Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 15

Published: 16 Mar 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

The Voyage

Javari and Maranon's family were at the stone quay. The acolytes with whom the boys had trained, and the senior cleric stood with them. The new Xander, filled with supplies, rode low in the water. The boys had taken her on several short voyages, to test her and to familiarize themselves with her, and Javari had pronounced her seaworthy. "Shipshape and Bristol fashion," was Phillip's assessment. The boys had laughed, and asked him to translate it into their language. "Um, it's an idiom," he said. "It doesn't really translate." They'd laughed again, not at him, but with joy at the freedom the ship brought. We're going on a voyage that none of their people has made in aeons, Phillip thought. They see it not as danger, but as an adventure. Their joy is contagious, but still, I have trepidation.

"Meeresstille und gluckliche Fahrt," Argon whispered as Xander sailed from the harbor.

"What's that? I know that?" Phillip said. "Calm seas and. . . lucky voyage?"

"Calm seas and prosperous voyage," Argon translated. He hugged Phillip tightly and kissed him, hard. "It's a blessing of my people and of the Lodge." Phillip nodded.

The elves who built Xander had installed a mount for Phillip's compass: a post near the wheel. They had questioned the post's purpose, but Argon had cited guild secrets. The elves nodded, and did as he asked. When Xander passed the offing and the seawall was no longer visible, Phillip mounted the compass in the sturdy case made separately for it and attached the case to the post. "The magnetic variation is near zero at Solimoes; I will check it by the stars as we go westward. For now, we steer west-by-west-southwest until Maranon tells us we've reached 30 grads south; then, we'll sail due west." Javari nodded. He and Phillip had talked about the role of the compass, and Phillip had tried to explain magnetic variation, but found that he could not. I remember that there was variation, nearly ten degrees on the reservation. I thought I knew why, but I no longer remember it. I do wish I'd paid more attention in that class! Still, he had retained the practical knowledge. Argon had listened attentively. He was awed that Phillip, who had lived all his life in a desert, knew so many of the secrets of the sea.

The boys quickly learned that once trimmed, Xander would follow closely a compass heading unless the wind changed. Javari slept with one ear open, as he put it, and would wake if any slight flutter of the sails signaled a shift in the wind. The first such time he'd wakened, he had opened the compass box and reached for the dark lantern. Before he could open the shutter on the lantern, he'd gasped. The compass is glowing!

Phillip was at first angry, and then puzzled, when he found himself unable to explain radioactivity to Javari. He struggled with the words, but all he could say was that the compass glowed because it was its nature to do so. Javari was dissatisfied with the explanation. "If it's a secret, all you have to do is say so," he said, somewhat petulantly.

"It's like a light spell," Phillip said. "Only it's a long-lasting one."

Javari did not know that spell, and the explanation still did not satisfy him. Neither he nor Phillip realized how frustrated. . . and angry. . . they'd become until Argon stepped between them. "Javari, Phillip truly wants to tell you, but he can't. It's. . . it's as if there was a spell on his tongue," he said. "I don't understand. . . "

"I don't either," Phillip said. "And I do want to tell you. . . I really can't."

Javari was mollified; but Phillip was not. I do wish I'd paid more attention in that class!

The wind was light, and the sea was smooth. Javari had tied down the wheel. He and Argon sat in the stern of the boat, playing a game that involved dice and frequent laughter. Maranon sprawled on the roof of the boat's cabin, dozing in the sunshine. Phillip retrieved the Shaman's book from his pack, and leaned against the wall of the cabin as he read. The Opening Way, he thought, and then turned the page. On this page, unlike the others, tiny handwriting filled the margin.

Phillip Windrider, Spartus, he read, by now, you know that the Opening Way does, indeed, transport a person bodily from one world to another. I have never doubted the power of the spell. The Opening Way you know is not the entirety of that ceremony; there is a part that is secret. You should know of it. You would not have learned it unless you had elected to become a Shaman. Johnny Two-Horses will not learn this until after many more years of training. The Opening Way can also send one's spirit, alone, between worlds.

My teacher thought that when our people went from world to world, sometimes they would go in the body, and sometimes they would go in the spirit, to be born as children in a new world. This is something that no Shaman has written before, but is part of the knowledge that we pass on orally. I write this with some reluctance, but with confidence that you must know it.

Some of our people have memories of other lives in other worlds, as well as of other lives in this world. It may be that we all pass from world to world even without the Opening Way. This, too, is something I think you may discover.

Maybe Javari and Maranon are right, after all, Phillip thought. Maybe I did know Maranon in a past life. Maybe that was on this world. Phillip thought for a moment. Maybe he lived on mine! Phillip turned back to the Shaman's book, and read the rest of the closely spaced writing over and over, until he was sure he had memorized what the Shaman wanted him to know.

Phillip woke suddenly. "What. . . ?" Javari was kneeling between the bunks. He held a lantern. Its light exaggerated the furrows on the boy's brow. "What's the matter?" Phillip whispered.

"I don't know!" Javari said. "Listen. . . no wind. We're becalmed."

Phillip realized that he did not hear the susurrus of water racing past the hull. That sound had been their constant companion since they had left the village. "Wake Argon," he whispered to Javari. Phillip disentangled himself from Maranon's arms, and stood. Then, he nearly fell. The boat was motionless, and Phillip was accustomed to the steady rocking that Xander made as she ploughed through the waves. He grabbed the rail of the top bunk and breathed slowly until his inner ears adjusted to this new sensation. By then, Javari and Argon had left the cabin. Phillip followed them through the companionway and onto the deck.

"Storm coming," Argon said. He looked toward the sky, but found no clues in the utter blackness that surrounded them. "Bad one, too, I think."

"What can we expect?" "What should we do?" Phillip and Javari asked, simultaneously.

"Strong winds, high waves, heavy rain. Lightning, perhaps," Argon said. Off the port quarter, on the horizon, a flash of light confirmed the lightning. "We need to strike the sails, except for the mizzen staysail. It will help keep us pointed into the wind. We must steer into the wind and into the waves–but we can't see them! Or the swallow!" Argon's voice broke. Phillip hugged him.

"Perhaps we can," he said. "What else must we do?"

"Secure the compass. . . and deploy the sea anchor," Argon said.

Phillip smiled, remembering the elves confusion at the device's name and Argon's insistence that it be made. He had described it only to the boat builders, and had sworn them to secrecy. I wonder, Phillip had thought,if with all these secrets, Argon has started–or revived–the elves' version of the Mariners Guild. "Wake Maranon," he said. "We should eat while we can. And, lifejackets and lifelines for everyone from now on!" He opened the locker under the helmsman's seat, and donned one of the cork and canvas vests. He clipped one end of a line to the harness, and the other to a cleat at the foot of the mast before making his way forward.

Focusing, concentrating, he reached for the magical energy that filled World. Carefully channeling that energy, he poured it into the steel ring on the bowsprit to which the jib foreblock was attached. Faintly, and then more strongly, the ring began to glow. When he thought the light bright enough, Phillip altered the magic from the simple light spell he'd learned from the elven cleric to one he had found in the Shaman's book. Chanting in 6/8 time with accents on the first and third beats, he did what the elves could not do: he locked magic onto the ring so that energy would continue to pour into it, pumping the electrons into higher orbits before allowing them to fall and release their photons of light. The light will last through the storm, Phillip thought. And, if the Shaman were right, it might last forever.

"Wow! Neat!" Argon, in lifejacket and lifeline, had come forward to strike the jib. He dragged the sea anchor behind himself. "Can you do that to the ring at the top of the mast, too?"

"Um, hmm," Phillip said. "As soon as the wind picks up, and you have lowered the mainsail."

A gust of wind ruffled Argon's hair, just as Maranon and Javari lowered the main. "I guess that's now," Phillip said. Minutes later, Xander rode in the center of an island of light on a sea that began to swell with the force of the storm. Javari sat at the wheel; Argon had fastened the sea anchor to a cleat that was attached strongly to the keel of Xander. Now, he sat beside Javari. Phillip and Maranon sat on either side of the mizzenmast, hands on the capstans that controlled the mizzen staysail's boom, ready to adjust the angle of that sail, should that be needed.

"She'll be moving backwards through the water, so she'll steer backwards," Argon called over the sound of the rising wind. "The sea anchor will cause that." Javari nodded his understanding.

The lights Phillip had spelled, the sea anchor, the mizzen staysail, and Javari's judicious helmsmanship kept Xander headed into the waves. The lights also allowed the four companions to see one another, and to draw strength and comfort from the others' presence. The storm brought myriad sensations: one moment their eyes stung from salt spray, the next they were washed with rain. Xander's prow lifted over one wave, and the lighted rings created rainbows in the spray. Then, the prow dipped, the bowsprit plowed below the water, and that light became a murky green. Javari turned his head toward Phillip. Light reflected in the spray illuminated the elven boy's face. He was grinning. Javari's having fun! Phillip realized. He's in his element. Phillip relaxed his white-knuckled-grip on the gunwale. If Javari is not worried, I should not be.

The sun was halfway to the zenith when the storm abated, and the sky cleared. "It's over," Argon said. Phillip reached out and squeezed that boy's hand, and then Maranon's. He stepped into the steersman's cockpit and hugged Javari. "You did well. . . you did beautifully," Phillip said. "You kept Xander in harmony with the wind and the sea; no one could have done that any better than you did."

Javari trembled in Phillip's arms. "Thank you, my captain," he said. "I'm so tired. . . "

Maranon swarmed aloft and rethreaded the lines through the block while Phillip and Argon unpacked the sails. Javari sat, comfortably, in the cockpit with a jug of water and a loaf of flatbread.

The storm had not damaged Xander. Within an hour, the boys were clean and dry, and the sails were set. Xander continued her westward voyage. As sext approached, Argon brought out the cross staff and checked their latitude. After making several readings, he announced that they had been blown north of their course, and would need to steer southwest for the rest of the day. "We should turn west at dusk, and tomorrow until I can check, again." Phillip nodded, and Maranon set the course.

