thou canst wait whilst I talk to the monks."
            "Iíll go to Erstamís and be back by sundown," Shamino drew the serpent jawbone from the bag at his belt and held it up between two fingers. "Mayhap I can appeal to him."
            "Whatís thy hurry? Balance is restored. Thou two need to slow down."
            "Iíll be able to rest when weíre home safe," Iolo pulled away.
            "Well, in that case I forbid thou to go to Erstam," I warned with a smile. He looked at me, and I made certain he knew I meant it.
            "What art thou going to talk to these monks about? They have no purpose now that Xenkaís returned and died and the end is no longer imminent." Shamino asked.
            "About a way to get out of here, and I guess someone hast to tell them Xenka is gone again. Iolo, that can be your job."
            "Right, then. Iím out of here. Iím bloody sick of this land," Shamino paused, disgusted. His voice was quiet in continuing, "Danger and Despair indeed," Shamino was gone before either one of us couldst say anything. Iolo looked at me, looked. Underneath white hair and aged skin my husbandís eyes shone brightly. Intelligently.
            "What art thou thinking?" I wondered. He reached and my breath left me. Giddiness spread through my body, pulling lips into a grin.
            "Iím wondering if Iím not trapped in a poem or song, dear. This doesnít seem real. I forgot people couldst feel this way. I forgot I couldst feel this way."
            "I know. I didnít realize how hard it would be to leave you in Britannia. Iím sorry."
            "I wish I couldst take these last two years back," he said as we drifted along the stone wall. "For the Avatar, for Dupre. Especially for us." The sigh was swallowed in the echoy hall.
            "It feels longer than two years."
            "Was it worth it, Gwenno?" Eyes of sudden steel locked into mine and he dropped his deep bardís voice to a whisper. "Was it worth leaving home and dying?"
            My mouth trembled, chest abuzz with the adrenaline of a fight. His eyes softened slowly to hurt. "I learned much, dear. It was worth the trouble for me." The big baby continued to pout. A little quiver ran through me, a quiver of guilt. "I knew thou would understand that I had to follow this lead."
            "I just wish thou would have waited for me. Now that thou art with me again, Iíll die if thou leave again."
            "Thou dost exaggerate, but thatís what makes you a good bard. Storyteller. But I promise I wonít leave. Britannia is our home forever, now."
            "If we canst get back."
            "We can and we will. Back to thy bows and thy obnoxious pet Smith."
            "Back to thy music and this Serpent Isle obsession."
            "Donít be angry that I left thou. I didst not mean to hurt thou." I reached up and pulled his hair back against the side of his head. He closed his eyes.
            "I knowest that."
            "Thou dost not seem very forgiving, Iolo," my hand pulled down along his cheek.
            "I donít know what to feel. I love thou more than anything else. But so many things have happened. I think this is my last adventure." He pulled back, crossing his arms across his body. The bulk of him beneath his robes was exposed now as a thin skeleton. I bit my lip.
            "I promise thou it is mine," I insisted. "Please donít make me feel more guilty than I already am."
            "I donít mean to make thou feel guilty," he came back, eyebrows raised.
            "Well I do. So know that."
            "Donít be so dramatic," he smiled.
            "Thou'rt being cruel," I hissed, didnít mean to. He closed his eyes slowly, pain wrinkling around his eyes.
            "Gwenno," he uncrossed his arms in one liquid movement, leaving limbs to dangle awkwardly. I could feel tears nearing the surface. Damn him. He didnít know what to do with himself.
            "So letís start over. A new day," he turned to the door and left. All right. I followed.

            "Iolo," foggy sleep covered my eyes, "move over. Itís time to get up, anyway." I shivered again. I lost count of the times I awoke uncovered to find him cuddled and warm on the other side of the bed. "Iolo." My voice was louder now, awake.
            "What?" His little voice peeked out from his cocoon. I reached over and peeled the brown wool from his face.
            "Hey," my heart began to beat harder, "are you okay?" His forehead burned. "Youíre feverish, and pale."
            "Iím cold," he said in a thick voice. His red lips stood out against pale.
            I trailed my hand along his face. "Not on the outside, thou arenít."
            "Didst Shamino find a way home? I dost not remember."
            "You donít?" I pulled the stray hairs back from his face. Heat radiated off of him. He closed his eyes.
            "Nay. No."
