After three days of travel food and rations of water on the small ship begin to run perilously low, Strike attempts to fish but is used more to ice-fishing that catching his food on the open river, more successful is the elven Druid Demanor who transforms herself into a dolphin and swims alongside catching fish and throwing them (still squirming) up onto the deck. A thick fog has drifted in and the group, intent entirely on the task of catching enough food to survive, are taken by surprise when a large galleon looms out of the mist, Korra recognises the green sails as belonging to House Folder, oone of the merchantile houses of the Sapphire Islands, hoping that her family ties (via a distant cousin) might stand her in good stead the bard hails the ship. The hail is answered by Mikhail Folder, captain of the vessel, a rugged looking man in a long green wax jacket who is happy to see a fellow islander and invites them all aboard to have dinner on his vessel.
During their discussions in the galley they are fussed over by a the chubby red-haired ships cook, a man called James, who seems delighted to have some more discerning palettes to provide food for, he shoots Captain Folder an exasperated glance when he asks for just his normal bland bowl of porridge. As they all tuck into their food, Strike tells them about the two armies of dark elves and of the northlander dead that are slowly heading up the mainline towards Royal City, as he talks Strike begins to feel a little light headed and too late he identifies the sweet taste on the meat he had been served, oil of tagit, a sophorific, glancing around he sees that Demanor and Korra appear to have already succumbed to the poison and he attempts to stand but it is too late and he falls into a deep sleep.
Unaware that Demanor does not need to eat and had only sampled the barest mouthful of the food (and is only feigning unconsciousness) the Captain leaves to fetch his men, instructing James to keep an eye on their slumbering guests. As James returns to the kitchen, Demanor risks opening her eyes and, turning into a rat, bites Strike on the nose, waking him from slumber, after a brief discussion she makes a loud noise like she had just started to wake up and Strike hides behind the door; when the chef re-enters Strike swiftly knocks him out and enters the kitchen, he finds only a young kitchen boy who he also renders unconscious.
Meanwhile Korra slumbers peacefully, through a drugged haze she dreams of an ancient elven tale that tells of the Tree of Life, from where all life is descended.
Hiding the bodies of the kitchen staff, Strike and Demanor hear the Captain returning with his men, realising that they are outnumbered, they return to their seats and pretend to be asleep, allowing the Captain’s men to take them to a prepared cabin; the Captain laments having to drug them saying that he simply couldn’t allow them to ask questions about the cargo, but that they are still guests and all due care should be taken of them.
Once they are left alone, Demanor returns to her rat form and sneaks out of the cabin past the two sailors on guard, eventually finding her way to the cargo hold where a squat, thick set figure stands unmoving, secured with numerous chains and girded in stone armour; being one with the spirits of natural things Demanor attempts to communicate with what she assumes to be a statue, but is unable to make contact with the spirit of the thing. She returns to the cabin and bites Korra, waking her, Strike’s commanding voice cutting through her drug-induced haze, “We need your intelligence.”
Listening to Demanor’s description of the strange statue-like being, Korra remembers an ancient legend that talked of the mythical stoneborn, the creatures who built the oldest section of the wall that now surrounds the Kingdom; deciding that enough is enough Strike confront the Captain, who explains that he was concerned that they were Kingdom customs officials, but given that they know about the cargo and haven’t attempted to raise any alarm that is clearly not the case. Mikhail apologises for drugging them and takes them down to the hold where the strange statue creature rests, remembering that (in Korra’s tale) the Stoneborn had dealings with the ancient elves, Demanor tries a number of phrases in ancient elvish; none of them have any affect until she says “The wall is in danger”, the stone creature reacts to this by taking hold of her arm, although it moves slowly and remains silent.
One of the sailors tells them that the statue had a hammer when bought on board and, following instructions from Strike he runs to fetch it, the hammer is presented to the Stoneborn at which point it releases Demanor’s arm and holds the hammer aloft, jagged lightning flashed through the porthole striking the weapon and, in a strangely echoing voice the Stoneborn says “The wall is threatened.”
Captain Mikhail explains that they were paid a kings ransom by the Emperor of the Sapphire Islands to illegally smuggle one of the statues (one of thousands discovered below the Great Peaks by a recent Kingdom dig) out of the Kingdom, Strike wonders whether this is connected with the news of a recent ban on quarrying in the Great Peaks that had reached his ears, apparently order by royal decree of King John V. Distracted, Captain Folder fails to notice when Strike pockets the small container of Oil of Tagit, the northlander tells the Captain to move the Stoneborn to his boat and then he can legitimately tell the Emperor that the northlanders took it and hopefully escape any reprisals from the leader of his homeland; nervous of the creature in his hold the Captain agrees.
An hour later the two ships part company, the Stoneborn standing on the deck of Strike’s vessel, as they near shore, with a low grinding sound it steps overboard and disappears like a stone weight below the water, seemingly unconcerned it walks up the beach as our heroes disembark and begins to walk in a methodical fashion in the direction of Royal City.
Days later as they reach the outskirts of Royal City the Stoneborn continues to walk forward pushing through the assembled city guards that gather around it, barely seeming to notice them, Korra hears one of the guards say “It’s heading to the wall, just like the others.”
Theorising that the Stoneborn have become active now the wall is threatened, Strike says that they should head to the palace and warn the King of the many dangers his kingdom now faces, the Stoneborn may help, but that depends on whether they prove to be allies or not.