Orien: Surprises on the Beach

But Avren, exhausted, lay asleep with his men,
his skin caked with dry salt, and spattered with red blood.
His lips and mouth were parched from many moons at sea;
Half-starved from the voyage, he lay sick and dying.
All his men were worn out, drained by heavy labor
trying to reach the shore, and sick from short rations,
with damaged teeth and gums. The men lay exhausted,
burning in the sunshine, as red as steamed lobsters,
and thirsty for water, like fish too long in air.
They were most pitiful, not seeming dangerous;
nor could they be pirates, as the warriors saw
when they approached in force. They put their weapons down,
sheathed their swords and axes, for no good man will kill
such men in desperate straits, for fear of his own death
when fate brings him so low, and casts him on far shores.

Kembirel urged them on, but none had the stomach
for so cruel a slaughter, not even their master
the ring-giver himself — for who slays the helpless?
Avren and all his friends were strangers and not pirates.
They were starved and thirsty, and battered by the sea.
Ocean set them ashore in a kindly fashion
after a long cruelty, as is oft her habit.
Custom and courtesy, and honor demanded,
the men strewn on the beach be treated as new guests,
given clothing and food, and water and healing.
Would any listener fail in this great duty?
You know the law of old, and you would comfort them,
give them shelter and aid: So it proved for Avren
and all his companions, ten ocean-weary men
come to shore on Alba, the seven mountain land.

The Albans made litters from their spears and their kilts,
and lifted the strangers, and carried them back home.
But Kembirel refused to house the sick sailors.
He spoke his mind to them, all the Alban elders:
“The great house must be closed, and kept shut against them,
on chance they may yet wake, and do us much mischief.
Keep them all separate, and give them no weapons.
Shelter them each alone, and keep them from their friends.”
Gedlan sheltered two men, and gave them feather beds;
Fair Ilanseth took three, and saw them well cared for;
Pramil took only one, for his house was quite small.
Wellan took the last four, every one in great hurt,
and needing much nursing — and Avren was with these.
So were the men dispersed, each to a kindly house,
and welcomed in as guests, and gently nursed to health.

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