Ch. 43. The Catch of the Day

Meanwhile, in the Vortex Zone…

The storm slammed the Sea of Lyr with wind and lightning.  Generated as a fast as a thought, it transformed all it touched — sun to night, the blue sea and sky to steely gray — around the roaring, spinning column.  The scholar had been right.  It was a big one, as big as the god of giants, if giants have a god.

The Wolf’s 300-foot hull rose and crashed into the waves, her four masts strained under the screaming force.  She followed the rotation and the pull of the sea.  The researchers worked fast, raising up their strange instruments, shouting their readings.  Ruili paid them no mind.

Rain and hail beating together on his ship and him, he stalked the slicked, rolling castle deck, shouting orders at the crew who could hear him, sending runners down to shout at crew too far for his voice to reach.  At his left the monster danced, and the Wolf chased round it, part leading, part carried along.

“Mana’s merry-go-round,” the sailors had come to call this game of riding the outside of the vortex, to honor Manawydden, god of winds, and the songs they sang for it were as fast and hard as the ride.

Ruili concentrated on handling the ship, not on singing through the cracking lightning and stinging hail.  Storm above and about his head, he yet could glimpse the Pious Drake in the sun beyond, so tight was the storm — spinning tighter and tighter by the minute, the Wolf flying faster and faster, until — CRACK!

A boom of displaced air, and the funnel snapped like a strained rope.  That simply did the ride on Mana’s merry-go-round end.

The scholars cheered.  The crew cheered.  Tension slipped from the air, from the sea, as the cloud softly dissipated, and the Wolf eased to a more comfortable speed.  Ruili judged fifteen minutes for this one, a monster indeed.  He saw researchers heading his way, no doubt with yet more requests, when the shout from the lookout came.

“Debris in the water!”

The excitement that rose in response touched even Ruili, who could not suppress a smile as he scanned the waters gradually regaining their sun-lit blue color.

“There, I see it!” cried a scholar.

“Helmsman, bring us about,” said Ruili, and to the midshipman stationed at his side, “Signal the Drake.  Investigating debris, and give the location.”

“Aye, sir.”

The black-hulled, white-sailed Wolf arrived at the point where the vortex had touched down, a good while before the green and gold Drake caught up.  What they found seemed to be huge, floating shards of steel, as if a massive shield had been torn apart.  The scholars, in ecstasy, called for boats or hooks or anything.  Ruili waved them off reassuringly.

“Lower two jolly boats, Mr. Foxrun, if you would,” he said to the mate, “with three crew per–”

“Man overboard!”

“Where?” Ruili yelled, racing to the rail.

“Man — er,” the lookout called again, hesitating strangely, “uh, there’s a person in the water.”

Ruili saw it, a dark-ish figure clinging to a sheet of the smooth metal, rising in and out of view on the still turbulent waves.

“Get a life-line out there,” Ruili shouted to the crew on the main deck, all thought of the needs of the scholars forgotten.  “Mr. Foxrun, go.”

“Yes, sir!”

No question of who they were lowering the boats for entered anyone’s mind, nor any question of the strange wreckage amongst which the boat was rowed as the Wolf loomed nearby and the Drake came up as well.  Friend, enemy, or stranger, no one would be left to the mercy of the waves, not if their plight was known.  And if the crew members in the boat paused in surprise when they saw the purple skin and the strangely ridged head they might have taken for braids from afar, the pause was only momentary.  Whatever might have been thought of the strange girl bobbing in their beloved ocean, hands still reached out to grasp her arms and clothing.  She was still hauled into the boat and still rowed back to the Wolf’s tall, darkly glimmering, scaled side.

Confused, unresisting, the girl was handed, as gently as the rolling sea allowed, up the rope ladder from the boat, where yet more sea-roughened hands pulled her onto the deck, water streaming from the odd, black overalls that hung like a sodden bag from her slender limbs.

A momentary silence hung over the main deck as the sailors took in the sight of this exotic, wobbly creature, lowered by solicitous help to sit on the planks, for fear her legs might buckle under her.  But if the eager scholars would have been the first to rush upon her, they were beaten to it by the captain of the ship, Ruili Windwolf.

The tall, muscular selkie, his coat and boots almost as wet as she was, soaked tricorn tucked under his arm, flaxen hair plastered by the late storm to his cheeks and shoulders, stepped up quickly to the crumpled figure.  His voice would have been the first she might have heard clearly.

“Alla, alla, qua d’holeth?” *  The joke brought grins to the crew around him, but Ruili’s expression softened as he looked down at the oddly colored girl.  He crouched to look at her closely, his lips parting in mild wonder at her appearance.  “Ammë,” she might have heard him almost whisper, shaking his head, “estisse ma-congion, nyë?” *

After another long moment gazing into her golden eyes, he rose abruptly and turned to the nearest officer.  “My compliments to the healer, and would he report topside immediately, please.  Also, fetch the kit, if you would.”

“Aye, sir!”

“Captain, this is most exciting–” began the foremost of the scholars, only to be brought up short by a raised hand.

“You know the rules, good sir.  She is clearly a person, and persons are not to be studied without their express permission, no matter how unusual they may be.  Let her be checked over by the healer for injuries and whatnot, and let her be properly equipped for speech and all that.  Then you may ask her what she may be pleased to allow, I warrant.”

“And the wreckage?”

“By all means, sir, enjoy the fishing.”

Captain Windwolf grinned at the scholar, and smiled more gently again at the wayward lass.  In minutes, the things he had called for arrived — the Wolf’s chief healer with his bag of potions just in case, and “the kit,” consisting of a small box of charms and medallions.

Pulling out a coppery locket on a long chain, Ruili knelt again and hung the trinket around the girl’s neck, clicking it open and closed once.

“There,” he said with another warm smile that brightened his dark and lightly spotted face, “can you understand me?”

* “Well, well, what have we caught?” and “Girl, you’re far from your home, no?”  Without a Dragon Tongue amulet, this lost person would have heard the sounds of Ruili’s language without understanding the words. — OOC

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