The Phoenician ship bounced lightly ahead of Sybaris’s zephyr under a clear and pleasant sky. It was odd and terrifying to see how powerful Syb truly was. On either side of the ship, about a boat length away, the normal winter weather, made worse by the volcano’s ash, raged grey and wild, spume flinging itself into their ribbon of calm and being whisked away.
They sailed under a blue sky, in a blue sea, along a line almost straight from north to south, toward Alexandria. It was a ribbon of summer laid across the winter sea.
Naida sat in her spot in the back – the stern, she reminded herself – with her magical brass lamp held safe in her lap.
The first day, the captain and sailors had been pleased and cheerful, even the dour Curser. By the third day of steady wind and calm weather the pleased surprise had cooled to awe as the wild weather outside their path became obvious. The captain had confessed he’d expected her to be able to call up a wind for a few hours at the most.
Then some of the sailors began looking at Naida, with her barely reddened belt tassels, and her obvious youth, with more fear. The Curser began to look at her lamp with longing and then true covetousness.
Only the captain would talk to his suddenly fabulous passenger and she found herself oddly lonely even though she could talk to Sybaris some, at night, and to the captain. He sat down next to her one day and nodded ahead of them “We’ll be coming into Alexandria in another day…”
“How can you tell?” Naida could see no difference in their ribbon at all.
“The water’s changing. More Nile, less sea… but my Curser tells me we might have a problem.”
“A… problem?” Naida felt her stomach quiver. Did he think she could help them?
“Aegypt might have closed the ports.”
“Why?” Her plan to travel south on the river was suddenly in trouble.
“Sometimes the priests or the pharaohs shut the whole country into the desert’s cradle and let no foreigners in.”
“But how shall I get home?” Naida cried and then put her hand over her mouth. “My home is south. My parents will have missed me.” That was all true, if Sybaris was correct and she had no reason to doubt her Godmother.
“Ah, lass, we’ll tack along the coast near to Siwa. We don’t want to bother the Carthagi now, do we?”
“You should be able to trade your fantastic gifts for passage,” he said. “You’ve made our last trading run this season easy and fast… we might have lost the ship in that weather we saw. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you’ll be able to get to your winter quarters safe.”
“Ha, my wife will hit my shoulders and kiss my face off when we get home safe. I was taking a risk, this.”
“I’m happy to have helped.”
He stood up, brushing off his seat. “I’d ask a favour, Wise One,” he said quietly, barely a murmur that even the steersman couldn’t hear. No more ‘lass’ or ‘girl’ anymore. “I’ve told Allial that he’d better not do anything stupid. He’s working himself up to try and steal your lamp.”
“That’s all right, Captain,” she said, just as quietly. “He better not make my lamp angry.”
“I ask that you not kill him,” he said. “He’s an idiot but he’s a good Curser/diviner.”
Naida twitched in shock. “Kill him? Oh no. I’m certain my lamp wouldn’t kill him, even at its most enraged.” She said it to Sybaris, knowing she could hear her. “Thank you for trying to stop him.”
He didn’t answer, but nodded and went forward.
It was late at night and only the watch steersman was awake in the stern. He watched as Allial crept up to the passenger girl, carefully. The Curser looked over at him and he stared over his head, up to the bow, as though he were blind, or trying to peer through fog, deliberately oblivious.
The girl had actually set the lamp beside her, for the first time since she’d set foot onboard and seemed to be asleep with her head pillowed on her satchel. Why she’d taken her hand off it only stopped him a moment and the lamp itself seemed to be casting a gentle night glow. Innocent. He paused and looked up at the sail where the wind still blew steady and unchanged for days.
He didn’t see Sukka on the port side, wrapped in his blanket, eyes open, watching as he slowly, slowly, reached his hand out and ran one finger over the top of the lamp. Nothing happened and the single finger caress, became a possessive clutch but the moment his hand closed and made to pull the lamp towards him two things happened.
The lamp apparently grew too heavy for him to lift or move, and the hand clutching the smooth brass curve could no longer let go. He tried to let go, let out a gasp and as his mouth opened and he pulled air into his lungs there was an enormous sigh, a gust of wind and where he’d crouched, tugging to try and free himself was only a thin band of light being drawn into the lamp.
Sukka shook his head and pulled his blanket over his head. The steersman fumbled his oar but gained it back, eyes bulging as he stared at the brass lamp on the deck that had just inhaled the Cursor. He stared at it, then at the girl, who tossed in her sleep, flung out a hand and pulled the lamp into her chest, cuddling it as though it were a pet.
Hours later, as the sun rose, casting bars of light across the deck, there was another gust of wind that began as a distant wail and the figure of a man tumbled out of the sky in front of them, screaming.
“Man overboard! Throw a rope, furl sail that we don’t over-run him!”
Sukka was on his feet and even sleepy crew managed to fling a rope to the man floundering, somehow not drowning, in the water. Once hauled out of the water, he hung from the other sailor’s hands, weak, seemingly not quite right in the head, shook from head to foot, and wouldn’t speak when they asked what had happened, how, when, WHY? The captain turned as they dragged Allial out of the sea, just in time to see Naida waking up, setting the lamp back on the deck, shrugged, and shook his head.
“Put him in his bedroll,” Sukka said. “It’s a miracle he’s alive.”
“Ay, Captain. He don’ know how to swim.”