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Wind and Rain · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Come Sail Away, Come Sail Away
“Can I go swimming?” asked Micah.

The boy already was sitting on the edge of one the left hull, his feet dipping into the seawater with little splashes.

When he turned his head towards Aewyn, she noticed that his dark brown hair was already long enough to almost cover his eyes again. Aewyn frowned. Human hair grew so quickly—she thought she had just cut it.

“Aewyn?” said Micah, impatiently. He splashed with both feet again, a childish display of emphasis.

“A moment, Micah,” Aewyn said, closing her eyes. She relaxed herself, sitting and leaning against the Seashine’s mast. The glossy feeling of the painted wood on her bare back was a familiar one.

Aewyn cleared her mind, kept it empty and felt… nothing.

She didn’t feel the everpresent hunger of a gulpwhale, mindlessly swallowing krill. She didn’t feel the anticipation of a tigershark seeking its next prey. She didn’t even feel the trepidation of a school of razorfins.

“Waters are clear,” said Aewyn, opening her eyes and lifting herself to her feet.She took a coil of silk rope—thin and soft, but very strong—and tied one end to a carabiner in the mast.

When she came to Micah with the other end and bent down to tie it around his ankle, Micah stopped her.

“You said that I could do it myself from now on,” he reminded her.

“Aye,” said Aewyn, “I suppose I did.”

She let him take the rope from her, and watched him tie it in the way she had shown him, snug enough that it would never slip off, but loose enough not to hurt his foot. It took him more time than it would have taken her, but he tied it well. She smiled when he was done.

“Well, off you go, then,” she said.

“Will you swim with me?” he asked.

“Not today, mooti,” she said. “I’ll make supper. Come back when you’re hungry.”

“Okay,” said Micah, and he slipped off the side of the hull like a fish.

Aewyn watched him glide through the water, his shape just visible in the late afternoon light. When he came up again, he was a few dozen feet away, treading water as easily as if he were born in it.

Aewyn wiggled her fingers at him when the boy waved, and then she stepped off the hull and into the Seashine’s cabin.

The nice thing about the Seashine being a catamaran was that it didn’t sway nearly as much as other boats, especially when the sea was gentle. It made cooking much easier.

Aewyn picked up a box of dehydrated orzo pasta and was somewhat surprised by how light it was. She bit her lip. This was their last box, and their other provisions were getting similarly low. But there was still enough for… maybe another week or so.

She turned on the little gas stove.

When she had a pot of boiling freshwater, she added dehydrated chicken stock and some of the orzo and canned ground beef and some clippings from the scallions that she kept growing in a little pot of soil next to the window’s light.

She had to make three or four times what she would have eaten by herself. Micah’s appetite continually astounded her. She wondered if all human children ate as much as he did. They must have, because Micah was not fat, and she had seen fat human children before.

When Micah came back from his swim, they blessed the food in the aelfish way because Aewyn didn’t know any human blessings, and then they ate.

Micah ate every last bit he was given, just like always.

“You know you mustn’t swim now,” said Aewyn, giving Micah just a hint of a scowl.

Micah quickly turned back to the notebook and pen in his hands, as though he had not just been looking out longingly at the sea.

“Learning letters is boring,” said Micah, for the upteenth time. “I like to swim.”

“Learning letters is important,” said Aewyn. “And if you swim now, you’ll get tangled in the fishing lines.”

She gave a pointed glance at the poles that were set up—a half dozen of them clamped against the railings of the hulls, lines dipping to the water.

“Are there even fish down there?” asked Micah.

“Aye,” Aewyn said. She felt the cautious curiosity of a school of milkfish as though it physically sat across her bare shoulders. One or two were sure to bite eventually. She and Micah needed the food.

But thinking about it wouldn’t make them bite any sooner. In fact, if she thought about it too hard, they might catch on that something wasn’t right. Being a sensitive aelf was so annoying, sometimes.

She turned back to the logbook in her hands and the money piled on the little chest that they used as a table.

The nearest port to them was Marvia, and Marvia was an expensive city. No matter which way she divided the money in front of her—which she counted four times already—there wasn’t enough to buy food to last until a different port.

Aewyn frowned.

She didn’t like looking for jobs in big cities. People cared about the rules in big cities, and they asked questions. They all meant well, of course. But it didn’t make it any less dangerous for her and Micah.

But she had taken jobs in Marvia before, and she would likely do so many, many more times. She was prepared, she knew.

Now that her mind was made up, she finished adjusting the sums in her logbook, and then put it and the money away in the safe in her side of the cabin.

A blue curtain divided the small cabin down the middle, with the cabin's exit on Micah's side. He said he liked to listen to the waves as he slept. That meant Aewyn had to take the smaller bed against the inside of the boat's bow, but she didn’t mind. She was sure that Micah would eventually need the bigger bed anyway, at the rate he was growing.

As Aewyn came back out into Micah’s side of the room, she peaked over the boy’s shoulder as he sat on his bed.

She frowned at what she saw.

“That’s not how you spell ‘continent’, Micah. You need to use a cev, not a krund.”

“Why?” said Micah, his lip jutting out.

“Because… that’s the right way to spell the word,” said Aewyn.

“But who says that it’s spelled with a cev?” said Micah.

“Everybody does,” said Aewyn.

“And why do they say so?”

“Because…” Aewyn scrunched her nose, as she tried to explain. “It’s because everyone else uses cev. Everyone is used to seeing cev instead of krund, and now if they see a krund in ‘continent,’ they’ll think you’re foolish.”

That’s foolish,” said Micah. “I hate human letters.”

“You’re not any better with aelfish letters,” muttered Aewyn. A nagging worry welled up in her chest.

“I hate all letters!” said Micah, running both hands through his mangy hair in frustration. “And I hate numbers, and I hate arithmetic. Why do I need to learn any of this?”

“Because you must,” said Aewyn. “Or else you’ll grow up to be a fool. I spent fifteen years learning my letters and numbers. You’ve only started a year ago.”

“Two,” corrected Micah. “And years aren’t the same for aelfs. You’re still young for an aelf, aren’t you?”

“I… am,” admitted Aewyn.

