The building was imposing. Outside was a large statue of the God of the Earth; the mighty Ohrus. He sat amongst green hills, surrounded by the Mother, and holding in his left hand a large lightning bolt.
N’than walked past the statue and pulled open the doors of the Shipping House. He was overwhelmed by its vastness. There were desks beneath symbols he didn’t recognize, each with long lines of people waiting before them. He gazed at them and there were several; he wondered what to do.
“You appear a bit lost. Can I help?”
N’than glanced at the speaker. He wore a white uniform with gold braid on his shoulders and the jacket had golden buttons.
“I … um am seeking work.” N’than’s tongue stumbled.
“Are you a sailor?”
“No, I um … I’m not.” N’than wondered if this would be harder than he’d thought. “I’ll do anything …”
The man in white stepped closer. “I’d not say that too loudly here. Some may take advantage. You should ask for a landsman’s posting.”
“But I want to sail.”
The man smiled kindly. “A landsman is a sailor who has less than a year at sea.”
“Thank you.” N’than gazed up at the man. “Do you go to sea?”
“I’m Captain Lex Bugaud. My ship is The Wonder. We are a merchant ship for the Seven Stars Trading Company.”
“Oh, I see. Would that be a good place to ask for work?”
“Aye, possibly. I’m not sure if our next crew is chosen.” The Captain gestured to the line for Seven Stars Trading. “There is where you need to wait, but you may not end up on my ship.”
N’than nodded. “Thank you very much for your help.”
Bugaud smiled at the slim lad. “Very good. Best of luck.”
As the Captain walked away, N’than moved and stood at the rear of the line.
The wait seemed everlasting. He stared at the company emblem which was over the desks; seven glistening stars over a setting sun. By the time the Hydorcivis reached the desk, his ankles ached.
The man sitting there, holding a writing stick, seemed angry when he saw the next candidate. “What do you want?”
N’than ducked his head. “Work, sir. I’m looking for a landsman’s position, please.”
“Landsman?” The man pulled up several lists and checked them. “We got nothing for the likes of you.”
“Assign him to my personal staff, Chillworth.”
N’than recognized the voice and dared to peer up. Captain Bugaud stood next to the man.
“D’ya know this rat, sir?
“Aye, assign him as my cabin boy. This trip’ll be a long one.”
The man grinned. “Will do, sir.”
Bugaud nodded, spun on his heel and walked away.
After taking N’than’s particulars, the man handed him a small bundle of papers. “These be your pay book and other bumpf. Make sure you read these. Write, eh, you can write?”
“Yes, I can write and read, sir.”
“Good. In the pay book you write your hours and days for the paymaster. Mind, get your commanding officer to sign your hours. No signature, no pay. Clear?”
“Yes, sir. That’s clear.”
“There’s a list of goods you may want to bring. If you need things, you can purchase at Farriver’s Supply. They be just down the road. The Wonder sails at 6am report to the boat in the morning. Clear?”
“Yes. It’s clear.”
The man waved him off and shouted, “Next!”
N’than entered Farriver’s Supply and stopped. The large space was stacked from floor to ceiling with all manner of goods and supplies.
Oh, my. What should I buy? N’than walked up and down the aisles. I’ve never seen so many things. Whatever should I buy? He shuffled through the papers he’d received from the man at the Shipping House.
In addition to supplies, the place was filled with people, most at the counter which was at the back of the store. None of them spoke quietly.
I suppose sailors must yell a lot. Perhaps because the wind steals their words. N’than decided to start with clothes. Trousers first, I suppose.
“How much do ye have ta spend, boy?”
Turning to the voice, N’than stumbled over his reply.
“I ask so’s I can help you. You be a landsman I’d brook. Am I right or nay?”
“You’re … yes, that’s right.”
“Which ship’s taken ye?”
“The Wonder.” N’than felt small next to the broad, deep chested man he was conversing with.
“Ah, well that’s good. They can give you a bowl and spoon at least.” The wide man laughed deep from his belly. “I am Smeeth Farriver, son of the owner. D’ya want assistance, since it’s your first ship, I’m guessin’?”
