The Fifth Path (24/30)

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 29th King of the True Land

Running Title: A Point of View: Things Seen in a Year Outside

Composed Abu 6th In the 1st Year of Baal Makru

Chapter 19: Captain Hailt

My companions and I boarded our little vessel, my Scholar having read up on the proper methods of locomotion and navigation for such a journey. It was much less relaxing than previous non-enslaved nautical expeditions, as I had to row almost constantly, alongside my companions. My Scholar sought to alleviate that need, by searching for a current that might carry us along without needing to row, but he never found it, so instead he simply added a strange weaving pattern to our travels, one that I do not think was truly appreciated by my Protector. I was generally too busy being completely exhausted by the rowing to give our exact navigation much notice. I did manage to notice however when the seas started to roughen and the sky darken. It would seem that this novice crew would have to deal with something of a storm on our way to the next island.

We fought the storm as best we could, doing a respectable job relative to our experience and skill. We were able to survive rolling waves and avoid being crushed when they crashed. We managed to stay on target even as tides pushed us to the sides and harsh winds blew us every which way. There was even a notable incident with a particularly large wave, where we managed to ride the wave and time our turn in such a way that our little boat all but leaped over the space between waves and landed on the top of the next one over without falling into the intervening space. In the end though, we were not good enough at this, or the waves and wind were too fierce, or our little boat was not made to handle this kind of situation. Whatever the excuse, not far from the island, near to some rocks and coral outcroppings, we crashed, our boat flipped, and everyone was pulled into the depths. At the time I had no idea what had happened to my companions, but truly, in those moments I thought not at all of them, but instead merely on staying alive. Not drowning was my top priority, and one that was certainly a challenging task.

I am not entirely sure how it came to be there, perhaps our boat crashed into a rock after we were all evicted from it, but somehow there was a chunk of wood, which floated above the rolling waves, and I managed to grip it. As water crashed over me, and currents pulled me, and as I whirled this way and that, I simply gripped the chunk of wood, trusting in it to keep me alive, and trusting in Bel to deliver me safely to the island, and not crush me cruelly against a sea-born rock. I was torn and cut a little by rocks that I was dragged past, but never was I crushed, and so I hung on, and prayed to Bel and was carried through the water. It was a long time before the moving stopped, before the storm ceased in its pulling and pushing and dragging and throwing. My arms had lost all sensation long before then, and I had reached a state somewhere between consciousness and sleep, not really perceiving the world, but not truly gone from it either. My hands had become vices, gripping only, not willing or able to do anything else at all. All of this together made it difficult for me to realize the storm was over.

I had been expecting to either die, crashed against some rocks, or wash ashore on the island that had been our goal. Instead I found myself hours later, blearily perceiving a world in which I was still clinging to the bit of wood that had been my salvation, and farther from the island than before the storm. It seemed as though I had been pulled into a current that had taken me out to sea, and not in towards the land. This was a worrying predicament, for once I realized that the storm was over, the numbness in my arms turned to searing pain, an incredible tiredness filled me, and the vices which had once been my hands began to feel more like hands again, their gripping strength draining away. I managed to maintain my grip, but only barely, my body not wanting to be part of this whole situation at all. I noticed then how far the island was from my location, and I must admit, that in that moment I did perhaps give in to despair. Maybe more like exhaustion then despair. I was quite tired. And yet I could not release my grip, I could not allow myself to let go or I would drown, for while hanging on is tiring, it is much less so than swimming. And so I hung on, watching myself drift further and further from the island that had been my goal. I had no particular plan or hope for how to survive, but I could not simply let myself go. I had a goal or drive to simply hold on, to extend my life by those few minutes or hours, or however long I could hold it. Despite my pain and exhaustion, I refused to let myself go. I hung on.

