I awoke in the sweltering heat. A small light flickered in the corner, revealing a thick, dusty haze. I could feel the hard wood of the floor pressing into my back.
This was the hold of the Kubira-Umbira, four days out of Mhaura. We had seen smooth sailing since leaving port. Having almost reached our destination the previous evening, we had decided to drop anchor and wait for morning.
From the bottom of the hold, I could hear the rhythmic breathing of the Tarutaru boy--er, girl--as she slept. This told me that dawn had not yet broke. Nonetheless, the bunk near the entrance was empty.
Perhaps the captain decided to forego sleep to keep watch. Thinking I might offer to take his place, I went above deck, staying quiet so as not to wake the girl.
I climbed up the steep steps through the wavering light. As I opened the hatch to the deck, I heard a voice. Looking about, I could just make out the small figure of the captain, outlined in the moonlight. I thought I could hear very soft humming.
As I was about to call out to the captain, the wind died, and I could hear the captain clearly.
I heard him say, "Yes. I'm finally back at sea! Huh? Look, if you feel bad about it, why did you even bother asking? All you can do now is pray for a safe trip."
He wasn't talking to himself. It looked as if he was talking into a linkpearl. His awkward speech and blunt manner led me to surmise that he was speaking with the Tarutaru woman in Windurst.
"But I did want to say congratulations. You know, on--"
I thought better of disturbing the captain and turned to head back into the hold.
"What? Hey? What are you crying for?" he stammered.
Hearing the captain's awkward attempt at soothing the woman, I decided to grant him his privacy. I closed the hatch and returned to the hold.
Shortly afterwards, his voice rang through the hold. "WAKE UP! Wake up, you lazy landlubbers!" I jumped with surprise and banged my head on the low ceiling.
I looked back toward the source of the resulting laughter and saw the captain's face peering through the hatch, surrounded by sunlight.
My thoughts drifted back to the previous evening. As I had lain down, my recollection quickly faded and sleep had come quickly.
"Sorry!" I blurted, as I quickly folded up the blanket the captain had loaned me.
The girl climbed out of her hammock and tied her sleep-mussed hair into a ponytail as she bolted up the steep steps.
The captain peeked through the doorway just as the girl bounded onto the deck.
"Hey! Time to change ships! Grab your stuff and get out here. Quick-like," he said. I couldn't make out the expression on his face because the sun was to his back, but his voice was surprisingly cheerful.
I finished packing my things when I heard a commotion on deck. As I came up the stairs, I saw the captain struggling mightily with the wheel. His sister was atop the mast, shouting and panicking.
I looked to where she was pointing and everything became clear. There was another ship a mere 300 yalms astern.
"Aaaaa! This is going to be bad, brother-wother! They're going to ram us!" she screamed. The red-sailed ship was cutting back and forth across the wind and was certain to collide with the Kubira-Umbira.
"Still likes to play around I see, and in this wind no less... Pretty impressive, I have to say!" said the captain, as he struggled for control of the ship. The red-sailed ship made a sharp turn and came to a near halt, barely avoiding a collision.
"Give me a break, matey!" shouted the captain as he mopped the sweat from his brow. There was barely room to slide a piece of paper between the two ships.
"I thought you were tougher than that!" mocked a high-pitched voice.
The captain strode up beside me. "Have a look! It's the captain of the Golden Bonito," he said, jutting his chin at the woman with the high-pitched voice.
The Golden Bonito? A fishing boat? Maybe a freighter? Or a courier? Not much was clear, but the name was apt for such a showy vessel.
But the unfamiliar captain now standing before me was a different story altogether. She was a Hume woman dressed in fashionable clothes--much like you might see in Lower Jeuno. No matter how much I squinted, I could see nothing in common with the image of a bonito tearing through the waves at a fearsome speed.
"Outta my way! Heads up!" she cried as she tossed a mooring rope over to the Kubira-Umbira.
"Exciting, is she not?" said the Tarutaru captain.
The captain laughed wryly as he tied the rope to the ship's stern.
The high-pitched voice squeaked out again. "So where is it? Where's the stuff you need to drop off on Elshimo Island?"
"Rightaru here!" shouted the Tarutaru girl as she shimmied down the mast and pointed at me.
"No kidding? He doesn't look dangerous. Anything I should know before he comes on board?" asked the Hume woman, looking at me as if she were appraising a fish in the market.
I shrunk back.
"Not at all," I replied wryly, "Just remember to 'Handle with care.'"
The three of them paused, then erupted into a fit of laughter so thunderous that it might have reached Kazham.