Chapter 14

It took a month to build the ships. They were slightly larger than the galley that had come from Panei. Each side had twenty oars, although they would probably only use about half of them at a time since the soldiers were not used to rowing and would have to take more rest periods. One of the more interesting features on the ships was the ability to extend sharp spikes along the sides in order to defend against large vicious sea creatures. They would sail east until they rounded the Desert of Heroabe and then sail north to Panei, the whole time taking advantage of the winds blowing up from the southwest. The entire journey would take up to two weeks depending on the weather. The ships all flew the white flag of Tanarad, but the flagship had the design with the two red dragons on the sail.

On the eighth day of Jurthe, a large crowd gathered to watch them set sail from the port at Amehtana. Belgrave knew that Naiya’Nal was not in the crowd. She had completely disagreed with his order that she stay in Amehtana without him. Even though she eventually reluctantly agreed, she was not happy about it. Belgrave sighed. He would have to bring her something special to make up for it.

For the first two days, the weather was clear. On the third day, as they sailed along the coast of Heroabe, the sky was overcast and the wind was gustier. Sand particles filled the air and the Commander said that they had entered what was known as ‘the Sands of Kiremo,’ a constant weather pattern caused by the wind crossing a large desert in a land somewhere southwest of Tanarad. He also explained that despite the great dunes of sand that now covered most of Heroabe, it was actually a very fertile land if you could get rid of the sand.

On the seventh day of their voyage, and just a day after passing out of the Sands of Kiremo, the lookout gave a loud cry. “Na’karden!” The soldiers sprang into action. The oars were stowed and they deployed the spikes. Others reached for their weapons. The galley shook and rumbled as it was rammed by the submerged creature and King Belgrave fell to the deck.

“The spikes worked!” one of the soldiers exclaimed. King Belgrave ran to side and looked over.

“It must be a juvenile,” another explained. They looked at the long serpentine body floating in the bloodied water. It had small fins on either side of its bony face, and four larger fins along its back. Along its sides were a myriad of tiny legs. Belgrave did not have time to see much detail though, since thousands of small fish completely surrounded the carcass in a matter of minutes. “What kind of fish are those?” he asked.

“Spoonfish,” Commander Sidrahkir replied. “They are little more than a mouth with a tail, but they can eat more than their weight. I have heard stories of places so infested with spoonfish that a large animal would be completely devoured before it hit the water.”

“Do they only live out here in the ocean?” King Belgrave asked.

“No, they are found just about everywhere,” the Commander explained. “They are the scavengers of the sea, and are usually docile around living things, but blood in the water combined with their fierce appetites can make them dangerous. We usually don’t worry about them while we’re in familiar waters.”

“That na’karden was longer than our ship and thicker than a large tree,” King Belgrave said. “If that was a juvenile, then how big is an adult?”

“You don’t want to find out,” the Commander replied. “The spikes would be useless against one.” He called over several soldiers. “Sing the song of the first person to ever kill a na’karden for King Belgrave,” he said. The soldiers did as ordered, beating on shields for the rhythm.

Nothing can kill a na’karden, they say;
Nothing has yet found a way;
But young Kohngor, who lived in Pilor,
Claimed he would do it one day!

Kohngor built a boat of thick wood and strong nail,
But ship builders said it would fail.
Kohngor said he could, and knew that he would,
So he said his farewell and set sail.

He now was alone and far from the shore,
And the storm winds grew to a roar.
He said a quick prayer to calm his great fear,
But the rain clouds started to pour.

Kohngor held on tight as waves grew tenfold,
And his blood was suddenly cold;
For thunder pealed, and lightning revealed,
The greatest na’karden of old!

It let out a roar as it raised its head high;
Its silhouette covered the sky.
With sails of hide, and legs on its sides,
Brave Kohngor thought he would die.

As a soldier of land and a man of the field,
He stood fast with sword, spear, and shield.
A man of the sea would be wise to flee,
But Kohngor would never yield.

Nothing can kill a na’karden they say,
Nothing has yet found a way,
But young Kohngor, who lived in Pilor,
Knew he would do it today!

He threw his strong spear and let out a yell,
But into the water he fell.
Since wakes of na’karden will show no one pardon,
His boat was soon lost as well.

The monster attacked before Kohngor could blink,
Its breath had the mightiest stink.
Kohngor grabbed a fin on the side of its chin;
He clung as it started to sink.

He hung to its head and slashed at its face,
And it surfaced again in that place,
For the sword of Kohngor did hurt more and more,
The na’karden had felt its disgrace.

For hours it swam to flee from his hand,
And then it squirmed onto dry land.
Its thousand webbed legs soon grew stiff as pegs,
The na’karden died on the sand.

Kohngor was a hero when men saw the beast,
For him they held a great feast,
And no man could ask one to copy the task,
Since no man would ever repeat.

Nothing can kill a na’karden they say,
Nothing has yet found a way.
But young Kohngor, who lived in Pilor,
Finally did it that day!

King Belgrave smiled when the song ended. “Perhaps Kohngor won’t be the only one to have killed one by the time our voyage is over,” he said.

Sure enough, two days later about an hour before sunset, two large fins rose from the waves to the west. “Hard to starboard!” Commander Sidrahkir yelled. “It’s between us and the shore!” The ships began to turn, but it was too late. An enormous head emerged from the water and towered above them.

King Belgrave gasped at the unreal sight. Soldiers left their oars and rushed for their weapons. The creature was even larger than Belgrave had ever imagined possible. A small house could easily fit inside that jagged toothy mouth. The monster hesitated and looked around at the ten ships as if deciding which to attack first. It seemed oblivious to the many arrows glancing off its thick skin. It wasn’t until a spear struck the monster in the eye that it lunged down at one of the ships. Water and splinters filled the air as the great force pulverized the ship. A tall wave nearly capsized the rest of the ships, but they were well built and stayed afloat.

“Get us out of here!” Commander Sidrahkir ordered. Soldiers immediately grabbed the oars and began to row frantically.

“No,” King Belgrave yelled, “go back for survivors.” He looked around. No one was listening to him. He grabbed the Commander. “We need to go back.”

“This is no time for heroics,” the Commander yelled back. “Adults usually travel in packs and we’re completely helpless this far from shore.”

Sure enough, three more na’karden surfaced among the scattered ships. The water became choppier and King Belgrave struggled to keep his balance on deck. “Toss ropes to the soldiers swimming in the water,” he ordered. “Give them something to hold on to.”

The Commander reluctantly ordered the ship to turn around. They tossed the ropes and the soldiers in the water were able to grab on to them. One of the sea monsters dipped down to eat one of the soldiers. As it closed its giant mouth, the soldier lifted up a spear and plunged it deep into the roof of the creature’s mouth. With a great roar, the beast jerked its head high into the sky. The soldier dived out of the mouth as the na’karden fell backwards.

The death of the na’karden saved them. The other sea monsters began to feast on their dead companion and ignored the ships around them. King Belgrave ordered a quick search for survivors, but seventeen men from the destroyed ship were never found.

As they sailed away, Belgrave could not help wondering at the actions of the soldier. He was reminded of the giant snake he had killed in the cave the previous year, but something was not right. It was odd that the soldier had performed without any noticeable signs of fear or hesitation. Belgrave’s thoughts were distracted as he turned to help the soldiers that his ship had picked up.