Relief flooded N’than. “Yes, please. I have no idea what I should buy.”
As they walked through the aisles, Farriver would stop and pick things out. “Not all of these will ye have room for. But get to trying them on for size and then we’ll work out what’s best taken. Last, from all the clothes, you will need a warm, waterproof jacket. That’s worth spending on lad, because it can save your life, if the worst should happen.”
N’than carried his goods, wondering what the worst might be. He followed Smeeth to the rear of the store. “Here, in ye go and sort out what fits best. Two trousers, four shirts, a sweater and coat. Decent boots you’ll be needing also.”
The Hydorcivis entered the room. Farriver said, “Keep what you like and what don’t fit put on the table here next to the door. I’ll whisk those away.”
As the merchant rehung the clothes his customer rejected, other patrons stood snickering.
“Smeeth, did ya give the lad patches for his knees?” The speaker laughed.
His friend chuckled. “Aye, on Bugaud’s boat, he will be on ‘em often!”
“Get on with ya both and stop talkin’ shyte!” Smeeth felt protective of the youngster.
After a time, N’than had what he’d likely need. He followed Smeeth to the line to pay for his new things. Several men turned around to stare but said nothing.
N’than stood quietly.
After the money had been exchanged for his goods, N’than stuffed everything into the canvas bag he’d purchased and made his way to the door. He walked out into the cooling afternoon.
I need to find lodgings for this night. He’d only taken three steps when a voice came from behind him.
“Lad! Just a moment!” Smeeth hurried out the door of his family’s store. “Wait ….”
N’than stopped. “Did I forget to pay for something?”
“No. Nothing like that. I am wondering if…” Smeeth surprised himself as he finished. “If you have a place to sleep this night?”
“No, but I am on my way to find a bed.”
“You’ll find nothing now but mattresses filled with fleas. Every sailor is here waiting for their boats.” Smeeth’s face turned pink. “You’re welcome to my spare room.”
N’than was silent for a moment. “I am grateful, but may I know in advance, what the cost is?”
The shopkeeper knew what the lad had asked. “I offer out of kindness, not greed. But if you feel better paying something, you can stand me a tall glass of best ale over our evening meal.”
Smeeth watched the lad thinking, his heart leapt when the younger man’s lips smiled. “Thank you. And I will buy us each a glass of best ale this night.”
“Come then. I will let you into my house.”
N’than followed the shopkeeper around to the rear of the building and then up the wooden staircase. “There is an entrance from inside, but tongues wag enough, without me giving fuel to the fire.”
The apartment was tidy and clean. Its furnishings were old but still serviceable. Farriver led the way down the hall to a room at the end.
“Here, ye can rest now if you like. Water closet is here in the hall. There be makin’s for tea in the kitchen.” Smeeth grinned. “If ye be wanting to go out, I can give ya the spare key.”
N’than smiled shyly. “Thank you. I think I would just like to rest. The last days have been long and tiring.”
“As you please. Once we close, I’ll come up and we can walk up the road to Homebody’s Eatery. They make good food there and their ale is excellent.”
“I will look forward to our evening together, Mr. Farriver.” N’than could feel the bed behind him calling. I just want to lay down.
“Aye, well. See you in a few hours.” Smeeth smiled once more and then made his way up the hall.
“Yes, thank you again, for your kindness.” Once he was sure his new friend was gone, N’than closed the door softly. He put down his bag on the overstuffed blue chair. He then kicked off his boots, and sat on the bed.
“A nap I think.” He lay down pulling up the accordion-folded blanket as he did. “Just a short one.”
As he warmed under the soft covering, N’than’s eyes closed.
Tapping at the door woke him. It was dark when he opened his eyes.
“N’than? Are you well?”
The voice was familiar. The warm bed was not.
Where am I? N’than felt panic for a moment. Then recent events came to him. Oh, I am here in Mr. Farriver’s spare room.
“Sorry, I slept longer than I’d planned. Just a moment and I will be right out.” N’than sat up. He felt heavy with sleep.
