Excerpt from chapter five: The voyage of the Uniaedean
Old Mrs. Moon peeked out from behind distant clouds, and wondered what foolishness the men scrambling around the Uniaedean's deck, or as it is called in the common tongue, The Dark Hunter we're up too before going back to her work of lighting up the land and sea beneath her broad smile.
The great black ship lay heavy in the water, burdened by barrels of dry fish, casks of spring fresh water, salted oinker meat, bread, oranges, apples, sweet cakes, the best wine that money could buy, wood for the galley, and piles of round ballista stones.
Salty crewmen wiped sweat from dark tanned brows, drank deep of fresh salt air, leaned up against rails, up against tall masts, sprawled on the deck scuffed by leather shoes going back and forth for hours. Doubt and fear shone in the eyes of the sailing master and the cook, the ballista captain and the ships cabin boy, and all the rest of the crew.
They trembled inside, and tried to drown their misgivings with the thought of promised gold. There wasn't enough gold in all the kingdom's of the Misty Lands to lure them on a voyage to this distant unknown sea, but Cairicel, their captain of a hundred voyages command their loyalty and their devotion. To him, nothing could be refused, not even to sail in to the face of death if need be.
The ebbing tide tugging on the hull of the ship whispered seductive words to the dark wood of its bottom, "Come with me Dark Hunter. Come with me, and I'll show you wonder's you've never dreamed in seeing. I'll take you to distant seas, to strange dangerous shores, and if you obey my, I'll bring you safe home again."
The captain studied his men with care, noting the weariness of slumped bodies, the fear in their eyes, and made up his mind to give them one more night on shore.
He called, “Go ashore men. We’ll wait until the sun wakes before we unfurl our sails.” The crew of the black ship cheered their captain’s words. “I have some gold pieces for you,” the crew cheered again, louder this time.
“There will be no waiting for the sun to wake,” Aonas's back stiffened, clenched fists were waved beneath captain Cairicel's nose. “You made your pledge, "he roared, "You made your pledge to Adelard that you would set sail when your ship was full. That’s why you will get so much gold. Is your oath of no meaning?” Venom dripped from words sharp enough to slice an oinker roast paper-thin.
Cairicel stepped back, swallowed hard, steady eyes kept to Aonas's reddening face. He growled, “Hoist all sails, we must do our masters bidding.”
The crew groaned and went unwilling to their task. Arm muscles bulged with great knots, hands calloused by years at sea and salt water pulled hard on halyards, pulled men up masts that pierced the sky, unfurled midnight black sails, and belayed them in swift certain movements.
A toothless old sailor broke into an ancient song of the sea and ships, "Our great ship will fly before the wind, fly like a bird before the wind. Fly like a bird before the wind, fly to lands far away. Our great ship will fly like a bird before the wind, and come back to safe harbor again."
One by one, the sailors dumped their grumpiness into waves splashing against the hull, waves beckoning them to adventure, put smiles to cracked lips and joined in.
In spite of the anger still surging through the ranger's guts, his grim visage softened, his left foot tapped out the rhythm of the song, and a smile tugged at the corners of a stern mouth, until lips tilted upwards.
In spite of the weight in her hold, and on her deck, the great ship tugged at two thick binding ropes fastened to the large posts dockside like it was a child's toy out for an afternoon sail. The captain called to the waiting shore men, “Unleash the bindings.” Two great wheels were turned, two tethering posts tilted, two binding ropes that held the Uniaedean fast, slipped and splashed into the sea. Cairicel shouted, “Bring in the ropes.”
The ship shot through the water like an arrow shot from a giant bow. Water seethed at her prow, whitened around the stern, and waves from her wake splashed against the wooden dock. Aonas stumbled, caught a nearby rope, and laughed into the wind.
A wicked grin flashed across the captain's broad face as he shouted at Aonas, “What course good master?”
Aonas raised the seeing stone, clutched it tight in white knuckled hands, and followed the beam with calculating eyes, “To the north and east for now.”
“Not yet, we must first clear the shallow place or it will tear the bottom from my ship. Our voyage would be over before it truly starts,” Cairicel winked at the helmsman. “When we’re in safe waters Allador, obey this good man.”
Aonas shouted, “Easy as she goes.”
Allador turned the ship’s guiding wheel to his right. The strong off shore breeze billowed the dark sails outwards, tightened the halyards, until they threatened to break.
Aonas called, “Now back a little.”
Alladur sneered, let go with a string of curse words that would make anyone but a sailor hardened by many ports cringe, glared at the ranger, glared at his captain and turned the wheel as bid.
“Hold her steady,” Aonas turned his unrelenting gaze onto the captain. “Would you have some men build a safe place for the seeing stone? It should be near to the steersman so he won’t sail wrong. Have a trustful guard keep watch, because if this be lost or stolen there will be no journey and no more gold.”
A tall thin man coiling ropes near the helm paused when he heard Aonas speak the last words. He grinned and went back to his work. All the while thinking, “Ah my quick way home again.” He resented going on this voyage because he had become a father of three sons and his wife was still sick. The only reason he had agreed to come was for the gold, but his desire to be home and his worry for his wife and new children tugged at him, growing stronger with each wave that splashed onto the polished deck.
The captain faced the sea, hiding the red of his face and the anger burning in his eyes. He mustered calmness before turning to speak. “Goroth, get wood and tools. Make what this man bids you to. Ranger, there will be no need to set watch over your stone. I have long known these men, they are brothers to me and I trust my life to them. The steersman will be guard enough. We have a hammock slung with the men for you,” the captain clenched his teeth and bit back the curse words forming on his tongue.
Aonas kept his shoulders square, his back straight and his words sharp, “I’ll sleep on deck. I prefer the good dark time air to breathing that, which has been breathed by other men. If we lose the stone, Adelard will take your life and that of your crew. No one forced you to make this oath, but I’ll make certain you fill it or die in the trying. You seem not to know how great the need is for Arragoth to have a King. The whole of the Misty Lands is arming for war and reapers shears are being beaten into swords.”
The captain shrugged, “Do as you will. His deep voice, filled with anger, softened a little, "When the storms come, and they will before we see land again, the hammock with my men will seem a treasure to you. Anst, you’ll take the helm from Allador when the great North Star first wakes." He strode to the companionway and disappeared below deck.
Aonas's hands lingered on the resting place for the seeing stone, caressed each joint, each knotty strut and seemingly satisfied he crossed the deck to the stairs leading to the ships belly and went below. He reappeared in a moment, with a hammock thrown over his shoulder, and with swift, deft movements tied the binding ropes to the railing. He opened up his pack, removed two covering cloths and pulled them up to his chin. Aonas’s eyes drank deep of the sky brimming with winking stars before he closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep.