Thedos gazed over the stern of the Storm Dancer, shielding his eyes from the ocean’s glare with his right hand. His left hand held tightly to the ship’s wheel, straining to hold the ship on course against the ocean current, while his eyes strained to make out the flag on the pursuing vessel. She had been closing for the past bell, aiming directly for Thedos’ vessel. He was sure she was a pirate ship, and that meant battle.
“Thedos,” a man called. Thedos ignored him. The pirate ship was getting closer. He could almost make out the crew: fifteen buccaneers, armed with sabres and clubs, grappling hooks and ropes. Their skin was a deep, leathery red from years in the sun, and their faces were scarred from age-old battles. He imagined he saw the pirate-captain’s saliva dripping in anticipation of Thedos’ blood. Thedos had run hard and fast, but now there would be battle!
“Thedos!” a man called again.
“Aye, man, what is it?” He turned around to see his father standing on the shore. Thedos’ visions of ocean chases and heroic battles ended suddenly.
“Time to go, boy! The harbormaster’s office will be open before long.”
Thedos relinquished his dreams and the ship’s wheel simultaneously. He crossed the eight feet of the aft, and hopped down the five steps to the main deck. The small door leading to the aft castle caught his eye, and he admired the workmanship. The carvings indicated that this was no simple cargo ship: this might have been a personal yacht of someone wealthy.
The main deck itself was perhaps fifteen feet in length, about ten feet wide, and adorned with barrels, locks, and ropes: the usual accouterments of sea-faring vessels. However, when Thedos had found the ship two days previously, there was no sign of a crew. The only things Thedos had found were a box and a small sword, and neither he nor his father could determine the origin of the ship.
When he had first told his father about the ship, and how he wanted to claim it as an abandoned craft, Braewen had refused. His mother, Lianna, had also refused: the family needed the money to pay for his sisters’ apprenticeships, and paying fifteen Rounds to claim an abandoned craft was out of the question.
Thedos had eventually stolen the fifteen Rounds — from his own family. He had regretted it, and had returned the money when he had been unable to claim the ship. To Thedos’ surprise, his father had not only forgiven him, but had agreed to help him file the claim.
Thedos had made another mistake: he had informed Skar Jansen of his find. Skar was a ruthless, old ship dealer whose reputation was questionable in terms of business ethics. However, her prices for fixing ships were low, so Thedos had confided in her. When she had left the cove yesterday afternoon, Thedos had had the feeling she was up to no good. It was when he had told his father of it that evening that Braewen had decided to help Thedos.
Since before the morning’s sun rose over the mountains, they had been searching the boat. They had been looking for any indication of the ship’s name. She would need to be named, and an existing name might speed the process of claiming the ship. It also might give credence to Thedos’ declaration for the vessel, but he hoped he would not have to count on that.
In the aft castle, Thedos’ father had found the one remaining indication of the ship’s origin: a plaque, written in Beinison, with the words “Verdin Cadar.” Braewen had translated it as “Storm Dancer” and claimed it must have been the ship’s name. Thedos’ eyes were wide with excitement. The Storm Dancer! All that remained was to file the claim, and get her sea-worthy.
“All?” Thedos thought. Getting her sea-worthy was going to be a long and expensive undertaking. Then of course, Thedos had to develop a business for her. And man her. Thedos made a silent promise to his ship. “You’re mine, ‘Dancer, and I’m yours. We’ll take care of each other.”
Braewen, having been a sailor before marrying Lianna, estimated that five men could easily crew the ship, and perhaps nine were required for extended voyages. Given the amount of room in the hold and above decks, the Storm Dancer could easily serve as a small cargo or passenger ship. She was light, that much was certain, and made for speed with her double-masted design. She was no war ship. So how had she gotten here, stranded on a sand bar, with no crew? That mystery was one of many, on this ship.
“Come on, boy, we don’t have all day!” Thedos’ father called from the shore. Thedos took a running start, dove off the main deck and swam to shore. In a mene, he was back on shore. Braewen threw him his shirt.
“Put that on, and let’s get to town. Skar will be there before us as it is. But if we hurry, we might be lucky.”