            "Well, we need a ship. There is a pair of Serpent Pillars out there in the otherwise frozen Northern Sea. If Felucca and Trammel cooperate, we should be able to find them. . ." I trailed off, wishing for some comprehension. "Iolo?"
            "The ice raft," he whispered.
            "Shamino said itís blocked in by icebergs, but they may have shifted since last you were out there. Karnax brought up a good point though, the raft could melt once in Britannian waters. Donít you remember our conversation?"
            "Nay, art thou sure thou didst not dream it?"
            "Yes Iím sure. Youíre not well."
            "Youíre right," he said, opening his eyes again, "I donít feel well."
            "Thereís a healer in Monitor, right? Cantraís mother. Iíll get you to her on the way to the ship."
            "The ship? Our ship is landlocked."
            "Yeah, but Shamino thinks he can get it in water, somehow. You really donít remember this conversation?"
            "I donít know. Iím so cold." My husbandís eyes seemed to roll down into their sockets, becoming replaced by an eerie white.
            "Iolo? Iolo?" Trembling, I reached underneath his head with one arm, and around to his shoulder with the other. Soft cloth was burning from the touch of his body, yet he shivered with stormy violence when I lifted. The covers drifted down off of his body.
            "Iím cold," he repeated. "Aah, but at least Iím not sleeping." What was that supposed to mean? Alarmed, I pulled all the blankets from him. The thin robe was no camoflauge for his thin frame.
            "Come on, try and stand, dear," my voice sounded hollow and weird from the back of my throat, and Iolo struggled to help me stand him. His motions were limp and weak.
            "Where art thou taking me?" He coughed a tiny cough.
            "To the water. Youíre much too hot. I need to cool you."
            "Please, Gwen, Iím freezing already." weariness shook close to the surface in his voice and in his eyes. I shook my head and swung his arm over my shoulder.
            "Itíll be all right, Iolo, just do as I say." In my belly, things churned that had no business moving. The ghost of my husband looked over at me with dull eyes and sighed shortly.
            "Iím dizzy, stop moving." He said as I lifted his dead weight.
            "Stand up. Weíll go slowly." I shifted more of his arm around my shoulder and he clutched on. This time, he took some of his own bulk on to his feet.
            "Gwen, we have to get home. The Serpent Isle hates us," His breath professed this through my hair and into my ear. I squeezed him and took our first step. His legs were jello, all over the floor, but I held on.
            "I know, it seems that way, doesnít it? Weíll be home soon, though, where only Guardian hates us."
            "Aye, and the Fellowship," he huffed.
            "I still canít believe all you tell me about the Fellowship."
            "Good people can do bad, and likewise," he mumbled. His head found its way to rest against mine. So tired, so heavy. Sick. Why this had to happen, and now, at this critical time was not in my grasp. So hot. The door was slightly open, and so I kicked it the rest of the way with my toe. A couple of the quieter monks stood around, but I knew it was time for tending the fields. Shamino was downstairs in the dark basement where he fit. There were not enough beds for him up in the hall.
            "You felt all right last night, didnít you?" He shivered hard.
            "Yeah, as far as I remember. I remember now, that Shamino thought we could dig a channel for the ship to fall into. . ."
            "Yeah, good. Your not remembering scared me. You donít take care of yourself on adventures, you know."
            "I never have time. Iím fine. Itís just a cold, from the north." The big doors were wide open. His feet were slow over the entrance, but he was trying to take himself over, despite the shudders making his hand rattle against my back. His head lifted up. The ocean spat hard against her shore.
            "Okay, we have to get these off," I tugged at his brown robes.
            "Gwenno, listen, Iím freezing."
            "Youíre sick. Come on," I tugged, he did not move. I lifted his arm and pulled the sleeve down. I untied the belt. I unfastened the heavy leather leggings underneath. He sunk to the sand and I pulled boots, and then pants off. He looked away. His skin rivaled the pale yellowish white of the sand.
            "Gwennnn. .. ."his teeth clashed together violently.
            "I know, hold on." Even his legs were on fire. Even his feet. His underclothes stood out bright on wrinkled skin. So hot. "Stand back up," I said, reached for his arm and helped him to his feet. I reached around him and led him to the water, swaying with his weight, following where the shiver-spasms led. The water was warm, much warmer than I expected. Frothy water came to greet us and I followed the swell back down the beach.
