by Sarah Ann Watts
Kyran, a king’s son, has been disinherited and exiled to a remote temple. One snowy morning, a messenger arrives to recall him to court, where he is to serve as governor of the king’s other children. Kyran is a seer and a child of the Falcon, but his paranormal abilities do not protect him from court intrigue. He must ultimately set out on a quest to find the Winter Ship and its destination.
Chapter 13: Rude Awakening
I wake, reaching for the bucket. The ship is pitching and yawing. I feel so ill and am horribly sick. Daan and Lorcan look in on me, recoiling at the stench.
When I try to stand, the ship tilts and I would fall if Daan didn’t take my arm. I’ve never been on a ship before. At this moment I would kill to be safe on land. Lorcan offers me a tin cup of water but I can’t drink. ‘Please, open the window.’
‘Certainly, if you think you can breathe water rather than air.’
The sea is green against the porthole. Razvan should be happy, but to me being trapped in this wooden coffin beneath the waves is terrifying. As if my thought has summoned him — perhaps it has — Razvan shoulders his way into the cabin. ‘Get him out of here.’
They obey, dragging me up a ladder. It could be a scaffold and I wouldn’t care. If I thought I could open my mouth without throwing up I’d beg them to put me out of my misery.
They bundle my sorry carcass on the deck, where I take in deep gulps of the sea air like a drowning man and begin to feel life might be worth living. If only I could persuade them to make this infernal ship stop tossing and pitching like a toy tossed on the horns of an enraged bull.
But it seems my troubles are just beginning. Next, they douse me ruthlessly in buckets of cold salt water until I stand shivering on the deck and try to go for Daan’s throat with my teeth and nails. He deflects me like a kitten batting away a ball of wet string. I hit the bulkhead harder than I think he meant me to. With Daan, it’s hard to tell, but he looks almost concerned for a moment.
Razvan approaches with a bowl of steaming soup. I take one look and throw up again, this time over the side. I should be grateful to Daan and Lorcan for holding me. Finally, when the worst is over, Daan sits on me, holds my nose so I have to open my mouth to breathe and pours fiery liquor down my throat until the ship has a forest of masts and the crew have triple faces.
After that the stars come out in the sky, so many in wheeling patterns like flocks of birds. They lash me to the bulkhead so I can’t hurt myself. Then they settle to play cards on the deck, drinking wine until, mercifully for all of us, I pass out.
* * *
So this is my second night at sea. In the morning the sun rises over the bowsprit casting a path from the horizon. I open sticky eyes and uncurl myself. They untied me as I slept and made me a nest of blankets on the deck with an awning over it to keep off the sun. There is a pitcher of cool water with a cup for me to drink.
Remarkably, I feel well, though I’m dying of thirst. By the time I’ve emptied the pitcher, pouring a good half of it over my face, I feel clearheaded and alert and begin to wonder if a life at sea might be bearable after all.
My stomach is grinding with hunger, and there’s an inviting smell drifting up from the galley below. I pull myself to my feet and stumble towards the hatch. I’m halted by a sailor who stands in my way, arms folded, with a derisive grin on his face.
Such is my good temper, not to mention my hunger, that I take this in good part. ‘I’m just going below for some breakfast.’
‘No,’ he says. I ask him again if I can go below. He draws a wicked looking knife and strops it thoughtfully. I follow where he points the blade and go stand in the fo’c’sle while he stands guard rather like a cur that has dug up a bone and is saving it for later.
Razvan rescues me, telling the sailor he’ll take care of me. Then he brings me a mug of coffee and a bacon sandwich. I’m so happy I could kiss him, but I devour the food so quickly that my thanks have to wait until later.
Finally, when the bacon sandwich has done me some good, I remember to complain, but he interrupts me. ‘Before you ask, you’ll be spending the rest of the voyage on deck. Stay in the fresh air and you won’t get sick again.’
He gives me a sea cloak which he says will see me through nights on deck, reminds me to collect water from the tarpaulin if it rains, and then leaves me to myself. I’m more than ever a passenger. While I quite enjoy lazing around, it irritates me to feel so helpless, so out of my element.
Lorcan pays me a visit mid-afternoon. Daan and Naraya remain below decks. ‘In their cabin,’ Lorcan tells me before strolling over to the helm. The helmsman greets him like a deity which makes me think a little. I listen as he asks humbly for advice on our course; deferring to Lorcan as if he is an oracle. Lorcan shares his knowledge of storm lore and what we may expect in the next few days.
The word ‘storm’ makes me nervous. I whistle a tune I heard played at court until a passing sailor kicks me in the shins. At first I just think he’s tripped over me and I’m waiting for an apology. Then his glare, not to mention his raised fist, shuts me up.
