That fair vessel had hardly been upon the water for more than a day, and already the harbor of that tropical and lovely little seaside village, Seasilly, was impossible to see, even by the sharp eyes of the lookouts. A moment ago it seemed, departing from those docks with gifts of flowers, food and exotic trinkets, the sun had spread cheerful beams upon the sturdy little ship. All too soon the monotonous gray sky of the ocean set in, and not too far behind those clouds was rain and wind and endless waves all around...
Mathan sighed, thinking of the pretty, big-eyed, dark-haired girl he had left behind in Seasilly. Was she still on that dock, tears making her dark eyes so luminous? Was it raining in Seasilly, too, and was she wet and cold, thinking of him?
"Another one left behind?" Mathan turned to see the second-mate, Tristan, leaning against the side of the ship, staring at the churning water below. Tristan gave him a quick, sympathetic smile, and patted his shoulder.
"There's a pretty girl in every town. A pretty heartbreak at every departure." Tristan sighed, and shook his head glumly.
"The life of a sailor is such that no love will be everlasting. Take it from a seasoned sailor who knows." Mathan nodded, and leaned on the rail of the ship, searching for the pod of dolphins that sometimes followed the ship, a merry sight.
"Aye, lad. I know what you're looking for. Those dolphins," Tristan smiled wistfully. "They've gone, down below the waters. They don't like such horrible weather."
Mathan sighed. Tristan was a sweet old man, and he knew more about ships and sailors and seas than anyone he had ever known before, but he was a bit of a downer. Mathan saw a dark shape below the water and pointed silently, his eyes sparkling. Tristan looked and gasped.
"That's no dolphin, boy! That's a hunterfish! The biggest one I've ever seen, by the looks of it. Quick, get the harpoon!" Mathan scrambled to the wall of weapons and fishing equipment and grabbed the biggest harpoon and a large net. He handed the harpoon to Tristan and gaped as the hunterfish rolled one pale eye up to stare at him. That coldness struck his heart, and he realized that he would never see another hunterfish that big. Did such a magnificent creature really deserve to be a trophy on the captain's wall at home?
Tristan moved his arm to throw the harpoon, and just as he was about to release, Mathan bumped his shoulder 'accidentally', and the harpoon veered harmlessly to the left of the hunterfish and sank beneath the dark waters. Mathan sighed, and Tristan turned around as the hunterfish sped up and abandoned the ship.
"You stupid boy! That was the best harpoon we had! And that hunterfish would've made me a hero!" Tristan was so mad that he was spitting.
"How would a reasonless murder make you a hero? Would it make you a hero in the hunterfish's family's eyes?" Mathan dodged Tristan's fist and yelled.
"What makes a hero? A material possession, a trophy?" Mathan bared his teeth and scrambled up the rigging, escaping Tristan's wrath.
Tristan cooled down after an hour or so, but he was still fairly mad at Mathan for making him miss the hunterfish AND losing the prized harpoon. He set Mathan to scrubbing the decks, and each time Mathan announced that he had finished, Tristan would find something wrong with the work, and Mathan would start all over again. Mathan began to long for a storm so that the decks would be far past any ability to clean them.
Mathan clambered up the ropes to the main-sail easily, swinging back and forth like a monkey, his bare toes curling around the rough rope. He whistled and sang sailor's tunes, and helped the lookouts.
One misty morning Mathan finished his lousy breakfast of hardtack and fruit preserves, and climbed up the rigging to help the lookouts. The men were unusually excited, and Mathan strained his eyes to find out why. Up ahead, through the fog, he made out the form of a dark and distant bit of land. He hopped up and down, and shouted in a cracking voice,
Tristan and the Captain burst onto the deck and talked in quick voices, gesturing toward the land with sober expressions. Mathan cupped a hand around his ear and leaned over to hear their discussion. He leaned too far, and the next thing he knew, he was flying through the air rather quickly.
