For readers of Cormac McCarthy and Justin Cronin , this is the story of one family's battle for survival in a world where evil has already won. As they fight their way across a dying land, Shay and Cass will do anything to keep their daughter, Hope, alive. The family faces unimaginable dangers as they try to stay together, and stay alive, long enough to reach safety. But when the heart of a dragon starts to beat in Hope's chest, they fear they'll lose her to a battle they can't possibly help her win . . . Critically acclaimed author Peter Higgins has written a richly evocative post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about how, even in the darkest of times, we have so much to lose.
Release date: August 11, 2020
Print pages: 352
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Or perhaps epilogue is better, and this first scene an ending, a fading coda to long centuries of war music outside human knowledge … a war among the older peoples of the world, the cruel and beautiful and wise, their weapons the magic of wizards and mages who lived for a thousand years … a war fought in regions where humans did not go, where ancient civilisations rose and then fell, war-ravaged, and altogether faded leaving only magic-haunted ruins and echoes of starlight voices … a war that ends now in victory for none … a war that ends in the shadow of final catastrophe, absolute and total … and this the last sad day of that ancient war …
The rumble of distant detonations. A flicker on the skyline, a sudden flare of dazzling lilac brilliance, the deep heart-rock of the mountain shuddering underfoot. Then the fierce wind came. It hurt the wizard Tariel’s face and brought the scent of unfamiliar magic, the taste of dark joy in destruction and a strange metallic burn.
Tariel narrowed his eyes against the lingering glare and when it faded the dragon Vespertine was a distant spark, a tiny speck of jewelled fire and glass against the bruised horizon. Tariel leaned on his staff, his left hand gripping the parapet, clenched fingers digging into flaking stone. Bitter cold seeped deep into his bones, but he could spare no energy to warm his body. He would need all his reserves and more for what he must do now. There could be no more delay; no more hoping for a different choice when none would come.
The overlook where he stood was a crumbling outcrop, a precarious jut of ancient masonry – broken paving and tumbled carvings worn smooth by centuries of ice and rain – leaning out over the edge of the mountain drop, dizzyingly high. Thousands of feet below him, armies were still killing one another on the Chelidd Plain: massed columns dark against the redness of the earth; the wheel and flow of horsemen, like birds flocking at twilight. They were too far below for him to hear the cries and screams and the clash of arms; too far and too obscured by smoke and dust for him to tell yet how the day would go. Not that the battle mattered any more. He had another purpose, and it was time.
The Deep War was finished. So many open battles, shedding the blood of uncountable numbers, entire regions harrowed into ruin; so many unseen vigils, secret acts and lonely heroisms; so many ambitions, betrayals and desires; the love and the magic and the sacrifices; all the generations of that. All of it had failed in the end, brought to an end by one foolish, wild and desperate act, the act not of an enemy but of one of their own, whose recklessness could not be restrained.
Far away on the plain the vain struggle continued, one last futile gasp, but what was approaching from the north was something else and could not be fought. A permanent rift had been torn between this world and another, decisively and for ever. There was no closing it: the wound was unhealable, and death would flow in from that other place, slowly at first, then faster and faster, the incursion spilling and spreading, scuttling, crawling, prowling, leaching out across the world. Alien light. Alien magic. Alien growth. Alien air. The strangeness and hunger of nameless things from a different, nameless place. And when they came everything of this world would die, and this world’s life and magic would fail.
Tariel remembered how he used to wander long ago among the precincts of Far Coromance: remembered the sun-warmed grapes in the afternoon, the fragrance of cypress groves, the stillness of flamingos on the palace lake, the laughter and shouts of human children out of sight on the other side of a garden wall. He remembered, and his grief and sadness shone. This world’s long Age of Life was over now, though much of the world did not know it yet: the war had been fought in regions far from where humans lived, among peoples they knew of only as rumours and ancient tales that few of them believed.
Yet we didn’t fight only for ourselves. Always for them also. Always remembering them. At least for the best of us, that was true, though at the last we failed them. All of us failed.
There was yet one last thing Tariel could do, and he would do it. The price was appalling. It would certainly kill him, and what was worse – infinitely worse – it would destroy the shining intelligence of his friend, his love. The cruel desecration of that: it was an unbearable abomination. But in the hollow watches of the night Tariel had made his choice and he would do it. He would die and Vespertine would be destroyed.
