My hundredth post!
(Yeah, I'm sure that's what you were thinking of.)
And to mark this special milestone, I am posting the fourth Quest for Rinaria (that's probably closer to what you were thinking of.) This one is the part about the whale's eye, so guess who this one will focus on!
And without further ado - a real reason to celebrate!
The Quest for Rinaria
Part IV ~ The Whale's Eye
“Shartalla better be right this time!”
Eneng rolled his eyes at his sister. They stood on a rocky beach on Ribasco Island. Said island was covered in colorless, sharp stones and had little growing on it and no inhabitants. It was exactly the kind of place Eneng, with his practicality, would expect to be the home of a dragon. It was a place for tough creatures that could fly, were impervious to sharp rock, and could cause intense destruction. The images Ksheygha had of brightly-colored, magnificent, beautiful creatures guarding many-hued caves, or Shartalla’s of a clear blue, mysterious beauty frolicking gracefully between reefs and beneath the waves, did not figure largely in Eneng’s imagination.
Eneng and Winterblade’s crews had spent the last day, night, and early morning scrambling over sharp, poky rocks searching for the whale’s eye as mentioned in the riddles, only to be informed by Craic the raven that Shartalla’s hint had been wrong, that they should have been looking for a reef.
Eneng was just as annoyed, but not with Shartalla like his sister was.
“Winterblade,” he said coldly, “y’er the one who translated it wrong. Don’t point yer paw at Shartalla.”
“I translated it fine,” Winterblade snapped. “Even Ksheygha said so!”
Eneng did not reply. He had no desire for his crew to see him and his sister quarreling. Besides, his mind was occupied with the next clue.
The whale’s eye. The whale’s eye. North through the whale’s eye. Whisperin’ waves, why does that sound so familiar?
He gestured to his bosun to sound a horn that his crew knew meant to return to ship. The ferret complied and Eneng led the way toward the boats that were floating in the sea nearby. Further out in the ocean were the two ships Searaider and Seawraith.
The larger one, the Searaider, was Eneng’s command. He was a mercenary by trade, and had sailed under the flag of numerous kingdoms, but usually he sailed for Lady Crow of the Rangers. But Crow, the headstrong ruler of the northern lands, didn’t need his services for the time being, which was what had landed him on this surreal quest. Treasure-seeking wasn’t something his crew was used to.
Winterblade, in contrast, was what seafarers called a raider. She made her living by attacking trade and merchant ships – and her usual targets were enemies of the Rangers or the Wraith Mice. The Seawraith was painted blue all over, making it very hard to see from a distance.
Eneng waded out to the dinghy that would return to Searaider, but instead of clambering into it, he leaned against the hull and faced his sister. “You ever been to Mauggiak Island?”
Winterblade shook her head. “It’s just a whaling center that’s been scrapin’ by fer ages. Whalers ain’t got much in the way o’ treasure.”
Eneng frowned at her. “They’re big merchants, though.”
Winterblade jerked her head back. “What do they got but whale meat?”
“Oil, whale bone, perfume, fuel, hide, and dye,” Eneng reeled off. “Whales are like gold in the sea.”
“Wait,” Winterblade protested, holding up her paw. “Perfume? How do you get perfume out of a whale?”
Eneng grimaced. It was something he didn’t like to think about. “Some kinda juice in the whale’s head.”
Winterblade wrinkled her nose. “For perfume? I mean, for fuel, or oil, or somethin’ practical, I get it, but perfume?”
“Mighty expensive perfume,” Eneng added dryly. “A bottle the size of a candle flame sells fer eight times its weight in gold.”
Winterblade stared at him. “I al’ays knew there was some dead’eads ashore,” she said finally, “but I ne’er knew anyone would pay gold fer fish blood.”
It was in Eneng’s nature to be particular about details – after all, it wasn’t blood, and a whale wasn’t a fish – but as the end result was the same in his eyes, he didn’t say anything contradictory to his sister. Instead, he mused, “I’ve been hired by a whaler or two t’ look after their ships when they’re out whalin’. But never around Mauggiak Island.”
