A/N: I've wanted to write an original fantasy for a while. I've also been looking for a way to write about naval adventures, but with a different twist from what I've seen before. Here is my take on Hogwarts-at-sea, with a Horatio Hornblower who uses magic. We'll have difficult shipmates, clever pirates, a greedy kraken, a floating city, and several battles at sea involving magical cannons.
This chapter introduces our young hero, Cricket Boy, also called Trew Gawgrie. We meet his first mentor and the skeptical Commander of his first ship.
Chapter One: The Compass Mate
Trew Gawgrie accepted the quill and signed his full name to the crew book for the Fortress of the Seas. He'd never had a broader smile on his face.
"You're number three, then, in the Anchor class. You'll keep with them when you're on ship and later when you're at shore school. Keep the quill as a memento," the signing officer said. "It's the only thing you'll get from us, even when you earn your promotion to Landsman."
Since the officer had one real leg and one carved from actual driftwood, Trew believed him. He stared at the man another moment. Something about his head... The officer had dark brown hair, left long, but it didn't hide the fact that he was missing an ear and hadn't sought a replacement.
Trew tried not to wince.
Then he felt the quill disappear from his fingers.
He looked over to his family.
Figures. Mother purloined the quill. She was glaring at it.
"Do I call you a mid now?" Trew's Father asked.
The old man on the dock snapped the crew book closed. "You call him Boy. We don't have midshipmen, lieutenants, or any of that. We have Boys, Men, Mates, and Commanders."
Father took a step back. "Right."
What the signing officer said didn't quite make sense.
"You're a warrant officer," Trew said. He could see officer insignia that didn't have a Commander's or a Captain's additions.
"Right. There are also Warrants. Want to be one?"
There was a bitter barb in the question.
"You're all together, got your hands, your legs, all your parts. You want to be a Warrant? Well, a Bone Navy vessel got my ear. I was a Mate until pirates out of Last Sayle used dirty swords and axes to board us. After we handled them, the Cautery Mate took a little of my leg, then a little more, then the whole gammon."
"Now that I'm with the Twenty Five, I'm rated a Warrant Officer. No one wants that for a career, not when any of us, with a bit less bad luck, could have been a Commander. We're all missing something, Boy."
The Warrant Officer fixed his eyes on Trew, perhaps daring him to say something else equally thoughtless.
Trew had lost his capacity to operate his tongue -- for the moment.
"Sailing is in fifty minutes. Be on board in five. We still use the cat on Boys who don't mind their lessons."
The man step-stumped away. He clutched the crew book and shot up the gangway to the Fortress.
"Well, at least he won't be one of your teachers," Father said.
Trew wondered who would be. Someone on the Fortress, hopefully someone less bitter. That ship...
Trew could look at it for hours.
He'd seen a few ships on the rare times his family came to Twobay, but this was the first Sea Guard ship he'd ever seen. The bronze coverings on the cannons -- the single mast where they ran up signals -- the rudder and engine that steered and pushed her through the sea.
Father stood with Trew in admiration. Until Mother began crying as if her only son were to be shot out of a cannon to feed the kraken.
"Mother. Mother?" Trew asked.
Oh, no. Her tears were cascading down her face.
"Both my twins are gone. Ceal boarded a ship for school and now you... And you're going to lose an arm and an ear. Maybe a leg. No, no, take it back. Unsign your name."
That wasn't the right thing to say. Trew saw from a glance at his Mother's face that things were about to get worse.
"My boy... My girl and now my boy..."
Mother hugged him like she had swapped out her arms for the kraken's. Death by squeezing wasn't how Trew wanted to start his Sea Guard career.
His right arm dug harshly into his side and he was having trouble drawing a breath. It got worse when his younger sister, Callie, and Father joined in. He thought his left hand was going to go numb and fall off. Maybe his head, too.
He didn't struggle. It would be months before he saw them again. They weren't stopping, though. Trew began to see black spots in his line of sight.
"That's it," he wheezed. "I need to breathe."
Father let go first. Then Mother. She reached into her dress and pulled out a peach-colored handkerchief. She dabbed at Trew's nonexistent tears before she worked on her own.