The hot and sour feeling of worry stung Aewyn’s brow. But she pushed it aside. If she worried too much, the fish wouldn’t bite after all.

As if on cue, one of the fishing rods shook, and the bell tied to its end rang out.

Aewyn deftly strode out onto the hull and took the fishing pole in her hands. When she did, she felt the confusion and panic of the milkfish it had snared. With a flick of her wrist, she set the hook and then began spooling in the line.

The fish was a large one, but Aewyn’s arms were strong and sure. Soon enough, the milkfish tired, and Aewyn tore it from the ocean and onto the boat with a heave.

With her foot, she crushed the milkfish’s proboscis to kill it, then she picked it up.

There was quite a bit of meat on it. Just by itself, it was big enough for a large meal. She took it into the kitchen before stepping back out to reset the fishing pole.

It was very lucky that they happened upon a milkfish school only a couple of days away from shore. If they were even more lucky, maybe another one would bite before they collectively wisened up.

When she returned to the cabin, Micah had stopped gazing longingly at the ocean and was now eyeing the milkfish greedily.

“I like milkfish,” he said.

“I know, mooti. I do too,” said Aewyn.

She fetched her knife and began to rub off the scales while the fish was still fresh.

The sounds of the port were loud and grating, and Micah was not used to them. He continuously ran his hands through his hair, which Aewyn had cut down with her knife to a manageable length the day before. They didn’t want him to stick out, after all.

Aewyn herself wore one of her shirts along with a sailor’s vest today. Marvia, like so many other cities these days, had many human residents, so going bare-chested would certainly turn heads. She didn’t like the rough and hot feeling of cloth against her breasts in the summertime, but she wouldn’t have to endure it for very long, hopefully.

When a spot on a pier large enough for the Seashine opened up, Aewyn guided the boat to dock, with a gentle hand on the rudder. She took the mooring lines from the pier and threw them to Micah. He knew how to tie them.

While Micah worked, Aewyn stepped back into the cabin and opened the safe at the foot of her bed.

She took some of the saltwater-faded bills and tucked them into her cargo shorts' pocket. In a different pocket, she tucked away her sheathed knife. Finally, she reached into a shelf of the safe that she rarely touched and retrieved her father’s gun.

It smelled of the thick machine oil spread across the metal parts to protect them from the salt air. The wooden handle still faintly bore the rubbed-away words, “Smith & Wysarve, Model 66”. She carefully held it the way her father had taught her, and opened its cylinder. Five of the six chambers had gleaming shells in them. She closed the cylinder.

Gingerly, she placed the revolver on top of her pillow, with a cloth underneath so the oil wouldn’t stain the bedding.

Micah was just finishing up with the ropes when Aewyn came out.

“The gun is on my bed,” she said to him, simply. “Do you remember the rules?”

“Don’t touch it, unless somebody means me harm,” recited Micah. “Never point it at myself. Never touch the trigger unless somebody means me dead.”

“I will ask you if you followed the rules when I get back,” said Aewyn, pointedly. “And I will know if you lie to me. You’re eight, now. Don’t act childishly.”

“I’m nine,” said Micah, with a small frown.

“Even more of a reason to behave,” said Aewyn.

With that, she vaulted over the railing of the portside hull and pulled herself onto the wooden dock. It took her two or three steps to get her landlegs, and then she was walking among the lines of people coming to and from the other ships.

“Be back soon, Aewyn!” said Micah.

Aewyn turned back, smiling. She waved her hand to him.

“I will, mooti,” she said. And then she pushed her way through the crowd.

Marvia, like many other cities, smelled of smoke and gasoline when you got far enough away from the ocean. Aewyn kept her head down and looked for the busiest alehouse she could find. The busier they were, the less likely someone would have the time to wonder about her age.

It wasn’t terribly difficult to find a place with the kind of crowd that she wanted. There was an inn near the center of the city that was big enough and full enough to suit her needs nicely.

When Aewyn stepped inside, the smell of meat and alcohol was strong enough to sting her nose. All around her was a confused buzz of emotions from the patrons—a flash of joviality from one side of the room, then a prickle of morose sorrow from the other. It was perfect.

Squeezing her way between two big men at the counter, she signaled for the barmaid’s attention. She ordered a cheap goblet of wine and put a little of her precious money down on the countertop to earn the barkeeper’s ear.

“Keeper,” she said, when she was about halfway done with her glass. She had to raise her voice just a little to be heard clearly.

The barmaid, a stocky older woman who wore her hair tied up in a handkerchief, glanced her way and grunted questioningly.

“Do you know where a ship can find a job?”

Aewyn felt confusion flicker from the barmaid as she looked Aewyn up and down again. But then she shrugged. Humans were seldom very good at guessing an aelf’s age, and the keeper was clearly distracted enough by her work to not give it too much of a second thought.

“Sailing Union’s got an office,” she said, simply. “It’s by the town square, behind the great hall.”

“I’m not with a guild,” said Aewyn. “Anyplace else I can look?”

A little more confusion from the keeper, along with a raised eyebrow. But this, too, seemed to be brushed aside. With a thick finger, she pointed somewhere behind Aewyn.

“We’ve got a bulletin board for the travelers staying here. Might be something there.”

With that, she turned her back to Aewyn, busy with her next customer’s order. Apparently, Aewyn had spent all the time a glass of wine was worth.

Muttering thanks, Aewyn left the rest of the wine on the countertop and headed towards the back of the room, where the barmaid had pointed.

There on a back wall, she found a cork board tacked with a few dozen or so handwritten notes, stacked haphazardly one atop the others with rusted nails. One was for someone who needed to rent a good workmule. Another advertised autocarriage trips at reasonable rates to as far as Redgrass Keep.

Aewyn read each one carefully to make sure she didn’t miss any of them. When she was done, there were two jobs posted that needed a ship of Seashine’s size. The paper for one of the notes was old and wrinkled and dirty, and it had last year’s date on it. The other one looked new enough to have been inked that morning. All it had on it was a description for a single passenger’s journey, along with a room number.

Aewyn took the notice off of the board and made her way to the back where the rooms were. It didn’t take her very long to find the right room and knock on the wooden door.