And by their sacrifice they might leave one last small chance for the world. One tiny crack in the closing door. One single fragile seed. One throw of the dice in the whirlwind dark.
It was almost time.
The dragon Vespertine swept down upon him. Lacy and beautiful, delicate as refractions of colour in ice, brawny as the burn of the sun, she came so near to him that her bulk walled half the sky. She had been dealing death to her enemies on the red plain and the reek and joy of it trailed from her. The ache of Tariel’s love for Vespertine burst and spread through him like the taste of a berry crushed against his tongue. He sent her a sudden, wordless, instinctive voice.
Hello, my beloved, I am so glad you are here with me.
The voice of the dragon in his head rattled his bones.
I FELT YOUR GRIEF.
Yes, heart. I know.
THIS WORLD IS OVER.
THERE ARE OTHER WORLDS THAN THIS ONE. AN INFINITE ABUNDANCE OF WORLDS. WORLDS PRESS AGAINST WORLDS LIKE BUBBLES IN OCEAN FOAM, AND MANY ARE BEAUTIFUL.
YOU KNOW THIS. YOU ARE MAGISTER. MAGUS PERENNIAL. MAGIC FLOWS THROUGH YOU LIKE A RIVER. YOU ARE STILL STRONG.
WE WILL GO ELSEWHERE TOGETHER. COME NOW, BELOVED FRIEND. RIDE MY BACK AGAIN.
No. We cannot do that. There is something else we must do.
I know. I have seen your heart.
Vespertine … I am sorry. So sorry.
I share your choice, my darling. I accept my fate and yours. but do it quickly. do it now.
Castrel could feel the child moving inside her: uncurling her arms and legs, opening her delicate fine-boned hands and pushing with her feet. Long, slow kicks. Waking and testing her strength. Castrel knew her child was a girl. She could feel everything about her. She felt the flutter of her heart, small and fierce as the heart of a bird; felt the hot thread of blood moving in her veins; the intricate, delicate articulation of tiny bones; the knot and stretch of muscle; the fluttering tongue. Her daughter’s lungs, still slack and filled with fluid, were not moving yet, but to Castrel they were as present and vivid and obvious as her own body was. To know the interior of things; to reach in and touch the life there; to feel and understand and if need be to shape and heal: this was what Castrel could do. It was her talent, her born gift, and always had been. It made her what she was and shaped her life.
When she was thirteen years old, she sat at the table in Bremel’s house in Weald and cupped a bird in her hands. A merle. Its heart fluttered rapidly, its small black eyes stared into hers. The sun came in through the doorway and splashed on the floor, bringing air that smelled of lilac and cut grass. She was inside the merle and Bremel was there with her.
See, said Bremel, see how the threads that carry the blood spread like fine roots? Follow them. See? This is the liver. This is the crop.
The merle was full of light and transparency inside. Its skin was like living glass and the warmth of the sun reached deep.
Now, said Bremel. See this dark thing here? This twisted purse? That’s where the problem is. What you must do is smooth it and ease it until it goes away. But gently. Slowly. Don’t let it burst. Use the light and warmth that is in there. Use the bird’s own strength, not yours, or you will be hurt. Help her to heal herself.
Castrel tried. Carefully. Patiently.
Good, said Bremel. That’s good. That’s very good. You learn fast and you have the right touch. Beautiful. You can do this.
And afterwards Bremel had asked her:
‘Will you be frightened to go away on your own one day, and travel alone and do this, do you think?’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Castrel. ‘No. I want to. When must I go?’
‘Not yet,’ said Bremel. ‘Not for a long time yet. I have more to show you. But one day you will. If you choose.’
‘Yes,’ said Castrel. ‘I choose.’
It was the golden day of her life, the seed-day for all the rest.
Afterwards, in long years of walking alone, Castrel helped many women give birth: she followed the growth and then the struggle, the bursting out into life of their children. But now she carried her own child, and it was different. Other women’s children, she had wanted them to live, each and every one of them, but this child … Her love for this tiny new life was fierce and total, a visceral force, deeper and earlier than thought. It was a love that wanted nothing for itself, a love without purpose or intent, absorbing and wordless.
