And here are the promised sample chapters from The Ship And Her Sylph. This is the second draft, pre-edit. Enjoy!
The Ship And Her Sylph
Book One of The Flying Cloud Trilogy
Belard watched seven men walk confidently up the garden path towards his front door. The youngest was perhaps twenty-one or so and the oldest about forty. All seven had weatherbeaten faces and exuded an air of competent toughness. All wore blue jackets and trousers, with snowy white shirts and polished black leather boots.
Sailors, looking for a ship.
People who did not understand would believe these sailors to be mad. Ships are not usually found halfway up steep hills. Belard's cottage overlooked Cadister and its harbor. He had watched all summer as a brand new drydock took shape beside the others, longer and deeper than any dock he had ever seen. And since early autumn, he'd watched progress on a large, imposing ship now slowly taking shape there. To his experienced eye, the builders had some way to go before that ship would taste salt water. And nobody had come to see him about either a suitable ship's elemental, or a suitable sylph.
He suspected the seven men, one of whom would knock on his door any moment now, were here for that very reason.
Even expected, Belard started at the loud rap on his door. He blinked a few times, then remembered Klee would never again answer his door for him. He missed her, but it would be unfair to acquire a replacement at his age. Pushing himself upright, he wandered into the hallway.
Seven faces peered uncertainly at him as he opened the door.
"Ah, Belard?" asked one, a youngish man of about thirty years.
"Last time I looked, yes," replied the old man.
"We've, ah, we've come about the ship," continued the youngster.
Belard nodded in the general direction of the builder's yard. "The large one, that manages to take up all the room even in that new dock?"
The man, either captain-designate or elected spokesman, nodded and when he spoke, pride thickened his voice. "That one, yes."
"I might not be able to find the right elemental without a name. Have you got a name for your ship?"
Belard knew full well they did. Best to play the game though, it impressed the impressionable.
The men exchanged a concerned look. Sailors, and still they didn't fully understand. They expected him to find a sylph, which was of course part of it, but they never really wanted to think about what else they needed.
The all-important elemental.
Oh, Belard could give them an elemental, but past experience demonstrated that the smoothest ship relations came from elementals that knew the work, who had already been ships and now lusted after another.
"The ship will be called Flying Cloud," said the spokesman.
"You'd better step inside," said Belard, holding his door wider. "Alovak for you all? No, door on the right, more seating in that room. I can have the alovak ready in moments, there are some advantages to being Gifted."
He chattered on amiably, ushering the seven men into his parlor, and smiling until each had chosen a seat. They looked around, though he had no idea what they expected to see.
They should see nothing, as none were Gifted. Belard saw more, even if not much more, and wished again that elementals could make themselves useful around the house. But elementals needed sylphs for proper communication with ordinary humans, and especially tolerant sylphs at that.
Thanks to the Gift, and his peculiar talent, elementals could use him as a limited conduit, able to sense more than they would without him. But for them nothing could better union - as they called it - with a sylph. Yet the prospect of even limited sensation attracted them to him, like bees to nectar.
When he first heard the new ship's planned name - months ago, before the builders laid her keel - he had begun searching for a suitable elemental.
Belard added cold water to the alovak can in his small kitchen and concentrated a few moments, until steam rose gently from the top. He looked quickly over his shoulder, still expecting to see Klee lurking in her usual corner, with glowing silver eyes and earpoints twitching in contentment. He felt a stab of loss and mourning.
He placed eight mugs on the large silver tray he used whenever visitors called, and added the alovak can to the exact center. Old he might be, but not yet doddery. He walked to his parlor with confidence, though he could have done with Klee to open the kitchen door.
He almost tsked. Klee would never have allowed him to make or carry alovak. She had made that kitchen her room in so many ways and, for over half a century, she molded herself to his precise needs. He imagined he could still smell her sinabra, but that had faded weeks ago.
He set the tray down on the table.
"Shall I?" he suggested.