Mathan landed with a thud.
And the world went black.
When Mathan opened his eyes it was dark, and he panicked.
"Help, I've gone blind!" he screamed, and quick footsteps came toward him. A door opened and light flooded the room. Tristan went to his side.
"It's alright, boy, you aren't blind. You're in the captain's quarters." Mathan took a deep breath of relief, and his lungs caught on fire. He gritted his teeth and nearly cried out. His ribs must've broken when he hit the deck. He'd broken them before, as a younger lad, and the pain was exactly the same. Tristan's brow furrowed. He reached over and unknotted a bandage that was tied around Mathan's rib cage. Tristan pulled tighter, and Mathan fought hard to keep his tears from spilling.
"Tristan," he gasped, "where are we headed? I saw land-" Tristan nodded.
"We are harbored now, on the coast of Anglend. We didn't want to harbor here, because the people's ruler recently died, and the whole country is in mourning. It's bad for business..but with you in bad need of doctoring, we had no choice." Tristan shook his head. "You're more trouble than you're worth, boy."
Mathan was placed on a stretcher, and carried down from the upper decks of the ship to a dock. None of his baggage was taken off the ship, and Mathan hoped he could trust the other sailors he worked with to leave it be.
A dark wagon with two black paards came, and the sailors, with fond grins and gentle hands, placed Mathan and his stretcher in the wagon.
"See you soon, boyo," one weatherbeaten sailor said, handing Mathan a small pendant for luck.
The sharp hooves of the paards and the wooden-wheeled wagon clattered noisily on the cobblestones. Mathan was beginning to get a headache, and there was nothing of interest on the ride to wherever he was going to take his mind off of his rib and head pain. The driver of the wagon never took any notice of him, cracking his whip over the backs of the paards once in awhile. Mathan lay back and willed himself to sleep, but sleep would not come. For a strange reason, he was too excited.
Mathan was left in the care of a skilled old Healer, who rubbed salve on his ribs and tied padding tightly around them.
Mathan stayed with the Healer for many months, drifting in and out of consciousness, waking only to eat, drink, and relieve himself. Then he would slide back under his pain and into sweet blackness.
One day, several months from when the Clarity had first docked, Mathan was told that he had healed fully, and could leave. He carefully moved his body, feeling a little bit numb and weak, but otherwise no pain. He smiled thankfully at the Healer, and was escorted outside.
Once outside, he was left with a young boy to help him walk. The boy was dressed in black, and Mathan remembered that Anglend was still in mourning.
-They must've had a very kind ruler- he mused.
From far away, Mathan heard the sound of someone crying. The sound grew as they walked on, until it was a veritable storm of grief. He and the boy had come to stop in front of a large and imposing building. Mathan turned to his escort.
"Tell me, lad, what is this place?"
"That is our old Cathedral, sir," the boy replied. "The ruler's daughter and all of the female court are inside, moaning for their deceased ruler. The daughter will be crowned Ambassadoress of Anglend at the end of the month." Mathan stared curiously at the cathedral.
"I wish to go in, boy. Wait outside, and when I come back we shall get you something sweet to munch on." The boy's face lit up, and he tugged Mathan toward the cathedral.
I entered the dark cathedral. It was many times as large as the ship Clarity had been, and a single footstep echoed loudly in the emptiness. Candles were burning all around and rainbow light spilled onto the marble floors from the stained glass pictures. All the women in the cathedral were weeping loudly, dressed in varying shades of black, their tears without conviction. All save one..an alabaster-skinned lady of enequaled beauty knelt grimly with her hands clasped before her and her face raised to the heavens. Small birds flitted from rafter to rafter above us and their small black shapes were the color of the woman's simple garb; a plain black dress of one shade and a cloak of the same sober absence of color. A hat with a black veil covered her head and the veil shrouded her lovely face. Her dark hair was modestly tied back (O, I longed for it to fall unchecked upon her shoulders and face!). She prayed in earnest, though to who I did not know, myself being one of the non-religious people of Danach. I watched her, the one angel in that holy place.