“Yes, one moment!” said a man’s voice from the other side. There were the sounds of a chair being pushed and shuffling footsteps.

The man who cracked open the door looked somewhat young. If he’d been an aelf, Aewyn would have guessed him to be eighty or ninety years. But since he wasn’t, she brought that guess down to about thirty.

“Richard Dawkins, natural philosopher, at your service!” The man radiated cautious joviality. He wore a pair of narrow glasses on his nose, and his hair was several shades lighter than Micah’s. “How can I help you, little miss?”

“I’m Aewyn Nurren, with the ship Seashine,” she said. She punctuated her introduction with a polite bow of her head and held up the job notice. “Is this your request, Mr. Dawkins?”

A wave of pleasant surprise rippled from the man.

“It is, indeed,” he said. He let the door open all the way, and motioned for her to come inside. “Are you the captain’s daughter?”

It was a common practice for sailing families living to send their eldest child on shoreside errands. Normally, Aewyn would go along with the convenient narrative. But since this was a passenger job, she didn’t have that luxury today.

I am the captain,” she said, allowing her face to take on just a hint of polite offence. With the same motion, she glanced around the room appraisingly, hands loosely clasped behind her back, hoping that it would lend her an air of authority.

“Oh, my apologies, Captain,” said Richard. There was bewilderment and embarrassment in the air around him. “You’re older than you look Ms… um…”

“Aewyn,” Aewyn reminded him. “Aewyn Nuren of thirty-seventh of Blackyork.”

The family name and generation count was a cover that she had used many times before. She chose Blackyork because it was a small enough city for most people not to be familiar with its aelfish house lines, but big enough that anyone who had familiarity probably wouldn’t be alarmed at a house name they hadn’t heard of.

Even though she wasn’t looking at Richard at that moment, she felt a flash of suspicion from him. Her heart skipped a beat as she fought to suppress a pang of panic.

“I knew a gentleman who was thirty-eighth of Blackyork,” he said, with a relaxed tone. “You wear your age well, Ms. Nurren.”

“Thank you,” said Aewyn, managing to put on a wry smile. “But I am here to talk business.The Seashine is a catamaran sloop, forty feet at the hull. Running with a good wind, she can make twenty knots. Will that suit your needs?”

“I’ll be frank with you, Captain,” said Richard, easily. “I have nary a clue what the words you’ve said mean.”

Aewyn bit the inside of her lip and let her demeanor soften somewhat.

“A sloop is a sailing ship with one mast,” she said. “A catamaran is a ship with its cabin set between two hulls. A cat has less cabin space, but will not rock as much as a single-hulled ship. Twenty knots is about five hundred miles or a hundred and fifty leagues in a day and a night.”

“That should work nicely,” said Richard his eyes darting from side to side in thought. “I am alone, and my instruments do not take much space. And I admit, I have had a touch of seasickness in the past, so a ship that doesn’t shake as much seems, well, ideal.”

“Your listing did not specify a destination,” said Aewyn.

“Oh, how careless of me!” Richard rolled his eyes and tapped the side of his head with a closed fist. “It’s the Galaper Isles. So, not too far. I can leave as soon as tomorrow morning.”

Not too far, but not too safe, either. Aewyn felt herself frowning. Everybody knew that there was a Rift at the Galapers. It was more than seventy years old by now, but still…

“Six hundred crowns,” said Aewyn. It was a little more than what was offered in the notice. “And I want a hundred of it now, before we leave.”

“The last time I took this trip,” said Richard, “I wasn’t charged up front.”

“The Seashine is a small vessel, Mr. Dawkins,” said Aewyn. “I will need to make special arrangements and purchase provisions to make the journey comfortable. And I will need to cover overnight docking fees.”

Richard frowned, but nodded.

“That seems fair,” he said. He took a billfold from his pocket, and counted out two fifty-crown bank notes.

“Thank you,” said Aewyn politely, trying to contain her relief. She took the money, and in return she retrieved the sheathed knife in her back pocket and offered it to Richard handle-first. “Take this as assurance that I won’t run with your money. My boat is on the fifth pier of the east dock. We’ll depart when you arrive tomorrow.”

Richard took the knife gingerly, and, overcome with a wave of curiosity, he slid it an inch out of its sheath to study the metal.

It was a true-edged blade, which was worth at least fifty more crowns than the down payment. Aewyn knew that most humans had trouble distinguishing true edges from pedestrian blades, but she also knew that the implication of her offering it as collateral spoke to its value.

Wordlessly and awkwardly, Richard sheathed the knife and put it in his own pocket.

“Then I’ll see you in the morn,” said Aewyn. She bowed her head politely again. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

“Goodbye until tomorrow,” Richard returned the nod.

Aewyn turned and left, walking with a measured pace down the hall and out of the inn.

She clutched the two bills in her pocket until she had walked all the way to the best grocer she could find.

Cleaning and refilling the Seashine’s freshwater tank was hard work under the best of circumstances. In the mugginess of a midsummer morning, it was worse.

Some of the floorboards on the deck had to be pulled out, leaving very little space to stand or sit while working. Aewyn’s legs and arms and back were steadily burning from the strain of squating in awkward positions for so long.

When Micah’s voice called out from where he sat on the pier, she took it as a welcome excuse to pull herself out of the crawlspace and stand up straight again.

“I think I see him,” said Micah.

Aewyn rubbed sweat from her forehead and glanced around the pier. She did not see Richard anywhere.

“Human man, gaunt frame, blonde of hair, taller than me by a head?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Micah.

“I don’t see him,” said Aewyn, squinting and shading the sun from her eyes with the palm of one hand.

“He’s all the way over there,” said Micah, pointing in an odd direction.

When Aewyn followed his finger, she found herself looking at the next pier over, several hundred feet away. There, a tall, blonde figure walked up and down its length, glancing at each boat and each crewman he passed.

Aewyn frowned, exasperatedly.

“He forgot which pier we’re on,” she realized.

With a glance back at the open water tank, she decided that she was just about done with cleaning it anyway.

“Test it for leaks,” she told Micah. “I’m going to go get him.”

