I'm now ploughing ahead with this novella, the sequel to Gifted Apprentice. Below is the second draft of Chapter 1. Read and enjoy...
Journey to the Mainland
The ferry had crossed the mila or so of choppy green-brown water between Taura's quayside and the narrow channel that led out to sea with surprising speed. Sallis ti Ath found a quiet corner of the deck to stand and watch, well clear of the oarsmen.
He had spent two days enjoying and ogling the sights of Re Taura's capital city, waiting for the ferry to the mainland. Two days to Calcan, unless they ran into any storms, then he must travel overland to Marka, the city everybody called the Jewel of the World.
The tide had begun to ebb and the expanse of water ahead gave the deceptive appearance of great width. But the channel was narrow here, marked by brightly-colored floating bladders. Rocky flats protruded far into the gap and lurked beneath the water at high tide, waiting to wreck the foolhardy or ignorant. A castle atop its own small island loomed far above, its turrets dominating the passage leading to the harbor.
Bells rang out from within the castle, urgent sounds of emergency. There must have been something in his stance, because another passenger smiled at him.
"They test those bells every week," said the man. "The Mametain's son is an inventive sort and likes to experiment. Nobody knows exactly what he's up to, but they say he had the bells installed, just in case."
"In case of what?" asked Sallis.
"Precisely." The man smiled again. "That's what we'd like to know. But at least Castle Beren's far enough from Taura for us to be safe."
"I see." The wind freshened as the ferry left the shelter of the land and Sallis pulled his brown cloak tight around his shoulders. Those shoulders had broadened as Sallis the boy matured into Sallis the man. He had grown tall too, and not just for his age.
"Going to Calcan, or headed further abroad?" asked the stranger.
Sallis had been warned to guard his tongue. "For now, Calcan."
"Me too. My family's in Calcan, so I ought to spend some time there. I'm from Re Taura though. Sounds like you're from one of the outer islands."
Sallis blinked and watched the sudden bustle as sailors readied the sails. As the ferry cleared the channel, the crew hauled on ropes and the sails filled. The wind freshened further and oars were no longer needed. As cream-colored canvas filled the gaps between the masts, the ferry heeled and gathered speed.
"From Re Annan," replied Sallis, eventually.
"Not enough work? Or just want to see the world?"
Sallis smiled. "Both," he replied.
Sallis had spent most of the past four years working on his father's farm. Elvallon still visited and remained friendly, but a definite edge had crept into their relationship. It took Sallis a couple of years to realize that his old tutor was wary. His return visits to Leynx grew less and less frequent.
That was a shame, because Lyssan always gave him a warm welcome, but it was rare for her to accompany Elvallon when he traveled north.
Sallis used his talents whenever possible, catching those who liked to steal other people's sheep, or those prisoners the Guard managed to lose. He had never worked out if the Guard suffered from incompetence or carelessness. He had certainly amassed gold of his own, but Hayland always said the best work would be found on the mainland. And the most rewarding.
"But who will help on the farm?" demanded Sallis. Now his sisters were married, his parents would be alone on the farm once he left.
"We'll cope as we always have," replied Hayland. "Neighbors and friends. And we can still call on Barten and his family when needed."
Sallis thinned his lips. "When I can afford it, I'll send you sylphs," he promised. "They can help. And if you have male and female sylphs, perhaps that'll be another way to make money."
Hayland waved a dismissive hand. "We'll make the farm smaller," he announced. "Fewer mouths means we need less money."
Sallis smiled. "I'll send you the sylphs," he promised. "They're probably cheaper on the mainland than here."
"More common, certainly," replied Hayland.
The number of sylphs on Re Taura opened Sallis's eyes. He had always imagined sylphs to be the preserve of the wealthy, but seeing so many about their errands, he now realized most people here must have them as servants. He had not bothered to learn their cost. Once he'd paid his ferry fare, he had enough spare coin for a horse after he arrived in Calcan. Get established first; buy sylphs for his father's farm later.
Sallis now stared at the sylph hovering beside the steersman. He had no idea exactly what a ship's sylph was for, but she appeared to be a valued member of the crew. She even wore the same: canvas trousers, white shirt and a blue serge jacket with wooden buttons.
Elvallon had left Sallis's education concerning sylphs to Lyssan, the only sylph Sallis knew well. Lyssan claimed to be a proper sylph and never hid her vague contempt for infertiles, shaking her head whenever one was referred to as "she".
"Not she," she always said, shaking her head. "I am a she. They are neuters who cannot breed. What use are they?"
From what Sallis had seen in the past two days, infertiles filled lots of uses, and dashed about their tasks with an efficient air. Most servants he had seen running errands were infertiles, and that included the ship's sylph he now watched at her duty.
She stood with feet planted apart, earpoints slanted forward and twitching in excited curiosity, and her silvery eyes glowed with pleasure. More sylphs stood beside their owners, all with wilted earpoints and all, Sallis suddenly noticed, looking landwards.
"Bring much food with you?" asked Sallis's new friend, looking hopeful.
"No," replied Sallis. "I paid for my meals with my ferry fare."
"Ah." The other man nodded and looked disappointed at the same time. "Probably sensible."
Sallis thought so too, and his attention returned to the ship's sylph.
There was little difference between her and other sylphs. Skin and hair color the same, earpoints and vertically slit pupils... Shorter than Lyssan and certainly not as developed, but she was clearly a sylph.
As Re Taura grew smaller and smaller, and the unbroken horizon ahead widened, Sallis noticed the other sylphs vanish below one by one. An infertile began it, and before long the only sylph left on the upper deck belonged to the ship.
"Why have they gone?" he wondered aloud.
"That's sylphs for you," said his friend, overhearing. "They don't like being at sea."
Sallis nodded towards the ship sylph. "Doesn't bother her."
"She's probably used to it."
Pushing the strangeness of sylphs out of his thoughts, Sallis leaned on the rail, stared into the water and dreamed of Calcan.