tagSci-Fi & FantasyOutlander Ch. 04

Outlander Ch. 04


Jack felt his stomach lurch as the prow of the Arabella dipped into the edge of the gigantic whirlpool. He gripped the rope handholds hard with his raw hands, his mind not even registering the pain in the face of nature's titanic fury.

Suddenly Garek spun the wheel hard. The ship groaned as the rudder cut into the sea, redirecting the mass of the ship. The Arabella rotated and joined the current of the swirling maw. Jack spread his legs and braced himself against the inertial pull as the ship joined the torrential flow. The Maelstrom sucked them into its outer edge and hurled the ship around its axis.

The ship picked up speed at an alarming rate. The tall masts leaned into the vortex as the ship raced around the rim, accelerating faster by the second. The roar became deafening and Jack could barely hold on, as the inertial force pulled at him and the ship.

Garek stood solid at the helm, his hair whipping in the wind, and his face set in a visage of grim determination. To Jack he looked like a man facing the sea's fury and casting it back in brazen challenge. He looked like the ill-fated Captain Ahab cursing in defiance as he was dragged into the depths by the mythical white whale.

The Arabella flew around the vortex and Jack's heart hammered in his chest. He looked to his right, and found himself staring into the abyss. Despite his earlier acceptance of death, he discovered that he could still know fear. The maw yawned before him like the gaping entrance to a watery hell. It sucked at them like a thing alive, wishing nothing more than to devour them whole. He tore his gaze from the hideous depths, fighting the urge to scream in terror.

When the ship had completed one great circuit and sped toward the eastern edge of the whirlpool, Garek suddenly spun the wheel to port. The rudder cut hard into the sea and shot the Arabella away from the Maelstrom like an arrow released from a crossbow.

"Raise sails and man the oars," Garek cried, and Ithos waved the flags again.

Sailors who had been clinging to whatever they could sprang into action and hurried to haul up the sails. Almost immediately, oars extended out the side of the ship and began pulling through the water in rhythm with the drumbeat set by the oar-master.

"Permission to join them, Captain?" the sailor Charuk asked, as he eyed his shipmates scrambling to raise the sails.

Garek eyed him for a second to convince himself that the young man was all right after his injury. It seemed that Ava had healed him well for the young man looked as if he had never fallen and hit his head. "Permission granted," he said, then smiled as the young sailor practically slid down the stairway in his haste to aid his comrades.

"Good lad," Ithos grunted, and Garek nodded before returning his attention to steering the ship.

Jack sighed in relief as the wind caught the sails. The southeasterly wind combined with the rowing of the oarsmen steadily distanced them from the Maelstrom. The roar was slowly fading behind them. The Arabella was also quickly losing speed, but the Captain didn't seem concerned so Jack allowed his muscles to relax. Unfortunately, his raw hands, still gripping the ropes, chose that moment to remind him of their existence.

Jack had no sooner loosened his grip on the ropes when the roar he'd thought they'd left behind returned. It seemed to be in front of them again. He stared ahead and saw another wall of spray. The sea became choppy as though two great opposing forces were pulling it in different directions. Then they were through the turbulence and picking up speed again.

"Lower the sail and stow the oars," Garek cried.

Just like that, the ordeal began again. Four more times the crew of the Arabella braved the fury of the giant Maelstroms. Each time the oarsmen grew wearier and the ship's struggle to break free of the whirlpools became more difficult.

By the time Garek spun the wheel to fire them out of the final vortex, the crew had reached its limit. The oarsmen were spent and the wind in the sails alone was not enough to break them free of the Maelstrom's pull. Though they tried mightily, the oarsmen could no longer keep up with the beat of the oar-masters' drum.

The Arabella floundered and began to drift back into the sea's gaping maw. Garek opened his mouth to issue an order and then stopped. Without having to be told, the weary sailors and sea dogs who had been raising and lowering the sails were scrambling below deck to aid the exhausted oarsmen.

