Chapter Two

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It was a dog's day. The seas were high, brightened by a white morning sun into a glaring sheet of bluish silver, a sea rolling with the promise of a hard day at sail. The ocean was a boundless plain made of shifting hills and valleys. Where it met the horizon was dressed in a haze, and so the ocean seemed to go on forever. These formless lands were only interrupted by the odd rocky burr rising grey and stark from the sea on their starboard side. They were an unusual sight, unlike any other landmark, for those grey stacks, some reaching a hundred feet high, were all that remained of a strong line of mountains shattered by an earthquake that for a hundred leagues broke them down and swallowed them below a roaring tide. On one side of the world the tide rushed out, never to return. On the other side, the tide rushed in.

All those lands were the Obotema now.

The wind picked up early. The same buffeting gusts that filled the sails and played at the wide lapels of his blouse turned out the crests of the waves in rushes of white foam. The Red was keeling at the steady crosswind. Today they were rounding the mouth.

'Hard up the Doubleyous, gentlemen!' their hawkish captain stood with his coat hung loose over his shoulders, so his empty red sleeves brushed against his sides. His arms were folded across his chest, his bejeweled fingers glittering from just behind its folds.

Sall kept his bag of gold tied to his belt. He didn't trust keeping it anywhere but his side. Now he and several others were working the boom under the watchful eye of the sailing-master.

'Tie that bouncer down, sport,' the sailing-master said. 'Keep it off its center, then be about those clews. Give the mains a bit of length,' he said from beneath a white moustache, standing with his hands on his portly hips.

Lines of bristly hemp rope ran through Sall's palms. He ignored the complaints from his bruised hands. He'd been awake since before dawn, when the first muster roused them groggy from their hammocks. He'd come up nursing a few aches, but after a few hours of moving about his blood got flowing and the pain in his joints and muscles was pushed to the back of his mind.

Still, it wore him to hold in one place for too long. He finished tying a line and stretched, his spine popping as he flexed to his full height. The bag jingled at his side. Several of the scabby swabs around him found their eyes drawn to it.

Sall put his hand on his belt and settled into an easy posture. 'Nothing but open seas,' he said, scanning the horizon. 'And noone but us around.'

They turned their eyes back to their work. The day passed mostly like that. They were a friendly enough bunch, and one or two could whistle a tune, but a high swell kept them busy. All day they hauled lines and caught spray in the keeling sways of the Red's passage. The wind came nearly at their side.

Misting sprays off the waves kept the crew cool in the heat of the sun. Sall wiped his forehead and started listening to the sailors chattering around him.

'Sea eagle's been following us all day,' one said over his shoulder, working a knot while he looked up at it. Trained hands drew the knot tight on the bitt and he stepped away, shading his eyes to observe the bird circling the sun.

Sall followed his gaze. 'That's an osprey,' Sall said. 'It's a hawk.'

The sailor looked at him. 'You've got sharp eyes,' he said.

Sall nodded. His reason for knowing it wasn't an eagle was not because he could see it better than any of the sailors around him. He knew it was an osprey because that bird had been following him for several weeks now. 'Ship's good fortune, isn't it?'

The sailor shook his head. 'That's albatrosses,'

Sall shrugged. 'Never been much of a seaman,' he said.

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