In the end this primal instinct, this desire to simply continue, even with no purpose or hope, saved me. It took me far longer to notice my savior than it should have. My eyes were mostly down, staring at my hands and arms that so burned and cried for release. When I did look up it was to stare at the ever receding island. So imagine my confusion when I happened to glance to the side and see a full blown ship sailing through the water not far away at all. I almost let go of my plank of wood and drowned right there and then. I managed to flail about and avoid that fate, then wave with one arm and yell with all that I could muster, coughing and spluttering with my parched throat. And someone on the ship saw me, and the ship came for me. A rope was thrown down to me, and I tried to climb, but I could not. So they pulled me up, and I did what I had done for so long, and hung on.

I was greeted by a crew, better dressed than many crews I had seen, which gave me hope I had not just found myself captured by pirates again. They were also remarkably similar in terms of appearance and dress, a uniformity that had not been evident at all in the pirate crews I had seen, which gave me further hope I was not in fact condemned to another period of servitude and rotted food. Their dress was similar enough that it might in fact to be appropriate to call what they were wearing a uniform. I wondered if this might not be some kind of military, for the uniforms and the sameness of appearance made that seem possible. The particular combination of skin tone, facial features, and general appearance was one that struck me as strangely familiar, but which I could not place, not seeming to fit any of the cultures that I was aware of, or had witnessed on my travels thus far. I similarly did not understand the language that they spoke to each other after I first made my way onto the ship. This worried me for a moment, but then one of them tried a few different languages out on me, and I was able to recognize a couple. It seemed like I was to be questioned, but after only getting to the point where I explained my name, there was an interruption. Someone from the back of the group spoke up.

The tone of voice and the way the others responded made me realize that the speaker was the leader. When the crowd parted and I saw the speaker I was a bit surprised to find a woman, but it seemed that there were many more female leaders in the false land than the true, so it was less surprising than it would have been a few months ago. I shall wait to describe this woman, for she becomes rather important to the story going forward. Suffice to say that at the moment, she was directing the others to give me a chance to rest before interrogating me, and since sleep was the thing that I most wanted at that moment, it would be fair to say that I took a shine to her right from the start. I nodded thanks to the woman, who gave me a curt nod as a response, then I was directed to follow one of the crew.

The room I was given was tiny, barely having enough room for the small pallet that it contained, but it had a place to sleep and was dry, which was more than enough for me at the moment. I closed the door, took off my soggy clothing, and then, managing to stave off sleep for a few more seconds, took a quick stock of what I had with me. Thankfully, we had been all wearing backpacks on the boat for space reasons, so I had mine on, which contained my notes for the very book you hold in your hands now. It had managed to avoid being destroyed completely. Unfortunately, that appeared to be all I had. I did not even have anything to write with. Just a backpack, a book, and my clothes. The lack of any resource for payment worried me a bit, but I was too tired to do much more than be glad that I at least had my notes. Then I threw myself down on the mat on the floor and immediately fell into sleep.

It was when I woke up that I really managed to understand the precariousness of my situation. I had lost almost all of my worldly possessions, as well as my two companions. And I would soon see that I had lost something else that I had thought never to lose. I felt relatively confident that my companions had survived. If I had then my Protector would certainly have made it, and I really couldn’t imagine my Scholar dieing to something as mundane as a boat crash. Not exactly compelling evidence, but the fact that I lived seemed evidence enough for me, who’s mind was not particularly willing to accept much more loss at that moment. It did soon become a priority of mine to try and meet back up with them, and I resolved to make landing on the island and searching for my companions a priority in my upcoming negotiations with the boat captain. I was sure there was something that could be worked out to that effect. Little did I know that their would not exactly be “negotiations” in the traditional sense that I was used to. Once I had put back on my clothes, dried now in the time I was asleep, I knocked on the door to indicate I was rested and ready for my interrogation and then waited for someone to retrieve me. Shortly, a member of the crew did.

