The Voyage of the Visund -1-

In the docks at Dekarran, a visiting ship is being made ready for a voyage upstream along the Sirrel...on the dockside above, Captain Eriana Embriktsdottir receives unpleasant news. Although her initial fears are calmed by those in authority, she still has concerns. Meanwhile, her ship must be victualed, crewed and prepared for impending departure.

  grakh  
 
The Voyage of the Visund

A tale of Anmar by Penny Lane

1 - A Disappearance and a Departure


This account begins approximately two bells after Garia's disappearance on her second visit to Blackstone.


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.



"What?" Eriana's eyes blazed. "What did you say?"

The man took a step backwards, fearful of Eriana's renowned temper. Maralin leaned towards him.

"Fear not, my man. She is not angry with you but concerned for she of whom you speak."

The man licked his lips and began again. "Highness, it is true. Princess Garia has... disappeared! On the road to Teldor, their party was attacked by a flight of grakh and their beasts scattered. Her Highness's frayen went down the bank into the ditch but when others sought for her, only her frayen could be found. There was no sign of Her Highness at all."

Eriana spun in Maralin's direction. "How is this possible? Could such a beast have carried her off? Grakh are big but I did not think they were that big."

Maralin shook his head. "Highness, I do not think that any grakh carried away Her Highness. I believe... that there may be other explanations, better discussed in private, perhaps."

Eriana took the point immediately and relaxed slightly. She turned to the messenger.

"You have done well to bring us this news so promptly. Do you know if we are required to return to the castle at once? This news is grave but I deem others will be more concerned at Garia's disappearance than I."

"Your Highness, I have just come from the castle. His Grace thought you ought to know what had happened as soon as possible. I do not believe that he is expecting you to return there immediately." He glanced at Maralin and coughed. "Ah, I mean His Grace Duke Gilbanar that is, not Duke Wallesan."

Eriana gave a brief nod and turned to one of her men standing nearby. "Tor, if you can find a coin for this man. He has served Gilbanar well."

As the messenger retreated Eriana stalked across the dock to stand beside Maralin. She looked shocked.

"This is disturbing news, and so soon after their wedding! What has happened to her? I doubt not that Keren will be as one bereaved. What will happen now, do you think? Is this mayhap some trick of Yod's, to cause confusion and dismay?"

Maralin tried hard to keep a poker face. "Highness, I know nothing and guess little, but I do not believe that those of Yod are behind this. As I said, better to speak of this in private."

"As you wish, Tenant." Unsettled, she changed the subject, gesturing at the moored craft in front of them. "We were speaking of the changes to my ship. What say you? I find these additions to be strange, despite the advice of those who build ships in these waters."

Maralin shrugged. "Highness, I am no expert on any kind of ship design, either that of Alaesia or that of Earth. However, I have heard tales of what happens when the rains come to the Great Valley and my belief is that without the new decking and the awnings, your ship would be in difficulty almost immediately."

"So I am told, but surely this is just a little rain! The ships of Einnland are built to weather storms at sea." She paused. "Most storms at sea. None may say that one day a greater storm might seek to overwhelm you. But I understood this to be simply a season of rain rather than the storms we are accustomed to further south."

"Highness, I am reliably informed that when the rains come, it will rain heavily for between seven and ten weeks. Continuously. Every single day. The Visund would fill up within a bell. That is why the decking and awning will be required."

Eriana grimaced. "I was aware that the weather in other lands is different than we might expect in Einnland, naturally, but... so much? How do these people manage?"

"With great difficulty, so I am told, Highness. That is why the fields have such huge ditches either side and why many houses are built on piles or on raised ground. The Sirrel increases greatly in size and floods most of the surrounding land where it can. However, the locals are all accustomed to the extra water and adjust their living arrangements accordingly. Many simply retreat to upper floors until the worst is over or stay with relatives who live in higher properties. I am told that Joth itself becomes a city with canals replacing its streets and rowboats replacing carriages."

Eriana shook her head. "I have been told this before but it is still hard to believe. What of travel? Would any brave the Sirrel, do you think?"

"I doubt it greatly, Highness. If the river is so swollen, you might not know whether you were on the river or sailing over farmland and I imagine the current would be fierce. Besides, if it is raining that hard you would not be able to see your way."

"Then let us hope we are near a friendly town when this deluge begins, I deem. Come, let us inspect what the craftsmen of Dekarran have done to my ship."

The two walked across the dock to stand beside the Visund, which was moored alongside. The Einnland longboat was long, flat and broad, but not very high compared to most ships which used Dekarran and so it presently lay well below the level of the dockside. They looked down at the activity on the deck. Nearly everyone who was working below them stopped as they appeared but Eriana waved at them to continue, this was not in the way of an official visit and she wanted to get the work done as soon as possible.

Spending so much time on land had made her anxious, she wanted to get the boards of a ship under way beneath her feet as quickly as she could.

At each end the Visund had been decked over for about three to three and a half strides, the decking being flush or just slightly higher than the sides. Since the hull narrowed to a point at each end, the decks thus formed were roughly triangular. A single square post, mounted on the keel, supported the center of each deck but for the rest it relied on its own strength. These posts had a U-shaped notch cut in the top, a stride above the level of the new deck, that were designed to support the mast whenever it was dismounted.

"That wood looks too thin to me," Eriana remarked. "I may stand on it but many of my men are much heavier than I."

"Highness," one of the craftsmen working on the decking replied, "you need not fear these planks, they will take the weight of any of your men. We have used a tough-grained wood which allows us to make the decking lighter and more flexible. Like all craft, we know that a ship must flex as it travels through the water else it shatters."

"Thank you, my man. Your name?"

"I am Firn son of Terren, Your Highness," he replied with a bow, "Master Shipwright and charge-hand for the work on your ship. Most call me Firn Blackbeard for obvious reasons."