“I ain’t even exactly sure where it is,” Winterblade put in.
Eneng glanced back to the shore to see most of their shore parties returning. “We’ll talk more when we get there,” he said. Then he vaulted into the dinghy.
Winterblade jumped into hers and leaned against the side. Eneng looked away out to the open sea. Even if Shartalla was right about Windcrier’s Reef being the dragon’s nested clutch, there was no way to verify that. If there was any landmark there, it would have vanished long ago, as reefs were so constantly changing. Windcrier’s was a good guess, assuming Mauggiak Island had been a whaling center back in the time of Rinaria; although Shartalla was more likely to know that than any of them. What they needed to find at Mauggiak Island was some kind of verification that they were on the right trail.
Of course, the odds of Shartalla actually looking for verification were slim. For her just being on the ocean was verification enough that she was in the right place. But Eneng had become a pirate out of practicality, and even though he had a deep-seated love for the sea, his practical side couldn’t be ignored.
He hoped the whale’s eye was more definite than the dragon’s nested clutch.
Winterblade was no stranger to feeling like a fool, and this time she felt that she was completely justified in her mistakes. If even Ksheygha had missed the connection between the words leveatas and leviathan then no one could point paws at her.
As soon as her dinghy got back to Seawraith and a count was taken to be sure everyone had made it back aboard, she gave orders to sail.
She found Mauggiak Island on her charts – it was a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, and the nearest island was at least two leagues away – and gave her helmsferret the heading. Searaider, having a larger crew and thus a larger shore party, would be a ways behind them, but that didn’t bother the ferret. Her brother had an annoying habit of never disappearing.
“Any signs of Nygoan?” she called up to the crow’s nest.
“Negative, Cap’n,” the ferret called back.
Winterblade ran through the list of other pirates they couldn’t afford to encounter on this voyage, but with the exception of Arasam, she knew for a fact that all of them were on the other side of the mainland. It was the season for collecting ivory, after all, and the east shores were the best places to loot ivory-filled trade ships.
When Seawraith was under sail, she had some of the lightest motion out of any ship. She was so light that she sat atop the waves, but when she sailed she was fast enough that she wasn’t tossed about too much. Searaider was also a very still deck, but that was because she was so very large. In any case, Seawraith skimmed the waves under a southerly wind, sailing nor’northwest towards Mauggiak Island, and she was sure to be the first there – unless, as usual, Shartalla had better wind.
Eneng drummed his paw impatiently on the railing as Searaider followed in Seawraith’s wake. He knew these waters fairly well, but he could not, for the life of him, puzzle out the whale’s eye.
North through the whale’s eye. North through – so we have to sail through it. It could be a ring of rocks, I suppose. Could be a channel atween cliffs.
He didn’t at all like that last possibility. There were stories about living cliffs that collapsed of their own will as ships sailed between them. Such stories had always made him nervous when sailing between anything.
They first caught sight of Seawraith again at noon, and this time she was stopped dead and riding on her anchor. To Eneng’s complete astonishment, she was stopped right in front of two tall colonnades of red rock reaching right out of the sea!
Except … they weren’t two. Or at least, they hadn’t always been. The two sides were reaching towards each other as if they had once been connected. The top of the circle was missing, as if a giant tentacle had ripped it away. Eneng shuddered at the image that thought conjured up.
Searaider pulled up alongside Seawraith and Winterblade jumped onto the railings of Seawraith. “Took y’ long enough t’ get here!” she called impatiently.
“Why’re you stopped?” Eneng called back.
Winterblade pointed into the ocean. “This is Windcrier’s Reef. I’m guessin’ that rock used t’ be the dragon guardin’ the nested clutch. Can’t be the whale’s eye, ’cause it’s facin’ east t’ west.”
“Why d’y’ say it’s the dragon?” Eneng shouted.