I might've made some movement, maybe an exhale of barely audible air. I thought it would be unheard over the wailings of the other women. But the seraph lifted her head and stared straight into my eyes, and then, wonder of wonders--she smiled. A sorrowful, beautiful, tortured smile, her dark eyes overflowing with honest tears. A wonderful thing to see, this silent goddess able to smile at a simple sailor such as myself through her own grief. She stood, her dress a silken rustle, and stepped quickly, quietly, carefully through the crowd of women and stopped before me. I knelt and kissed the hem of her dress, not daring to look into her eyes. She made a small sound, like the coo of a dove, and gave her slim hand to me. I kissed it in reverence.
"What is your name, m'lady?" Mathan asked quietly, and the sad Ambassadoress-to-be murmured in reply,
Mathan tasted her name on his tongue, reveling in the sweetness. The little ship Clarity was much like Claere, sweet and lovely, delicate in appearance and strong in reality.
"You may stand, sir," Claere said, and Mathan bowed his head as he stood. "Look me in the eye," Claere commanded, and Mathan did as he was asked.
"Such handsome features...What is your name, boy?" Claere asked.
"Mathan, if you please, m'lady," Mathan whispered, in awe. Claere smiled. "I do please, sir. You were well brought up, I see."
"Not really, m'lady. I've lived on ships all my life. It is a course life, but I was lucky--the Captain has a wife, and she taught me etiquette." Claere nodded and smiled.
"Ah, a fine lady, then, to keep her head on the rollings of a ship." Mathan nodded, his tongue tied. Claere took his hand, and led him out of the cathedral.
"I am still mourning for my father, but I now grow weary of the constant wailings, the drab clothing and the ache of my prayerful knees. Perhaps I need to take my place on the throne of a noblewoman..but why am I discussing this with you?" Claere laughed at Mathan's bewildered expression. "Worry not, Mathan. I know full well why I am speaking with you. You are the stranger to this land, yes?" Mathan nodded.
"Where do you come from?" the lady inquired, her tone of voice genuinely interested.
Mathan shrugged. "I have no home save the ship Clarity; it has been that way since I was born and lost my parents." Mathan did not dwell on his parents. He had hardly known them, yet the ache of being an orphan was still his. Claere did not question further, but she looked a little bit disappointed. Mathan tried again. "That is to say, I have been many places, but I have never settled, so I could tell you about those far off lands, but not in great detail." Claere smiled.
"That is fine. Where were you last?" Mathan winced; that pretty girl was still on his mind. "Seasilly." Claere gave a little sigh of pleasure.
"And what is Seasilly like?" Mathan pondered for a moment.
"The sand is pure white, and the water is even bluer than the sky; it is as if the sky is doing a poor imitation of that warm water, full of colorful fish, but no hunterfish, so it's safe, except for the occasional Tabriz attack.
"The days are warm, the nights are cool, and the plants--the flowers, the trees, the fruits--are all tropical. The shells are pink and the suns set and rise like a flaming drink." Claere laughed at his metaphor for the suns' activities.
"And the people?" Mathan blushed, remembering.
"The people there go barefoot all the time; it is never winter there. They wear very little clothing, and the children wear none. They speak a different language than you and I, a sweet, rich, clicking tongue, but they communicate well despite that. They make everything they own, and the richest man on that island is one who is loved by all.
"The women and children braid flowers and shells into their hair. The people have huge feasts of wild pig and fowl, fruits and strange exotic vegetables. They drink themselves silly, and then they dance, wearing flashy, bright-colored clothing and jewelry," Mathan remembered, his eyes bright. "They sing like nothing you've ever heard, and give presents to strangers and friends alike.
"I was happy there. I fell in love..and...I'll never see her again."
