The Voyage of the Visund -2-

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The Visund departs Dekarran and makes a tricky crossing of the river before turning upstream. The pilot, Prell, educates Eriana about what they might expect as their voyage continues.

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The Voyage of the Visund

A tale of Anmar by Penny Lane

2 - The Mighty Sirrel


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. Drawings copyright (c) 2018 by Di Wonder. All rights reserved.



As the Visund cleared the mouth of the Palar the residual flow from the outgoing tide grabbed the bow and swung it sharply left towards the ocean.

Prell shouted, "Steer across! Head for the other bank!"

Tor leaned on the steering oar and the bow slowly began to swing right again against the tugging of the current.

Eriana looked concerned. "We'll end up out on the ocean! I want to go the other way!"

"Of course, Captain. Now you must ask for the sail to be raised. How far round can it be swung? The wind will almost always flow from the ocean and we will use it to help us get upstream."

"Oh, I see. Aye, of course."

Eriana issued commands and the yard began to rise from the deck, where it had been stowed lengthwise along the center of the ship. As it rose, men untied the sail, allowing it to be unfurled as the yard was pulled up the mast. The wind immediately caught it and it bellied out, making a significant difference that Eriana could feel with her feet.

"Ah, good. Pilot, where should we aim?"

Prell shrugged. "Directly across, Captain. This close to the Dekarran shore, the current will always flow to the sea at almost all states of the tide, so we must get across it. Once clear, the incoming tide will carry us up-river for a fair distance." He pointed. "I know, you could aim for the semaphore mast. It is so new I am not yet accustomed to using it as a reference."

"As you wish, Pilot. Should we be using oars?"

He shrugged again. "If you were in a desperate hurry then of course you could use oars but there is little point today, I deem. Best save the energy of your men for another day, since you will soon need your oars to cross the stream as you progress."

The ship seemed to be drawn a ridiculous distance downstream before their motion ceased. The wind blew them across the river still, but the further bank suddenly seemed to start sliding in the other direction. More commands now caused the yard to be slowly hauled around until it was almost perpendicular to the length of the ship, while Tor slowly swung the bow upstream to compensate. Eriana and Prell, who had both been standing beside Tor on the stern deck, now hopped down to stand in the hull, in order to be able to see their way beneath the sail.

Now, the inrushing current of the tide began to be strongly felt. With the assistance of the wind, even Eriana could see that the Visund was being propelled along at a significant speed. Soon, it was apparent that they would pass not too far from the semaphore mast at South Slip.

"Captain, you must be careful to avoid the ferries."

Eriana's eyes narrowed as she realized the potential danger. She already knew that the ferries sailed - or were rowed - at all states of the tide and of course they would cut across their own track. Fortunately none were nearby as they shot past the slipways at South Slip.

Prell nodded appreciatively. "A goodly progress, I deem. Your ship is well-wrought, Captain. I have not traveled on one built like this before. We should make Sheldane by lunchtime."

"Lunchtime?" Eriana was puzzled. "Do you expect us to stop for every meal?"

The pilot laughed. "Oh, no, Captain! 'Tis but a figure of speech. If you were to desire to eat on shore, then of course you might call at Sheldane. I merely mention a waypoint and the time we should pass it."

"Ah, of course. I am a woman of the open sea, we do not think of waypoints as we might do when traveling by wagon." She added, "How close to the shore should we go? I am uncertain of the depth of water in this huge river and I do not wish to be stranded on a mud bank."

"I understand your caution, Captain. This far away is far enough, I deem. You should know that the bottom of the river is deepest where the current is strongest, on the far side beneath the cliffs. Over here it slopes very gently to the shore and, as you have guessed, is mostly mud in the tidal parts of the river. What depth does she draw?"

Eriana was briefly confused to hear her ship referred to as 'she' but replied smoothly, "The ships of Einnland are shallow craft, as you can see for yourself. Loaded like this, I deem we may have a stride, or at worst a little more, between the water's surface and the lowest part of the ship."

Prell's eyebrows rose. "So little? Then she is well-wrought, I deem. You should be able to go almost anywhere you desire along the Sirrel, even well beyond Yod."

"That was our intention, aye. The Visund was designed to be launched from beaches into the ocean, as are almost all of our craft. There are several small rivers flowing through our lands, and beyond them marshes which we have explored, but your art is almost unknown to us, pilot."

"I am honored to be of service to you and your men, Captain. Do you intend to travel the Sirrel frequently?"

"I am not sure, pilot. I have been commissioned by His Majesty to consider the formation of a fleet of ships to protect the countries of the Sirrel, and this voyage is partly for me to survey the river and partly to accustom myself to its people and ways."

Prell's eyebrows rose again. "King Robanar seeks to rule the Sirrel? This seems a strange idea. I should imagine that the other countries will have much to say about that!"

Sitting on barrels just in front of Prell and Eriana were Wallesan and Maralin, and the former turned to join the conversation.

"Pilot, I am the Duke of Joth and I may tell you that Her Highness has partly misspoken. We have just come from a joint session of the Sirrel Congress, a meeting of almost all the rulers of the Sirrel lands from Vardenale to Ferenis, and it is on their behalf that Her Highness travels upriver. Aye, she is a vassal of Robanar, but the force she will lead will operate on behalf of all of the nations of the Sirrel, not just Palarand."

