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OLD FRIENDS AND NEW ACQUAINTANCES
Whoever said Elves never fall ill obviously never put an Elf on a boat, Rhyden Fabhcun thought to himself as he clutched the wooden railing along the forecastle of the a'Maorga and heaved the remnants of his breakfast over the side of the frigate into the Muir Fuar sea.
They were two days out upon the water, with Tiralainn behind them as they sailed for Samos Bay along the Morthirian coast. Rhyden had made the seafaring voyage between the Torachan capital city of Cneas and Tiralainn nearly a dozen times in his life, but no matter how often he settled his feet upon a ship, it took him nearly a week in full before his bewildered, land-acquainted mind would allow his stomach any respite against the undulating, churning motions of ocean current and hull.
He felt his stomach twist again and he leaned further over the railing, spitting a mouthful of bitter, thick bile into the cleft of foam carved by the a'Maorga's prow. He tucked his long blond hair back behind the tapered edges of his ears and moaned softly, closing his eyes, feeling dizzy and miserable.
"Hoah, now, not so far out there," a voice said near his ear, as a hand settled firmly against his shoulder, drawing Rhyden away from the railing. "I do not think I have ever seen an Elf lose his balance before, but there is always a first for everything."
Rhyden shrugged the palm away from his coat, frowning. He brought the cuff of his hand to his mouth, brushing at his lips as he blinked as his would-be intercessor. "I…I am alright," he said, his voice hoarse.
Aedhir Fainne, captain of the a'Maorga,smiled at him, his brow arched. He was of Median descent, a race of men from the southern portion of the civilized Morthir; like any of his heritage, he had a complexion the dusky hue of deeply steeped tea. His headful of thick black curls were kept short-cropped and neatly trimmed away from his handsome, angular face, his high, etched cheeks and austere brow. His was a face well attuned for expressing great warmth and fondness, or intense severity with only the minutest of inflections.
"Have not found your sea-legs yet, Lord Fabhcun?" he asked.
Rhyden closed his eyes, pressing his palm against his brow. "No," he said, shaking his head. "Those I have found. It is my sea-stomach that I would yet seem to be missing."
Aedhir laughed. He offered Rhyden a clap on the shoulder and then turned his head, calling behind him toward the spar deck. "Pryce, find me a chair, would you? Bring it up to the quarterdeck."
"Aye, sir," Aedhir's First Officer, Pryce Finamur called back. Like most aboard the a'Maorga, whose seafaring lifestyle offered little time upon their native soil of Tiralainn, Pryce was still relatively unaccustomed to the presence of an Elf aboard the ship. Elves did not travel by their nature; an Elf on a ship, crossing the ocean was something akin to a cat hopping willingly into a filled rain-barrel. The tars and landsmen comprising the a'Maorga's crew seemed evenly divided in their numbers between gawking at Rhyden as some manner of curiosity, or glowering at him, clearly indicating his state of unwelcome. Pryce, at least, seemed polite enough in his regard, if not somewhat fascinated by Rhyden, and the young officer paused an extra moment upon the main deck, blinking at Rhyden before turning and tending to Aedhir's request.
"Come with me," Aedhir said to Rhyden, leading him away. "You are not helping yourself here. Stand amid-ship, or abaft the main mast. The pitching is less."
Rhyden knew Aedhir vaguely; the two were cordial strangers at best, each more acquainted with the other by name and reputation than anything else. They had both served in the First Shadow War in Tiralainn together twenty years earlier, and despite the fact they had each participated in different campaigns in those days, such experience had seemed to establish Rhyden as a friend in Aedhir's regard. Rhyden served as ambassador for the neighboring realms of Tiralainn and Tirurnua to the united kingdom of the Morthir. He was returning to the capital city of Cneas to resume his ambassadorial duties, and Aedhir, an experienced commander in the Crown Navy of Tiralainn had graciously offered him passage at no fare.
Aedhir brought Rhyden to the quarterdeck and they stood together beside the main mast, facing the port side of the ship. Aedhir kept his hand against Rhyden's shoulder the entire time, helping to steady him as he stumbled along.
