The Far Sea: Chapter 68
THE BOOK, once dried out, proved to be a disappointment; it was an immensely long and boring history of some long-forgotten war. He had no interest in military campaigns, so he tossed it onto the table and went to check the rigging.
Not a peep from the two drylanders. That was well. He rather regretted, now, that he'd fished them from the sea in the first place. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling to have strangers around on his boat. As for their ridiculous tale, he had no interest: whatever brought them out here was drylander business, best left to drylanders, and none of his affair. Besides, his hold was full, and if he didn't make it to the Fortress by next week he'd be stuck trying to trade everything off piecemeal around the smuggler islands.
The wind was wrong, blowing steadily east-nor-east. Seemed he wouldn't be going where he wanted to go tonight, not without slow and laborious tacking. He snorted, frustrated, and slid back down the mast. Nothing to be done.
It was getting late; the sun rode low and heavy in the west, drifting over a glassy sea. He went up to the wheel and stood for a few moments, resting his hands on the old worn wood, then turned and headed back to the cabin. The light outside was going; he refilled the lamp with oil from the barrel and then sat down, intending to go over the charts again.
The book was in his way. He picked it up to set it aside, and then, on a whim, opened it again. How much would something like this be worth? Through the usual channels, doubtlessly very little; but there was a market for such things, if one had the right contacts. No pictures, though--that was a shame. Engravings could be cut out and sold separately if they were any good.
He turned over a page, wondering why anyone would want such a boring-looking thing.
...exiled heir, seeking worldly wealth, fails to recognise the worth of that which he holds in his hands...
He turned the page, thought, wait, what? and flipped back again.
...upon the right flank, while the Sosarian cavalry fell back towards the ford. The shield wall yet held...
It was gone. The page had changed.
He turned to the front page and began to flip through methodically, scanning each page as he turned it.
...the three-field rotation method, allowing the plot to lie fallow one year out of three, provideth greater yield...
Farming now! Where was that military history he'd spent a good ten minutes looking through? The book was changing. He closed it with a snap, then shoved it away across the table as if it had been a viper, or a stinging biri. He leaned back in his chair, breathing slowly and deeply. His skin felt tight, hot and uncomfortable; he knew he ought to swim.
There was no draught in the cabin--with the door closed, the air within was so still that the curtain did not even move. Nevertheless a soft rustling caught his attention. The book had fallen open, and its pages were turning slowly.
He considered getting up, slamming it closed, and throwing it into a chest. Instead he leaned forward to look at the page. It settled open on what looked like a very dull treatise about religious schisms in some church or other. He had the distinct impression that it was thinking about him.
He reached out and grasped it by its worn leather binding, pulled it close.
"All right. What do you want?"
He turned the page.
...I shall remain here, in the Sacred Realm, as the Sage of Water, and add my power to yours. Do you take this medallion, and with it the thanks and the blessing of all that remain of my folk. For we are indebted to you unto the end of time.
And he reached out his hands, and she gave the medallion into them...
"Fine," he said after a moment. "But that's old history. Dead and gone. What does it have to do with me?"
He turned the page. It was blank. All the subsequent pages were blank.
For a little while he sat quietly, drumming his fingers on the tabletop and staring into space. Outside, it grew very slightly darker.
Finally he sighed, closed the book, tucked it under his arm, and stood--then paused for a moment, frowning. The locker was under the table; he knelt, flipped it open, rooted through a tangle of gold and precious stones. In a moment he had what he was looking for; and with book in one hand and pendants in the other, he ducked through the low doorway and stepped out on deck. It was drizzling, just a little here and there, and the water felt healing.
He stamped on the boards, three times, quite hard. At once there was a stirring below, and in a moment one of the girls put her head up through the trapdoor. Her eyes widened at the sight of what he held.
"We're leaving," he said. "Get the other one up here." He tossed the things down in front of her, but she didn't move to take them; she was staring at the book.
"I lost it... I thought... I lost it in the sea..." She scrambled up onto the deck and, kneeling, snatched the book to her chest; her eyes, when she lifted her head, glistened. "Thank you," she said, very softly. The other girl was coming up the ladder now, staring curiously. He turned his back on them and went up the mast to raise the sail.
"Where are we going?" the red-haired one asked, slipping the chain of one of the pendants over her head.