            "Gwenno, please," his pleas were not lost on me, but I couldnít go back. He was on fire, and that could be dangerous. At his age especially.
            "Come on, sit down. We wonít be long." His teeth chattered. Hot skin rested against my arms and face. He bent his knees and just turned all to jello. I got behind him, grunting with the weight, and lowered him down onto the sand. The swells engulfed us at the chest. He writhed. Sand flew from beneath us with the departure of the swell.
            "Do you think," he asked through a chatter of teeth, "that weíll make it home?"
            "Of course. We just need a working ship." The salty, dirty smell of the ocean was all over us, and I felt for fever again. Gods, that had to feel awful. I rubbed his shoulders to warm him up. He lay back against me and we sat, rocking with the waves. In, out. Back, forth. I let my hands travel from his shoulders over to his chest. His whole body burned like mad.
            "Iím going inside," he pulled away. His body, shaped by many years of adventure, rose from the froth a pale, clay version of himself. He shivered, almost losing control. I stood up beside him.
            "Okay," all nervous with his illness, I slid my arm around his waist. Still, his skin was hot. Weíd made a dent in it, hopefully. He staggered up the beach ahead of me, at a loss when he came to the pile of robes. Shaking so that his head moved back and forth with strange intensity. The roar of waves took place of silence. I draped the robes over him, he put his arms in the sleeves.

            "Do you need to lie back down?" Words echoed off the high ceiling. The monastery was strangely haunting when its monks were out to their fields.
            "No, I just need to sit and get warm," coughs. Little, ticklish ones. He covered his mouth to them and swallowed.
            "Art thou sure?"
            "Yeah, Iím sure. I donít know what this is, but it isnít fatal."
            "There thou art. Good morning. Iolo, is something wrong?" Shamino popped out of the library and limped into our room.
            "No, just a little head cold."
            "Well you look horrible. More so than usual."
            "He feels horrible," I squeezed.
            "So we arenít going to Monitor, then?" Disappointed. I donít think Shamino was eager to stay here, from the beginning. He left ghosts here, and although the Beatrix story was to me a wonderful, inspiring happening, to King Betrayer, it was merely haunting.
            "Of course we canst still go to Monitor." Iolo cut in.
            "Harnnaís still alive, isnít she?" I asked.
            "Indeed." Shamino nodded and went to his belt. He waved the serpentís jaw at us. "Letís go see her."

            Shamino drew the jaw from his pack and held it at arms length, with two fingers. We stepped up on the ancient platform. Dust seemed repelled from the serpentís gaping jaw.
            We did not speak in the great echoing cavern as Shamino knelt on the stone. The stench of death hung low in my throat. Monitor. Iolo pulled his crossbow free and Shamino drew his sword. I swallowed hard, the fact that I was weaponless very clear to me. I did not even have a dagger.
            I stood at the city gate, mouth on the ground. The deep disturbing stench of rotting bodies greeted me. The town lay dead. Completely. A lump of green and white off to the side was what remained of the gateís guard. Past the winch and the portcullis lay open field, beckoning. But it was just a glance I was enjoying, we had yet to see Harnna.
            "What if sheís dead?" Ioloís voice was still rough around the edges, but he looked better on his feet now. Certainly more steady.
            "Then sheís dead." Shamino waved the jaw. Under his breath he said, "Damn I hate this thing. Itís nasty."
            "Let me take it then," I took the curve of bone in my hands.
            "It gives me the double dark willies just to touch it," Shamino winced and clomped down the street. "Letís try her corn field."

            "Avatar?" The frightened voice seemed familiar to me, I had probably heard it in the tavern months ago, if not on Monk Isle through my madness. The door slipped open slowly, revealing a young dark-haired woman with matching bags beneath her eyes.
            "No, only her companions," Shamino put his sword away as we came into Harnnaís shed. "And we need your help."
            "Healing, for this man?" she gestured toward Iolo. "All right. Sit down here," and then hit the small oak table at her side. The cold room seemed held together by tension. I looked fast to the window; I knew not whether the goblins were smart enough to sneak up on us.
            "The Avatar is gone?" Harnnaís flat voice pulled everything even tighter. Breath through my nose felt like shards of glass.
