The Godless Land

 

The journey was longer than he thought.  For two days, they sailed into the hot open sea and saw only two or three ships.  At the end of those two days, land just barely came in sight, and Pietro saw for himself the storied Lighthouse of Zoar that shined for miles and miles around the treacherous western shore of Kheroe.

They passed further south, sailing occasionally through storms that made Pietro rethink his decision. They traveled for endless days and weeks and months, and the air went from dry to wet, from baking to sweltering.

One night, in the darkness of the hull, Lefty told Pietro more about where they were going.

“The land we are traveling to is unexplored by most of the world,” said Lefty. “It is a sprawling jungle, a godless place, and ettins live there.”

“What are ettins?”

“The land of Molkoro once had a god, a mighty hunter god,” said Lefty. “When the ettins arrived from beyond the sea, the people of the jungle worshipped the mighty panther god called Jhub-El… Jhub-El gave them food and brought them rain and let the sugarcane and banana crop flourish.  And when the ettins arrived in their black-sailed ships, the humans of Molkoro greeted them with their traditional hospitality. So, too, did Jhub-El offer his hospitality. Jhub-El was a mighty god, but he had one weakness: Trust.”

“That’s not a weakness,” Pietro said.

“When the ettins arrived in their black-sailed ships, they weakened Jhub-El with their sorcery.  They hanged him and cut him into a hundred pieces, and ettins killed and gobbled up all the humans that lived in Molkoro. Now they live in Molkoro, awaiting a pure sacrifice that will put Jhub-El’s power completely to an end.”

“Don’t you hate the ettins?” Pietro said. “I mean, you have to. Jhub-El was a good god, wasn’t he?”

“It is unwise to hate that which you cannot defeat,” said Lefty. “And don’t say his name once we land; the ettins don’t like it and it will draw them to our camp. They deny he ever existed, and saying his name… they will kill you just for that.”

“Are they that insecure?”

The air grew hushed.

“We get to port tomorrow,” said Lefty.

 

II.

 

 

When they sailed into port, it was midday, and the air was chokingly hot. Wrapped in the tendrils of the sun’s heat, Pietro observed the port. It was nothing to boast of: Just a ramshackle wooden building surrounded by an even more ramshackle fence, and overgrown with jungle vines. The most impressive part of the whole place that Pietro noticed – and by impressive, he meant the least thrown-together – was the dock area.

Outside, the heat was ungodly, and seeped into his consciousness like poison. He didn’t want to move; he just wanted to sit in the shade, but in the wet, blistering heat, there wasn’t much difference between the shade and the open.

Then he remembered he was miles from home: hundreds – no, thousands – of miles.  For the first time, Pietro thought about the only home he had ever known.  And for a second – a brief, fleeting second – he thought he should have stayed home and killed Arturo and lived in luxury. But it was only a fleeting thought and he quickly denied it had ever crossed his mind.  But he did miss the amenities of the city – the stands of food, the free bread, the delicious wine – and he went into the broom closet where no one could see him, and he cried.

 

 

Pietro heard voices. He remembered the broom closet was next to the captain’s quarters.  Then he realized it was Lefty’s voice – Lefty’s, and another.

“The boy is an idiot,” said the other voice.

“That’s why I picked him,” said Lefty. “Lord Vexor needs an innocent sacrifice and his majesty will be here tonight.”

Who’s Lord Vexor, Pietro thought, as a chilling nausea settled over him.

“So, we give him the boy, we get the five hundred gold pieces,” Lefty continued, “and then we head back to Peregoth, and all the wine and women in the world will be ours.  Sorry the boy annoyed you – hell, I hate the little prick and kind of want to watch him die – but you’ve got to remember the big picture: five hundred gold pieces.”

Pietro had to escape.

“When will Vexor be here?” said the other man.

“Tonight at sundown. He always makes his appearance at either sunset or sunrise,” Lefty said.

Pietro fled out of the broom closet. He ran out of the ship and down the docks, and realized there were a hundred sailors around him, keeping watch.  And the nausea increased tenfold, and he realized he was going to die.

 

 

He spent every moment of the day looking for a chance to escape.  As the sun was growing low, he saw clouds moving in – dark, swelling clouds as purple as a bruise – and the winds picked up, and he wondered if this was a sign of the ettin overlord, Vexor.

“Go secure the rigging!” Lefty screamed. “You too, boy! That storm looks real bad!”

Thoughtlessly Pietro ran up to the ship and, as he was tying the ship down, remembered there was an escape raft on the other side, tied by a thick rope.

Then the storm hit, like a sudden punch, and the rains began pouring, and lightning struck overhead, and the waves swelled to enormous size.  Thunder rolled across the waters and the ship grew unstable; the rigging wasn’t secure.

Pietro ran up the ramp and looked for the raft. He saw the waves pounding it. He grabbed  his dagger, the dagger his father had brought him, and jumped down and immediately began cutting.

The wave hit the raft and splashed him in the face.  He continued cutting.  He heard Lefty scream, “He’s trying to escape! Get him!”

One of the sailors ran up to the raft. He jumped down, but a wave struck him in the face and he fell overboard.  Pietro kept cutting.  He was halfway done. The sun was setting and he began to hear loud drums. Thunder rolled and the waves rushed him, and finally the rope broke free, just as Lefty was diving overboard.

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