Her daughter, still too fragile and unformed for the outer world, was not yet ready to come, but in a few short months she would be born. The crib was already waiting for her by the hearth: the crib Shay made while the evenings were still long, working with all the care and exactness he learned making boats when he lived by the sea. He made it in the shape of a boat, small and neat, with a curved up-rising bow and rounded stern, a vessel to ride out the storms and carry their daughter safe on the tide of their love. And when it was finished, a small thing of reddish oak, dark-grained and polished till it glowed in the firelight, Castrel had carved it with intricate signs of welcome and warding. She wove life and strength into it with the words Bremel taught her long before, in Weald.
She paused now at the crest of the hill to catch her breath and ease her back. Above her was the pale wideness of the sky, and all around her was tangled bracken and fern and the air of high places. Low outcrops of granite with a threadbare covering of heather. She put down her basket, stretched her shoulders and arched her spine. She’d done well: the basket was more than half full of mushrooms from the High Hedge Field, pale and milky, the underparts rich and dense and scented like the raw dark earth. She pulled her shawl tighter against the chill air, breathing its smell of wet wool and fire smoke. Autumn was always her favourite season.
‘My autumn child,’ she said quietly. ‘We’ll make you happy here.’
She felt the child respond. The answering touch of mind against mind. Her daughter had strength already, a force like water in flood: Castrel could feel it, as sure as the first heat of the rising sun still shrouded in dawn mist. When her child came into the world she would bring change, momentous and permanent. An earthquake. A landslide in their lives. Nothing would be the same, not for her, not for Shay. Everything would be changed, though she could not tell how. A fresh new person in the world.
She picked up her basket and walked on down the slope, making for the lane through the wood, and as she went she tried to see the world as if for the first time, trying to see it all with her daughter’s eyes, breathe it with her lungs and feel it with the thinness and clarity of her child’s new skin. Soft rain blurred the woodland in the valley below. A honey-pale buzzard wheeled low over the trees on broad flaggy wings, mewing, until a ragged handful of rooks rose in noisy irritation to sweep it away.
She pushed through a gap in the hedge and scrambled down the bank into the lane. From there the lane descended, soft mud and stones, under a canopy of low arching trees towards a dim, shadowed stream. It forded the stream and climbed again, steeply. She started down the lane but slowed. Stopped. Uneasy.In the north, behind the woods, the sky was not right. Along the horizon lay a damson-coloured bar, low above the trees, swelling like a bruise. She hadn’t noticed it before. And there was a pony and cart standing motionless at the edge of the stream. She felt the pony’s attention brush against her. It was a mare. A small cob mare standing in harness, patient and passive, taking occasional water from the shallow, muddied stream and grazing the grasses at the edge of the track. Castrel felt her weakness and exhaustion. The mare had come down the hill and then halted in the bottom of the dip because the climb out was too much for her.
And there were two figures in the cart. They were bundled and indistinct, and Castrel could feel nothing from them. No life. Only strangeness and death. There was something bad there, something momentous and dangerous. Her first thought was to stay away. Turn and go. There was her child to think of.
But she would not do that. It was important to know. Ignoring was not the same as being safe.
She approached slowly, trying to send reassurance to the cob mare as best she could. The mare whickered quietly and stirred from foot to foot but did not move. As Castrel got closer she saw the animal had suffered months of near-starvation: she was skeletal, her belly distended, her ribs painfully visible. Her coat was rough and matted, and on her sides there were angry, weeping sores.
The two figures in the cart leaned against one another, slumped together, shoulder to shoulder in death. It was as if one had died first and the other held on close to die as well, not wanting to go on alone, and eventually the cart had stopped, the pony exhausted, unsure and directionless, waiting. The bodies were thickly wrapped in clothes made from the pelts of some animal Castrel did not recognise. The furs were soiled and sour. There was a stained leather satchel on the plank beside them that contained raw meat. She could smell it faintly. The back of the cart was almost empty: only a few shabby belongings, and a couple of small barrels. Their clothes and scents and the shape and making of their things were like none she had come across before.
Castrel reached out to move aside the hood of the nearest body so she could see the face, and hissed in surprise. It was the head of an old man, but broader and heavier than human, the jaw massive, the face almost a muzzle, and there was a rough thickness to the texture of his skin. He was starved to an agonising gauntness, the strong bones of skull and jaw edged starkly clear. His brown eyes were open but blank in death. They showed no whites at all. Instinctively she tried to feel her way deeper into him but she could perceive nothing. There was no life there, and only living things were open to her.