As they walked to the city of Dargon, only a few leagues from Cabot’s Field, where they lived, Braewen looked at his son and marveled once again at the similarities in their looks. Thedos’ hazel eyes and brown hair were Braewen’s exact colors. Only Thedos’ build was slighter, being a mere 16 years of age to Braewen’s 37 years.
He was glad to be doing this for his son. Perhaps it would make Thedos’ life easier. Not that Braewen had had a difficult life. His father had been a sailor, and his mother had worked at a store that *her* father had owned. They had not been rich, by any means, but they had had a better life than the farmers who worked the Duke’s lands. The sailor’s life is a risky one, however, and Braewen’s father had died when his ship was lost at sea. He had determined to have a family, then, and to do so would mean leaving the sea.
And then he had met Lianna. Not a beautiful woman, Lianna, but she was possessed by an inner strength and determination that rivaled his own. She was strong of mind and body, and had actually thrown him to the ground when he first approached her. Braewen chuckled when he thought of that moment, and Thedos looked at him sideways.
“What?” Thedos asked.
“Just thinking of when I met your mother,” Braewen answered. “A sailor’s charms aren’t what he thinks they are. He’s used to bawdy wenches and taking a roll for a Round or two, or maybe just a few pints of ale. Your mother was not entirely taken with me when I tried to court her.”
“Why did she marry you?” Thedos asked.
“Good looks, son!” Braewen answered. “You’ve seen your aunts on her side of the family. She knew her children would be outcast if she didn’t marry the handsomest man in town. Women’ll be lining up for you the same way, ’cause you’ve got your father’s good looks!” Braewen tousled his son’s hair while Thedos smiled and blushed lightly.
By mid-morning, Thedos and Braewen arrived in Dargon. Braewen led them to the harbormaster’s office. Thedos protested that they should go to the city clerk’s office and speak with Galwyn, but Braewen corrected him. Any papers the clerk filed would have to make their way here, eventually, and the Harbormaster was the ultimate source of information on who owned a ship, who captained it, who her crew was, what her cargo was, and where she was headed. It stood to reason they could register the ship at the harbormaster’s office, and save time.
Thedos had little hope. If Skar were registering the ship, she would have had it done by this time. But Braewen told him to keep heart: if Skar wanted to register the ship, she had to prove she was the owner, or at least prove there were no other owners. Since she didn’t know the ship’s name, she would have to take a scribe to the ship before the forms could be completed. Braewen hoped they could make it back before the deed was done.
They entered the harbormaster’s office, a little flushed from running. The Harbormaster’s clerk looked them over once, and decided they were of little importance. He returned his attention to the work in front of him before saying, “Yes?”
“We need some help,” Braewen said.
“What do a couple of landlings want from the Harbormaster?”
Braewen bristled. “Landlings? And this coming from a desk ornament? Until you’ve tasted sea salt in your beard, boy, you’ll address me with more respect. My name is Braewen Choedwyr, and I’m here about a ship.”
The clerk sat up. “Yes, sir. And what about a ship? Are you looking for passage? Do you work on board one?”
“We’re claiming one. By order of Duke Dargon, any abandoned ship found on the shores of Dargon can be registered. We found an abandoned ship; now we want to register it.”
“Of course. The Harbormaster will be mostly busy today, but I can assist you with the work.” Thedos noticed how the clerk became more amiable when his father insulted him. Thedos wondered if insulting someone was a means of gaining their respect. He shook his head. He also noticed that his father looked a little different. Braewen stood a little taller, straightened his shoulders, and was breathing from his chest instead of his stomach. He stared intently at the clerk, just like Lianna stared at Thedos when he was in trouble. His father exuded conviction, and the clerk recognized it.
The clerk dug through a few parchments on his desk. Galwyn’s office, which Thedos had entered two days previously, had been neat and organized. By comparison, this office was quite disorganized. Disheveled stacks of parchment melded into each other, on the desk and on the floor. A small area had been cleared for the clerk to use to write, and a mug of water balanced precariously on the ink pot. The quill itself was all but hidden beneath yet another pile of scrolls, its presence marked only by a blot of ink on an unused parchment, where the tip protruded from the scrolls. The clerk was young, perhaps only a year or two older than Thedos, but in a position of authority. He worked directly for the Harbormaster, and as such would eventually have some influence on trade and commerce at the docks. However, given his youth, he had much to learn about dealing with applicants at the harbormaster’s office. His initial treatmen t of Thedos and Braewen indicated he was either new to his position, or soon to be departing it.
