Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Silent Sphere - 7

iii

Staying in the hold Higar moped, and Morwethe cleaned up the mess, and they picked around looking for some kind of dry detergent, but could find nothing. Then Higar stunk, and wanted to stay down in the hold, but the princess scowled.

He has to go up on deck, rather than foul the air below. She lit a lantern, and everyone below gasped, because until now they had been in darkness, with the scrolls and twirls of the hold looming like half living figures, fading quickly off into murk. Now with the lantern lit, they were greeted by a riot of color. The general shape conformed to the outer hull, but there were architectural spandrels that created the sense of an oval. The floor, rather than being laid in planks was a series of curved boards along the long axis of the oval, ending in an eye shaped stone that was perhaps twice as tall as a man, made of a light blue-veined rock. Where this came from, even the astrologer did not know. But in the very center of this was a block of clear quartz, within which was set an even smaller round block of amber, and it held what seemed to be a tiny model of the whole ship.

In the back an oval jutted out from the aft bulkhead, and in it was set a round door with a large locking wheel in the center. It had one hinge on the left hand side as the observer faced it, that is, to the starboard side of the vessel. Above the beam had a curved dome on it, and on this was laid out the seven suns in a celestial compass, and it was clear that this rotated to point correctly, it too was blue, with golden stars. Albrecht smirked a bit, he was particularly proud of adding this touch.

The sides were in inlaid ash, the gray of that wood held with bands of very thin steel and copper, wrapped several times with fine iron wire. On each was a small lantern, fueled by a small reserve of oil, that is, if they had any. These formed joins that were set with an oval of wood, that was studded with wooden pegs to each incoming timber. Through out were fine lines and touches of gold, silver, platinum. Though the amount of metal was small, it gave a ductility to the hull.

Even the astrologer was impressed at the final product. There was silent appreciation, until finally the Albrecht's sharp voice broke it.

We need a name for our ship, do we not?

They all nodded, but no one dared suggest one.

We also have to do something about Higar.This was the princess, regarding the huge shambling mound of man with something like pity.

He was duly herded up on deck. Finally the princess went to Captain Niccolo, who was still carefully navigating the bowshock, and pointed at Higar.

Niccolo just laughed, and gestured for Higar to come close to him. The giant shambled over, and stood in front of the Captain, glum and still stinking.

Waving for the Captain to follow, Niccolo went all the way aft, right to the two giant lanterns, and picked up a length of hemp, with a hook on the end. He twirled his finger, and Higar turned around obediently. With a single gesture, he looped the rope around Higar, and kicked him off the back of the vessel. There was a loud wail as the rope uncoiled outwards and the giant seemed like he was falling. His arms flailed and his legs kicked as he screamed. Then the rope jerked taut.

The wailing stopped as the giant realized he was not drowning or the equivalent, and finally he even began to smile and giggle, the peels of laughter only being heard in belches over the sound, finally, Niccolo and Albrecht hauled the rope back in, with Higar wagging back and forth until finally his feet hit the deck, which then held him fast.

It was amazing!The giant grinned. It was clear that he, and his clothes, had been thoroughly cleansed.

The stream behind us, is a powerful spray. Tis better than bathing in any water on any sphere.
Higar laughed.You should have told me.

Most will not jump if they are told.

Though he had heard tales, Albrecht had not seen this before. The astrologer nodded, and merely murmuredOf course. How interesting.

The women were both frowning. This seemed like a very hazardous way to become clean, however, both were longing to be scrubbed of the sweat and stench of fear and exertion. More so for the men to be so scrubbed.

Finally Morwethe spoke up.When will it be safe to do this?

It is safe itself now, I feign, except that we do not know if there is any pursuit.

Looked at the slowly shrinking orb of Eo, Albrecht frowned.

So we just have to wait until Korana picks us up? Or is there more to this?

The astrologer and I will have to look at all of the possibilities, and then reason our way through them. My hope is that either we can ride the bowshock farther and faster than any vessel Bartine has available to him.

At this moment there was a rumbling sound that sloshed over them, leaving behind a condensed trail of cloud-like condensation. It rolled over prow and across the aft, shaking everything loose behind it, but hitting nothing.

Duck! Tis cannon fire!Niccolo's voice was a sharp command, but everyone except Albrecht did not need prompting. The astrologer pulled out his small spyglass, the only telescope he had left to him and looked in the direction of its movement.

I see a small vessel, I do not know astrogation well enough to identify it exactly, but it is a single sail set like our own.

It must have launched before us.Niccolo cut the wheel hard, expecting another shot close to the first. Indeed the second shot tore through, and was well to their port side.

Albrecht looked in the direction of the shots, but could not see where they came from.

It would seem to me they are wasting ammunition. Whoever Bartine is, he seems remarkably profligate.

From the wheel, the Captain turned them again, and the entire vessel skipped up and over the wake of the cannon shots.

