The Wolf, Sea of Lyr…
Ruili was surprised by Y’lanna’s smile as she looked at the wreckage of her strange ship. He had expected sadness, not the subtle hint of satisfaction that seemed to pass across her face. Looking afresh at the twisted sheets and chunks of metal, he reconsidered his speculations about who and what she might be.
Ah, well, the vortex virtually guaranteed that whatever she had left behind in her former world would stay there — unless she chose to recreate it in Aeldreth. If she felt no fear of the future or pangs for the past, he would not presume to feel them for her.
“Very well,” he said. “Mr. Foxrun, when the last of the salvage is on board, secure it all in the forward hold. Then assign a cabin for our passenger. Helm, current position, please.”
Ruili turned from Y’lanna, and the entire ship called the Wolf seemed to awaken into action. Deck and boat crews loaded the last scraps of her old life on board like so much flotsam. Captain, navigator and helmsman consulted on a new course, while the bos’uns of the forward, midship, and aft decks shouted orders that sent sailors scrambling up the shrouds and across the yards. The huge, square sails unfurled overhead, and teams of crewmen turned the capstan to the heavy, rumbling clank of the anchor chain, as all the moving parts of a sailing ship came to life. And if Y’lanna Sparti felt a bit like a loose package being shunted about by those too busy to pick her up and set her aside, that might be understandable.
A last exchange of pleasantries from the Wolf to the Pious Drake between the cousin-captains Windwolf and Goldenbard, and the Wolf turned south, bound for the Grand Navigators.
As expected, the voyage took two days under full sail and a magically enhanced wind. During that time, Captain Windwolf had little time for his passenger, though the scholars were as much at her disposal as she might wish, with a seemingly endless list of questions. While no one person had been detailed to watch over her, the pretty, purple foreigner gained the attention of many of the crew and officers, male and female, eager in their curiosity to give a little company now and then as duties permitted. She was shown how to get in and out of her bunk in the tiny spare space allotted her, how to find and use the head. Someone would be ready to offer to pick the bones out of her fish at meals, or show her how to tie sailors’ knots, or sing the songs that kept the wind at their back. And someone was always there with a steadying hand and maybe a teasing laugh of “Ain’t you never stood on a wave before?” if the rolling of the ship over the wild ocean knocked her off her feet.
As novel as she may have been to them, and as alien as all this may have been to her, she only had two days and a night to suffer through it. Two days to sit tight in her assigned cabin or else navigate the narrow, crowded, pitching confines of the ship’s interior or the heaving, wind-swept decks, to find another place to sit tight. Two days of buffeting wind and cold salt spray. Two days of salt fish and ship’s biscuit and mint tea prescribed by Dr. Middlepine against motion sickness. Just one night on the wooden bunk that was little more than a shelf and the mattress that was little more than a flat pad, rising and falling and rolling side to side in pitch black darkness, surrounded by the noises of the Wolf — the groaning and cracking of the wood, the high-pitched hum of the wind in her rigging, the bubbling rush of the sea past her head, just the other side of the thin hull wall.
For the crew, the passage at speed was nothing, a “run to the shops,” as it were. Who could tell if it passed quickly or slowly for the alien they were carrying into their world? The elves, eormen, and dwarfs of the Sovereign Navy stood upon the waves as if they were solid ground. They rode the ship as if she were a chair, communicated in shouts and shrill whistles, passed the hours in song, and in no time at all, the lookouts spied the mountain peaks of their home islands.
The Grand Navigators, the Jewels of Lyr, the rich green islands rising from the Center Reaches of the god’s own sea, to which all the world set course at one time or another. First into view came the gray peaks of the dormant volcanos that dominated the main and secondary islands, then the misty green slopes and thin white ribbons of beaches, and the lesser islands stretching away to the south.
“Milady Sparti, come and see,” called Ruili Windwolf, beckoning her up to the castle deck where he and his senior officers oversaw the business of the ship.
“Mount Petinofoa on the Whispering Isle, Ilaroc.” He pointed to the taller of the swift-approaching mountains. “And there, her sister, Mt. Uafoa on the Isle of Legui. We are headed for Ilaroc and the harbor of Plesz. Soon we’ll pass the north beacon — you see it there? That white tower on the rock? Then we’ll be home.”
Ruili smiled as he spoke. To each man and woman on the Wolf “home” meant something different, but it put fresh vigor into the actions of every one of them. To Ruili, it meant family, friends and nights on the town, wine, women, all that. And it meant swimming and sun on the beaches he knew best. Though he’d only been away a few weeks this time, the thought of those comforts lit up his dark eyes.
Dolphins rode the Wolf’s bow wave. Shore birds came out to meet her. The watch-keeper’s horn cheered her as she passed the beacon, and the crew raised a loud reply. The ship slowed into the established sea lanes around the islands. More ships and boats appeared. Fishermen saluted the returning frigate. She rounded a headland of wave-battered cliffs, and there was Plesz, capital of the Sovereign Duchy of the Grand Navigators, the Shimmering City, rising like a pastel-colored confection up the white cliffs to the towers of the Citadel.
Two pilot boats rowed out to meet the Wolf when she passed through the Gods’ Gate, the opening of the harbor wall where stood the sea shrines of Lyr and Manawydden, patron deities of the Isles and the family that ruled them. Lines where thrown to the pilots, and all around were the perfumes of citrus and roses and cedar trees and fish markets, the noise and bustle of one of the busiest harbors in the world.
The last order Ruili gave before giving over control for the Wolf to be guided to her berth at the naval docks was to raise the signal flags to tell the watchers in the Citadel that they had a vortex traveler on board. This notification to the government was required by law, but it did have the effect of making the information instantly public. All the eyes on the harbor would know right away, and those who weren’t there to see would learn of it in the morning newspaper.
“Stay with me, Milady Sparti, please,” said Ruili. “I’ll accompany you through customs and up to the Citadel where the bureaucrats will have their way with you next. Don’t go running off.”