The rhythm of the oars picked back up and the Arabella slowly resumed course and painfully inched away from the swirling death behind. They struggled over the breakers that marked the edge of the last Maelstrom's pull then limped into the still sea beyond. All over the ship, men and women collapsed in exhaustion. At the helm, Garek let out a relieved breath and guided the ship as it sailed eastward, propelled by the gusting wind at their back.

Jack let go of the ropes, His hands were a bloody mess and stung like fire from the salt water they had all been repeatedly doused with. His clothes were soaked as well, and he noticed the chill of the wind for the first time.

He glanced at Ava and froze. Her dress was wet as well, and clung to every curve of her body. His eyes involuntarily lowered to her chest and his breath caught in his throat. The wet, emerald green material was practically see-through and had formed itself perfectly to the shape of her full round breasts. Her nipples were hard from the chill air and stood out against the silky cloth of her bodice.

Jack wrenched his gaze away from her breasts to her face. She was staring ahead at the horizon with her long black hair hanging wetly. A few strands were plastered to her cheek in a gentle curve that ended at the corner of her mouth. She was so beautiful that Jack couldn't tear his eyes away from her.

He stood there transfixed until she turned her brilliant green eyes on him and gave him a curious look. Only then was he able to look away, hastily turning from her to look ahead. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her pull her dress away from her wet skin so it would not cling in so revealing a manner.

"Ithos, you have the helm. Drop anchor. I want to feed the crew and let them rest for a few hours," Garek said when they had put some distance between themselves and the last Maelstrom. "Outlander, you and Ava come with me."

Jack and Ava followed the Captain as he made his way down to the main deck. The weary sailors that had rushed below to help the oarsmen were returning to man their posts. Garek made a point of acknowledging each of them. "Fine job, men," he said to one group. "Well done lad," he said to Ithos's son Terrel. He laid his hand on Kairn's shoulder and nodded his thanks to him and the sea dogs as he passed.

He briefly embraced Emma who was moving among the men, attending to the few who had sustained minor injuries. "Are you all right, wife?" he asked, burying his nose in her hair.

"I'm fine, husband," she said hugging him back before returning to her task.

Jack was a little surprised to find that Garek's wife and daughter were on board. He watched as Garek's wife approached a nearby sailor who was clutching at his shoulder and grimacing in pain. She placed her hands on the sailor's injured shoulder. He saw her suddenly suffused with the same light that he had earlier seen with Ava. She held the sailor's shoulder for a moment before the light winked out. The sailor looked at her thankfully and began moving his arm around freely.

Jack was stunned. It appeared as though she had healed the man's injury with only her touch, and earlier Ava had done the same to the sailor Charuk. Ava had also caused the grappling chain to snap only by touching it. He was still reeling from the morning's events and he just couldn't process this new information right now. He pushed it out of his mind until he could find time to think about it.

They made their way across the main deck, through a hatchway, and down to a lower deck where the oarsmen sprawled wearily over their oars.

"Captain on deck!" one of the sailors shouted when he noticed Garek. The weary sailors began climbing to their feet.

"As you were, men," Garek said, waving his hands for the men to remain seated. He waited until the oarsmen had slumped back down before he spoke. "You men are of the finest quality. Need demanded that I put you in conditions that lesser men would have crumbled under, but I knew that you were equal to the task." He was turning as he spoke, making eye contact with each man. "You rose to the challenge; you proved me right. I am proud of all of you." The oarsmen's backs straightened and their eyes shone at the Captain's words.

Jack followed and watched as Garek moved among his men, patting shoulders and speaking a few words when he thought it necessary. He noticed the respect the bone-tired sailors showed their Captain and found himself liking the man despite the fact that Garek had somehow whisked him away from Boston, involved him in a sea battle, and almost killed him in a series of giant whirlpools.

Garek stopped at the last oarsman on the last row. The first thing Jack noticed about the man was that he was big. Most of the people Jack had seen on the ship were shorter and much thinner than he was. The second thing he noticed was the look of child-like innocence on the young man's face.

The child-faced man looked up at Garek and smiled before pulling a small button of yellowed bone out of his pocket and showing it to the Captain. "Pretty," he said.

"Yes, it is," Garek said. He leaned over and kissed the young man on his sweaty forehead.

