As a younger man, I got a job working at sea. Once I got over the initial month of sea-sickness, I found I enjoyed my time afloat immensely, sometimes more than being on land, the desire for which seems to be a common enough occurrence that there is an actual term for it: "sea-longing". I had night duty on a steam across the Atlantic Ocean, which mostly required me to make one or two checks of our equipment to see if it was secure and left me copious amounts of time to do whatever I wanted. I would spend the blissfully cool nights on the top deck, enjoying the wonderful breezes and winds and gazing up in wonder at the explosion of stars. The boat I worked on was large enough that the the seas rarely pounded upon it harshly, yet small enough that the surrounding swells would produce a gentle rocking that lulled me to sleep as nothing else can. It was heavenly and one could only credit God with such blessed circumstances.
Daavor is also one bitten by the sea-longing from his vantage of fishing. The sea is like a farm you don't have to plow or plant but will provide an almost endless harvest to those willing to brave the storms and take it. One learns a healthy respect for the bigness and power of nature, fleeing conditions that can break one apart with the slightest touch and send one to a watery grave. Sometimes, there are whole days and weeks when conditions aren't favorable for fishing and a ignorant fool with an attitude of braving the sea anyway, a peculiar form of prideful madness, will most likely get someone killed. The wisest and therefore oldest fishers were simply the most unwilling to foolishly challenge the elements that many land-lubbers would stupidly consider as a test of one's "mettle".
Fortunately, today was a fine day for fishing, but Daavor's heart wasn't in it. He was pining for some girl and his oldish companion knew it. "I'm sorry," the old man croaked as they pulled up on the net and drew in the fish. "Da women can be cruel sometimes. Just like the sea."
Daavor could only manage to nod as he absentmindedly heaved to his work.
"Yep, women are like the sea, you know, young Daa." The old man looked out on the somewhat calm waters even as he labored over pulling the net. "One day, living with 'em is smooth and glassy, ne'ery a care in the world and as pleasant as they come. Then, a foul wind blows up, some misspoke word or misread'n of a glance, and there's a churn and a roil and in the drink ye go, or worse, gone for good. A tempestuous mistress the sea is and so is da woman."
Daavor turned to the old man and just stared at him. It wasn't a look of anger or rancor, but rather a mindless sort of a stare, as if all the feeling and emotion and perhaps even the will to live itself had been sucked out of the young man. "I was nowhere near her when they came for me. She even gave me a kiss on the cheek at our last meeting." His hand brushed his face at the pleasant memory.
The old fisherman only managed to look back with some obnoxiously knowing look. "Yer a poor lost soul, my lad," he managed with a shake of the head. "Da smart one just works on the sea, but don't fall in love with 'er." He breathed in with a bit of a rattle in the chest, as if it might be his last. "Pretty enough to look at, but keep 'er at a distance is my policy with those Ladies."
Daavor rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. "She wasn't a Lady, if you must know. She was a dame."
It wasn't readily apparent if the reaction that this information brought forth from the old man was a bark of laughter or an asthmatic cough. "Rubbin' up against a boss, eh?" He managed a wink. "I bet she had you a'runnin' for days a'for she gave you that kiss, hey!"
The fish were surfacing, so the banter paused long enough to negotiate their prizes into the boat and cast the net in again. The old man, in a fit of bravado perhaps, snatched up a flopping fish and took a great bite out of its belly. He chewed upon the nasty mess in his mouth as the wide-eyed fish went limp. Then, he spat the wad out into the water and sent the dead carcass spinning after it. "Eat ya just like that, kiddie!" His eyes were wild.
There was an even look on Daavor's face, as if he could not be fazed. "You know nothing about her," he repied flatly.
A cackle arose from deep within the old fisherman's gut and gradually emerged as a rolling chuckle. "Yer tangled in 'er net but good, young Daa!" He picked up another fish and eviscerated it just as before. "She's eatin' well!"
"Not any more."
Things fell silent again as concentration was again needed to wheetle out the smaller fish that were released back to the waters. I can't say that Daavor was doing a very good job as his mind was still wandering back a few days in the past and some miles off, if just to get his thoughts off of the blood-stained and vaguely maniacal face of the voyage's partner who was still cackling and mumbling to himself while he went about his sorting.
The afternoon was wearing on, as they always seem to do regardless of what your task is or who shows up as your chance companion. Daavor had the misfortune of having arrived late to the docks, after most of the others had already set out upon the water, and only the old man had presented himself as his one potential boat-mate instead of the customary three. Although they had fished together in the past, the old man never remembered this, insisted upon calling him "Daa", and never offered up a minute's peace from his laughing or his inane "wisdom". By this time, which was about mid-afternoon, the younger man was quite ready to murder the older one.