Prell got over his shock and bowed to Wallesan. "Your Grace, I am corrected. This is something new for the river, then."

"Aye, and the peoples who live along it. You will forgive me, I may not say more since there is much work yet to be done, but you may see many changes in the next few years."

"As you say, Your Grace." Prell turned to Tor. "If you would shift the bow a little right, steersman. We have begun to approach the shore too closely. We will need to keep at least this distance away until we pass Sheldane."

"As you wish, pilot."

Eriana relaxed and began to examine the banks of the Sirrel on either hand. Looking both left and right, she wondered if 'bank' was the appropriate word for either. On her right, the cliffs of the northern wall of the Great Valley stood up almost vertically for some two hundred strides, at this time of day still illuminated by the morning sun. Soon, the sun would swing far enough round that the rock would remain in shadow until almost sunset.

Part way up the side of the cliff face, perhaps fifty to a hundred strides or so here, a road had been laboriously chopped out. Eriana knew this was the trade road from Dekarran to Brugan and it was heavily used, almost as much as the highways within Palarand. She could easily see riders, wagons and occasional carriages traveling along that road in both directions. At the foot of the cliff, the river foamed about rocks which had tumbled from above over the ages, a warning that the return voyage might have its own dangers.

Turning to her left, the contrast could not be greater. Here the land was so flat that it was sometimes difficult to determine where river ended and land began. Along the shores of Plif, where the Visund had first landed, the coast was thickly covered in tall reeds, many of which were harvested, she knew, by the locals. Here, there were a few clumps of reed but mostly it was low-lying salt marsh and muddy bank. Beyond that were damp fields where pakh, gavakhan and other livestock could just be made out. There were few signs of habitation, though she could see numbers of people working in the distance, doing things she could not imagine.

Sitting just in front of Eriana, Wallesan spoke to Maralin. "You told us that you did not live anywhere near the sea."

"Aye, Your Grace, that is true," Maralin replied, "but I lived in a city which was on the shore of a great lake, a lake large enough that it could be considered an inland sea. It was wide enough you couldn't see the other side and also large enough to have fairly big storms, particularly in fall and winter."

"Do you tell me? Did you venture onto this lake, then, during your days on Earth?"

Maralin shook his head. "Never did, Your Grace. I doubt a large portion of the city did either. The life of the city was more interesting."

"So you've never been on a ship like this, then?"

Maralin laughed. "Absolutely not, Your Grace! There are a small number of craft built like this, but they are usually for academics, Questors if you will, to try and find out how the Vikings managed such long voyages in them. I think I've discovered more in the last month than anyone on Earth has ever managed. No," he added, "I doubt many people would be comfortable this close to the waterline. Most modern ships, small or large, keep their passengers a safe distance away from the water."

"Indeed. I noticed that when I looked at the other ships at Dekarran, though those were built to carry cargo, I deem."

"As you say, Your Grace, though maybe size and shape are limited when it comes to river travel. I know that traffic on rivers in the US consists mainly of long, thin boats and ships whether they are for cargo or passengers. Like here, I would guess that rivers have deep parts and shallow parts so you have to fit the channels that are there."

Eriana said, "Aye, that is true, Maralin. Apart from the ferries, which are made for a particular place along the river, most ships and boats we have seen have been long and narrow, though I might guess that those of Earth are much longer."

"I could not disagree, Highness... Captain."

Eriana pointed. "Look yonder! The semaphore masts march across the land. In the distance, that must be Sheldane, I deem."

Maralin could see a smudge in the distance, with a semaphore mast right in the middle. Having a stray thought, he reached forward for the waterproof duffel bag he had been given to keep his possessions in, pulling out a short leather cylinder. Opening this he took out the telescope he had recently been presented with.

Seeing this, Eriana smiled. "An excellent thought, Maralin! I must go find my own telescope."

As Maralin began to survey the low-lying coast to their left Eriana skipped forward, standing on box, barrel or bench as necessary, until she reached the bow.

"How are you managing, girls?"

"All right so far... Captain," replied the older one. "I have heard tales of folk being sick when they go on a boat but I have not been troubled so far."

"Aye, well, this is not the sea but a river, even though the water is presently sea-water. There is not the motion that would make most sick, not here. Out on the open ocean, about a third to a half of all who sail will be sick at one time or another. It is just the way of life at sea."

"Then I am glad we have not sailed on the ocean," muttered the younger one. "I am not so sure that I should have eaten so much for breakfast this morning."

"I think," Eriana said slowly, "that it should become easier the further up the river we go. It may take a few days, though, before you settle down."

"As you say, Captain. I always forget just how big this river is."

"Me, too. Now, I need to get under the deck to find my bag, so if you would move aside for a moment - ah, there it is. I do not remember, have either of you been presented with telescopes? No? A pity, but then, a warrior always complains about how much she must needs carry, does she not? There are several of these on board," she held up her own telescope, "and I doubt not that someone will permit you their use when necessary."

"What does it do, Captain?"

"It makes far things seem near, Semma. Here, put it to your eye like thus, then adjust by turning this part."

Eriana passed the telescope to the younger of the two guardswomen who held it to her eye and attempted to look at the coastline.