Jack looked questioningly at Ava.

"That's Aidan, my brother. He likes to row," she said in a carefully neutral tone. She seemed reluctant to say more so Jack let it go.

They followed Garek as he continued on to the galley where he spoke to Ithos's wife, Betta, who was in charge of the ship's kitchen. Garek assured her that her husband and son were fine then asked her to prepare a meal for the weary crew. They left the galley, made their way back topside, and entered a door that led to the rooms situated below the poop deck.

Garek led them to the ship's wardroom, where he met with his officers when need demanded. The room was in shambles. Splintered wood lay everywhere and there was a gaping hole in the back wall where the Kraken's grappling spear had smashed through the ship's hull. Despite the damage, the wardroom's long table and several cabinets on the forward wall were still intact.

Garek surveyed the damage for a moment. After the men had rested he would have to see about getting that hole patched. He turned from studying the damage and took a seat at the table. He gestured for Jack to sit opposite him.

Jack sat and placed his bloody hands on the table in front of him.

"Your hands need healing, Outlander," Ava said and took a step toward Jack.

"I'm fine," Jack said leaning back in his chair. He quickly withdrew his hands and placed them on his lap. The very sight of Ava had put him in turmoil, and he was afraid of what her touch might do to him. He just wasn't ready or prepared to deal with how she made him feel.

Ava felt a flash of irritation at the Outlander's refusal of her aid. She sat next to her father and studied the Outlander where he sat across the table from her. The man was a complete mystery to her. He treated her with disdain but had been quick to help her when she had needed it. He didn't drop her into the sea to save himself. He had chosen instead to go in to the water with her. She didn't understand him at all.

"Ask your questions, Jack," Garek said. "I will answer as best I can. Ava was educated at the covenant university and can probably answer any questions that I can't."

"All right," Jack said, taking a deep breath now that the time for answers had come. He decided to start with his simplest question. "Where am I?"

"Right now we are in the Maelstrom Sea, headed for the land of Aramoor." Garek said, knowing that his response, though accurate, was not exactly what Jack had wanted to know.

"I saw two moons in the sky. I'm not on Earth anymore, am I?" Jack asked. He felt nervous, as though he knew he wouldn't like the answer.

"No, you've crossed from your world to ours," Garek said. He watched Jack intently to see what his reaction would be. The Outlander looked like he had eaten a bitter bean.

"How?" he asked incredulously.

"You came through what we call a portal," Garek answered. "There are only two that connect to your world that we know of; the one you came through and one more in the village of Croatoan on the southern coast of Aramoor."

"A portal? When did I come through a portal?" Jack asked as he racked his brain trying to remember anything from the night before that might have been described as a portal. "All I remember is walking into that tavern where we met."

"The door you used to enter the tavern was built over the portal. Ava can explain how the portals work better than I," Garek said and nodded to Ava to take up the explanation.

"The portals are in some ways still a mystery to us," Ava began. Her silky voice sent a shiver through Jack, but he ruthlessly forced the feelings that her voice evoked into the back of his mind. "We do not know their origins. What we do know is that no one from our side can go through unless led by a person that has come through from your side."

"Why?" Jack asked.

"We don't know why," Ava said. "Perhaps if we could study the portal from your world we could unravel some of its mysteries. But you are the first Outlander to come through in almost 200 years."

"Wait," Jack interrupted. "That doesn't make sense. I just opened that door and walked through. Are you telling me that in 200 years not a single person has opened that door? Someone would have opened it by accident by now."

"From what I was taught at university," Ava explained, "the portals are not always visible on your side. Only a person in great distress or great danger will see the portal and be able to pass through. Also, we don't know why, but once you have found the portal you will always be able to find it again."

It was a lot to take in, much less believe, but Jack couldn't argue with the fact that he had been in great distress when he had seen the door. "What happened to the last Outlander? The one who came before me?"

Ava glanced questioningly at her father.

"Tell him," Garek said. "He needs to know the truth."

Ava nodded and turned back to Jack. "The people of Croatoan killed him within a few hours of his arrival," she revealed.