It took several minutes to walk down the half-mile length of the fifth pier, up the side of the dock to the fourth pier, and down the fourth to where Richard was. It seemed that he was already asking for directions from a disinterested porter when she got to him.

“Richard Dawkins,” she said. “I think I told you we were on the fifth pier.” She pointed out towards the direction of the Seashine docked at the next pier.

Recognition and relief came off of Richard in waves, and then mild bemusement.

“Ms. Nuren!” he said, smiling. “I’m terribly sorry for the confusion, but it seems like this good gentleman”—he gestured at the porter—“is telling me this is the fifth pier.”

Bewilderment washed over Aewyn so strongly that she was certain that at least the porter, an aelf himself, could feel it, if not Richard as well.

“I’m… Is that the sixth pier, saenil?” She asked, still pointing to the Seashine. She used the aelfish differential term of address for an older male, on reflex.

“It is, mooti,” the porter kindly said in response, using the word one would use for a child. “I’ve worked this dock for sixty years. I don’t think I’d make the mistake.”

Aewyn felt a hot blush rise to her cheeks, and before she knew it, she had bowed at her hips, in the aelfish way.

“My most terrible apologies, Mr. Dawkins,” she said, speaking just a little before her brain could translate the aelfish into human speech.

“Think nothing of it,” said Richard, giving off a little embarrassment of his own. “I’m just glad to have found you.”

Aewyn rose to thank the porter, but he was already walking away, down to a clipper with a new load on his shoulders.

“Allow me to escort you to my ship,” she said to Richard.

The man smiled kindly and adjusted the thick satchel draped across his shoulder. From a side pouch, he fetched Aewyn’s true-edged knife and held it out for her to take.

“Lead the way, Captain,” he said.

When they came close to the Seashine, Aewyn nodded. “That’s her.”

“She’s a beauty,” said Richard.

Aewyn felt pride wash away a little bit of the lingering embarrassment from before, even though she knew that Richard was just being polite.

“Micah!” she called.

The boy poked his head out from the crawlspace and scrambled, monkey-like, to where they were.

“This is Richard Dawkins, our passenger,” she said when they were close enough for introductions. “Mr. Dawkins, this is Micah, my brother.”

“Hello, Mike,” Richard said, bending down to shake the hand the boy offered.

Micah brow furrowed and he looked at Richard oddly.

“Mike?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Richard, laughing a little. “It’s a nickname for men named ‘Micah.’ I thought it was fairly common. Have you not heard it before?”

Micah shot Aewyn a questioning glance. She felt bad that all she could do was shrug her shoulders slightly.

“I haven’t heard it,” Micah admitted.

“Oh, I’m sorry then, Micah,” said Richard, correcting himself.

“That’s okay.” Micah shrugged as well. “I like ‘Mike’.”

Richard grinned warmly. “Very well, then, Mike.”

“We’ll be ready to be off shortly,” said Aewyn. She stepped onto the Seashine’s deck and gestured to help Richard. “You can stay in the cabin where there’s shade. I’ll show you your bed.”

Richard’s first steps onto the swaying portside hull were uneasy, but he managed by holding on to the railing. The three of them carefully shuffled their way through the limited space towards the entrance to the cabin in the rear of the boat. Richard was tall enough that he had to stoop slightly when he passed through the doorway.

“This half of the cabin is yours”, said Aewyn, gesturing around them. “Stove and provisions are on this side. The washing basin sink is saltwater, but the kitchen tap will be freshwater once we refill the tank. Use it sparingly, or I’ll have to ration your water.”

She pointed at Micah’s bed.

“You can use this bed,” she said.

The night before, she and Micah had washed and changed the sheets. Micah had made a few nominal protests about losing his bed, but he was still a child, and Aewyn could sense some deeply buried happiness at the thought of getting to sleep next to Aewyn again.

Aewyn pointed at the closed dividing curtain.

“That part of the room is for me and Micah. You’ll have no reason to go there.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Richard, and Aewyn could tell that he meant it.

“Good,” she said. “You can stow your things in the chest if you need to. We’ll be departing within an hour.”

Richard sat on the bed and began unpacking items from his satchel.

“Last time I went to the Galapers, it took two weeks from Marvia port,” he said.

“Slow boat,” said Aewyn, with a touch of pride. “Unless our luck with the wind is horrid, we can get there in ten days.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Richard said, cordially. “I never seem to get my sealegs.”

Micah snickered a little, and Aewyn motioned for him to return to the deck. With a nod at Richard, she followed him.

“No leaks,” said Micah, pointing to the open tank beneath the deck. “I checked three times, like you showed me.”

“Okay,” said Aewyn, and she stepped onto the pier to fetch the first of eight ten-gallon plastic bins of water she purchased early that morning. The back of her arms protested a little at the renewed effort, but not enough that she was worried about being stiff tomorrow.

Opening the cap, she upended the water into the Seashine’s tank. It didn’t leak, just as Micah had said.

On the third day, Micah had gathered enough courage to talk to Richard without Aewyn there to guide the conversation.

Aewyn was at the rudder when she noticed Micah gingerly stepping into the cabin, where Richard sat on his bed studying a book full of sketched plants.

“What are… those?” he asked, pointing at Richard’s face.

Richard was perplexed for a moment.

“I don’t quite follow, Mike?” he said.

Micah made his thumb and fingers into loops, and placed them over his eyes.

“Oh, my glasses!” Richard said. He picked them off his face and held them out to Micah. “Careful, they’re delicate.”

“What are they for?” asked Micah, as he held them in front of his own eyes.

“You’ve never seen glasses before?” asked Richard, intrigued.

“They’re there to help him see,” interrupted Aewyn. “Men who are born with weak eyes need them to see clearly.”

“Oh,” said Micah. He placed the spectacles on his nose. “Do I need them, too?”

“Nae, mooti,” said Aewyn. “Your eyes are plenty sharp. You see the gulls before I do.”

“But you feel them, first,” said Micah.

“Aye, I do,” said Aewyn.

Richard blinked and squinted towards Aewyn’s direction.

“You must be quite a gifted empath to feel from a beast,” he said. “As a naturalist, that intruiges me.”