I was brought to the office of the woman in charge. It is here that I shall describe her, and the general features of most of the people of this boat. The people were a mixed color, somewhat similar to the tone of the true people, though slightly darker. Their hair was either brown or a dark blonde. It was their eyes that made them unique however. For typically those with darker skin and hair tend to have darker eyes as well, but these people all had very pale eyes, either blue or green in color, but lighter even than normal for these colors. The woman who was sitting in a large chair behind her enormous desk when I came in had striking eyes indeed, the palest blue. They contrasted with her skin in a lovely fashion, her color being a bit darker than most of her peers. Her people tended to have thinner facial features than most of those I had encountered, and she was no exception, except that her eyes seemed particularly large in comparison to the rest of her face. It might have been an illusion however, created by the intensity of her gaze. It was not the same level as the leader of the island I had just visited, but it seemed a similar vein, the gaze of an effective leader. I smiled as I came into the cabin and sat down at the chair on my side of the desk. I noticed the tiniest hint of a frown as I did this, not from the smile, which had been apparently ignored, but from the act of sitting down. She apparently did not know she had communicated this though, as she shifted into an open smile after a moment, and invited me to speak, after introducing herself briefly.

I told her my story, or rather a very brief summation of it. I explained my situation and my quest, several of the notable adventures my companions and I had overcome and my current goals, both to retrieve my companions and the go to the final island beyond the edge of the world. While I was speaking, I was also taking time to really look her over. She had a slightly more complicated version of the red and blue uniform this ship seemed to favor. Her hair was a lustrous brown, grown out into long curls. Her face was above average in terms of appearance, but she would not have been considered a great beauty back in the true lands, on account of lack of thick lashes and the thinness of her lips. I could not see her body well underneath the uniform, but she seemed in shape, which made sense considering the military feel that I had gotten from this vessel. When I was finished, I was greeted by an expression unfamiliar to me, not so much in concept, as I had seen it used before, but in personal experience. The woman was leaned back in her chair, and she at last let her face move from the neutral but interested expression she had maintained for the whole story. She was smiling, but her one of her eyebrows was raised considerably higher than the other. She responded, and I realized with horror that she did not believe me. She did not believe I was a Baal, or indeed anyone of any real importance. She thought I was lying.

Her reasoning for dismissing my tale as being one of fancy was compelling. There had indeed been many incredible events upon my journey, and the skills and luck of myself and my companions are sufficiently above the norm that our feats might easily be considered unlikely without something to back them up. And seeing as how I had only myself and the notes for this very book you are now reading, I did not truly have much evidence, as the notes might very well be considered evidence of making this up just as well as being an actual record of my travels. Without my fortune or my companions to back me up, what did I truly have? I had a reputation and I had people who could vouch for me, but only on the islands behind us. Ahead of us there was nothing of my story. I had my skills at language, and my ability to negotiate and interact politically, but might those also not be skills of a professional liar?

As she explained all this, I searched for some thing that might persuade her, but I could think of nothing at all. And her last point was the most shocking of all, for she explained that while she had indeed heard of the true lands, it was that recent knowledge that really pushed my story out of the realm of the credible, for she informed me that the ruler of the true land was not named Shamas as I had told her, but instead Makru. This was of course the name of my oldest brother. It seemed that my father had died in these last few months. And to add insult to such painful news, it seemed my twin brother, Alam, had been sent on an Awakening to be ready as the next ruler. And this woman had met him, heard a very similar story, but with actual wealth and companions to back them up. And in the history of the true land, never had there been two such potential rulers out on their awakenings at the same time. The timing of my father’s death was unfortunate and had created an unprecedented situation that served to make my story seem particularly unlikely. I insisted that my story was true, refusing to admit that I was lying which seemed to be her goal, but I did admit that my story seemed implausible from her perspective. This seemed like enough of an admission to her, so we moved on to other topics.