"I can't see any... oh, it's blurry... ah! I see!" She focused on the nearest semaphore tower. "That is very good, Captain! To bring things near, things that might be dangerous, that is a clever thing."

Semma looked at various items of interest for a while and then handed the telescope back to Eriana, who promptly gave it to the other guardswoman, Bennet.

"Thank you, Captain."

While Bennet examined the land to either side Eriana threaded the case onto her belt next to her knife. The guardswoman returned the telescope to Eriana who put it back in its case before jumping lightly up onto the fore deck.

"Brodgar, Folke. Any problems?"

The two men stood at the extreme bow, one looking over each side for potential dangers as they traveled. This was uncharted territory for all of the crew and nobody wanted the ship to get into trouble through inattention.

Brodgar replied, "None, Captain. In this water, I doubt we would find shallows so soon but I wondered about floating debris."

Eriana shrugged. "I have no idea, boys. The incoming tide flows with us, so I doubt you will find any tree trunks or wreckage, if that is what worries you. I am told there are no rocks this side of the river, though they are plain to see against the cliffs yonder."

Folke said, "Aye, Captain, we can see those plain enough. What of the bottom? I do not like sailing when I do not know the depth of the sea bottom - your pardon, the river bed."

"The pilot says that the river bed slopes very gradually from the deepest part, which are near the cliffs, towards the shore over there. There are apparently shoals nearer Sheldane," she pointed, "but nothing to worry us."

"Thank you, Captain. If you don't mind -"

"Aye, keep your eyes on the river, boys." She gave them a twisted smile. "Assume there is nothing and we will hit the one tree trunk that chance puts in our path."

They both chuckled. "Aye, Captain."

Eriana turned and jumped down, making her way aft and taking the time to have a word with every person on board, even the four men of the Duke's escort who had accompanied the Duke and Maralin from Joth.

"Captain Hambran."

"Captain. This is an unusual way for me to travel, I deem. I am not accustomed to having nothing at all to do on a journey. If I may help?"

Eriana grinned. "Relax and enjoy the ride, Captain. Passengers should not have to work, though there may be occasions when the help of you and your men would be welcome."

"Aye, I have already helped pull a rope to hoist the sail, when we left Dekarran. I was in the right place to do it, that is all."

"Well, you should not be needed, Captain. There are enough crew on board to take care of most that may happen to us. However..."

"Captain?"

"There could be an occasion or two when the help of you and your men might be needed pulling the oars. We are going against the flow of the water and the wind may not always blow us on our way."

Hambran nodded. "Understood, Captain. Just tell us where and when you need us and we shall be there."

By the time she had worked her way back Sheldane was clearly visible forward and to the left. Eriana took out her telescope and surveyed the town, Maralin and Wallesan doing likewise.

"Look at those masts! Why are those over there? The town's harbor lies there, does it not?"

"Captain," Prell answered, "those are the masts of the galleys that Yod brought to capture the town. They landed there and attacked by land. There were also a number of merchant ships used but those have now been reclaimed by their owners and removed. I do not know what is intended for the galleys."

"Actually, I believe that they might become part of my fleet," Eriana said, her eye glued to the telescope. "All galleys of Yod were declared war booty and assigned to one or another of the injured countries along the Sirrel. Most might become ships of River Command, as I believe it will be called."

"But they have been left out there the whole winter," Maralin objected. "Will they still be in a usable condition?"

Eriana shrugged. "I have no idea, Maralin. Those of Sheldane may have tended them. It matters not. If I may use them, I will. If not, doubtless there will be a new design of ship to take their place."

Prell's ears perked up. "A new design, Captain?"

"I would not concern yourself, pilot. Any such design yet exists only as a drawing or in the mind of its creator. It will be a year or two before you must needs worry about such a vessel."

Sheldane slid past. They could all plainly see the small harbor, formed along a creek from the Sirrel, with fishing craft nestling against jetties either side, the town being beyond. Further along the bank were laid up the three galleys which Yod had used to make their last-gasp attack to either capture or kill Garia. Eriana surveyed those closely through her telescope, wondering how much use such a labor intensive vessel would be to her new command.

Once past Sheldane, the river gently began angling away from the now-shadowed cliffs to their right, to begin a wandering course over the wide expanse of the Great Valley. At one point they had to pick their way carefully, since the strong downstream current briefly switched sides and almost overcame the incoming tide from the sea, but the steady wind ensured that they made sufficient progress.

Duke Gilbanar had provided all on board with a packed lunch and this was the time that most chose to open theirs and eat. There were meat, bread, pastries both savory and sweet, cheese and fresh fruit, all foods that could be eaten in the hand. Since the Visund carried no firebox the only drinks were cold water or small beer. Eriana had been offered wine but had declined, saying that it would only cause trouble if the men drank it, and she preferred beer anyway.

The rate of progress seemed to slow as the early afternoon warmed up, their ship lazily edging past landmarks to their left, fences, ditches, the occasional clump of trees in the distance. Eriana wondered why.

"Pilot, we seem to have slowed right down. Is there some trick to this? Are we in the right channel?"

"Captain, this is a natural consequence of the tides. We departed when the tide was at its lowest and spent part of the morning making our way across the outflow current. Now we have passed Sheldane, the tide has reached full and is turning. You know that there are two full tides a day?"