The clerk stammered an apology to Braewen. “My name is Albert. Let me just find the right document …” Albert searched for another moment before pulling a scroll, seemingly at random, from a pile of similar scrolls. He unraveled it and placed it on top of the pile. “This will do. Now,” Albert then pulled a blank parchment from another pile and placed it on the small writing space available to him. “I’ll just be able to copy the words on this parchment, and fill in the details. First, the owner’s name. That’ll be Brae-”
“No,” Braewen interrupted. “Thedos. Thedos Choedwyr.”
“Thedos. Alright.” Albert scribbled on the document. “And the name of the ship?”
“The Storm Dancer.”
“Just a moment.” Albert opened a drawer in his desk and removed a large tome. He turned a few pages and read, “Storm, Storm Crest, Storm Runner … nope, no Storm Dancer. You’re all set for that.” He closed up the book and returned it. “How did you come to choose that name?”
“I found a Beinison name plate in the aft castle, and translated it.”
“You read Beinisonian?” Albert asked.
“Some. It may not be perfectly accurate, but I think it’s close.”
“What are those other names?” Thedos asked.
“Other ships with the name ‘Storm’ at the beginning. They all seemed to have been destroyed during the Beinison invasion, though. I suppose they couldn’t weather the storm …” Albert looked at Thedos and Braewen expectantly. Braewen sighed, and Thedos rolled his eyes.
“Very witty,” Braewen said. “Can we proceed?”
“Straight. Now, which dock is she in? I need to confirm her.”
“Uh … she’s not,” Thedos offered. “She’s in a cove, outside of town.”
“Alright. How far?”
“About six leagues.”
“Looks like we’ve got a walk ahead of us.”
Thedos looked at his father. “Another bell! How much longer do you think this is going to take?”
All the way to the cove, Thedos kept worrying about Skar Jansen. He was sure she would have had the ship registered by now. Was this all just a waste of time? If Skar registered the boat first, then it was all for nothing. His dreams of the ocean, the wind, his own boat, his own life … they would all fall apart. True, he could always sign on the next ship leaving port. But he wouldn’t *own* the ship.
Never before had he ever owned anything that was truly his. Not truly. Half his clothes were handed down from his family or neighbors. His bedroom had been a wood closet beforehand. He knew someone else had owned the ship before him, but it was new to his world, and so it was new to him. And the ship was damaged. Wounded, in a way. Thedos would be the person to heal that ship; make it new, make it his own. It already felt like a part of him. His dreams were tied to that ship. If he lost her, he would lose those dreams.
It was before noon when they arrived at the cove, and Thedos’ worst fears were confirmed. Skar was already at the cove, and she was talking to Galwyn, the clerk. When she noticed Thedos arriving in the cove, she turned and smiled. It was Albert, however, who spoke first.
“Galwyn. It’s a surprise to see you here.”
“Likewise, Albert. What brings the Harbormaster’s lackey to this little cove?”
“Better than being *your* lackey,” Albert replied. “I’m here to register a ship. These men found it two days ago, and I’ve almost completed the paperwork.”
“Well, I hope it’s not for *this* ship.” Galwyn waved out to the Storm Dancer with his right arm. “I’ve just finished it.”
The two groups stood toe to toe, like opposing armies anticipating battle. Galwyn with his balding pate, angular facial features and large nose had an air of superiority as he faced Albert. Albert — with his full head of hair and smooth, pale skin — was a perfect contrast of Galwyn. Skar stood facing opposite Braewen, but she seemed enough to handle both him and his son. She wore an old, brown leather doublet with copper buttons over a white shirt and black, loose-fitting pantaloons. Braewen and Thedos wore the simple shirt and breaches of the commoner.
“I found this ship first!” Thedos yelled.
“No, I did,” Skar calmly stated. “I showed you where it was, yesterday.”
“My son,” Braewen interrupted, “came to me about this ship two days ago.”
“Perhaps,” Galwyn stated, “and he did show up at my office, that afternoon.” He cast a sideways glance at Skar.