He began pouring the black alovak before anyone could stop him, and received thanks from each man in turn. He filled his own mug last and sank into the remaining chair.
"Now," he said. "I assume you are the owners and officers of this new ship?"
Brown eyes and blue, hazel, green and gray regarded him solemnly. The spokesman shook his head and gestured towards two of his companions. "All except the Sailing Master and his Mate," he replied.
"And you are to captain the Flying Cloud?"
"Yes," nodded the spokesman. "I'm Liffen Trallon."
"Young for a ship's master," said Belard, though he smiled to show he implied no criticism. He pointed to the oldest man present. "I thought this might be the boss."
That man's blue eyes blinked. "I'm Tefric," he replied, "the Sailing Master."
Belard smiled. "Some might say the Sailing Master is the real captain."
Tefric flashed a quick grin as he shrugged. "I wouldn't say it in front of the man himself."
"Perhaps wise." Belard nodded and turned back to Liffen. "You want me to find an elemental for your ship."
Liffen shifted and looked uncomfortable. "I had hoped for a ship's sylph," he muttered.
Belard smiled. "First you need the elemental, then we find a compatible sylph for her. No point in looking for the sylph unless we know which elemental she's getting. They don't always get on, and it's a bit late to find that out after insertion."
Sometimes it could be worse than not getting on; not all sylphs could handle the... shock... of another suddenly invading their most intimate space - themselves. Some even died.
"I see." Liffen's tone implied he didn't.
"And we must ensure the sylph can handle the wide open space of the sea."
"Elementals call it union for a reason. Once inserted, she's in there for life, soul-bonded and inseparable. There's no getting her out again and no escape for the sylph this side of death. So if we choose one who cannot abide open spaces, she's no good to you or the elemental."
"What happens then?" asked the youngest man, probably destined to be the most junior officer.
"Best not to ask," said Belard. "I've never needed to sort the problem out, because I'm careful and ensure I get it right first time round."
More than one of his visitors shifted uncomfortably. They ought to know, all of them! Sylph and ship elemental were two entities sharing one body, though not even Belard knew why an elemental could only bond with sylphs this way. Life would be far simpler if they bonded with humans, but he must work with the clay he'd been given.
While elementals could communicate with and sense other elementals, they were pretty much helpless without a sylph to show them the world they inhabited. Before insertion, a ship's elemental could not see, hear, touch, taste or smell, and even then must use the host's senses. Though male and female sylphs could host elementals, the Gifted had long ago settled on using infertiles for the task. In exchange for surrendering themselves this way, ordinary infertiles attained a status unrivaled by other sylphs, so Belard supposed the relationship could be seen as symbiotic.
Though Belard knew the most likely reason was that infertiles were regarded by some as expendable if the union went wrong.
"Have you got an elemental?" asked one of the other men, as the awkward silence lengthened.
Belard gestured. "There are several in this room," he replied, "but not the one you want."
The one they wanted had shown great interest in the new ship, and delighted in descriptions, but he was not about to tell these men that. A little drama went a long way when he used the Gift. His eyes closed.
Well? What do you think of them?
Belard could not say quite how he managed to speak with the elementals, only that the Gift enabled it. But of course, he could not host any, so they did not speak directly to him.
More a series of impressions than speech.
Because of his talent, he attracted elementals who sensed the Gift. He was only aware of the disturbance caused by their presence and thanks to this awareness, all the elementals could "talk" with him after a fashion, and they crowded him now. When much younger, his attempts to draw elementals into himself for better communication always resulted in pain.
They used to pester Klee, assuming she was a potential ship's sylph, but she remained blissfully ignorant of their presence. Not that any ever realized they wasted their time.
Impressions of impatient demands for ships and sylphs flickered through his mind, quickly building to a blur. They all lusted after the new ship and more hopefuls crowded in with every passing second.
He could almost hear them.
Me, me, me, me...
They could certainly hear him.
Enough! Belard silently shouted them down. You know the ship is Flying Cloud. These men chose the name, not me. Complain to them.
