“Oh, come on, Captain! I’ll increase your share.”
“It’s not that, Cradal. I’ve told you several times this day would come. It’s not the share, you’ve been generous. It’s not working for you, I’ve no complaints there. I just want my own ship and now I’ve saved enough for the ship I have in mind.”
“Just one more voyage? Just to give me time to find a new captain for the Tionam.”
“Nice try.” I grinned at Cradal, the owner I’d been sailing for as captain these last few years. “Salgas, first mate, is ready to step up. He’s well trained and has all the skills you need in a captain. He’ll do well by you, and you by him.”
Cradal sighed. “Aye, I’ve known the time would come. Good captains are hard to find, and even more so ones that the crew would willingly follow to the Land of the Dead and back. Salgas, eh?” He made a note on the parchment before him. “I’ll give him the command, provisionally. Would he be better on one of the other ships, perhaps?”
I shook my head. “Not for the first several voyages, anyway. He knows the Tionam and her crew and they him. Let him gain confidence with her before you move him to another ship.”
Cradal wrote some more then put the quill aside. He looked at me thoughtfully before gesturing a servant to bring us wine. As the wine was poured, he said, “Well, it’s been profitable and I truly hate to see you go. But go you must, and so…,” he put a pouch on the table between us, “…your share of this last voyage. I’ve added a bonus to that, my thanks for your good service.” He took a sip of his wine. “Where away, Captain?”
“Back to Rowt Soleh. There’s a master shipbuilder there I would have build my ship. Before I went to sea, I worked with him. I told him that one day I would return and ask him to build me a ship.”
Cradal nodded. “You’ve ever kept your word. What will you name her?”
He grinned and raised his glass. “You were the one captain I had that never dodged any storms. To the Pa’adhe and her Captain. May they fare well!”
I raised my glass. “To the Pa’adhe!”
We chatted a bit longer, then rising, I took the pouch. “My thanks, Master Cradal, for the bonus. May business be good to you.”
He nodded his thanks and I left, a captain with no ship but a dream.
* * *
It was mid afternoon six days later when I walked into the shipyard at Rowt Soleh. I stood inside the open gate and took in the entire site. Larger than I remember, but even so still the same. I took a deep breath and savored all the smells: the water, the timber, the fires, the tars. The sounds were there, too, just as I remembered — a jumble of noise made up of shouts, lapping water, the thuds of hammers, the creak of wood, the hiss of steam.
My reverie was interrupted by the voice of a young man. “Can I help you?”
“Where’s the Master?”
He looked me over, taking in my travel stained clothes, before answering. “We have no work to offer.”
I looked at him mildly. “Do not presume to judge me. Where is the Master?”
“Ships here are expensive, if that’s what you’re after.”
I stepped up close to him and staring into his eyes said quietly, “Where are your manners? Would you shame the Master? Does he no longer insist on respect and politeness from his workers?”
Startled, he stepped back. “My apologies, sir. You are right. May I inquire why you are here?”
I nodded. “Much better. I wish to discuss building a ship with the Master. Where may I find him?”
He looked me over again, doubtfully. Gesturing to the ways on the right he said, “I only sought to protect the Master from having his time wasted. He’s down there, working on the fourth ship.”
I laughed. “As did I, once, when I worked here. That cost me a tongue lashing I’ve never forgotten.” I smiled at the memory. “Thanks, I’ll go see him now.”
The young man smiled back, uncertainly, then turned and continued on his errand. I watched him go, remembering my youth at this shipyard. With a sigh, I shouldered my bag and headed off to find the Master.
Even though his back was to me, I had absolutely no doubt he knew I was there. I set my bag down near a pile of planks then sat on them to wait. It was a pleasure to watch him use the plane to fit the end of the plank. The steady rhythm of his hands, the fall of near invisible shavings from the end of the plank, the press into place only to shave more off was relaxing to watch. Finally, he stepped back and laid the plane down, picking up a drill in it’s place. I hopped off the planks and joined him at the plank, pushing it into place against the stem.
“Down a hair.”
I pushed the plank down harder and he nodded. Quickly, he drilled three holes. As he put the drill aside, I let the plank back out. He grabbed a brush out of a bucket in the nearby fire and slathered the end of the plank and the area where it would go with tar. As he grabbed a mallet, a piece of scrap wood, and a treenail I pushed the plank back into place. Very little tar oozed out from under the plank, one sign of a master craftsman. He prodded the hole with a smaller dowel as I pushed the plank down. When the small dowel slipped deeper into the hole, I held the plank steady as he quickly took the treenail, cut a slot in one end, cut a wedge off the piece of scrap, shoved the wedge partway into the slot, then shoved the assembly into the hole. A few poundings with the mallet seated it solid, the wedge ensuring it would not come out. The Master quickly set aside the mallet and grabbed a thin saw. The saw made quick work cutting the protruding end of the treenail just above the plank surface. A bit of carving with his knife resulted in another wedge going into a slot fresh-cut on the exposed end and a few hits with the mallet seated it tight. The saw took off the little bit of treenail still protruding, leaving it flush with the plank. The Master eyed the whole plank end and satisfied with everything quickly treated the remaining two holes similarly. When the last treenail was finished off, I carefully released the plank and stepped back. He nodded as the plank stayed put.