Of course I was not truly prepared for the tone of these other discussions. In my whole life I had always been important. Sometimes disliked, opposed, or made to seem incompetent or young, but always important in some fundamental way. I was always known to be rich and powerful, and even if someone chose to not care about my opinion or wishes, this was an active choice, this was someone deciding that they were going to go against the grain and not do something that was accepted and normal. But now, I was a moneyless vagrant saved from death on the sea. I was not a Baal, not a potential future ruler, and I was not even rich. I was poor and I was perhaps a liar and I was as such, not in fact important. I was a person, and thus worth some small amount of consideration, but not much more than that. This was well established by the tone of the conversation after it was understood I had no evidence to suggest I was anyone important. The woman was in fact important, as the captain of the vessel, and so she would be the one talking and largely making decisions, and I was only here due to her charity, and so I would listen and make some small decisions within the context of what she told me. I did not quite grasp this at first, and tried to interject a few times but she did not respond well to this, and I figured out the situation pretty quickly. It was a bizarre feeling.

I had of course been in a situation where a woman had a great deal of power of me recently. My brief but intense relationship with my Protector had been that way, but there had still been an understanding that I was important to her, that this power dynamic was special because of its difference than the natural order of things. Here was different and I felt rather put out by it. I listened to the woman, and respected her choices, understanding it from her point of view, but I felt insulted, as though this was something inherently unnatural. It made me feel like how I had been on the pirate vessel, though obviously this was much less extreme. I was distracted and my emotions were not particularly stable, but I managed to disguise this as best I could. My first try at interjecting had been when she explained where we were going, as it did not include a stop on the island that likely contained my companions. I of course wanted to stop there, but she said it wasn’t on the schedule and that she was not rerouting a whole ship because of one lone vagrant. I was informed that I would be allowed to depart at any of the ships next five or so stops, but would have to be off relatively soon, not being a part of her crew. She further explained that no one rode on her ship without working, and that while she would not throw me to the sharks unless I did something to deserve it, I was not going to get any food or water unless I worked. I just nodded at this, slowly coming to terms with the fact that I was poor. Then the interview was over, and I returned to my room, being told I would start working after lunch that day.

I thought about what I should do. I considered trying to make it to shore somehow, maybe stealing a rowboat or something. But then I stopped, going back through the islands that the captain had told me we would be visiting, that I might be dropped off at. I had not know the names of most any of the islands that she mentioned, but she had described basic locations in relation to each other, and when I imagined them in respect to each other, I realized something. Based on the vague maps that we had been able to acquire from a few of the islands we had stopped on of the furthest lands, it might very well be that the last stop of this ship’s voyage was the very island that was to be the outermost destination of my Awakening. Thinking back to the title the woman had given herself when she first introduced herself to me, it became to seem more likely.

According to her, she was one Samunith, Third Admiral of the Wakeword Fleet. There were a lot of rumors about the island we were hoping to visit, that it was off the edge of the world, that it is the last island of the world, that it has technology beyond human imagining, that it is entirely populated by people with the heads of dogs, and a hundred other fanciful tales that are unlikely to be true. What seemed more likely to be helpful was descriptors of its people, how they were described by others and how they might describe themselves. I had only been half listening when my Scholar had described these details to me, but now, thinking back, it seemed that they mostly fit. It seemed very likely that this was indeed a ship of the navy of the very island I was hoping to visit. And if my companions could not find me, then they would assume that I was continuing the journey. And so, then, instead of running away, I needed to sail on this ship back to its home. I could potentially accomplish all my goals by simply doing whatever job these people asked of me, and staying aboard the ship. Off course the one place that the good captain Samunith had said I could not depart was their home island, but I’d just have to deal with that when I got too it. And so I resolved to win the trust of these people, and figure a way onto their island and prove my royalty at that point. So I got to work.