He now sensed petulance, always the way when elementals were rebuffed. They ought to be emotionless, but elementals learned from past ships, sylphs, and crews.
And some were nearer genuine life than others.
The elementals reluctantly retreated as a fresh presence made itself known. Belard knew the right one had joined him. He sensed hope.
He formed pictures in his mind, always the easiest way to communicate. Images of the ship, and each of the men sat in his parlor.
What do you think of these men, Flying Cloud?
By tradition, elementals assumed the name of their first ship and rarely changed. Men often named new ships after old ones.
The elemental sent impressions of comfort in the men's competence and awe about the ship's physical size. The last thing Belard needed was an overawed elemental. He'd never heard of such a thing before.
He sensed sudden amusement from the elemental. I will cope, he thought she might have said.
Belard smiled and opened his eyes.
"Well?" demanded Liffen.
"I have just the elemental for you," said Belard. He glanced at the empty alovak mugs and looked for Klee to clear them away. He remembered again and firmed himself. "Now we must find you a suitable sylph."
More than anything else, she wanted a name.
All-important, names defined individuals as real people. Sylph said what, and infertile described her gender, but only a name said who. Infertile sylph meant nothing more than worker bee, or worker ant. Nobody cared what happened to individuals, only that the hive or colony survived.
Like all infertile sylphs, she knew she stood lower in her parents' eyes than any brother or sister. She had brought her parents no increased honor or status, unlike breeder brothers and sisters. Mothers did what they must by instinct, but it was a matter of duty to the tribe, rather than a labor of love. Once infertiles could stand on their own feet, parents turned away from them and nobody would say why.
They had told her all this, but young infertiles have a poor grasp of future, in the same way they cannot quantify past. So knowing it would happen made it no easier to bear when a vague future became the definite now.
Tears flowed when the separation came, initiated by her mother and not the humans who owned the stud. She had bawled ceaselessly in the cart that took her from home and brought her to this strange place, where seagulls screamed all day and half the night, and where she heard the hubbub of a city in full flow for the first time. She still cried at night over the mother's rejection and her only comfort was that she did not weep alone.
A name would make everything right again, and that privilege came with human ownership. Only then would she count as a person. A collar to proclaim her status, security and - if lucky - love her only rewards. The name could not come soon enough.
She hoped that day would be today.
"You!" the man called out, pointing into the tree. "We have visitors, we need you all in your cages now."
She peered out from the oak branches and gave Jeynard, the owner of the slave market, her very best lopsided smile. She had discovered the tree the moment she arrived and, as she liked climbing, immediately began to explore it. In late spring, it must provide plenty of exciting hiding places, but as it was autumn, the tree instead shed its leaves.
"Now," repeated Jeynard. "Else you might miss your chance to get a name today."
That certainly brought her scrambling down, without getting even a hint of mossy discoloration on her bare legs.
Other younglings pulled on their simple smocks, or hastily toweled themselves after their morning bath. This large garden behind the sales room was an ideal place for young sylphs to play in safety and, indeed, spent most of their time here, when the slave market was closed.
Jeynard-ya must intend an early opening today.
All the sylphs offered for sale entered the main show room together, where dozens of light crystals lit the huge space, so not even the individual cages were gloomy. The cages, each intended to hold a single sylph, were more symbolic of how things used to be done, rather than for sylphs to live in until sold.
Apparently, humans liked tradition and bitterly resented change unless absolutely necessary.
Traditional or not, fresh straw covered the cage floors, so sylphs could snooze if they wished, or relax on the only furniture in the cages: a single three-legged stool.
"Don't go inside," said Harren, one of the female human assistants. "Stand in front of your cages."
Popular with the sylphs because of her kindness, especially with those newly separated from their mothers, she pointed the tree-climber, who was still new, to the right place. The young infertile nodded her thanks, but her attention fixed on the visitors stood near the entrance.
Two of the three men were smartly dressed in blue jackets and trousers, polished black boots gleaming in the crystals' glare, and the third wore a purple robe over a simple tunic.