The night sky was particularly clear after the storm. Phillip and Argon lay on the roof of the cabin. Above their heads, the mainsail billowed. Phillip gasped as Argon received his boy magic. "Do you remember," Phillip asked when Argon had curled up beside him. "Do you remember the night we looked at my stars?"

Argon giggled. "You told me about the man who rotates around his penis."

"I remember." Phillip laughed softly. "The first night on your world, you showed me the ship's wheel, and, of course, I know the river," he said, and then gestured to World's Milky Way. "But I do not know the other stars, nor the planets. Will you teach me?

Argon had fallen asleep, but Phillip lay awake, staring at the sky. He knows that this world orbits the sun, and that other planets do, as well. He understands the difference between the three inner planets and the three outer planets, and how that affects their appearance from World. He says his people can predict eclipses of the great moon, which seems to have no other name. All the constellations are things–no people, no mythical heroes, no supernatural entities. No belief in astrology, either. I wonder if that's true, everywhere. With that thought, Phillip fell asleep.

Dawn raced or crawled across World, depending on the latitude. As usual, it was accompanied by a slight shift in the wind as differential heating of ocean, land, and atmosphere pushed air masses around. The mainsail luffed, waking both Phillip and Javari. Javari bolted up the ladder and untied the wheel. "Boom!" he called, breaking Phillip's reverie.

Voyage Journal

Not even Argon's people have the notion of a ship's log. This does not surprise me, since literacy is limited to clerics, scholars, and nobles–and neither Argon's people nor the elves have nobles or scholars. My journal has become the ship's log. I must describe our life on Xander.

We bathe in water dipped from the sea by a bucket at the end of a rope, and then rinse off with a cupful of water that Javari has purified. (Maranon has learned the purification spell, too, but isn't as adept, yet. Argon still conceals his knowledge to ensure that the elves feel needed. I told him that wasn't necessary, and, in fact, was akin to lying. He answered with a kiss and the admonition that he would do much more than lie to ensure the happiness of those boys. It is hard to argue with that.)

I watch Javari's magic closely. It's fascinating, but I still do not know what he does. It's as if he dipped an invisible strainer into the bucket, and scooped out a nearly invisible speck of salt. I remember reading that there is gold dissolved in seawater, but Javari said he doesn't know anything about that.

Before we left the island, I asked the cleric why I couldn't perceive Javari's magic. He shrugged, and said that my magic was of the air and Javari's was of the earth. I think he really didn't know, but I also think he gave me the best answer he could.

"Look!" Argon called from the crow's nest. "A cloud! Perhaps it will rain!" The thought cheered the boys. The water Javari purified was adequate for bathing, but the topside of the boat was covered with a film of salt, formed when spray evaporated. Maranon shinnied up the mast; Phillip's heart caught in his throat as it did each time he saw one of the boys climb so high, so quickly.

"It's not a cloud," Maranon called. "It's a sail!" The elven boy's eyes, keener than human eyes, had correctly interpreted the white patch on the horizon.

"Coming toward us, or away?" Javari called.

"Can't say, yet," Maranon replied.

It was nearly half-an-hour later when Maranon announced, "Moving away from us–but we're catching up with it. It looks to be what you called a galleon."

Javari looked at Phillip. "What should we do?"

"Will he have seen us?" Phillip asked. The question was rhetorical; neither he nor Javari could know the answer. "Will he pursue us?"

Phillip decided quickly. "Strike the mainsail; we'll sail with only the mizzen staysail. We'll be less visible that way. Argon? For fair winds, should we sail a little north or a little south of our course?"

Argon answered quickly. "Northwest. And, if he pursues us, we can sail better and faster in mixed winds than can any of the galleons. Their lateen sails are hardly a match for our mainsail and jib."

"Make it so, Number One," Phillip said to Javari. Xander slowed, and turned to a heading of 315 degrees by Phillip's compass.

Maranon watched from the crow's-nest as the cloud of the galleon's sails disappeared to the southwest. As night approached, Javari raised the mainsail and carefully trimmed the ship to follow a course due west.

Phillip was the first to wake the next morning. He stepped to the leeward rail and chuckled when he remembered Javari's earlier lesson. Never piss into the wind, he thought. His laughter died when he turned, and saw not a mile from Xander, the sails of a galleon.

"Javari! Maranon, Argon! They've found us!" Phillip called, and hastened to the mainmast.

The boys boiled from the cabin. "Raise the jib," Javari ordered. "Maranon, take the wheel! Steer 25 grads off the wind." Javari hastened to join Phillip on the windlass. "Argon, raise the mizzen staysail! We need all the canvas we can get!"

When the jib had been raised, Phillip looked around and took stock. All the canvas had been raised, and was full. Xander heeled about 20 grads as Javari took the wheel and steered closer and closer to the wind. There was a rumble as the mainsail began to luff, but Javari laid off, and the sail billowed, again. Their path took then to within perhaps a furlong of the galleon. It was a risk, but as Argon had said, Xander was much better at sailing into the wind. The crew of the galleon gave up the chase by mid-morning, and the boys watched the cloud of its sails disappear to the south.

They kept a watch both night and day, and got little rest for the next two days. No one complained, however. They were all anxious to put distance between themselves and the mysterious ship, and to get back on course for Elvenholt.

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