Trew wouldn't miss that at all. He stretched his arms and tried to unnumb his hand. Father was holding Mother.
Trew had never seen her like this, not even when Ceal got on her merchant ship, ready for a swift departure.
Trew looked around. Where was Callie?
He hadn't felt her let go...so much as disappear.
"Oh, no," Mother said. "Callie!"
There was the smell of Division facet in the air. There was no Callie anywhere visible. This was a fair bit of trouble she'd concocted, but less devious than she normally managed.
Trew felt in his oddments pocket and his fingers tapped a coin. He didn't keep his money there.
Trew pulled it out and sniffed at it.
That was advanced work for an eight-year-old.
"Who taught her schisms?" Trew asked.
He showed the coin to Father, who took it and glanced at it once. He didn't need to sniff it.
"Oh, she learned it this week at Prime," Father said. "It seemed a fine idea then. Now... She's got three different closets at home linked to three different schisms. She moved her bed into one. She's taken half the kitchen pots and put them somewhere else. I didn't ask about the missing crates of peaches. Eight of those. She's more trouble than you and your sister ever were, Trew."
Trew admitted nothing. He and Ceal were great no matter what oddities had occurred around them.
Father twisted the coin while his hand flashed a vivid orange color. Callie fell out of the space she'd tethered to the coin and landed on the dock. She wasn't angry or even surprised at being discovered.
"You're cleverer learning facets than I am," Trew said, by way of comforting her. He just hope he wasn't encouraging her.
It had been bad enough when she just tried to sneak herself into Ceal's travel trunk. Now Callie could sneak herself into anything bigger than a fleck of lint. She was hard enough to handle when you could see her coming. Now...
"I want to go with you," Callie said.
Trew couldn't say yes. Ten was the youngest Sea Guard took anybody. And girls who wanted to go to sea had to wait to a special class just for girls. In peacetime they were rare, as rare as cherries off a cherry tree or a living fish in the Purple Sea.
"You grow up and we'll send you to sea," Father agreed. "If you want. You have two years to get ready."
Or, Trew hoped, to change her mind.
Mother already intended Callie to take over the orchard and the distillery. Maybe Callie didn't know. Maybe she didn't want to be the next Queen of Fortified Peach Wine.
"Two years? It's so long." Callie stared at everyone. She seemed ready to keep pleading until she wore down the opposition, up to and including the Captain of the Sea Guard.
Trew felt a slight pressure on his back from his father's hand. That got him moving. He didn't want to see what Callie might try next.
For one, she might try again.
Or she might get angry. She was clever on a normal day. When she was angry... She had once cried tears that, if they landed on a person, could make a grown man belch for hours. Another time, she'd pointed her finger at a boy who'd told a mean joke and shot off colored streamers that smelled worse than salted carp. Things like that -- and worse.
Trew waved as he started down the dock. Callie was still arguing. Before Trew was very close to the Fortress, he could hear someone tearing lashes with his tongue. The noise came from behind a three-tall stack of casks.
What in Admiral Glader's Sea Guard was happening?
Trew stopped and watched. The person speaking resembled a giant bronze three-armed lantern more than a person. The color of his skin had been cooked in by the sun -- and the Sea Guard had turned his arm muscle into near-metal.
The bronze lantern turned his head and suspicious eyes to Trew. "Late. Boy, you're late."
He wasn't. "Sorry, sir. I had to sign the crew book..."
"I am not Sir. Don't forget that. I also don't care about your state of literacy, your name, or your excuses. Stand with these others."
Trew swallowed and felt a blush overtake the pale blueness of his skin. He and his twin sister both had it, along with black hair that was whitening at the tips, like dark waves breaking. Their younger sister and their parents didn't share those color quirks.
"When your parents pushed you down that dock, you became my responsibility on this sailing of the Anchor class. That'll be months. Names? You. You're Clock Boy. The next one is Sparrow Boy. Last, and smallest, is Cricket Boy. You call me Mate or Compass Mate. Not sir. Nothing else. I won't tell you my name and don't try to get anyone else to tell you what it is. I am Mate to you until the moment you go from Boy to Ordinary. Then I might waste a minute to learn your name. Now. Why are you staring at me? Up on the ship. Take your dunnage, if you were fool enough to bring any. You're the servants on our floating palace. If there's a bloody horrible thing to do, guess who gets called first? Right. Clock Boy, Sparrow Boy, and Cricket Boy. Get on the Fortress."