"Aye, of course! Why, is it different in a river?"

"Not at all, Captain, though the consequences may not be what you are used to. On a beach, I deem, the water merely retreats some strides at low tide and then advances at high tide, Is that not so?"

"Aye, of course, that is what I am used to. We have to pull our ships above the high tide mark."

"As you say. In the Sirrel, then, the tide will push against the outflow of the river. Where the flow is weakest, the tide will form a counter-current, which we have made use of to get this far. However, the tide has now turned, as I have said, and no longer assists us. Only the wind may propel us further today, since the next tide will be ten and a half bells after the last one, and by that time we will have reached our lodgings for the night."

"Ah! I understand. So we may make use of the tide as we progress along the river?"

Prell shook his head. "Regrettably not, Captain. One day more, and that will be the hardest one since the loop of the river means that we will get no benefit from the wind. Tomorrow, therefore, your crew must row for some while." He added, "Once beyond Brikant you should find that your sails will be sufficient to take you upstream, although you will need to cross the main current at each bend."

Eriana frowned. "This sounds complicated, pilot. When we reach our lodging place, shall you explain?"

Prell nodded. "To one such as yourself, who has never experienced the Sirrel before, of course I shall explain."

Eriana gave Prell a curt nod and then turned to contemplate the water. Navigating this river seemed... tricky, more so than she had expected. She was uncomfortable when there were questions and no answers, such as with Garia's disappearance... That made her even more determined to discover what had really happened to her friend. Since only Maralin apparently knew the truth, that puzzle could wait until they arrived at Joth. For now, the Sirrel had to be her most immediate concern. Here, at least, was a puzzle she would find the answers to, and it would make her a better sailor.

In the distance she noted that the further shore appeared to come across the river and she took that to mean that the Sirrel was about to curve to the left.

"Pilot, the river bends ahead. Should we prepare to steer left and to adjust the sail?"

"Captain, we must steer right soon, to avoid several shoals which are against the left bank. Our course will take us near the center of the river, but we will still be out of the strongest part of the downstream current. Only then may we consider bearing left."

"Right?" She considered, then shrugged. "As you say, pilot. This river must be wide enough to allow us room, I deem."

"Aye, there will always be plenty of water between the banks, as you must already know. I have heard the tale of your expedition to Boldan's Rock, Captain, and that most of your crew joined you on that adventure. Even at Boldan's Rock you will remember that the river there is about two marks wide. Our problem is that there are many shoals and sandbanks along the way, and many of them shift and move with the seasons and years. That is why most ships will take a pilot, unless they are regular travelers along the Sirrel and know its foibles."

"Ah... I see. I am used to beaches and small coves, as I mentioned before. There are shoals and bars which come and go over the years, but that happens very slowly and so all know where they are." She frowned. "I may travel the river in the future, it is true, but I doubt I would become as familiar with it as, for example, those on the other vessels I see around us."

Prell smiled. "Which is why, Captain, pilots will always be available to guide travelers like you and your crew."

Some time later, Prell gave directions and the bow swung around until the cliff wall was almost at their backs. It was mid-afternoon and the weather had become warm in the spring sun. Eriana found that her legs had become sticky but remembered a conversation with the Queen, so merely smiled and observed her crew. Most had discarded jackets and vests and now wore just a simple tunic, but many were noticeably uncomfortable as they sat and watched the banks slide by. None of her crew, of course, were wearing footwear on board. Bare feet had the safest grip on an unsteady deck and all had put their boots in their duffel bags when they boarded.

"Are you confident in our position?" she asked Prell.

"Aye, Captain. If I may ask why?"

"Oh, I would go forward and have another word with my crew."

"As you wish, Captain. Ah, this is probably a good time for you to give them a warning."

"Oh?"

"Aye... When we depart tomorrow, your men can expect to spend most of the morning rowing. If you could ask them to avoid drinking too much beer this evening, Captain. They will need clear heads when they waken tomorrow."

Eriana considered this, then nodded. "You give sound advice, pilot. My men are used to spending days at sea, and we all know that it is foolish to drink strong beer when the sun is fierce and there is work yet to do. I will warn them not to indulge too much tonight."

As Eriana stepped forward over the baggage Wallesan turned to Maralin. "I must admit that I never considered that. With such a warm afternoon, all are tempted to drink as much as we can, but beer and wine today will have consequences tomorrow."

"Aye, Your Grace. Best stick to water, I would think. Pel this evening."

"Agreed. If you would go along and warn Hambran, so that he can tell the men."

Maralin followed Eriana over the boxes and barrels. Hambran saw him approach.

"Tenant. Is there something wrong? I saw His Grace speaking to Her Highness."

"The pilot gave us a warning, sir. If you would instruct the men not to drink too much beer this evening, and no wine at all. It seems we shall be pulling at the oars tomorrow morning and it would be well if we have clear heads, if you understand me. The sun is hot and we have little shade, most will be thinking of sinking a few tankards when we arrive at our lodgings."

"I can see the sense of it, Tenant. His Grace agrees?"

"He does, Captain."

Hambran turned, "You hear that, boys? Easy on the beer tonight. Water or pel would be better."

Maralin gestured. "Varran is forward. I'll go and warn him."

Hambran gave a nod. "Tenant."

