The Stone Dragon Series – Book 2, Chapter 5
Read by Asclepius
Chapter Five. Missed Meetings.
“EEEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEE” With a squeal of delight Jenny Hawkins’s emerald eyes gleamed out the tiniest slits of her freckled eyelids. She squinted through the early-morning sunshine toward the dock below.
Earlier, with a whoop of delight, she had leapt from her small roughly-hewn bunk in the belly of the Sea Byrd and now stood steady beside the worn wood rail of the ship, her grip tight on the ropes above her. The ship had arrived in Jade Valley only a couple days ago. Without leaning over too far, Jenny could see how much of the cargo and baggage remained before they set sail. It looked as if they would be leaving today! Finally! She was getting off the ship at Etcetera, the next port of call, and going back home. It had been years since she left, and she now ached for the familiarity of her family home.
Catching a glint of sun off the shine of gold from the dock, Jenny observed their passenger dressed in dark flowing robes give a coin to a lad that immediately skipped off toward the village with a small envelope. The mage stood in the shadow of the ship. He seemed pale and unsteady on his feet even on the dock but not as sick as he was when he arrived.
Jenny knew he was staying in the fancy berth on the main deck. She had been trying to get a glimpse at him all the way from Laketown, where he stumbled back onto the wharf and tossed a hefty pouch of coins to the captain. Jenny knew the captain needed the gold and that’s why he was allowed back on board after the damage he did on the way there from the Mistrendur. She knew how badly the ship had been battered just trying to get to Ironhall let alone the damage on the way here from there and, sure enough, he was given continued passage after the repairs; even if it was his terrible mistake during a magic spell that caught the main sail on fire in the first place.
She hadn’t seen him out of his berth since Ironhall, but it didn’t take long for him to look straight up at her now, his gaze piercing and searching. She stepped back from the rail and out of sight just as she could feel the swell of the tide lift the ship a little. Even moored, the ship reacted to the constant movement of the ocean below and so creaked and groaned as it rolled with the incoming tide. And after years of practice, Jenny instinctively moved naturally and gracefully without thought back into the shadows, hidden…and breathed. He was INTENSE. Maybe it was alright that she hadn’t seen him before this after all.
She’d seen mages during her travels but this one did not seem kind or friendly like the others had been. She had learned intricate beautiful music from the elven mages she had encountered in her travels. The music was moving and haunting, too. The human one she had met had shown her some small magic tricks to entertain her friends…but this mage gave her a creepy feeling all up her spine and she was pretty sure he didn’t play any music at all or know any party tricks either.
She didn’t understand why her friend Aslinne, the ship’s cook, looked all glassy-eyed when he was mentioned in their whispers at the end of the day. In the evenings when the young women sat together at the rough-hewn table below deck and discussed life aboard the ship, he was one of the subjects that Aslinne would not talk about. Aslinne was the repository of the gossip on the ship and Jenny was the only one that Aslinne would tell anything about her own feelings and experiences but she never ever would talk about either the mage or what any of the others told her. Jenny wished she would.
There were gossips to be had in the kitchen if one were a fly on the wall. That little galley heard many a whispered secret between sailor and cook. She made it a point of honor to know all the comings and goings of her shipmates and Jenny was constantly trying to get Aslinne to share what she’d learned. Aslinne rarely did…which is probably why the ship’s crew continued to go to her with their woes. Even with all her moon eyes over the mage, Aslinne had not even revealed that mage was tattooed. Now Jenny wondered why not.
In another shadowy corner of the main deck, Kitty rested undisturbed by any onboard the Sea Byrd. From her seat at the captain’s table, Captain Violet Green eyeballed Kitty asleep while she herself sipped a hot drink of tea and nibbled the scone and cheese that was her breakfast. Kitty lay curled inside a coil of rope with the sun dappled golden on her snowy fur. It rippled occasionally, dislodging some unseen flying pest. Still, no one would dare approach. (Perhaps that’s why the rope was unused.) The feline had been watching the doors to the passenger berth across the main deck. Kitty flicked her ears when Jenny came bounding by but then yawned and seemingly ignored the little human. Kitty stared at the berth door for a time more before adjusting her fur, curling around herself, and again closing her eyes. Violet was glad she had thought to send a note up to Jade Mountain where Lucy took her wagon after disembarking. Next time she was up that way, Kitty would be taken back to Lucy.
