The waves crested out from the breaking prow of The Spinnaker, sending white froth streaming off the top of the blue ocean it broke through. Rising and falling, it made good headway, and rounded the isle in the cover of the early darkness, just as Prince Garindin hoped it would, risked it would. Their lives depending on that risk, they had known it, but it was worth it. They hoped too. Staying would have made them passengers on a luxury cruise straight into the Sarasin Armada.
The captain, Sillanius himself, stood at the wheel and gave commands to the others. He was now a young man of some 20 years, in Celn lands, old enough to have known many seasons as a sailor in the Royal Navy. Areia couldn’t help smile knowing that his life and all he now gave back, was a product of a split reaction they had taken there under Far Realm. It seemed like so long ago, and as she lived and breathed, she couldn’t believe it was only less than a month. To Sillanius, and the rest of the world she knew, somehow so much more.
Hojo Mandrake, who never wore shoes of any kind, and who wore this ridiculous noble’s hat but little else made his way here and there. He was a standout that’s for sure, as the fleet under the Prince was a well run outfit and their attire was proper, cuffed, and crisp. The Prince’s friend, by contrast, was not. Nor apparently did he seem cut out for a naval battle of any kind, unless it involved hurling jokes overboard perhaps. He checked the sails and riggings, and seemed to know the ins and outs of the ship well. Everywhere he would go, he would check little things and stop for some reason. He’d talk to each of the sailors, crack some joke, and they smiled. My how he made them laugh too. But there was always something else, and Areia, whose own humor was often a cover for her inner thoughts and dare she say feelings, knew it was simply respect. It was clear, that despite his unofficial title as the “Prince’s Jester”, he was well regarded. Good she thought. If we are going to babysit the Prince’s buddy, at least he won’t piss us off too badly then.
The fleet was well behind them now, and with each rise and fall of the vessel, the battle felt further and further away. As did First Isle, and the dangers they had faced there.
Iricah went into the galley on the main deck and poured herself a cup of water from the communal barrel. When from behind her, she heard the voice of Hojo. “I’ve heard the rumors about First Isle,” said the throaty yet jovial voice of the jester. “In fact, I hear that it is covered in beasts that shake the ground like thunder! I’ve never been there, but always wanted to. So hard to be so close. You must have seen some incredible things there!”
Iricah smiled, “You know, I gotta say, I think that thunder beasts might have been the only thing we did NOT see on the island!”
Hojo laughed and smiled. It was much more genuine than she expected. “Your name is Iricah?”
“Well, I’m Hojo Mandrake!” said the friendly man. “Prince’s Jester, at your disservice.” He took a little bow in the Cillandrial fashion, and as he did so, his hat tipped over. Iricah bent over to catch it and when she did, the bottom flipped over to face her. Handing it back to him she noticed inside it was filled with Cillandrial Chocolate Squares dressed traditionally in their little purple papers wrapped in green ribbon. As was the custom, each was shaped in the form of a little dragon, the same dragon whose very defeat marked the age of Borindin. This was a delicacy she had craved since leaving. And on a ship like this, in the middle of nowhere, it would be a commodity worth paying for in silver, not copper.
“Oh my!” She said without meaning to, “Oh!”
Mandrake winked knowingly and held the hat out to her, offering her to take one, and then another. “No good Celn can pass up the comforts of home, so far from home Madame. Sometimes one must take a bit with us! Please, enjoy another!” She couldn’t help herself and did so, smiling back. The jester put the hat back on his head, and went off to visit with another portion of the crew.
“He’s good for morale!” Yelled Sillanius from the wheel. “Can you tell?” He was looking over at Iricah who was already putting the chocolate into her mouth. It was the best thing she had tasted in ages. She could feel the little chocolate scales melt in her mouth just the way they used to, reminding her of home, Cillandar. Family. And…
“I’sshllll mbet!” she blurted out through her full mouth. And before she could remember more, she swallowed the chocolate down, the taste of memories she had thought she could rid of herself sliding down the back of her throat.
“Iricah, Iricah! Wait until you see! Just you wait!” cried the excited young man.
“What is it?”
“No, no. Not that easy sister! You have to come to my workshop tonight! Say 8 of the clock, ok? Oh….” and he rubbed his hands together.
Iricah knew it must have been good indeed. Galen only rubbed his hands together when he was really excited about something. What could it be she wondered.
And just like that it was gone. Iricah woke quickly sitting up without meaning to do so. She nearly hit her head on the beam above her bunk, but luckily she had already dressed it. She had learned much from her journey across the still waters. “It’s been a long time since we’ve talked, brother,” she hissed out to herself. Angry at herself for the dream, and for the conversation about it with no good purpose, Iricah rose and jumped down quietly so as to not wake the others.
He was there again. In the same grassy field as he once sat next to the old man. The day he learned not who he was, but who he would be.
“The birds, Frank. We are here to observe the birds.”