“What’s a naturalist?” asked Micah, now trying on the glasses upside down.

“I study animals and plants,” said Richard, squinting even harder, “to try to understand how they live.”

“Give him back his glasses, Micah,” said Aewyn. She shrugged. “I’m not the most sensitive, Mr. Dawkin. My father had the feelings more than I do.”

“But she’s really good, still!” insisted Micah as he handed the glasses back to Richard with both hands. “She can tell when it’s time to fish, and she can tell when it’s safe to swim.” He turned back to Aewyn, excitedly. “You can, can’t you? Tell him!”

“Aye, mooti, I can,” said Aewyn. She closed her eyes. “Sea is empty right now.” And before Micah could ask the next inevitable question, she added, “And yes, you may.”

Micah whooped and took off his shirt.

“Tie your line,” reminded Aewyn. She knew that he could, and didn’t rise from her seat at the rudder.

Aewyn and Richard watched as the boy tied the silk rope around his foot, and then dived like a fishinggull into the ocean.

“If… you don’t mind my asking,” said Richard,as curiosity and a touch of worry leaked from his mind. “How old is the boy?”

“Nine summers,” said Aewyn.

She wasn’t quite sure, but it was the closest guess she could make. And it had been the one she and Micah had been using for the last eight years.

Richard was blankly studying his glasses, while his brow furrowed in thought. He turned the glasses one way, and then the other.

“Has he been to a learninghouse?” he asked.

Aewyn felt a pang of anger and defensiveness. Richard visibly flinched, even though he wasn’t looking her way.

“Nae, he has not,” she said, after a terse silence. “I teach him his letters and numbers.”

“I’m sure you’re an excellent teacher,” he said, with a conciliatory tone. “I’m sorry; I can tell that I’m being intrusive. Forgive me, Captain.”

“Think nothing of it,” said Aewyn.

She tied the rudder down to hold their course, and then she got up and walked past Richard. Pushing past the dividing curtain, she retrieved a little blue cloth-lined ball from her nightstand drawer and took it with her back out onto the deck.

She felt Richard watch her as she wound her arm back, and then threw the ball high and far. It splashed into the water, and bobbed back to the surface.

Micah cheered from where he was treading water near the Seashine’s starboard hull, and dashed through the water to retrieve the ball.

As he paddled, Aewyn removed the band that kept her red hair tied up in a bun. She took off her sailor’s vest, so that all she had left was her chestcloth and her shorts, and then just as Richard seemed to realize what was happening, she took a running dive into the water herself.

Going instantly from the air’s humid heat to the ocean’s sapping cold was a feeling that Aewyn always thought was like waking up from a dream. Or falling back into one.

Her hands and feet moved—both lazily and smoothly; both quickly and slowly—through the water as she broke back over the surface and slid past Micah on his way to the ball, despite his headstart.

Micah was laughing as she snatched the ball at the last moment and held it high where he couldn’t reach. His joy was infectious.

“Beat you again, mooti,” she said, grinning.

With a heave, she threw the ball back over the Seashine and to the other side. Micah was off like a bullet, taking the chance to kick off of her to both speed him up and push her back. Aewyn giggled, her mood instantly improved.

“Have you another swimming line?” called Richard from the deck of the near hull, just as Aewyn was about to give chase.

She glided to where Richard was standing, with both his hands clenched firmly on the railing. He had removed his glasses and was standing there in his undershirt and briefs.

“I hope it’d be okay to join you, given the heat,” he said.

Aewyn was already feeling less cross than she was a few minutes ago, and Richard was clearly trying to reconcile with her. So she pulled herself up onto the deck and helped him tie a line around his ankle.

Richard, it turned out, was a much weaker swimmer than either of Aewyn or Micah, a fact that Micah was eager to poke fun at.

They swam until Richard was exhausted and Micah was hungry, and when they came back onto Seashine Aewyn made bacon and mushrooms for supper.

Aewyn remembered that some aelfs would say that a sensitive aelf could tell when a Rift was dangerous and when it was dormant. If it was true, then she felt nothing wrong right now.

The biggest of the Galaper Islands was not much more than a few hundred square miles, bearing a single lonely mountain. The rest of the Isles were mostly small puddles of land, barely large enough to hold dirt and grass and bushes. But what strange dirt and grass and bushes they were.

Past the sandy beach where they had come ashore, the soil was thick and loamy, smelling almost of beer. The grass was a bluer shade of green than Aewyn had ever seen, and she recognized none of the short, shrubby plants that dotted the rocks and sand.

The animals were even stranger.

Not too far from them, Micah ran up and down the beach, chasing little finches that seemed too small and too delicate for flight. Off the coast where there were rocks coming out of the water, scores of things that looked very much like lizards sat on them and rested. But Aewyn had never seen a lizard swim before.

She stood next to Richard and watched as he carefully crept up to something the size of a large dog, but with a shell on it like a clam. Four slow flat-footed legs stuck out of the sides of the shell. Its long, wrinkly neck was topped off by a scaly, leathery face.

Richard measured the size and angle of its shell and its legs and its face with his instruments. Every now and then, he made contented little sounds and wrote down numbers in his notebook. The process had taken more than a half hour so far.

“What is it?” Aewyn finally asked, when her curiosity became too much. She squatted to get a good look.

“My mentor and I call it the shellback,” said Richard. “It’s the only one on all the islands. My associates and I are almost certain that it’s a female, but without a dissection or a male, we can’t be sure.”

“And it… came through the Rift?” said Aewyn.

“Almost certainly,” said Richard as he bent to take a new measurement. “There is nothing like it in any other known phylum of life on this world. But it has stayed alive for more than sixty years, now. So the environment here must suit it.”

“Sixty years is quite a long time for a beast,” noted Aewyn.

“And it was likely already an adult when my mentor first found it,” said Richard. “Our measurements have—and continue to—yield the exact same results each time we take them.”

“How long do you suppose it’ll live?” said Aewyn, idly.

“Well, it outlasted my mentor,” said Richard, dryly. “So it may very well outlast me, too. Sometimes this kind of work doesn’t suit a human’s lifespan.”