Trew, or Cricket Boy, was less than pleased with his new name. He would bear it, though, for his chance to go to sea.
"No, you climb up. The gangway is for hauling up these casks."
Trew looked away from the simple method for boarding the ship. He put his hand on the netting and began to climb.
"Stop. Back down, all three of you."
Mate smiled at them, a cruel smile. "I thought what I asked was simple. I said to take your dunnage."
"Sir...uh, Mate," Clock Boy stuttered. "I didn't bring any. I was told not to."
"Well, I just gave you some."
Trew looked around. What?
"Clock Boy, pick up the box of clocks." Mate tapped at one box with his boot.
"Isn't it obvious? You're Clock Boy because you look after the clocks. They're the most precise chronometers we can construct that withstand salt water. Sparrow Boy, your little cabin is going to be filled with twenty four of these cages and their occupants. Yes, the black birds are sparrows, special kind. You keep them alive, no matter what. Cricket Boy, you lucked out. You have this cage of bright red crickets, easy to see if you ever lose one. Feed them, clean out the dead ones, make sure you keep the population stable."
Crickets... Trew had expected some trouble from the folks on the Fortress. There was always trouble for new Boys, or new Men. Some kind of joke that wasn't very funny.
Crickets, though? Clocks, sparrows? How was this funny at all? Irritating, maybe. Funny? No.
Trew pulled out some string from his oddments pocket. He concentrated for a few moments and then the string lengthened and danced off his hand, looped around the fine mesh screen of the box of red crickets, and then drug the box to Trew. The string lifted the box up Trew's body and tied everything secure around his shoulder. Trew would be able to climb and get his 'dunnage' up onto the Fortress.
Mate watched all of them adjust to this new fact of their immediate lives. He seemed well pleased.
Trew didn't hate bugs. He'd chased enough of them when he was younger, especially the kind that hassled peaches or peach trees. But red crickets? His skin crawled. Someone had fashioned these from normal crickets.
A fashioned cricket. Did they spit poison? Did they bellow like a foghorn? Trew had heard that some fashionings got unexpected features.
"Uh, Mate?" Sparrow Boy asked.
"I've never had a pet."
Mate looked unbelieving. Then that smile or smirk was back. "Well, the Sea Guard Academy does do nice things for youngsters sometimes. You're welcome."
Sparrow Boy didn't look relieved.
"Well, I don't know what to do."
Sparrow Boy gave his winged charges, in their cages, a pitying look.
Trew didn't think he would ever pity his crickets.
"Feed them, clean up after them. If one of them dies, I want to hear about it. I may just throw you over the side of the Fortress, though."
Trew listened to every word. Keeping crickets alive had to be a bit easier than keeping sparrows. What might crickets eat that he could find on the ship? Peaches, maybe. Cabbage if they were lucky. What else?
Trew wasn't asking Mate, not this afternoon, not until that cruelness was off his face.
"Climb up. Faster, boys. I'm a blushing maid compared to the others. You move like that in front of the Commander? Well, you'll feel what it's like to sit on the dock while the ship slips away. He's done it before, he has. He'll do it again."
Trew got on deck. He helped Sparrow Boy load his new 'pets.' Then Clock Boy needed help. Trew helped him, too, with the brass clocks that were supposed to be sturdy. Trew treated them like they were faerie glass.
Only after all three Boys were on deck did Trew look around. It was so clear up here. It was just feet away from the dock, but everything smelled cleaner, less muddled. Things didn't press in on him up here.
He would have been all goggle eyed, his eyes moving from one strange object to the next, but he could feel something was wrong.
Maybe someone was glaring at him? Or using some facet on him, an Illusion or a Confusion? His skin almost itched.
No, he checked on everyone he could see. He waved at his family standing well back on the dock. Mother and Father waved back. Callie did not.
The strange facet clung to him even when everything else seemed so clean and clear.
The facet was familiar.
It took Trew a moment, but he had the answer.