"Master Firn, you must excuse me, I doubt not that you know your job, but this is my ship and I am naturally concerned when such big changes are made. In Einnland we have a different style of shipbuilding, as you have discovered. The hull may behave differently than that of the ships I see around me here. For example, this decking must add weight to each end of the ship, thus putting unexpected strain on the keel."

"Ah, I understand your concern, Highness. Let me put your mind at ease, I have conversed at length with Tor son of Magnus about the way your people build their ships and I am impressed with how good the design is. I would not hammer in a single nail without speaking to him first. If you would look along the outside edge of the sides, you will see that we have stretched a cable around the ship at the top and this will counteract any sagging of the bow or stern due to the extra weight while still allowing the ship to twist with the seas."

Eriana looked and spotted the cable, stapled at the top of the sides and carefully painted to match the rest of the woodwork.

"This is a new idea?"

"Highness, it may be considered a repair technique but it is one we have used and tested for many years. You need not worry that it would snap under strain."

"I must take your word for it, Firn Blackbeard. Thank you for your time."

The man bowed and returned to the task he was doing previously, while Eriana and Maralin strolled toward the stern of the ship. Tor Magnusson joined them as they walked.

"These men use different tools and materials than we do," Eriana said to him. "Has this caused us any problem so far?"

"Highness, it has not! These men respect the way our craft is made and tell me there are some ideas here that they could use on a similar ship. Of course, everyone here has many tools of iron and steel and the work progresses rapidly. The availability of materials is a pleasure, too, Highness. Why, I do not even have to make my own nails but instead I can go and buy a whole bucketful from the shop up there! The time and effort saved cannot be ignored."

"Buy nails? They produce so many, then?" Eriana realized what she was saying. "Of course they do, in such an important port." She considered. "When will it be finished?"

"The ship, Highness, by tomorrow at the latest. For the stores I could not say. Ragnar would be the best to ask."

"As you say. Thank you, Tor."

The man nodded and walked off. Maralin turned to Eriana.

"Still thinking about leaving day after tomorrow, Highness?"

"Hmm? Aye, Tenant, unless we are required to search for Garia."

"I do not think that will be necessary," Maralin replied quietly.

Eriana turned her head and looked carefully at Maralin as they walked but he maintained his impassive expression.

"You know more of this than you say," she stated.

"Later, Highness."

Eriana scowled. "As you wish, Tenant. I hate mysteries."

If you hate mysteries, you'll be chewing on this one a long time, Maralin thought. This is one secret I am oath-bound to keep.

Oh, no! She could become unbearable during the voyage back to Joth... I think I need to speak with the King.

Looking at the new stern decking, Eriana mused, "There is one advantage, I deem. As steersman I would stand higher and my footing would be better."

"Oh, right. I forgot you don't have a rudder on these ships, I should have remembered. You use a steering oar instead, is that right?"

"Aye, that is so." Her eyes narrowed. "You remembered, you say? Yet you have never been to Einnland."

"Of course not, Highness. What I meant was that I remembered how Viking ships were shown on Earth. In a thousand years the design has hardly changed at all."

"As you say, Tenant. Do my people on Earth still use such ships, then?"

"I regret they have moved on to much bigger ships of steel, Highness, like everybody else. There are one or two like this one floating around but they are usually projects by historians to discover how those ships worked."

"Historians? Aye. I understand." Eriana spotted something and called down. "Ragnar, are those barrels food or something else? You know we will have little room for luxuries and no need for trade goods."

Ragnar called back, "These are good salted fish, Highness. They are the same as they serve in that great big castle up there so they should taste good enough. I like the barrels these locals use, though. They are easy to open and re-seal."

Eriana nodded approval. "Good. Has all the food arrived?"

"Some fresh goods are to arrive early before we sail, Highness, but everything else is already down here or up on the dock. Was there anything you especially desired, Highness? I could ask at the castle or enquire in the marketplace if you do."

"Hah! I have eaten both rich fare and poor recently, Ragnar. I will be content with whatever the men are eating, as you well know."

"And of the Duke, Highness? I do not know if you have made provision for his needs."

Eriana turned to Maralin. "What manner of food does His Grace eat, Maralin?"

"He will eat as the King does or as his men do, Highness. You must remember we have recently been at war. He is no stranger to a hastily taken meal at camp." Maralin paused. "You do remember that we will be spending most of our nights ashore along the river, Highness? It is not the custom in the Great Valley, so I am told, to venture on the Sirrel at night." Maralin shrugged. "As for any meals taken on the river, doubtless he will eat what is available, as will we all."

"As you wish, Maralin." Eriana called down to Ragnar, "Nothing special for the Duke, I deem."

"If I may carry on, Highness."

"Aye." Eriana gave Ragnar a negligent wave and turned to Maralin. "I find a pressing need to return to the castle, Tenant." Her eyes bored into his. "I need to know what has happened to Garia."

* * *

When Eriana entered Dekarran's main hall Terys immediately made directly for her, leaving the two noblewomen she had been conversing with shaking their heads with amusement.

"Eriana, dear, have your heard the news?"

"Aye, Ma'am, I have. Is it yet known what happened? What does the King intend to do? What of Keren? Is he returning here?"

Terys tucked her arm into that of Eriana's and steered her back towards the noblewomen.

"So many questions, dear, and we have as yet no answers! If I may introduce you to..."

Maralin heard no more as he hurried to join Wallesan. He gave a salute but lost no time with his question.

"Your Grace. It is true, then? She is gone?"

"Aye, Maralin, it is true. At least we know she is not taken by any foe."

"As you say, Your Grace." He lowered his voice. "If I may, I believe that Eriana will not rest until she learns the truth - which we are forbidden to give her. She already suspects that I know more than I have told her. It could make our journey difficult. That ship of hers is big but there will be no privacy. It will not be easy to deflect her."