Bartine's strategy is always to seem stupid and spendthrift, but, in fact, to be very deliberate and directed. Whether with words or ammunition. He has several ships, we have one. All he needs to do is keep us from being able to ride the bowshock, and it will give him a tremendous advantage. If one ship is left behind, it is a small loss.

At this point Higar came shambling up, and looked at everyone. “Is there something we can do?”

It was at the point that Niccolo took a deep breath. “I would imagine that depends on whether we want to try and risk being hit and riding the shock, or come to grips with our attacker.”

Bartine is a bad man, his eyes and his mouth are always saying different things. If he is on that ship, I would want a chance to crush him.” Wiping his jaw, Higar looked.

Then why did you follow him.

You weren't going to take me.

Jehanjir nodded.Logical, and certainly true.

Taking two hard strides forward, Albrecht looked and squinted, and still could not see anything.I 
would prefer not to play dice with death this early in the voyage. But if I must, I want a chance to throw them. Make that two for close quarters.

We should ask the ladies.

You have not told us what you would fain to do, skipper.

I would take my piloting over his marksmanship, but I will not vote except to break a tie.

While there was a scowl wrapping his features, the swordsman nodded.More than fair, skipper. He grabbed a rail for balance as the ship swirled on its axis, almost stopping for a moment before sliding up the inside of a curl of the bowshock, the wings on the sides twisted in opposite directions, and the ship rode upwards, tilting until it circled the tube of crests all the way around.

It was Higar who observed:Strange to think that my head and my feet get reversed like that.

It is a strong magick that binds us to the deck. The Summoner's craft was truly astonishing. At least, I am astonished at how well she takes directions.” Niccolo merely smiled wanly.

Morwethe slowly walked to the cluster and waited for an explanation. The astrologer whispered and pointed for several seconds, and then she nodded.

I would rather we not fight. Let me go ask her highness.

Where is she?

She's string the hammocks and putting what meager supplies we have in order, and, I think, cataloging them.

We could use a quarter-mistress.

Slowly Morwethe walked down into the hold, and returned only a few minutes later. Several cannon shots had streaked through like comets, but none were particularly threatening. But each was having its intended effect: Niccolo had to frequently steer away from the best crests. She merely had to look at Niccolo to communicate that her highness also preferred to avoid the hazards of combat.

“He's a sharp one, whoever Bartine has.”

In anticipation, Albrecht arched an eyebrow.Why, what is he doing?

The shots are not intended to hit us, but are in the best bow-waves. Which, since he has ridden them, he has some good idea of where they were. If we ride fast enough to catch him, then we risk taking fire. Otherwise, he maintains his distance, and we are slowed. Astrologer, it is to you. If you vote for blood, then it is 3-2. If you vote for sailing, it is 3-3 and I break the tie. If you abstain, then it is 3-3 and I will take Captain's privilege.

The astrologer snapped out his spyglass and looked. He lowered the spyglass until it rested in front of his chest, cradled softly in his hands.I wished to open the innkeeper's private stock, rather than drink from the public casks. I remember casting his horoscope many years ago when he was born. There was a peculiar chain to it, one thing tied to another, without ever rounding off. I saw it then as his always having a plan behind every plan.

What do you have in mind?

With a wave of his hands, the older man gestured to the sails.

The sails are attuned to Lilith. Right now she is occulted by Eo's disk from our perspective, however, if we slide to the other side of the bowshock, it will be...he paused, slowly closed the spyglass, whose many rings folded to something quite small, and then took out of his pocket a sphere that he could just wrap his fingers around with both hands. In it was a tangle of gears and wires, spheres and springs. It took some time of staring to realize that the crystal, gold, silver and polished brass added up to an incredibly small orrery. He stared at it and adjusted it. He then stared at it some more.... just visible on a line. If we unfurl to full sail, we should be able to rush past them. It is a different line than they are expecting.

With this Albrecht arched an eye, Higar frowned, and Morwethe blinked trying to see if she could divine any sense from the orrery, but its parts were too small and fine.

Do you trust that orrery, Astrologer?

The greater orrery back in my tower has essences from 6 of the 7 suns, all of the spheres, and most of the moons. It is often able to show how a critical moment will turn, even before the spheres have moved themselves. This, is not so fine an instrument, but for this purpose I am certain.He showed around the base, where there were graduated markings, which, when spun, allowed him to rapidly make calculations.

The responses to this were mixed: Albrecht stared out into the void of space, Higar let his gaze move from face to face, trying to judge the reactions, Morwethe crumpled her mouth, and then exclaimed:I like this.

With paper and small nub of charcoal in hand, Niccolo copied out a series of numbers and then wedged them in the wheel, before realizing that Albrecht had been thoughtful enough to add a small board and place to clip paper. Niccolo almost left the paper jammed in, but then realizing that Albrecht was standing there, he took and put the paper on the clip, and began turning the wheel over slowly.

