The Marsh King’s Daughter flew before a southern gale, bearing east around the Hammer of Arelaan, the great headland that formed the southernmost tip of the mountainous continent of Aria. She was two cords into the six-cord voyage from Arelaan to Raurugia. Each knotted cord charmed three winds, one per knot, to boost the speed of the already swift schooner and shave up to six days per cord off the time for the trip.
This natural wind, generated from a storm faintly visible on the horizon, needed no enchanted knots cut to strengthen it, though, only a song to welcome it into the Daughter’s sails. The voice of the ship’s magic officer thrummed through the rigging and the clouds of canvas, the vast mainsails emblazoned with the blue and gold emblem of the House of Ereon, the silver pennants of the Grand Navigators fluttering above. The sailor’s song called out a lively time for both the ship’s leaps over the waves and her crew’s well-honed team work in managing her at speed. Her captain was pleased. Another night of these conditions would see them clear of the Hammer and into the Arian Sea proper, thence a straight run north-northeast to Raurugia, the Serpent Straits, and the port of Sesus with time to spare.
Peino Starhand, master of The Marsh King’s Daughter, stood at ease on the castle deck, hands clasped behind his back. The wind tore at the tight braid into which he’d woven his dark flaxen hair and pulled out long strands to whip about his face. The skirts of his coat snapped about his knees as loudly as the shreds of a blown-out sail. He had even handed off his tricorn hat to the safekeeping of the cabin boy stationed nearby. He didn’t mind. He balanced comfortably on the strong wind and the bounding deck, in his native habitat of a ship at sea and his usual position to the right of the helmsman. The first officer stood to the helm’s left, the ship’s wizard was behind them, seated upon the stern rail as she sang her spell to a jaunty jig upon a concertina. From his vantage, Peino could view the length of the Daughter’s decks where the crew, whether working the lines, or bent upon one of the hundred daily tasks of life at sea, or larking about at liberty, picked up the song and carried it forward with the wind that carried them all. Above spread the sails and the white wings of sea birds riding along, and all about were rainbows conjured from the magic of sun and sea spray and the iridescence of the Daughter’s serpent-scaled sides.
A loud whistle from the lookout above and a shout of “Sail to starboard!” brought Peino’s attention sharply around. His dark eyes narrowed as he scanned the horizon till he found the tiny square patch hovering above the horizon. A galleon by the shape, beating up hard on the gale by the rate at which the little object grew as he watched it. A galleon, yes, but whose?
Peino took the spyglass from his pocket, snapped it open with a flick of his wrist, and raised it to his eye, focusing on the distant ship that bobbed crazily in the tight field of the glass’s lens. First officer Tahain o’th’Farwind did the same, coming round to the captain’s side of the castle.
“Spriggan,” he said flatly as the details of the oncoming ship became visible.
Peino nodded. “It’ll be the Brethren come to bid us the day.”
The Spriggan Brethren laid claim to the whole of the Arian sea as their hunting ground, just as their counterparts, the Spriggan League, claimed the Sea of Lyr on the other side of the world. They were especially bothersome in the southern latitudes close to their strongholds within the lawless realm of Caillun of the southern pole. The selkies of Lyrion and the Navigators, however, gave little heed to the claims of spriggan pirates. Never had, never would, till the day a spriggan chose to boast of being outdone by a selkie.
“Fools,” commented Tahain. “Do they think they’ll catch us in that laundry tub?”
Peino grinned at the thought, but at the same time he thought of what they carried on this voyage — a great value of Arian silks and spices and, more to the point, a diplomatic chest from the Glimmering Throne of Aria to the Floating Throne of Lyrion.
For years, the faerie High Queen of the air realm, Aria, and the merrow High King of Lyrion, the realm of water, had struggled to resolve a raft of age-old disputes. This latest round of diplomacy had led to new agreements signed and the exchange of royal gifts, with the Dukedom of the Grand Navigators, second sovereign power in the water realm, acting as neutral go-between. It went against Peino’s instincts to let a pirate go unchallenged, but…
“Sadly, we’ve no time for games,” he said, shutting up the spyglass. “Put him back behind the horizon, Tahain, if you please.”
Peino’s eyes lingered on the far away ship as Tahain shouted the orders that would coax yet more speed from the Daughter. But they lingered only for a moment before he returned to his comfortable stance, hands clasped, beside the helm.