            "Aye, she is no longer on the Serpent Isle," Iolo sighed. He jumped at her hands on his shoulders, as she kept them there for a moment, looking into his eyes. Raising my hackles a bit, I do admit.
            "Is she alive?"
            "As far as we know," I stepped closer.
            "How long have you had a fever?" She asked my husband. We had to get out of here. I could plainly see she knew no magic. Under her calm I sensed a bit of hostility towards us, but especially toward Shamino.
            "It woke up with me," Iolo sighed. Shamino fingered a crystal ball in the corner, just past a dusty stream of light from the window. I donít know why I couldnít concentrate on Iolo, on Harnna, on his slow cough. The round sun of a crystal ball drew my attention straight away.
            "We have to hurry and get off of this island, out of this place," Shamino said. The light stream waned as he sat in front of the crystal orb. I turned back to Iolo, falling asleep at his perch on the table.
            "I have some herbs that will help the fever. But I have no way for you to leave the Serpent Isle. In fact at your age, I think you should stay and rest a while before setting off anywhere." Harnna glared to Shamino for a moment as she reached to a cabinet. His fingers curled around the ball, clumsily. The light came back across the window with a passing cloud, reflecting a pale yellow image of the glass on the wall beside him.
            "I donít need to rest. Itís too important that we get home," Iolo stood up and shook himself off. Harnna handed him a vial of brown liquid.
            "Drink a spoonful at a time, one an hour," Harnna said, brandishing a tarnished metal spoon. "Itíll only keep the fever down, so take it easy," Iolo took them gingerly, his eyes squinting through an invisible haze to see it.
            "All right." Iolo said slowly. Shamino sighed at his post at the crystal ball, his hands now folded on the table.
            "You wonít see anything," Harnna addressed Shamino. "There is no more to see." I felt lost in all this, wondering what all the Avatar had seen, what she exposed the others to. Iolo seemed to groan like old leather as he stood. He pulled me to his side, an arm around my waist and I was suddenly warm.
            "All right. Here," Shamino shoved himself up, digging hands into the leather sack on his belt. Coins jangled. "All the good this will do you now, but itís all we have to offer." He pressed them into her hand, very deeply so that the amount of money was hidden from me.
            "Yes. Well, good luck."
            "Thank you," I nod at her. No recognition flashed in her eyes. Dead. Like the rest of this town.
            "Letís go," Ioloís hot breath played on my ear. It took a second, then the shudder came. I hugged him to me, let the door snap shut.
            "Ok, you sure youíre all right?" Shamino asked my husband. Iolo looked at him with a death stare.
            "Lets get to work so we can set off this damned isle before dark," Iolo grumbled. He pulled away from me to dig into his bag. "Iím pretty sure I got the Avatarís key ring. Shamino, dost remember what the key to the stash of gunpowder looks like?"
            "No," Shamino looked past us, searching no doubt for more gobs. Iolo jangled the keyring.
            "Itís not too fancy, right?" He coughed.
            "Why donít I check them all out and you boys can go see if this idea is even close to possible," I suggested.
            "No way," Iolo looked up from his keys. "Thatís way too dangerous." I opened my mouth, ready to kill him for that. Since when could I not take care of myself? But I bit back, much to Shaminoís amusement. He grinned at me as Iolo stepped towards the mountain wall.
            "All right," I swallowed down that lump. "Lets go start trying keys then." Shamino grunted and forced himself into slow motion.
            "The door is here somewhere," he began pressing on the rocky mountainside, limped a step to the left and pressed again. The surface of the rock grated together and shrunk in.
            "Here," he disappeared. Iolo paid attention to his keys. I breathed out slowly and followed them.

            Ioloís shaking fingers pushed the first key in. "Why did the Avatar lock it?" I asked, superconscious of the time. I had no intention of staying in this dead city or camping like live bait near the ship.
            "I suppose she didnít want the powder getting in the wrong hands," Shamino sighed. "Hey Iolo, let Gwen try the keys, you sit down. Iím gonna keep guard right next to the illusory wall," Shamino drew his sword and went back down the cavern. His uneven steps echoed back.
            "I can do it," Iolo said. He must have heard me as I came to hover near his shoulder. I rolled my eyes.
            "Shamino is right. Come on, Iolo, I know thouírt a tough man, but you need to conserve thy strength." He sighed.
            "Trying keys in a door Ďtis not my idea of strenuous activity," he snorted.