Wallesan's gaze studied Eriana casually but with care. "You have an answer?"

"Tell her the truth, Your Grace - but not all of it. I'm sure that much would be expected of us." ...by the Beings who spirited Garia away. "I'm sure the King would agree."

"You have spent more time with Eriana than I," Wallesan muttered. "You know her temper, I deem. Aye, let us ask Robanar."

The King was at the back of the hall, talking in low voices with his brother Gilbanar and their respective guard captains. Robanar looked up as Wallesan and Maralin approached. Knowing glances were exchanged.

"You have heard the news, Tenant," Robanar asked.

"Aye, Sire. A sad blow and a torment for His Highness, so soon after their happy day."

"As you say. Is there something I can do for you or His Grace? As you can see we are planning a search of the area to look for her."

"A private matter, Sire. To do with our voyage. It will only take a moment of your time."

"As you wish. Gil, Jokar, Merek, if you would excuse us."

The two captains saluted and followed Gilbanar to continue making their plans in another corner of the hall. Robanar turned to Maralin.

"What has happened now?"

"Eriana, Sire. She suspects that we know more than we say. His Grace and I will be stuck on her ship for some days and she may become unbearable. Sire, my advice would be to tell her part of it without telling her everything. It could be done in such a way that our oaths would not be broken."

Robanar grunted. "Eriana, always Eriana." He grinned suddenly. "Whenever it was not Garia, I deem! Since those two came to Palarand we have hardly known what was happening from one day to another. Still, Eriana is a different prospect now and I will think carefully on your suggestion, Maralin. What say you, brother?"

Wallesan replied, "I agree, Robanar. I believe she already knows that... others... brought Garia and Maralin here so the fact that they may have taken Garia away again would not be so surprising. We don't have to admit to any further knowledge of the... others... at all."

"She knows that Garia was brought here, aye, she learned that soon after Garia returned from the north. We may feign ignorance of the rest." He nodded. "Good. Tenant, if you would fetch Her Highness, this would probably be the best time to set her mind at ease."

As Maralin walked off across the hall Wallesan asked, "Are you sure of this, brother? You have had no time to consider our story."

Robanar waved a hand. "It is simple enough, Wallesan. You will see."

Maralin brought Eriana back across the hall alongside Terys, who was curious to see what her husband intended.

"Sire?"

"Eriana, Garia's departure has unsettled you among many in this hall and indeed will unsettle many in the entire Kingdom. Let me give answer to you."

Instead of continuing, Robanar signed to Kendar, who banged his staff against one of the entrance doors since the carpet prevented him using the floor. Gilbanar winced as everybody turned to the chamberlain.

"His Majesty desires to make an announcement!"

All eyes turned to Robanar and the room became completely quiet.

"Most of you will by now have heard of the incident concerning Princess Garia," he began. "I can tell you now that her disappearance, while surprising us all, was not completely unexpected."

There was a murmur in the hall, now.

Robanar continued, "As you all know, Garia came to us last summer, brought to us from somewhere else entirely by beings of whom we know almost nothing. Those beings brought her here to Anmar in order to stimulate our development and in that they have been very successful. At the time she arrived I acknowledged that she served those of a higher status than any in the Great Valley and that if she desired to leave then none in Palarand would prevent her." A grimace. "At that time, of course, we did not know that she would ensnare the heart of my son and your Prince, an unexpected complication indeed!

"She has spoken to me privately and told me that she believed that those beings might desire to... borrow her, perhaps, for a time and it seems that is exactly what they may have done. Just as Keren undertook a mission for me during the winter to gain allies for a war against those of Yod, and just as Eriana undertook a mission for Palarand against the fortress of Boldan's Rock, so I believe that Garia has departed to undertake a mission for those who brought her here.

"It is my firm belief that Princess Garia will return in time to be reunited with her husband and her people. Since we have no knowledge of what task awaits her and where that task might take place, we have no idea when she might return. Therefore, I will ask you all to await her reappearance as patiently as your King must. I can take no view on how long it must be before she returns to us, but as your King I must ensure the safety and continuation of the royal line. If she has not, therefore, returned by the last day of this year then I must consider, together with the Queen and my heir the Prince, if some other decision must needs be made."

Robanar turned to the chamberlain. "Kendar, I will have a short statement made to be distributed to our towns and villages." He remembered something. "Ahem! We may use the new semaphore system to send the statement, I deem. See me later, if you would."

Eriana's eyes were round but she kept quiet until she was certain that Robanar had finished speaking.

"Sire, do you know where she has gone?"

The King shook his head. "All I know is what you know, my dear. My belief is that she is no longer on Anmar."

"These beings -" She stopped short and then curtseyed. "As you say, Sire. I apologize if I have said or done anything to upset anyone. I was naturally concerned for Garia's safety."

"As are we all, my dear. Are you satisfied?"

Eriana considered. "Enough, Sire. I had not considered those who brought her here at all. I thought mayhap she had been carried away by a grakh." She looked at Robanar. "Is that possible? I did not believe those creatures could grow so big as to take a man or woman."

Gilbanar had by now rejoined his brother. "Aye, Highness, some of the largest have been known to take men from the King's Tower above us. I do not think that those that attacked the procession of Their Highnesses were of that kind, though it will take time before we have all the details before us."

"Thank you, Your Grace."

Robanar sought to distract Eriana. "What of your ship, the Visund? Does the work go well?"

"Aye, Sire, we will be ready to depart the day after tomorrow, by your leave. If I may ask His Grace if his party will be ready."

Wallesan nodded. "Highness, we brought little with us thus there is little to pack. We will be ready when our presence is needed. At what time will you sail, do you think?"

"My men have been consulting in the port and they tell me that low tide is just after the second bell, Your Grace. It seems strange to me that we should leave shortly after a low tide but it will be necessary in order to obtain a current which runs up the river Sirrel." Eriana shook her head. "In Einnland we launch our ships from the beach or from small coves. The mechanics of this great river are strange to me and fascinating."