“Get that plank, will you?” He gestured to the pile of planks I’d been sitting on. I stripped off my shirt, fetched the plank, and together we got it started.
By the time the sun was setting, we’d hung five more planks. As the last one was completed, he said, “That’ll do. At least you remembered how to work.” He gathered his tools into his toolbox and banked the nearby fire while I put my shirt back on. Satisfied with his work area, he came to where I was sitting on the planks. For a while he just stood there, looking me over. I waited.
“What brings you here?”
“A ship we talked about, years ago.”
“Eh? So. Let’s go to supper.”
* * *
The next morning I met the Master by the ship he was working on. Before I could say anything, he said, “I’ve been thinking. You will move into my home and share my meals. That way we can discuss the ship over the next few days.” He made a final tap with his hammer then laid it aside and turned to face me. “You’ll work for me as you suggested last night.” I nodded. “I don’t have a slip open, but I have one that will be suitable as soon as the ship on it is done. Come.” He turned and headed off up the yard.
Arriving at the slip he had in mind, he looked at the ways thoughtfully. “You said twenty paces length and five?”
“Aye, Master, but four not five.”
He grunted and walked up and down the slip and over the ways. Finally he nodded, and yelled for Ranim. A head popped up over the rising hull, saw the Master, waved, and disappeared. Shortly after a man came hurrying around the ship and presented himself to the Master.
“I’ve another worker for you. This is Lliom. He will be working under you to get this ship completed. I want her done and out of here immediately. How long?”
“With him, if he is trained, a moon and a half at the earliest but more likely two moons hence.”
The Master turned to me. “This is Ranim. He is the lead on this build. When this ship is done, we’ll build yours here.” With that the Master left to return to the ship he was working on.
Ranim looked me over. “What experience?”
“I worked here for several years as a young man. I have no tools.”
“Tools we can provide. We’re currently fitting the desk beams, so fetch the tools you need and get back here. Tools are in the tool shed same as always.”
I nodded and headed off at a trot to fetch the tools I needed. A quick glance back showed Ranim already heading back to the other side of the ship where the scaffolding probably provided access to the ship. I was soon back and climbing the scaffolding was quickly inside the hull. Ranim noticed my arrival and gestured towards a crew working on one of the forward deck beams. I waved and headed to join that crew.
* * *
Fifty-eight days later I stood with the team behind Ranim and watched the ship go down the ways into the water. She rocked from side to side but the arresting lines soon settled her down. It struck me how good she looked at rest in the water, even more so than she’d looked on the ways. As the group broke up and the dignitaries and owners began to leave, Ranim waved me over.
“Master says you’re to be crew lead on the next ship here. We’re to be your work crew and start laying the keel tomorrow.”
I’d been thinking about this for a while. After a moon and half I was still an outsider even though my skills had returned and I’d been carrying my own weight after the first few days. They’d work for me right enough, but not as well as they would for Ranim. I made my decision.
“Ranim, I don’t really belong to the yard like you do, I’ve been gone too long. Would you take over as crew lead? All I ask is that you confer with me on the design. It’s a totally new design.”
Ranim cocked his head appraisingly, then gave a slight smile and nodded. At that moment I knew I’d won him over.
* * *
It took a nine days to get the keel laid. Once the keel was down, I felt an anticipatory thrill as we set the sternpost and the stempost into place. When the ribs started going up and Pa’adhe finally began to take form outside my mind and drawings, something happened. Usually, it took the planking and decking to give a ship personality, to make it appear to become a ship. Whether it was the new design or the new building method the Master had talked me into accepting, Pa’adhe seemed to become alive even as her ribs went up. By the time the first strakes were in place, everyone on the building crew from Ranim down to the youngest tar-boy knew this ship was different. Yet, even the Master commented at one time that “she was coming along well”. By itself that was no big deal, in this yard it was expected that every ship built would “come along well”. Rather, the Master never called a ship “she” until after hull, deck, and all structure were in place. So even the Master seemed to sense something about this ship to be calling it “she” when her ribs were still going up. It didn’t take long for the entire yard to know there was something special about this ship.
Then disaster seemed to strike.