"Look out toward the horizon," Aedhir told him. Pryce walked briskly across the deck from behind them, bearing a slat-backed wooden chair in his hand. "Good, set it there," Aedhir said, motioning with his hand. "Sit down, Lord Fabhcun. Keep your eyes out on the water toward the horizon and relax."
Rhyden sat and looked at Aedhir somewhat uncertainly as the captain squatted beside him. "I have never decided which is the worst of being seasickened," Aedhir remarked. "The wretchedness of it all, or the indignity."
"The indignity," Rhyden said, making Aedhir smile.
"There is not a man on this ship who has not offered his gut's homage to the waves before ... and let none of them tell you otherwise," he said. "Myself included."
Aedhir stood, tugging against the lapels of his tailored blue justicoat, settling his uniform into place. "Try to keep your head and shoulders balanced above your hips as the ship moves," he said. "Do not fight the sea's rhythm…follow it. Try that seated awhile, and then we shall walk a bit."
Rhyden watched Aedhir walk away, with Pryce Finamur falling in step with him. "How do we fare by the wind?" Aedhir asked his first officer as they approached the helm together. He raised his hand and nodded his chin in greeting to his helmsman and lieutenant on deck.
"Scudding both sheets aft to a fair wind in a long sea, Captain," Pryce replied. "We are making excellent time."
"Hoah, fall not off, then," Aedhir said, canting his face skyward, admiring his rigging. "I am going to find our Lord Fabhcun some tea. A spot of wehnroot might serve him good."
• • •
In time, Rhyden's seasickness had passed, as had his feelings of uncertainty about sailing with Aedhir. The a'Maorga's commissioned and warrant officers, at least, seemed to warm to him, and while the rest of the crew did not necessarily follow suit, they at least granted Rhyden a wide and relatively quiet berth, keeping their misgivings and poor opinions among themselves.
Aedhir proved to be a difficult man to dislike. Other ship captains Rhyden had met had been polite enough to him, by his title of ambassador alone if nothing else, but Aedhir seemed genuine in his efforts at friendship. He had established the habit of inviting Rhyden to join him and his two young midshipmen, Wenham Poel ... known as "Wen" ... and Odhran Frankley about the ship each morrow, teaching them about the frigate's design, the intricacies of her rigging.
"Pirates thought they might send a twenty-pounder across our bow along shore near Cradle Bay three month ago," Aedhir said one morning as they walked together along the spar deck. They were now almost three weeks fully into the voyage, and expected to reach Cneas' Samos Bay in less than four days. "We were bearing in with the land when they sent out the round. Damn near missed the ship in full, save they clipped the side of the main topmast, split the sail, the bloody bastards."
"How did they get cannons, sir?" Wen asked, breathless with wonder and trepidation at the mere mention of pirates. Cannons, or more specifically the black powder used to fire them, were relatively new devices, introduced within the last decade by the Abhacans of Tirurnua. The technology was not readily available outside of the military in Tiralainn, and the two kings of the neighboring realms had not shared it with anyone on the Morthir.
"They stole them," Aedhir replied. "Bloody bastards. They do that, you know. Raid our ships, kill our crewmen, plunder our cargo, steal our weapons." He took notice of the fact that this statement seemed to leave the midshipman, Odhran, visibly ill-at-ease and he smiled. "But not us, lad. Do not worry for it. There is not a vessel afloat that can best the a'Maorga. She is the fastest frigate on the Muir Fuar ... mast cracked or not."
"What did you do, Captain?" Wen asked. He was a young lad, little more than twenty, lean, lanky and wide-eyed, with his shoulder-length tumble of black waves caught at the nape of his neck in a tail. Like Aedhir, he was of Median descent; though his complexion was a lighter tawny shade than the captain's.
Odhran was a good full head taller than Wen, and far more squat. He was large and stocky, thick through chest and hips like a well-kept bull. He and Wen were schoolmates together at the university in Tiralainn's royal city, Belgaeran. The younger sons of affluent noblemen, they had abandoned their studies for lives in the Crown Navy, and Aedhir's was the first ship they had worked in their lives.
Copyright © 2006 Sara Reinke.