He was of the bear-people.
It was a guess: she’d only heard of such people, descendants of human settlers who ventured into the far north long ago and joined their inheritance lines with fierce intelligent bears. The bear-people lived deep in endless pine forest where winter fell in months of silence and enduring night under impossible depths of snow. Their body temperature dropped in the freezing dark and they slept out the long winter in dugouts lined with pine needles. No bear-people had come this far south since the forests retreated, but centuries ago, in colder times when the forests spread closer, sometimes one or two might be woken by hunger and driven down out of the trees, arriving near death to ask for shelter at outlying farms. They kept their heads bowed between massive shoulders and watched warily with their round whiteless eyes. Sometimes the farmers let them sleep in a barn or a loft, but likely as not they drove them away and barred their shutters.
Castrel studied the dead man. She was curious. She’d never encountered anyone who was not human. Of course, he was human, of a kind, but not entirely. If there was a borderline, he was close to it but on the other side. Bremel had spoken sometimes about non-human people. The older ones, she called them. The others. Apart from the bear-people they were all gone now, but she had seen traces of them: strange ruins built long ago by minds that thought differently from humans and had skills that were lost now. Places where the feel of subtle ancient magic lingered. There was no trace of magic about this dead man, but nonetheless he was something different. From a world entirely outside her experience. She wondered what desperate need had brought him here to die. What had driven him so far south, to end his journey in this rarely used hollow lane that went only from one long-abandoned farm to another?
She went to look at the other body and realised her mistake. This one was not dead. It was a woman, unconscious, her breathing shallow and very slow. She was one of the bear-people too, but smaller and slighter than the man, and finer-featured. Her face was harsh and spare, her weathered skin creased, her long greying hair fine and smooth and tied back at the neck. She was emaciated but beautiful, like a wind-sculpted tree on a winter rock. She reminded Castrel a little of Bremel.
She was almost dead, but not quite. Not yet. She might be helped. Perhaps it could be done.
She reached deep inside herself, deep into the very core of who she was, and found the hot bright well of strength there. Then she opened herself out to the woman and shared, creating a link that let warmth and life flow. She did it instinctively, immediately and without thought, though it was an effort that cost her heavily. What she was doing wasn’t like healing, where she could draw on the other’s own resources to mend hurt and drive out sickness: this was a desperate push against exhaustion, despair and death. The dying woman had no resources of her own. As her strength poured out across the link Castrel felt herself weaken, tear and fray, and her child squirmed in protest.
I’m sorry, she told her. You’ll be fine. You come first. But I must do this. I must at least try.
Castrel felt the woman – faintly, weakly, little by little, agonisingly slowly – coming back from very far away, but she could also feel herself weakening. The world around her was getting cold and dark. She was already near to sharing more than she safely could. Giving too much risked leaving her permanently sick and broken, even dying. Bremel called it barrening.
The ones you help the most will always be the worst danger to you, she had said. They will cleave to you. They will drain you to the dregs. They cannot help it, they do not mean to, but they will suck you dry. Never forget this. There is a time when you can do no more. Then you must let them go.
Reluctantly Castrel began to draw away and break the bond, but just at the point of complete separation there was a flaring surge from the other side of the link. It was as if she had touched and woken something wild and desperate deep within the woman – almost a rage, something that was more bear than human. Startled, she snapped out of the sharing. It left her giddy and exhausted, but life was flickering in the woman’s face. She groaned and murmured. Then suddenly her eyes snapped open, glaring, and she seized Castrel’s wrist. Her hand was broad, heavy and hard. The grip hurt.
‘Who are you?’ she said. Her voice was difficult to understand. Hoarse, sibilant, barking, choking, strange. ‘Where am I? What is this place?’
‘You’ve come a long way from the forests. This country is Allerdrade. There are only hills and empty farms around here. The nearest village is almost a day’s travel away. It’s called Ersett. Is that where you’re going?’
The woman looked at her blankly, as if she understood the words but could make no sense of them.
‘Rest now,’ said Castrel. ‘Talk later. I don’t think you’re sick, but your strength is gone—’
‘I said who are you?’
‘My name is Castrel. Do you want some water? I’ll fetch you some.’