Gilbanar nodded. "Aye, Highness, our circumstances take some time to adjust to. With the Palar flowing out into the Sirrel, a departing ship must needs choose exactly the right moment to take advantage of the various tides and currents and that depends which direction it is bound. You are taking the pilot I suggested?"

"Aye, Your Grace, he seems a competent man. Again, we have little need for such guides where the Visund came from."

"Tell me," Robanar asked, "have you thought at all about the suggestion which Garia made before she departed? That of founding a... Navy, I believe the word was?"

"Aye, Sire, though I would learn more before I pledge myself to such a task. With Garia departed... somewhere, it seems I must needs consult Maralin for further details."

Maralin bowed. "I can give you further details, Highness, but I would also add the caution which Garia gives with all her knowledge. My knowledge is of the way things are done on Earth and the circumstances here are very different. The organization might be very similar, in the way that the armies here are similar to those of Earth, but the problems a navy will face here will be completely different and you - we - must solve them in our own way, the way of Anmar."

Robanar pointed a finger. "We must learn more before you depart, then. A concern of mine is the great amount of coin that this navy will cost us. With the possible exception of the Visund, ships do not just appear from the open sea when we desire them, somebody has to build them and equip them and that costs coin from our treasuries."

"Aye," Wallesan agreed. "Let us meet while such of us who remain are still gathered here. If we are to be a federation, then that federation must needs be able to defend itself and not all our foes will be so considerate as to arrive by land."

"Well said, Wallesan. We will gather after lunch, then."

* * *

"So many men? I thought most would serve on these ships you describe."

"Sire," Maralin replied, "Those ships and the men who serve on them will require a lot of support and administration from land-based personnel. Both men and ships need supplies which have to be ordered, made, delivered and stored at shore bases where the ships can get at them. The ships themselves will require regular maintenance and any repairs after action. The men will need support in terms of training, uniforms and other equipment, food, shore leave -" Maralin had to explain this term, "- and possibly retirement benefits if they serve long enough or are injured while serving."

Robanar nodded. "So much I can understand, it seems little different than the organization of our armies."

"The thing you have to remember, Sire, is that this will be a standing commitment instead of the small core and levies that you are used to here in the Great Valley. In addition to what I mentioned above there will also be levels of administrators and auditors to make sure that the federation's money is not wasted. Not all of those people would be actually in the navy but would be civilians who work for the navy. Then you have the top level, which would be like your Marshals, I guess, a level of very senior naval officers who actually do the bidding of whatever government directs them."

Robanar grunted. "I wonder if this Navy is needed at all. We have managed so long without anything such as you describe."

"Sire, I believe that in time you will. As the federation grows then it will come into contact with other lands and peoples who might be more warlike than yourselves. Just as Palarand keeps stocks of weapons and maintains the knowledge to make more when neighbors become difficult then the federation must do the same, and the border of the federation will probably include a very long coastline by the time you are finished."

Wallesan leaned back in his chair. "Rob, you know it makes sense. With great respect to Her Highness, her own people are more warlike than anyone along the Sirrel, at least the parts we are familiar with. What happens when we send out trading expeditions and meet someone with a steel hull and guns? Princess Garia tells us the world is so large, we have no knowledge of what developments may have happened the other side of Anmar."

"True." Robanar frowned as he recognized that the creation of a navy was inevitable given what was happening in the Great Valley. He turned to Eriana. "What say you, my dear?"

"Sire, I believe His Grace is right. Although I have little idea how the navy which Maralin proposes will function I can tell you from my own experience that creating such an organization will be necessary given the coastline your countries already have. I have spoken recently with Prince Jarith -" she nodded to the Prince, seated further along the table "- and learned that the coast of Vardenale may be more than twice as long as that of Palarand and Plif combined. Though those islands and nations they trade with are peaceful enough now, that may not always be so."

"Surely, then it is a matter for Vardenale how their country is protected, as it is now?"

"Aye, Sire, but once it becomes part of a federation we will all become responsible." She flushed slightly. "Until the situation in the land of my birth is satisfied the lands beyond the Palumaks to the south must also be considered a danger, if only a minor one. Einnland ships could not withstand the guns of the federation, it is true, but there may in time be others."

"As you say."

"Sire..." she continued slowly, "I have also been talking with others from distant lands who have made their homes in Palarand. There is a small Kittrin community in Dekarran and I have spoken to two who come from the Six Cities."

"Ah?"

"Aye, Sire. As the federation expands, I doubt not that in time we will have closer contact with those living on the farther coast, distant enough though that seems to us today. Both the Kittrins and those of the Six Cities must needs defend themselves from pirates and raiders, some of which do not appear to come from the shores of Alaesia but from some other, more distant land."

Wallesan flipped a hand. "Surely, Highness, such concerns can be left for a later date, when the federation is stronger and more able to explore such distant regions."

"Not so, Your Grace. Though many of the central and western lands of Alaesia correspond with those in the Great Valley and each other, there are unexplored lands to the far north and south. It is possible that some passage exists which would provide ships with a short route between both oceans."

Bardanar raised a finger. "Point, Robanar. Until we can get Alaesia completely mapped we may not be able to understand what threats we may face. To map the coast of Alaesia, I deem, much of the work must needs be done by ships of exploration."

Robanar nodded. "And what you imply is that such ships would be a part of this navy. Very well, the point is agreed. If I might propose formally that a Navy Department be established, that detailed planning for such a service may begin."

"Agreed."

"Agreed."

"Aye," Jarith responded, "Vardenale will agree to that, I deem, but where would it be based? I may not offer a home in my father's lands until we know more about what will be needed."

