Colonel Remen’Fu sat calmly on the head of the na’karden pulling back on a stick jabbed into the skin. The beast instinctively swam the direction opposite of how the stick was moved. It would take them a week to reach Itragoni, but they would have to take it slow if they came up too close behind the enemy fleet. He sighed. The last time he had ridden a na’karden, it had been released back to sea where it could heal and continue its life. He did not like being cruel to animals, but the ones they were riding now were going to be driven up onto the beach and would die away from the water.
He looked over his shoulder at the soldiers behind him. “Don’t forget to keep the skin wet,” he instructed. “We don’t want our na’karden to die beneath us. One of the captains gave an order and soon the soldiers were filling up buckets and dumping the seawater on the na’karden’s broad back. They also kept their own skin and fins from drying out.
As the sun was setting, they stopped the na’karden for a short rest. The soldiers hung lanterns from the tops of the four tall fins. On either side, they could see the lights hanging from the fins of the other na’karden that had set out that day. Colonel Remen’Fu left the head and walked among the soldiers of the two companies that were riding with him. They seemed to be enjoying the easy voyage and appeared ready for the challenge when they reached the beach. “It’s the open sea, boys,” he announced. “I hope you brought lines to drop tonight so tomorrow we can eat fresh chardock.”
He began to inspect the ropes where they were tied to the fins. As long as he was in charge, this was his na’karden and he needed to make sure it stayed healthy for the entire trip. He called over one of the soldiers. “Rub some ointment where holes were cut in the fins,” he ordered. “I see some chaffing from the ropes here and I bet there will be some at the other places also.” The soldier nodded and went to get the ointment.
The Colonel continued to inspect the ropes. As he made his way toward the end, he noticed something floating in the water beside the tail. He wasn’t sure what it was until a wave pushed an arm into his view. “Awa’temonor!” he shouted, rushing toward the body. Several others immediately stopped what they were doing and came to answer the Awa distress call.
He recognized his daughter as he dropped into the water beside her. Several others splashed in beside him. “I can’t feel my arm,” Mara’Uto weakly muttered.
“Cut the rope,” Colonel Remen’Fu ordered the soldiers, putting his arms around Mara’Uto. “We weren’t using this last section of the na’karden anyway.” He looked down at the girl. “Don’t worry; we’ll get your arm unstuck.”
Moments later, he set her down against the nearest fin and began to rub her arm to get the blood circulating again. Some of her scales had been torn off so he tied on a small bandage. “Your mother would not want me telling you this, but I sneaked aboard a na’karden when I was your age too.”
Mara’Uto laughed. “It wasn’t my idea actually. Hefa’Ubo said I was scared to touch it so I had to prove her wrong. She tried to help me when the na’karden started to move but the rope was too tight and a wave pulled her away. I imagine mother already knows that I am missing.”
The na’karden beneath them started to move again as one of the captains took control of the head. “It’s too late for us to turn back now,” said the Colonel, “so you’re going to come with us all the way to Tanarad.”
“What is Tanarad like?” the girl asked.
“You have never been to land so I could not explain it to you,” he answered, “but you will find out soon enough. Now get some rest; you’ve had a long day.” Soon they were both asleep on the back of the na’karden as it continued the journey toward Tanarad.