Its presence on her ship surprised Violet a little but she had no reason to try to change Kitty’s mind about anything. Violet wasn’t sure why Kitty was now travelling solo but felt sure that Lucy and Torgin would have a tale about it the next time she ran into either of them in one of the pubs along her travels. There was no need to interfere in matters that didn’t concern her, and this was no different. She sipped her hot tea.
There was plenty of fish for Kitty to eat and she’d kept the vermin population under control on the ship since her arrival and that was going to be all the compensation that Captain Green would receive from the feline. It made her smile, thinking about delivering an invoice to Torgin for Kitty’s passage. Violet was fond of Kitty from previous adventures she had shared with Torgin and Lucy. Now she grinned into her teacup and blushed. Torgin was someone that even Captain Violet had a liking for and that wasn’t common for her at all. However, Lily had that faraway look in her eye anytime that Torgin’s name came up in conversation and Violet would rather die than interfere with the crush her sister had on him. She stayed well away.
Captain Violet had laughed when her cabin-girl, Jenny Hawkins, burst up from below and scurried out the galley onto the deck to peer over the port side of the ship. Jenny reminded Violet of her younger, exuberant self before the woes that sealed her life to this ship had taken the lightness from her step. Before organizing her crew for the morning, Violet went back to the task at hand and buttered another of Aslinne Gradh’s fine scones. She piled her plate full and, with one hand, headed for the ladder to her office.
She had barely bitten into the delightful pastry when again she heard Jenny skip back through the kitchen and bounced back down the crew ladder, her short red curls quivering as she moved.
“Jenny, a moment.” Violet’s voice wasn’t loud, but Jenny heard her and stopped short.
“When we call through the Etceter we’ll not be docking at port. You and the others will be rowed ashore in the skiff. I want you to take time now and well prepare your belongings for leaving our crew. Don’t forget anything! I went you ready, and in the skiff first, when we row ashore. Let’s not hold up the paying passengers! When you are done packing, go to the poop deck and clean up the mess you left there from trimming the lemon trees. Understood?” Violet tried to look stern.
With a flash of a grin Jenny answered with gusto, “Yes, Cap’n right away ma’am!” With that she turned and continued to bounce her way to the lower deck.
Shouts and thumps could be heard on the dock from the open portholes and several seabirds squawked too. Seabirds usually were around when there were barrels of fish to load. It didn’t help that several of the crew would toss the birds a fish now and then and laugh at the scrum as birds competed for the salty treats. The argument was escalating and with a sigh, she rose took one last bite and headed for the sound of shouting on the dock. This would need some sorting…
Below deck, dock sounds were easily ignored by the slight red-headed girl perched on her bunk as she once again repacked her belongings. She intended to be ready to disembark the moment they went ashore for the land journey to Darkshire Hills and the Benbow Inn. She was glad to have the company of Aslinne for the last bit of journey overland to her home in the mountains.
Returning to the task at hand she looked over her loot. The most important of her belongings were gifts for her parents and brothers back home. She ran her fingers over the small wooden toy in her lap. Little Jimmy, barely ten years old, was going to go mad for this little working catapult she had found in the markets of Central Brittany near the Wharf and his flamboyant twin Jeremy would get the pirate hat with an exotic-coloured feather sticking out of it that had been given to Jenny to wear during her time at sea.
Frowning a little, she gazed at the hat beside her on the bed and dramatically reaffirmed under her breath that she never wanted to wear it again or set foot on another ship once she got back home. Jenny had had plenty of adventure and now her budding musical talents might just earn her a living without going back to sea. The seed of hope was something to hold on to and cherish while this last part of her journey home unfolded. Inside the silky little bag was the silky embroidered cloth that Elves visiting from Vertas had traded her when she had been on a fishing excursion in Jaanaford for the fine rare fishes she had caught that day. Jenny smoothed its wine-red silken texture before setting it back inside the smaller bag. It was for her mother. Her favorite gift was for her father though. She turned to the chest at the end of her bunk. Inside was an old tapestry rolled around a carefully preserved telescope, one that Captain Violet herself had given to Jenny for her quick thinking in the hair-raising adventures Jenny had lived through.
