I didn’t lie to them. I didn’t. There wasn’t need to tell them everything. Simply that.
Zie curled into a miserable ball in the corner of the bunk. Davitts and Essenin had gone up on deck, either to watch or to assist as the ship got underway, but Zie was too exhausted and shaken still to leave his blanket nest. Of course the omissions were as bad as lying, but did it really matter now?He was finally safe. Essenin and Davitts were safe. All beyond the shadows’ reach. That mattered. Not the details.
Coward, coward, coward.
He pulled the covers over his head and drifted into a restless sleep, knowledge of his failings warring with relief and fueling chaotic, anxious dreams. He woke in a panic, unable to pin down where he was or why the room was moving. Ship. Cabin. You’re fine...everything’s fine.
Sunlight puddled on the cabin floor, so several hours had passed. While he probably could’ve slept for a week—now that he was unreachable, his body reminded him just how long he’d been surviving on as little sleep as possible—he wasn’t a passenger on this voyage.
Best to make an appearance, at least.
He pulled dry clothes from his pack, dressed, wrapped his ankle, and took his coat up on deck to brush off the salt since it had already dried. His boots… Zie sighed. Those were only normal edlak hide and he would most likely need to find some leather soap for them. Ah, well. Most of the sailors went barefoot in any case and it wasn’t cold enough for him to need boots on deck.
Foot claws carefully retracted so he didn’t leave gouges in the planks, Zie paced toward the mainmast for a better view of the ship. By the rail, Essenin helped another sailor tie off a heavy sail rope. Davitts disappeared down the hold ladder with large sacks hoisted over his shoulder. Zie’s mouth quirked a bit. The crew had wasted no time putting them to work.
Up on the deck with the ship’s wheel—whatever southerners called the ilna deck—Captain Unav stood with her spyglass and a complicated instrument that was most likely for navigation. For now, the wind filled the sails and the oars had been shipped, but Zie had learned enough about the southern seas to know sudden calms could flatten those sails at any time.
Captain Unav lowered her spyglass and spotted him. “Ah, you’ve survived, I see! Remembered that you work for me, then?”
“Yes, Captain.” Zie raised his voice, hating the rasp in it when he had to shout. “Quite fit, thank you.”
“Exactly what I like to hear.” Captain Unav turned to the sailor at the helm. “I’ll take the wheel, Hennel. Show our sail impeller his charges, if you’d be so kind.”
“Aye, Cap.” The sailor, an enormous human one, lumbered down the steps and took Zie in hand. Figuratively, thank goodness. One of Hennel’s hands could have crushed both of his with room to spare.
The names of the sails were unfamiliar and there were more of them than Zie felt were strictly necessary, but what did he know? The Golden Runner was a far larger ship than a sylvas ice cat or river schooner. He asked Hennel to run through them several times until he could repeat them back and the human clapped him on the shoulder in a show of approval that nearly knocked him over.
“Not much to you, but you’re a smart little mite,” Hennel boomed at him. “Worst comes, and you don’t recollect in a bad spot, we’ll point to the right ones, eh?”
“In a bad spot, that will do quite well.” Zie managed a smile for him that wasn’t all teeth. “Thank you, Hennel.”
Otherwise, there wasn’t much more for him to know. Stay out of the way and wait for the captain’s summons. He turned to find Essenin leaning with graceful nonchalance on the railing, watching him.
Essenin grinned. “I see you and your coat are up and about. Why does it still look perfect after being half-drowned? Is that magic?”
“Ah, no.” Zie nestled beside them along the rail and Essenin didn’t pull back. That was a good sign that they weren’t angry about the things Zie hadn’t told both of them. “It’s vurda hide. They’re teat animals like us, but spend most of their lives in the water. Much better than edlak for repelling weather and keeping out the cold.”
“You were just giving your coat a taste of home, then, when you took your little swim.” Essenin cocked their head and regarded Zie with narrowed eyes. “You can swim, can’t you?”
“Yes. I’m not the best, but I manage. The light spell...was difficult to hold.”
Essenin curled down to kiss Zie’s forehead. “Overtaxed yourself. It’s all right to say it.” They ran a finger down the arm of Zie’s coat. “Are the vurda normally blue?”
“No, they range from gray to white. The blue dye comes from Fisk-na clan…” Zie faltered and cleared his throat. “Came from. They had...the most exquisite dyes.”
His eyes were welling up again. Ridiculous eyes. He dashed the tears away with the cuff of his coat.
“I’m sorry.” Essenin wrapped an arm around him. “I’ll leave off asking cavalier questions about back home. Of course it upsets you.”
He turned to hide his face and his renewed tears against Essenin’s shirt. Oh my dear, lovely friend. If you only knew...
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.