The next day dawned bright and hot. Porpoises leaped and frolicked before the ship’s wake while dozens of gulls and seabirds wheeled and cried in the air about the sails. They still passed a few whalers and trading boats traveling to and from the port of Sasserine, but their numbers grew fewer as the days passed.
Just before noon, Tully arranged for the Dragonsprit to set anchor just a hundred yards from shore. The heavy surf boomed loudly upon a stretch of black sand beach that climbed a short distance to the thick, green jungle’s edge. Derg was mightily displeased at the unexpected stop and protested loudly about being behind schedule, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.
It seemed apparent that the crew knew what was happening, but they didn’t seem to want to elaborate with their passengers. Within a few minutes of setting anchor the crew had lowered a longboat to the choppy sea.
Mister Tully turned to Kate. “My Lady. Would you care to join us on our little excursion? We won’t be but a few minutes, and it occurs to me you might appreciate the chance to walk about on dry land for a spell.”
Kate enthusiastically agreed.
Gorbi grabbed Kate by the elbow before she could climb over the side of the ship and asked her in hushed tones, “Kate! What do you think you’re doing! We’ve got a job to do, which is to protect his High and Mighty Worshipfulness over there.”
Kate shrugged. “I know. I’m going anyway.”
Gorbi cried out in exasperation, glanced back at Derg and then climbed over the side, too,
“Gaurds!” shouted Derg, “Where do you think you are going? Get back here! I didn’t give you leave to go!” The foppish dandy was still chastising them as he swung his legs over the rail and climbed down the rope ladder and into the ship’s dinghy. Soon all were in the small longboat save Tully and Min, who stayed behind to guard the Dragonsprit.
Rhemmmi, Dogboy, Tonsil and Zokar took to the oars. Derg continued to complain about the quality of good help, all the way up to the point where the longboat hit the surf. The crew pulled in the oars and everyone held to the gunnels while the tiny boat rode the wave all the way up the beach before coming to a crunching halt on the black sand. The surf hissed as what was left of their wave retreated back to the sea.
The group pulled the boat several yards further ashore and then began a labored march up the beach. Before long, the group found themselves at the edge of the jungle.
Lady Min caught Kate’s questioning look and explained in a low voice, as if not wanting to be overheard by the others. Gorbi and Derg both leaned in close to hear her words.
“Rhemmi’s people are from the jungle and he knows this place well. This is a sacred spot, used for many rituals of the Olman peoples. He says tonight is a night of evil. When Rhemmi tells us to stop to make a little sacrifice to his jungle gods, well, let’s just say the Captain has learned to listen.”
Clearly, the captain and crew had done this several times in the past. A small, burnt circle had been etched into the jungle floor and Rhemmi crouched at its edge, pouring a mysterious purple sand from a pouch into the ashes and then lighting the substance on fire, which flared with a flash of sparks and smoke before quickly going out.
Rhemmi began a rhythmic chanting, apparently asking the jungle spirits for a safe passage along the shores of the Amedio.
Kate was startled when all of a sudden a loud barking or howling sound was heard not too far off into the jungle depths. Rhemmi stopped chanting for a moment.
“It is all okay, my friends,” he said in his thick native accent before returning to his chant, “it is just a jaguar. He will not bother us as we are so many.”
A moment later, the sound came again, but it was answered by another bark somewhere further back in the jungle. Kate could sense a tension rise among the little group as they waited for Rhemmi to finish whatever prayers he was offering up.
Then the barking and woofing sounds began to be heard from all over the jungle, some were much closer than others. Captain Arganat looked worried. “I’m not much of a land-lubber, myself, but I know enough that those big jungle cats definitely do not travel in packs.”
Rhemmi stopped chanting and stood up.
“Our captain speaks the truth. We should make haste back to the ship. Quickly, my friends.”
As the group made a hasty retreat across the beach and back to the longboat, Kate and Gorbi each took one last look back into the greenery of the jungle. Kate could see several cat-like forms leaping amongst the vines and foliage. Kate was sure she saw that some of those black cats had arms with hands instead of four legs with paws . . .