“FIRE!” ripped me from my sleep, but even so I was still out the door behind the Master. As I ran towards the blaze, I swore. Where the flames were, that part of the yard was where Pa’adhe lay. As the Master and I joined the yard crew already working on the fire, I barely had time to feel anything as I noticed it was the lumber and not actually Pa’adhe that was afire. Already the crew had pulled the burning lumber away from the two ships to either side of the blaze and formed a bucket brigade from the shore. Quickly I joined the bucket brigade and the fight to put out the fire. By the time the two ships were saved and the fire thoroughly out, I thought my arms would fall off. Not even the elation of seeing no burn marks on Pa’adhe gave relief to my aching arms and shoulders.
Dimly I noticed one of the build crew talking to Ranim by Pa’ahde. My heart lurched when he called me over and fear washed over me. As I approached the two, they looked at me then Ranim gestured to the nearest ribs. Even over the smell of the dead fire, the smell of tar was strong, stronger than it should be at this point in the construction. Several ribs were slathered with tar and a trail of tar ran from the ship to where the lumber had been. Fortunately, the tar trail had been quickly broke by the firefighting crew first on the scene as they worked to drag the lumber aside. I quickly glanced over at the next ship over then at Ranim. He was already shaking his head: there was no similar tar trail or smear on the ship on the other side of the burn.
I was about to ask Ranim if he had any idea who might have done this and why when I saw the Master approaching. Even as Ranim filled him in on what had been found a commotion broke out by the yard entrance. There was the sound of a brief scuffle, then a muffled “Oh, na ya don’t!” punctuated by a very audible sharp thunk. Shortly after, one of the burly yard crew I’d seen around, Va’aj, came into sight carrying what looked like a club and dragging an unconscious body by one arm. As he reached the Master, he dropped the arm of the other man and grimly held up the club: the remains of a torch. As the man on the ground groaned, he turned and raised the club to smack him again.
“Wait!” The Master’s word was law, and Va’aj lowered his arm with barely a glance at the Master before moving to stand behind the unconscious man, the torch-club at the ready.
There was no sound other than the lapping of the water against the shore and the groans of the awakening man. The sight of everyone standing around him in the full light of the moon must have been terrifying as he came fully awake, but it wasn’t until he looked at me standing by the Master that he went white. I glanced at the Master and decided I didn’t know if it was me or the Master that caused the fear. If I’d been in his place, I’d be deathly afraid of the anger visible in the Master’s face, too.
“Who?” The one word was all the Master said.
The man shook his head. The Master never took his eyes off the other man. A simple gesture and someone put a bucket of tar near the man. He glanced at the bucket, but still shook his head.
Again the man shook his head. The Master picked up a stick and stuck it in the tar bucket. Lifting out a glob of tar, he approached closer to the unknown man. As the Master approached, he scrambled back only to be blocked by the men standing around him. The Master smeared the tar on the stick on the man’s chest.
The man was barely able to shake his head this time. The Master merely scooped more tar out of the bucket and smeared it on the man’s legs. This time he tossed the stick into the bucket and held out his hand. Va’aj handed him the torch and lit it.
The man blubbered, but unable to take his eyes off the torch still shook his head.
This time, the Master jerked forward and, his face barely an arm’s length away from the other’s face, shouted, “TELL!” and then jammed the torch onto the tar on the man’s legs.
Barely intelligible through the man’s screams we heard, “Tiawe! It’s alive! The ship’s posessed!”
The words had barely left the man’s mouth when buckets of sand landed on the fire on his legs, smothering the flaring flames. The man was grabbed by Va’aj and Ranim and jerked to his feet. They only held him enough to prevent his escape, but I doubt he could have evaded everyone around him. He almost fell before he realized he was unhurt except for the gash on his head, courtesy of trying to get past Va’aj at the gate. The fear evident in his eyes prevented him from getting any words out of his mouth and he stood there like a fish out of water.
The Master looked at him coldly, then told Va’aj and Ranim to tie him up in an empty shed and set a watch while we decided what to do with him. When they were out of earshot, he sent one of the other yard workers for the Guard.
“Do you know Tiawe?”
I looked at the Master. “No, none by that name.”
“So. He’s Prae’aer.” The Master spat. “Why they would care I have no idea. Though there is something about your ship, even I’ve noticed that.”
Not knowing what else to say I asked, “Didn’t you take a risk lighting that man?”
The Master grinned scornfully. “He’s no yard worker, nor any kind of waterman. If anything, he’s a lackey. I made sure there was a thick layer. Would he know how tar burns from the outside in?”
I chuckled, as much in relief as anything now that the night’s excitement was over. “Will this Tiawe try again?”
“I have no doubt he will though I doubt he’s still in the area. By now he’s probably seen the fire failed. I’m sure, though, he’ll send another.”
“Maybe I should build her elsewhere.”
This time I got the benefit of the Master’s ire. “No. She will be built here. She’s already…started. She’ll be finished here. I’ll deal with Tiawe.”
Much later, after the day’s work and in the privacy of his home, the Master and I talked late into the night about the ship and the fire.
* * *
The next attack came twelve days later.