The facet was Callie the Mischief's, she of the recent lesson on schisms.
Trew searched his oddments pocket again. His fingers inspected the small ingots and bits of string and wood shavings. Not one of them felt off nor did he find anything that didn't belong. Then he searched his back pocket. He could feel a schism attached to the cloth.
That was clever.
Before, she'd done her work to a coin. Now she'd attached the schism directly to a part of Trew's clothing.
Trew took some care figuring out how to unravel what she'd done. He didn't want to hurt her, but he was stuck on an odd facet in his loop. There were many easy ways to handle a schism, but the facet Trew needed to use was Degrade. He could burn the next few facets in his loop to get to something better suited...
But the ship was clear and clean. Trew expressing a bunch of facets would be noticed. Plus, time mattered.
Why couldn't it be Divide, Invert, or Return?
Degrade was for making compost from peach pits or turning dead trees into shavings... Trew figured out something that should work. It wasn't that hard, but it was unfamiliar.
He just had to form the right thoughts, ask the Degrade to do this safely, and there...
Callie popped free of her mind's work. She fell on her back to the deck and gave a savage glare at Trew.
Trew looked back to his family. Mother, Father, Callie -- what?
One on the dock. One on the deck, both of them offering savage looks.
How was she still on the dock, too?
Ah, one was real and one a decoy.
She not only had schism among her talents, but she had done some work on a smallclone, too. Figures that Callie would be good with illusions.
A smallclone... If their parents had been paying the slightest bit of attention, this wouldn't have happened. A smallclone should fool only kiddies.
Callie had been more clever than Trew had thought. She'd done several steps at once. She'd created a smallclone and stuffed it into a schism attached to a coin. She'd dropped the coin into Trew's oddments pocket, expecting for that to be detected. Then she opened a schism attached to Trew's clothing and pulled herself inside. What a clever goose.
He took her by the arm, zapped her with a Newness meant to make her skin feel pinched, and pushed Callie off the ship's deck before Mate deigned to notice. Of course, he had. He just hadn't said anything.
Trew knew he wasn't good enough to get away with anything.
Unlike his sister.
Callie glared, but walked down the gangway to the dock. Father and Mother had a stern look that didn't hide their amusement all that well.
Maybe they had already figured it out and had been waiting on Trew to --
Mate cleared his throat. "None of you have any mystical tattoos? No portentous scars? I trained with a kid who had a portentous scar and a prophecy stuck to him. Not a happy guy, let me tell you. He wound up skipping for a ship bound for Bermuda in the True World."
Trew almost smiled. He supposed he was to look sour until this lecture was over. Bermuda, though. Calais. Rio. Panama. The Spice Islands. Trew had read the adventure flimsies since someone taught him an alpha from a beta.
"I want nothing special out of you. I want no orphans, no messiahs. Prophets, prophecies? Strike through your name in the crew book and get off my ship. We won't miss you from the Anchor class."
Trew got the idea that this was as close as Mate would come to joking.
"One last thing. Everyone's going to tell you this, from the Commander down to the newest Landsman we'll pick up. People will say it so much, you'll stop listening. Don't."
His eyes were back to their piercing gaze. "Don't you go locking off a facet or masterlocking. Particularly not for a stupid masterlock, like Spirit, Grow, or Dumben. We'll drop you at the next dock, if we don't just drop you into the Sterile Sea. Then you can grow potatoes for all the Sea Guard to eat."
Trew knew no potatoes had grown for ten years, maybe longer. He said nothing, even though he blushed again. He supposed his mother had masterlocked Grow, just like her father had. She tended the largest orchard in the Schism and grew all the peaches consumed by the Sea Guard. She also distilled all the gawgrie, too.
"Don't masterlock for something you think the Sea Guard would like. A ten-year-old with a dabble of facets masterlocking into Current or Strengthen or Speed has the military value of a dead seagull. Less."
A gull. Trew had never seen one. Perhaps Mate had really been in the True World. They were supposed to be common enough there.
"Got it? Keep working your loops, keep growing what facets you have left. You'd better be stronger than a kraken and smarter than the Admiral's Steward before you masterlock. Go slow, get a plan. Try not to get stuck with just one masterlock. Two or three, if they're the right ones, would be better."