Maralin made his way forward, passing Eriana, to where Varran was talking to two of the Norsemen.

"Maralin? What's happening? I saw you talking to Captain Hambran and I see Her Highness speaking with each of her crew."

Maralin eased himself down onto a bench facing Varran, nodding to the two Norsemen.

"Oh, nothing alarming. The pilot tells us that we'll be using the oars tomorrow morning so to lay off the beer tonight to make sure we'll all have clear heads. With this hot sun we're all going to build up a good thirst, it's just a warning to make sure we don't do something stupid tonight and regret it tomorrow."

Varran squinted up at the sun. "Aye, it is warm today, though the water makes it feel a little cooler than a plowed field would be. It will be a shame not to sink a few tonight but I can see the reason for it. What say you, Stine?"

"It is the same, my friend, as when we sail to sea," the Einnlander agreed. "There, the sun can make you stupid and make your head hurt. I did not think this brown water would be the same but it is so. We will be careful tonight, hey, Halvard?"

"Yah." Halvard's speech was not yet as good as most of Eriana's men. "Is good to drink ale, but not good to have bad head. Ale can wait till other day."

Varran relaxed and asked, "What do you think, Maralin? We've both come a long way from Galdarin. I cannot believe the things I've seen!"

Maralin smiled. "You and me both. Tell you what, though, this beats scrambling through frozen fields any day."

"That's the truth! Castles and palaces, Dukes and Kings, even a royal wedding! I could never have imagined what we've been doing the last few weeks." The other gestured at the river with a sweep of his arm. "What about this? Most who live in the Valley have seen the river, is there anything like this where you came from?"

Almost everyone on the Visund was aware of Maralin's Earthly origins, if not the specifics. It was, therefore, reasonably safe for Maralin to tell the truth.

"On Earth there are some big rivers like this, yes, but I didn't live anywhere near any of them. The city I lived in was on the coast of a big lake, though, one you could call an inland sea."

There followed an intense discussion of Lake Michigan, which intrigued the Einnlanders, and of Chicago. Maralin spoke little of the city, fearing his listeners would not believe most of it. Eventually Eriana joined them.

"Ho, Stine, Halvard. The pilot says we are to row tomorrow and for that we'll need clear heads. If you would try and keep your beer consumption low tonight, water or pel will suffice if you are thirsty."

"Yah," Halvard said. "Maralin here has told us so."

She nodded. "Ah, good." A wave of a hand. "I must tell the others."

The two Norsemen dipped their heads. "Captain."

"Captain!" The shout came from the bow. Heads all turned that way.

"What is it, Adin?"

"In the distance. Ferries."

Eriana hopped the short distance to the fore deck and climbed up. The two ferries were clearly visible in the distance and easily identifiable for what they were.

"Good work, boys. We'll be coming to port just beyond the ferry slipways, so I am told. Keep looking for things in the water. It would be embarrassing to sink in front of so many."

Adin and Fritjof, the two doing the afternoon watch duty, both grinned at their captain.

"Of course, Highness," Fritjof agreed. "What will happen when we arrive?"

"I am not certain," she replied. "We have traveled this way, and even used those ferries, if you remember, but I do not know how the docking is arranged, or even if there is a wharf ready for us. We will discover our fate shortly."

Eriana hopped down and informed the last remaining few of the refreshment restrictions before making her way back to the stern.

Wallesan asked her, "Trouble, Captain?"

A shake of the head. "Our stop for the night, I deem. Once we go beyond the ferries you may be able to see in the distance."

The Duke craned his neck before nodding. "As you say, Captain. Probably the same hostel we used when we came by the trade road."

"Indeed, that is what I would expect, but I did not notice what the facilities for water craft were like, since," a smile, "we had other things on our mind then."

It took the best part of a bell before they came abreast of the nearest ferry. This confused Maralin before he remembered that, though the two slips faced one another across the river, the current usually took the vessels on a roundabout route as they cut across from one side to the other. In fact, since he had now made several crossings of the Sirrel, the curious routes had just become 'part of the crossing' and so he hadn't appreciated what it must look like if you were on another craft or on the bank.

It seemed to him that the ferry was making straight for them at one point, but the different currents meant that they slid past with ample room to spare. The second ferry had long crossed their potential route, so was no danger. Suddenly Prell was calling instructions to the helmsman and the bow swung to the left, to aim for a muddled mass of thick black poles sticking up out of the water.

What Maralin discovered as they approached was that the poles were guides for pontoons which stretched from the land some distance away. With care, Prell guided them between the poles and along an entranceway between several other craft already moored. With a gesture, he pointed to the left and the Visund swung that way, carefully, straightening up to touch the pontoon with a light bump. Crewmen jumped over with lines and secured the ship in place, whereupon most of those left on board stood and began to stretch themselves.

"Where now, Captain?"

"I do not know, Your Grace. I was not present when the Visund arrived at Dekarran so I do not know the custom. Prell, what must we do?"

"Captain, the Wharfmaster will shortly appear and find out who you are and when you will be leaving. He will collect a fee, as is proper, and then assign several of the local watch to protect your ship." He coughed. "Ah, unlike most craft which travel the Sirrel, all your belongings are exposed to plain view. You may desire to spend some extra coin for more men to guard your ship. You may know that you are not expected to guard your own ship but if you desire to leave some on board then no-one would object."

