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by Engor

Chapter 48

Next morning the weather was fair and the wind was just about perfect from a sailor's point of view – a moderate breeze. However, the moderate breeze was blowing against the current and churning the sea up into a choppy, irregular wave pattern that made the ship's movements unpredictable. Julien wasn't enjoying himself at all. But despite the cold wind he didn't dare go below to put on another layer of clothing: he recognised the sheen of perspiration on his forehead and the queasy feeling in his stomach only too well, and he knew that going below decks would just make everything feel worse. He'd hoped he'd cope better than this, but of course this world didn't have a nice friendly pharmacy that would sell him a packet of anti-motion sickness pills. Normally he took one of the pills a while before going on the water, and then everything was fine: yes, the pills made you a bit drowsy, but they enabled the inner ear to adjust to the moving floor beneath your feet. But here there were no pills. He leaned over the railing and looked at the water below, thinking that if he started to feel even worse at least he'd be able to end it by jumping overboard – in temperatures this low, death would be sure to come quickly. And if the cold alone wasn't enough to finish him off he could always hope that there would be some local version of a shark to come and hurry things along.

Ah, there went breakfast. He wondered how something that tasted so great on its way down could possibly taste so awful on its way back up, and he found himself pitying cows, who had to constantly re-eat what they'd already eaten once.

"Not feeling so good, laddie?"' said a voice in his ear.

He peered blearily at the speaker.

"Yer aall green, laddie. Caarn't ye remember me?"


"It's Tenntchouk. Ye baaght us'n a drink – me 'n Gradik, ye remember? An' 'twas roight good of ye, seein as how we'd been pallin' yer leg a little."

Somewhere in the depths of his miserable mind Julien remembered the incident, and he supposed that a gleam of memory must have shown in his eyes, because the sailor smiled at him.

"Ye've laast yer sea-legs, hey?" he said. "Yer been too laang ashore! Now stay roight thaar – I'm away to foind ye summat as will haalp."

Stay? Julien thought that was a certainty: he couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it. He thought he could just about manage to breathe now and again, but that was about it.

The sailor came back and handed him what looked like a sort of sweet.

"Saack on this," he said. "But moind as ye doan't swaallow 'un, see?"

It actually was a sweet, but one that was infused with various plant extracts that swiftly seemed to flow all through his body, almost instantly dispelling the ghastly feelings of nausea.

"Yer moind an' spit it as soon as ye feel better, now!" the sailor cautioned him. "Else ye'll be as draank as a sailor fresh ashore, so ye will."

Reluctantly Julien spat out the little sugar sphere.

"Thank you, Honourable Tenntchouk," he said.

"Hey, don't you staart aall that 'honrubble' staaff wi' me, laddie! So, heave ho, an' Oi'll get ye to yer caabin. Take a good naap an' yer'll wake up foine an'..."

"Tenntchouk! You're not paid to gossip with the passengers!" cut in a voice. "Get back to your duty!"

The scathing voice was harsh, and Julien could see that Tenntchouk was about to answer back, which was no doubt exactly what the officer was hoping for . He put his hand on the sailor's arm.

"Don't say anything," he said, quietly. "He's just waiting for you to do that."

Tenntchouk turned away with a sigh and returned to the prow without speaking. But the lieutenant, or whatever rank he was; stepped closer to Julien, close enough for the boy to see that he was wearing the Marks of a Noble House.

"Just because you've paid your fare, boy," the officer said, "it does not give you the freedom to divert the crew from their work. We will not condone that sort of behaviour. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly, noble Lord," answered Julien.

"Oh, and I've had your bag moved to the fo'c'sle. The Noble Son Dallek of the Artaks does not wish to share his cabin with a No-Clan. Of course the supplement you paid for the cabin will be refunded."

Julien thought that if the Noble Son Dallek was even half as obnoxious as the reptile in front of him he'd be far better off sleeping on deck. However, he kept his feelings to himself and just murmured "Thank you, Noble Lord," with an expression of the utmost respect.

The crew's quarters turned out to be rather more spacious than he had expected, with four rows of bunks on each side of the cabin. A long table of polished wood with the usual anti-roll edges ran down the centre of the cabin, pierced a third of the way along by the thick pillar of the foremast, which continued on down below this deck all the way to the keel. There was a wide skylight that opened onto the upper deck, and this gave the room plenty of light, and in fact made it look quite homely. Julien stowed his bag under an empty bunk and lay back to follow Tenntchouk's advice about sleeping it off.