“Nay, do not worry, lad. Awaken and we will walk out for supper.”
After several minutes, N’than used the facilities and washed. He emerged feeling more like himself. He found his host in the sitting room reading.
“I slept most deeply.”
Smeeth lifted his eyes from his book. “It seems you were tired. Are you hungry? For I am famished and am ready for a glass of cool ale and a hearty meal.”
“I am very hungry.”
Smiling broadly, Smeeth got to his feet. “Let us go then!”
Homebody’s Tavern was full of sailors and their women or boys. All were eating or drinking. It was loud and raucous.
“Come, follow me. In the back is quieter than out here.” Farriver tugged at N’than’s sleeve.
The pair made their way through the crowd into the dining room. They found seats at the back of the room.
A giant of a man arrived at their table. “What will you have? Stew is on, as is roast with all the fixings.”
“We will have the roast and two glasses of the best ale, please, Pellier,” Smeeth replied.
The man glanced at N’than. “That one is like a child … I can fix him a half portion.”
“Nay, man. Bring full portions. What he doesn’t finish, I shall.”
Pellier nodded and moved away.
Smeeth smiled at N’than. When he spoke it was softly, “He is right, you are slight for a grown man.”
“Tis because I am not a man. I am a Hydorcivis.”
“Are you?” Smeeth’s eyes widened. “I heard they had all disappeared. At least those that lived around here.”
“I was in Sanoat for a time. When I returned our village was no longer.”
Pellier arrived with a platter of meat, potatoes and a bowl of greens. He handed each a plate. He laid cutlery and napkins on the table. He fetched a pitcher and two pewter mugs. “Beer.”
N’than grinned as he helped himself to roasted meat and vegetables. “A man of few words.”
“Aye.” Smeeth laughed. “Few words but excellent food and drink.”
The two ate and drank, though N’than could not keep up with Smeeth. Finally, when most of the meal was gone, Smeeth leaned back and said, “We best get home. When do you sail?”
“In the morning … I must report to the boat early.”
Smeeth leaned forward. “Are ye sure this is the best work for you? Sailing o’er the Mother is not for the faint of heart.”
“Truly, I am not sure. I only know I must try. That I must see something of the world, other than my Master’s bed and kitchen.”
N’than winced at his slip. “Men seem to want to own me.”
“Is that right? Men … like who?”
“Just men.” N’than stood and pulled several coins from his pocket. “What should I leave?”
“Nay, lad. You need not. I will pay and send you on your way tomorrow with still some coins in your possession.” Smeeth dropped a small gold piece onto the table.
Farriver smiled. “I know. Once you’re return to port … find me and I will let you pay for the full meal.”
“Come on, let’s be away to home.” Smeeth walked into the bar.
N’than smiled and followed the kindly shopkeeper.
“Let’s have a gin in the sitting room, eh, lad?” Smeeth suggested. He grinned as he caught the look on N’than’s face. “Nay?”
“I am not a lover of gin.”
“I’ve a fine rum.”
N’than was not a big drinker. “Thank you, I’d be happy to join you with a small one.”
So they sat by the fire and drank the dark amber liquid.
N’than let the alcohol relax him and answered when Smeeth asked him, “You said something about Masters earlier. Who has been your Master, lad?”
“Who? General Junias Jeptha.”
“Gods! Him? Did you care for him?”
N’than swirled the liquid which had been served to him in a rare glass beaker. “No. I knew he used me.”
“That is the question. I was safe with him. He protected me.”
Smeeth snorted and sipped his drink. “From what?”
N’than stopped and stared.
“What you said. I cannot believe I am such a fool.” N’than got to his feet and stood near the fire. “I trusted him. Believed. Such a butt end am I; I did not see it?”
“Lad … do not do this. He abused your trust.”
“He chained me in a tide cave and left me to drown.”
“HE WHAT?” Smeeth was on his feet and was beside the younger man in seconds. “He tried to kill you?”
“I am safe. It does not matter now. I just want to be away.”