Wallesan suggested, "I could leave some of my men on board, if you like."

"Your Grace, you and your men are passengers! It would be most improper."

"Indeed, but Her Highness, for this part of her journey, is acting as my official transport, no? I may thus use my own men, in uniform, to provide a guard for our possessions."

Prell bowed his head. "Your Grace, forgive me, I forget that this ship is like an embassy and therefore has greater protection. I doubt any would object to your suggestion."

The Wharfmaster appeared and was suitably impressed by those who owned the Visund and were carried by it. Coin changed hands and arrangements were made. Four of Eriana's men were detailed to watch the ship while Wallesan's detachment went off to the wash-house to clean themselves up and change into uniforms. Four more were detailed to carry two chests, one for the guardswomen and one of Eriana's, up to a private chamber in the women's part of the hostel. The rest of the crew followed more slowly, walking along the pontoons to reach the distant land.

"I am puzzled, pilot," Eriana said. "This arrangement of pontoons seems strange to me. Why are they so far out into the river, and why are the poles so tall? Surely the tides do not rise so high here?"

"Captain, it is because of the rise and fall of the river over the course of the seasons. Just before the rains, the level is at its lowest, and so the pontoons must needs be far out into what is now the river to permit vessels to approach without grounding. This water you see either side? In a few months it will be dry land.

"Then, once the rains begin, the level of the river rises rapidly. Even the courtyard of yonder hostel may be flooded then. No-one will travel while it is raining, it is impossible to find your way, and you would not know whether you were sailing on the river or over farmland. The poles must needs be so high to prevent the pontoons from being washed away. Sometimes, even so, some are lost."

"That high? How much does the river grow, then?"

Prell shrugged. "Perhaps five strides, perhaps more, Captain. As I said, nobody uses the river then, and for a few weeks afterward, so I do not know the exact heights it may reach."

Wallesan said, "It is the sort of thing a Questor may know, then."

"As you say, Your Grace. Now, if I may ask, do any of you need the facilities to be explained?"

Eriana replied, "Thank you no, pilot. We stayed here when His Grace traveled to Palarand by road. We are all familiar with the place."

"Then, if you would excuse me, I would go to the local office and make my report on conditions as we traveled." He shrugged. "As at Dekarran, it will be a short report, but the information will then be available to others who travel back the way we have come."

"Ah, of course. I believe that those who run the wagon trains exchange information in a similar way."

"As you say, Captain. If you would excuse me."

Prell bowed and strode ahead, leaving Wallesan and Eriana to lead the main body of crew towards the local hostel, which was almost a mark from where the Visund was moored. This was patterned on the standard square of the roadhouses, but the buildings were much larger, since the number of travelers by water could be large at certain seasons, especially if the river did not permit movement for any reason. As at South Slip, the buildings were also raised on piles above the land level, to allow for any flooding. Reaching the entrance to the central courtyard Eriana stood aside, waiting for the two guardswomen.

"Ladies! I find that I am in need of a bath, I deem. Shall you join me?"

"With pleasure, Your Highness," Bennet agreed. "It has been a warm afternoon and I would be fresh again. What say you, Semma?"

"Oh, yes! It is pleasant to be on the water but the hot sun has made me sticky. Do you know the way, Highness?"

"Of course, we have been here before, when we escorted the Duke to Palarand. This way."

As they crossed to the womens' portion of the wash block Eriana noticed with some amusement that most of her crew had headed for the men's side rather than towards the kitchens. A few of them, she knew, would probably just use the toilets, but most would bathe themselves before eating. Such a change from when they first arrived in Palarand! She had been forced to use threats to get some of them to wash, but exposure to the Palace Guard and to Garia's men had caused most of them to change their habits.

Once inside, the women did the necessary preparations before climbing together into a tub of steaming water. They began to wash each other and to relax their muscles, the two guardswomen having spent most of their day sitting in restricted positions on one of the ship's benches. They rinsed each other off, making small talk, before climbing out and drying their bodies and hair with the towels provided by the hostel.

Once dried they temporarily put on the clothes they had worn before and crossed to the women's block, where inquiry of the doorkeeper led to a girl servant showing them the way to the chamber that had been reserved for them. Inside the three stripped off their travel garments and went into the chests to find appropriate wear for the evening.

"What should we wear this evening, Highness?" asked Semma. "I do not know the custom, not really."

"As I understand the matter," Eriana explained, "customs among travelers along the highways and trade roads are less formal than you may have been used to in Palarand. When we traveled before we did see women wearing but day dresses even during the evening, something Her Majesty would surely frown upon at table."

Bennet nodded. "Aye, Highness, though I believe that Mistress Milsy did so once, in the palace. It was the talk of the servants' hall for days."

Eriana grinned. "Milsy is a law unto herself, I deem! But the reason you remember it, is because it was so unusual. Here, travelers may not have such a wide selection of attire at hand to wear, so allowances are made. A traveler's day gown, then. Any kind of uniform would just alarm the other travelers without need."

"As you say, Highness."

Finally, they put on soft ankle boots of the kind they would customarily wear in the palace. Eriana had spent almost the entire Boldan's Rock campaign wearing her riding boots and she had made sure that all who sailed with her had brought at least a change of footwear with them.

