Friday, February 8, 2008

Chapter 6 - The March Harrier

In spite of the Secretary's statements, I had to cool my heels for nearly three months, waiting for the March Harrier to return, hidden in Dahlon and moving about every few days. The time spent was arduous and tedious. I was unable to leave my bolt holes to visit family or friends for fear of running afoul of the Polinoy clan in the first month of my stay in Dahlon. After that, my few visits with the people of my life before I sailed with the Wavestrider were somewhat strained, and I found myself unable to really connect with the people I had known before I went on my long journey. Thus it was with a certain amount of relief that I found out that the March Harrier had come into port.

In addition to relieving the ennui of life ashore, the arrival of the Harrier meant that I could finally get to work. Time and tide wait for no man, and they sure as Saint Esta's bronze breastplate wouldn't wait for me! I grabbed a last cup of vressa from Damal's bakery and headed to the port. The sight that greeted me was everything that I expected and more.

The March Harrier was a beauty, a masterpiece of nautical design and an examplar of the graceful architecture that made Merlani and Dayrin ships second only to the Varyag among Human nations. The ship was large, a good sized caravelle, with gracefully sweeping masts festooned with the gleaming ivory color of furled sails. The grayish elven ropes of the rigging played a sharp contrast to the white of the sails and the dark, almost black, stain of the wood. She looked lean and hungry, a kind of sea-going predator that ships like the Wavestrider feared to cross. She was like a sheepdog sitting amidst the flock, a hunter guarding the sheep.

The deck bustled with activity and I got no closer than a half-score of paces when I was stopped by a rather odd man with weathered skin, salt and pepper hair, and a somewhat distracted look about him. He was dressed well, and seemed to be looking for me when I caught sight of him. He was obviously a member of the crew, and equally obviously was there to greet me.

"Arissa Uleira?" he asked cautiously.

"Yes, sir," I replied almost automatically, and he smiled.

"My name is Galldi, Alain Galldi, and I am the second... actually, now I guess I am the first mate on the Harrier."

He looked rather sheepish as he made the correction, and I wondered what exactly he meant by it. Perhaps the former first mate had been released or retired, I mused as he guided me up the gangplank and onto the caravel's deck. I almost missed the explanation as Galldi started rambling on.

"...they never liked each other from the start. The skipper thought that Iblis was too soft and Iblis thought the captain was too strict. It was going to come to a head eventually, but I never thought that they would actually duel on the deck at sea. They fought pretty hard, so you see, the old first mate and the captain killed each other in the duel and well... Baron Moravese couldn't save them, and we were too far from shore, and... there you have it. Our new Captain arrived just before you did. He seems... different..." the first mate's narrative trailed off with a sort of non-committal shrug, but by now I was too busy taking in the faces of my new companions to care that much.

Galldi walked me around the deck and showed me the ship himself, introducing the officers as he went. The first officer started with the cargo master and shipwright, a stout red-headed Dwarf who went by the odd name of Tex, which was short for Tekeshak "Oarbreaker" craghs'Eruksel ghorfs'Thrumsul. I figured Tex was a heck of a lot easier to remember, so I stuck with that. The dour dwarf seemed to consider the idea of socializing with others distasteful, and began muttering about the lack of proper diet, too few dishes featuring beans, and the stupid quartermaster who couldn't brew proper ale or stew a proper plate of beans. Tex was obviously a master at what he did, but equally obviously was far too obsessed with beans.

The next member of the crew was a portly Merlani, who Galldi claimed was Baron Maximus Moravese de Fornice of the city-state of Tunde, and a member of one of the ranking Patrician families there. Baron Moravese provided the air of cool competence that one would expect of a ship's surgeon, and it seemed obvious that in addition to his mundane skills as a healer he was a skilled shaman as well. Convivial and friendly, I chatted openly with him about life in Tunde, and the differences between our cities until Galldi maneuvered me away. The Baron seemed like a good solid sort, and was obviously an asset well worth having around.

After moving away from Baron Moravese, Galldi escorted me over to a hulking figure up near the tiller. Another non-human, the ship's helmsman and navigator was a raffish Tulosh named G'vaud'zshen. Nearly seven feet tall, the jackal-like humanoid looked graceful and deadly, even standing still on the poop deck reviewing charts. Friendly but terse, G'vaud'zshen indicated that his responsibilities for the ship precluded a lengthy discussion at present, however he would be happy to chat later, once Arissa was settled in and the new patrol routes were plotted in. With a flowing bow, the Tulosh resumed his arithmetical calculations.

As Galldi prepared to resume the rounds of introductions the Quartermaster appeared on deck with rations for all those currently working. The man was introduced as Otahr Taylin, and he sized Arissa up without skipping a beat. Pleasantly cheerful with the crew, Otahr began asking quick and pointed questions the moment the crowd of hungry sailors dispersed. It did not take me long to realize that this was no simple cook, and though his food was excellent it would be a mistake to underestimate this man. His thick brogue took some of the sting out of the questions, but it became clear all too quickly that this man was a trained investigator. The two saparas strapped to the Atvaran's back also put paid the idea that this cook was only dangerous to cold meats. For a purser or quartermaster to be so well armed indicated certain other tasks were also within his sphere of influence.

Moving on from Otahr Taylin we came to the ship's mage, a slim Ylvani Yelin sorcerer named Uliel Akatri. Quiet and reserved, Uliel did not speak much until I asked him about the smallish ballista he had been working on. At that point Galldi grimaced and it became almost impossible to shut the mage up. Apparently the devise was a magical apparatus that used something Uliel called "sympathetic magic" to increase the potency of... alright, I got completely lost in the abstruse theoretical ramblings of the Yelin spellcaster. Mumbling my acceptance of the theory, I gratefully allowed Galldi to guide me away from the sorcerer before he could get his second wind.

Next was the Sailing master, a whip thin Gnome named Haska Running Stag, who grunted noncommittally and barked abrupt orders at the men and women in the rigging as they re-tied and adjusted the rigging for port. Though she didn't say much, I got the feeling that we would get on just fine so long as I did not gainsay her or try to tell her how to do her job.

Last on the tour of introductions was the Captain, Byrne Haut. Captain Haut, Galldi explained, had been a merchant and a privateer for years, and really wanted nothing more than to retire. He had made it clear to Galldi that Arissa and Galldi would be running the ship, he was not going to do more than be a glorified passenger. The man barely looked up from the book he was reading to wave his first and second officers out of his office. Bedraggled and unkempt, it was a wonder he was allowed to command a ship at sea, let alone one of the stature of the March Harrier.

Galldi finished the rounds and the tour, and I looked back at the odd assortment of men and women and thought to myself: This was going to be one hell of an interesting cruise.

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