The Voyage of the Visund -3-

The third leg of their voyage sees the Visund tackle the toughest leg: upstream with no wind assistance, crossing the main current. This involves almost everyone taking an oar. Once past the obstacle, the next reach proves easy sailing, but just before they reach their stop for the following night, the lookouts spot something.

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The Voyage of the Visund

A tale of Anmar by Penny Lane

3 - Crossing the Current


Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2018 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



As was often the case, Eriana turned heads when she led Bennet and Semma to breakfast the following morning. Today this was because they were not dressed for traveling. The two guardswomen wore their uniforms, with swords, while Eriana had opted for one of her day gowns.

Most of her crew, and all of the Jothans, stood as she approached. She gave them a regal wave.

"Good morrow, friends. Please, you should not stand for me like this. I prefer the rule that Garia suggested, that if you have already already started your meal then you should continue. I am the one interrupting you, not the other way around."

Most muttered good-naturedly at her and resumed their meals, but Wallesan held a chair for her, while Maralin and Hambran seated the girls.

"Your Grace, you should not! I am but an uncouth ship's captain from a land of barbarians."

Wallesan smiled. "...Who is also the daughter of a King and a Princess of one of the strongest countries in the Great Valley! I am a noble and a gentleman, and it is a gentleman's task to ensure that our ladies are well looked after, for it is they who will bear the next generation."

"I cannot disagree, Your Grace," her smile faded, "but I have had in my life no thoughts of motherhood at all. Perhaps that duty is not for one such as myself."

Wallesan saw that the guardswomen were staring at Eriana at this revelation. "Eriana, do not wish your life away. A year ago you could not have imagined what adventures you have had since."

"Aye, Wallesan," she nodded, as they dropped the formal tones, "you are right. A hasty voyage, strange lands, battles, friends I never knew existed. I am still young and there is much water to flow by before I know what fate has arranged for me." She made to stand again. "If you will excuse me, I must obtain my breakfast, and these two are also hungry."

"No need, here are two of your crew bearing trays. Now, tell me if you would, why are you attired so? Is there some function I have overlooked?"

Eriana smiled as her men placed bowls, plates and cutlery on the table. "Not at all. I have an errand, I find, to the local market before we sail. We discussed it this morning when we rose and decided that a noblewoman with an escort would obtain more respect than a female river captain. Thus, our attire as you can see."

"You go to the market?"

"Aye, to seek items of concern to a woman, mainly."

Maralin looked interested. "Highness, would you object if I joined you? We have no needs that a market would fill but I do remember that the Messenger office is at the end of the market square. I should go there and see if anything has been left for His Grace."

"If His Grace has no objection?" Wallesan shook his head. "Then join us, Tenant. Do you think that there would be anything at the office for me? I have seen them along our route when we returned from Forguland but I do not know how the system works."

Maralin spread his hands. "It is a complicated subject, Highness, of which I understand only the little that concerns my own activities. His Grace has made it known that he will be returning to Joth by means of the river and so the various offices along the way will hold letters, packets and such which arrive and are addressed to him. I understand that most travelers do something similar. For yourself, I do not think anyone will hold mail for you, it will probably be waiting in Joth when we get there."

Eriana nodded. "As you say. I doubt not that I will find packets concerning the Navy, and also letters from Her Majesty. Does this mean that I will need to set something up for when the Visund sails beyond Joth?"

Wallesan raised a hand. "If you would leave the arrangements to me, Eriana. I will ensure that anything important reaches you as soon as it may."

"I give you thanks, Wallesan."

After finishing their meal Eriana, Bennet and Semma stood and walked out of the hostel, once Eriana had given instructions to her crew. As they departed they were joined by Maralin, who held a pouch over his shoulder by a strap.

"If I may ask what you look for in the market, Highness?"

Eriana turned to Maralin with a look on her face and then stopped, calculating. The guardswomen stopped also and gathered round.

The Princess chose her words very carefully. "Maralin, if I would speak of matters you might consider breaking a confidence."

His eyebrows rose for a moment before he relaxed. "I understand. I have no objection to these two knowing, but of course it might be better if an oath was given." He grinned. "Being a stranger from somewhere else entirely is bad enough, I would like to retain some dignity if I may."