This passion for the sky was something her dad and she had had in common: of the sky and of the sea. Jenny was letting go of her vision of being a sailor in favor of going home and taking up the lute and storytelling, but she still found herself drawn to the stars, even if the sea had defeated her dreams there. She now dreamed they would have many fine evenings staring at stars and planets but, for now, after carefully shutting the lid to the chest and replacing the backpack under her bunk, she grinned happily and plunked the black tricorn hat firmly back on her head. She bent to pick up a pail and grasped the worn wooden handle of a mop and skipped out to clean up the mess she made earlier.
“La laa, la laa, la laa, la laa, la-la la-la laaaa, lee la!”
Back on board after sorting out the sailors on the docks, Captain Violet could hear the young cabin-girl humming an old earth ode about joy as she enthusiastically mopped the poop deck at the back of the ship. Looking up and through her window, Violet could see Jenny dancing with the mop across the ships deck. Violet smiled absently and went back to plotting the ship’s course through the Twins and into the Bay of Storms to Etceter.
“Get out of my way!” She heard the mage order one of her crew to move the heavy crate that had just been raised over the side.
Their passenger, picked up unexpectedly way up in the north, also wanted to be let off at the dock in Etceter before Violet’s ship carried on to the Hidden Vale. Captain Violet believed he would be traveling by wagon from there. Some ruins or something. She could not remember the name. He paid in gold and didn’t give out any other details of his travels. Violet shivered, glad that he kept to himself and relieved he was disembarking soon.
He wasn’t pleasant to spend time with. He was seasick most of the time and when not sick, generally causing trouble with failed magic, including that fire. He did not converse easily or at all, actually. She would be glad to be rid of him but his fare, paid in a pile of Crowns of the Obsidians, was needed for refurbishing and repairs on the Sea Byrd and she had no qualms about taking on unsavory passengers as long as they followed her rules on board her ship. And paid their bills. There was always the plank if they didn’t.
At the same time, Violet had also persuaded Aslinne Gradh (with the promise of a fishing holiday included) to escort Jenny Hawkins back to her parents in Darkshire and so they would be travelling east from Etceter at the same time as the mage. She would miss Aslinne, but she could not spare anyone else: Aslinne was due some leave already, and it was time for Jenny to return home. She grimaced a little; good cooks were scarce, and she would welcome Aslinne’s return to the ship in the future. Although she was a little concerned about the young Jenny travelling through the land, Violet had seen the training that Aslinne did with knives late at night when she thought no one was watching. She was graceful. Silent. Deadly. Even though Aslinne had arranged to travel with that unsettling mage to Darkshire Hills, Violet smiled, knowing that Aslinne would make sure they arrived safely, and that Jenny would soon be back with her family. For a cook, Aslinne had some mighty peculiar talents all right. Useful ones, at that.
“Jenny!!! Stop dawdling!” Aslinne Gradh could scream like a fishwife when she wanted to be heard above the cacophony of the ship loading. “Get down to the kitchen when you finish those trees, I need help with the dishes and the potatoes aren’t peeling themselves now are they?”
Violet’s crew were well-trained and willing to follow her right into a storm at sea. Most of them had been with her since she limped the Sea Byrd to port, the lone survivor of a brutal attack at sea on her wedding day. She hired them right off the dock the same day. They took years to train to her ways and she had made sailors out of the unlikeliest of people. Even with all this experience in training sailors, Violet was absolutely certain that Jenny was not suited to ship life.
“Yes Ma’am, I’ll be right there.” Floated back on the wind from the far end of the ship.
Jenny was a hard worker and sweet-tempered, but she was also a voracious gossip and knew where EVERYONE on board kept their treasures, what their secrets were, where they were from, and where they were going, and she didn’t have much sense about when to talk and when to keep quiet about what she knew. Loose lips sink ships, and Jenny’s indiscretions were an example of the damage that gossip can do on a small community. It had caused several fistfights onboard already this season and Violet was of two minds; pleasant as it was to have a cabin-girly who wanted to work hard, and enjoyable as it was to relive her own youthful exuberance through the girl’s eyes, the order on her ship was far more important than a little comfort.
“Humpf,” Violet sniffed into her teacup.