"I'm sorry for your loss..but thank you for sharing with me that island. You are a rich man, if only for your beautiful memories." Mathan nodded. He was ready to go.
Outside, Mathan met up with his young guide once more. The boy was sitting on the ground, leaning against the cathedral's wall. Seeing Mathan, he jumped up eagerly.
"Ready to get your treat?" asked Mathan. The boy nodded. Mathan reached into his pocket, pulling out a small bag. The boy looked on, greed and curiosity dancing in his eyes. Mathan handed him the bag.
"Those are exotic sweets, from Seasilly. They're meant to be sucked--not crunched!" Mathan warned as the lad popped one brilliant blue candy into his mouth. He nodded his thanks and ran down the street. Mathan turned away with a smile on his face, and trudged down the street, back to the docks.
"We missed you, sonny!"
"You're more trouble than you're worth, boy."
"How do you feel?"
"Meet any pretty girls?"
The raucous voices of his crew was music to Mathan's ears. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed them, and the ship, but it was evident to him now that he could never leave them, not for any pretty girl...
Not for any seraphic woman......
His thoughts were jolted out of his mind by a back-cracking hug from the Captain's wife. She drew back, a fond smile on her careworn face. She squeezed his shoulder and kissed his cheek, forgetting to be a noble lady in her happiness that Mathan was back.
"How are you, my boy? It seems only yesterday that you left us, but I missed you too much for it to have been only a day." The plump woman stepped back to fix him with an appraising stare. She dimpled in satisfaction.
"That healer was better than I thought. You look even healthier than you were before," she said, and Mathan smiled. "I'm glad to be back."
Mathan gazed out upon the water. He didn't look back at Anglend's distant shore. He was happy, for once, to be back on the ocean, and nothing, he vowed, would ever tear him from his rightful place among the sailors. Even Tristan had been glad to see him, however rough his greeting may have been. Mathan sighed in pleasure, and moved across the deck and down underneath to his quarters.
Mathan awoke slowly, savoring the misty moment between dreaming and alertness, feeling the sway of the ship and hearing the creak of its sturdy wood. He sat up, bumping his head on the ceiling, and didn't even pause to register the pain before dressing quickly and scaling the steps to the upper decks. There wasn't time to complain about minor aches and pains; there was work to be done. Mathan drew a deep breath of the salty air and climbed the rigging to be with the lookouts again. For a single moment Mathan's steady heart betrayed him and left him breathing fast in his fear, but he pushed his fear away and kept going. The lookouts greeted him warily, reminding him of his past incident. Mathan shrugged it away and focused his eyes on the horizon. To his consternation, he saw land. He announced his to the lookouts, and they nodded, saying that they had warned the ship many hours before Mathan had woken up.
"Why are we headed toward the land?" Mathan asked, confused. One lookout, a young man only a little older than Mathan, told him.
"The captain didn't trade very well on Anglend, and we're running short on food, so we're going to the nearest island, Pokel." Mathan shook his head and climbed back down, walking to the side of the ship and leaning over it, regarding Pokel with an icy stare. Pokel. He'd heard about that island. Men with a lust for adventure talked in disgusted tones about it. Pokel was said to be a very beautiful island, and very rich, but it was boring and had no challenges to offer for the intrepid traveler. Mathan thought he was an intrepid traveler, and so he gazed at Pokel with scorn.
Mathan had no choice. His entire crew--all save Tristan, who preferred to stay so he could gut any intruder that might try to take Clarity--was going ashore, and they wanted him to come. Tristan was still not on the best of terms with Mathan, and the crew was a little bit worried that Tristan might 'accidentally' gut Mathan.
Pokel was lovely, very green, with ancient stone ruins scattered across cliffs and valleys. Sheep were plentiful, as well as paards and ryanths. The whole island teemed with wildlife, and Mathan almost wondered why he mistrusted the island. But he knew. This was all fakery, beauty to lure the eye of tourists, make them spend their cash on 'rare', 'special' 'artifacts'. It made Mathan sick. Still, since it was mandatory..he might as well enjoy the fakery.