Smeeth sat down beside the Hydorcivis. “I wish you felt otherwise.” Smeeth put his arm around N’than’s shoulders and pulled him close. “I am drawn to you.”
N’than relaxed against the larger man next to him. “T’would be so easy …”
“Let it be then … stay.” Smeeth’s head lay against N’than’s. “Let us come to know each other.”
“I … would like that, but …”
Smeeth lifted N’than easily and tugged him onto his lap. “Then stay. Can you feel my desire?”
N’than nodded and closed his eyes. “Men always desire me. It is the drink talking.”
“Nay … nay lad. It is only the drink that helps me to say it. The words and their meaning are real.”
Allowing himself to be held, N’than rested against the hard, warm body of the merchant. “How can you know your feelings for me so quickly?”
“I do not know. I only know I feel it.”
“And if I stay and by next week or next month you are tired of me?”
Smeeth sat quietly holding the other man close. “I know I would not chain you to a damn wall to drown you.” With a large finger he turned N’than’s face to his own. He bent his head and gently touched his lips to N’than’s. “I do not know why I feel so about you. Yet, here these feelings are.”
N’than leaned into the store-keeper’s neck. “Then let’s go to bed.”
“You do not need to do that, boy. Nor do you need to report to The Wonder.”
“I signed on …”
“You can quit … tis not the king’s boat.”
“What did you sign on as? Kitchen duty?”
Smeeth’s eyes widened. “You didn’t.”
“Yes. Is that bad?”
“N’than … did they say what duties?”
“Yes. They said, I would care for the captain’s rooms, his needs, cleaning things like that.” Suddenly, N’than could hear the men in the shop, “Did you give him patches for his knees?”
A picture finally knit itself together. “I feel sick.”
N’than scrambled off Smeeth’s lap and ran to the water closet.
The storekeeper followed his guest a few minutes later, after retrieving fresh water. He tapped on the door of the W.C.
“N’than? Are you all right, I’ve brought water for you.”
The door opened and N’than stood there shirtless with a sheepish look on this face. He accepted the pewter beaker and sipped. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I upset you.” Smeeth gazed at the young man and the amulet around his neck.
N’than smiled and reached for Smeeth’s hand. “You did not. You simply asked and said some things. I overheard that man in the store about the patches, but I didn’t see what he meant until now.”
The pair returned to the sitting room.
“That amulet you wear. What does it mean?”
“It is a token of friendship from the one who rescued me from drowning. He is a Daryaneeg.” N’than reached up to finger the slim disk. “He said I can call him by standing in the water, holding it and calling his name ... Qavrind.”
“That was kind of him.”
N’than sat quietly staring into the fire for several moments before speaking again. “The captain, I would have to be his … release.”
“I no longer want to be used that way, Smeeth.”
“Then do not be.” The larger man smiled. “Listen to me, N’than. You do not have to be and that includes from me as well. Not if it is not time or never.”
“I will go in the morning to leave their employ.”
“Then I shall accompany you.”
“Thank you.” N’than rose to his feet. “I am tired.”
“Then let us sleep.”
Smeeth placed the grate before the fire and they walked up the hall to their bedrooms.
N’than woke early. Smeeth is not yet up, I will go on my own. Leaving his things, the Hydorcivis left and made his way easily to docks.
The Wonder was a hive of activity. He approached one man who stood by the gangway.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“What is it?”
“How do I quit the employ from this ship.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Quit?”
“Yes, please. I realize I’ve made an error.”
The man grinned. “I see. Wait a moment.” He walked up the plank onto the ship. “Barrukinda … here.”
A light skinned man with glowing red hair moved forward. “Yes, sir?”
The first man pointed at N’than, whispered, and Barrukinda grinned and nodded.
Once he’d come down the gangway again the man said, “Up you go. Barrukinda will take you to speak with the Captain. There should be no problems after that.”
Bowing slightly, N’than thanked the man and walked up the plank.
Thanks to all of you who choose to read N'than's tale. I appreciate your thoughts and comments.