While Benda and Tob were discussing in low tones what to do next, they heard suddenly from outside the kiwot somewhere nearby the sound of an oar splashing. They all froze, listening.
The gentle splashing continued for a time, until they heard what sounded like a small craft being dragged out of the water onto the beach of the tiny island upon which the lodge of the kumbios rested. As the boater pulled, he hummed to himself a tune which Benda suddenly realized he knew. His heart lifted. Without thinking, Benda joined in, singing aloud the words:
“We who go out upon the waters,
Let us return in good stead,
Nets full of fishes,
Nets full of fishes…”
The boater nearby on the shore turned and looked about him in all directions.
“Hearts filled with wishes,” he continued the next line, and chuckled.
“Little kumbios learned how to sing then, have they? Or be thou undine or some other sprite sent to torment a poor fisherman?”
“Neither sprite nor fairy am I,” said Benda from within the kiwot.
Tob was uncertain if this visitor was friend or foe, and cast Benda a disapproving look with his many small eyes. Benda merely shrugged, and mouthed the words, “What else are we to do?”
“If not a spirit,” said the fisherman, “then singer, show thyself to me, that I may see with my eyes, and hear with my ears how came you here to this lonely isle.”
Without hesitation, Benda donned his cloak, and dove into the watery door below the kiwot. Passing through, he swam free of the lodge’s cover, and turned to the shore where the boater had landed. He crawled up out of the water, once again soaked.
The boater turned with a start, as if he’d seen a ghost.
“No spirit nor fairy say you, but you speak from kiwot and come up out of the depths like a silvery ghost,” said the boater, looking Benda up and down. “Still, you are welcome.”
Benda in turn examined the boater, a man around his own age, dressed in the tribal skins and gear of the Squamat lake people. And he looked at the man’s tiny round boat, a coracle. It was like a large basket, covered in hide, barely large enough for one man, never mind two.
“I thank you for your kindness to such a peculiar stranger as myself,” Benda began.
From within the kiwot, the two kumbios dove out of their door, and swam toward Benda on the beach. Tob howled though, not himself a swimmer. He didn’t want to be left out of the action. The second kumbio hearing him, came back in, and lowering its head before Tob offered him its neck. Tob scrambled aboard, took a deep breath, and the kumbio dove back under again. They all went to join Benda.
The boater eyed this unlikely crew with interest but with wariness. He pulled out a pipe from his jacket, stuffed it quietly, lit it, taking a big puff, and offered it to Benda. “Smoke?”
Benda took it, inhaling deeply, and then broke out into a huge coughing fit.
The boater laughed heartily, and sat down then on a log on the little beach.
“I am called Velornix,” he said. “I am but a humble fisherman.”
Benda approached him, and sat down on the ground opposite Velornix. “I too am a fisherman,” he said. “But from far still to the south, a village near Cannaxus. And I am called Benda.”
The man’s eyebrows lifted in recognition. “Lake Cannaxid is not far off,” said Velornix, “but the city of Cannaxus – that’s another story.” He puffed on his pipe thoughtfully.
“And I am called Tob, Tob Gobble – at your service!” Tob broke in, impatient that no one seemed to be looking at him. He scrambled close to Benda (for protection, but pride would never allow him to admit that), and bowed with his usual flourish.
Velornix’s eyes twinkled in laughter, but none passed from his lips. “And I am at yours, my little fellow,” he replied with kindness.
The two kumbios frolicked and splashed in the shore, chasing and tumbling over one another.
“Now,” said Velornix, “suppose you tell me how came you here, this most peculiar band, in this most peculiar fashion.”
“How I would like to tell you everything,” said Benda, “in good time. But I’m afraid ours runs short.”
Velornix raised again his eyebrows in a question mark, “Oh? How’s that?”
“Well,” broke in Tob, who felt (incorrectly) both subtly mocked and ignored. “You see, my friend here was caught by Xenarths, and then by a giant eagle, but with my magic, I managed to change him into a great fi–“
Benda eyed Tob sternly. Tob grumpily took the hint, and promptly shut up.
“Xenarths,” mused Velornix. “Nasty business, I’m sure.” He eyed Tob carefully, and Benda. The kumbios splashed and raced one another in the background.
“Now what’s all this about an eagle?”
“A giant eagle,” Tob corrected him.
“Please,” Benda said. “There isn’t much time. The eagle who is a man, a shapeshifter. His name is Murta. His eyes are everywhere under the sun. We are in danger here.”
On hearing this name, Velornix spat onto the ground. “Aye, we know this wizard and thief. We call him Zedeffed, the Ugly. He preys on our livestock, and terrorizes our children. It is he who incites the Holmats and pays the Xenarths to raid our villages, so he can push us out of our ancestral lands. If he is your foe, then I am indeed your friend, though I may not be your countryman. Aye, I will help you.”
“I thank you,” said Benda, a wave of relief washing over him. He eyed the sky carefully before continuing. “Let me just ask you one thing, though – one fisherman to another. How came you here today, to this place, at this hour?”
Velornix puffed on the last of his pipe, then emptied it. “I dreamt this morning that a great silver fish fell from the sky.” He stood up suddenly. “And I came here to catch it. And it looks like I have succeeded!” he laughed heartily, then pointed to his tiny coracle.
“Get in then,” he said. “We haven’t much time to lose. The morning mists will soon be lifting. I might not be able to get you all the way to safety, but I can at least get you away from here. Let’s go.”