Lorcan hurries over, slipping a silver coin to him and making a face at me as if to indicate I’m crazy.
The sailor accepts the coin but I hear him muttering, something about ‘Kick him over the side next time.’ He slouches over to the side of the boat and throws the silver coin in the sea.
Churlish, I think, until he bows his head as one does when making an offering to the gods. Wherever I am in the world, it is not home.
After the sailor has gone, Lorcan settles himself beside me and says, ‘You don’t know much about the sea, do you, Kyran?’
Well, no. I grew up in a mountain kingdom a thousand leagues away. The sea was a legend. I would say this but somehow I find myself nodding like an abject pupil awaiting instruction. Possibly because Razvan has come up on deck and is watching me.
Lorcan follows my glance. ‘Razvan can get a little... short-tempered sometimes.’
So then he tells me all about superstitions. Most sailors can’t swim; I shouldn’t whistle up a storm; and women are unlucky on ships.
Someone should try to tell Naraya that, I think. I can’t believe she is making herself scarce below decks to appease the crew.
I had placed quite another construction on Naraya and Daan keeping to her cabin. I was passing the intervals between seagulls chewing my nails, moping at my fate and her lack of interest in me. This gives me pause. I was imagining me, not Daan, in that locked cabin with Naraya...
Daan, I’m told, is busy with ‘navigation’. Lorcan notices my smirk and becomes even more like Master Fadil when he was disappointed with me. ‘Kyran, please, don’t you even care where we’re going?’
I lift my head at that. ‘Why should I? It isn’t like any of you are falling over yourselves to include me in your counsels. I am bound to Razvan for my life. Until he releases me, I’m his to command. Does the servant ask his master where he is going, or does he go meekly to pack his bags and saddle his mule?’
I hadn’t realised quite how angry I was, and I’m aware that many of the sailors have paused in their mysterious occupations to look at me. I suppose it may be more interesting than scrubbing the decks whiter than white or completing complicated rituals with ropes. This is enlivened only by occasional activity when the watches change or they all swarm aloft to set and take in sail.
The boatswain soon chivvies them back to their tasks. I stare after them moodily. They at least have a place in this floating world and know what is happening. Even the cabin boy, a waif with unruly blond hair is whittling idly at the railing, making a flute of some kind.
‘So it’s not his day to be flogged or raped then?’ I’m going by the pirate storybooks I’ve read. There is something about this whole setting that seems just a little unreal.
‘Don’t be an ass, Kyran.’
‘You’re saying I’m stuck up here on deck like a pariah for my health?’
‘Isn’t that what Razvan told you? Believe it or not, we are trying to look out for you. Not that you make it easy for anyone.’
He has a point, and suddenly I feel a bit small. ‘So where are we going?’
He smiles a little at that, and then someone calls him from the galley. He picks up my plate and mug and that is the last I see of my companions until the evening.
* * *
Once again, they all come up on deck to take the air. No one ignores me exactly but then neither do they make me welcome. My arrival near any group seems to kill conversation. Finally I go slouch at the port bow under the light of the great crimson lantern. I stare up at the stars until I feel a soft touch on my sleeve and turn to greet Naraya. She is wearing a sea cloak like mine and her feet are bare.
‘So they let you out?’
She laughs softly. ‘Poor Kyran. Are you very bored?’
I can’t think of a polite answer to that one.
‘Want me to cut you in on a card game?’
I shake my head. ‘Thanks, but no.’ I’ve never been interested in cards. Why bother to play when you know which card will fall next? And not knowing, that would be worse.
‘I’m sorry.’ I’m searching for an excuse that doesn’t sound like a rebuff. ‘It’s just that I didn’t play much at court. I lack skill.’
‘And you can’t bear to learn? Or lose?’
With that she sweeps away from me and I stay where I am, faintly ridiculous, I know, but there is a sting in the injustice of her words. I wonder if she can begin to imagine what it is like to be bereft of power when once you thought yourself invincible.
‘All of us think that when we are young, Kyran.’ Razvan drawls at my elbow. ‘Then we grow up. Come and share a jug of wine?’
I accept his invitation. It’s disconcerting that he can read me so easily, but there is little else I can do.
‘She’s not for you.’
Tell me something I don’t know. Still, there is fiercer comfort in the wine.
Later I find myself singing songs I can barely remember and listening again to the boy, whom I had dismissed as the cabin boy, playing his flute. Maybe he is that and more.
The music seems to go on forever. The sea air and the wine are getting to me. When the cabin boy lifts his voice in a clear song, I have the brief illusion that he is singing for me alone. The star setting in the west is mine as the ship sails through the night.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts