Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 109

written 23 December 2007

Tor was glad to be nearing land again. Though he had sailed across the ocean once or twice, he never got used to being out of sight of land. Carlota had enjoyed the journey, but Ysbel had not. The weather had been foul, the ship tossed on the waves and spun in the troughs, and the rain seeped into even the cabin the captain had given up for the "ladies."

Every morning, Carlota put together simple biscuit-and-meat rolls for their meals and cooked them in the boat's oven, warming up water for Ysbel's tea at the same time, then sitting by her side "taking lessons" but actually helping decode and transcribe the old books; Tor spent his days casually helping the crew, making friends and learning all manner of gossip about places and people he knew. Ysbel spent as much time as possible in the Captain's ample hammock, which muted the worst of the heaving. When she could, Carlota would stand near the bow of the boat, watching the water curl up around the boat and push past, but always stayed out of the way of the sailors as they rushed back and forth, hauling lines and patching sails...

Tor had explained one evening as they sat eating their peasant fare, that though it was more comforting to be in sight of land it was far more dangerous this time of year, as the rushing tides and winds pushed ships toward the underwater spires and cliffs near the coast. And, he pointed out, because of the planet's shape, it was actually a more direct route they took, allowing the curve of the horizon to propel them around and back toward the river that led to Jane's town.

The voyage took longer than they had expected, as the ship battered against headwinds and tacked back and forth. Everyone on board was nearing the end of patience -- and supplies when the lookout finally spied the promontory near the mouth of the river they were making for. Tor and Carlota were packing the few supplies that remained in the cabin while Ysbel rested.

"Tell me about Jane," urged Carlota, who was eager for amusement.

Tor stopped for a moment, puzzling over his response. Finally, he smiled, and began:

Jane is a lovely woman. She is only a little older than you, but she has been married for many years already, with her husband and his children born of his first wife. Her husband is a merchant, as you know -- you have seen him, I am sure, as he travels both far north and far south in the course of a year, trading in laces, ribbons, buttons and other niceties for clothing.

Her hair is fair, with a natural curl that makes many women envious, but she is so sweet that no one begrudges her small vanity of wearing her matron's cap set back so the curls fall out at times. Her blue eyes are soft, but keen -- and so is her mind. She is always willing to help, but recognizes the value of work and time, and isn't easily taken advantage of.

She was always the top in the school in calculations and history. She has a remarkable mind, and a way with words that both lets people know where they stand while helping them be at ease around her. She married young, but was certainly ready for her role. I heard that when she was presented to the council in her new home it took her only a few minutes to reassure them of her ability to manage her husband's business in his absence.

Her husband's children, though not so much younger than she, were happy to have her come, and took to her as readily as the animals on the farm back home always did. They follow her about, and don't seem to mind taking direction from her in their father's absences.

Tor paused, considering his next words carefully, "I haven't seen them in a few years, I suppose the eldest one has left home by now. The last letter Jane wrote her mother was uncharacteristically brief, saying only that her husband had been gone for some time and that she looked foward to seeing me on my next journey, which she expected about now."

Ysbel leaned forward from the hammock, "You mean -- things might have changed in her situation?" Her dark eyes glittered in the light.

"I don't know," Tor sighed, rubbing his face tiredly, "I am sure that if things were truly amiss, she wouldn't have included the bits of lace she had made for Polly's expected baby..."

Home suddenly seemed very far away, indeed. The waves pounded on the boat, timbers creaking in the silence. Finally, Carlota spoke again.

"I am sure that a resourceful woman like Jane will both be ready for you -- for us -- and able to adjust her plans as necessary to help."

Carlota's thin hand brushed her black hair back. She wore it up, as did her aunt, and it alternately reflected and absorbed the light, giving it depth and mystery. Tor thought she wasn't pretty in the way Gilly and her daughters were, but she was a fine, strong woman.

"Jane will. Whatever her situation, she will be able to provide us with assistance, I am sure. And our journey, our quest will continue. I mean -- ours as long as you need me."

He caught her looking at him quizzically, and blushed self-consciously, "I suppose next you'll tell me you can read thoughts?" he laughed.

Carlota shook her head and gave him a half-smile, "No, -father- I can't."

Ysbel made a noise, but covered herself up with a blanket and rocked back and forth gently in the hammock as Tor and Carlota continued to speak of Tor's homeland and family. The next day, they would make port, and the journey would resume.