By then we had the framing done and the planking well under way. The Master’s new method of planking was actually faster than traditional methods, once we got used to it and into the working rhythm. Possibly that rapid progress triggered the attack.
For whatever reason, I woke early that morning, just as dawn broke. Unable to return to sleep, I arose and having performed my morning routine, made my way to where Pa’adhe lay, ready for the day’s work. Thus, I was already on site when movement caught my eye in the faint light. Not sure if I’d seen anything, I just watched the general area, leaning against Pa’adhe‘s sternpost.
The muffled thud of something hitting wood followed by a quiet curse to be quiet brought me fully alert. A quick glance around located where various tools and materials suitable for weapons lay. The rush towards Pa’adhe, when it came, barely gave me time to grab a pair of hammers and yell “FIRE! FIRE!”, the one alarm guaranteed to wake the yard into immediate action.
Not wanting to let them any closer to my ship than I must, I charged the group. I had the advantage of surprise plus my shout had momentarily startled them into stillness. With a roar I was upon them while they were still recovering. Swinging overhead, I struck an axe wielding attacker on the shoulder while spinning around to gain momentum for the hammer in my other hand. By then, though, they had recovered and I quickly became aware they were a more professional crew than the man that tried to fire the ship. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a torch swinging in my direction. Using one of the hammers, I managed to block that while at the same time striking at his arm with the other. He managed to avoid the blow.
Behind me, I heard a voice shout, “Trav, Be’etan! Get to the ship! The rest of you, kill him!”
I threw myself to the left, trying to roll out of the group surrounding me. A glancing blow hit my leg, momentarily numbing it. It was enough to keep me from rising immediately, but by then shouts were coming from all over the yard as men came running.
I managed to fend off a blow from an axe, but it cost me one of the hammers. I fought my way to my feet and attempted to get to the two men running towards my ship. Unable to cover the distance in time, I watched one of the two reach the ship and grab a bucket of tar. He swung the bucket back while the other started striking flint to light a torch. In desperation I hurled my remaining hammer. Even as I released the hammer a heavy blow slammed into my side knocking me off my feet again.
As I fell, my hand landed on the hammer that had been knocked away. Instinctively I grabbed it, and trying to roll with the fall brought it up in time to deflect a descending axe. As the blade embedded itself into the timber beside me, the attacker made one try to recover it, then abandoned it even as I swung at him. He leapt back, drawing a long knife and raising it to strike. As his knife reached it’s peak he gave a quick glance around, and momentarily hesitated, surprise evident in his eyes. Before he could react, an adze smashed into his head, killing him instantly. Va’aje reached down and grabbing my free hand pulled me to my feet. A quick nod and we waded into the fray.
As soon as the battle was over, I headed towards Pa’adhe, afraid that the second man might have managed to harm her. As I got closer, I saw that there was a smudge on one of the planks but nothing else. My hammer had struck a support just right, knocking a heavy plank onto the man going for the tar, hitting him in the head and rendering him unconscious. The plank had also smacked into the other man, enabling someone else to take down the torch bearer before he could actually set fire to the ship. Relieved, I turned back to survey the scene.
There had been eight attackers this time. Three were dead, the rest captured or unconscious. While waiting for the Guard to come collect the prisoners, we managed to discover that the one that had been about to knife me had been the leader and the only one that knew who hired the group.
From that point on, the Master instituted a guard on the yard.
I set up my own guard as well. As soon as there was a large enough space, I began sleeping on Pa’adhe.
Two more attempts were made to destroy my ship. One almost succeeded in firing one of the other ships as a distraction. In every case, we were unable to definitely identify who was behind the attacks. After the third attack on the yard, the Guard provided a permanent presence until Pa’adhe was launched.
* * *
I stood with the Master near the prow of my ship. Her graceful lines swept away from me while her stempost curved gently above us a man’s height above the sheer. She was absolutely gorgeous perfection.
The Master had already made his real inspection the day before. Now, as part of the launch ceremony, he left me to walk around her, over her, and in her. Coming to stand by me, he nodded his satisfaction. Responding to a gesture, Ranim brought him a brazier with a brand glowing red in it. Taking the brazier, the Master again went on board and set his sigil to the stempost, the sternpost, and the mast step, signifying his approval and marking her as from his shipyard. Returning once more to stand by me, he said, “Her name, Captain?”
Proudly I answered, “Her name is Pa’adhe.”
The Master looked at me, surprised then thoughtful, but said nothing. Turning to face the ship, he chanted:
“This ship from my yard,
Built upon the hard…
Her name is given her,
And she her master.
In dream he saw a Storm Runner,
And so Pa’adhe he names her…
To wend her way upon the sea,
With these words I set her free!”
As “free” rang out over the yard, two workers simultaneously swing their mauls to knock the holding blocks clear and Pa’adhe slid down the ways into her native element. Four spring lines kept her from drifting out into the bay until she could be warped over to the pier where she would have her final outfitting.