Trew nodded as Sparrow and Clock did. They'd probably all heard this before in Prime. Trew had also heard it from Mother and Father, from the fathers and mothers of everyone he knew, from the shore school before coming on the Fortress. 'Don't lock out.' 'Don't masterlock in, either.' 'Balance, balance, balance.'
Be clever. Experiment. Don't lock. Speak up. Follow orders in a clever way. Be clever, in an orderly way. Right, it was these old ones speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
"Lecture over. We need clever crickets, sparrows, and clocks. Not dull clods. So, during lessons, you'd better tell me if you're over on one facet or thinking about skipping around. Don't. I can help you think up something more clever. Yes, you can start a fire with Grow or with Current. You're ten, you should be trying every damned thing. Balance, you little squealers. Balance and cleverness."
Trew figured this was only the first of many loud, long lectures.
"I think it's my turn, Compass Mate," another man said.
Trew turned. Trew hadn't noticed anyone nearing them.
"Yes, sir. Straighten up, squealers. It's the Commander."
Trew had trouble believing that. He had trouble even finding the man's face inside all his folds of cloth. He looked like a walking rag bin, gray on gray on gray.
The Commander made a clap-slide noise when he moved, but Trew couldn't see his feet. It was a different sound from what the signing officer made. He wasn't sure how to describe the difference, though.
There, his face popped out of the folds. This Commander, unlike a few others Trew had seen from his shore school room, was dressed in grimy gray fabric that clung to him like meanness. His face was not quite as gray as his clothing. Though his mustache was a gleaming silver, like it was made from melted coins.
He moved again, clap-slide.
Did he have strange boots? Had he transformed a carved wood leg into a caster? There were other possibilities, too.
One of Mother's helpers in the orchard had long ago transformed four fingers of his hand into a cup. With that cup and his thumb he was just about the best peach picker Mother had. He couldn't get it reversed or healed -- and he'd tried.
The Commander had, what, lost his leg to pirates? Trew hadn't heard anything about the Commander's leg when he'd been in shore school. Not enough gossip, that was the problem with the place.
The Commander looked the Boys over.
The Boys looked the Commander over, too.
His neck jutted from his clothing, like he was a human turtle. Or maybe he'd been a tall man worn into the shape of a question mark. He was the oldest person on the deck by a decade, perhaps two. He looked like he was ready to collapse upon the next strong breeze, whether that was next week or next year.
Mate said, "These are our new boys, Commander. The first batch."
The Commander pointed at Sparrow. "He looks like he's from Twobay. The other two. Hmm..."
The Commander stared at Trew. "Small, aren't they? We're supposed to get four more by the time we put into Northguard for their land school. I'm so senior now that I'm expected to be on shore much of the time. We'll all come off the Fortress, then. Me for flimsy work. You all for shore school -- and the next crew will take Fortress out."
Seven students in total. That was smaller than Trew's class in Prime.
"It's a giant machine for making new crew, now you're in it. You and the new Men we'll be picking up. We get a dozen at Floats. The Captain can't tell me yet how many more Landsmen I'm to train, but I get seven Boys and at least a dozen Landsmen." He seemed unhappy with that fact.
"Can they all make a Glow?" the Commander asked, looking at Mate.
His own hand lit up in a bright red light for a few seconds. The light disappeared and then glowed white. Then his hand was just a hand.
"I'll check, sir," Mate said.
"You better Glow, Boyos." His eyes cut over to Mate. "Then we'll teach them the signals."
"Well, they'll have plenty of space." He looked at Sparrow, who had the look common to Twobay. "You get better training, more thorough, if you join the Sea Guard during Peace. This is a simple start for you Boys. A little patrol, a stop at the Floats, then we'll get the rest of...Anchor class, is it?"
He looked back to Mate.
The man opened his mouth and revealed he had ivory teeth. He gnashed them together.
Why hadn't he had them healed, Trew wondered. Ivory teeth and some kind of caster for a foot. Maybe he had no talent for self-healing. Trew had cut off a finger once and grew it back.