The sail rattled as he pulled it taut, threading the rope around the cleats with deft, unconconscious movements. "Look lively," he said, ignoring the question. "Turn the anchor winch."
"Because," he said, coming swiftly down hand over hand on the rungs, "if you don't we won't get to Finne's Rock, where your friends are. Turn the anchor-winch." He strode to the wheel, not bothering to look back to see the order being obeyed. Sure enough, in a moment there came the familiar metallic clanking as one or the other of them worked the handle.
His boat was eager to fly; he could feel her urgency humming in the wood beneath his feet. His hands settled in the old familiar position on the wheel, caressing the smooth carved oak. "Easy, my beauty," he murmured, turning her to the wind.
Something scuffed the deck behind him.
"Thank you," the yellow-haired one said again. "I mean it; we... we'll pay you somehow. We can get gold..."
He grunted, wanting her to be gone.
"May we know your name?" she asked timidly.
How much did she know? "Iáru," he said shortly, and left it at that. "You're on my boat, the Stormy Petrel. Now either make yourself useful and haul some water to scrub the deck, or get below."
Sofia woke abruptly from a dark dream that had no beginning and no ending. Her skin, all over, tingled oddly; her chest ached as if she had strained her voice in crying out. But Zelda still slept beside her, in the deep dead sleep of the physically exhausted, and there was no sound elsewhere save for the hiss-rush of water against the hull.
In the darkness, she rolled onto her side and pulled a thick fold of the blanket to her breast. Why wouldn't things go back to the way they had been? Why wouldn't It leave her alone?
The Zora's boat did not pitch, or roll from side to side between the waves: it sliced through the water like a knife, smooth and stealthy. They might almost have been standing still. She lay and listened to the sea muttering so close on the other side of the wood. It sounded a little like sand running down a slope, a dry viperish hiss.
The image brought up things she did not want to think about. Carefully, so as to avoid waking Zelda, she sat up and laid the blanket aside, then crept towards the ladder in the dark, moving cautiously around unseen obstructions. Her body felt heavy, and it ached; her hands still stung from working the rough bristle-brush into the planks of the deck with nothing more than seawater as a cleaning agent. Even pooling their efforts it had been a harsh and horrible job, and they had managed to clean a little less than half of the space in the time they had had to do it. She winced at sore muscles as she pulled herself up the rickety ladder.
The trapdoor at the top was closed, but not latched, and it was an easy matter to lift it up and back to fall quietly on the deck. Cool air rushed down on her, and the salty tang of the sea, and starlight.
There was something strange, weird, even half-magical about the boat as it slid through the night. She had marked its silence before, when it had come upon her unawares in the dark water: the first she had known of its approach was when the boathook had caught her collar as she was going down for the hundredth time. But then she had been half conscious, dazed with cold and exhaustion. She had not been in any condition to look about her for fine details.
The Stormy Petrel was a good bit larger than the Golden Queen's skiffs, or the ill-fated rowboat they had stolen from Dragon Roost; from prow to stern it was perhaps twenty feet, and all very neat and clean, if a little mismatched. Lanterns, shrouded from the spray by round glass covers, hung from hooks placed at strategic points--one danging from the mainmast, another above the cabin door, a third swinging from the very end of the tall curled prow. Its golden firefly light cast a strange backlight glow on the tall willowy shape standing at the wheel. As far as she knew, he had been there ever since they went down to the hold earlier. Did he never sleep?
She sat down crosslegged on the deck, by the open trapdoor, and tried not to be too obvious about staring. Far more so than the Rito, this Iáru, as he had named himself, was probably the most alien creature she had ever seen--and that was including a good many monsters. He was too tall, too thin, to be right--but he was strong with it, not delicate, as a willow tree was strong. And humanshaped, more or less... except for his head, which swept back in a long flexible tail, tipped with two wide fins like the flukes of a dolphin. He swung this structure slightly, side to side, while he steered--as a human or Hylian might have tapped his foot in idleness while thinking of other things.
Bird-people, fish-people... Sitting back, she sighed, and hoped that the ocean held no more surprises for her. Perhaps she was starting to understand Dark's dislike of all this: the more strangeness she saw, the more she longed for home, and a predictable life.
"See something interesting?" She jumped; she had not thought he even knew of her presence on the deck, let alone that she had been watching. His back had been turned to her all the time.