"For now," Robanar replied, "it can be based here, I deem. It will only require a few offices and there are plenty of those in Dekarran! I am sure my brother can find an odd chamber or two in this great pile. Once we have made more detailed plans then we can decide which ports will be used for the ships and so on."

Jarith nodded. "As you say, Sire. I will ask Father to send a small party to assist with the organization, since it seems likely that the navy of the federation will have much to do with Vardenale whether we host it or not."

"Good." Robanar leaned back. "I will have a document drafted and printed, that you might each take a copy with you when you return home."

Chorvath raised his eyebrows. "So quick, brother? Have you so many scribes available, then, for such a task?"

Robanar grinned. "I need scribes no longer, Chorvath, since their only purpose will be to record my words and convey them to the nearest printing workshop. Provided I do not dissemble, the document will be printed and in your hands by breakfast tomorrow morning."

~o~O~o~

The following morning, Eriana went again to the dockside area. This time she was accompanied by two female palace guards, all attired in their day uniforms with swords. Eriana hadn't bothered with her rank sash on this excursion, thinking it would only cause trouble where they were going.

The older of the two guardswomen, Bennet, stopped uncertainly at the junction of one of the access roads and a narrower lane which paralled the dockside.

"Highness, it has been many years since I last came this way, and I was barely eleven years old... I believe that we must turn this way."

"As you wish. Your family is from Dekarran, I heard?"

"Aye, my father's father worked in one of the shipwright's shops below, but my father desired to serve His Majesty directly so we moved to the palace when I was that age. Ah! There it is, the White Safkh."

She pointed to a sign over an inn doorway, which showed an improbable-looking sea monster under the name.

Eriana snorted. "There is no such beast! The hide of a safkh is either a dark blue or a lighter gray, from my experience. True, their bellies are a paler shade but I know of none that could be called white."

The younger guardswoman's eyes were round. "You have seen such a monster, Highness?"

"Aye, Semma, several times. Once the men caught one at sea, it took five ships and many harpoons to subdue the beast. Very occasionally, others are washed up on the shore for us to scavenge."

"Scavenge? Surely, Highness, you just wanted the meat?"

"Not just the meat, from so large a beast, Bennet. The fat we render into lamp-oil, the bones become tools and fish hooks and the hide makes excellent leather. You shall see safkh leather when we sail, since most of the men have boots made from it, as do I." She added, "Oh, and for our own safety in this place, do not name me Highness, if you would. Captain will be sufficient today, I deem."

"As you command... uh, Captain."

As they spoke they reached the door and entered. They were in a kind of vestibule, with stairs to their left, a doorway ahead and another to the right from which the smell of food, ale and unwashed bodies emanated.

A small man came from the doorway in front of them. He took one look at their attire and bowed uncertainly.

"If I may help... uh, Mistress?"

"My good man, Captain will be title enough today. I was instructed to come here, where I would find four men who wished to sail with me."

He nodded. "Ah yes. They arrived earlier and sought a small room for your discussions. I believe they are presently in the public chamber quenching their thirst."

Eriana rolled her eyes. "Aye, that sounds like them. Your thanks, Goodman."

Inside the bar it was dark, but not so dark that Eriana could see the room was half filled with men drinking, even though it was mid-morning. At sight of the three women, there were catcalls and whistles, but the uniforms and the swords, especially Eriana's broadsword across her back, prevented any overt action. She cast around.

"I seek four here who sailed with Torulf."

They were sitting at a table in the corner of the tavern and stood when she spoke.

"We are here -"

She held up a hand. «Do not use my title here, it will cause trouble we could do without. Today I am just a captain looking for crew.»

The nearest man bowed. «Of course... Captain. We have arranged a small room for our meeting, if you would follow me.»

She gestured. «Lead the way, then.»

Once inside the room, Eriana chose a chair around the small table and sat. The four men followed, casting appraising glances at the guardswomen, who remained standing behind the Princess.

She gestured at the first man. «You! What makes you think you are good enough to join my crew?»

The Einnlander bristled at Eriana but kept his temper. She might no longer be a Princess of his country but she owned the ship and she was the captain he wanted to serve under.

«Highness, you know me. I am at least as good as any man who came with you and though I have not sailed aboard the Visund, I have sailed sister ships made by the same wrights. I will not return with Torulf» - he omitted the title - «and I have little love for your father either. I would stay in Palarand and make my way among people who respect my abilities - and who do not want to run me through with a sword for looking at them the wrong way.»

Eriana appraised the man. He was well built and could certainly pull an oar. She remembered that he had fought reasonably well at the summer contests and seemed to have a cool head.

«Very well, Halsten. What of you, Haakan? Are you of the same mind?»

Haakan nodded. «I am, Highness. If I had known that you were leaving when you did, I would have joined your crew then. Like Halsten, I have no love for Einnland nor its King. Coming to these lands only proves what a poor and miserable place it is.» He straightened. «Even if you do not take me, I do not intend to return to Einnland with the Prince, Highness. I will stay here and find my way among these people.»

«Hmm. Since I left my father's lands for many of the same reasons, I cannot condemn either of you for your preferences. In the Great Valley, I must remind you, oaths are important and you will be expected to follow my orders as you would those of any captain.»

Haakan bowed his head briefly. «Highness, this is common sense. You will not find dissent from me.»

«Another matter. Since it is through the Great Valley we shall be sailing, and since we will have local people aboard, I desire that all should speak the local tongue. If you are to remain in Palarand, then it would be as well for you to become proficient in the tongue of your new country.»

«Highness, I understand this.» Haakan coughed. "Ah, Highness, your pardon. I have learned to speak as these people do but I would improve my speech whenever I can."

Eriana turned her attention to the other two Einnlanders. These would present a different problem.

"Both of you would sail with me, yet you still desire to return to Einnland with Torulf, if that is possible."