"You boys will be three learners to one teacher for the next week, then seven to one. Not forty to one and us dodging whatever chicanery the Bone Navy can throw at us." The old man scowled, then glared again at each of them in turn. "Listen. Think. You ask your questions in a polite way. Then we'll teach ye plenty more. I don't want to know your names. I don't want you to share your names. I don't want to treat you better or worse than your actions deserve. No names on board my ship."
No names? None at all. Trew found that strange. He felt unsettled for some reason.
The Commander advanced on them, but he stopped in front of Trew, as if there were only one person who needed this lesson.
"You don't pick and choose here. Follow all the laws. You take all the lessons. You receive all the lashes you deserve. I don't believe in 'eat the meat and spit out the bones,' as many do. No, I feed men and boys a good meal, more gristle than meat some days, but they have to eat all of it or stand away from my table. If this life is not for you, you tell me. You can travel the seas in a merchant ship. Fewer rules, fewer people yelling at you. At the worst, I'll tell you I don't want you. I want good 'uns. I want boys who want to be sailors. When I'm sure of that I'll promote ye and be glad to do it."
Trew could smell that the Commander drank gawgrie, a brandy made from peaches grown by his Mother. He, to everyone's surprise, didn't like gawgrie all that much.
"Except if you're troublemakers. Plenty of Commanders find trouble and pass it on to another Commander to deal with. Not me. I'm too old to break my teeth on trouble, Boys. So ye'll be good or ye'll be gone."
"I'll make sure of it," Mate said.
The Commander didn't have much more charitable looks for Mate. Trew was a little glad of that. The Commander didn't just hate Boys. He hated everyone.
"Mark me, Compass Mate."
The Commander pointed at Trew. "You report if that one's skin gets any darker. Blue means trouble, you know, because we live in a red world."
Trew's jaw dropped and he couldn't draw a breath.
The Commander clap-slid away.
"Sailing Night Supper is at seven bells, Mate. My cabin."
Mate was a little overawed.
Trew hated the old man. Just like that.
"That's my first time meeting him," Mate said, almost babbling.
That made Trew feel less nervous. He didn't know why. More unnverved people should make for more chaos, not less. But Trew felt calmer looking at Mate's jumpiness.
"That man...the stories they tell. He should be the Captain of the Sea Guard now. When he talks, you listen."
Trew didn't think Mate believed what he was saying.
"Why isn't he the Captain?" Clock Boy asked.
"His facets are good for a ship and a cannon. He can move a ship and defend it. He lives for War. Others have facets better for Peace, for persuasion and lying."
"Does he care?" Trew asked. "That he's a Commander and not the Captain?"
"You want to ask him?" Mate grinned.
"My best guess is no. In War, he won't care what his rank is if he can fight. He's the man you want on your cannons."
"Will he train us?" Sparrow Boy asked.
"I don't expect it. The rumors say you stay away from him. He eats Boys for lunch and Landsmen for supper."
"What about Mates?" Clock Boy asked.
Mate went stern again. "Apparently he throws Mates on the fire in his cabin."
Compass Mate waved off any more questions. "Sailing's soon. We've been on deck too long."
He escorted the Boys below to their cabins. There were four cabins for Boys and normally they would have to share. But in Peace, well, they didn't have to share, not until there were more than four Boys.
Especially not when they had strange tasks to handle: crickets, sparrows, and clocks.
"Be back on deck for sailing. You won't want to miss your first," Mate said.
"Yes, Mate," they all said.
Trew opened the door that was assigned to him. He could feel some facet lingering. Maybe Lengthen or Obscure? His eyes could make out just the one bed and the one chest. His other senses told him that if two boys, or more, were assigned in here, there would be more beds and chests.
It was very clever.
He decided to leave his screened box of red crickets on the floor as far from his bed as possible. He could use a facet to hide the noise. Reduce, Weaken, Illusion, or Breeze would all work. Others would, too, if Trew got a little clever.
Which was, apparently, what he was supposed to do.
Clock Boy knocked on the door and opened it. "Yours is the same."
"Were you going to complain otherwise?"
Clock Boy shook his head. "To Mate? Or the Commander? No. No, I'd just grumble to you."
That might be the first bit of truth anyone had said in some time.
"It's not what I was expecting," Trew said.