"Yes," she said, deciding not to be intimidated. "You."
"I don't like being stared at." The voice was a warm fluting midtone, impossible to place by gender. "Go take your eyes elsewhere, Gerudo."
"All right," she said neutrally. She got up and made her way astern, past the tiny cabin. Another lantern hung from the blunted stern, casting golden glitters onto the dark foaming water. She leaned on the rail and watched things darting in the Stormy Petrel's rippling wake: shadows of fish, and stranger creatures. The wind of their speed lifted loose locks of her hair and played with them.
It was here somewhere, out in the dark, quite close. She could feel It like a distant thunderstorm in the air. It had been there, on and off, ever since that last day on the Golden Queen when she had dreamed, but there was something about this clean, starry night that drew It in.
Go away, she told It, in her mind. Go right away. I don't want you. And It obeyed, pulling back until she could no longer sense It... for now, at least.
The chill of the wind, biting through the loose-woven linen of her borrowed clothes, was making her shiver. Still it banished sleep, and that was a good thing--she did not want to sleep again tonight. She held herself, rubbing her arms through the fabric of her sleeves, then reached into her shirt and drew out the Amulet of Fire. It was pleasantly warm, as it always was, and she folded her hands around it to warm them... wishing she was back home, before any of this had happened, racing her brother on horseback across the hard-packed sand of Gaelaidh. Soon it would be high summer in her homeland, and the sky a liquid melted gold above brilliant sands...
...Something soft and warm was draping itself around her shoulders. She grabbed at it in surprise and a little fear, and found that it was a woollen overcoat.
"Go below," the Zora said in his musical midtone voice, quite close to her ear. "There's nothing for you out here tonight."
She shivered for a moment into the old, dusty-smelling fabric. She had not realised how cold she was getting: her whole body felt chilled, stiff and sluggish.
"What's it to you, anyway, if you don't mind me asking? Why have you suddenly decided to help us? We don't know you." She regretted it the moment she had said it: how the words came out spiky, suspicious, challenging. Stupid Sofia, doing it again--why do you find it so hard to be polite to people?
Nevertheless, he did not seem offended. "Your friend Zelda. An uncommon name among your kind, I believe."
"Oh," she said. A wave broke close by, and spray misted her cheek; she wiped the moisture off with the back of her free hand, the other being employed with keeping the overcoat from blowing away. "Yes, I suppose it is."
"One of hers helped one of mine once," he said. "I was reminded that the debt hasn't yet been paid."
"That's a little convenient," she remarked dryly.
"Depends who for. I certainly have more desirable things to do right now."
"So, do you know anything about our missing medallion, then?"
"That," he said, "depends who's asking." He rested his hand lightly on her shoulder for a moment, in a gesture that was not quite a pat, then turned and walked lightly away. She was left with the feeling that something, some communication, had passed her by: that there was something she had sensed but not quite grasped, like the Hylians' talking-without-words.
She lingered for a while longer, until the first streaks of lavender began to creep across the eastern sky, revealing a world of choppy steel-gray waves crowned here and there with white. So far, in all the time they had been out here, the sea had never shown her the same face twice. Perhaps in that respect it was more like the desert than people realized.
At last she turned and made her way back past the cabin to the middle of the boat. Iáru was once again at his post at the wheel, and his blue-white skin glistened damply with drops of spray. A fine pale mist clung around him in the predawn, tossed up by the ship's prow.
"Wind's fair," he said. "Half an hour, maybe less. Hard tack and water in the cabin--take what you need, and rouse your friend."
She nodded wordlessly.
Zelda was awake when she came back down the ladder: the Princess was sitting crosslegged under the hatch, wrapped in blankets like a Simani tribeswoman, with the Book of Mudora lying open on her lap. She glanced up as Sofia sat, and gave her a vague and slightly worried smile.
"Find anything interesting?" Sofia asked, passing her friend a palm-sized chunk of hard, floury ship's biscuit. The stuff was not very appetising--they had shared a small ration of it yesterday afternoon, in between scrubbing the deck and repairing the spare sail, and it had been woody, tasteless and almost impossible to chew--but meals had been few and far between lately, and hunger seemed to improve the taste of most things. She dusted a little dirt off her own hard cake, and bit into it with an effort.