"They killed him?" Jack asked, stunned. "Why?"

Ava looked at her father again.

"Tell him all of it," Garek said.

"All right," she took a breath then continued. "That answer will require some history first. Around a thousand years ago, a group of Outlanders came through the other portal, the one at Croatoan. The portal that you came through was undiscovered at that time."

The name of the village, Croatoan, seemed familiar to Jack but he couldn't immediately place it. It tugged at his memory but he let it go as Ava continued speaking.

"The Outlanders were under attack by savages in your world when they fled through the portal," Ava continued. "They were welcomed by our people and for a time all was well, but that soon changed. Among the 117 men, women, and children that came through the portal was a man named Ananias Dare. It was discovered that Ananias and almost all of his companions could access the leylines of power."

"What are leylines of power?" Jack interrupted.

"The leylines are how we access the power to perform magic," Ava explained.

"Is that the line I saw in the sky? The one that filled you with light?" Jack asked.

Garek and Ava shared a hasty glance at Jack's words and for a second he thought he saw fear on Ava's face before she smoothed her features.

"Yes," she said. "That was a leyline. Anyway, Ananias was so powerful that he became an Arch Mage, the likes of which had never been seen before. He called his followers the Roanoke Society and together they used their power to subjugate the land of Aramoor. They rained down fire and lightening on every army set against them. They defeated every mage that stood in their way until no one would oppose them. They killed tens of thousands of people before they were through."

"Wait," Jack interrupted. The mention of Roanoke had jolted his memory. "There was a colony in the late 1500s on my world that mysteriously disappeared. It was on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. When people came later, they found the entire colony gone without a trace. The only clue the colonists left behind was the word Croatoan carved into a post. It is a famous mystery where I come from."

"It sounds like these were the same people," Garek said.

Jack shook his head. "Can't be," he said. "That was about 500 years ago on my world and you said these Outlanders came here a thousand years ago."

Ava nodded in acknowledgment. "Time runs differently on this side of the portal, so they may very well be the same group that you speak of."

If they were the colonists of the lost Roanoke colony, Jack had just discovered the answer to a mystery that had defied American historians for centuries. He doubted anyone would believe such an impossible story if he ever got home to tell anyone, though.

"Please continue," Jack said when he'd had a moment to wrap his mind around the ideal of time flowing differently in two different places.

"Very well," Ava said. "Once all opposition to his rule had been crushed, Ananias opened a school where all children in the land who could access leylines were brought to be educated. He made all of these children learn the Outlander language, and raised them to be loyal to him. When they were old enough, he released them upon the people of Aramoor. They spread throughout the land, opening schools where all children were made to learn this new language. They executed anyone who protested. Anyone caught speaking their native tongue was beaten within an inch of their lives. They effectively destroyed the native language of Aramoor in a single generation."

"And that is why we speak the same language," Jack said with sudden understanding. The horror of what had been done to these people made him ashamed to be speaking English.

"Yes," Ava confirmed. "If it hadn't been for Virginia Dare, Ananias's only daughter, we might have lost much more than just our language. Virginia had a nanny that practically raised her while her father was busy conquering Aramoor. This nanny was of our world. At great personal risk, she educated Virginia in the traditions of our people. Virginia Dare was only a child of two when she came here so she never knew her former home. Through the teachings of her nanny, whose name has been lost to history, Virginia grew to love her adopted home and when she learned that her father was planning on destroying our religion next, in favor of the religion of his homeland, she was horrified."

Jack gazed at Ava's face as she spoke. His eyes were drawn repeatedly to her soft, full lips and the way they moved as she formed her words. He caught himself and hastily looked at her eyes instead. They were the most captivating shade of green. Damn it! He tore his eyes from hers and stared at the table.

Ava had noticed the Outlander staring at her and noted that he clearly liked what he was seeing. Then his eyes had met hers and widened before his expression changed to anger. Now he was looking down at the table. Once again, his reactions stunned her, but she was even more stunned by the way her heart had picked up its pace slightly when their eyes had met. She fell silent for a second and then hastily resumed her tale.

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