Traders, unless the young infertile had guessed wrong.
The fourth visitor was an infertile sylph just like her, only older with her growing done. She was similarly dressed to the two traders, except she went barefoot and wore a silver collar.
The man in the purple robe caused her some unease, though she could find no reason why. Sure, his brown eyes looked especially intent, and two strips of silver hair framed a bald crown that looked pinker than the rest of his skin, but his wrinkled face looked kindly enough.
She sensed great age from him, but also... something else.
A hint of sadness as he looked around at the sylphs for sale. Perhaps he felt pity for them all.
Jeynard himself escorted the visitors past the rows of sylphs stood patiently in front of their cages. The purple-robed man looked into the eyes of each and touched the shoulders of some. He asked questions in a low voice of even fewer. He always passed on and most sylphs shrank back from him. Though the silver collar sylph seemed unfazed.
Sometimes, the old man looked over his shoulder at that sylph, but she always shook her head.
Stood before her own cage, she firmed herself, determined not to shrink away when her turn came. She wanted a name. Watched by the others, the old man then stood before her and stared into her silver eyes. Unease turned to fear, but she stood fast, refusing to behave as most others had so far. She sensed, rather than saw, the collared sylph's sympathy.
The man touched her shoulder and blinked in surprise. So did she.
"Do you fear open spaces, little one?" he asked her.
Not exactly the question she expected. She quickly shook her head. Many sylphs avoided wide, open spaces, preferring to walk around the edges than straight across, but they had never bothered her.
"I like climbing," she said, voice almost inaudible.
The old man smiled. "And do you crave a name?"
Her eyes lit and her earpoints stabbed forwards. "Yes," she managed.
He looked over his shoulder. "Airy."
The sylph peered intently at her, then shrugged. "Mayhap," she said, eventually.
She stepped forward and held out a hand, palm facing the uncollared infertile. The tree-climber eyed it warily.
"This will not hurt you," promised the sylph the old man had called Airy, "but it might surprise you. Try not to break the link."
"My name is Aernan," continued Airy, "ship sylph to the Sea Dancer."
"What is a ship sylph?"
"Important," replied Airy. "And valued. And loved. Wanted, needed."
She glanced at the two traders, both of whom leaned forward in anticipation, the older man offering a warm, encouraging smile.
Airy closed her eyes and offered her hand again, resting it gently against the other's forehead. She was aware of purple-robe talking with Jeynard.
"How long has she been here?" he asked.
"Ten days," replied the market owner.
"And she came here straight from the stud?"
Then the she under discussion grew aware of something else and jerked her head back sharply, her earpoints wilting.
"Startled?" asked Airy. "Or frightened?"
"Both," came the other's honest reply.
The ship sylph opened her silver-gray eyes and smiled. "Would you like to try again?"
She gave a sylph's slow blink. "If doing this earns me a name, then yes."
"Good girl," murmured purple-robe.
Almost eagerly, she pushed her head onto Airy's open hand. Now she expected it, she felt a... presence... somehow with her. As if someone or something rummaged around inside her head. A moment later, Airy's hand came away to break the link. She was alone again.
"What's this all about, Belard?" demanded the younger trader. "You want to drag us around all the blasted sylph markets in Cadister?"
Airy laughed. "This one is suitable," she said.
"Suitable for what?" asked the sylph who craved a name.
The men stared at her now. Airy touched the old man's - Belard's - forehead with her hand and he closed his eyes momentarily and shuddered, as if in pain. He looked back at the youngling. "Even better, the ship likes her."
The unnamed infertile tried to break into the conversation, but everybody ignored her again.
Belard turned to Jeynard. "Can we borrow this one for a couple of days?" he asked. "Just to make certain she is suitable? We will of course pay you for borrowing her, if the Flying Cloud's captain decides against."
Jeynard made a throwaway gesture. "Of course you can. Just don't lose her; she meant what she said about the climbing. She'll be scrambling up your ship's masts before you can say hop."
