On the fifth day, they ran aground.
Smith had relinquished the helm to Cutt while he downed a stealthy post-breakfast filler of pickled eel.
He swore through a full mouth as he felt the first grind under the keel, and then the full-on shuddering slam
that meant they were stuck.
He scrambled to his feet and ran forward.
"The boat has stopped, Child of the Sun," said Cutt.
"That's because you ran it onto a sandbank!" Smith told him, fuming. "Didn't you see the damned thing?"
"No, Child of the Sun."
"What's this?" Lord Ermenwyr ran up on deck, dabbing at his lips with a napkin. "We're slightly tilty,
aren't we? And why aren't we moving?"
"What's happened?" Willowspear came up the companionway after him.
"Stop the rowers!" Smith ran for the boiler stopcock and threw it open. Steam shrieked forth in a long gush,
and the oars ceased their pointless thrashing.
"You have hyacinth jam in your beard, my lord," Willowspear informed Lord Ermenwyr.
"Do I?" The lordling flicked it away hastily. "Imagine that. Are we in trouble, Smith?"
"Could be worse," Smith admitted grumpily. He looked across at the opposite bank. "We can throw a cable around
that tree trunk and warp ourselves off. She's got a shallow draft."
"Capital." Lord Ermenwyr clapped once, authoritatively. "Boys! Hop to it and warp yourselves."
After further explanation of colorful seafaring terms, Smith took the end of the hawser around his waist and
swam, floundering, to the far shore with it, as Cutt paid it out and Strangel dove below the waterline to make certain
there were no snags. After four or five minutes he walked to the surface and trudged ashore after Smith.
"There is nothing sharp under the boat, Child of the Sun," he announced.
"Fine," said Smith, throwing a loop of cable about the tree trunk. He looped it twice more and made it fast.
Looking up, he waved at those on deck, who waved back.
"Bend to the bloody capstan!" he shouted. Cutt, Crish and Stabb started, and collided with one another in
their haste to get to the bars. Round they went, and the cable rose dripping from the river; round they went again, and
the cable sprang taut, and water flew from it in all directions. Round once more and they halted, and the Kingfisher's
Nest jerked abruptly, as one who has nodded off and been elbowed awake will leap up staring.
"Go, boys, go!" said Lord Ermenwyr happily, clinging to the mast. "Isn't there some sort of colorful rhythmic
chant one does at moments like these?"
The demons strained slightly, and the Kingfisher's Nest groaned and began to slither sideways.
"That's it!" Smith yelled. "Keep going!"
The Kingfisher's Nest wobbled, creaked, and--
"Go! Go! Go!"
--lurched into deep water with a splash, and a wave rose and slopped along the riverbank.
"Stand to," said Smith. As he bent to loose the cable, he became aware of a sound like low thunder. Looking up over
his shoulder, he pinpointed the source of the noise. Strangel was growling, glaring into the forest with eyes of flame, and
it was not a metaphor.
Smith went on the defensive at once, groping for weapons he did not have. As he followed Strangel's line of sight,
he saw them too: five green men in a green forest, cloaked in green, staring back coldly from the shadows, and each man wore
a baldric studded with little points of green, and each man had in his hand a cane tube.
Strangel roared, and charged them.
Their arms moved in such perfect unison they might have been playing music, but instead of a perfect flute-chord a
flight of darts came forth, striking each one home into Strangel's wide chest.
He kept coming as though he felt nothing, and they fell back wide-eyed but readied a second barrage, with the same
eerie synchronization. The darts struck home again. They couldn't have missed. Strangel seemed to lose a little of his
momentum, but he was still coming, and smashing aside branches as he came. Not until the third flight of darts had struck him
did his roar die in his throat. He slowed. He stopped. His arms remained up, great taloned hands flexed for murder. Their
weight forward toppled him and he fell, rigid, and rolled over like a log rolling.
His snarling features seemed cut from stone. The lights of his eyes had died.
The Yendri stared down at him in astonishment.
Smith turned and dove into the river.
He was scrambling over the rail of the Kingfisher's Nest when the first dart struck wood beside his hand.
He felt Willowspear seize his collar and pull him over, to sprawl flat on the deck, and he thought he saw Lord Ermenwyr
running forward. Cutt, Crish and Stabb gave voice to a keening ululation, above which very little else could be heard; but
Smith made out the clang that meant someone had closed the stopcock, followed by a tinkly noise like silver rain. He looked
up dazedly and saw poisoned darts hitting the boiler-domes, bouncing off harmlessly, and Lord Ermenwyr on his hands and knees
behind the domes.
"Rope! Rope!" he was shouting, and Smith realized what he meant. The Kingfisher's Nest had been borne backward
on the current, stopped only by the cable that he had not managed to loose in time. It swung now on the flood, its cable straight
as a bar. Smith dragged himself forward to the tool chest by the boiler-domes, and groping frantically there he found a kindling
He rose to his knees, saw two Yendri directly opposite him on the bank in the act of loading their cane tubes, and took a
half-dozen frenzied whacks at the cable before diving flat again. The darts flew without noise. But he heard them strike the domes
again, and one dart bounced and landed point-down on his hand. He shook it off frantically, noting in horror the tarry smear on
his skin where the dart had lain. Someone seized the hatchet out of his hand and he rolled to see Willowspear bringing it down on
the cable, bang, and the cable parted and they shot away backward down the river, wheeling round in the current like a leaf.
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