A familiar face (or two).
“NO! LISTEN TO me! I’m telling you, we have to go to North Point. North Point!” The furious young woman jabbed her arm in a northerly direction, no doubt unaware that the island kingdom in question was actually to the east of Ihra. “We can’t just turn back.”
Orla looked from the skinny young woman to the enormous man she was shouting at and swallowed. She knew outsiders were generally taller than Ihrans, but this man wasn’t just tall, he was huge – broad shoulders, long legs, strong arms. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in her mother’s forests, standing with his roots in the ground. The expression on his face was as forbidding as the way his arms folded across his broad chest and Orla felt a momentary pang of worry for the angry young woman.
That was it, that was all he said. No.
Orla blinked, she had expected roaring, bluster or intimidation. Instead he’d used brevity.
The other woman didn’t appear to share Orla’s appreciation, for she raised her arms to the air and practically howled, “Why won’t you listen to me?”
The tall man’s lips twitched, ever so slightly. “Is your name Kilpapan?” he asked, almost sweetly.
The woman scowled. “No.”
“Are you married to a Kilpapan?”
A slight hesitation, followed by a swift glance around the skyship deck – which was crowded with sailors watching the exchange with obvious amusement. Her face turned sullen. “No.”
“Are you paying for this trip?”
“No!” She stamped her foot. “But -”
“Were you invited on this trip?” the man continued, raising his voice to drown out her protest.
The woman merely growled.
He smiled. “Precisely. Now, tell me again why it is that I should listen to you?”
“My father will hear about this,” the young woman snarled and stormed off, leaving the tall man chuckling.
“You’d best hope he doesn’t,” he muttered, before catching Orla’s eye and winking at her. “Esteemed Forester and Master Artisan, you’ve returned.”
Orla’s parents grasped her hands and towed her across the deck, sweeping her helplessly along on the tide of their enthusiasm.
“Yes, captain, yes. Here, look. Here is our daughter. Isn’t she wonderful? Don’t you want to take her away? Won’t you make something of her so that she stops being this quiet, sensible disappointment to our adventurous souls?”
They didn’t use those exact words, of course, but Orla had been through this dance enough times to understand the subtext. While her father burbled excitedly, her mother performed the correct introductions.
“Well met, Georlanash Apprentice Uhra daGeanarla,” the ship’s captain greeted with flawless courtesy, his Westron falling into the rolling cadences unique to Ihra. As far as Orla could tell, no outsiders ever spoke Ihran, but few enough bothered to pick up their quirky additions to the trade language of Westron either. Her parents had ensured her grasp of both Westron and Imercish was passable enough to survive the world-travelling adventures they longed to subject her to, but she still appreciated this man’s attempt to make her feel welcome. “It is a pleasure to welcome you aboard the Miryhl Heart.”
“The pleasure is all mine, captain,” she replied, her voice gruff and a little stilted as she tried to keep all trace of her accent and Ihran cadence out of her Westron. “She is a fine ship.”
He smiled, not condescendingly or with amusement, but with genuine friendliness. “I like to think so,” he said, running his hand across the rail of the stairs that led to the navigation deck behind him. “I hope you will find her as fine to live on as she is to look at.”
“Oh, truly?” Her father clasped his hands together rapturously. “You will take her?”
The captain inclined his head, smiling at Orla. “I will take her.”
“Oh!” Orla’s parents burst into flurries of gratitude, praising the ship and the captain to the skies. Orla stared at the traitorous bag by her feet and tried not to feel too embarrassed. Shipped off again, but where or why she had no idea. Although not to North Point, if the angry young woman was to be believed.
“I have long heard tell of the greatness of the Kilpapan family,” her mother rumbled in her solid tones, “but never had I heard of your kindness.”
The captain laughed. “It’s a new trade I’m testing for the countess.”
The adults all laughed, leaving Orla none the wiser as to what they were talking about, or what they had planned for her. Was she to become a trader?
Orla considered the career for a moment and decided it wasn’t too awful. She had never been much interested in leaving Ihra, but there were worse fates. She hadn’t much wanted to travel the Overworld, but she could probably grow used to it. As fond as she was of home and her comforts, she supposed she could make a skyship her home. She wasn’t attached to her parents’ house so much as the stability of always returning to the same place, centring herself in the familiar space. A skyship could easily serve in that role for her. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so very bad.
Wood slammed against wood as the young woman of earlier stormed back onto the top deck. “You!” she snarled.
Orla blinked, staring up into blazing blue eyes and taking a step back. She almost tripped over her bag before realising the venom was not aimed at her.
The captain folded his arms across his chest again. “Taryn,” he greeted neutrally.
“Jedness says I’m to scrub the pots. Me! Scrub pots!”
Orla’s mother gave an approving nod at such a sensible chore, while her father clasped his hands to his chest again in enjoyment of the drama unfolding before his very eyes.
The captain raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“It’s an outrage!” The woman did not disappoint, throwing up her arms and tossing her head of short, feather-light blonde curls. “That’s servants work!”
The captain stared at her for a long moment, before loosening one arm enough to indicate the broad confines of his ship’s upper deck. “You have sailed with us for two and a half moons. How many servants do we have?”