I suggest people go below, there is a very harsh roll coming.

However, Jehanjir shook his head violently.There is nowhere near enough sail out.

The mechanism will not take these rolls at full sail.

Placing his fists together and closing his eyes, Higar looked down and uttered a small prayer.

Anything you can sail, I can hold.

There were short looks of surprise from Niccolo and Albrecht. Morwethe askedAre you sure you feel up to it.

A god in my hammer and hands, and my fists will hold.He pointed to a leather badge that, while worn, clearly showed several horses rearing, which was the mark of a master teamster though to what kind of horses, were left to the imaginations of the onlookers. He strode back, took out a small hammer and began gathering up the leathers of the furled sails.

Some one is going to have to loosen them for him.His cheery voice seemed to indicate that Albrecht was volunteering, not commenting. Before there was even an assent he had his rapier and other accoutrements stashed in the weapons rack on the rail, and was climbing out along the port mast, preparing a series of slipknots. They were not expertly tied, more the way a landing would tie boots or a jerkin than a sailor would stay a sail, but the seemed to be enough for the purposes.

Lady priestess, you should go below.

Someone may need the touch of my God.

The face of the captain pulled back, doubling hoping that this was not necessary, since the cure seemed to be almost as painful as the wound.

I would prefer you out-of-the-way.

Well then, I should go back to the lanterns, and prepare to feed them a bit of this and that to encourage the ether to fill our sails.She smiled brightly and wandered back.

There was a furrowed glance from the captain.

You aren't the only alchemist on board. It pays to have a calling between times being called.With some measure of confidence she went back to the lanterns, were the ether born wind blew with a peculiarly throaty wine, and, despite the heat from the lanterns, made a bone chilling cold near them. 

Presently they burned a flickering red and yellow.Tell me, my captain, when we need more force.

I will, sir.

The muscles of his face pulled back again. No end to surprises of this crew.

With a call, he snapped the wheel, and the whole ship twisted around three times, and seemed to tumble entirely off of course. They skittered across the miles that separated this stream of the bowshock from the next, picking up speed with each filament of disturbed ether. It was a long hour, and everyone, except Niccolo, had deep pits in their stomach from nausea by the time the reached the other wall of this greater gyre. At that moment, they shot straight and true, and the Captain called for all of the sails to be opened. There was a rapid and majestic flowering and each layer of sail grew another. The ship with no name was not, yet, quite underway.

Staring at one particular point, Morwethe and Jehanjir stared backwards over the crest of Eo's orb. 

Their eyes strained, it was so hard to tell. His hands fiddled with combinations and he spun the base several times, and the astrologer fretted that perhaps this strand would not take them far enough. Even the skipper of this ship looked back over and over again. There was a palpable sense of expectation. Higar however, did not look, but instead found his footing, and wedged himself against the ridge that was the back of the wheel platform. His lips were moving in a continuous movement of prayer, he was murmuring both chants and specific entreaties. His arms wrapped the leather straps around the hammer several times more. He planted his feet and rowed back.

And it was just time: a small bright silver bump appeared beyond Eo's edge at that moment, it was Lilith, single slender shaft hit the center of the staysail afore, then several dots like fingers appeared, as if the light of the moon was reaching through the teeth of a saw. Those looking back saw a series of gemlike glows form at the edges of Lilith, which was rapidly growing to a crescent like a cat's eye. It was brighter than Eo, which was half shadowed in night. Lilith should not have been so bright, however, there it was.

Albrecht looked over his shoulder and puzzled until he realized that the light they were seeing on 

Lilith was twice reflected from the seas of Eo below, the bluish cast to it was signature. But to be like this Lilith would have to have been polished almost to the fineness of a mirror. He had not spent much time on the surface of Eo, instead preferring the bustling cities on the inner surface. He had always thought of the inside as the fruit, and the outer surface as the rind. However the last few hours had shaken his confidencethe massive power that had been displayed told him that the dalliances and duels that he had lived his life flitting through were truly picayune compared to the deep politics of the heavens.

The shafts of light from Lilith grew more numerous and closer together, until the circles of their landing on the sails formed freckles of bright, each a miniature map of the orb. Then with a hold every sail glowed catching the influence from Lilith. The ship jolted forward and there was a screeching in everyone's ears. The acceleration was shocking, as everyone held on for dear life. The lines strained, Higar froze like a rock, that shook in an earthquake, Niccolo was almost holding on to the wheel. Through all of this Morwethe simply cast small grains into the lanterns, which grew whiter, then bluer, and finally pale violet.

Through all of this one could read the giant like a gauge: he compressed farther and father, until he was almost flattened like a dwarf. His murmurs became shouts, the words fell away until there was only one repeated yell ofHold. Hold. Hold.

Deep below the princess looked up, and stared, as if she could see through the hull.

“Rainbow, that's who you were, Summoner, a rainbow.”