Half of Mathan's crew split from the other half and went to gather provisions. The other half went in search of
Mathan couldn't help but laugh, seeing his crew, usually a crusty, gruff bunch, chuckling and scampering from pub to pub. They were enjoying themselves, Mathan could see, but it wasn't until they reached the sauna that Mathan began to have fun, too.
The men entered the steamy room, in nothing but towels wrapped 'round their middles, and sank onto the warm, sweet-smelling wood benches. There was also a hot spring in the middle which some men entered, dropping the towels and sighing in relief. Mathan did not enter the water, but lay down on the wood, breathing in the steam and feeling dozy.
After the sauna, Mathan and the crew were waited on by their own personal ladies. Mathan was tended to by a lovely blonde girl, who gazed at him more often than was needed. Mathan, still in his towel, blushed profusely.
At the end of the treatment, the men walked to the nearest Inn and pay for a full week's stay. Mathan crawled into his cot, and gazing at the ceiling, he soon fell asleep.
Mathan awakened from his sleep on the hard cot and groaned. His back ached from his sleeping condition, and Mathan realized that he and his crew would have to return to the sauna. This thought didn't bother him.
Mathan and the crew hobbled down the street, moaning in achy pain with every step. Finally they reached the sauna, and lay down on the wood where young women came to massage their stiffy backs and shoulders. Mathan's assistant was the same young blonde, although this time, instead of staring, she spoke:
"If your back aches like this again today, come by tonight. I think I might be able to help you." Mathan shrugged and nodded.
Mathan felt better for most of the day, but he dreaded the cot that he would return to at night. He mused over the woman's words, and decided that instead of sleeping in his nightmarish cot, he would simply stay at the sauna all night, and sleep there.
When the day drew to a close, the sailors wearily returned to their bunks. Mathan pretended to sleep, but under the sheets he wore clothes. When he was sure all of the crew was asleep, he stole quietly out of the Inn, and ran down the cobblestone streets.
Mathan entered the sauna and put his clothes in the holding bin, wrapping a soft towel around him. He entered the sauna and waited for someone to come to see to his back. Mathan waited several minutes, wondering where everyone could be. Suddenly he saw a shape moving toward him in the steam. It looked to be his assistant, but as she came nearer, Mathan realized that instead of wearing the masseuse clothes, his assistant was wearing
Mathan's face went scarlet, and he turned away.
"Ex-ex-exc-cuse m-m-me," he stammered, "but, um--" The blonde stepped closer and put her finger upon his lips.
"I thought that this is what you wanted," she murmured, pulling off his towel. Mathan scrambled away and blushed.
"How did you figure that?" he cried as she crawled toward him, being a timid virgin himself.
"It was in your eyes and your manner," she said, her eyes flashing, her breath coming faster as she ran after Mathan's bare, fleeing body.
Mathan snatched his clothes and ran out of the sauna and down the street in his birthday clothing. Suddenly, a large flapping noise hit his ears and he skidded to a stop as a large blue dragon landed before him. A dark-haired man hopped down.
"Hello there," he said, not seeming to notice Mathan's sans-clothinged state, "I'm K'dron, and this is Oroth. You'll be comin' to Cathair Fionabhain now, I think."
Excerpts from the hatching:
Finally, there was Mathan. The strong, yet fun-loving Candidate. But there was one thing about him that truly endeared him to the starry dragon. Something that made him different from the rest. Of them all, he was the only Danachian Candidate, and her loyalty to her home world made Thentrith hope the best for him.
The ice copper that had hatched just after Deighith snorted. Mere copper indeed! Well he'd show her. Right after he found his new rider of course. But then he'd show her. He gazed around, searching out his mate's mind. "Over here Cathadath!" Mathan called, waving to get the ice copper's attention.