However, fortune is smiling upon the old fisherman, for a storm was blowing up from the southwest, as if it were just another fishing boat making its way out of Trechiva harbor. The old man noticed the darkening skies and thrust a finger into the rising wind. "We're not agoin' back from where we came..."
Daavor was raising the sail as fast as he could, hoping to catch this wind and make it back at least to the eastern coast of Firsthome, even if it would be miles north of their intended port. It wouldn't be too bad, there was always a friendly house and a hot meal available in exchange for part of a fishing boat's haul, so neither man seemed very put out by any consequences of the coming storm. Unfortunately, they were on the far east side of the wide channel and the storm would surely overtake them before making land. "Best make for the Nortlynd shore," the old fisherman advised. As if to punctuate the idea, the wind began to take on a more westerly aspect and all other options were effectively eliminated.
I know it is a bit wearisome for me to tell it again and again, but I will persist in reminding you that such circumstances, especially ones that involve natural forces, are an example of things that can be manipulated by God. In our own times of antiquity, forces of the sea that are beyond our control were attributed to a god named Poseidon, who was likely to smile on you as a seaman if properly appeased, or to kill you in some maritime incident if you crossed him. As far as I'm aware, though the actual legends may have been farcical, the basic concept of a larger power that can intervene in our behalf, especially in response to appeals for help, constitutes at least the beginnings of faith in God. It is on occasions like this, when things turn badly, that even the most agnostic reaches out for some positive divine intervention.
"Oh, Great Mariner," the old man shouted to the storm. "Ye can have all these fish back if you'll just let us live!"
Of course, God occasionally manipulates things to accomplish his purposes, but sometimes you may not be the object of his purpose. You can ask for a storm to be stilled, but that storm may be accomplishing something far away from you or your circumstances that really needs doing, such as watering some deserving man's farm. In this particular case, the storm is here to again show Daavor something he really needs to see and know. I say "again" because a previous storm that the young man encountered, the one that shipwrecked him on the beach where we found him in the beginning of the story, had been blown up to accomplish basically the same thing. It seems that God is not above using repetition to get a point across. Apparently, Daavor is among those who needs repetition in order to catch the point at all.
With the wind blowing things due east, our intrepid fishermen angled themselves to the northeast, still letting the sail catch the edge while moving them further away from grazing the side of destruction. "Nice move, my lad!" the old man shouted approvingly over the din. Daavor had never had a simple fishing boat move so fast and he was worrying that the mast would break under the force of air or that the flow of water passing the hull would tear planks away. The older man was just leaning out over the side, as if he intended to use his face as a side rudder, a crazed yet joyful face carved in his features, hooting and barking like some Sheltie panting out the window of a hundred-kph car. "Whoooo-hoooo!"
It was already getting toward dusk, which wasn't obvious because the tail of the storm blotted out the sun anyway, neither condition improving the younger fisherman's ability to see. Seeing nothing ahead in the darkness, Daavor took the opportunity to turn back to where the wild man was howling toward the stern and begin to shout something to his psychotic companion about sanity. He never really got the chance as the flat-bottomed boat flew right up the shallows, skittered across the short beach, and tore right into a grove of trees. The boat didn't hit anything, but you would think it had as the old man's expressions of pleasure transformed into one long howl of fear.
"Hey, are you all right?" Daavor had taken a tumble on the deck but seemed undamaged. The older man wasn't anywhere to be seen. "Hello?!"
There was a rustling from the trees and another yowl. "Whoooo-wheeeee!" Crazy eyes appeared just peering over the gun-wail. "Ye sure know'd howta show a feller a good time!"
There is really no point in going into the intricacies of gathering wood, getting a fire going, cooking up some fish, eating their meal, and collapsing into sleep in the forest. I don't think it occurred to Daavor that there could be any animals much wilder than the old man that had accompanied him, and no such animals happened by where the duo laid for their slumber. The crashing of the waves on the shore didn't seem to rouse them, nor the rising of the sun on the next day. The one thing that did finally startle Daavor awake was the sound of voices.
"What on earth is this?" It was the voice of a woman.
A man's voice responded. "It appears to be a boat."
"But," the woman retorted with incredulity, "how did it get here?"
"It appears that it was pushed here."
There was a pause. "You don't have to be so factual, Nigel. What do you think happened?"
There was no response that Daavor could hear.
Much louder, the woman was calling out. "Is anyone there? Does anyone need help?"