Eriana grinned in return before speaking to the two intrigued guardswomen. "Girls, Maralin bears a secret he is willing to share with you, but naturally he would not desire it to become widely known. Shall you give oaths?"

They both nodded and gave oaths to Maralin, which Eriana witnessed. They looked at Maralin expectantly.

"You both know that I came from Earth, just as Princess Garia did? Of course, all of Palarand knows her origins now. You also know, I think, that she was not a girl on Earth? Aye? Well, know now that I was a girl on Earth. I have been transformed the other way."

The two stared at Maralin with interest and curiosity.

Eriana added, "That was one reason that I was content to permit Maralin to join us today. Although he has many of the qualities of a man, his upbringing and instincts are still a mixture of male and female. He will understand our quest today."

Maralin nodded. "Indeed, Highness. If I may enquire what your interest in the market is?"

Eriana laughed as the four began walking. "You saw the trousers we all wore yesterday? Before we departed Her Majesty told me that, as summer approaches, the weather will become so warm that such attire will become uncomfortable. I seek alternative material I may make into something suitable." She shrugged. "Perhaps the girls will also desire something lighter."

Maralin's eyes narrowed. "I did see the sweat stains on the clothing of you and your men, Highness, but it never occurred to me that..." His voice trailed off as he came to the obvious conclusion. "Your men! They'll become even more uncomfortable, I think. Now, you know that I have a man's body now, but I have not yet experienced a summer in the Great Valley either." His lips pursed. "I have assets to protect, so to speak, and I do not know how. Other than the Duke, there is nobody who I could go to for advice."

Eriana giggled. "Aye! You cannot ask another man, for they would think you already know, and a woman would not understand your problem - or misunderstand your intent."

"Exactly!" He grinned. "This could turn into an interesting voyage. I'm assuming that you're going to let the men suffer?"

She sniffed. "They have eyes, they can observe what the other sailors are wearing. Doubtless they will discover some answer."

The market ran through the middle of the town and was situated either side of the trade road, the buildings being set back behind the stalls. With a muttered word Maralin strode off towards a structure at the far end with a yellow flag above the door. Eriana turned towards the stalls.

"He's a good looking man," Semma remarked. "Do you know anything of him, Highness?"

"He is sworn to the Duke, Semma, that I know. Ah, I understand. You should know that he is already spoken for, and that he would have already married by now if he had not traveled to Palarand with His Grace."

The disappointment was obvious. "Oh. Thank you, Highness."

Eriana smiled at Semma. "There are plenty more where he came from, I deem! Perhaps, as Guardswoman Heldra did, you may find someone suitable among the crew." She hesitated at a new thought. "Girls, I think today we should do as we did before. I do not think I will be a Princess today, just a noblewoman passing through, which is mostly true. If you would name me 'My Lady' as we survey the stalls."

By the time Maralin came back from the Messenger office, the three had trawled one side of the market and were halfway down the other side.

"Greetings, ladies! Have you found anything of use?"

Eriana replied, "I regret we have not, though there have been many distractions. I am amazed at the variety of goods and services we have seen on the stalls so far. We were particularly interested in two stalls which sold weapons and armor."

"I would think twice before buying anything from one of those," Maralin advised. "I was warned off them by someone in Thorn. You would never know what was in the metal you bought or how it was tempered. It might break when you most needed it not to."

Eriana's eyes narrowed. "There is much in what you say, Maralin. I doubt many in the country could better those weapons Master Haflin provides." She nodded. "In future I will look but not touch. Look! Here is a clothier, with rails of gowns which may be of use."

The woman came forward and bobbed. "My Lady, how may I be of assistance? I regret that a stall like mine does not carry gowns fine enough for yourself, though I can recommend a seamstress who might be able to provide."

Eriana waved a hand. "Do not concern yourself, Mistress. Though I am a noble it is not noble wear that I seek. We are taking passage on a ship along the river and the captain informs me that warm weather lies ahead. Have you lighter, serviceable garments for myself and my attendants? We do not care for frills and fancies, not on board a working vessel, merely attire that will not cook us as summer approaches."

