Telbarisk slept on the forecastle that night, the breeze cooling him into comfort. He awoke often, watching the stars in the sky move slowly away from his gaze.
He noted that when he awoke, the ship’s sails weren’t as bellied as they needed to be. He pulled the kil in from the ocean until filled them, imagining the sky as water pouring sideways into large water skins.
He joined the men in the mess for breakfast, or more like he happened to be near them when he got his rations. There were two wooden tables with wooden boxes as seats, all affixed to the floor. Any seats were taken, though he hadn’t expected anyone to save him one. In fact, he hoped to get his food and leave as quickly as possible.
It appeared at first that the men eating were content to ignore Telbarisk as he got his ration of oatmeal, watered beer, and peas. They were eating silently, though a few were in quiet conversations. At one table, Atchell said something that caused the men to laugh. He looked up and caught Tel’s eye, the broad grin dropping quickly.
“Hey, men. What if I decided I didn’t want to work?” Atchell asked loudly from his seat, sitting back so he was leaning against . “Would I still get to eat and lounge around like the straw man does?”
“No!” one man at his table responded. “You’d be whipped by the first mate!”
“Maybe we should help our dear boss out by flaying the straw man for him,” Atchell said. He rose from his seat. “A lash for every day he’s been idle? Maybe two, because he takes up so much room?”
The men at his table made sounds of agreement. Telbarisk went to leave without his beer when he was blocked in the doorway by a man, who moved out of the way quickly. “Why, I think he’s your responsibility, Atchell,” he said, walking to take a seat made by the men at the other table. “You’re the one that forced the straw man aboard.”
“Oh, Brickerd, you’re just mad I beat you at poker last night.”
“Maybe I am, but it doesn’t change the fact that you were the one that brought a useless man to join our crew when you didn’t know what he could do,” he said, chewing on his boiled pork. “It’s kind of like that time you caught that huge spiny lobster and made everyone haul it up. Totally inedible and wound up snipping a few of the crew up.”
Telbarisk had no idea what the situation meant, but he did know it would be wise to leave and find Jormé. He was in his cabin, as he usually was first thing in the morning.
“Telbarisk! Join me. Why aren’t you eating in the mess? Not that I mind you here.”
Tel sat in the first mate’s low bed and put his meal aside while he recounted the events. While Jormé listened, he shaved his beard in a small mirror he had hanging from a string around a nail. His cabin on the Gueylard was larger than most ships’, due to the fact that the officers would meet in Jormé’s room for navigational briefings. It was still a cramped experience, Telbarisk was much more comfortable here than he had been belowdeck.
When Jormé finished, he sighed and shook his head. “This is very tricky, Telbarisk. It’s good that Atchell has enemies, but he’s still trying to rile the crew up. The captain is content with his behavior, and they seem to have an understanding. I don’t think he’ll mutiny, but there are other things he can do to make things difficult for me.”
“I’m sorry, Jormé. I’ve caused this.”
“Brickerd was right; Atchell forced you aboard. It’s not your fault. I think most of the crew actually believes that, too, or else we would have seen some ugly things by now.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think it might be best if you stay in my cabin as much as possible and only venture out at night to sleep on the deck. I’ll get your meals for you.”
“If you think it’s best,” Tel said.
“The men may not know what you’re doing for them, but I do. What can I do for you while you’re here? Are you fond of strong drink or tobacco? Do you like to gamble?”
“I do not like the taste of the beer and I don’t know what the other two are.”
Jormé smiled. “I thought not. You don’t seem the type to waste money on excesses. Me, I have my one vice.” He opened the window before lighting his pipe.
“How is this a vice?” Tel asked.
“It’s considered rude by certain people and in certain company. I can understand; no one enjoys having smoke blown in their face.” He exhaled out the side of his mouth, towards the window. “I’m also not supposed to be spending money on frivolous things. I should be saving all my money to buy a business back home and start a family. I enjoy this one thing because it puts me in the right mood to think or read.” He paused to muse for a moment. “How about books? I can lend you some of mine if you’d like.”
“I can only read in Grivfia and not enough in Ghenian to understand things.”
“There’s a thought! I could teach you to read Ghenian. Two for one, as well, since Ghenian and Aroukean are pretty much the same language.” He cleared his desk, putting all his equipment and maps into drawers and pulling out a leather-bound notebook. “I have my duties shortly, but I can check in while you’re in here and see your progress.”
“I would like this. Could we start with the letters? It has been a few years and I feel I might not remember them.”
