Tales from the Vineyard: The Gods Only Know
It was mid-day by the time Brother Hurley was finally able to take his leave of the confines of Peckton. Though he had miles to walk to reach the Brother’s encampment, he felt a certain sense of relief to feel the cold salty air and hear the waves break against the sea cliffs below. Peckton’s south eastern gate opened onto a roughly hewn rock wall, four feet high, directly over which was a straight drop fifty feet to the sea. A stiff wind had pushed the morning’s clouds to the north, and it had turned into a brilliantly clear winter day. The wall hugged the coast for a mile or so, eventually becoming less and less sound as if its creators grew tired of building it. When the wall became low enough to step over, the cliffs had given way to gentle rolling sand dunes, and Hurley made his way down to the waters edge towards the mouth of the Rosy River. Across the river he could see the fishing hamlet of Flume, with its gaily painted crab boats and whitewashed bungalows. Straddling the river was a wide bridge with large edifice built along the length of the span: the Grand Dinner Hall. Even from this distance, Hurley could hear the cacophonous ring of the mid-day meal being served within the packed eatery. He had a mind for a moment to stop for a flagon of ale and some clam stew, but his was news that could not wait.
He followed the beach for several miles, and when the grassy dunes gave way to scrub grass and peat bogs, Hurley knew he was close. As he crested a high hill choked with dune grass, he spied the cluster of simple huts that sheltered the members of the Brotherhood of the Beach in winter. It was afternoon by now, and the Brothers had already gathered around a huge bonfire of driftwood and peat, sharing their own mid-day meal. As he clamored down the steep sandy cliff, it was Brother Milo who rose to greet him.
“Fair winds, Brother!” Brother Milo said as he handed Hurley a crude wooden bowl of chowder. His broad white smile contrasted sharply with his wind burnt, leathery face and coarse dark hair. “We expected you to spend the night in town.”
“Fair winds, Brother Milo. The mayor’s men prepared accommodations for me, but I have ill tidings that could not wait. The good captain has not returned this winter, and the feeling is that she has found a new port to call home.”
Milo groaned under his breath. “This is unfortunate. There is no telling where she might have gone.”
“It gets worse, I’m afraid. Pappy’s son is dead, and all his companions. He never divulged the details of last year’s incident with any of his kin, and if Cole ever pried any information from those accursed goblins, he took it with him when he was exiled. But we have all heard the truth of these things in the waves. The ring drove our sea-witch mad, but this has happened on occasion since the days of Bemfirr. Never has the Dragon’s Ring been lost. It must be found before there can be a selection. Our task is not made easy, my brother.”
Milo frowned. He turned and faced the wind coming off the sea, and for long moments, he did not speak. “I must consult the surf. No one must know the Ring is missing. Our Vineyard is naked without the sisters of the sea. Go to the Beastmaster…find out what he knows of our fair Captain and the coward Copperpot. Listen to the winds, the river, the gulls…somewhere you will hear a whisper of our ring. Gods only know what the fates have planned for us now…”
Stone-faced, Brother Milo turned and retreated to his shack. A cold, bitter wind rose up and hit Hurley like a fist. “Gods only know, Brother….” was all he could mutter.