As the group broke up, I stood there looking at her. Pa’adhe floated there proudly, looking impatient to get under way, incomplete as she was. Mast, booms, cordage, steering oar, various fittings…there was still much to do but there she was before me, real after all these years. I jumped when the Master clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come, let’s get her to the pier.”
* * *
I had just placed the silver coin in the mast step and guided the mast into place when Ranim called to me. I gestured to the two men with me to set the wedges and went to the rail where he stood on the pier. He motioned to the landward end of the pier where two men stood. “Two who would ship with you.”
I nodded my thanks and climbed onto the pier. As I approached the two, I heard Ranim drop into Pa’adhe and start giving some orders about the rigging. Knowing she was in good hands, I gave my attention to the two men waiting for me. One was obviously a sailor, the other I wasn’t sure of.
Stopping a couple paces away, I made a point of looking them over. Neither gave it any attention, both merely stood there waiting. “You’re a sailor,” I said, nodding at the one, “but you?”
“No sailor, sir. I would learn.”
“Why this ship?”
“I’ve heard your reputation, sir. You were one of Cradal’s captains. Word is you’re a good captain to sail under.”
“Why should I take you and not the next sailor to come along? We’d have to train you and if something were to go wrong, how could we rely on you?”
“Because I’m willing, sir. I know how to follow orders and I know what I don’t know.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“How to sail, sir. But I can cook.”
“Hmph.” I looked to the sailor. “What’s your excuse?”
“Third mate formerly on the Abyuats, sir. I couldn’t stand the captain’s style any more, sir, so we parted ways.”
I’d heard of the Abyuats and most of what I’d heard didn’t sit well with me. Her captain had a reputation of being successful at the expense of the crew. “You take a risk telling me that. So tell me how you parted ways.”
He nodded, understanding the question. “I was given a choice, sir. I’d had some problems with ship’s discipline and spoke up. When we got into port, I was paid most of what was due and told to sign or walk. I choose to walk. I also choose to leave town immediately. Her captain has a way of filling holes in his crew just before sailing.”
I listened thoughtfully. Of all the captains I’d known, none spoke well of the Abyuats’ captain and his methods. They weren’t illegal, so far as anyone knew, but they weren’t approved of either. The only real question was his method of filling his crew just before sailing. Nobody ever spoke up who had been forced into his crew, if that’s how it was done, so no-one could do anything about it.
“So you were let go, freely?” I asked, staring hard at the man.
His gaze never wavered. “Yes, sir. I didn’t jump ship, sir.”
I gestured over my shoulder. “Go to the ship. Ask for Ranim and tell him to put you to work. I want to see how you work.” Both men nodded, picked up their packs, and headed down the pier. I watched as they dropped their packs on the pier and hailed Ranim. When he looked my way, I waved and he gestured for them to get aboard. I turned and went to talk to the Master.
When I returned to the ship, I watched the two men for a while before calling Ranim over. “They seem hard enough workers,” I said as he joined me on the pier.
Ranim took a drink from the waterskin I handed him before answering. “Aye, that they do. The one knows his way around ships. Works hard, pitches in where needed without being told.” He shrugged. “Seeking a berth or just the way he is? No idea.”
I nodded. “The other?”
Again he shrugged. Taking another drink first, he was quiet for a bit before answering. “I don’t know. He’s no sailor, that’s for sure. Doesn’t know his way around. Works hard but has to be shown most things.” He took another drink. “Seems willing to learn though.” We stood there watching them work until he turned to look at me. “Take him and you’ll be taking a raw man. It’s a risk on a new ship like this.”
“True, but it also means no bad habits.”
We watched for a bit longer then both of us went aboard and to work.
* * *
The sun was low on the horizon when we quit work for the day. I checked with the guards, watching the two men out of the corner of my eye. The sailor chatted briefly with a couple of the workers while the other climbed onto the pier then stood by his pack wondering what to do. He looked my way once or twice but I ignored him and continued talking with the guard. When the sailor also climbed out and stood there Ranim came to me and we began talking about the ship, studiously ignoring both men. Eventually the sailor shrugged resignedly and picking up his pack headed to shore. The other man watched him for a bit then looked at where I was still talking to Ranim. His shoulders slumped dejectedly then he, too, shouldered his pack and followed in the other man’s wake. He looked back once as he stepped off the pier but seeing no reaction from me headed for the yard gate.
The sailor had just exited the gate and the other man was but a few paces behind him when I gestured and a yard worker lounging at the gate addressed the sailor. The other man would have passed by but he, too, was stopped by the yard worker. As I headed off the pier, the yard worker pointed back at me and I waved the two men to me. I had them follow me to where I had a small stash of foodstuffs such as would be typical on a voyage. Gesturing at the stash, I looked at the non-sailor.
“You said you can cook.”