Airy now held the unsold sylph with a hand on each shoulder. "You can come with me and my ship," she said. "Only a short trip, both to ensure everything is all right after the ship's refit and make certain you are comfortable out of sight of land."
Despite Airy's words, the other sylph wasn't listening; instead her attention fixed on the older of the two traders.
"What'll you name her, Tefric, if we buy her?" asked the younger trader.
"Melnea," replied the other man, without hesitation. "She looks like a Melnea and besides, I like the name."
Melnea. She liked the name too and wanted it desperately. Something Airy said caught her attention.
"You did say you liked climbing?"
Airy's smile widened. "I like it too," she said.
Being borrowed is not quite the same as being bought, but the young infertile kept on turning her potential name over and over in her mind.
Melnea, Melnea, Mel-nee-ah...
Withdrawn from the sales room, she could now stay in the rest area until they came back to collect her. She'd overheard this Tefric say what he intended to name her, but that depended on her being bought by them.
She did not really understand precisely her duties as a... a ship sylph, was it? How come not fearing open spaces was so important? And what, exactly, was going on with all this touching of hands to foreheads, and what felt like something else getting involved?
Perhaps those men and that sylph suffered from questionable sanity. The others here had spoken of a sylph who had gone insane, one who remained unsold for almost a year. Nobody said what had ever come of her though. Mad sylphs might go someplace special, where they were kept away from the others.
No, Airy had not come across as mad. Strange certainly, but not mad. Nor the men with her, though the old one looked like he had seen a lot. And he was old. She could not imagine it. Might she live as long as he had? Would she become as wise if she did?
Melnea, Melnea, Melnea...
Yes, she liked the sound of that name. Tefric was right: it suited her. She wanted it, it somehow... fit. It suggested industry and hard work. She could live up to that, she would be ideal in that regard. Whatever a ship sylph might be, she was determined to be the best.
But despite her excitement, nobody returned for her until the next morning.
After dressing in the clothes laid out for her - a linen shirt and woolen breeches that were almost knee-length - she ended her nightfast with the usual bowl of oats. Harren then led her through to one of the outer offices of the sales room, where Tefric and Airy waited for her. Jeynard gave her a quick smile, before securing a leather collar around her neck.
She touched the tag. "A name?" she asked, hopefully.
"Not yet." Jeynard smiled. "It's so the Guard know where to return you should you get lost."
Airy gave her an encouraging smile and touched her arm. "You will not get lost," she promised. "We will be very careful with you."
"We should be two days," said Tefric. "And after that..." He shrugged. "We'll either buy her or return her."
Jeynard spread his hands. "I'm sure she will prove better than adequate."
The infertile sylph hoped so too.
"Right," said Airy, "let's not hang about here, else the tide will have turned against us."
"Tide?" asked the small infertile.
"You will see," promised Airy, as they stepped out from the office, and then onto the street.
Melnea-to-be blinked, and stared.
She was used to Cadister's heat; the sylphs' rest area was outdoors after all, but she had not expected every building to be painted white. This reflected the strong sunlight to almost unbearable levels and she stared at the ground until her eyes had reacted.
When she glanced again at Airy, she saw the ship sylph's black pupils had narrowed to almost invisible vertical slits, and knew her own would look the same. The other sylph kept a tight hold of her hand as she followed Tefric through the crowds crammed into the streets.
"Very busy," she said, wrinkling her nose at some of the smells, her earpoints twitching this way and that.
Airy smiled. "A lot of trade comes through," she said. "Trade brings wealth and wealth brings people, which brings more trade. It is a circle and we are part of it. An important part, unlike some."
The paved stone burned her feet, not yet toughened from hard use. She tried to ignore the sensation, noting that Airy's callused feet had a layer of skin hardened almost to leather. She looked up to see that nearly all roofs were flat, then glanced down again to avoid treading in any of the numerous gull droppings splattered everywhere. She heard their calls and screams, much louder now she was properly outside.