“Was it two days ago?” she asked innocently. “I’ve been so busy. I really should have taken care of this sooner.”
Galwyn continued, looking back at Albert. “But it’s still one man’s word against another’s.” He looked at Skar. “Or woman’s.”
“Out of curiosity,” Albert asked, “how did you translate the name plate for the ship?”
“It’s a bare ship,” Skar answered. “There are no markings on it.”
“You don’t know about the name plate?” Braewen asked.
“What name plate?” Galwyn asked.
“This one,” Braewen answered. He reached into his pack and removed the Beinison plaque. “It was in the aft castle.”
Skar pointed at Braewen. “You’re lying!” She looked at Galwyn. “He’s lying. It’s a bare ship. Where did you get that piece of fakery, anyway?”
“It’s not a fake,” Braewen answered. “I found it myself in the aft castle.” He looked at Galwyn. “I could show you.”
“Humph!” Galwyn looked down his nose at Braewen. This was not a simple task: Braewen was a good two inches taller. Somehow, however, Galwyn managed it quite well. “Certainly, *one* of the scribes ought to go. And since I’m the senior scribe, here …” He stared at Albert.
“Oh, straight!” Albert glared at Galwyn. “Always sending the younger ones to do your work!” Albert began to remove his coat and shirt. “Plenty happy to pontificate about how difficult your work is, but as soon as something hard really comes along –”
“You never could do anything without complaining.” Galwyn interjected.
“But at least I did it!” Albert replied. He was down to his trousers, now, and turned to face Braewen. “Where was the plaque taken from?”
“I’ll show you,” Thedos replied and he began taking his shirt off.
“No, no, son.” Braewen placed his had on Thedos’ shoulder. “I’ll show the man where it came from.” He gave a smile to Galwyn.
“Well, I’m not going to sit here and watch this ship get stolen from me,” Skar said. “I’m going, too”
The three of them swam to the ship, Albert a little slower and less used to swimming. When Albert and Skar saw the place on the wall where the plaque had hung, it was obvious it had come from the ship. Skar conceded the fact, and they swam back to shore. She had thought about denying the plaque belonged to the ship, but the wood design and the bare spot were too close a match to be coincidence. She then thought about denying there even was a bare spot, when they got back to shore, but that would have just prolonged things until Galwyn had to actually swim to the boat. If he then saw the placement of the plaque, she would still not have the ship, but she would have made an enemy of a useful man to know.
“There’s no doubt,” Albert said to Galwyn. “The plaque belongs on that ship.”
Galwyn sighed and stared at Skar. “According to the ruling that Duke Clifton proclaimed, you can’t just go and register every freed vessel floating in the water. You actually have to investigate it.”
“I know,” she growled. She knew she was beaten, and her anger smoldered.
“Therefore,” Galwyn proclaimed, “since you did *not* follow due process, and the boy did, my only option is to let Albert register the ship for the boy, here.” Albert looked at Thedos. “Register the ship, boy, she’s yours.”
“Is she?” Skar exclaimed. “For how long?” She looked directly at Thedos. “How are you going to repair her, boy?” Skar pointed to the ship. “When your dreams are beached on that sand bar, rotting away with your ship, you’ll give her up. It’ll break your heart if you don’t, I promise you. And then I’ll have her.”
Skar looked at Galwyn. “Don’t get rid of that parchment yet, scribe. It’ll have its use soon enough. And I’ll pay you double for it.”
Skar made her way back through the brush, breaking branches and pounding dirt for as long as Thedos and the others could hear her. “Skar is not taking this lightly,” Albert observed. “At the risk of sounding obvious –”
“You?” Galwyn interjected with mock surprise. Albert stuck his tongue out at Galwyn.
“Skar is now your enemy,” Albert finished.
“Insightful,” Galwyn mumbled sarcastically.
“But why?” Thedos asked. “All I did was claim my ship, and she knows it. She didn’t have any right to do that.”
“She was caught trying to claim the ship first. There’s no law against that, so she’s not going to gaol, but now there’s living proof that she doesn’t have good business ethics. When this gets around, her business might drop, and a lot of men who work for her may decide not to. She’ll lose customers, too, probably. Make no mistake: you’ve made an enemy.”