The next days passed pleasantly enough. I got to know the rest of the crew, who were suspicious at first, but came to like me once I got a chance to know them. Telling my stories directly did not go over super well, as the captain must have told them to distrust me in regards to that, but when I rephrased the stories as being events that happened to a friend of mine, they appreciated the stories more, and liked the adventure and romance and exploration of it all. I worked hard, doing my best to learn how to actually do these jobs, not only because I wanted to be liked, but also because I figured now was as good a time as any to actually pick up some skills that I might be able to be better at understanding the jobs others would be doing for me later.

The other interesting thing that happened over that period was something I was not initially trying to do, but ended up just sorta happening. It seemed that my attraction to woman in power was not restricted to my Protector. This may very well be a weakness in my character, and it will be something that needs overcoming before I could assume power back in the true lands. The attraction was not the same extreme complete surrender of self that had occurred previously, which was certainly an improvement as far as my ability to actually accomplish anything while feeling these things, but it was definitely something. I thought of Admiral Samunith rather frequently, though again not to the same crippling extent that I had for my Protector back in Xexan. And so, being in a strange situation far from home, in a somewhat uncomfortable situation, I acted on this impulse, and began to court the winsome woman. It was subtle. The different in our perceived station was such that the direct approach would be inappropriate. I am not exactly bad at the wooing process, despite the evidence to the contrary you have thus far observed in this story, gentle reader. While I had never before this trip actually considered any individual a real potential wife, I had learned the appropriate methods one would use when one was found, and I had been particularly studious in those particular lessons.

So it was that my efforts were not met with complete disapproval. The smiles and fleeting glances and such things that I was good at noticing indicated some amount of interest being returned, and so I continued, growing a bit bolder. I began to play the careful game that would be required to ever actually have something of a relationship. This of course was the game of power dynamics, this time played to win, or at least break even, as opposed to the complete failure of last time. Since she was in fact my superior in this situation, and currently had all the power, it was important to always be respectful, never oppose her directly, or even really imply I was. But it was also necessary to assert myself, to oh so subtly imply equality, or make reference to my noble status, even in jest. This was initially not received very well, but as I continued, and it became clear that I was not trying to usurp her power so much as carve out a place for a potential relationship within that dynamic, she warmed to it, and began to play along as well, biting back with the occasional flirtatious utilization of the current dynamic. It was an enjoyable game, one that was played well by both sides. It served to help pass the time, and while it did in fact serve my own interests, as it made me more liked, and thus more likely to be allowed to depart upon the island of her home, it was in fact an end in and of itself, because, as I said, I had become rather enamored of this woman.

So the days passed, in work, and then after work in song and swapping of stories, and the occasional intriguing exchange of dialogue with the Admiral. It was a happy and somewhat carefree time, one of the first times in my life that the burden of leadership was lifted, and while I was still committed to my goals, they had a timetable and a schedule I could not control, and so I was able to simply allow the trip to happen, to simply enjoy my time with these interesting new people around me. It was a good time all together. We stopped at several ports, and each time I was offered a chance to depart, and each time I turned it down, and the crew members and the admiral were happy with that choice, glad I was staying on for a little bit longer. The only annoying part of the situation was that I was unable to acquire anything with which to write for the longest time. It was only at the last port before the island of my goals that I was finally able to get one, the captain presenting it to me as a present, something for which I was most grateful, not only for the renewed ability to write, but also because of its symbol as a new step in our relationship. The giving of gifts is symbolically powerful in many cultures, and I expect it is the same for hers. So it was with joy in my heart that I was able to write down the notes for this part of my story, moving towards the island I have so long dreamed about, observing its bright lights, too bright to my eyes, and wondering how things would turn out.

Would I be allowed to depart on this island? Would my companions be waiting for me? Would I be able to prove my status and make an agreement with the rulers of this place? How would this affect my relationship with the attractive admiral? These questions and more rushed through my mind as the boat docked at the end of a long spindly black dock, and I put the last few words into my notes. This was the culmination of a lot of time and effort. The island off the edge of the map, the island past the edge of the world. It was an exciting time, in a life filled with such wonder.

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