The ship was. The Fortress was exactly where he wanted to be. Except that the Commander already hated him.
"Well, since my nurse read me the Admiral Glader flimsies, I've always wanted to be on the sea," Clock said.
"I had to read them myself."
The taller boy nodded. "Let's see the third room."
After a knock and a yelled invitation, the three boys congregated in Sparrow Boy's room. It was the same as what Trew had, though the sparrows in their cages took up more space than Trew's crickets did.
"How many clocks do you have?" Sparrow Boy asked.
"The box has some strong Shrink on it. If I expanded them, I could fill the floors of three cabins."
"Spinner-Weaver-and-Cutter, why so many?" Sparrow Boy asked. He nodded to his own collection, too.
Spinner, Weaver, and Cutter?
Trew had never heard those words in a triple. If he swore -- or, when he swore, out of the hearing of his parents or his old Prime teacher -- he used singular words. His favorite word right now was pustule.
A knock on the door ended the thought.
"Boys, you're late. Get in uniform and on deck now before he declares you addle pates."
Mate threw them three piles of gray cloth.
"Get dressed now. From this moment, you'll be in uniform. The Commander, I doubt he'll permit anything against the rules. Don't forget that. He's a hard man with eyes that miss nothing."
Trew thought Mate was scared of him.
Trew went back into his cabin. He threw his home clothes into the chest. He didn't have anything else for it yet. After all, he'd been told not to bring anything. 'All would be provided.'
Like gray rags. Trew's had a vertical orange stripe on the front of the blouse and the legs of the trousers.
On deck, Trew, Sparrow, and Clock tried to stay out of the way when they were getting underway. Thirty Men shouldn't take up that much space, but they were everywhere touching or releasing or throwing something. Trew was trying, and failing, to take it all in.
The ship didn't quite heave under effort, but Trew thought it did.
He had heard at shore school that if he served on a vessel that traveled out a Rift, they would do even more. They would erect additional masts and fly up the ropes and lines to make them serve. They'd have full sails on -- and there might even be wind.
On the Purple Sea, unless a ship was close to an open Rift, there was never a wind or much of a wave.
They got under way when the Commander ordered the Engine's Mate to pour in the facet. They drifted from the dock then sped up, cutting through the smallest ripples on the calm sea.
Trew didn't feel the slightest sickness. He had heard that some did from the ever so slight motion.
Trew saw Twobay Castle and all the out-city. If it wasn't the nicest city in the Schism, Trew didn't know what was. He'd see them all before he was done with his tour.
The Boys ate their supper on deck. Goose stew with radishes and dandelion greens, dark rye rolls, watered gawgrie, and a fresh peach.
The Mates ignored the Boys and focused on the Men. Tomorrow life would begin for the Boys. Trew could see why they were ignored the first night. They were Know Nothings. Less than that.
This was their first true lesson, unnarrated. They were expected to pick up as much as they could before the Mate might quiz them or, worse, the Commander. Trew was trying to make sense of everything he'd heard in his first shore school and what he saw during his first sailing. He was still on deck two hours after supper. The mates and the Commander were still at their supper.
Trew heard the clunk-slide, slide-clunk. The Commander was on deck, weaving a bit even though there was no chop. Gawgrie or, maybe, rum. Then Trew saw the Ship's Mate and the Cautery Mate. He was going to have to put a lot of titles to a lot of faces.
"There's Last Sayle. That's the southern most land, Boy. We won't see it for some time. We'll be coming up the other coast in two weeks when we head for Byswater. Then we'll cross for Fishguard and Northguard. It's damned eccentric, but those are the Captain's orders. And he can see everything from the Lighthouses."
The man moved away slowly, noisily.
The orange sun dipped into the west and the dusk transformed quickly to darkness. The stars were faint and muddled, as usual, little dots of red light against the deep black. The moon began to rise, full red.
There were roaming Glows on the water from the Men on the Watch. Trew stayed on deck. He didn't care to be in his little cabin with a box of red crickets. He'd rather look at the Purple Sea.
One of the Glows stopped above the calm sea. Trew tried to see what the Watch saw.
"Commander?" the Man on Watch called out.