The slump was gone from his shoulders, even though I’d not said anything else so far. The sailor was merely watching the whole thing. The man dropped his pack and set to looking through the stash. After a minute, the sailor put down his pack as well and set about building a fire. I said nothing but sat down against a nearby pile of timbers and watched. The two worked well together, the sailor taking the cook’s direction until he finally waved the sailor off. Then there were two of us sitting there silently watching the cook work.
As we were eating the simple meal, I said, “You spoke true.” The cook smiled briefly and returned to eating. When we were done, we all three took the dishes down to the shore and cleaned them. Back at the fire I looked at both men sitting across from me.
“My apologies for the treatment. I would never have let you leave without word or some pay for your labor today. I wanted to take measure of you.”
Neither man said anything. They returned my gaze without rancor, wondering what the verdict would be.
The sailor spoke first. “Xinu of the South Lands, sir.”
I looked at the other man.
“I am the son of Walker of the High Mountains, of the Terut clan, of the Mra’al People. Were I to obtain a berth with you as cook, my name would become Cook. We name ourselves after that we believe to be our calling.”
I looked at the two men. “Xinu, an eighth share as First?”
The sailor looked at me in surprise. A smile spread across his face as he nodded.
“Cook, a twelfth share to start?”
Cook’s smile was bigger than Xinu’s as he in turn nodded.
* * *
Three days later, I had a meeting with the Master. As a result of that conversation, when we put out a week later, I had a crew of five on-board. The Master had loaned me Va’aje, Ranim, and Cortal for the shake-down cruise.
The night before we were to take Pa’adhe out on her maiden cruise, I called Xinu to me at the stem. When he joined me, I gave him his instructions.
“We’re casting off when the tide turns tomorrow morning. I want everyone on board a hand’s time before. We’ve all practiced at the pier, so at least everyone in theory knows what to do. It’ll be your job to oversee the crew and assign them their duties as you see fit.”
Xinu nodded as I stated each point, no irritation evident at my laying out the obvious work of the first mate to him. My next words, though, did get a raised eyebrow.
“When you set the watches, I want one person always under either your eye or mine.” My eyes darted to the person and Xinu’s glanced in the same direction then back at me. “At no time is he to ever be out of sight of either of us.”
Xinu looked at me, the question obvious, but didn’t ask anything. It was clear he knew if I wanted him to know, I’d tell him and if not, well, I was the Captain.
“One other thing. You’ll have to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing, of course, but I want you to give the most instruction to Cook. He’s crew, the rest are all temporary. I want him fully trained as fast as possible.”
We pushed off from the pier right at the turn of the tide and let the tide carry us out. Even with practice by the pier it still took longer than I liked for the sail to be properly raised. As soon as the sail was up, Xinu was directing the sail handling crew to sheet it home. As it bellied out, Pa’adhe seemed to literally leap forward eagerly, anxious to get out on the open sea. Xinu kept one eye on me and the other on the men handling the sail. When I gestured, he immediately gave the necessary commands to ease or tighten the sheets as I played with the wind in the small bay. Only when I was satisfied with how she handled did I turn her seaward.
It wasn’t long after we hit the offshore swells before Ranim and Cortal were hanging over the side. I chuckled but was glad I’d decided to sail with five rather than four. By my reasoning, a crew of four should be able to handle her, but as far as I knew no-one else had ever built a ship the size of Pa’adhe and outfitted her with this particular sail rig. The hull shape was new as well, the results of long talks years ago with the Master and my own musings over the intervening years. We seemed able to handle her just fine with the three crew still on their feet, so perhaps I could make do with three crew instead of four. That remained to be seen, though, and I could always reduce crew later.
All that day we sailed every point of sail the ship was capable of. Time and again I brought her about, giving Xinu as much as myself time to learn how Pa’adhe reacted. I was pleased, indeed, that my choice of hull shape and rig were vindicated so well. Pa’adhe sailed higher into the wind and was faster than any ship her size I knew.
Late that afternoon we were running off the wind parallel to the distant land. Confident as I was with the ship, I still wasn’t ready yet to risk her in a storm with a crew so unused to her. There was no sign of storm, but in this area sudden squalls weren’t unusual so I wanted to at least be within sight of land just in case. As Cook fixed the evening meal I reluctantly handed off the steering oar to Ranim, bidding him hold course. Beckoning Xinu to join me at the side, as we ate I asked him what he thought.
“She’s different from any ship I’ve ever sailed, Captain. The rig I’ve seen before on small bay-sailers though never a ship so large as this. Never handled one myself, but so far it seems to be working well. She’s lively, more than any other.” He glanced at me to see if I understood and continued when I nodded. “Dry below deck, drier than usual for a new ship. Crew’s OK for none being a sailor. Cook’s learning fast but no seaman yet.”
“You have some concerns, I think?”