            "Iolo," I closed my fingers around his wrist, stopping his key-trying workout. He let the ring drop into my other waiting hand. I reached up on tiptoe, to kiss his warm cheek. The old bard tried his best to keep a smile at bay and stepped to the side of the cavern.
            "Donít wear thyself out," he mumbled, lowering himself down onto the white stone floor. I chose to ignore him and tried the next key. Avatar sure had collected a lot of them.
            "Dost really expect this to work, Gwenno?" He sounded a bit rough.
            "No," the next key didnít even fit in the hole. "No I donít. But that wonít stop us from trying."
            "I think ítis possible. But we may not have enough powder," he coughed gently and it echoed like mad in the stuffy hall. To my instant surprise, the lock gave way.
            "Iolo, I got it," I swung the heavy door back into the next chamber. "It looks like we have at least enough to give it a good try."
            "Good," he groaned up to his feet and followed me inside. "Shamino!" His normally rich voice cracked a bit thin as it echoed back to the Betrayer.

            "These things are heavy," I reached down to try one. I couldnít get my fingers under the barrel enough to even attempt a lift. Bells went off. No matter how much I didnít want him to, he was going to carry these things all the way down to the beach. He reached over to the very barrel I had attempted to lift and grunted. His hands slipped around it, veins sticking out like snakes beneath the skin of his neck, and hoisted it up on his shoulder. The shape of Shamino appeared in the doorway.
            "Great," he exclaimed, and went for his own barrel of the vile-smelling powder. I held the door. Iolo lumbered past, then Shamino, limping so that I thought he might turn over. But he passed by.

            I followed through the open gates of Monitor. The way Shamino teetered made me want to be under the barrel, helping to prop it and the rest of him up. Maybe we should have asked Harnna to help him, too, but he seemed not to like her. Since she was not a magic healer, the results wouldnít have helped him much, anyway.
            Morning had ended, bringing the sun up high and hot. Serpent Isle hot, at least. Sweat dripped off the men as we came into view of the Avatarís small ship. Small as it was, getting itís bulk from the land onto the ocean looked pretty impossible. The boys set their cargo down next to the ship. Iolo rose slowly, pain twisting his face. I wrestled my canteen from the rest of my stuff and thrust it at him. He drank deeply and swiped his forehead off with the back of his hand.
            "Thank you," he huffed. I took my canteen back and held it out to Shamino. He looked at it for a moment, taken aback. Then he reached out to take it.
            "Thanks," he gasped, handing it back. I sloshed it around a little, now quite a bit lighter than it had been. We needed food and water, and other supplies. If this operation took more than just today, we could need more than what the rotting remains of Monitor could provide for us. I shoved my canteen away.
            "Okay, will two be enough?" Iolo asked Shamino.
            "Probably not," he panted. "I donít know where I got this idea from.
            "Itís worth a try, Shamino," I said.
            "Maybe," he would not look at me. Instead he kept his gaze on the place where sky and sea became one.
            "Well, Iím starving," I sighed. Iolo dabbed at his face with the sleeve of his robes. He needed food, too. Hell, he shouldnít even be on his feet let alone lugging 50-stone kegs halfway across the Isle.
            "Me too," he admitted.
            "Well, we have free reign of whateverís left in Monitor," Shamino winced at the thought.
            "We can bring a couple more kegs back with us."
            "Good," Iolo rasped. I put my arm around his waist and he linked his over my shoulder. Heat radiated from him.
            "Lessgo," I said, and we started back.

            "What the Hell. . ." Shamino leaned into the closed portcullis, fingers tight around the bars.
            "Who closed it?" Iolo coughed lightly and pushed his face close to the bars. "Hey! Harnna? Hey!" The silent, dead town stared back through the bars at us.
            "It had to be her who closed the gate," I pushed in between the men. The door to her house looked shut from here. "Harnna!" I screamed. We sat, silently, the tension between us all growing steadily.
            "Damn," Shamino pushed back off the bars, an awful grimace on his face. "There is no other way around this, the Avatar and I followed the mountains from where the ship landed to here and this is itóweíre stuck," he paced in a circle, then came back to the bars.
            "I can try to climb it," I put my feet on the bottom bars and tried to pull up enough to get my feet to the next one. Hands supported my back, Shamino tried to help me up. But I couldnít keep my feet in position on the bars enough to get any higher.