“Has t’ be,” Winterblade shouted back confidently. “That ‘map’ weren’t made fer creatures who c’d navigate the stars or follow the currents. They had t’ use landmarks creatures’d recognize.”
Eneng looked back at the rocks and imagined them with their top part back in. It might have looked like a dragon that had breached and was now diving back into the sea.
“I think y’er right!” he yelled to his sister. “On to Mauggiak Island, then!”
“Try t’ keep up!” Winterblade hollered back. “I’m tryin’ t’ beat Shartalla!”
Eneng rolled his eyes. “’Blade, she’s got an hour’s head start at least an’ a swifter ship!”
“But Wynraser’s ridin’ heavy with provisions!” Winterblade yelled back, already starting for the bowsprit.
Eneng shook his head as his sister’s ship hauled up anchor and started sailing due west. Wynraser was widely known as the fasted ship on the seas. That was how Shartalla had fashioned her name – from the words wind racer. Eneng had no idea why she’d decided to archaicize the name, but whatever the reason, it still got her point across. Shartalla was not one to be challenged, and neither was her ship.
Nevertheless, Winterblade still insisted. Eneng would never understand why his sister repeatedly bashed her head against a wall.
But then, he also didn’t understand why Shartalla got such a thrill out of sailing over hundreds of leagues that all looked the same. Nor why Ksheygha would rather be suffering on a ship under a slave driver captain than on an adventure with a real friend. Maybe it was just the female spirit he couldn’t grasp.
Mauggiak Island was a lightly-wooded, fairly hilly island maybe three miles in circumference. Three-quarters of the island was taken up by the village of Maakah. The rest of it was probably uninhabitable. This was quite far north of Arashna and most likely parallel with the border of the Rangers’ land.
There was, much to Eneng’s relief, a wharf on the north side of the island – his paws were still raw from scrambling over the sharp rocks on Ribasco Island – but it wasn’t big enough for large ships. His lookout’s eyes caught sight of Wynraser and Seawraith moored in the shelter of the northeast side of the island, and Searaider made for there.
“We’ll take the longboat around t’ the jetty,” he said to his bosun. “Round up a crew of eleven. Have some’n pack some treasures an’ some food, case we have t’ buy infermation.”
“Aye aye, cap’n,” the bosun replied. Then he strode the length of the ship, calling out orders.
What’ll we be askin’ about? Eneng wondered. Guess this is why we need Ksheygha. She’ll know what needs t’ be asked.
Asking about a whale’s eye in a whaling community was bound to produce confusion. But, as the longboat glided around the island toward the wharf, Eneng saw the Oceanflower approaching from the south. He smiled to himself; at least he wasn’t the rotten crab that was the last to the party.
The wharf was lined with long canoes carved with ferocious whale-faces. At each end was a pair of carved wooden poles depicting other parts of life on Mauggiak Island – a clam, a raven, a fish, and at the top, the legendary stormbird – a sea raptor that allegedly caused lighting when it opened its beak.
Waiting at the land end of the wharf was a ferret gray with age draped in a cloak of fish scales. The iridescent raiment made his gray fur look like a raincloud. Not sure who he was, Eneng inclined his head and bent his spine somewhat to show respect.
“Identify yourself, stranger,” the old ferret said in a calm voice.
“Captain Eneng of the Searaider,” Eneng replied, keeping his tone low. For some reason he had always associated a low voice with politeness. “My sister is Winterblade, captain o’ the Seawraith.”
The old ferret smiled. “And she waits at the tavern,” he said, waving his paw behind him. With that, he stepped aside.
Right at the edge of the wharf was a well-worn path that led up a small but steep hill. Half-hidden behind two sky-reaching pines was a wooden building with windows that were grimed and dim. Eneng turned to two of his crew.
“Stay here an’ watch fer signals from the ship,” he muttered. “One o’ you come up if trouble shows.” The two of them nodded reluctantly and took up places at the end of the jetty.