He woke up later feeling a great deal better, and he was immediately confronted with a grinning face that he recognised.

"Hello, Gradik!" he said.

"Yer lookin' a laat better," commented the sailor. "Oi came by a minute since, an' ye was out loike a loight."

Julien stood up and was relieved to discover that the motion of the vessel no longer bothered him.

"An' they say as thaat other baastard, he threw you out af yer caabin?" the sailor went on. "Is thaat roight?"

"It doesn't matter. And to be honest I think I'd much prefer your company to that of a Noble Lord."

"Aye, yer'd be roight there. An' that offizer, he's choice, he is. Nandrouk of the Ksantiris, 'e's caalled. 'Is faather is one of the owners o' the caampany, an' 'e pat 'im aboard so as 'e could laarn. But Oi reckon as 'ow it ain't gonna work. 'E's ratten to the bone, 'e is."

"Do you mean that he's one of the First Lord's sons?"

"Nat exaactly, but to us'n 'e moight as well be. 'E's third son o' Dehal, who's maaried to a cousin o' Lord Ylavan."

Julien thought that now he was seeing the nobility of the Nine Worlds from the other side of the street, and he didn't like what he saw at all.

"I don't want to get you into trouble," he said. "You'd better get back to your work."

"It's noice o' ye to warry, but Oi'm aaff duty roight now. D'ye waant me to show yer the boat? T'other baastard'll be in his caabin, an' 'e won't come out afore 'is waatch. Don't aask what 'e does in there aall day. Oi s'pose it's nat fer us'n to aask."

So Julien got a guided tour of the boat from the keel to the top of the mainmast.. At one point they passed the captain, who was kind enough to favour Julien with a friendly nod, perhaps because he too had no Marks of nobility.

Julien had done a little sailing and all boats have some things in common, but there was a massive difference between the little cockleshells his parents' friends owned, no longer than twenty feet, and this pure breed of ship, the result of thousands of years of maritime evolution.

At the end of the tour he managed to swallow his nerves and allow Gradik to take him right to the top of the mast.

"Waal, thaat's it, matey: now ye're really paart o' the ship's crew. And Oi owe Tenntchouk a drink. 'E bet me as 'ow ye'd do it."

"What, so you thought I wouldn't be able to get up here?"

"Waal... mebbe Oi wasn't absolutely sure, loike..."

"I certainly wouldn't have got up here without your help, Gradik – so I'll be the one buying a round when we arrive."

"Waal, if'n ye insist... now we must go down, an' there's two ways. First, ye can use the raatlines, sort o' loike a ladder. It's a little... waal, it's a little girlie's method. But mebbe for yore first toime..."

"What's the other way?"

There was a glint in Gradik's eye.

"Waal," he said, "the sailor's way, 'tis to sloide down one o' the loines. Yer mustn't sloide too faast, as that wuld burn yer 'ands an' make yer let go. The trick is to squeeze with yer legs to control yer speed."

The line he was indicating was very thick, almost as thick as Julien's wrist, and it plunged down to the deck at a fairly steep angle.

"Do I look like a little girlie to you, Gradik?" he aksed.

"Waal, yer pretty enough... but no, yer don't look loike a girlie."

"So I'd better do it the way sailors do, then, hadn't I?"

And he did. Maybe it wasn't with quite as much carefree abandon as a real sailor, but he was brave enough to give it a try, and managed it well enough that the skin on his palms was still more or less undamaged when he reached the deck. Gradik slid down behand him and dropped easily to the deck.

"That 'twas foine work, laddie!" he said. "An' now 'tis Oi who'll pay for the drinks. Oi insist!"

The voyage was uneventful. The few other passengers were merchants and craftsmen travelling in cabins and eating with the officers, so Julien found himself the only one to be spending his time with the ordinary seamen, who went out of their way to help him despite their lack of refined manners. Of course they all knew about his trip to the top of the mast and the way he had descended again afterwards, and that earned him their respect in a way that he found strangely heart-warming. And once they found out that he was a friend, indeed almost related, to Mistress Nardik of Kardenang, they stopped asking impertinent questions and instead started entertaining him with the sort of tall tale for which sailors are renowned. Indeed, he even thought that one or two of them might have had a grain of truth in them. A number of the sailors would probably have been more than happy to offer to share their bodily warmth with him at night, but since he didn't put out any of the normal signals they had to settle for dreaming about him instead.

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