Agnon looked for the two berths the smuggler had promised. He was not worried for himself. He knew he could muscle his sinewy gray body into the crowd and, with the help of his silverstaff, sleep standing, at least during the darkest, coldest time of the journey.
He needed the berths for Jadeion, his breedlove, and their young twins. Born only two months before the firewar that had sent them on this journey, the twins were still shedding gossamer. They were fragile. They needed a safe place to sleep.
But, of course, this was a time of desperation and fear. Many, like the smugglers, were quick-to-lie.
Asked about the berths, the short-horned, stammering Morfron who had gotten them on the ship, did not answer with words. He motioned toward a dank corner of the ship. Then, he slipped away. He had their payment; he would not be back.
In that corner, wrinkled husks of once-giant jargunfruit were bound into what looked like a hanging chair. It still dripped some sort of liquid from whoever slept there last.
Jadeion did her best to sop up some of the mess with her skirt, holding the twins close. At them, she smiled and hummed a riddlesong, but to Agnon her face showed only fear.
He knew he would not sleep. Not until they reached their new land, a new home, new hope.
But, for how many of those fleeing? Hundreds of others had crowded with them into this rattling ship. For weeks, transports had been running three times every night, careful to be back before dawn. Thousands had already fled. Would there be room? Could they find food? Would it be safe?
The ship shifted herky-jerky into warpspeed, bringing cries of pain, both muffled and sharp, from passengers on the bloated lower level. Agnon instinctively looked toward the twins but Jadeion had them secured, their egg-shaped faces buried in their mother’s cape.
Agnon fingered the thin rubbery pouch that hung from his neck. His father had been so careful in constructing it. The old man, an elderpriest on their planet, had broken down in paletears as he hugged Agnon goodbye, shaking as he made his son repeat the instructions for the pouch, demanding that Agnon promise to secure it exactly as told.
In that dank corner, Jadeion closed her eyes and dreamed — but only in scatterings. They flipped through her mind like playing cards through her grandmother’s long, leathery fingers when she used the cards to bring news from the future. In fact, Jadeion dreamed of her grandmother … at their hearthtable … showing again and again the beautiful, green and blue images she had been able to conjure of this faraway place that was to be their new land, their new home, their new hope.
But Jadeion’s dreams flew by too disjointedly to reassure. She twitched so violently that both twins tossed, squirmed and traded places on her lap, unaware of what their mother was seeing. The giant green ladygod appeared again and again in those dreams … wearing what looked like a war crown … her green robes flowing … the fire in her hand … her plaque with the words that Jadeion could only hope were not lies:
“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand … Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand, glows world-wide welcome … her mild eyes command … Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”
Focusing on the promise of those words, Jadeion forced herself to breathe deeply, relaxing her long, lithe torso into real, full sleep.
No dreams. A moment’s peace. A mother at rest, her children safe.
She woke as the ship slammed, portside, into the green-blue waters of Table Rock Lake.
It skipped to a stop, tottered and begin to sink near Moonshine Beach, a smoothstone’s throw from Branson, Missouri.
…to be continued