The third man briefly dipped his head. "Highness..." He frowned, then switched languages. «Ah, Highness, I lack the words to explain in the tongue of these people. That will no doubt change if I remain here long enough. You know I am Olof Ingolf's son and you know what my father does for your father, our King.»

Eriana grimaced. «He may still - just - be my father, but he is no longer my King. I know what Ingolf does. Continue.»

«Einnland has desperate need of information about these lands, Highness. You yourself told us that when you departed you had no idea where you were going or what you were coming to. I thought to join you, to learn what I could so that those at home should find it easier in future, should they choose to sail north again.»

«I cannot fault your logic, Olof Ingolf's son. Will you swear to me while you are among my crew? On such a journey a man may not have two masters. I would release you, and you, Torvald Stine's son, when we again reach the shores of Palarand.» She shrugged. «Of course, I have no idea how long our journey will be and I do not know if we will be back before my brother sails for... his homeland. I am not expecting any problems, especially now that their war is finished, but every voyage sets forth into the unknown. Will you both agree?»

Both men dipped their heads.

"Of course, Highness."

"Highness, I would expect nothing else."

She spoke to all four men. "If I take you I must warn you, this voyage will be very different than any you may have made before. We are traveling up this great river, so the journey will be nothing like roaming the open seas. All the countries we will be passing through will be friendly, so there will be no pillaging. All who sail with me will be paid a daily rate for the voyage, not a share of the proceeds as is usual. None of you have trained the way my own men have since we arrived in Palarand, so you will be expected to learn as we go about our journey. The Visund, too, has been modified to take account of local weather conditions."

Olof cleared his throat. "Highness, I understand this. I spoke with Ragnar Grim's son before I dared approach you."

The others nodded. They had already discussed the voyage with other crew members and knew what to expect.

Eriana made a small smile. "Then your requests are granted, Halsten son of Lindorm, Haakan Eirik's son, Olof Ingolf's son and Torvald Stine's son. You may join my crew. I would give you all this warning, though."

"Highness?"

"These two women sail with me as companions. Both of them can probably wield a sword better than you can. They are of the Palace Guard and are not servants or playmates, so leave them alone. We'll also have noble passengers, since we are to return Duke Wallesan of Joth and his small party to their homeland. Be sure you mind your manners aboard ship."

Halsten bowed. "You are the Captain, Highness, you make the rules. You shall not find us wanting."

"Good. We sail about the second bell tomorrow -"

Olof interrupted. "The second bell, Highness? I am still confused by the way they measure times here."

"Aye, we have all found it strange, but they are slowly changing to something resembling our own hours. About ten of the morning, then. Bring all your gear before then."

* * *

Later, back in the castle, Eriana held a less agreeable meeting.

"Are you expecting trouble then, Lord Kalmenar?"

The diplomat returned Eriana's gaze steadfastly. "I am not, Highness, but you must needs recall that we were at war with Yod but a few weeks ago. Apart from Yod itself there are troops from many other countries camped in lands either side. His Majesty considers that a seasoned hand who knows the countries along the Sirrel would be better able to manage any... problems... you may encounter along the way."

She stared at the little man for a long moment before nodding.

"Aye, mayhap you are right, My Lord. I do not know these people, not really. I have not been here long enough and, after all, one of the reasons for the voyage is for us to learn about the peoples of the Sirrel. Einnland has no real neighbors and also," she gave a hard smile, "I am noted for my temper, though it is not what it was when I first came to Palarand. I am perhaps not the best person to quell an argument."

Kalmenar was diplomatic. "As you say, Highness. It was for this reason that I was chosen by the King." He paused. "Um, Highness, if your temper is such, should you not consider contracting a captain who knows the river and may better control your crew? Forgive me, I do not intend to suggest that -"

Eriana's eyes flared. "You had better not, My Lord! No, almost all those who sail with me are sworn to me, they have followed me into exile from the lands of our birth. We have together conquered Boldan's Rock, I would remind you, so we are also bound by the bonds of battle. They trust me completely and I repay that trust. I would say again that I am not the person who arrived in Palarand, the spoilt child of a difficult father. I believe that I am a better person now, having taken instruction from Princess Garia concerning the calming of my mind."

"My apologies, Highness. It seems that, though I may know the countries of the Sirrel, I do not know enough about you. I trust that will be remedied as we continue our journey."

"Aye, well, only time will tell. Are you prepared for the voyage?"

"I am, Highness. Your man Tor son of Magnus has explained what I should take and what I may not. I will be ready to leave tomorrow morning as requested."

Eriana made a brief nod of acknowledgement. "Good. Now, if you will excuse me, I have another meeting before the evening meal. My remaining time in Dekarran is short and I must make the best of it."

Kalmenar bowed. "Of course, Highness. Until tomorrow, then."

Eriana waited until the door had closed before sinking into her chair with a sigh. Kalmenar had been one of the few people she had disliked on sight - much like Vilken, in fact, though the little diplomat presumably wouldn't resort to sticking a knife into people. Kalmenar could prove to be the more dangerous because of that, since his job meant that he would have a good way with words.

"Highness?"

Eriana waved a dismissive hand. "Nothing, Marisa," she said to her maid. "I do not like that man and I will be stuck with him for weeks."

"I do not know of him, Highness, since he is a Dekarran man," the maid commented. "If you desire, I could enquire below stairs for any word about him."

Eriana found it odd that her personal staff would actually volunteer to find out things for her. Her previous maids would never have considered using their own initiative, but then the situation was different here.

"Aye," she replied after a thought. "If you would. There is little time left but we may discover something to our advantage." She smiled at the maid, something else that was new to her. "Thank you, Marisa. I appreciate your help."

"As you say, Highness. Now, will you change now for the evening meal, or wait until after you have spoken to Prince Jarith?"

The Princess thought. "Let's go and see Jarith first, I deem. That way, if the conversation becomes too long I can excuse myself to return here and change."

