Friday, February 29, 2008

Chapter 7 - Maiden Voyage

It didn't take me long to settle into the routines of the ship. After all, most ships are run in the same manner, it is only their tasks that are different. Over the next few days we prepared for an extended patrol, taking on provisions and some new crewmen, and I learned quickly the names that matched with the faces of officers and men.

After a week, a courrier arrived from Secretary Brill with orders. Allain managed to snag the poor fellow before he got to the capatin, who was curled up with his book on his bunk, and opened the orders without even bothering to consult with the old man. I smiled as we looked the document over.

"Hmm, seems simple enough. I guess the Secretary wants to test us on something simple to make sure we can work together," mused the young 2nd officer, "what do you think?"

Although I was well aware that this would not be the simple milk run it appeared, something in me wanted to reassure Allain and not unduly alarm him or the crew. I grinned and said, "Well, let's see if we can't show her what the best ship in the Free Cities can do. Mr. G'vaud'zshen, lay in a course for Miryor, we sail with the tide. Oh, and we need to get there as quickly as possible, so we will need to cut through the reefs."

Several of the sailors blanched at the thought, but none spoke up or commented, and with that, we embarked on one of the most unusual voyages that I have ever sailed upon.

Our orders were simple, make for Miryor with all due speed, and cut throgh the Wreckage Reefs. The reefs had always been a problem, there were a number of small islands concealed in the maze of reefs, and while some were innocent 'Tweener colonies, others were havens of pirates. Most ships avoided the reefs unless they were well armed, or had very good maps of the area. Of course the only folks with really good maps were pirates, so the possession of such charts could get you hung in some ports.

G'vaud'zshen beckoned to me from the chart table up near the tiller, and I walked across the aftcastle and climbed the stairs up to the poop deck. Allain did not follow, instead heading forward to begin the process of securing the ship for sailing. The burly Tulosh was poring over charts when I reached the main deck chart table. It always amazed me that the chart table was up on the deck instead of in the captain's quarters (where it was on most other ships), but this table had been ensorcelled by Saravoy himself and was proof against wind and weather. I had seen G'vaud'zshen leave the charts sitting on the table with no weights to hold them down during a windy day and the pages never even fluttered.

"You know that this is foolish, yes? We will be set upon the moment we enter the reefs, and the pirates will know the area far better than we. Our main advantage of speed will be negated."

I nodded slightly, but I was already coming up with a plan. "I am counting on it, old dog. Not to worry, I have a plan."

G'vaud'zshen grunted a chuckle, amused at my nickname for him. I had adopted it during our frequent games of narra in the officer's rack, and he seemed pleased that I took the time to find something less cumbersome than his true name.

"It seems like you say that every time you are losing at narra, so I will remain skeptical," retorted the navigator as he began to do the calculations that would enable us to sail with the tide in six hours.

I hurried back to the forecastle, hoping to catch Saravoy while he was on deck, and as luck would have it, the Ylvani Magus saw me coming and waited.

"I have the feeling that you are about to ask me to do something stupid. You have that look that humans get when they are about to ask a stupid question or demand an impossible action. So, what is it that you want me to do?"

"Well, it's fairly simple, really. In fact, it is so simple that I wouldn't bother you with it, but I needed it done right, so I came to you..."

The frost elf puffed up immediately at my knowledge of his obvious importance, and I seized the moment to ask my question. "I know that you have the ability to shape fire into usable constructions, so what I wanted to know is whether or not you can use your magical connection to fire to make the ship do something kind of like you did with the chart table on the poop deck."

Saravoy looked puzzled, and slowly responded, "How do you mean?"

"Well, you know how the chart table repels wind, rain, snow, and such?" he nodded, still confused, "I was wondering if you could make the hull of the March Harrier repel the reefs. This way we can still maneuver without fear of shoaling ourselves and damaging the hull."

I was pleased to note that the wizard found himself dumbstruck by the suggestion. His mouth worked slowly, as though he were chewing the problem, and he eventually replied, "I think... that might work. Basically, if I could enchant the keel it would push the ship away from any reefs in its path. The only real problem will momentum."

OK, now it was my turn to be confused, so I responded with a forthright question which beggared explanation from the wise mage, "Huh?"

The normal look of barely concealed condescencion clouded the Ylvani Yelin's face as he continued, "If the ship is going too fast and the keel tries to alter the course to avoid a reef, it will tear the ship apart. I think that i may have a better idea, though. Give me about ten hours and I can get it working."

"How will we know it works?" I asked incredulously.

"If we are drowning, then it failed, Arissa," barked the Ylvani in reply as he stomped off, down to the cargo area.

Several hours later we launched from our berth at the docks in Dahlon, and began to sail out of Saint Esta's Cove and into the seas that separated the various islands that were home to the Free Cities. Our maiden voyage had begun.

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