“That is not a natural sound.” Marra said of the distant rumbling.
“I would say we are approaching habitations, but it is not a very civilised sound either.”
Marra reversed the paddle to slow the boat as she steered into midstream. The river opened out dramatically ahead, exposing itself fully to the sky. “The Big Lazy.” She announced. “You should go up front and keep a lookout for shallow obstacles.
Morn jumped over to the prow and leaned hard against the rail to stare as far ahead as possible. The crystal clear water they flowed in on merged and swirled with the murky standing water of the Lazy. Shapes appeared in the algae and Morn directed Marra around them. “These are not rocks or plants. They are man made.”
“The Lazy is a burial ground for the river fleets of the North. This is where the final stand was made against the South. Father….. Old Morn served here, in this boat, until they gave the order to disperse.” Morn made out the shape of a propeller now he knew what he was looking for. “Old Morn told me about it. These first few hundred spans will be the worst, until we approach the heart of the battle at least, all the escaping boats caught at the bottle neck would be washed back by the current.”
Morn held up his hand, fingers splayed, for Marra to halt the boat. Ahead, the rail of a gunboat blocked their path. They could go left or right, but there were vague shapes in those directions as well. Morn took the dead anchor. Leaning as far ahead as he dared, he was almost directly over the railing. He fed the anchor rope through his hands until he saw it touch the railing, then drew it back and estimated the depth. A gentle wave of his hand signalled Marra to crawl forward.
They cleared the wreck. It was wedged against a rock, part of a natural barrier beyond which the number of obstacles dropped off drastically. There was an island ahead, a mudbar that had been promoted by the sprouting of a few trees. Grounded hard on it, holed, burnt and badly beaten was a ship. It seemed far too large for use on a river. “The Hotwa, pride of the Northern river navy. It was flat bottomed to clear the shallows, and the propellers were on reversible outriggers so it could change direction without turning around.”
“It took a lot of damage.” Morn noted.
“Such a big target. I would like to pay respects.”
“A good idea.” Though Morn was certain he had just seen movement on the deck. Amongst the many items gifted to him, all stacked in the front of the boat, had been a staff. Morn found it and tested its balance.
They grounded close to a tree and tied up to it, just in case. “Is there a way up?” Morn asked.
“Over there. A rope ladder.”
There was movement again when Morn looked up. Figures with guns and bows appeared at the rail. “Perhaps this was a bad idea.” Morn shifted the staff and went into a defensive posture.
A man descended the rope ladder, dropping a short distance, grabbing the rope to slow a little and then dropping some more. He had the same dark skin as Marra and wore the remnants of a uniform. Above his right eye were three straight scars. He kept his distance from Morn. “You are here for a reason?”
“Travelling south, where I believe my help is required.” Morn informed him, “My travelling companion and I wished to pay respect.”
“Ah, I see. My apologies for the greeting.” He studied Marra for a moment, hinting at recognition. “Come aboard and meet some of the Hidden Army.”