            "Be careful, Gwenno," Iolo rasped behind me. Shamino let me go and my feet slid down the vertical bars.
            "There has to be some way around this," I suggested. Maybe we could build something to climb the wall with. Homemade ladder. Or even dig under the thick stone wall. Shamino stuck his face in between bars and yelled.
            "Harnna! Let us in! Harnna!" Silence echoed through the lonely streets. I fully expected a tumbleweed to go breezing by. "Harnna!" The healer came slowly around the corner of the shed and Shaminoís yells took on a quieter tone. "Please, Harnna, could you open the portcullis for us?" The woman in orange looked back at us, still with scythe in hand.
            Her mouth opened slowly and stopped for a second. She contemplated the word and tasted it as she spoke. "No."
            "Harnna, please, donít strand us out here. Weíre fair game for goblins andó" she stepped close to the bars and stopped my pleas with a cold stare. My heart throbbed close to my neck, pushing through the skin.
            "Harnna, open the gates," Shamino didnít have much calm left for this woman who only an hour before gently cared for my husband.
            "Go, you heroes," she spat, "go back to your other world. This world has given you all it can. Look at this," she wheeled, pointing with her scythe. "Look at my town. How effectively you saved us," she sneered at us through the portcullis, anger boiled under the surface of her face.
            "Please, Harnna, we didnít mean to do the Serpent Isle any harm," Iolo wrapped his fingers around the bars and put his face close to hers. "We need to get off the isle, and to do that we need to get some more powder kegs."
            "Leave hereóI donít trust you," she stepped back.
            "Harnna," Shaminoís voice dripped with venom. "If you donít let us in we canít go anywhere."
            "I donít care. Thereís nothing for you in hereóyou and your Avatar took it all. That gunpowder belongs to usóyouíve taken all you will. I healed your friend here, thatís all I owe you. Now go! Get out of here before you kill the few of us that are left. My daughteró" she burst into tears. "My daughter and I never want to see you again," and she turned curtly to walk away. Shamino snapped into action, pounced on the portcullis and shook it, hard. The iron rattled in its footings.
            "You bitch! Let us back in, youíve sentenced us to death out here!" he shook the gate with his whole body, pulsing in a crazy rhythm. Harnna slipped away, into her house. Iolo sighed heavily. I swallowed my heart down, too close to slapping Shamino back into reality. I reached up to pull him from the portcullis and saw the way my hands shook. We needed food. We needed those kegs. Harnnaís door slammed hard and appropriately.
            "We have to get in there," Iolo vocalized, weak. Shaminoís grim proclamation kept echoing through the dead city, trouncing all over my husbandís whispers. Shamino sighed, the rage stuck to his face in a red mask.
            "You two start back to the ship. Iíll find a way in, by the virtues," his anger simmered down, dissipating under some kind of reason that had entered his mind.
            "Maybe weíd do better to all try and get back in there," I suggested. He shook his head.
            "Iím going to swim around the barrier and sneak in at the docks," he said. "All you can do is wait, and that will be easier by the ship, where you can get comfortable."
            "The waterís freezing, you crazy bastard," Iolo scoffed. "Youíll freeze to death before you reach the docks." Shamino glared at him with eyes that could freeze the water before it could freeze them. But I had to agree with Iolo on this one; if the subzero serpent seas didnít freeze him, surely the undercurrents would drag him out to drown.
            "Iíve swum in Serpent Isle seas before, I can handle it," he assured us. I looked down the wall to where it disappeared into the water and decided it wasnít that far out, maybe if he wasnít injured. "Now go on, rest by the ship. Iíll be back there soon and donít worry," His brow furrowed, anger resurfacing, "Iíll fix it so that weíre never locked out again."
            "You wonít hurt her?" I gasped.
            "No, Gwenno, donít worry about that. Just get out of here." He watched us with his hands on his hips. I tried to discover the ruler in him in his stance and his forced assertiveness. I couldnít see it.
            "Okay, come on," Iolo placed his electric fingers on my back, shivers shot from them. I took one more look at Shamino, standing in the shadows of the giant portcullis and hoped we had nothing to worry about. We needed Shamino, and I would hate to lose him even if we didnít. Iolo pulled me out of my reverie. We started back on the short trek to the ship.

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