“I don’t understand,” said Frank. He had been led here several times before. It was a full day’s ride from Cillandar, and Tiresias, despite the lack of any reason for it, always led him to the same meadow, here in the middle of this forest, that had no meaning for either of them he was aware of. Franks’ red skin was crinkling and it was painful. The sun was cresting over the treetops and despite the fact that Tiresias knew this, he still insisted they sit in the middle of an empty meadow.
“I will burn again, old man,” said Frank. “Is this what you want?”
“I want you to observe the birds, young one.”
Iricah draped a blanket around her shoulders and climbed up the quarter’s stairs to the main galley. There she found Hojo playing a small stringed instrument. A few other ship’s crew were talking or playing games. Frank was there as well, consulting a book of some kind. The instrument Hojo played she soon recognized as a Trebian lyre. It had been years since she had seen one. It had a sweet, yet melancholy tune, and made her a bit sad.
“Couldn’t sleep? ” asked the jester. “Some of my music will only make it worse. Might want to backtrack down the ladder while you still can.” She couldn’t help it and smiled. For a jester, he was too damn simple. “Besides, Marcus ate all my chocolates. Never leave a hat of chocolates lying around a man whose mother was ogre I always say.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Iricah, pointed to the lyre. “It’s Trebian, no? I haven’t seen one in some time.”
“Well done, Mistress Bard,” said Hojo. “It is indeed a Trebian lyre!”
“Where did you get such an instrument, Hojo?”
“Ah, good question! This. This was a gift from the King himself! You see, his poor son began to spend so much time in my company laughing and making merry, the King was worried he would be taken for marriage in one of the many brothels and bars I tend to frequent. So he gave me this to play whenever Garindin needed a reminder of the sadness love can bring!”
“Well, are you sure you aren’t a bard then?” Iricah laughed at her own little joke, but Hojo did too.
“I think we all play the bard a bit, don’t we, Madame?”
“I suppose we do, Hojo.” Iricah looked over at Frank who was there as well, he looked a bit green. And lost in thought as well. “You don’t care for the sea life, do you Frank?”
“No, I quite prefer to be on dry land. Cillandar. That was my home.”
“Mine too, Frank. I miss it, the grand harbor, docks full of ships being loaded with cargo for far off destinations. Rows upon rows of masts and sails as far as the eye can see. The Temple Mount behind upon the white sandstone cliffs and the King’s Tower high in the sun over Serpent’s Bay.”
“The markets of wares, and exotic foods and spices.” said Frank, his eyes twinkling now. “The people of every walk of life, the Lighted Infantry, silver, green, gold.”
“The King’s Royal wing of griffons flying in formation from Cellione, or Lessina, or…”
“The King,” said Iricah to herself and she gulped down her drink. She said no more, but little escapes a court jester.
“I take it you aren’t a fan?” asked Hojo. He chuckled but knew there would be no reply. His Majesty was the Realm, and the Realm was his majesty. One rarely insulted one without the other. But like all jesters, tellers, the oral tradition of the Celns made this talk off the record so to speak. In many ways, talking to either was like good therapy. “Now don’t you worry Madame Bard, his good majesty won’t need hear any of this, nor should he care I’d wager if he’s half the man he claims to be! What say you we drink to His Majesty’s fallacies, whatever those may be to you!”
Iricah simply nodded. “Well go ahead, then Hojo. Here, hand me the lyre and you can sing verse.”
And as all played on into the night, in the many leagues outside before they arrived in Silvershore, Iricah and Frank and the prince’s personal comedian, sang to the fallacies of the King. And this was the song.
Oh I’ll sing you a song,
of a King’s ego so strong
that his dishes all bear his good name.
Of a man who parades
down the streets he has claimed
while his subjects all toil as good slaves.
Home, home in the Realm!!!!
While the men all are sent off to he….
“Blast you, Hojo! That’s enough!” yelled one of the men who had been playing cards. He like the few others still awake, were now at their feet, and several had their hands on the hilts of their swords and axes.
“Oy, laddies! I meant no offense, meant no offense! Just some simple sarcasm and farcity! Right?”
“Well, there’s a limit to comic relief,” said the man, “We just left good Prince Garindin, and the rest of our fleet to fend for themselves out there. You’re on a pleasure cruise back to safety because of it.”
“Aye aye, my goodly Celns. Aye aye. You’re a right stout group of patriots. The King would be proud of every last one of ya! And I know you’ve missed your chance to prove yourself out there.” He raised his mug and winked at Iricah, “To the Good King Borindin, and his loyal subjects!”
“To the King.” They muttered. Sitting down, as the games resumed, Iricah handed the lyre back to Hojo. He placed it back in his lap and strummed another melancholy tune.
“Good night, Hojo,” said the bard getting up and stepping towards the ladder well. “You have quite the talent for stirring our Celn brethren.”
Hojo smiled, and bowed his head, his fingers plucking the thicker strings. She climbed down into the darkened quarters. His soft music following along with her all the way to her hammock, and into her head as she drifted off to a dreamless peace.