“Yes, we’ll start there.” He wrote the twenty-seven letters down on one side of the page and turned the book back towards Telbarisk. “Any of these look familiar?”
He pointed to all but thirteen and was able to sound out the correct sound. Jormé went over the remaining letters and had him write pages of them, to hear their sound while practicing their shape. “I have to go check on things, to make sure the men are doing their jobs and not plotting to throw me overboard, and do calculations on our speed. It’s kind of just a show at this point, since I know how fast we’re going and where we’re going, but I don’t want the men to get lazy. I’ll be back soon.”
Telbarisk had finished his work by the time Jormé returned. “A thought occurred to me while I was on my rounds. How is it that you speak Ghenian?”
“I was at Nourabrikot when a group of men arrived from Merak. They wore gray masks, always, and spoke to the king many times. One of the masked men was bored and decided to teach me and some other of my people Ghenian while the meetings went on without them. We learned much from each other.”
Jormé raised his eyebrows. “Do you know what a trirec is, Telbarisk?”
“Yes. That man, he was a little taller than the rest, befriended me and spoke much more frankly than the others. He told me he killed men, stole things, or spied for money. I told him he wouldn’t find much work in Ervaskin. He laughed and said there was always work for a trirec, but maybe I was right. I think I was, because they left over five years ago and they haven’t been back.”
“So, Ervaskin has been visited by foreigners. And here I thought you were totally isolated.”
“The king of the Valley of the Cold Winds, Ashiafraubiner in our tongue, has been interested in meeting with foreigners. There has been delegates from your Arouk and Gheny and a missionary group from Noh Amair since he took the crown on his thirty-fifth birthday. About nine years now.”
“And how do you feel about this new development?
“All I’ve ever wanted was to help my people. I led because they told me I would help that way. I gathered kil and used it because they told me I would help that way. The hardest thing that’s happened to me in my whole life was being ripped from my people and told I was no longer helpful. I still want to help them, but I don’t know how I can if I’m not with them. I feel like a parent must feel when their child grows up and moves away. They can no longer help what they love the most. ”
“That is a tough lot, my friend.”
“I still believe in kouriya, though. I will be shown the way.”
“Yes, what is this ‘kouriya’ you’ve spoken of?” Jormé asked while he got comfortable behind his desk.
“It is very difficult to explain. Maybe ‘faith’ would be a good definition. Faith that when you fall, someone will catch you, or when you hunger, someone will show up with food.”
“Do all grivvens follow kouriya?”
“Not all, and perhaps not as strongly as me, but some do. It hasn’t let me down before, my friend. Time and time again I wished to speak out or say ‘no’, but I didn’t. I listened and hoped that what I heard was true. And time and time again, it hasn’t failed me.”
“You follow a unusual faith, Tel. I don’t understand how your immediate pain doesn’t stop you from acting in your best interests.”
“My immediate pain,” he said, “is nothing in the long term. I have to see myself as the sapling growing in the harsh lands, knowing one day a forest will grow around me and I will be happy.”
Jormé thought on this for a moment. “You do realize that it’s only Ervaskins that believe this? No one will give you charity if you need it. It’s not how the world works. I don’t mean to be so bleak, but I want to warn you that you might need to adjust your outlook in order to survive, my friend.”
“ I can tell from the men on this ship that they do not give and receive freely. It’s not an expectation of goodwill and cooperation. It’s an understanding that you are being nudged along in life. I could have fought the men and hurt them. I understood that, while I didn’t want to come on the ship, it was what needed to happen.”
“You know what’s best for you, Telbarisk. I would hate to hear you’ve been wronged because you are so easily persuaded.”
He smiled. “Kouriya worked for me when it brought you in my path. I am still alive. I have food and shelter and someone to talk to. It works again.”
Whatever brewed beneath the surface on the ship ceased to play out in the remaining time of the trip. For three weeks, Telbarisk worked with Jormé to learn Ghenian. They ate their meals together and he protected Tel from the other men.
They spoke about many things, mostly their homelands. Jormé told his tale of working his way up the ladder from cabin boy to first mate. Telbarisk, in turn, spoke of Ervaskin, of his life of duty, and his hopes when he returned to his home in ten years.
They arrived in Hanala with no crew member being the wiser to Tel’s abilities. They assumed that they took Telbarisk on as a poor investment and didn’t bother trying to sell him as a slave. Perhaps Tel’s performance even stopped people from venturing to Ervaskin to take grivvens for free labor. Only Jormé knew Telbarisk had worked the hardest of anyone aboard.