The bear-woman hesitated, then nodded.
Castrel found a wooden cup in the back of the cart and filled it from the stream.
‘You don’t need to be afraid,’ she said when she came back. ‘There’s no danger. You’re safe here.’
‘Safe?’ The woman’s eyes hardened. Anger. Fear. ‘Safe? Nowhere is safe. Nothing is safe. You are not safe.’
She snatched the cup from Castrel’s hand and drank deeply from it, choking, spilling half the contents down her chin.
‘Paav?’ she said suddenly. ‘Paav? Where is Paav?’
She looked around in confusion. Then she saw that he was dead. The sound she made then was the saddest sound Castrel had ever heard. A long growling keening snarl that rumbled deep in her chest. She nuzzled her face against the dead man’s neck.
‘I’m sorry.’ Castrel laid a hand on her arm. ‘He was dead when I found you. There was nothing I could do.’
For a long time the woman said nothing. Then she raised her head, bleakness and grief in her eyes.
‘Forty winters we slept in the same hollow,’ she said. ‘Shared our warmth. He with me and I with him. One scent. One warmth. One hunger. He is gone and without him I am emptied. Winter without him will be too cold.’
Castrel’s heart went out to her. This was a kind of hurting she could not heal.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, and after a silence she added: ‘Will you tell me your name? I know Paav, but I don’t know yours.’
‘Khaag. My name is Khaag. And you are Castrel.’
‘Yes.’ Castrel smiled. ‘I wasn’t sure you heard me before.’
‘My wits are not so scattered as you may think. Nor am I so old, for my kind, though there is little fire left in me now.’
‘I didn’t mean …’ Castrel began, then thought better of it. ‘Your strength surprised me. You’ll soon recover. There’s plenty of life in you.’
‘No!’ Khaag shook her head so fiercely Castrel flinched. ‘This is not life! You have no experience of my people. We burn. We roar. You should have seen Paav in his prime. He was a waterfall at the flood. The dawn sun on a mountain. What you see there is not Paav, and what you see here is not me, not as I should be …’
Khaag broke off, her eyes fixed somewhere far off. Castrel tried to bring her back to the present. She was conscious how far she was from home, this late in the day.
‘Is there somewhere near here that you’re trying to get to?’ she said. ‘Perhaps I can help you? Show you the way?’
‘Then you could …’ Castrel hesitated. ‘You could come home with me. I mean, if you want to. My house isn’t far, and you’d be welcome. You could rest with us a while and recover your strength. I’m a healer. I could help you, if you’d let me. And then we can talk more, later.’
Khaag turned her gaze full on Castrel, raking her with brown whiteless eyes full of anger and hurt and fear and a terrible darkness. And something else. Castrel thought it was warmth. Pity. And acknowledgement too. She thought the strange, fierce bear-woman was acknowledging her. Accepting her. But she couldn’t be sure.
‘You mean kindness to me,’ said Khaag. ‘You are a good woman. I see the strength and wisdom in you. But you must learn different, harsher ways. What you’re saying … it’s too late for that now. That time is over, that world is gone, and Paav’s path is the better one. I have seen what is coming, and you have not yet seen what I have seen. You do not yet know.’
‘But—’ Castrel began, but Khaag interrupted her.
‘You are with child?’
‘Then I will tell you something. Mother to mother I tell you this. Mother to mother.’ Khaag’s voice was guttural and urgent. ‘And as mother to mother you must hear me. You must listen.’
‘What is it?’ said Castrel.
‘Will you hear me?’
‘You must run, Castrel. Run. Leave me here now. Leave your house and go, go far and keep running and do not stop. Ever. Look to your child, Castrel. Find a place. Keep her safe. Save her if you can. That’s all that matters now. It’s the only thing you can do.’
‘I don’t understand.’
Khaag struggled to sit up and lean forward, but her breath was suddenly failing her. She was visibly weaker. It was as if she had forced all she had left into the desperate urgency of what she must say to Castrel. Spending the very last of her strength on that.
‘It is coming,’ she said. Her voice was quieter. Hoarser. ‘It comes from the north. It is behind us, but it is always coming. Always. The line of shadow. The bad darkening. It follows. Sometimes it slows and you get ahead of it for a while. But it does not stop. It never, ever stops. The fear …! It comes in the night—’ She broke off in a fit of coughing. ‘Are you listening, Castrel?’ she said when she could continue. ‘Do you hear?’
‘It’s all right,’ said Castrel. ‘There’s plenty of time. I’m listening—’
But Khaag had already started to speak again, her voice so hoarse and breathy now that Castrel struggled to hear.
‘… and then riders … terrible riders … and then … Hide! Run far, and hide! You must. You—’
Another fit of coughing, much worse. A kind of spasm. Castrel climbed up onto the cart next to Khaag. She sat close and reached out, trying to open some kind of way to her. Some healing way.
Breathe. Be calm. Breathe.
But she could make no contact now. The bear-woman’s body and mind were so strange. All she could be aware of was Khaag’s heartbeat slowing. It was ragged and weak.
‘Khaag,’ she whispered urgently. ‘Khaag.’
But Khaag’s eyes were closed. She lapsed into sleep, or unconsciousness, Castrel couldn’t say which. Nor could she say whether Khaag would live. There was nothing in her experience to tell her that, and nothing more she could do for her now except let her rest.
She took the cob mare’s bridle and began the long slow walk home. The animal, so painfully thin and weak, limped slowly, glancing sideways at her from time to time. Brown eyes like water in a pool under the dim shade of trees. Castrel had no strength left to share with her.
You can do it, she told the mare wordlessly. Courage. Your journey is almost at an end.
They were descending the last hill in gathering twilight, wheels and slow hoof-falls clattering on the cobbles, making for the glimmer of firelight in the window that told her that Shay was already home, when Castrel felt Khaag’s wild fierce life slip away.
Shay buried the bear-people near the apple garth under clear black skies and the bone-bright glare of the moon. Castrel was in the barn tending the cob mare, and when he rested he could hear her voice murmuring a song, rhythmic, quiet and gentle. The unfamiliar syllables of the hedge-witch tongue. It sounded closer than it was, carried on the night air with the scent of gorse from the hill and windfall apples rotting in the wet grass.
Her voice was beautiful and strange: he’d felt that the first time he heard it and he still felt the same. Her voice, her breathing, the warmth of her skin, the feeling of a room she was in … it was all part of her fluent gentle magic. She said it wasn’t magic at all, but it thrilled and stirred him deeply as if it was. And what was magic if not that?
‘What I do isn’t magic,’ she said. ‘Magic is harsh and inhuman. Unnatural. Magic is wizards’ work, it draws power by destroying something and it always leaves a hole behind. But what I do is part of being alive. I help living things do what I can do anyway, inside, slowly, without knowing they’re doing it. It’s feeling and sharing, that’s all it is. There’s nothing magical about it.’
Yet in the time he had known her, Shay had seen Castrel do impossible things, and in his heart he called it magic.
He laid the bodies side by side and covered them with earth. He did the best he could for them in death and mourned their loss, and not only because death was always hard. He wished he could have seen them alive and talked with them. He’d seen people who were not human once before, and now a trace of that otherness and wonder had come to him again, but dead, as strange bodies only, for him to bury in the ground; and that was a grievous loss.
He stood at the foot of the grave, adrift for a moment in memories of that other time, the time when the ships of the White Knives appeared one morning in early summer far out in the bay off Harnestrand. The sea was purple and the sun hadn’t yet burned the horizon clear of mist, and when the great fleet appeared the bell of the Seilona rang, its hollow clang echoing off the cliffs. Shouts went through the village and people hurried down to the harbour. Shay left his tools on the bench in the boatyard and hurried with Galla and Moar up through the trees to the Rock, where they could lie on a flat place under the pines and see both the harbour and the bay.
He remembered everything about that day. All of it. The scent of warm earth and lemons and the sea, and how splashes of sunlight fell through the leaves and danced across his arms like reflections off a pool. The morning ground cool under his stomach and the sun hot and his feet bare and dusty, his toes scraping little furrows back and forth in the dust behind him. He remembered it because he was seventeen years old, and because it was the most important thing he had ever seen.
A forest of sails was emerging out of the haze on the skyline. Small in the distance, they caught the sun and shimmered silver and blue. The breeze was against them but they were coming in faster than any boat he had ever seen, their sails bellying forward taut as bowstrings. Galla tried to count them but she gave up after a hundred because they were too far a
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