Eneng led the remainder of his shore party up to the tavern.
To his surprise, it was a tavern very similar to the one in Myanka, except for one thing – the tables. They were attached to the walls and jutted out a little, leaving a large open space in the middle. Part of that open space was taken up by a fire pit which, fortunately, was completely empty. It would have been boiling if there was any flame.
“Get yer drinks,” he muttered to his crewmates. They hurried over to the actual bar part of the room while he scanned the dim area for his friends.
Shartalla caught his eye first; her brilliant flaming pelt was impossible to miss. As he started for the table where she sat with Dejuday, Zuryzel, and Winterblade, she spotted him. With her paw she kicked a chair away from the table, indicating where he was supposed to sit.
Dejuday twisted partly around as Eneng dropped into the chair. “Good, you made it,” he said as Winterblade slid a full mug toward her brother. “Any signs of Korep?”
Eneng nodded, raising the mug partway to his mouth. “I saw Oceanflower as we moored. I reckon Korep and Ksheygha’ll be here in ’round an hour.”
He took a swig from the mug; then choked on it. “What is this?”
“It ain’t ale,” Shartalla sighed regretfully.
“No, it ain’t,” Eneng agreed. “It tastes like seaweed without any salt!”
“It’s clams cooked in vegetable water,” Zuryzel supplied. “The only beverage they serve here, apparently.”
She sipped from it with a pleasant smile and daintily wiped her mouth. In truth she thought it tasted like one of her mother’s remedies, but Eneng and Winterblade’s reaction to her apparent enjoyment was just too priceless.
Winterblade scowled and pushed her mug aside. “So – as we were sayin’, Eneng – we think ’tis best t’ wait fer Ksheygha t’ get ’ere. She’ll know best what t’ ask, an’ per’aps who t’ ask.”
Eneng nodded, rejecting his drink just as firmly as his sister had. “I agree.”
“Eneng,” Shartalla said, her black eyes glittering, “look at yer crew.”
Eneng swiveled around in his chair to look at the bar. His crew, disappointed on being told there was no ale, were even more disappointed with the vegetable water they’d been served. A few seats down from them, Una the raccoon was on her fourth mug of vegetable water – apparently she liked it better than the usual fare aboard a ship.
“’ow’d Una hold up under way?” Winterblade asked curiously.
Shartalla grinned. “Not to bad, actually. I was surprised, but she was calm, collected, strong … anythin’ a sailor’d appreciate.”
Zuryzel took another sip from her mug.
“Did anyone find what was on that drawing o’ the dragon’s clutch?” Eneng asked.
Shartalla grinned sheepishly. “Oh … yeah … we were ’oldin’ the paper upside down.”
She put said drawing on the table, then rotated it one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. Now the little round mounds looked more like dips beneath the waves.
“They’re tide pools,” Dejuday explained.
“I didn’t see any at Windcrier’s Reef,” Eneng frowned.
“We got there just as the tide was comin’ in,” Shartalla explained. “Between the two sides o’ that rock, there was about a paw’s depth o’ water over real smooth rock. These pools are in the rock, deep enough t’ dive into. Couple o’ my crew did that, even.”
“Sounds fantastic,” Winterblade yawned. “Did any o’ ye get any sleep last night?”
“Sleep?” Shartalla exclaimed. “Sleep? We’re on an adventure! Who needs sleep?”
Winterblade dropped her head onto her paws.
It was another hour before the tavern door opened and Korep and Ksheygha entered. There was no doubt they had had the best place to search. Scattered Stones Keys were lush, sunny, and sandy. Ksheygha had tucked a magenta hibiscus flower into a mother-of-pearl bead bracelet she wore on her left paw, while Korep carried a flask that smelled strongly of rum and coconuts. They made a beeline for the table where the other captains waited.
“So!” Korep said jovially. “I hear Shartalla’s search was the most profitable, but how were y’er others?”
Eneng glowered at him.