“Aye, Captain. See that sheet?” He waited for me to nod before resuming. “I’m thinking it’d be better to run double, a sheet from the clew to each side rather than having the one sheet go to the block at the mast. It’d clear the deck more, be easier to handle the sail, and maybe be safer.”
“So, we’d put the blocks for each side about there?” I pointed.
He nodded and we spent the rest of the afternoon discussing similar changes in handling, lines, and layouts. It was dark when we finished up. I mentioned my plan to head offshore further the next day and we determined what changes to make prior to doing so. Eventually we parted, he to take the steering oar for a while and I to sleep.
* * *
I had wakened several times during the night, looking and listening just to check all was right, but when I rose just before the sun the next day I felt more refreshed than I had since leaving Cradal’s employ. By the time Cook brought me my morning meal, I’d already seen, inspected, and approved the changes that had been made during the night. Already, Pa’adhe seemed even more eager, even more easily handled. I resolved to give Xinu a bonus of sorts after our first profitable voyage.
All that day we put Pa’adhe through her paces. We ran her hull down, laid her over until surely she’d ship water, tested her with every point of sail and as many failures as we could think of. We also sailed further and further out to sea, the land long ago lost over the horizon. By nightfall, I knew we could sail Pa’adhe with a crew of three if we so wanted.
After the evening meal, I gestured for Xinu to join me at the lee rail. Quietly, I asked him who was on watch through the night.
“Va’aje and I until the middle of the night, then Ranim and Cook. Then I’m on again with Cortal until noon.”
“We’re going to have a storm sometime after midnight. Switch the two night watches. I’d rather you were rested and on watch when the storm hits.”
Xinu glanced around the horizon and at the clear sky above then back at me. Once or twice he opened his mouth but said nothing. Finally he just nodded. I grinned at him before saying, “Trust me, it will storm tonight in the second watch.”
I watched as he headed off to inform the crew of the watch change, shaking his head as he went. I couldn’t explain it but I sometimes seemed able to foretell storms even when there was no real sign yet. I shrugged and headed for the small stern cabin that served as Captain’s Quarters.
* * *
There were clouds dashing in front of the stars when I came out shortly before midnight. I joined Cook at the steering oar and got his report of the watch’s events. The swells had gotten bigger and the wind had been generally out of the south but increasing. They’d let out the sails a bit but otherwise it’d been nothing they hadn’t been able to handle. As the watch changed, I took over the steering oar.
Shortly into their watch Xinu and Va’aje began battening down the ship as the wind continued to increase and began to swing. Fortunately, it was staying between southeast and southwest — with this generally untried crew every advantage was a blessing. So far Pa’adhe was a joy to handle, she seemed to play with the swells and the wind. I yelled for Xinu to join me and when he was close enough I ordered him to double-check the stone ballast we were using in lieu of cargo. He wasn’t gone long before returning to report.
“The ballast was loose somehow. I replaced the boards that had been lifted. It’s secure now.” His eyes showed his unspoken concern.
“Good.” My eyes were constantly roving over the ship, looking for any other dangers, checking everything as the storm began in earnest. “Rouse the rest of the crew and station them where you think best. We’re going to have to shorten sail soon.” A crack of lightning broke the blackness and I counted the arrival of the thunder. “Better hurry, it’s going to be sooner. Have them rig safety lines.”
Xinu nodded and hurried off. Soon the crew were out and all save Xinu had a line around their waist tied to the nearest pin. By the time all were in place I waved for Xinu to fully reef the sails. They barely got everything done before the full force of the storm hit. By then only Xinu and I were keeping to our feet with any regularity as Pa’adhe climbed up the swells, rolling with the wind, then flipped over the crests to slide down the back of the waves before repeating the process on the next. From time to time she would dig into the next wave due to her speed but she never went too deeply into the wave. She always shook off the water as if playing and started climbing up again.
The storm was at its height when there was a crack that resounded from the mast. A quick glance showed that a pin had parted enough to loosen a halyard. I gestured but Xinu was already headed towards the line to take care of it. Before Xinu could get there, Va’aje had reached the end of his safety line, and unable to reach the snapping line untied himself. Together, Xinu and Va’aje got the line under control and properly tied down. As Xinu headed back to his post, Va’aje chased his safety line, almost going over once or twice before he managed to catch it. Xinu had turned back to help but Va’aje waved him off and wrapped the line around his waist. Before he could tie it, water came crashing over the side as Pa’adhe hit the trough and rolled, burying her rail briefly in a sudden gust of wind.
When Pa’adhe shook off the water and began to climb the next wave, Va’aje was no longer there. A quick look around showed no sign of him though his safety line snaked across the deck and in this weather I couldn’t spend any time looking for him. Xinu made his way to the flopping safety line and made it fast out of the way. He made a quick search as best he could but shook his head.