Marisa smiled. "As you say, Highness."

~o~O~o~

Eriana caused a stir when she arrived for breakfast on the morning of departure. That was because she was dressed ready for the voyage, and that in turn meant that she caused a bigger stir than Garia had once done by turning up in riding gear. She wore a short-sleeved tunic under a sleeveless leather jerkin, but the item that made everyone gasp was her well-worn - but clean - canvas trousers tucked into ankle boots made from safkh leather.

"What?"

Terys bustled over to her, surprise evident on her face. "Dear, your attire is unusual for such a meal as this."

"What, this? Oh - you mean the trousers! Ma'am, I beg your pardon. It never occurred to me. In Einnland, especially in winter, such clothing is not unusual for any to wear." Eriana looked towards the door uncertainly then turned back to the Queen. "Ma'am, it is too late for me to change, then change back. If I may be permitted to break my fast as I am, just this once?"

"Eriana, dear, this is not my household, we are but guests here just as you and the others are. Gilbanar is the one you must satisfy but if I know him he will only be amused." Terys beckoned with a finger and Eriana bent so that the Queen's words would be unheard by others in the hall. "You should know that sailors upon the Sirrel, which does not have the same fury as the wider sea, customarily wear tights as the men on land do, dear. When the summer arrives they may even go bare-legged. You might find those trousers too warm after a day or two."

"I did not know that, Ma'am." She smiled. "Already I am learning things about these lands I did not know. I will take your advice concerning such matters although," the smile widened into a grin, "all the men are also wearing trousers. If I suggest that they unpack and remove them all from their bags there will be chaos, and we sail in three bells."

"As you say, dear." Terys twinkled. "In that case, perhaps it would be better to say nothing and let them discover for themselves the truth."

"When we traveled to Boldan's Rock," Eriana reflected, "the men wore their trousers but, of course, it was much colder then." She nodded. "I will do as you say, Ma'am, and let them decide their own attire as we progress along the river."

Robanar and Gilbanar appeared talking to Bardanar, so everybody paid their respects. When Gilbanar spotted Eriana he grinned and came to join them.

"Is that what the well-clothed Einnlander wears for a voyage, Highness?"

"It is, Your Grace, but it seems that I ought not to have worn trousers to breakfast. I have lowered the tone of your table, and in front of the King."

Gilbanar waved a dismissive hand. "Pah! You are about to climb on a ship and vanish up-river, girl. If your departure was this afternoon, I might object but not now. Be welcome at our table this morning as you are. I'm sure that my brother won't even notice."

"Thank you, Your Grace."

Robanar joined them. "All is ready, Eriana?"

"I certainly hope so, Sire. I find that I am anxious to feel a moving deck 'neath my feet, though I know that those of Palarand might find that strange."

"I understand, my dear. Some, like Garia and Merizel, feel the same when they are not riding. It is what you have become used to, I deem."

Wallesan and Maralin appeared then, causing a fresh round of bowing and curtseying. Everybody moved towards the tables.

"Today, my dear," Robanar said to Eriana, "you shall sit facing the Queen and Wallesan shall face me. You are both departing and it is fit that you should have that honor."

Maralin ended up the other side of Eriana as the breakfast began.

"Highness, I imagine that most at this table have never traveled aboard a ship before, except maybe the ferries," he said. "I trust that you will put up with our clumsiness."

"It should not be a problem, Tenant. Though most in Einnland are familiar with sea travel yet there are some who have made few such journeys. We are used to landsmen on our ships." She turned to Robanar to add, "I regret, Sire, that oft times the landsmen would be slaves, captives taken during raids upon remote towns. I do not intend to make such raids upon the towns of the Valley."

Gilbanar spluttered into his drink. "I should hope not, Highness! We have barely finished one war, I beg you not to start another."

Terys smiled at the Duke. "I think Eriana makes a joke, Gil. Since she has been in Palarand we have discovered she has a sense of humor, though sometimes it can be hard to tell."

"Your Grace," Eriana explained, "since coming to Palarand I have found much to help me relax, and that in turn has permitted my humor to grow. The court of my father -" She stopped and shook her head. "That is in the past, I deem. I am much happier now than I was before, and I shall be happy once more when I return to these shores."

"Well said, Your Highness," Gilbanar responded. "You know you will always be welcome to stay in Dekarran in the future, indeed, your presence here as the Federation Navy takes shape will be essential."

"Your Grace, I shall think about the navy as we travel but it is not at the front of my thoughts today. Today I shall be doing something no Einnlander has ever done, and that is to travel many marks up a river larger than any we have known before."

Wallesan said, "Highness, you went to Boldan's Rock. Did you not see the river then?"

"Aye, Your Grace, but that was from the other side, from beyond the mountains. We came back as you know, along the trade route, using the ferries, but I desire to explore the twists and turns of this mighty waterway by ship. That is an entirely different adventure, I deem."

"As you say."

The breakfast ended and farewells were made and returned. Everyone moved out into the courtyard to climb into the carriages which would take them all down to the quays for the last time. Their route led out of the North Gate and down the ramp to join the highway towards Teldor; once at the main route they doubled back until nearly at the town of Dekarran, many strides below the castle which watched over them. The carriages then turned down a side street to reach some of the many quays and wharves which lined both sides of the Palar here.

Tor Magnus's son greeted them on the quayside. Of the Visund, only the bare mast was visible with the yard still stowed on deck, the tide being almost at its lowest.

"Highness! Your ship is ready to leave."

"Thank you, Tor. We are all here, yes?"

Tor scratched his chin. "I think so, Captain, with the exception of this, what do they call him? Ah, pilot was the word, I think. And those with you from the castle, of course. Were there any problems above?"

Eriana grinned. "Only my -" She remembered. "Never mind. It is not important. We are all here. Where are the two girls?" She peered over the edge at the ship below. "Ah, right at the front. Good. Will you take the steering oar for our departure? That gap on the way out to the Sirrel looks somewhat narrow."