The woman, Taryn, cast a dismissive glance around the deck. “You know what I mean.” She flicked her hand. “You cannot expect me to do menial chores.”
“If not you, who else, silly chid?” someone muttered from the crowd of sailors, whose amusement over the proceedings was swiftly turning sour.
Orla linked her hands behind her back, clenching and flexing her hands and willing the woman to silence.
Taryn would not be silenced. She whipped her head towards the crowd, eyes narrowing. “What did he call me? I am not a silly chit!”
“Chid,” the captain corrected. “He called you a chid.”
Taryn tossed her head again. “I am not one of those either, whatever that is.”
“A child.” An older woman emerged from the crowd of sailors, a red silk scarf embroidered with golden thread tied around her head, covering her left eye. A pale scar marred her left cheek and she walked with a stick, but there was no denying the straightness of her spine or the respectful way the other sailors stepped back to let her pass. “Chid is the Mistruan word for a child, a brat, a silly little annoyance.”
Taryn scowled at the woman but didn’t answer back.
The captain smiled with appreciation. “My thanks for the language lesson, first mate. Was it you who assigned our dear little stowaway to scullery duty?”
The older woman nodded. “I thought it time she tasted what real life was like on a ship, instead of treating it like a holiday where she gives out the orders.” She met her captain’s eyes and raised her chin with a hint of defiance. “Was I mistaken?”
The captain smiled warmly. “A little, perhaps,” he said, his voice mild. “Taryn is right, she does not belong in the scullery.” The younger woman’s head came up, a triumphant smirk on her lips. The first mate and the rest of the crew scowled with disapproval. “She belongs on the jakes. See to it, Dakka.”
Taryn’s jaw dropped with shock, while the first mate’s lips curled into an entirely unfriendly grin. “Ay, ay, captain.”
“But you can’t -” Taryn found her voice, only for the first mate to grab her by the arm and drag her back below decks.
“We’ve heard too much can’t from you, lady muck. Come oversee your new kingdom.”
“Derry!” the girl – and Orla realised now that for all her sophisticated accent and airs, Taryn really wasn’t much more than a girl – yelped as she was hauled away.
The captain ignored her and smiled at his Ihran guests once more. “Forgive the intrusion, just a little clean up with the crew, you understand.”
“Ha!” Orla’s father slapped his hands together. “These youngsters are all alike. They argue and they push and they protest until you lay down boundaries, and then all they do is whine and moan.” He shot a sly glance sideways. “All except my Georlanash, of course.”
“Of course.” The captain tipped his head, taking the implied hint not to punish this young woman with similar chores. “We’d never expect a passenger to clean the jakes, regardless of their behaviour.”
Passenger? Orla tensed, squeezing her hands so hard behind her back that her fingertips tingled. Was she not to become an apprentice trader? What did her parents have in mind for her then?
Her parents laughed heartily. “Georlanash is a good girl,” her mother said. “She is not afraid of hard work. She will take her turn in the scullery with no fuss, should you ask her.”
Orla barely tamped down her own protest at the words. After all, no one wanted to be volunteered for such things when they didn’t have to do them.
Thankfully the captain was shaking his head. “No, no, I assure you, we have plenty of crew for the work. You have paid more than enough for your daughter to travel in comfort all the way to Nimbys. There will be no need for her to work for her passage.”
Paid? Orla didn’t think her parents had ever paid anyone to take her away before. Normally they were happy to simply give her away.
Then the destination caught up to her. Nimbys? Her parents were sending her to the Imercian capital, home of the Stratys and the great Cathedral of Maegla. Although Orla had never imagined she would willingly leave Ihra, there were two places on the Overworld she would dearly like to visit, and Nimbys was one of them.
A small bubble of excitement gathered in her tingling fingers.
“You have the letters?” her mother asked seriously. “And that is all that is required? You are quite certain?”
The captain nodded firmly. “Utterly certain. I have the letters and I will see that suitable accommodation is arranged. I will not abandon your daughter in the city, my word on that.”
“Oh!” Orla’s father clapped his hands and turned to her with pride and excitement swimming in his eyes. “My dearest daughter, off into the Overworld at last, to fame and renown, a legend like no other.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her soundly on each cheek. “The first Ihran Rift Rider! Oh!”
The first Ihran Rift Rider?
Orla blinked dumbfounded at her father.
A Rift Rider? Her?
Her mother seized Orla in her strong arms and crushed her against her chest. “We are so proud of you,” she whispered, adding her own kisses to Orla’s burning cheeks.
Released, Orla swayed on her feet and realised they’d done it. Her parents had finally managed it. They’d found the one thing in life that Orla wanted more than anything and found a way to make it happen.
Not even to herself had she admitted her deepest, most private dream was to become a Rift Rider. To take to the sky on the back of a miryhl. To fly. To explore. To protect. Because such things didn’t happen to Ihrans. Never had, never would. Ihrans didn’t fly.
Orla grabbed each of her parents hands and smiled, anticipation bubbling up inside of her and bursting into words. “I will make you proud,” she promised.
Her parents beamed, confident as always that their plans were the best plans, and raised her arms in the air. “The first Ihran Rift Rider!”
The crew of the Miryhl Heart cheered and Orla couldn’t wait for her new life to begin.
~ Next Chapter ~
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