"Highness? I notice that the trousers you wore today are badly stained. Shall one of us wash them for you? I think, with the warm air we have at the moment, that they might be dry before we sail tomorrow."

Eriana fingered the garment thoughtfully. "Semma, thank you for the offer, but you are not my servants in this adventure, we are companions instead. If any clothing must needs be washed, then each should see to their own, and I would not be embarrassed by washing my own. It is a warrior's duty, as you already know."

She added, "You are right, these should now be washed, but that can wait, I deem. As you may realize, the sailors of Einnland customarily wear such trousers, men and women, when we sail, since the seas around our shores can be cold most times of the year, and the air even colder in the winter months." A mischievous smile came. "You should know that I wore these trousers to breakfast this morning, in front of the King and Queen! Their Majesties knew the circumstance and so graciously permitted it... once they had gotten over the shock."

Bennet giggled. "Oh, that I had been there to see it!"

"Aye. I had not considered the fuss, since that is the custom in Einnland, but the courts of King Robanar and Duke Gilbanar are more decorous, as you may know. Now, the Queen gave me a warning, and that was that the weather may become much warmer as we proceed, and as summer comes. Thus, I desire to seek an alternative to heavy canvas trousers, perhaps some garment like your own. It is a pity I did not think of it before we left, but there were other matters that took my attention - like the departure of Keren and Garia for their journey to the north... and her sudden disappearance."

The two women were pensive. Bennet replied, "Highness, we have little to share, and I doubt that anything of mine would fit you anyway."

Eriana waved a dismissive hand. "I would not deprive you, girls. I must needs solve my own problem. When we passed through here on our way back from Forguland the highway went through a market. Do either of you sew?"

"Of course, Highness! We may not be seamstresses, but any maiden at least knows how to repair a tear, or to fix a drooping hem."

Eriana smiled. "As do I. Let us then discover what time we should sail tomorrow morning. There may be a chance for us to find needle, thread and cloth in the market before we leave. I may need your help, since my experience of any market is slight, as you must realize, especially those in the Valley."

The two returned her smile. Bennet said, "Of course, Highness! It would be our pleasure."

Semma added, "Highness, what will you make? Do you desire a light gown, or perhaps a tunic shaped for a woman, like our uniforms?"

"I have no idea, Semma. As we eat our meal, let us observe those from other craft, see how they may be attired. It will give us ideas."

The three left the womens' accommodation and crossed to the kitchens. The bulk of the Visund's crew and passengers were already there, forming about half those present. Of the rest, Eriana noted a variety of modes of attire among the men and the few other women who were also there. They went to the counter and obtained plates of food, the two women carrying their three plates while Eriana brought a tray with goblets of small beer. A free table was found and they began to eat.

"What do you think, Semma?"

"It had not occurred to me before, but of course those who work on the river must needs wear different attire than those who do not. I am surprised by the variety, though."

"As am I," Eriana agreed. "Perhaps custom changes by country as well as by trade. Look at those three on yonder table! I cannot believe that their clothes are suitable for traveling on the river."

"Ah, Highness, do not forget that this hostel is also used by those who cross by the ferries. I would think that those three may be merchants or minor nobles, perhaps, who have a carriage around the back somewhere."

"You are right, Bennet. But look! There are six, some of whom I saw on a barge moored just beyond the Visund."

"As you say, Highness."

Three of the men wore sleeveless undershirts tucked into short kilts while two more wore smocks similar to those that the Yodans had been wearing, though in this case belted with lengths of rope. None of these wore tights and had sandals on their feet. The last man had conventional tunic and tights with ankle boots. All the clothes were undyed and had obviously seen extended use.

"He with the boots is the captain, I deem. I do not know how to name the rest."

"I agree, Bennet. He must needs look tidy for his dealings with authority along the river." Eriana suddenly laughed, which made some of those on nearby tables turn their heads briefly. "I have not told you yet what else the Queen said to me. Of course, all my men are also wearing trousers."

Bennet and Semma both giggled.

"Oh! I had not thought of that!" Semma said. "Shall you tell them, Highness?"

Eriana's grin was wide, but not malicious. "Not me! We may have some small fun at the crew's expense, I deem. Let us see if any take note of what those around them are wearing."

"And if they do not, Highness?"

"Then we shall watch them wriggle and squirm as the days grow warmer. I am told that what a man has between his legs must not be permitted to become too warm. Do not ask me how I know this."

They giggled again.

"You would not be so cruel, Highness?"

"I would not, Bennet. These are grown men and entirely capable of solving their own problems. If they should become uncomfortable, then mayhap there will be other hostels along our journey where inspiration may be found."

Bennet smirked. "As you say, Highness."

As they reached the end of their meals, Prell came over to the table and bowed.

"Captain... Your Highness. Forgive me, I do not know which way to address you under these circumstances."

Eriana waved a hand. "It matters little, pilot. Tonight, either will do. If there is something I may do for you?"

"Aye... Captain, then. If you would remember, I would explain how the river works."

Eriana gestured. "Good. Please, sit down, I am interested in what you have to say."

Prell took a seat and then pulled out a square of parchment. He studied this for a moment and then turned it over. With a piece of charcoal he had obtained from the kitchens, he sketched out a diagram on the back.

