Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Hyacinth girl

Phlebitis shivered even though he was stood in sunlight.  The skies had been clear for nearly two weeks now, and the wind had barely raised itself from its bed.  His ship sat in the harbour, effectively becalmed and he had wondered now for three days if he shouldn’t break out the oars and give the crew some exercise.  Even if it turned out that there was no wind on the open sea, by the time they were there the crew would have no choice but to either keep rowing until they found wind, or at the very least row back to the harbour.  If it were just a little cooler here he’d probably stay until the wind picked up again, but the heat was making him fretful, and the crew were having nightmares.  He couldn’t blame them, over the last six months they’d seen plenty of things to give people nightmares; he rather thought that a day’s rowing would probably tire them out to the point where they slept without dreams.  They might be grateful to him for that.
His thoughts turned for a moment to the great moths that the Eidolon of the Marches kept for the purpose of eating the dreams of its subjects, and he shivered again despite the heat.  Even if he were to capture one, he doubted that anyone would tolerate having it locked up on the ship for any time at all.  Some things were just evil in and of themselves.
There was a splash somewhere starboard of him and he pulled himself from his reverie and went to see who was swimming.  The harbour was normally far too busy and dangerous for that kind of activity, but with everyone becalmed several of the crews had taken to playing in the water.  As he strolled along the deck, he heard a cry go up from some of the men, and quickened his pace.
There in the water, being watched and laughed at, was a young girl with her arms full of flowers.  She was kicking her legs to stay afloat, and even managing a small amount of movement towards the dock wall, but she was refusing to let any of her flowers be tugged away by the chill green water.  Phlebitis sighed.
“Who pushed her in?” he asked.  “And who’s got the book on how long it’ll take her to drown?”  Scattered laughter among the men, but curiously no volunteers.  He hardened his expression.  “I’m thinking maybe we should row out to find the wind,” he said.  “If I don’t get an answer, I’ll be picking me some pacemakers for the rowing.”
“She’s not from our ship, Captain,” said someone in the crowd.  “No-one pushed her that we saw.”
Phlebitis frowned.  There were no other ships near enough for her to have jumped from one of them and reached where she was without being a strong swimmer, and with her arms full of flowers she wasn’t even a weak swimmer.  She was just a slow drowner.
“Lower a boat and bring her up,” he said.  “I want to know who she is.”
“Women are unlu–“ started the voice from the crowd, and Phlebitis pointed like a Titan exiling an impudent child.  “You, Jack,” he said.  “You’re leading the boat-crew.  Pick two others, and if that boat isn’t in the water in two minutes, you will be.”  He knew all the stories about women being unlucky on board a ship, but in his experience women were unlucky full stop.  Madame Sosotris came treacherously to mind, attempting to flirt with him despite being old enough to be his grandmother.  “Ninety seconds,” he said, feeling a touch cruel.
The boat rappelled down in short order, and he watched with slight satisfaction as they rowed out to the girl and then struggled to bring her aboard.  She refused to let go of even a single one of her flowers, and eventually they resorted to dragging her in by her heels and her head, though she squealed and writhed like a sea-snake when they did.  When they reached the ship, she remained in the boat while it was raised, and only when it was back on deck did she step demurely out and look around her.  The crew retreated a little, still superstitious, and Phlebitis stepped forward.
“Who are you, and what were you doing in the water?”
“I was swimming ashore,” she said, sounding defiant.  “Until you interfered.”
“Who are you?”
He got no answer, just a fiery stare.
“Fine,” he said.  “I’ll call you the Hyacinth girl since those are hyacinths.  How did you get into the water?”
“I stepped,” she said.  “I wasn’t supposed to end up in the water though.”
“Did you somehow miss the ship?” asked Phlebitis, and the crew laughed approvingly.  “It’s not that big, as they go.”
She flushed at being mocked, but thrust her elfin, pointy chin out.  “I was pushed off course,” she said.  “I normally arrive where I intend.”
“And you were intending to arrive on my ship?”
“Oh yes.  Madame Sosotris was most insistent that I come and visit you.”
Phlebitis’s heart sank.

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