The Story Starts Here

Chapter 1: Mean Girls

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chapter 31: Fair Wind and Fill To This Line

The ship master and the harpy both turned to look at her.  “That, honourable young lady,” he said, taking in the red fringes of her blood belt.  “…is me.”

            “I’ll see you next time Sukka,” the harpy said and her crest came up and then down as she bobbed acknowledgement of Naida.  “Excuse me.” Her wing span was almost as wide as Temis’s but she fell backwards off the bollard and did a roll in the air before she could get so much as a single feather wet and soared off inland.

            “So, Greek Maid?” Sukka said.  “How can this humble sea captain help you?”

            “Master of the Water,” Naida replied, remembering the line from a book Temis had showed her and his eyebrows shot up.  “I would trade fair winds for swift passage aboard your…” she tried to remember the right way of asking, sweat breaking out all over her back with nervousness.  “… magnificent vessel, from this shore to Alexandria.”

            He burst out laughing and heads turned from the ship and from the shore, both.  “Well said, Wise Maiden!” and thrust out a hand.  She spat in her own hand, shaking all over, and took it.

            “We have a deal then,” he said.  “Welcome aboard the most elegant and gull-winged of cargo vessels on the sea!”

            “My name is Naida…-Ef… Efra.” Naida tried hard not to stammer but her voice broke anyway.

            “Efra?” He nodded.  “Then not Greek… Greek Aegypti perhaps?”

            She shrugged and hopped over the rail into the boat as if she’d done it a thousand times before, and sank straight to her knees as it wallowed under her, trying to make it look planned. She swallowed hard again.  He nodded at her.  “Tuck yourself against those barrels and you’ll be out of our way, lass,” and turned to bellow at another sailor bringing a bale along the wharf. If I can ride on a sphinx’s back while she flies, I can sit on the deck of a boat.

           With the lamp on her upraised knees she could just hear Syb’s voice, as if she held it to her ear.  “So… what’s the boat’s name?”

            Sybaris was laughing, her voice sounding a very long way away and echoing.  “Don’t bother learning that, it means ‘Fill To This Line’.”

            “So he was joking when he said elegant and gull-winged?”

            “Yes, dear.”

            “Sybaris I don’t think I can do this.  They’re all strange and this is all strange,” she whispered.  The ship’s Curser turned his head to stare at her, saw her lips moving and nodded.  “He thinks I’m calling up a wind,” Naida said.  “How am I going to do that?”

            “Temis told you, and I told you.  Hold up the lamp, tap it three times with that brass hairpin I gave you and call for a strong, steady, easy wind for this ship to travel south to Aegypt.”

            “And if someone tries to take you away from me?”

            Naida could almost hear the lamia shrug.  “First tell them the lamp is a gift from your God-Mother and if they insist… let them take it.  I’ll deal with them trying to get anything from me.” She chuckled.  “Someone will probably try.  Like that Curse man.  Let him steal me away.”

            “Don’t kill him, Sybaris!”

            “I won’t, Kitten-Naida-Efra!”

            Naida’s head snapped up as the ropes tying the boat to the dock were untied and thrown onto the deck where they were wrapped up out of the way, while the steering oar thrashed slowly back and forth to move them away from the land, helped by sailors pushing off with long poles.  “Go back and stand by the steersman, Kitten.  Give them a show!”

             Naida swallowed hard and stood up, clinging to the barrel. She could hear and feel the water slapping and touching the outside of the wood and the ship suddenly felt very, very fragile and tiny, even so close to shore.

           “Well, Wise Maiden?” Sukka called from the back of the ship… the stern Naida reminded herself.  “A fair wind?”

           She picked her way back to the stern, clutching the brass lamp to her chest, keeping her eyes on her footing, stopped at the Captain’s sandals next to the bare feet of the steersman.  Behind her the sail went up with a crackling and a rattling that sounded like the beginning of a thunderclap.  She turned around.

           There was no breeze anywhere and she could see people fringing the edge of the market back on land, and all the sailors looking at her.  Sybaris… oh help me.  She raised the lamp in one hand, took the brass pin in the other, held both over her head.  Give them a show, she thought.  She gave her most piercing ululation, part whistle part song, that she used to call the goats in. Then in the silence afterward she tapped three times on the lamp, each tiny ‘tick’ ringing far louder than it should.

           “Give us a fair wind to Alexandria!” She cried.  “Steady, strong, and fair as a true lover’s heart!”

           That got a cheer from the sailors and some people waved from shore.  The early morning air was thick and still. Then from the north behind them a rushing noise, a pause, another rush.  “It’s the wind coming through the trees!” someone cried from the wharf.

           A steady roar started, that came closer and closer, as the wind danced in the leaves of the trees, then flags in the village flapped and crackled and awnings billowed, dust swirled across cobbles, dust and fine ash, then a pause and the line of wind marked the still water.

           The sail billowed out evenly, with no banging or flapping, and the ship spoke, almost singing with the strain of the wind’s push.

           “Fair enough, Wise Naida-Efra,” Sukka said.  “Thank you for a fair wind.”
           Naida sank back down to the deck to one side where it looked like she might be out of the way, realizing that the lamp was shining with a pale blue light.  “Thank you, Sybaris,” she said.  “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

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