Aewyn glanced up from the shellback. Micah was still out on the beach. He seemed to have tired of running, and now sat with both hands wrist-deep in the soft, wet sand.

“Sometimes I wonder,” said Richard, “what concept of time this creature might have. Did it remember when I last arrived, five years ago, and think it odd that I came back so quickly? Or was the moment of my visiting so fleeting to it that it hardly saw me at all?”

Aewyn tore her gaze from Micah, and stared at the shellback’s wrinkled, confused-looking face.

“It… knows that you’re there,” she said. “It certainly must.”

Richard shrugged, and began putting his instruments away.

“We can only speculate,” he said, morosely. The statement seemed to be directed mostly at himself.

“It feels…” said Aewyn. “It feels lonely.”

When she realized it, her heart twisted in her chest, and she suddenly had to fight a stinging sensation in her eyes.

“She’s so lonely,” she said.

She stayed, squatting next to the shellback for a long minute, before Richard gently put his hand on her shoulder.

“Right,” she said. She pushed away Richard’s hand, and ran her own over her eyes and nose. She wasn’t going to cry. “Right, I’m sorry. You still have lots of work to do. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, Captain,” said Richard. “I feel the same way when I think about her too, sometimes.”

Aewyn glanced at Micah, still playing in the sand as though no time at all had passed since she last looked at him.

“I want to hold on to him,” she said, almost without realizing that her mouth was moving. “I want to make sure that he doesn’t disappear without me noticing he was there at all.”

There was a wave of sympathy from Richard.

“Family is… always difficult to think about this way,” he said. “But I think you are a discerning woman. Trust your own judgement, Captain.”

“Thank you,” said Aewyn. She rubbed more tears out of her eyes. “Let’s go find you your shrub clippings.”

Richard nodded, and the two of them made their way.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Captain,” said Richard, when the Seashine was moored at Marvia dock. “My voyage was as smooth as I could have ever hoped.”

“Happy to hear it,” said Aewyn, nodding at him.

Richard counted out five hundred crowns of banknotes from his billfold and gave them to Aewyn. The evening light revealed that his hands and his face were still sunburned, but he didn’t seem to mind the discomfort.

“Perhaps in five years, I’ll see you again on my next trip,” he said.

Micah nodded.

“Yes, that’d be nice,” said the boy.

Richard checked his belongings one last time, patting down his satchel with one hand while he gripped the hull rail with the other. He never did get his sealegs, just as he said he wouldn’t.

“Goodbye Ms. Nurren. Goodbye, Mike. It’s been a pleasure.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Dawkins,” said Aewyn.

At the same time, Micah added his own, “Goodbye, Mr. Rich.”

The thin man walked down the pier and was out of sight before long.

“Micah, take the sails down for the night,” said Aewyn. “I’m going to find the dockmaster and pay our overnight fee.”

Aewyn walked to her quarters and put most of the money from Richard into her safe. After a moment of thought, she left her father’s gun on the bed again.

By the time she vaulted onto the pier, Micah was already partway done with the headsail—the smaller of the two sails—, but it would take him some time to get it rolled away and stowed, considering his size. Aewyn left him to it, striding down towards the dock proper.

She did not made it far before she felt a firm hand on one of her arms.

Aewyn whipped around, to find herself face to face with a city constable.

“Easy there, love,” said the officer. She was an aelf, with slender arms and legs. But Aewyn knew that aelfs could be deceptively strong.

“Just need a moment of time, young miss,” said the constable, smiling placatingly. “We’ve been hearing from some of the other captains here, that for the past couple of weeks there was a boat here with two children abroad and no adults. They sounded concerned.”

The bottom fell out of Aewyn’s stomach. Instantly her heart was racing.

The constable blinked, and her eyes widened.

“Miss, maybe you should come with me,” she said, soothingly. “Let’s get the boy, and we can get you both some hot sweetmilk at the station.”

Aewyn wretched her arm free of the constable’s grasp with a twist and a shriek. The officer recoiled, both from the sound and from Aewyn’s feelings.

Aewyn ran and ran and ran down the pier, but she could feel the constable getting closer behind her. She wouldn’t make it back to the Seashine.

There was a clap of thunder. But it wasn’t thunder, Aewyn realized, when all the people on the pier jumped onto the deck or over the side and into the water to get away.

It was her father’s gun.

She glanced behind her and saw the constable break off her pursuit to take cover behind stacked metal boxes. She ran harder.

Don’t shoot back, oh gods, don’t shoot Micah.

When she reached the Seashine, she cut the mooring lines with a flick of her true-edged knife and jumped inside, tumbling hard against the wooden deck.

Micah ran into her arms, crying, and she took the gun from his hands and set it down. She glanced around the ship. Thankfully, Micah hadn’t taken down the mainsail yet.

“Stay low, and don’t move!” she whispered, and then turned the mainsail to catch the wind.

She dashed to the rudder, and led the ship out of the dock as quickly as she could, weaving past other boats that had the right of way.

The constable never shot back. Aewyn prayed and thanked the gods that the constable didn’t shoot back.

Marvia was two days behind the horizon when Aewyn came up to Micah’s bedside and put her hand on his covered form. The cabin was dark at night, lit only by a small gaslight hanging next to Aewyn’s bed.

He flinched from her. Part of him probably knew what she was going to say.

Micah hadn’t swam or fished or studied letters since they left Marvia, and Aewyn throat twisted at the thought. She knew that her own feelings must be influencing his, and the guilt squeezed at her.

“Micah,” she said, softly.

The boy didn’t respond, but she knew he was awake.

“Micah, it’s time,” she said. They had talked about this before, in vague terms. When Micah would leave the Seashine to be his own person. “It’s… past time, Micah.”

“Don’t say that,” said Micah. “I don’t want to go.”

“I… can’t teach you your letters,” admitted Aewyn. “I can’t teach you the human blessings. I can’t teach you more than I have. I don’t know how.”

“I don’t need to know those things! I know plenty! I know how to tie a jig line, and how to tack and jibe, and how to take the sails down. I want to be like you.” Micah balled his little hands up into fists.