She looked at the people. Cadister boasted a wide range of humanity: dark-skinned men from the west; southerners with their slanted eyes; men with pallid skins and pale blue or green eyes; men with honey-colored skins and men with skins every shade between.
Only the sylphs looked the same, though some were tanned a deeper blue than others. All had silvery-gray hair and silver or silver-gray eyes. Everybody hurried about their business, perhaps to have it complete before the day reached its full heat.
Smells mingled in the thickening air.
Perfumes, oils and soaps that people used on their bodies competed with each other, together with the rather less pleasant odor of unperfumed human. Sylph sinabra was everywhere, as sylphs outnumbered humans anyway. The sweetish smell of horse manure gave the city's aroma an additional twist.
And the people! There were rich and poor, not to mention human and sylph beggars whose cries for alms competed with those making a more honest living.
"Life looks tough for some," she remarked, watching a young human boy beg from several passers-by. A bundle in one corner turned out to be a sylph, one grimy blue arm thrust out, palm upwards. She blinked as she realized the beggar was a breeder. Not what she expected.
Airy nodded and increased her grip on the other's hand as Tefric turned a corner. "Yes," she replied. "Not everybody makes a good go of it here. Nearly there."
She now looked down a small hill and could almost taste the salt tang on the wind blowing up from the harbor. What seemed to be a forest of trees stripped of their branches poked above the height of the buildings.
"Poles?" she asked.
Airy smiled. "You could say that," she replied. "They are ships' masts."
As the road leveled, the still-nameless sylph finally saw green-blue water, and glimpsed the empty horizon beyond.
Turning a corner, she saw they had arrived.
If anything, the port looked even busier than the city it served. Men and sylphs loaded carts with crates of fish, carrying them out from a long, low building, where women stripped off filthy aprons, only to turn and begin to wash them in a trough of salt water.
A good number of ragged sylphs stood nearby, many looking disappointed. She saw most were infertiles, so not all sylph beggars were breeders.
"Hoping for cast off pieces of fish," said Airy, who noticed where her companion's attention lay. "That's where they prepare the night's catch. The guts are taken inland, where they are used to help fertilize the land."
The quayside (Airy told her three long jetties formed the harbor) was crowded and all her senses were wakened together.
Workers carried crates, pushed handcarts, all shouting for a clear route. Huge horses with hairy fetlocks pulled cargo stacked on large carts, sometimes four or even six animals to a cart. The workers - sylphs sweated alongside humans here - avoided each other with apparent ease, clearly used to the press of people.
She stared in awe at the ships crowding the quay. Spars, hoisted up the mast, were used as cranes, lifting all manner of boxes, barrels, crates and livestock from ships onto the quay, or from the quay onto ships about to leave. Quayside and ships fairly crackled with the buzz of industry.
Then she spotted an infertile sylph doing nothing. Her ragged blue shirt and short breeches had more patches than original cloth, and she wore a plain leather collar with no decoration. She sat quite at her ease atop fishing nets piled on the foredeck of one of the smaller ships. Watching everything going on, she looked completely unabashed to be the only one not busy. Come to that, nobody came to harry her into work either, but were happy to leave her be.
Now she had seen one idler, she saw others and all were infertile sylphs. Some watched cargo or crew as things were carried across gangways or slung from the spars used as temporary cranes. A couple lounged against ship rails, staring sightlessly at the bustling quay wearing a seen-it-all-before expression. Others chatted with ship's officers or gold-laced harbor officials. At least two she spotted were curled up asleep, basking in the autumn sunshine.
"Why aren't they working?" she asked.
Tefric and Airy laughed.
"They are ship sylphs," explained Airy. "Not much for us to do when the ship is alongside."
"They might help," she said.
Airy used her free hand to rub the younger sylph's arm. "Assuming you pass this next test, you will be so much more valued than other sylphs. We ship sylphs are luckier than most."
"Certainly worked less hard," she muttered.
"Did they tell you how much your life gets better when you have an owner?" asked Airy.