The woman smiled warmly. "Just so, My Lady, I understand that while on the river all must needs wear attire of a practical nature. I regret, though, that presently I have nothing suitable for someone as tall as yourself. Will you be staying in Terban some days? It may be possible for me or others to sew something to suit your build."

"I regret that we shall be departing in a bell or two, Mistress. If you may have something on your rails for my two girls?"

"So soon? Then I will see what I can do. First, I must needs measure them. I can do that over their clothes, since the kind of dress you desire must needs be of a loose fit."

The woman produced a tape measure and measured bust, waist and waist-to-knee of both guardswomen, noting the numbers on a slate. She then went to the rails and began riffling through them, considering each thoughtfully.

"I have here a lightweight dress for your taller attendant," she said finally, indicating Bennet. "This is made from a much thinner cloth which will keep one cool during the hotter days, while still being tough enough to withstand life aboard a ship. I do have something which may fit the other but it could be too tight."

Eriana looked at the two garments the woman presented. Both were of a thin, closely-woven undyed material and were in a traditional style with a fitted bodice and a skirt which was wide enough to allow free movement but not so wide that the wind would lift it up completely. She nodded.

"If they may try them on? I think we can spare so much time to make sure they will fit."

There was a canvas cubicle to the rear of the stall and Bennet and Semma took the two gowns inside to change. Maralin came forward, pointing.

"If I may look at your cloth? I may have some ideas which may help My Lady's problem."

The stall owner stared at Maralin, who smiled back.

"I come from a family of tailors," he said blandly. "My two elder brothers went into the business but I have found another patron in a different art. Still, I know something of cloth. If I may?"

"As you wish, Master."

The woman gestured at the bolts of cloth to one side of her display, intended for patrons to select material for a bespoke garment. Maralin went over and began fingering the cloth, going through the stock quite quickly. He held up the corner of a small bolt.

"How wide is this, and how much per stride?"

"It is a stride and a half, Master, and I usually ask eight feniks a stride for it. Why, how much did you desire?"

Maralin's eyes glazed as he worked through the math, using his fingers to make sure he had done it right. While he was doing this the woman pulled out the bolt and unrolled it onto the trestle table, covering the small goods which were on display.

"I think three strides should do it, though more would make certain," he said, finally.

In reply the woman said, "This is the end of the bolt, it is about four and a half strides, I deem. If I take three, or three and a half from it, there would only be a scrap left. You may have it all for thirty feniks."

"Done!" Maralin smiled and held out his hand to seal the deal.

As the woman folded up the cloth and found a length of string to tie it with, she asked Maralin, "What do you intend doing with it, Master? It is too thin for a gown, I deem, and would show too much should the wind blow."

Maralin smiled. "If these ladies must needs wear lighter gowns then they will also require lighter underwear, must they not? Once we have leisure along the way I will see how much of my father's teachings I can remember."

"You're going to make -" The woman blushed. "I never imagined such a thing! You have my best wishes, Master, in your endeavor."

Bennet came out wearing her dress, which proved to be a comfortable fit. Semma, however, had tried on the other garment and even with Bennet's help could not make it fit satisfactorily. She emerged with it over one arm.

"My Lady," she said, "I cannot wear this one, it is too tight. Maybe at the next stop?"

"Of course, Semma. With unexpected help from Maralin, we may even find suitable cloth and make our own."

Maralin held up his hands. "Please... My Lady. I can probably make certain things but I am no seamstress. If we may discuss this on the way back to the ship."

As Maralin was obviously reluctant to say anything in front of the woman, Eriana merely nodded. "As you wish, Maralin." She turned to the woman. "How much do we owe, for the dress and the material?"

With the bill paid, the four began walking back to the hostel, having decided that there was not enough time to investigate the remaining stalls.

"I assume that you do not, actually, come from a family of tailors, Maralin?"

"Hardly! Mine were all in the catering business... cooking, public kitchens, um, food stalls, shall we say, and eating houses." He thought. "Though, come to think of it, there was cousin Manny who married into a family of bespoke tailors. I didn't learn any sewing from them, I did it all myself, and it was only domestic repairs, that kind of thing."