Tor bowed. "I assumed you would claim the privilege, Highness, but I am ready, aye."

Wallesan joined them. "Where do you want us, Highness?"

"Oh, for now, find a seat anywhere along the center line of the boat, Your Grace. We usually discover favored places as we sail. For now, while we have to get between yonder rocks, best to keep out of the way."

"As you desire, Highness."

She frowned. "Hmm. If I may, this voyage could be difficult enough without ourselves making it tedious by using our titles all the time. I propose that we just use our first names. It is customary aboard the ships of Einnland, though I do not know what custom is used by those of the Valley."

Wallesan gave the idea a brief consideration then nodded. "As you wish... Eriana. We will all be close together for days, we will all suffer the same hazards and rewards, I find it seemly."

Tor had a point to make. "By your leave, Wallesan, sir, there is one exception to the rule. Eriana is owner and captain of the Visund, when she issues an order which concerns the ship we name her Captain then."

"I cannot argue with that. On any ship, the Captain is as a King, or in your case a Queen. Her word is law."

Robanar, Gilbanar, Vivenne and Terys joined the group, watching as the remainder of the crew made their way to the ship. Steps cut into the edge of the quay allowed the travelers to descend to reach deck level. The ship was filled with upturned faces watching them come down to board.

"So," Robanar said. "It is time, I see. Go you safely on your way, Eriana, and bring all your people back home to Palarand. I trust that this time you will not be faced by the men of Yod, you will have a pleasant enough journey exploring the river, I deem."

Eriana curtseyed, despite her trousers. "As you command, Sire."

Gilbanar made a small bow. "My brother says it all, Highness. A safe voyage to you. You and your crew will always be welcome at Dekarran."

"Thank you, Your Grace."

Vivenne gave Eriana a hug and then it was the turn of Terys.

"When you depart, all those I might call my children will have gone," she said softly as they hugged. "You know I worry about you all? Come home safely, dear."

Wallesan paid his respects to his hosts, with assurances of further visits and exchanges of news and ideas, before turning and descending the steps. Eriana looked about and saw that only she and Tor remained on the quayside.

"Are you waiting for me, Tor?"

"Highness, we await the pilot. He has not yet come."

A youngish man came running from an alley between two of the warehouses which backed the quay. He had a duffel bag over his shoulder and looked harassed. Coming to a stop before them, he addressed Tor, amusing everyone else by ignoring them.

"Captain, sir! Sorry I am late. I have recently arrived with a ship as the tide fell and needed to make my report to the port authorities. Is everybody aboard? Who are these?"

Tor grinned. "There is only myself, yourself and the owner left to board, Prell. These people? Why, they are your King and Queen together with the Duke of North Palarand and his lady the Duchess."

The shocked man looked more closely at those closest and fell to his knees.

"Your Majesty! I did not know it was you, your Queen, your brother or his Duchess. If you would forgive me. Though I have plied these waters some ten years, I do not know the faces of any of you."

Gilbanar grinned at the pilot. "Rise, man! You have a ship to direct, or whatever it is you do. We are but sightseers attending the departure. If you do not know our faces, you have not looked at the coin of Palarand very closely, have you? I deem it flows as quickly out of your pockets as the waters of the Palar flow between the rocks."

The man stood up quickly, blushing. "As you say, Your Grace." He turned. "Tor Magnus's son? We must leave immediately, else we lose the current."

Eriana told him, "No need to say which Tor here, my man. By custom, when men with the same name take ship in Einnland, the senior rank is addressed by his given name while the others will either have their father's name added or, more often, we would use a nickname instead. Come, let us board."

With a nod to Robanar she led the way down the steps. Prell followed, leaving Tor at the top. He called to men waiting at the mooring ropes, these were untied and thrown down to men on the ship. With a nod and a wave to them he ran down the steps and jumped onto the deck, just as the Visund caught the current and drifted away from the quay.

Oars were unshipped, those nearest the wall of the quay being gingerly used to push the ship out into the main channel. Tor climbed over the clutter of ropes, benches, barrels and tarpaulin-wrapped packages to join Prell on the stern deck.

"What now, pilot? Should we set the sail?"

"No, that will not be necessary just yet. In this narrow channel, a stray gust can take a ship onto the rocks before anyone can correct the problem. Best to use your oars until we are out in the channel. Keep to the right-hand side for now."

"As you say." Tor turned and shouted instructions in Norse to the crew, who began to row towards the gap between the rocks. He then asked, "What then, once we have passed through?"

"By all means set sail, Captain. The wind will almost always blow from downriver, your left, and we desire to head upriver by means of a channel along the farther shore. Be warned, to get there we will have to cross the outflow, which always goes to the sea whether the tide flows in or out."

"As you say. I will heed your words and once we are on our way you can explain to me the currents of this strange river. Oh, and though you name me captain I am not. I am what I believe you in Palarand would call the First Mate. Our owner is the captain and she prefers to be addressed that way."

"She?"

"Her Highness Princess Eriana of Palarand, once Princess of Einnland. You followed her down the steps. I told you all this when we first spoke."

Prell gulped. "Sir, I have piloted some eight ships since I originally met you to contract this voyage. I regret that many of the details have slipped my mind, especially if they are not concerned with the ship or its route."

"Never mind. Here she is."

Eriana joined them just as the Visund swept through the rocks which defined the limits of the Palar. To their left, a fortress brooded low on the eastern bank. To their right, the town of Dekarran was built on the steep slope beneath the many levels of the castle of the same name. Here, the smell of brine from the sea filled their lungs. Ahead, the open river beckoned.

"Finally!" Eriana took a deep breath and gazed all around her. "At last we have departed the land. At last, our journey has begun!"



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
162 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 10347 words long.