“You—you can’t be like me, Micah,” she said. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Micah sat up in a flash, took his little fists and struck them against Aewyn until she caught both of his arms.

“I hate you!” he said. “I hate you!”

“I love you,” said Aewyn. She let the feeling swell, so Micah would feel it too. “I love you, mooti.”

Micah cried until he fell asleep, in Aewyn’s arms. He hiccuped and his nose snotted as he slept, and Aewyn held him closer and ran her fingers through his hair.

“I love you, mooti,” she whispered to herself, again and again.

“How old is the child?” asked the one of the Sisters, the one with darker skin.

“I… don’t know,” said Aewyn, dejectedly. “A human I was with said he looked like he was one, when I found him. It’s been eight summers since.”

“And how old are you?” said the Sister, just as gently as before.

“I’m… thirty-two,” said Aewyn.

It had been a long time since she let her real age slip out of her lips. It felt wrong, saying it.

“There is an aelf foundling house not too far from here,” said the other Sister, the taller one. “They’ll have a place for you too, little one.”

“No,” Aewyn shook her head. “No.”

The Sisters didn’t ask any more questions about that. Instead, the short, dark one changed the topic.

“You said his name is ‘Micah’?” she asked.

“I don’t know many human names. It was the only one for a boy that I could think of,” said Aewyn.

“It’s a lovely name,” said the other Sister, “and he’s a lovely boy. He will be cared for.”

“Can I…” Aewyn swallowed. “Can I see him? Before I leave?”

“You may see him as many times as you like, even after you leave,” said the tall Sister.

They brought Aewyn to the room where Micah was eating lunch with the chapel Mother, and when she saw Aewyn, she wordlessly left the room to give them privacy.

Aewyn sat down next to Micah.

“Do you like the food?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” said Micah.

“Good,” said Aewyn. She clasped her hands together. “I hope they let you swim. It isn’t too far from the ocean from here, after all.”

“Walking makes me dizzy,” said Micah.

“That’s all right; you’ll get your landlegs soon.”

Aeywin reached into her pocket, and retrieved her knife. She held it before Micah, handle first.

“I know you’re not an aelf,” she said, “but when an aelf is about to leave her husband or her parents or her child, she will give them her knife to keep sharp until she returns. This knife was my father’s. It’s yours, now.”

Micah took the blade, and it seemed so big in his hands.

“I have to leave, now,” said Aewyn.

“Be back soon, Aewyn?” asked Micah. “Please?”

“Of course, mooti,” she said. She rubbed her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. “Always and always.”

The walk back to the docks took more than an hour. Paying the dockmaster for watching over the Seashine while she was gone took several minutes. Leaving Lundholm, the city where she was born, took only moments.

It wasn’t until she looked back and couldn’t see the city anymore that she sat on Micah’s bed and cried.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
The setting here:

Is just gorgeous with pretty much exactly the right amount of words for me to picture everything. Still, I would've liked a better image of the boat itself through Aewyn's eyes, her sitting at the helm looking at the mast and sail standing out against the blue of the sky--one mast, we're told, but I would've liked to have seen it, and I found myself wondering if it had a single sail or a mainsail with a jib or two, and letting me follow her as she walks from stem to stern would be a lot more visceral than telling me the boat's forty feet long.

The charcters were equally well drawn, though having Richard Dawkins appear as himself wanted to pull me out of the story. As for the story itself, that for me was the weakest part of the whole thing. As the first chapter of a novel, this would be terrific. We get the classic Person in a Place with a Problem that I always look for in a story's intro, but there's nothing close to resolution here. We meet these People in this Place, watch a short expedition and a little immortality angst occur, and then we're done.

What's here is really nice, but as it is now, it doesn't really go anywhere. Of course, being right at the word limit didn't help, I can only imagine. The story never dragged or felt long, but I really wish Aewyn would've come to some sort of realization about something just assuage my desire for a bit of closure.

#2 · 1
· · >>Bachiavellian
"The boy already was sitting on the edge of one the left hull"...

"One the Left Hull" better be a good character. :-)

"he slipped off the side of the hull like a fish." Totally seemed like he was on deck and awkward until now.

"off the hull and into the Seashine’s cabin." Sure sounds like she walked into the sea. If the cabin isn't IN the hull, then I'm not sure what this was describing.

Interesting foreshadowing with calorie counts. (Lacking a better term.)

Explanatory background is spinning... Telling us about milkfish being needed is one thing. Telling us they won't bite is step two. Pivoting to money is a third, pivoting to this new city of Marvia is a fourth. And now she's suddenly gone from teaching Micah about fishing (with no resolution, even though they "needed it") to putting money in a safe and them both sleeping.

#Cespelling IZ dum

"she crushed the milkfish’s proboscis to kill it" That's fun and alien!

Very "victorian" rules for how the kid is told to deal with a gun. (I mean that as a compliment.)

The tavern scene (Looking for Work -> Bulletin Board) is VERY cliche.

Story: Richard Dawkins, Natural Philospher!
Me: "It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it pays off for 'em."

Some weird, deeper lore about true blades. Good stuff.

Confusion about which pier is which feels forced. Beyond "two" even humans tend to put signs up. Surel even Aelfs and Humans would read/noticed those in a super busy port.

Mike/Micah is a thing? Again, feels forced. Hope there's a story-based reason for that misunderstanding.

"plastic bins of water" The use of plastic oddly anchors us into a certain timeframe. I hope that's intentional.

"Aewyn was at the rudder when she noticed Micah gingerly stepping into the cabin, where Richard sat on his bed..." So are we in the cabin or at the rudder? All three participate in the following conversation, and I just can't picture a bed (in a cabin) in direct conversational distance to someone at the ship's rudder (or wheel.) If that's the intent, this is a weird ship.

Similarly, how do they swim when under sail/power? Aewyn goes from rudder (important when moving) to swimming, with no mention of cutting power, lowering sails, or dropping anchor. I surmise that maybe Aewyn is a mermaid or something, but Dawkins and Micah are both supposed to be human.

Now insert lots of vague analogues for creatures of the Galapagos and Darwin's voyage.

... And the rest of the story.