Daavor looked over at his companion, who was interleaving snoring with his rattling chest. The young man stared at the base of a tree nearby and remained silent.
A new voice, quieter and deeper, was heard. "It is no concern of yours."
"But," the woman anguished. "It isn't right to just walk away from someone in need..."
The first man spoke next. "He says that it is no concern of ours."
"Oh, shut up, Nigel! If you can't contribute to the discussion, just be still!"
There was another pause.
"It is time that you were on your way." This was the deep voiced man.
"But...," was all that the woman could manage.
There was another silence, perhaps a bit of tension that Daavor couldn't see from his vantage point on toward the far end of the boat.
The quiet voice, though deep, was quite mild. "It is time for you to take the path."
"We must get on the path now," the man called Nigel offered.
The woman was quite animated in her voice as the sound of them moving away diminished. "I heard him the first time, Nigel. I'm not stupid you know..."
Daavor simply waited. It wasn't because he was frightened or felt in peril. Perhaps he just didn't want to get on about the day quite yet and was enjoying a bit of solitude that the Convocation rarely afforded anyone. I know that I enjoy such times when I can grab them.
Although it felt as if hours had passed since the others moved off, it was more like ten minutes. Daavor got up from his place, stretched out the various pains and cricks that a "roughing it" night away from a comfortable bed always brings on, and made the first tentative steps toward the stern of the boat and into the sunshine of the beach beyond it.
There was a boat anchored out in the channel, a much larger boat than he had ever seen before. He was accustomed to the smallish single masted fishing vessels, most just like the one he was moving alongside of, that were just about the only maritime vehicles that the people of Firsthome had managed to come up with so far. This great ship was longer than perhaps ten fishing boats run stem to stern and it stood higher in the water than any building he had ever seen on land. It was intimidating enough that Daavor stopped while still in the shadows of the trees, gawking at its greatness. Where the storm that he and his companion had scarcely avoided could have easily destroyed their small craft, the young man doubted that it would have even set up a rocking on the multi-masted ship he ogled.
A much smaller boat, propelled by men on oars, was already away from the shore and working its way back to the master vessel. Although he could make out the figures toiling, he could not see their faces. It gave him sufficient courage to come out of the trees and look up and down the beach, which was abandoned except for himself.
Most people are familiar with the concept of de-ja-vu, which is the sense that one has been in the present circumstance previously. What Daavor was feeling at this moment isn't exactly like that but it was strangely familiar. He had been here in this place once before, as we all have been in at the beginning of this book. He had been laid out by similar circumstances upon this beach, found and revived by people who had come out of the forest behind him through a path marked by a curious stone post. Reflexively, as the thought came to him, Daavor turned and there, stuck in the sand, just as he vaguely remembered it from his half-conscious past experience, was the marker with the carving that you readers have seen displayed on the cover of this volume.
I won't bother to tell you about the significance of the carving at this point in the story. All that matters as far as this volume is concerned is that the stone post exists, and that Daavor has seen it twice. This time he even approached it and rubbed his fingers across the deeply carved symbols that he did not understand. With this second and much more lucid visit to this stretch of beach, he will make his way back to Firsthome under his own power and be capable of finding this spot and the trail that leads away from it into the forest at some future time. These facts are important at this particular point in the story and if you have not already guessed why, my continued writing of this book will do its best to reveal the reason that you fine readers and I are here standing invisibly beside Daavor on a vacant beach. If I may be so bold, I will reveal that we all will find ourselves here at least one more time in not-too-many chapters. Also, we will all feel that strange feeling of having been here before.
"Whoa!" The old fisherman spoke as he came up beside his fellow and nearly made him leap out of his skin. "Did I miss som'thin'?"
Daavor looked at the great ship which the old man had almost missed. It was weighing anchor and unfurling its massive sails. There was a lone still figure amid the swirl of the crew on deck, looking like specks from this distance. Daavor raised his hand as if to wave to someone he knew and, surprisingly, the figure made the same signal in return.
"Hey now," the old man said in reverence. "That be the Salvation, that is. They say that be the Mariner's ship, the one what brung Alaedeus and Cassandra to Firsthome a million ago!"
Surely enough, the word "Salvation" was lettered ornately toward the fore-deck of the ship. Although the younger man couldn't read per se, he had seen the word often enough in the pictures he and Mulls had shared from The Mariner's Log. Daavor thought on this for a moment. "If that is true, we must be dreaming."
The old fisherman let out a deep breath and wiped his brow dramatically. "That be a good thing, young Daa. I surely don't want to be 'wake when ye get that boat of yorn out of them trees!"