They slept “inside” so-to-speak, and the next day the witches took the pebble and hiked all day. Then Estaven and his guys took a few days, while Bran and Oscar explored the bronzed city.
They took a turn and by noon were thoroughly cold and miserable. And looking down at a frozen river heading south-southwest.
“Where’s a sled when you need one?” Bran grunted.
“It’s not actually flat.” Oscar eyed it. “I wonder if the canvas would slide. Umm, or maybe with a bit of a push?”
Bran grinned. “How about a shield for a magic sled?”
“Oh . . . let’s go see if that will work.”
He shifted the pebble to his back pocket, and thought about a shield big enough to include it.
The spherical shield rolled until he had the sense to sit down, then it wobbled around and finally skidded along nicely. Oscar laid down on his belly, and pulled the shield in a bit, flattened the bottom . . . opened a hole in the top to let fresh air in . . . Bran shot past him, with a whoop, and threw out a pull spell to whip around the first curve.
Oscar couldn’t hold it long enough, and rammed a snowbank on the far side of the river . . . and spotted Bran shoving off from the other side. :: Ha! Held it too long, didn’t you? ::
Received a hand gesture in return, and then they were skidding along, not quite so fast and occasionally needing to give a little push.
They must have covered a hundred miles before Oscar felt the liquid water below, and another fifty before he cut south and coasted up to a low spot on the bank. Dropped the shield and slid on the ice and scrambled up the slope.
Bran whipped up, gave a hard downward shove and flew up the bank and thudded down on actual vegetation. Well, winter-bare bushes.
“That’s going to hurt, when you drop the shield.” Oscar strolled closer and watched as Bran bent his shield outward and tipped it.
He slid off and landed on his feet. “Really?”
Bran raised a cautionary finger. “But! There were no goats! And I really hope you didn’t drop the pebble.”
Oscar looked over his shoulder at the window, made a rude gesture. “So, let’s take a look around. At least we’re far enough south to find brush.”
Bran eyed the bare branches. “They’re starting to bud. It must be nearly spring.” He led off to the south.
Five days hiking through increasingly green vegetation and they climbed a tall hill to get a good look around. Water to the southwest and southeast.
“Do they connect, or are they separate? The land spreads out on the other side of that narrow bit between them.” Bran shrugged. “I’d vote for southeast to see if the water there is fresh or salt. Fresh water’d be better for the city, I’d think.”
“Yeah, but let’s head for the narrows and see if there’s a land bridge or not. Then we’ll have a better idea of the options.” Oscar hefted his pack and turned for the narrows.
They stopped and camped early and the city emptied out behind them as everyone came out to take a look.
Doscompos sent men in three directions. “They need the exercise, and it’ll do them good to work to . . . well, rescue themselves sounds stupid, and I’m not sure there’s anyone, any place, out there to reach.”
Hail stared out at the rocky narrows. “Maybe we just need to get far enough south for better weather, soil we can farm.”
“And a place with animals to hunt.” Hudson joined them. “I’ve got horses and cows, once we get somewhere with grazing.”
Fair—the short dark witch—frowned. “I don’t understand where all the soil and forests around Scandia went. Surely it wasn’t completely glaciated? Ice ages take time. Certainly . . . well . . . is a thousand years enough time?”
“Probably time enough for local glaciers. Not a major expansion of the icecap.” Oscar shrugged. “I think.”
The rocky narrows were ten miles wide and split the ocean from what turned out to be a very very large fresh water lake. Everyone preferred the fresh water . . . and half of them climbed back out of the city in the morning to hike down to it.
The lake stretched out of sight to the east, widening as it went.
“Well . . . shall we flip a coin? North coast, south coast, or back over the rocks to follow the sea coast southward?” Bran peered east. “There are mountains to the northeast. Might be hard to get across.”
“And driftwood behind us. How about a raft?” Oscar eyed the big logs, the trunks of giant trees.
“Ah ha! Raft, my ass. Magic woodworking lessons coming up!”
“Ah ha! Your family traditions and training come in handy, once again.” Oscar grinned. “So where do we start?”
Bran pointed. “With that trunk right there. It’ll be the keel, and we’ll mold it into shape, with some of the bulk coming out and up to start the sides. Then we’ll add to the sides with those . . .”
They camped on the beach for three days. Doscompos and his people spread out, fishing gear in hand. Fresh fish would be a welcome change from the dried beef jerky and they’d run out of bread days ago.
“And we’re almost out of flour.” Hail dumped a load of firewood. “We need to un bubble a grocery store, if we can find one that’s by itself. I don’t think we’re ready for more people yet.”
Everyone in hearing range nodded about that.
The city inhabitants organized a series big fish fries over open fires. And watched the magic ship building.
With Selano helping, the hull was shaped and sealed quickly.
The rudder attachment and the tackle for the sail were the hardest parts. They scavenged through a hardware store that Gre and Hudson un-bubbled and, had enough to make-do. The canvas sheet was cut down for two triangular sails, and they launched Driftwood on the fourth day.
“Cruise the south shore. Find someplace with trees for building, and open fields for farming.” Estaven Doscompos, the leader, more or less of the city people stared longingly down the coast. “Then if we can’t free the city, at least we can start raising our own food.”
He ducked back through the window. The last of the city people followed him, and Gre and Hudson reluctantly joined them.
Driftwood wasn’t terribly handy. Or seaworthy. But with a brisk breeze and Oscar helping her along she could make five knots.
“Maybe, when I get home, I should study ship building.” Oscar sighed. “I’ve sailed so many ships, and I have no clue why some are such a delight and this one wallows. Not, mind you that I want to be a shipwright, but just in case I wind up needing to build another ship, it might as well be a good one.”
“Do you think we’ll get home?” Bran watched the grassy shore, squinted . . . “Am I hallucinating or is there an animal with a really long neck over there?”
Oscar squinted to look large. “Old Gods! What a strange creature! Look at those legs! I hope we get home. But if not, we’ve got a whole city full of people along with us . . . if we can get the rest of them out.”
They started shedding clothes as the weather and the season turned. And two days after the spring equinox, they rounded a point and eyed the broad entrance to what looked like a large bay.
“This would be nice for them, they said they had sailing ships, right?” Bran shimmied up the mast, and Oscar held his hands out to control the water make it steady the boat.
“Except for the cliffs. There’s a break in the cliffs ahead to starboard.” Bran slid down. “Oscar . . . what shape is that . . . city underneath? Underground? I mean, if it’s flat, no problem. But I keep picturing it as round, like a soap bubble. And if that’s right, we can’t just drop it anywhere.”