Damn, this tried hard, and did well. I feel my only complaint was the confusion early on. Why Dawkins? Why Galpagos? Why all these hints of other things when there was this better story with Michah and Aewyn this whole time? The "alt universe" stuff felt a bit forced, but there was strong writing otherwise.

My secondary complaint was that we were given to believe that Aewyn was not human, but we NEVER saw any detail as to what that meant, or even a hit as to what that implied to the larger world this story (could? should?) was building.
#3 ·
"Don't try it!" cried Twilight Sparkle, as she perched precariously on a stone just barely jutting out of the magma surrounding them both. She motioned to her position. "I have the high ground!"

Angel Bunny smirked ruthlessly, and advanced across the levitating platform.

"You underestimate my power," he said...

Retro: I Like Boats

For real though, shout out to Mike for being my dueling partner this round. :P

So it's been a good long while since my previous Writeoff entry featuring sailing, and I felt like giving the concept another whirl. It's been almost ten years since I learned the basics of sailing on a weeklong school outing, but I'm still just a little bit starstruck at how fun it was and how emotional the experience was to me. One of my long-term fantasies is still about moving somewhere near the sea and buying a boat just to cruise around in for a day or two at a time.

Regarding this story, this was actually one of the only times where I ended up following my outline almost exactly. I knew I wanted to write about characters living on a sailboat since I saw Crashing, but it took me a surprising amount of time before I had even any solid character concepts or plot points. Outlining took about a day, and when I was done I estimated that I would need about 10,000 or 12,000 words to put the scenes together the way I originally imagined them. Well, I ended up trying my best with only 8,000 words, anyway, since I felt that the basic bones couldn't be any more condensed.

>>Baal Bunny
though having Richard Dawkins appear as himself

Story: Richard Dawkins, Natural Philospher!
Me: "It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it pays off for 'em."

So, I might just be the stupidest person on this hemisphere. Because while I actually don't have explicit familiarity with Richard Dawkins, I must have heard his name somewhere for it be lodged in my subconcious and ready to be dredged up at a moment's notice. This was actually supposed to be a reference to Charles Darwin, to complete the whole Galapagos/Galapers parallelism. As in, RiCHARd DAWkIN vs CHARles DArWIN.

When I saw Mike's review, I googled Richard Dawkins, saw his Wikipedia page, and head-desked for a solid minute at work. Nice going, brain.

>>Baal Bunny
Thanks for leaving your thoughts! Yeah, I seem to have trouble with making my stories feel like they've actually finished. I think I'm doing slightly better on the minific side of things, but I definitely have more work to do for the SS rounds, for sure.

Regarding the boat descriptions, to be honest, I kind of wanted to keep the description understated. Which, I guess, was kind of completely done away with by the bit of exposition that Aewyn drops to Rich, so yeah, I'm clearly a literary genius. Thanks for pointing this out as a problem area.

Appreciate your review!

Okay, wow, there's a lot of feedback here, and I'm loving it. It does make responding a bit difficult though, but here goes nothing!

"One the Left Hull" better be a good character. :-)

You'd think I'd notice this typo when I was scrounging for each and every word I could find after going over the word limit by about 250 words. You'd be wrong, though.

"off the hull and into the Seashine’s cabin." Sure sounds like she walked into the sea. If the cabin isn't IN the hull, then I'm not sure what this was describing.

Yeah, this whole bit in the beginning with trying to describe how the boat was laid out was something I was nervous about. I couldn't find a good point to slip in that the boat is a catamaran (two hulls, the cabin is between them) until late in the scene (when Aewyn's cooking), so I just kind of crossed my fingers and hoped that the reader would just roll with it until then.

Explanatory background is spinning... Telling us about milkfish being needed is one thing. Telling us they won't bite is step two. Pivoting to money is a third, pivoting to this new city of Marvia is a fourth. And now she's suddenly gone from teaching Micah about fishing (with no resolution, even though they "needed it") to putting money in a safe and them both sleeping.

I actually had absolutely no idea that this scene would be so confusing. Dang, I usually think that I have a much better sense of this sort of thing. Thanks for pointing it out!

Very "victorian" rules for how the kid is told to deal with a gun. (I mean that as a compliment.)

Thanks!! I actually spent quite a lot of time trying to come up with a retro-y take on the four rules of gun safety, so I'm glad that it paid off for you!

The tavern scene (Looking for Work -> Bulletin Board) is VERY cliche.

Let me tell you a secret, buddy. I am actually physically just made of cliches like this. It's tropes all the way down to my atoms, man.

"Aewyn was at the rudder when she noticed Micah gingerly stepping into the cabin, where Richard sat on his bed..." So are we in the cabin or at the rudder? All three participate in the following conversation, and I just can't picture a bed (in a cabin) in direct conversational distance to someone at the ship's rudder (or wheel.) If that's the intent, this is a weird ship.

I was actually imagining this kind of set up: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/attractions-splice-spp-540x360/06/74/1f/4d.jpg
The cabin opens up in the back to where the rudder would be. I was kind of iffy on how clear this would be to the reader, so it's valuable to know that it felt awkward. Thanks!

Now insert lots of vague analogues for creatures of the Galapagos and Darwin's voyage.

Why Dawkins? Why Galpagos? Why all these hints of other things when there was this better story with Michah and Aewyn this whole time?

The implication was supposed to be that the Rift is letting creatures from the real world into this world. And the lonely shellback was supposed to be a reference to Lonesome George, the last individual of a species of Galapagos tortoise. Basically, he got cockblocked by interdimensional tomfoolery. :P

As for why spend all this time with incidental details, I'll just have to admit that this Galapagos Islands deal was something I came up with early on in the brainstorming process, and I just hung on to it to give the characters a reason to be going somewhere. Definitely something that should have been re-thought.

My secondary complaint was that we were given to believe that Aewyn was not human, but we NEVER saw any detail as to what that meant, or even a hit as to what that implied to the larger world this story (could? should?) was building.

The main point was that she aged differently. I've always kind of had this idea banging around in my head of a mixed-species family that all aged at different rates, and this was me playing with the concept.

Thanks so much for all your thoughts!