Zelda yawned and set the book aside to break her piece of biscuit in half. "Not really... but I wasn't looking all that hard. You were up early, weren't you?"
"I talked to him for a little while," Sofia admitted carefully; though she was not quite sure why, she did not want to admit to having been up most of the night.
"Did you find anything out?"
"He says we're about a half-hour from the island, probably less now." The piece of biscuit was nearly gone, and all too soon: vile or not, she felt that she could have polished off twice that amount. She picked a few crumbs off the front of her shirt.
"It's very good of him," Zelda said doubtfully. "I just hope he won't ask for too much in payment."
"Oh, I don't think you need to worry too much about that," Sofia said, trying unsuccessfully to finger-comb her hair. It was hopeless: she needed fresh water to get the salt out. She looked up again to see the Princess watching her with an unsettlingly thoughtful expression. "What?"
"I didn't say anything," Zelda said, dodging the question. "Well, I suppose we'd better try to find some shoes or the like, and get ready. I just hope the Rito haven't beaten us to it."
"Was that Kovanni, the one who tried to save us?" Sofia asked suddenly. "It was, wasn't it?"
Zelda looked away for a moment. "I think so."
"You were right, you know. He wasn't a bad sort..." She sighed. "I hope..." She couldn't quite finish the sentence; was not, indeed, sure what it was that she wanted to say; but by her look Zelda understood well enough. For a moment they shared an understanding that went beyond words.
Then there came a thudding on the deck above their heads. "Rise and shine, girls," came Iáru's warm voice. "We're coming in to shore. Look lively!"
There were seven main islands, spread out across six or eight miles of open water: a ragged rocky scatter shaped like a crescent moon. They were heading straight for the nearest of these, a bare gray rock shaped like a wedge, sloped at one end and falling sharply at the other. Sofia leaned out over the side of the boat to try to see better, then glanced at Iáru standing at the wheel. A moment's thought decided her. With a quick look back at her friend for reassurance, she walked up to him and stood there, quietly, watching the islands approach. She could see better here. She shaded her eyes against the patchy sunlight, hoping to see some sign of a human presence--the thin coil of smoke from a campfire, perhaps. There was none.
Iáru seemed oblivious to her presence beside him. His dark deep-sea gaze was fixed on the island as he stood, one hand on his hip and the other resting lightly on the wheel. Occasionally he turned it slightly left or right to make some miniscule adjustment to their course. She kept her mouth firmly closed.
She looked up quickly. "I'm sorry?"
"Which one?" he repeated, in exactly the same tone of voice.
"You mean which island?" She felt an unaccustomed flush rising in her face as the dark eye glanced her way. Zelda was no help: the Princess was hanging off the bow rail, trying to make out something on the lower slopes of the first island. "Oh. Of course. ...They were going to the big one. Link thought there might have been grazing animals there, so it seemed the likeliest one to be inhabited."
"Nobody lives on Finne's Rock."
"Well, we didn't know that at the time," she said carefully, wondering why even a simple statement of fact had the power to make her feel spiky. I will not, she told herself, get angry.
The boat turned now, swinging out to one side of the craggy gray island. Around its bulk, bit by bit, appeared the long green one, the one that Link and Dark had set their sights upon. Sofia's last sight of them both had been the little triangular sail of their boat, a sliver of white against the blue, as it rounded the rocky point. She shaded her eyes and leaned forward, squinting at the grassy slopes as they became visible, searching for the tiny dots of a black or dark blue cloak.
"Why is it called Finne's Rock?" she asked.
"Because Finne used to live there."
"Used to? What happened to him?"
"Died," Iáru said flatly.
"Look," she said, "I was only asking."
"And you got your answer. What's the problem?"
Sofia clenched her jaw and stared at the approaching island. It was a craggy, desolate place, even with the vivid green: crowned with scrubby trees bent double by prevailing winds, orbited by a cloud of shrieking seagulls. She glanced up quickly, looking for great gliding shapes, but the sky was clear and blue. No Rito.
Iáru spun the wheel, and the boat turned sharply, swinging around into a narrow channel between the gray island and the green. She clutched at the rail to keep her balance. "You want to do me a favour?" Iáru said.
She looked up at him unhappily. Most likely "go away and stop bothering me", she thought. Aloud, she said, "Whatever you want."