He held up his free hand and looked at it. "Of course, things were different then. I'm not sure how easy it will be for me to even hold a needle these days, let alone thread it! And, don't forget, almost all our sewing was done by machine, not by hand."

"Then why did you buy this cloth?"

"Because, Highness, even if I cannot sew it myself, I can still design and lay out the cloth for others to cut and sew. And, while I was on my way to the Messenger office and back, I have been thinking about your problem. As Garia said, sometimes you have to think big, and that's what I have just been doing."

"Thinking? About what?"

Maralin grinned. "Summer dresses for you three, for a start. Oh, don't worry, I'll make sure the designs don't frighten the good burghers of the towns or their wives." The grin faded. "The other thing I've been thinking about is uniforms. For your new Navy."

"For the Navy? I did not think we would need to take such decisions so soon, Maralin! Can it not wait until we return?"

Maralin grinned again. "Maybe, Highness, but we have been presented with an unexpected opportunity. You have a shipload of men who will soon want light summer outfits, and that same shipload of men will soon become the federation's first sailors and marines. Why not just make them all summer uniforms instead?"

Eriana was impressed by the idea. "An interesting thought. You have designs, I deem."

"Some initial thoughts only. I have only just thought about this, you understand, and I'm resisting temptation to just copy Earth uniforms. We need something that works for conditions here in the Valley. At other seasons, and out on the ocean, we can do things differently if we wish."

Eriana was surprised. "Maralin, you are every part as smart as Garia, I deem. You have given me much to consider, and just before sailing! We can do nothing more until we reach our next stop, I suppose?"

"As you say, Highness. It will give me time to think things through. If any of you have ideas, please let me know, though it would be better not to spring this on the men until we know what we will be doing."

"I agree. Bennet, Semma, we'll keep this conversation to ourselves for now. Girls, we have to go and get changed and packed ready to sail." She rolled her eyes at Maralin. "You of all people know what a woman must needs do before she may travel."

Another grin. "Aye, Highness, though the alternative has its own problems, I can assure you."

* * *

The Visund nosed between the pilings and the other vessels, heading cautiously back to the Sirrel. Two oars each side were enough to make way, since they had the wind at their backs, even though the sail was still rolled up on deck. Once beyond the immediate shoreline the prow was swung left, to make use of the remaining incoming tide in order to progress upstream.

On the foredeck, Eriana stood along with Prell and two of her best lookouts, Tor Gunnarson and Jarl. These latter two looked out into the murky waters, trying to see if there were any shallows about to ground the Visund.

"I could raise sail here," Eriana remarked. "We would make better progress than by oars alone."

Prell replied, "Captain, you know that the river bends almost immediately. Unless your people have some clever means of using a sail to go directly into the wind, then there is little point raising the sail, since you would have to lower it almost immediately."

"Aye." She nodded, following it with a smile. "We have some art in sailing against the wind, it is true, but in a river I do not know? Better not to take the risk, not until we have become more familiar with these strange waters. But later, perhaps, could we use the sail to help us cross?"

"Indeed, Captain! It may shorten your crossing and save the muscles of your men, if it is possible to do so. You should know that many of the boats and ships which ply the Sirrel do so with sail alone, only hiring maybe eight or ten men to help them past this stretch."

"Which way shall we be turning?" She peered at the distant shore, still indistinct in the late morning mist. "Over there? Then the yard must be laid... it is already in the right position, I deem, but I will have to give instructions to have the sail lowered at the right moment."

The bow continued to turn as the river curved to the left, so she added, "And I will have the rest of the oars unshipped, ready to pull."

She shouted at the men and all turned to face her, intent. She rattled off instructions in rapid Norse and the Visund suddenly exploded with activity. Oars were brought from their stowage near the centerline and fed through keyhole-shaped holes in the upper hull, while the sailors among the crew retied the lines which held the sail close to the yard before tying longer lines to them. With help from the brawnier members of the crew, the yard was raised as high as possible, but lengthwise along the ship and with the sail still closed. Everybody then found positions near an oar, ready for action.

Since pulling at an oar meant that the men faced the stern, Eriana nodded to Prell and made her way back to the stern deck so that they could see her when she asked for effort.