Charcoal_river_drawing_1.jpg

"This is a very rough sketch of the next part of our course, Captain. What I am about to describe will be almost the same along other parts of the river, so it will be worth remembering." Eriana nodded. "I have marked Terban, where we now are, here with a cross. This part of the Sirrel is known as the Reverse Reach, since the ship is turned completely around and faces the distant sea, even though we are traveling upstream.

"Now these arrows represent the strongest flow of the current. I will tell you that of course across almost the whole width of the river, the water flows towards the sea, except when the tide is coming in."

Eriana nodded again. "As you say, pilot. I would expect that of any river."

"Indeed. Now, you will notice that the strongest flow moves from the outside edge of one bend to the outside edge of the other, cutting across the width of the river to do so. I have no idea why it does this, and neither does anyone else that I know of. Since the strongest current is thus always on the outside, the outer bank is always tested by the water and is gradually eaten away. This means that over time, the bend actually becomes larger and that in turn makes the flow faster there."

Eriana frowned. "You are saying it reinforces itself?"

"Aye, exactly, Captain. That means that the course of the river is slowly changing, and has been changing since anyone can remember. Now, if you would consider here, on the inside of each bend, the opposite happens. The force of the river is slight, and that encourages it to drop what it may be carrying in those parts. Thus, the inside of bends is where you will most often discover banks and shoals."

"Ah! Already you are giving me valuable knowledge. I thank you for this, pilot."

Prell gave a twisted smile and then drew some more lines on the sketch.

Charcoal_river_drawing_2.jpg

"Captain, what I have shown you means that this is what your ship must needs do as it travels upriver. Downriver is simple, just follow the strongest flow, but to go against the flow you must use cunning, and occasionally plain force. You must row upriver tomorrow, against the slowest flow, until the main current comes across to this side. Then your men must row across this current to gain the slower flow along the other side. Once around the further bend, your sail should be sufficient to convey you further."

Eriana whistled. "I... understand, pilot. And all the time we are rowing, the river is carrying us back, like this?"

"Just so, Captain. Now you begin to understand how any must navigate a river like the Sirrel. Every time your course turns a bend, you must do the same again, although your sail should be sufficient most of the time. Fortunately for us, the prevailing wind normally blows up the Great Valley except for short periods during storms, and of course during the rains, when nobody dares venture on the river anyway."

She considered and then nodded. "Aye. It will give the men something to do, it is better than having them idle most of the time. How long will it be before -"

Prell suddenly pushed back his chair and stood up. Eriana turned to see Wallesan, Maralin and Kalmenar approaching. She also stood, followed by Bennet and Semma.

"Your Grace, good evening."

Wallesan nodded. "Highness, good evening to you. My apologies, I came to ask our pilot the timings for tomorrow's departure."

Prell replied, "Your Grace, about the same time as today, as it happens. Hmm, I have been explaining the path of the currents to Her Highness, and the course her ship must needs take to avoid them."

Eriana asked, "What of the tides? Will we take advantage of them?"

"We will do, Captain, but they are delayed compared to when you sailed from Dekarran. The aim is to reach the first turning point on that drawing just before the tide becomes full and slows the main flow. Depending how your men row, we may reach there sooner or later, it makes little difference."

Wallesan and Maralin, their curiosity roused, bent to look at the drawing.

"Ah! I see," the Duke said. "Of course I am familiar with movements on the river but I do not know the fine details of why things are done a certain way, that is for the boatmen. This drawing makes much clear, I deem."

Prell bowed. "As you say, Your Grace."

Maralin looked at Eriana. "A matter for your command, Highness? Some kind of School of Navigation, perhaps?"

Her eyes narrowed in thought. "Aye, an excellent point, Tenant. We will discuss this - and other matters we may think of - when we arrive in Joth." She turned to Wallesan. "By Your Grace's leave, of course."

Wallesan spread his hands. "By all means, Eriana. It is your business, it is Federation business, it is therefore my business as well." He turned to Prell. "If I may ask, how far have we traveled today?"

"Your Grace, as the ptuvil flies, perhaps eighty to eighty five marks. Because we must needs cross the flow, and that took us downstream, today we have done more than a hundred, most likely."

The Duke pursed his lips. "Indeed! I doubt there is anyone, even a swift messenger with changes of steed, who could manage such a feat. Perhaps travel by ship is not as slow as I believed."

"Sometimes it is, Your Grace, sometimes the winds, the tides, the currents and the weather may conspire against those who travel on the water. Today we have been fortunate."

"As you say. Eriana, if I may have a word?"

"Of course. Pilot, we will speak again tomorrow."

Prell bowed and then left. Eriana looked at Wallesan.

"There are matters I would ask you concerning the Federation, and the likely attitude of Einnland to it."

She gestured. "Of course. If you would join me, Wallesan." As the Duke pulled his chair in, she turned to the two women. "I would not have you bored tonight, girls, if you desire to amuse yourselves elsewhere I would not object."

Bennet grinned. "As you wish, Highness. We can continue what we were doing before the pilot appeared."

Eriana grinned back. "As you say! I will see you later, then. Now, Wallesan, what is it you desire to know?"

Wallesan leaned forward. "Well, it recently occurred to me..."



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