Jenny sang too much for another thing; it made the other sailors nervous. Somehow, Aslinne playing her recorder or humming to herself in the galley didn’t have the same effect and Violet herself had joined the crew in the evenings to hear the songs Aslinne would make up about the adventures they all shared aboard the Sea Byrd.
Aslinne Gradh was worth her weight in gold as far as Violet was concerned; she was a talented, friendly cook who put people at ease right away. Even their grumpy passenger seemed to warm to her, and they spent quite a bit of time onboard in his suite playing games when the mage wasn’t tossing his cookies overboard.
She had also observed them whispering away for hours at a time in the kitchen. That reminded her to check the references of John Sliver, the cook’s apprentice, newly hired on to fill in while Aslinne was away on her journey with Jenny. That name was somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t place it for the life of her.
“Sliver, John Sliver…why is that so familiar…,” she muttered to herself while she put her quill into its holder. Violet rose from her desk to stretch her stiff back and tired neck before heading into the village to get the last-minute supplies she wanted, and to say goodbye to her sister Lily if she was in town. Lily would be glad to hear that Jenny was on her way home finally. It was a promise that Violet had made to Lily last year sometime before Jenny convinced Violet to let her stay on for a season’s voyage around Novia.
Captain Violet watched as the mage eventually climbed back up the ladder. Kitty watched too.
Once again back inside his quarters on the main deck, the mage still felt even the tiniest sway in the constant movement around him. His lips curled awkwardly in a grimace of a grin, as if they were as unused to the movement as his body was unused to the movement of seawater. Over the arm of his chair, he heaved into the stinking bucket yet again then reached out and patted the roomy and bulging bag beside him. Its presence comforted him.
“Soon I’ll be off this wretched boat and I can properly cast a spell.” Through the rich blue fabric of the bag, he fingered the solid edge of the little magic tome inside. It thrummed warmly and he itched to take it out and look through the ancient spells again.
“Soon.” He whispered to his book. “Soon.” Patience was not this mage’s name and he was having difficulty holding his curiosity in check. The grim smile on his face didn’t match the crazed look in his eye and a casual observer might even believe he wasn’t quite as benign as he wanted to appear.
He was soon done this last cursed sea voyage. A slash of a smile broke across his pale sweating face again. Etceter was the next stop: the one he was waiting for. After his business in Owls Nest, Spindleskog, at Skrekk, and then this trip from Mistrendur through Ironhall, then Jade Valley, and now over to Etceter, was more sea travel than he ever wanted to do again. He wanted, he wanted…well, he couldn’t think about that right now. Bile rose and he turned to heave again. This voyage had not been easy on his body and the dry bread, fresh water, and ale that Aslinne the cook had left for him on the little table was still untouched and unwanted.
Everyone heard the watchman call out, “One hour till departure.”
Then the loud voice from the crew master: “Passengers, please stay in your cabins until further notice. Tides up! Get a move on, ladies. We’ve got a ship to launch!”
This was welcome news to the mage, and he moved to his bunk and soon laid his head back down.
Lucy, Zyrina, and I could see the sails of the Sea Byrd leaving port just as we landed in Jade Valley. We ran to the edge of the bridge and shouted to the crew on the deck, but no one heard our words, and our wildly gesticulating movements were not understood onboard. Several of the crew returned a friendly wave to us before turning back to their tasks at hand.
“Well, drat.” I looked glumly after the ship disappearing into the blue of sea and sky. “Now what?”
“Remember what Finn said about the shipping schedules on the bulletin board? Plus, we know where she is heading in the end: Jade Island.” Lucy started walking toward the bulletin board closest to the Stone Bridge of Happy Arrival where the balloon had landed nearby.
Sure enough. Lucy spotted the shipping schedule right away. “We are in luck. It’s due next in Etceter, then Ardoris along the Perennial Coast, and then to Jade Island off the Hidden Vale.” She looked at her friends. “Since they are going around Novia, we are going to go straight north. If we don’t catch up at Etceter then we should get to Jade Island at about the same time. IF we travel by airship.”
“Oh, no,” Zyrina shook her head, “not again…”
“Yooo-hooo, balloon pilot!!! We need your services,” I called out to the balloonist. “Take us to the air ship that travels to Jade Island and don’t hold back on the speed!”