"Take the wheel, then."
Iáru glanced down at her. "You should know by now that I don't like to repeat myself. I'm going to try and get close enough to Finne's beach that you can get ashore. Before I can do that I need to take in the sail and weigh anchor. So you can either do that for me, or take the wheel. Your choice."
She stared at him in disbelief and dawning joy, then, hesitantly, reached out to touch the wheel. The worn wood was warm beneath her fingers.
"Point her into the face of the wind," he said. "And keep smack in the middle of the channel. You knock a hole in my boat and I'll dump you overboard." Then he was walking away down the length of the boat, shouting to the astounded Princess. "You! Loose that rope! Lower the starboard anchor! Come on, girly, get to it!"
Sofia was too terrified to laugh. Her knees were trembling so much she was afraid of falling flat on her face. She clung white-fingered to the wheel, staring rigidly toward the gap in the channel ahead. Experimentally she moved the wheel a little, and at once the boat swung left; she hurriedly hauled it back again, and the boat turned too far right.
"Steady," Iáru said, once more standing by her. "Keep her steady, I said."
"Come to port a bit. Now hold her steady. Steady. Good. Now keep to that course." Chains rattled. The boat was slowing now, and starting to rock as the waves hit it side-on. For some reason it wanted to turn to the right, and she struggled to keep it facing forward. Iáru turned away. "Port anchor!" he shouted, and she heard Zelda running for the winch. Then, there was a jerk and a protesting groan in the wood beneath her feet, and the wind in her face was gone, and they were at rest. She sank forward onto the wheel, her whole body limp with relief.
"Not bad," Iáru said in her ear. "But you want to be more gentle with her. She only wants a light touch, like a good horse."
"I'll... I'll remember that," she managed to say through a mouth that felt like cotton.
The Stormy Petrel rocked gently in a stretch of calm water, half a mile wide, between the two biggest islands in the chain. Twenty or thirty yards off was a thin gray line of pebbly beach strewn with driftwood.
"Isn't that a boat?" Zelda asked, running up to stand with them. "There, on the shore!" Her eyes sparked with excitement.
"Finne's boat," Iáru said.
"He's someone who's dead," Sofia answered. "That's about all I know." She sent a playful glance towards the tall Zora; one corner of his mouth twitched.
"Finne," he said, in his warm mid-tone voice. "Man got wrecked here, died here, eighty years or so ago. We don't know his name so we just call him Finne. This is Finne's Rock. Finne's beach, Finne's house... Finne's boat."
"Why Finne, though?" Zelda asked.
"It's a good name."
"So how do we get across?" the Princess said, staring toward the beach; it seemed a long way from here.
With one liquid movement Iáru jumped up onto the rail. Standing there, poised, looking down at them, he said, "Can you swim?" And threw himself off in a beautiful arching swallow dive. The sea absorbed his silvery form with hardly a ripple.
They stood together for a moment, looking down through many feet of clear greenish water to a misty sandy floor. "He likes you," Zelda said with a teasing smile.
Sofia sat on the rail and swung her legs over, trying visually to judge the distance to the shore. "I'm sure I have no idea why," she said, shifting her weight in preparation. "Are you coming?"
"Ugh--more swimming. Yes, hold on, I'll just..." She was fiddling with her clothes, tucking the hem of her shirt into her trousers and knotting the drawstring tight. Sofia took a long breath, steeling herself, and then slipped off the rail.
Once again the sea hit her with a shock of cold, but she had been prepared for it this time. She oriented herself to face the shore and then kicked slowly, treading water. It was even pleasant, after the dry warmth up on deck: the waves in this sheltered bay were little more than ripples, and the sun had warmed the top layer of the water. If she let her legs sink down, she could feel the place where it suddenly became cold, with a strong current rushing.
A splash a few feet away told her the Princess had entered the water; expanding ripples slopped around Sofia's shoulders, and she shook stinging salt water out of her eyes. "Ooh," Zelda groaned, surfacing. "It's cold..." In a moment she struck out for the shore. Sofia followed clumsily, kicking hard and concentrating on keeping her face out of the water.
