Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chapter Eleven, Scene 7

Happy Easter, everyone. If I could have hidden this little 'egg' somewhere on the blog, I would have, but I guess Blogger never planned for people to host Easter egg hunts on their pages. :-)

I often leave myself little notes as I write, such as "This needs more detail", or "What should we do about xxx?", where xxx is some issue or topic in the story that needs further explanation. In this particular scene, I did a certain amount of research on medieval-era ships, so that I probably have more knowledge than Balfrith would have. But since the story is written from his point of view, you as the reader only get to see what he sees - not what I do. I would have loved to add in more detail about the ship and its workings, but that would be outside of Balfrith's experience and knowledge, and potentially break his characterization.

The following scene is the final one in chapter eleven, completing the companions' preparations for, and journey to, Nifflgarde. Enjoy!

* * *

Throrsday afternoon came, and Balfrith and Eldamir paid their bill at the inn and departed, not planning to return. Calunoth awaited them at the pier, and Hallgeir arrived shortly thereafter so that they were all assembled on time. Once together, Calunoth led them to the ship, a wide-bodied Nifflgarde vessel called the Reindeer. Her captain welcomed them at the boarding gangway with a nod, not saying anything. Calunoth conferred with him for a moment, and then they exchanged a few coins. The others waited a few paces away, observing.

Hallgeir, looking about at her masts, sails and rigging, and her decks, and said, “Good ship. Calunoth chose well.”

Balfrith asked, “Oh, so you’ve heard of the Reindeer?”

“No. I see the quality of the ship now, with my eyes. The captain keeps her well.”

Balfrith nodded, looking about but not really knowing what it was that caught Hallgeir’s eye. What he did see was a ship about a hundred feet long, thirty feet wide, and floating fifteen feet above the water. It had a high prow with a sort of tower in it, a raised stern deck, and two sails, the main square mounted amidships and a smaller triangular sail mounted at the stern.

Eldamir spoke up then, and said, “I believe this is called a cog, is it not?”

Hallgeir answered, “Aye, or knarr, since it is of Nifflgarde. I am no sailing man, though I know something of ships. You can ask the captain, if you want to know more, though he may not want to spend his time explaining things to a ‘land-lover’.”

Balfrith shrugged. “It is no matter to me, I was just curious. If you say it’s been well-kept, then I will trust you.”

Just then Calunoth came back to them, having completed his transaction with the captain and shaken his hand. Approaching, he said, “We’re all set. Captain’s given us a cabin in the stern, better than I had asked or hoped for. I think he must have loaded extra cargo in the main hold, and didn’t want us stumbling about below the main deck. Whatever the case, we can board now and carry our things straight to the cabin. I’ll show you how to tie it down, so your things aren’t tossed about in rough seas.”

Calunoth led them up the gangway, taking one step at a time as the ship slowly rocked and the gangway itself rose up and down. Balfrith stumbled a bit, but managed to not fall over the rope hand-guide, and they all got aboard safely. Looking around, he said, “This is much smaller than the ship we took from Nûmidëa, don’t you think, Eldamir?”

“Aye, she is a bit. But don’t worry, the Men of Nifflgarde know how to sail the open seas better than any that I’ve heard of. And this vessel will handle rough waters better, I think, than the larger ship we took to Castor.”

Calunoth added, “And that’s a good thing. With winter coming fast, we’ll need a good ship and an experienced captain to ensure a safe journey - and we’ve got both in the Reindeer.” He led them aft to the stern deck, and Balfrith saw there were two doors under the raised rear deck, one on each side, with short stairs of a few steps from the main deck descending to them. Between them, a longer stairway led up to the raised stern deck. Calunoth led them down the stairs on the right side of the ship, opened the door and walked into the cabin that was to be theirs for the next two weeks.

Balfrith was right behind him, followed by Eldamir and Hallgeir. Stepping inside, the first thing he noticed was how small the cabin was: it couldn’t have been more than three paces across in either direction, and much of that was taken by the bunk beds on either side, and the single table at the aft end of the room. “We’re going to share this? The four of us?”

Calunoth grinned. “Aye, Balfrith. As I said, better than I had hoped we would get. Normally, only the senior officers would get such a cabin as this. I imagine that the captain is opening his own cabin to share with one or two of his officers, and the others will be sleeping below the main deck, with the rest of the sailors.”

Balfrith thought, If this is better, I’d hate to see worse. Smiling, he said, “I’m sure this will do well for us. Calunoth, my thanks for finding this ship for us.”

“Glad to be of service,” he replied, bowing and grinning. “I would suggest that, if you’re prone to sea-sickness, you take a lower bunk. Easier to get up quickly, if need be, and run outside for some fresh air.” He winked then, and Balfrith knew exactly what Calunoth meant by ‘fresh air’.

“Good advice,” Hallgeir added.

Eldamir said, “I can take an upper bunk, I’ve ridden many ships over the years and rarely gotten sick.”

“And I,” said Hallgeir.

“Guess that means we get the lower bunks, Balfrith,” said Calunoth.

“Indeed. That’s fine - though I’ll hope to avoid the sea-sickness just the same.” And just then, the ship rocked suddenly as a swell of water passed underneath her, and Balfrith swayed with the dizziness that struck him. Perhaps the lower bunk will be best.

The captain knocked on the door and opened it then, poking his head inside. “We’ll be casting off within the hour - high tide is upon us. Tie your things down, goodmen, for the waters look to be a bit rough tonight. If you like, after we’ve cast off and are well on our way, you can join me above-deck in the stern. If you need fresh air before then, keep yourselves to the main deck, and amidship, out of the way of my men. They’re not used to guests, so you’ll forgive them if their manners are a bit rough.”

Calunoth said, “Of course, captain - we understand. And we shall stay out of their way, as much as possible.”

The captain nodded, and left, closing the door behind him.

The companions remained in the cabin for the next couple of hours. Calunoth showed them how to tie their rucksacks and other gear down, with a simple knot that could be quickly undone if needed, but wouldn’t easily come untied by itself.

Later that evening they finally ventured out of the cabin to the main deck, remaining amidship as requested. But it wasn’t long before the captain called them to join him, and so they climbed the middle stairs up to the raised stern deck above their cabins, and stood with him to watch the sun set in the west, off the port side of the ship.

Fourteen days later, on the nineteenth day of Thror’s Hammer - a Throrsday, as Balfrith realized, and he laughed at the symmetry - they arrived at Drakenmount. Fortunately, aside from the occasional sudden need for fresh air, the trip was uneventful. It was only after they had been at sea for two days, that the captain admitted there had been some pirate attacks in those waters in recent months. He’d tried to reassure them that in this season it was very unlikely any pirates would be trolling the seas for prey, but Balfrith still spent an inordinate amount of time on deck, looking out over the port and starboard gunwales for any sign of sails on the horizon. Of course, that time spent on deck had nothing to do with his occasional sudden needs for ‘fresh air’.