“Is the ale ’ere good?” Korep continued brightly. “I c’d sure use a drop!”
“There ain’t any ale, Korep,” Winterblade muttered.
“Oh,” said Korep, comical mock dismay written all across his face. “What a shame!”
Shartalla rested her chin on her paw. “You’ve been here before.”
Korep grinned at her. “Enough times t’ know t’ stock up on ale in the Scattered Stones Keys prior t’ makin’ berth here!”
With that, he shed his sea coat to reveal six flat flasks hanging by a strap around his neck. Ksheygha rolled her eyes and sat in an empty chair, apparently not interested in whatever her friend was planning. Winterblade’s eyes grew round and she said sweetly, “Y’ can’t drink all that by yerself, y’d pass out. Maybe y’ c’d share some o’ the excess?”
Korep put one paw up on the only open chair and tilted his head thoughtfully to one side. “Hm. What d’ you think, Ksheygha?”
The ferret he addressed apparently didn’t share his playful mood.
“It’s your rum,” she replied indifferently. “Do what you want.”
Korep rolled his eyes. “The right response would’ve been something like, ‘I don’t know, what do they offer in exchange?’”
The ever-irrepressible Shartalla stood up. “Here, Ksheygha, let me show you how it’s done.”
She turned to Korep and said, “Since it’s the only spirits on the island, y’ c’d charge what y’ wanted, Korep.”
“Shartalla!” Winterblade yelped.
But Korep grinned, and picked up on the teasing thread. “True, true … an’ we’re sailin’ fer treasure, so they’ll all get rich at the end o’ this voyage. Two gold coins shouldn’t ’urt ’em much.”
Everyone was laughing, either at Shartalla and Korep’s teasing or at the look on Ksheygha’s face. Evidently she didn’t like being teased, because her expression resembled one who was sitting on a nail but refused to show it.
“O’ course two gold coins shouldn’t hurt!” Shartalla picked up. “After all, y’ can’t be undersold!”
Korep grinned at Shartalla. “Thank you,” he said emphatically. He then turned to face Ksheygha. “An’ that, Ksheygha, is how y’ make a proper entrance with the only rum on an island!”
Korep’s flirtatious game appeared to be rubbing Ksheygha’s fur the wrong way. She offered a polite smile and said, “Whale’s eye. Lost city. Treasure.”
Korep shook his head disparagingly, but he sat down and passed the flasks around. Eneng savored the taste of the rum; it was sweet and tropical, probably flavored with coconut milk or nectar.
“So,” Ksheygha said briskly, “we have to find this whale’s eye. The advantage we have here is that we can ask living, breathing creatures, which was harder at any of the previous locations. Now, asking about a whale’s eye, or even the whale’s eye, might cause confusion. Asking straight up about Rinaria, on the other paw, will stick in creatures’ minds, and if anyone else ever landed here and asked about Rinaria, some here would remember we asked about it. However, since we should be long gone by the time that happens, I think it is best to simply ask about Rinaria straight out.”
“But what if they know about the whale’s eye but don’t know it’s connected to Rinaria?” Zuryzel objected.
Ksheygha inclined her head. “That’s a very good point. If creatures do not know anything about Rinaria, then perhaps the whale’s eye should be mentioned. Oh, by the way,” she added as an after thought, “the ancient words for whale’s eye are kittik werra. Those words might have evolved the way leveatas did, so you can throw those around too.”
“How long d’ you expect t’will take?” Eneng asked.
Ksheygha winced. “At least a week, Eneng. If the whale’s eye is here, and I think it is, then it may be a while before we stumble on what we need.”
Ksheygha was right, and for once Eneng wasn’t grateful for that. Asking quiet questions among the whalers and other ferrets living on Mauggiak Island was tedious to varying degrees for the crews, and also largely fruitless. Ksheygha – to no one’s surprise – seemed to have the best luck, as she came up with two substantial theories for what the whale’s eye meant. After two weeks, they were preparing to split up again and follow her theories.