The sea grew steadily shallower, and they were able to walk the last few yards or so, up onto an expanse of smooth yellow sand littered with shells and scraps of seaweed. The only marks on the beach were Iáru's barefoot web-toe prints, leading upwards into the grass, and a few tracks of birds. Sofia sat down for a moment on a handy boulder, to catch her breath; Zelda wrung wet out of her sodden clothes. The sun's heat was strong now, beating down on the tops of their heads. At least it would not take long to dry off.
"Where's the boat?" Zelda asked suddenly. "I don't see their boat."
"We have got the right island, haven't we?" Sofia frowned.
"I think so... unless they've gone to one of the others for some reason."
Or unless the Rito found them.
"Let's go up, then," Sofia said, getting to her feet. "We'll have a better view from the top."
They grew solemn as they climbed the winding path to the broken-down cottage, accompanied by half a dozen curious sheep. Zelda found a perfect bootprint in some muddy ground where the path had worn away, and it caused them some excitement, until they realised that the mud was dry and baked, the mark some two or three days old. Still, it was proof that they were on the right island: either Link or Dark had been here. They poked their heads into the earth cottage, hoping against hope, but it was fairly obvious even from the outside that it was empty. At the top of the hill they stopped together to drink and wash the salt from their faces in the freshwater stream. The water was bitter-tasting but refreshing--and by the number of sheep-tracks covering the banks, it could hardly be bad.
"I had hoped they'd be here to greet us," Zelda said eventually. I thought we might find them on the beach or something, waiting for us... silly, really."
"They might still be here," Sofia said, wishing she believed it herself. "There's no sign of Rito, either... surely if they'd been taken we'd find marks of a struggle, or something. The Rito can't fly strongly enough to just swoop down and carry them off."
The Princess sighed, and then forced a smile. "Well, come on then," she said, getting up again. "On to the top!"
It was not much further: the path stretched up a steep grassy slope, growing steadily stonier, until it came to an abrupt end. Iáru stood at the very edge, looking down on a tumbling descent of cliffs and stony ledges occupied by a crowd of raucous gulls. They went up and stood by him, for a little while saying nothing.
"They're not here," Zelda said at last, her voice heavy with disappointment.
"Guess not." He was staring out towards the blue horizon.
"I don't understand." She slumped down and sat, tore a pebble from the stony ground and tossed it over the edge. It bounced two or three times, leaping off ledges, and vanished without a trace in the foaming waves. "Why would they leave? There's nowhere else to go."
"Your boy," Iáru said, without turning round. "He's a sailor?"
"He knows boats, yes. He grew up on a lake."
"I think so, yes."
"Salt or fresh?"
"Salt, I think... there's an outlet to the sea..."
"Then he knows how to handle the boat, and he's not stupid." Iáru folded his arms. "He knows he needs good drinking water. So he isn't going to leave unless he's desperate, or unless he's got no choice."
"Why isn't he here, then?" Zelda said in despair.
He was silent for several minutes. At last he said, "Current."
"Sorry? ...I mean, what does that mean?"
"These islands, they act like channels, focusing the tides. Water gets pushed through and comes out fast and fierce. There's a strong current running southward out of here. So. Your boy's just landed his boat. He drags it up on shore, over the high-tide line because, as I said, he's smart, and I saw the mark. Now the boat's secure, he wants to take a look around. Pays a visit to old Finne, sees nothing of interest, goes on up the hill." He was pacing now; he stopped and tapped the ground with his foot. "Stops here. Runs down the hill again; someone's torn up the grass, see?" He turned back to them, his dark eyes thoughtful. "Now I'd say your boy, he's hoping to catch the ship. So he jumps back in his boat and shoves off. Of course he can't catch the ship, so after a while he'll turn back, but by now--" a sweeping gesture "--he's caught in the current. Unless he knows the waters hereabout, which he doesn't, he'll try tacking, and it won't work. So he gets carried off southward."
Sofia had listened quietly as he unfolded the situation, but with a sense of growing dismay. She could guess well how difficult it would be to find a small boat in a huge and constantly shifting landscape: the desert swallowed people all the time. "Iáru," she said, "what do we do?"
He looked at her mildly. "Follow him."
The strength of the current was immediately apparent as they sailed out of the channel's further end; the Stormy Petrel slid forward with a deceptively smooth motion. It hardly seemed as if the boat was moving at all, but when they faced forward, the wind of their speed burned their cheeks and drew tears from their eyes.
"He'd think it was all his doing," Iáru said, turning the wheel slowly. "He'd be gaining on the ship, so he wouldn't worry about how far out he'd got. Then she gets the wind in her sails, and when he next looks round he's out of sight of land."
"Do you think we can find them?" Zelda asked softly.
"Maybe. If he stays in the current, it's straight down south to the smuggler islands. He could be a hundred miles off by now, but at least it's a narrow band and we'll catch up in the end. If he's drifted off course it's a different story." She stifled a sob, and he glanced quickly down at her. "I'm not going to lie to make you happy. I tell it as I see it." Zelda swallowed hard and nodded. "Keep an eye open, both of you," he said quietly, looking back toward the sea. "If you see anything at all, shout out."
They spent the rest of the day hanging off the bow, scanning the sea with eyes that soon ached from strain, and acquiring ferocious sunburns as the Stormy Petrel raced southward on the current. It seemed a hopeless endeavour; all they spotted in two or three hours of searching was a tangle of driftwood and the floating carcass of a great toothed fish. Clouds passed over their heads, gathered like promises on the horizon and then faded away again. They did not stop their vigil to eat; Iáru handed out more slabs of hard dry biscuit, which they broke up and chewed on painfully while they watched. Neither of them complained, or wondered aloud when they might stop for the night.
At last, sometime in the late afternoon, Sofia was snatching a few minutes' rest in the shade of the cabin while Zelda sat on top of it to search from a higher vantage point. Her eyes stung and watered still from the sun's glare on the water, and she kept having to wipe back irritated tears. When she closed them she saw coloured spots. She leaned her head back against the wooden wall and sighed.
"What's that?" Zelda said suddenly, scrambling to her feet. The hollow thud of her light boots on the wood made Sofia jump.
"Where?" she asked, getting up and hurrying to the rail.
"There." The Princess was pointing, leaning awkwardly over the edge of the cabin roof. "Something small, floating."
"I don't see it."
"It's only little. Look, about ten yards off. There. See it?"
"I see it," Sofia said. She leaned further, shading her eyes. "What is it, a bit of ribbon?"
"What's the matter?" Iáru called from the helm.
"There's something in the water," Sofia said, as Zelda swung herself down from the roof.
He came down and stood beside them, scanning the sea with his cool dark gaze. "Point to it." She did so. In the space of another heartbeat he nodded curtly and placed one hand on the rail. "Hey, ginger."
Sofia blinked at him.
"Take the wheel," Iáru said, and vaulted over the side without another word.
He moved in the water as swiftly as a bird in air, and with the same ease and grace. The translucent fins opened out like flowers, turning him into a thing of weird and fragile beauty; without a splash or a ripple he was gone, scudding away beneath the surface. Sofia ran to the wheel and held it steady, trying not to give in to the temptation to turn and watch him. In moments Iáru had reached the thing that floated on the green-glass flank of a wave, had it and was speeding back, a silvery arrow beneath the waves. Effortlessly he caught up with the boat, rolled over and gripped an iron rung set in the side. He flowed up the makeshift ladder and was back on deck in another second, the dripping scrap safe in his hand.
"Here," he said, handing it over to Zelda. She looked at the green silk ribbon for a long moment, running her fingers over the delicate embroidery that was now tattered and salt-stained.
"No," she said softly, and then went to her knees. "Oh, no..." Sofia, horrified, let go of the wheel; the boat began to turn slowly in a circle.
"Stop that," Iáru said sharply.
They looked towards him in shock; he was already walking swiftly to the helm. "I take it that belongs to one of your friends," he said, moving Sofia gently out of the way to take the wheel and correct the Stormy Petrel's course. "Well, that's good. Shows we're closer than we thought. Now listen. The weather's been nothing but good here lately. Even an idiot would be hard pressed to break up a sound boat in fine weather, and your boy's not an idiot. They're out here somewhere. So stop your whining, both of you, and start looking for them." He turned.
"You. Blondie. You like heights?"
"N-not particularly," Zelda managed to gasp out.
"Splendid. Up you go." He gestured to the mast; two thirds of the way up, a couple of planks had been fixed to the slender pole to provide a rickety sort of standing place.
"Me?" she said, looking horrified.
"Yes, you, dear. The other one's going to steer, and I've got work to do in the hold." He nodded pleasantly. "Up you go."
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