Wallesan spoke to her when she reached the stern. "Eriana, how may we help?"

"If Prell speaks true, then the men should manage the next section, Wallesan. They are used to rowing and will know what to do. Some of them are not so strong, however, and when we turn to cross the current," she gestured at the distant shore, "then, I deem, your men may help those who find the work difficult."

"As you wish, Eriana." His brow furrowed. "I see empty oar holes along the hull. Did you have more men when you came to Palarand?"

"I did, Wallesan." Her expression became grim. "Storms on the voyage from Einnland cost me eight lives, among them the original owner of the ship and his whole family, along with my best steersman. Two we lost when we were almost wrecked landing on the shores of Plif. Then Gylfi and Sten died during the Boldan's Rock assault and I have left five in Forguland who were wounded in that expedition. Two more have joined His Majesty's guards and five more serve Garia now, Gullbrand whom you know, Vidrik as armsman, Sigsten, who was a good sailor, and of course the two maids who came with me from Einnland." A small smile. "Oh, and little Alrik, of course. We found him hiding under the praam after we sailed -" she pointed to the upturned small boat secured forward of the mast, "- and he served us well as ship's boy during the voyage. I wonder what happened to him? Garia said that he had been fostered to a family in the palace."

"I wondered why your ship was so big," Wallesan commented. "Your crew must be at least as large as that of those galleys we passed."

"Aye, maybe, but those are cramped places of toil, Wallesan. The men who pull the oar on a galley, so I have been told, are mostly convicts and rootless men who seek to keep starvation at bay. They are not treated well, even when their strength is not required. On the Visund, there are moments when strength is required, it is true, but other than that we mostly use the sail and all can see the horizon... when we are on the ocean, of course. It is a happier life, I deem."

On the distant prow, Prell raised both arms in the air and then swept them forward.

«Right, you miserable apologies for mudfish! Time to earn your keep! Oars, my men, and ready!»

The whole crew grinned at her as they made themselves ready. This was routine.

«And... pull! Two, three, four, pull! Two, three, four, pull! Easy strokes, save your strength for later!»

The Visund twitched and leaped forward, finding her rhythm rapidly. Eriana had been very worried that the alterations would affect the way the ship behaved but it seemed that it was not so. The nearer shore slid past at a satisfying rate, their progress helped by what was left of the incoming tide.

At the bow, First Mate Tor came and sat by the two guardswomen, who were keeping out of the way in front of the front-most rowers.

"If I may ask for your assistance, Mistresses."

Both scrambled to their feet. "What do you need, Master?"

He shook his head with a smile. "Please, we are not used to the formality of the palace here. I am Tor son of Magnus, as you know, and I am second in command of the Visund. Just Tor will do. Since all who can are rowing, I would ask your help lowering the sails when the time comes. You know we must cross to the other side of the river?" He pointed to the far shore.

"Aye, of course." Bennet added with a smile, "As no doubt you already know, I am Bennet and this is Semma. What must we do?"

"You see those lines which drop from the yard? When those are pulled a knot will spill and the sail will drop. When you see the Captain do the like at the stern, then if you would do the same this end."

Bennet's eyes flicked up and down at the lines which fell from the yard. "That should be easy enough, Tor. Do we need to secure the lines anywhere?"

He shook his head. "If you can find somewhere along the middle to tie them out of the way of the rowers, then do so. But if you cannot, it will not matter. The important lines are those at the corners of the sail, to hold the lower edge against the wind, and someone will attend to those immediately."

She nodded. "As you wish, Tor."

Tor made his way back to the stern, where he took the steering oar from Eriana. She had been holding it while he went forward, but she knew that his strength would be needed soon. She looked out over the river, trying to see the currents and eddies which might affect their passage. Here, the river was still wide enough that they could choose a path without too much concern.

A bell passed, and Eriana could now see the powerful main current as it approached the nearer bank. Prell was giving frequent signals to ensure that they did not either stray into it or approach the bank too closely. The men were by now warmed up and pulling steadily, the effort seeming to cause them little trouble. The day was turning out as fine as the previous one and she looked at the sweat being worked up by her crew. Most now had stained tunics and several had already taken theirs off.