"Well, it is true for us," said Airy, "but not for everybody."
"It is not true for all sylphs?"
"No." Airy shook her head for unnecessary emphasis. "It is rubbish to tell all sylphs this is so."
The younger sylph blinked.
"Oh, there are good owners out there, but they want you to do things they would rather not do themselves. All chores and hard work, with perhaps a reward of choca once every other week or even less. And there is worse."
"Worse?" echoed the other.
"At least as a ship's sylph, you will be valued. Really, truly valued." Airy grinned. "They dare not deliberately hurt you, for fear of harming or angering the ship. They will speak with you as an equal and you rank with whoever's table you share. Remember it is the ship's collar you wear, not the captain's, not the company's."
"Yes, the ship's," nodded Melnea-to-be.
"Prove your ability - that depends a lot on the ship, rather than you - and you will be loved and respected by your crew."
She blinked as she was led around another corner.
"Here we are," said Airy. "The Sea Dancer. And, for me, home."
Melnea-to-be, or so she hoped, stared open-mouthed at the ship before her. Among the largest she had seen, the Sea Dancer must be at least a hundred pacas long and very probably more. Unlike the smaller fishing vessels, this ship did not bounce so much on the waves reaching the quay. Two masts - one towering over the other - showed where she supposed the sails must hang. She spotted the yards for the sails, without knowing what they were, and also noticed where the oars were stowed.
"A lot of oars," she said.
"Fifty-four a side," replied Airy, a touch of pride entering her voice. "A man to each oar. Yours will have ninety."
"Seventy-five normally," put in Tefric, "but you're quite right, there will be spaces for ninety each side. But we only plan to have one hundred and eighty crew."
"Your ship is impressive," said the inexperienced sylph.
Airy's eyes narrowed for a brief moment. "I forget you have not seen yours yet," she said.
The other sylph blinked. "Is she large?"
"You might say that." There was no doubting the envy in Airy's voice.
Tefric chuckled. "Flying Cloud will be the biggest ship ever to sail from Cadister, certainly since we began to keep records," he told her. "About three hundred pacas long plus bowsprit, one hundred and eighty oars, three masts and a sail area more than thrice what Sea Dancer can carry."
She didn't; she had failed to understand half of what the new ship's Sailing Master had told her.
"Airy!" bellowed a stentorian voice, accustomed to bawling commands in a gale. "Airy, get your scrawny blue backside aboard, before this ruddy tide changes!"
Airy winked at the other sylph. "Undwin, our Sailing Master," she said. "Do not be frightened by his voice, he likes to show it off."
"You're quite safe," Tefric assured her. "There's lots of shouting on lots of ships; people must make themselves heard with everything going on around them."
Airy took the younger sylph by a hand and led her across the gangway and onto the ship's deck.
Undwin, a short man almost as wide as he was tall, regarded the youngling with twinkling sapphire-blue eyes. He stuck out a hand and grinned at her. "You must be the sylph for Tefric's new ship," he said.
She managed a shy nod, before the human's rough, callused hand engulfed her own.
"Ha! She looks shy enough at the moment, Tefric lad, but I see mischief shining in these big eyes."
She blinked at the Sea Dancer's Sailing Master.
Undwin's attention returned to her. "Welcome aboard. We're only going on a short trip, to test the planks."
And me, she thought.
"Have they given you a name yet?" asked Undwin.
She shook her head.
"We can't keep calling you girl, so we'll give you a nickname. Cloudy, after the ship you're bound for, with luck."
She liked the sound of that, too.
Tefric wore a disapproving expression, probably fearful that the sylph would suddenly bond with the wrong people, but he could do little about nicknames aboard someone else's ship.
Undwin raised his voice, addressing everybody on deck. "We welcome aboard Sailing Master Tefric, of Flying Cloud, and the sylph intended for that ship. The miserable beggars haven't bought or named her yet, so we'll call her Cloudy, eh lads?"
Friendly laughter met Undwin's words.
