Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Abyss & Sea 12


 The Sorean springtime was always lovely but often wet. Rain at times complicated, but did not fundamentally change, the building of ships; compensation for the regularities of the seasons is part of every craft. There is an endless flurry of things to do. Patterns are laid out on the boards for the sawyers to cut while the cross timbers are planted for holding the ship as it is built. The keel is put in place, several good pieces of wood scarfed together to make one keel, cut so as to be joined together. This can be done in several ways, but in Sorea the keels for ships for naval use were made by lock-scarf, in which the pieces are cut so as to lock together except for an opening which is then 'keyed' with a wooden wedge to seal the join tightly. The pieces were further integrated by trunnels, wooden rods of seasoned locust wood nailing the parts together by being driven with hammers through holes precisely made by hand auger. The hull would then be brought together, from stem to stern, by means of elaborate frames. In the meantime, other craftsmen would be busy working on the supplementary parts of the ship, the silk sails and the canvas sails, the ropes, and the like. Such things are common, with variations, everywhere, but Sorea was not an ordinary sea power. The quality of materials was always high, the skill always pure, and everything that was made was interwoven with chantments that would themselves interlock to make it not merely an excellent ship but a true master of all waves, unsinkable, unburnable, and true. But even this was not the greatest element. The keystone of it all was that the ships were given the semblance of life and brought under the pacts and the covenants, so that every ship became an active cooperator, as it were, with the sailors who manned her. They were truly the greatest of all ships that have ever been built by human hands, the greatest of all ships that ever will be, and their like will never be seen again.

Disan and Baia, of course, were not involved directly with the building, but Disan often needed to do inspections of various aspects in order to assess what materials were needed; Baia sometimes did the same; and there was endless paperwork and negotiation to bring all things together at the right time in the right place, as there ever is in great works. 

It was not all work, and as things, became more routine, the supply lines more established, the new yards built, Baia and Disan were able at times to devote themselves to more leisurely pursuits. Dye season came. Sorean snails could be milked for dye all year round, and even in the winter there were some kept carefully sheltered from the cold, but late spring and early summer is the very best season for it. As a trade it was long, tedious work, but it was common during dye season for the nobleborn and the wealthy hold small parties, nominally to gather the dye. As a garment of Sorean black would require dye from hundreds of thousands of snails, any dye harvested by a group of dilettantes doing it as a sort of party game was miniscule. But Sorean black was the pride of the kingdom, a byword of excellence; even the rich and the noble felt they had to make a token contribution to it. In reality, the parties always consisted mostly of drinking and eating beneath silken canopies and occasionally venturing out to hunt seashells.

Disan and Baia particularly loved this activity of seashell-hunting. They would walk along the shore, talking, looking out for interesting shells and stones. Those that met their approval were kept, while those that did not but had been rubbed smooth by the waters, they skipped out to sea. They were both quite good at it, skimming it off the top of waves, giving it a series of hops, making it go as far as they could. Seashell-hunting before they had married had been an excuse to talk in relative privacy; after, it was a reprieve from royal duties, although an all-too-rare one.

As they walked, Disan asked Baia how she liked her new lady in waiting.

"Asaia is a delightful girl," said Baia, picking up a shell and then discarding at as inadequate. "She knows what she is doing. And she likes to talk, so I learn a great many things about Tavra."

"Such as?"

"You have heard the rumors, I know, that King Canthan is mad, and the actual work of governing is largely done by his daughter."

"Yes, that seems widely believed."

"It is apparently true; Canthan spends his days with his menagerie, and sometimes his nights, and never makes a decree or gives an order except to be left alone. He talks to himself and the animals. He does not recognize people and forgets where he is. But more than that, he has delusions at times that he is a camel or a rhinoceros or a monkey. He is also terrified of being poisoned, and only eats food he makes himself. The royal family tries to keep it quiet, but too many people have come across him in odd situations, thus the rumors."

"Including Asaia?"

"Yes," said Baia. "She accidentally let out that she happened to meet him one night when he was completely convinced that he was a talking rabbit. They had a long conversation about it before his handlers discovered him and hurried him off. But there is more. Asaia is very circumspect about it, but I am certain from things she has said that it is the widespread view that the madness is not natural but induced."

Disan, who had been examining a shell, looked at her with surprise. "Induced how?"

"I have no way of knowing, of course. But the rumors are that she is a witch and makes poisons. It is certainly possible to derange someone's mind with poisons." She skipped a stone. "I have not met Elea, but you have. What do you think of her?"

"Hmm," said Disan. "She is certainly a cunning woman. The claim that she is a poisoner seems a scurrilous one, but it is also true that I would not be surprised if, when she saw an opportunity for what she wanted, she would find ways to help it along. Antaran seems to like her, but much as I like Antaran, I am not sure I would trust his judgment in women."

They walked a brief stretch in silence, then Disan said, "He and I spent a lot of time together in childhood."

"Antaran, you mean?"

"Yes. Several times a year. My father and Emberan were good friends, and we spent summers together." He sighed. "One of the difficulties of this is not knowing how far I can trust him. My father was a great king, and my mother a great queen, and I woed them all that I have, but they raised me more as a prince than as a son. In all my life, only two people have seen more to me than the crown on my head, Antaran and you, my oldest friend and my closest friend. Without either of you, what am I but a hollow man on a throne, nothing real about me. So much of what we are doing seems so necessary, and yet," and here he sighed again, "so much of it seems almost a betrayal."

Baia had no words in response, but she put his hand in his and they walked on, hand in hand, for a long while after that.