Prell shouted and then pointed right with both arms. This was the moment to turn, and all knew what to do. Tor leaned on the steering oar while Eriana leaped into the hull and began pulling on a line to drop the sail. This was a critical moment, the precise point when the Visund would encounter the strong, downstream current.

Now, most of the men bent to their oars and began pulling strongly, while Eriana continued tugging the lines to release the sail. Amidships, Brodgar pulled a line one side of the mast then climbed around it to release another the other side. At the bow, Bennet and Semma pulled their own lines and the sail came down with a thump, filling immediately. Brodgar came forward to grab the control line at their corner of the sail and hold it fast, watching as Eriana did the same at the stern. Once satisfied that nothing had snagged, they tied them off, the sail filling to the right side of the ship.

"Come on!" Bennet said. "Take you an oar!"

The two women sat down on benches beside the front-most pair of men, grabbing the ends of their oars and helping them pull. With a grin the men moved over to give them room. Near the mast, the Jothan troops did likewise, Maralin and Hambran choosing oars as well. Once Eriana was satisfied with the set of the sail, she too grabbed the end of an oar and began to pull. Only six people were not rowing now, the two lookouts and Prell on the foredeck, Tor at the stern who was struggling to keep the bow steady against the force of the current, and in front of him Wallesan and Kalmenar.

"What is happening?"

Wallesan eyed the little diplomat with disfavor. "You have to ask? We are crossing the current, that is what. Why are you not rowing? If needs be I would put my own hands to an oar to help us get across faster."

Kalmenar was outraged. "I- I am a noble! I do not do such things."

"Eriana is a noble, and a better one than you will ever be! She is the daughter of a King and yet she sees no difficulty in helping her men."

"Well, Your Grace, why do you not row?"

"There is no room here, as you are well aware. If I had known when this was to happen - whoa!"

The Visund went over a wave in the river, causing the ship to rise and fall. Kalmenar looked worried.

Wallesan was disdainful. "Bah! This is nothing! I have made river crossings where the water was much rougher than this. As I was saying, I would have moved to be nearer my men if I had known. There is more room by the mast."

"As you say," Kalmenar said, but his eyes were wild. "We're not succeeding! We're going backwards!"

Eriana spoke up, her voice patient. "The current will always pull us downstream, Kalmenar, however hard we row. We know this. What we have to do is get across the current."

Suddenly the water was calm again, their motion still downstream but much slower. The nearer bank approached rapidly. A shout from the front and a wave from Prell, and Tor leaned on the steering oar to change their direction again. Now they were a hundred strides or so from the right bank and their oars were easily beating the slack current here. The sail flapped limply, the wind now being almost along the length of the ship.

She stood up and turned. "Easy, men! We have done the hardest we must needs do today. Go back to your slower pace. We must needs row until we reach the next bend of the river, so measure your effort carefully. Men of Joth, we thank you for your assistance." She smiled. "Women of Palarand, I thank you for yours. The timing for lowering the sail was perfect. We'll make sailors out of you yet!"

That raised a cheer from most of the men, some of whom turned and grinned at the two girls. Some bent forward over their oars, momentarily exhausted.

"Brodgar!" Eriana called forward. "Break out water for any who need it. I'll start this end."

At the bow Bennet stood. "Brodgar, we'll do that. You have more important things to do, ship things."

He smiled at her. "Yah. Ship things. You take water this side, Semma take water other side."

With water skins in hand, the two walked down the row of benches, offering a drink to each of the men that they passed. It was necessary to go back and get fresh skins partway through, since most of the men were large and their thirst matched their size. At the stern, Eriana noticed what had happened but decided not to say anything.

She took a drink from her own skin and relaxed, looking around at the nearby river bank. Here, since there was still a little residual tide, the water was brackish and this made a difference to the landscape, making it more 'coast' than 'bank'. The beaches were mostly mud and the nearest foliage was reeds and salt-water scrub, thinly scattered over the land which approached the water. Further inland, as before, there were people working the land, small clumps of trees of various kinds and even one or two small farms.

The flapping of the sail made her look up. Seeing the canvas fluttering in the wind, she realized that it would not help their passage against the flow, so ordered that the yard be lowered. Partially lowered, the sailors among the crew gathered up the sail and secured it, before swinging the yard around. Once the yard lay across the ship it was raised again, with the sail furled, to enable those on deck to pass beneath it instead of having to climb over.

Their course gradually swung right, and right, and further right, until the ship was pointing at the cliffs on the southern wall of the Great Valley, even though at that stage they were still some twenty marks away. Then, finally, they completed the turn and everybody could relax. Once round the bend the sail was dropped and secured in position, the wind would be in their favor and the oars could be shipped, permitting all the crew to take a late lunch.

Once the decks were cleared Eriana gave permission for the men to eat. Unlike their lunch following their departure from Dekarran, the food was of a plainer fare but just as tasty and plentiful. Many of the men took the opportunity to snooze in the warm spring air, while others looked around at the landscape with interest.

Maralin was doodling with a stub of charcoal stick and an old sheet of parchment, re-used and scrubbed clean so many times so that the color was completely gray. Eriana saw and stepped down to sit beside him.

"Some of your ideas, Maralin?"

He smiled at her. "Just getting my thoughts in order, Captain. First, what do you think of that dress that Bennet has on?"

She waved a hand. "It is sufficient for the purpose, I would guess."

"But what you are not saying is that you like it."

"Of course. There are similar designs in Einnland, it is true, but they would be worn by the... peasants, I think they would call them here. Certainly the sleeves and the skirts would be longer. No-one would ever think of wearing such a dress on board a ship there."

"Hmm. You remember that not everybody who sails along the Sirrel is a warrior? Leaping about at a moment's notice with a sword or axe in hand? I have been looking at some of the ships and barges that we have passed today and many of the women I have seen aboard have worn something similar. I shouldn't imagine that any of them would be doing heavy work on board, so what they wear is probably good enough."

Eriana studied Maralin. "But you also do not approve."

"As you say, Captain. I'm trying to remember summer Earth styles that could be used in our situation. I know that they shouldn't show their knees freely and we have to be careful about shoulders, so I'm thinking something different, something that will be even cooler than what Bennet is wearing."

"I am an Einnlander... I was an Einnlander. We do not care if anyone shows knees or shoulders, man or woman. Are Earth styles so different, then?"

Maralin barely resisted the temptation to say, "Wait until Garia gets back! You won't believe what Earth women wear!", instead merely saying, "Aye, Captain they are. I need to adapt what I know. Something like this, maybe."

He sketched, crudely, a simple shift style with short sleeves and a generous neckline.

"Ah! I see! But there is no shape to it."

"That's an advantage, Captain. The air will flow fully around inside, keeping you cool while still not revealing anything." He paused, muttering to himself. "Hmm. I don't know enough about this... let me add some bust darts, and maybe there'll be waist darts at the back." To Eriana he said, "Because it will be loose fitting, you won't need laces so therefore you can just pull it over your head like a tunic. That makes it easier to sew together."

Eriana considered. "An interesting idea. That material you bought, you would use it for this?"

"Oh, no, Captain! I have other ideas for that, ideas we had best speak of later, if you understand me. The material that Bennet's dress is made of, that is about what I thought we would need, even if the design is not."

"As you say. That was the one thing that I approved of. This dress of yours, how difficult will it be to make?"

"Let me see. If I get this right, there will just be a front and a back, since there is no waist seam, see? Oh, and the sleeves, of course. I can probably use the sleeves of Bennet's dress for a pattern, I think I can manage that without having to unpick it."

"Four pieces of cloth? And such a simple shape?"

"Well, setting the sleeves in won't be simple, but -"

"The men make their own tunics, Maralin, and set the sleeves in themselves. They have the art for such work, this dress will be merely a longer kind of tunic, I deem."

"Well, yes, of course, I never thought of that. Of course the men can do such things, if they can sew sails."

"Then we shall see if we can obtain suitable cloth in the next market we come to." She gave him a look. "And later, we shall speak of other sewing matters."

Maralin gave a nod and a grin. "As you command, Captain."