"I will call you Cloudy too," Airy assured the younger sylph. "Make you feel more at home."
A tall, thin man introduced himself as Captain Nelphin and another broad individual turned out to be Second Mate Farren. A dark-skinned man up at the bow of the ship gave her a friendly wave, and he happened to be First Mate Velbin.
All the men gave Airy friendly nods and words, while giving the visitor curious glances, neutral but not hostile.
Tefric drew the young sylph to one side of the quarterdeck, an area set back from the main deck and built higher. Men readied ropes, and the yards with the all-important sails were secured in place, ready for hoisting.
He explained what the men were about.
"With this wind, we won't need to row out of the harbor," he told her. "The sails are called lateens, which most trading ships carry. Some smaller ships have their yards secured permanently in place up the masts, but that can be an awkward arrangement."
"That long wooden thing with the sail tied on is the yard?" asked Melnea-to-be.
Tefric grinned. "Good girl. A ship with the yard and sail tied onto the mast is known as a standing rig. Because we can hoist and lower the yard on these ships, we call it a running rig."
The young sylph nodded.
"And because trading ships follow trade winds, which are usually constant, once the sails are set, they can stay set for days. Even better, we can set the sails so they never rest against the mast or rigging. That's called a bad tack. When we want to change direction, we wear ship - pass the stern through the wind - slacken the upper brace, tighten the lower brace, bring the yard vertical, pass it around the front of the mast, and adjust the braces again."
The sylph nodded again, more from politeness than genuine understanding. They probably expected her to learn it all.
"You do all that with the sail still hoisted?"
Tefric laughed. "You'll learn. We have to brail the sail until the yard is in position again. When we sail, you might get a demonstration."
The newly-nicknamed Cloudy looked all around as Undwin shouted more orders and men attached the two yards. More men let go most of the lines securing Sea Dancer to the quay, until only two remained.
A shantyman began to sing and the sylph blushed bright blue as she understood the words. The men pulled on the haulyards while shouting out single words relevant to the song, and those words formed another, very rude, sentence. Her earpoints twitched with amusement as she worked it out. Watchers staring aloft gave a sign by forming fists with both hands and touching them together.
"Chock-a-block," murmured Tefric.
"The sails are still tied up," pointed out the sylph.
"Watch," said Tefric.
Men surrounding the smaller mast pulled on more ropes, and the triangular sail dropped into place, flapping in the fresh breeze. Airy, stood beside a second helmsman, turned the ship's wheel as the men sheeted the sail in so it drew the wind. The last two ropes were released and hauled in.
Frenetic activity continued as the large mainsail was pulled free and into place. Men walked along the decks, ensuring that lines attached to the bottom of the sail swung free.
"Those lines are the brails, used for furling the sails," explained Tefric, but the watching sylph gave him a blank look, her earpoints unresponsive.
Sea Dancer, both sails now set, picked up speed, began to list to port as the wind strengthened, and sailed free of Cadister's familiar and comforting harbor. Almost immediately, the young, inexperienced sylph felt the ship begin to rise and fall as she ploughed her way through sea waves. A strange sensation, but she quickly learned to counter it.
Cloudy stared at the wall they now passed, with strange square bulges set at regular intervals. Beyond most, she saw ships' masts rising towards the clouds, and in one or two, the square bulges had been pulled away to show a flooded dock beyond.
"Those square things are called caissons," explained Tefric. "Your ship goes into the dock, they move a caisson across the end, flood that with water, then pump the water out of the dock. The caisson then acts like a plug."
The last dock looked new. The sea wall was freshly built and the other caissons' wood showed more weathering in comparison. From that dock, the young sylph heard hammering and sawing, and saw improvised cranes lowering stacks of timber into the dock bottom.
And she thought the plug, the caisson, might be twice as large as the others.
"They had to build a new dock for us," murmured Tefric. "And on the other side of that caisson, they are building the Flying Cloud."
Cloudy took a deep breath and hoped she would not let herself down. She wanted that name!