But somehow, neither of them sat right with Eneng. The whale’s eye didn’t ring any bells in his memory, but he had a feeling he’d heard it before.
Two nights before they planned to sail, Eneng, frustrated, decided to take a walk around the shore. To add to his frustration, the beach was interrupted by a large cliff, as if a portion of the land had simply risen up of its own accord. Eneng was sure that, if he went inland a ways, he would find a gentler slope to continue on his way, but he would much rather have stayed where he could hear the waves pound on the shore.
With a heavy sigh, he started wading out into the water.
“Looking for something?”
He jumped a little and spun around.
The old ferret in the fish scale cloak was standing at the treeline.
“Yeah,” Eneng admitted. “An answer.”
“To what question?” the old ferret probed.
Eneng threw his paws in the air, tired of wondering. “Where by the jumpin’ jellyfish is the whale’s eye?”
He didn’t expect the old creature to understand, but to his surprise, the ferret’s head jerked back a little. He walked forward until he stood at the very edge of the waves and asked, “And why do you seek Rinaria?”
Eneng lifted his head hopefully. “You know where it is?”
The old ferret’s gaze turned to the expanse of the sea. “I do not know where the lost city can be found. I only know that the whale’s eye is a door that opens towards it.”
Eneng scowled. “The only way to find Rinaria is t’ sail through this door.”
The old ferret blinked and looked back at Eneng. “Strange words to come from a pirate. The sea is limitless, and where there are no roads, there are endless ways. There are unnumbered ways to reach Rinaria, wherever it is. But your ships will get there swiftest through the help of the whale’s eye.”
Eneng froze. Now he knew why the whale’s eye sounded so familiar.
“Did you by chance serve aboard the Deathwind?” he asked.
The old ferret nodded reminiscently. “Only under the colors of Lady Raven. And those were fine days indeed.”
Eneng nodded. “Yeah – yeah.”
Suddenly full of excitement, he stammered, “Thanks fer yer help. I – I gotta find me crew. Thanks.”
He took off the costliest pawband he had – a silver piece with fine emeralds set around the edge – and tossed it to the old ferret. With that, he splashed out of the water and started running as fast as he could back toward the tavern.
Even though it was very late, all his friends were gathered in the tavern at a table in the far back corner. They were studying charts of the surrounding ocean. They were Winterblade’s charts, and seeing them, Eneng was reminded of another ferret captain bending over them.
We’ll sail west through the Brimstone, his father Redseg had said many times. Or every once it a while it was the Silver Eel. Bottom line – they were all helpful to ships that had a specific place to go.
Eneng didn’t bother to announce his presence to his friends; instead he ran up to an open space by the table, slammed his paws on the charts, and said instantly, “It’s a current!”
In response to this, he received a host of strange looks. Korep was the first to catch on. “The whale’s eye?”
Eneng nodded fiercely. “Yes. It’s another way t’ make sure amateur sailors didn’t get lost!”
Shartalla snatched up the drawing of the “whale’s eye;” Eneng had never seen it before, and it was nothing more than a sketch of a wavy line, like a river.
“I told you!” Shartalla exclaimed. “We’re lookin’ fer things that’re in the sea!”
She looked up towards Eneng. “I thought we were followin’ a rock or somethin’. Never crossed my mind that it were a current. ’ow’d you figure it out?”
Eneng waved a paw. “Had a bit of a tip. Look, are there any currents marked out on that chart?”
Winterblade searched the chart until she found Mauggiak Island. “Yeah – there’s one headed north. It’s the one father always called the Stingray Crawl.”
Korep slapped his paw to his brow. “Yer father had a strange sense o’ humor.”
“That sounds like some kind of dance,” Ksheygha added, curling her lip some.
“It’s about the same shape as the sketch ’ere,” Shartalla said, glancing between the map and the drawing. “An’ it goes mostly north – Eneng, y’ got it! This is fantastic!”