* * *

With the wind at her back, the Visund fairly flew along the South Brugan Reach. The Sirrel twisted and turned, making it difficult to see far ahead. The south wall of the Great Valley came closer and closer so that eventually the river foamed about its base as it had previously foamed about the cliffs near Dekarran on the other side. Indeed, at one point it looked as if the river had broken through, leaving a jagged gap and vistas of mountainsides beyond.

Then their course curved away again. This was tricky, since the downstream current promptly switched sides, but Prell showed them how to use the narrow channel between the current and the bank to proceed safely.

"How can you know that this channel is safe, pilot?"

"Because it is the side which the main current is, Captain. Over here, the water is at its deepest and we have no fear of sandbank or shoal. Provided we do not actually beach ourselves, we should be safe."

"We had better be! It is astonishing to me that we may travel so fast, and safely. I do not think we could go so fast on the open ocean."

"On the ocean, Captain, it may seem slower because there is nothing close by to judge your speed by. Here, the banks are close and make things seem to go past faster."

"As you say, pilot." But Eriana was nervous all the same.

At the end of the South Brugan Reach the Sirrel turned right, another tight turn, but by this time the main current had gone back to the further side. Because of this Prell was more cautious and made Eriana take the Visund out until it was about half a mark from the right shore. His caution was confirmed when the low shapes of sandbanks began to become visible in the late afternoon sun, even out as far as they were.

Many were just low mounds breaking the surface, but one or two of the bigger ones had accumulated debris and even, in a few cases, permanent vegetation signaling their change in status from sandbank to island. On one of the larger ones Maralin even caught sight of a small house, with boats outside and washing hanging from a line to one side.

Needless to say everyone was keeping a close eye on things, those who had telescopes using them to survey the sandbanks and the waters ahead of their course. Despite this it was one of the lookouts who gave a shout, pointing at a long, low mound cluttered with flood-borne tree-trunks, brush and other debris. Eriana raced forward to find out what the problem might be.

"Folke. What have you seen?"

"A body, Captain. See? Over there, just to the right of that big bleached tree trunk."

Eriana lifted her telescope and looked, easily finding what looked like a person lying on the fine sand of the bank.

"As you say. What do we do?"

By now Prell, Maralin and Wallesan had followed Eriana to the bow and stood watching her in the hull below the foredeck. Maralin had his telescope to his eye, but it was Prell who answered the question.

"Captain, you must go and investigate. It is the law of the river, that may not be a body but someone washed off a ship, mayhap, or more probably a fisherman whose boat has overturned. They may still be alive. We must needs go and help them."

"Of course." She turned to the main body of the ship, where the crew were now staring at her. "Drop the yard! Quickly now, before we go too far past! Oars out! Six, perhaps, each side. Make for the island."

The yard, which had been slewed right round again, was dropped with a thump to leave the sail billowing over men, oars and all. Out of the momentary confusion men quickly bundled the sail up, securing it roughly to the yard with the lines, and freeing space for others around the mast to find oars and push them through the holes. With the sail down the Visund quickly lost way and the slack current began taking it back down the river.

Oars ready, Tor leaned on the steering oar and the bow swung towards the little mound of sand and debris. The ship picked up speed and drove directly towards it, Maralin realizing that this would be the best way to do it, the way the Norse were accustomed to landing, so that only the small area of the bow would be grounded. The Visund slid up onto dry land with barely a shudder.

Lars was the first man down, splashing into water up to his knees and wading rapidly out onto the fine silt towards the body. This was several strides from where they had grounded, so it was difficult to see what he had found or what he was doing. Two other men also dropped down, taking lines and holding them so that the ship would not float off and leave the landing party stranded.

Lars bent briefly and then straightened, turning. "A woman, Captain, and still alive!"

"Bring her. Quickly now, Lars!"

The big man scooped up the castaway and turned, showing his prize to be a slender woman with, at the moment, pale skin. Her clothing looked odd. He brought her tenderly to the side of the ship and passed her up before hoisting himself on board. Two of the men laid the woman down on the nearest bench and everybody crowded round.

Maralin took one look and felt as if his gut had been punched.

"Oh, shit!" There was really nothing else to say. "She's from Earth!"



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