The slide-clunk got louder and stopped when the Commander was on the railing.
"I see it."
Trew didn't. Most of the Men didn't. But then he looked around at the few Ables on deck. He looked where they looked.
The Glow was stopped a good distance from something in the darkness. Something not moving, even as the Fortress sped by.
A porpoise? Trew had seen engravings, but no... That was no porpoise.
"Identify," the Watch called out. "Identify, skiff."
A skiff... They were at least eighty miles from Last Sayle. Who was this far out in such a small craft?
"Identify," the Commander yelled out. His voice had been enhanced somehow. It was even louder and filled with some facet. Compliance? Trew had never had that in his loop, but he had heard of people who did. At least in flimsies. Maybe it was just a kind of Spirit that was much harder than what Trew could manage. Yes, it could be.
The Commander threw something into the Sea and a larger Glow moved out on the water. It got to the skiff and circled around it.
Why couldn't the Watch man do that...oh, Trew realized, he was at his maximum distance. The Man on Watch hadn't built up his skill to go further.
Trew wondered if he could get one to follow him around the ship. He supposed he'd learn.
He watched the Glow. The Commander watched the skiff.
"There's a man in there. He's alive enough to help."
Trew tried to see what the Commander saw.
He looked inside the skiff...well, he tried. He wasn't much taller than the railing.
"His chest is moving. Cautery Mate? Already gone to his cabin... Well, wake him up. The man in the skiff has a story and I want it. If there are pirates working this close to shore..."
Trew's eyes went wide.
His hands tightened on the rail, but they shook, too.
A battle between ships. Seeing a cannon fire. Seeing the Commander wage a battle. Trew wanted all of that.
"Drunk, eh? We don't have time for the Cautery Mate to sober himself. Let's get that skiff closer. Men, cast that line, get it to stick. We don't know what facets are active. We'll drag the thing closer. Ready all of you," the Commander called out.
Trew felt someone shove the rope into his hands.
The rope was dry and scratchy -- and the best thing Trew had ever felt. A real rope on a real ship.
"We're going to pull. And, now. Keep pulling. It's a hog in the water, but pull. There is some serious faceting. There's a man, maybe alive, in that skiff. We're going to save him if we can."
Trew pulled with all his might. He had a peach-picker's arms, which was an insult where Trew came from. He had nimbleness, but little strength compared to the Men. He didn't yet look like a bronze lantern.
"Pull. Together, Men. Together. Pull. The Bully Beggar take ye. Pull."
The Glows controlled by the Commander and others circled the skiff.
"Stop. Stop pulling. Look at him."
The skiff was still a distance away.
Something had spooked the Commander, though.
Trew hated being short.
"Look at his face and hands. He's been in the skiff a long time," the Commander said. "Our orange sun has worked him over."
Trew climbed up on the railing to get a better view. He could see the man in the skiff. He was unmoving. His skin was as red as the clouds. He had been out there a long time.
"Nah, Men. It's not just the sun. I'm seeing puckers and pustules."
Trew looked at the man's face. Then his exposed hands. Yes, there were oozing bumps on the man's skin. Disease.
Trew recoiled. Disease.
It was rare to see something that serious.
A skilled healer could do something when they caught it early. Something left untreated for a long time, well, there were limits to what a strong facet could do, even someone masterlocked in Body or Healing or Strengthen.
If only the man in the skiff could manage some self-healing. That was always far stronger.
"Tie the boat off. We'll see what we can do from a distance. Cautery Mate! We know a thing here about healing."
The Commander pulled Trew off the railing and thumped his shoulder. "Below with you. I'll not have you catching bumps to go with your blue skin, Boy. Get to your cabin."
Trew still hated the man, but he complied. He was going to learn the Purple Sea. He wasn't going to let anyone stop him.
"Get a signal up to Lighthouse Four. Have them wake Captain Fitche or the First of the Twenty Five. We need to know if there was a recent ship sinking or a pirate attack. This skiff came from somewhere. Those bastards should be looking, not throwing bones or cheating at cards. Enough betting on when the next Rift opens. Let's find out now if we're starting a pirate hunt before..."
Trew descended below deck and could hear no more. He was a long time getting to sleep that night.
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