“She got her due,” Braewen said. “Don’t worry about it, son. We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
Braewen left Thedos with Albert and the ship. He was smiling after the morning’s proceedings, and there was a spring in his step. He felt young again. The sight of the ship, the sound of the ocean, and the smell of the salty air all suddenly reminded him of his youth. He remembered the first time he spent a night above decks, on his first voyage. It had rained all night, he had been soaked through to his bones, and he had caught a fever. But it had been the best night of his life. He had not thought of that night in a long time.
When Braewen arrived home, he was surprised to find his wife already waiting for the noon meal. “Lianna, my sweet!” He rushed to her, picked her up and spun her around, knocking over the kitchen stools in the process. “We’ve got a ship!”
“We what?” she cried incredulously. “Put me down!”
“We’ve got a ship!” Braewen placed his wife’s feet firmly on the ground. “Thedos and I took fifteen Rounds to the Harbormaster’s office this morning, and registered her. There was a sign in the aft castle. Skar Jansen brought a scribe to register her too, but he recognized Thedos from two days ago, and we had the ship’s name, so we got her!”
“You gave our thieving son fifteen Rounds?” Lianna’s eyes went wide with astonishment and anger. “He was under my punishment, Brae! How dare you undermine me like that?”
“Lianna, he’s not a thief.” Braewen placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders. “He was desperate. And I can understand his feelings: the call of the sea, the salt air …” Braewen stared at the ceiling and balled his right fist. “Cirrangill’s beard, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt the roll of the sea beneath my feet.”
“Cirrangill?” Lianna’s eyebrows raised. “You’re a Stevenic.”
“Well, you know,” Braewen replied, stepping away from his wife. “He’s the sea god. Every sailor prays to him, whatever their religion.”
“Really?” she asked skeptically.
“Really. Listen,” Braewen continued, “I know you’re not happy about this situation, but I need to give something to my son. You’ve given your trade to our daughters.”
“I can only teach them blacksmithing, Brae.” Lianna insisted. “It cost us twenty-five Rounds to apprentice Cara to the silversmith. Stevene knows how much it will cost to apprentice Lysande!”
“Lysande is three years from finishing her apprenticeship with you, Lianna. And at least she’ll have a skill to use, even if she doesn’t go further. Thedos knows nothing besides farming, chopping wood, and how to make coal.”
“My father did that. So did my grandfather.”
“Perhaps, but *my* father was a sailor, and his father before him. And I am.”
“You gave that up.”
“For you! And I’ll give it up again. But Thedos doesn’t need to be locked up here all day, going nowhere, not seeing the world. Can’t you see? Why do you think he stole the money? Has he ever stolen anything else in his entire life?”
“No,” Lianna answered.
“Exactly. He’s just got a bit of the wanderer in him, and he wants to do something with his life besides chop wood. This is our opportunity –”
“*Our* opportunity?” Lianna’s eyebrows raised, again.
Braewen sighed. “His opportunity.”
“You want to go with him, don’t you?” Lianna asked.
“Part of me, yes,” he replied. Lianna sighed. “But I’m not going to,” he added quickly. “I just want to get him started. I still know a few people at the docks. I can get men for his ship, and help him get started.”
“But you’re not going anywhere?” Lianna asked.
“I promise. I’m staying right here, with you.” Braewen stated.
“Alright.” Lianna conceded. “But I’m still not happy with this.”
Braewen smiled. “You should have seen the look in his eyes when I told him the ship’s name was Storm Dancer.”
“You named the ship?” Lianna looked sideways at him. “I’d think that was Ted’s right.”
“No, no,” Braewen replied. “There was a plaque in the aft castle. It read ‘Verdin Cadar’.”
“That’s Beinison, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Braewen answered quickly and turned toward their pantry. “That’s how we got the name. Are you hungry? There’s some fresh veg –”
“Just a moment,” Lianna placed her strong arms on Braewen’s shoulder and turned him around to face her. “You don’t read Beinison. You barely read Baranurian.”
Braewen was caught. He smiled. “But you should have seen the look in Thedos’ eyes when he heard it!”
“You made it up!” Lianna’s eyes went wide with surprise.
“Yes. But Thedos doesn’t know that. And now it really is the ship’s name.”