We battled on through the storm until it finally began to die out. As soon as it was safe, Xinu had the crew off their safety lines and checking out the ship while also looking for the missing man. A thorough search turned up no problems with either ship or gear and yielded no sign of Va’aje. As the storm continued to die, the crew released the reefs in the sails and the off watch finally went wearily to their berths. When dawn finally broke, the sky was a patchwork of trailing clouds with the storm low on the distant horizon.
I was quite happy with the way Pa’adhe sailed the storm and the way she handled. I set course back to Rowt Soleh and enjoyed the quiet after the storm.
When the watch changed, I handed off the steering oar to Cook and went to my cabin for a quick rest. Before I could settle into my hammock, there was a knock at the door. I was half expecting it but had hoped it would wait until later.
Xinu came into the cabin. He looked at me warily, obviously having second thoughts.
“Permission to speak freely, captain?”
So. If I granted permission, he wouldn’t be held insubordinate for questioning my actions. But would I lose his loyalty if I denied it? If I granted it? Only one way to tell.
“Va’aje was lost overboard.”
So he’s going to start with the obvious. I said nothing, just sat there waiting.
Xinu looked down at the deck for a moment before looking at me again. I could see him gathering strength for what he saw as the coming storm.
“It wasn’t any accident, sir.”
I asked quietly, “What do you mean, Xinu?”
“I didn’t see anything, sir. But I felt the ship shift against her movement.”
I hid my smile. Xinu had just shown me how good a sailor he was. Now I really wanted to keep him if I could. Again, I said nothing, waiting.
Xinu looked away briefly then stubbornly faced me and plowed on. “I need to know, Captain. Was it an accident or not? Pa’adhe was moving with the rising wave then she turned. It was small, but I felt it. Sir, was it really an accident?”
“It was an assisted accident.”
Xinu’s face seemed to freeze. I knew I was about to lose his loyalty. I had to be careful now.
“Was there reason, sir?”
“May I know, sir?”
There it is, the crucial point. I made my decision. I would not lie to him.
“You may. Be aware, though, that in telling you I risk your life as well. Do you truly still want to know?”
“Very well. You are aware of the attacks on Pa’adhe while she was being built?” I waited for Xinu’s nod before continuing. “It appeared, and may still be, that the attacks were the work of Tiawe, of the Prae’aer. However, through the fortune of capturing who we did, keeping an eye out, and certain observations and activities that took place during succeeding battles at the yard, we determined one thing. We had a traitor in the yard. The Master and I had also talked long and hard with the man we captured first before turning him over to the Guard. Whether that traitor was Tiawe as well we couldn’t tell. But of this there was no doubt: Va’aje was the traitor. He was the one that hired the men that attacked Pa’adhe each time. He was also the one that killed the only people that could identify him, save one. The only reason that man lived was that Ranim came to Va’aje’s aid at the gate too soon. It was only luck, or perhaps the Master already had suspicions, that Ranim was put in charge of guarding him and not Va’aje. Then there was the matter of the loose ballast…someone had to take those planks out.”
Xinu stood there silently. I could do nothing but wait and see what he would say. Finally, he asked, “You said you questioned him long and hard.” I nodded. “When you say hard, what does that mean?”
“It was not torture or anything like that. Perhaps unrelenting would have been the better word for it.”
“Thank you, Captain. May I leave now?”
I nodded. I watched as Xinu turned and left without saying anything else. Now I could only wait and see what happened. Wearily, I climbed into my hammock and was soon asleep.
* * *
Three days later we sailed into Rowt Soleh. During those three days, Xinu had been very formal, maintaining the distance between Captain and First Mate. He continued training Cook every bit as thoroughly as he had before and was as attentive to Pa’adhe as ever. He had been nothing but polite and proper when we interacted, and I still had no idea what he thought or if he would remain with Pa’adhe when we tied up at the pier.
Once we had tied up and everything was put away, inventories taken, necessary supplies determined, and the crew dismissed, Xinu finally came to me.
“Captain, may I speak plainly?”
I merely nodded.
“I understand now. I trust you had sufficient knowledge and did what you had to. It eventually occurred to me that the accident was perhaps best all around. Va’aje’s family kept his name and honor even as he was dealt with as must be.” He paused to look at me before continuing. “I should have trusted you more, Captain. After all, I knew your reputation though I had not sailed with you before. I will accept your decision on my behavior.”
I looked at Xinu without speaking, thinking, long enough that he began to get nervous. Choosing my words carefully, I said, “Xinu, you had the courage to bring up something that you knew was not all it seemed. I value that in a man. You acted as I’d expect, given your leaving the Abyuats the way you did.”
I saw some of the tension go out of him. “Tomorrow, I need you to go into town. We need supplies for the voyage to Maerle and I need two more sailors.” I smiled inwardly as the tension drained completely out of him and he saluted and left.
With a tired sigh, I turned and headed for the Master’s house to report on our decision regarding Va’aje.