Now, Noah was a wise man and one well versed in the myriad ways of the world. He had spent more time in desert and steppe than most of those who had plied their trade upon the sea; indeed it was only his knowledge and consummate skill in the handling of Water Daemons that had led him to the nautical life some years before.

In his new circumstances, he was not entirely without resources or knowledge. The geography of the high desert was intimately familiar to him through long hours of study within the Pavilion of Convocation. More importantly, because of the deceptive passiveness and apparent weakness Noah had displayed in accepting his banishment, his gaolers had failed to identify and confiscate all of the magic he had drawn about himself.

He had carried with him one of the magic of Tongues, whose use allowed him to comprehend instantly a single one of the languages of this world. With magic and more mundane skills, Noah proceeded to re-form his robes to more closely resemble the garments habitually worn by the goat-herders and nomads who populated this scrubland.

Another of his meagre stock of magic was expended in tracking down a handful of wild goats and stray sheep, driving them to sweet pastures and safe waters hidden deep in a valley perhaps even the local nomads knew not. This oasis also grew dates and other fruits, and the flowers which attracted the wild bees whose honey could be gathered at the cost of a few stings that even his magic could not entirely deflect.

During his peregrinations, he happened upon a waif, a boy outcast and runaway, the youth crippled from birth by a club foot and dying from thirst in the desert heat. With time and care and more of his magic, Noah nursed the boy to health and repaired the defective foot. In his gratitude, the youth would become Noah's faithful servant and constant companion in the years ahead.

With milk and honey and fruit, and the meat of an occasional wild partridge or coney, Noah and his servant were able to survive well enough, and even enlarge the little flock as spring brought newborn animals which fattened quickly on the bountiful forage of the hidden oasis.

As time went on, Noah and his manservant would visit one or another of the more permanent settlements that served as markets and meeting places. Here, they would trade some of his livestock for the silver pieces used as coin hereabouts, which in turn allowed the purchase of cloth for tenting and clothes, and chickens for eggs and meat, and flour for flatbreads to augment their diet.

Although already into his middle years, Noah was still a fine figure of a man, tall and strong, and he still carried the noble bearing that befitted a Mage and Sea-master. The stranger soon came to the attention of the ladies of the townships, and first this mother and then that goodwife would tentatively suggest his betrothal to their maiden daughters.

After some years past, Noah became more visibly wealthy; his livestock flourished and multiplied and his fattened lambs were said to please even the most finicky of diners in the finest houses. He finally accepted the offers and blandishments from the mother of a daughter both strong and pretty, and accepted too from the girl's father a dowry rather larger than he had in all honesty anticipated. The wedding was the subject of gossip for a seven-day: this handsome but mysterious stranger who had appeared in their midst so suddenly and his marriage to the younger daughter of one of the town's most respected citizens.

The dowry allowed Noah to purchase camels and asses, and to engage servants and labourers, before the enlarged party departed for the hidden valley. The years that followed were long, yet prosperous. Noah and his new wife established a house and farmstead, paying off the labourers in coin and goods, and the new servants tended the flocks and farmed the bounty of the oasis.

The founding boy, now fully-grown and Major-domo of the new household, attracted the eye of the younger of the two maid-servants that had accompanied Noah's new wife from her father's home. The young man and the maiden made an accommodation, after the fashion of servants, and for ever after were regarded as man and wife.

Noah himself, ever prudent and cautious, hoarded the last of the silver coin presented by his father-in-law, and was oft-times able to add to it after a market visit. But there was money enough to provide luxuries for his wife: fine silks from China and sweet teas for evening refreshments.

In the natural course of events, Noah's wife presented him with first one, then a second and finally a third healthy son, all of whom grew fast and ran wild after the chickens. The boys were at first set with learning from their father and mother; later, a tutor was engaged for a period to instil the rudiments of civilisation in the children.

But Noah had not forgotten about his previous life, and the dangerous plans to open a Crossing to join the Two Worlds in trade. Often he would walk alone in the mountains, always watching for the telltale signs of the Seers' devices at work; or he would engage in conversation with sheep-herders and itinerants, always asking for tales of bizarre appearances or bright lights or mysterious strangers in the hills and high valleys. He found that there were many, many such stories, with ghostly visitations and shining objects appearing with worrying regularity.

Finally, Noah felt that he must speak out, to express to his neighbours and adopted countrymen the real risk that a wall of water, an entire sea, might fall out of the sky if the Crossing was opened.

However, his dire predictions were not well-received by the Council of Elders in the townships, nor by the populace at large. Too many people remembered his sudden appearance in their midst a decade before, and were jealous of his rapid rise in wealth and social standing. No matter that Noah's ascendancy was the result of much hard work, some luck and prudence, and just a little magic; he was still far too much a stranger for them to accept such an impossible prophesy.

Once again, Noah found his protestations disbelieved by all. His oratory in the market squares was met with silence, or laughter, or ill-concealed scorn; some street urchins even threw stones at him.

Disillusioned, Noah returned to his house to think, to plan, to consider his future. He could take his family and flee, but he would have to leave in the next season or so, he judged, if he was to get far enough away to be safe from the waters. But, he reasoned, suppose he was wrong, that the Crossing would be opened without incident. In that case, he would have abandoned his home for no purpose; worse still, he would miss out on the myriad opportunities available to a moderately wealthy and cultured man, one who was familiar with the language and customs in the Other World.

Finally, he hit upon a solution. He would construct a boat, a watercraft covered and stoutly built, one which could ride out the tidal wave. His mundane skills in handling sea craft would serve again, even without Water Daemons or other magical assistance.

A problem remained, however. In this region, timber was both expensive and hard to obtain. In what little time remained, it would be possible to acquire only enough materials for a boat large enough to accommodate his family and their closest servants, with barely room for provisions or livestock.

At once, Noah engaged agents to purchase seasoned timbers, and labourers with pack animals to transport the wood and to perform some of the heaviest of the construction work, releasing them once the basic shape of the boat was complete. These labourers and most of his other servants he paid off with silver coin, adding his sincere advice to leave the region as soon as possible.

Noah also took stock of his herds, separating the sheep from the goats, keeping only the strongest and healthiest of animals, and slaughtering or selling the remainder at market.

As he returned from the market place, Noah discovered that the coarse labouring men he had engaged had evidently gossiped in the tea shops and bars. The silver he had paid them had bought much wine for the men, and their tongues had wagged wildly. Noah found himself the subject of much uncouth ridicule and the butt of many jokes, with only a few more curious and thoughtful souls wondering at his uncharacteristic willingness to sell his sheep and goats at low prices.

Fuming at the intransigence and obstinacy of his neighbours, Noah returned to his family and waited, expending the last remnants of his magic to sense the moment of the opening of the Crossing. After three days of anticipation, the expected sensation surged across his awareness; the world-twisting wrench would have been hard to miss with even everyday magical senses. Quickly, Noah directed his family and the remaining servants, and a few pairs of sheep and goats and chickens, to the cramped darkness of the little boat.

With quiet trepidation, Noah and his Ark awaited the Flood.

Part 1 Afterword