The ship we were on was making what they called a short hop to begin their trading trip, picking up the bulk of their cargo in Asinanai but the wind was against us and the captain had to go far out of her way to be able to beat against it. That was what Gannara said she was doing.
The waves broke so big I was nervous and kept my sword on me, and the Imperial Book in its pack on my back. Just in case the waves got worse.
Ili had taken Kefas bear to show to one of the sailors, whose brother was a toy maker. He wanted to know if someone had made toys of the dayanal, because he wanted one as part of his stuffed troops. I told him it had to be small until we settled somewhere. He’d have to carry them all, along with his other things, or send them back to Arko to be stored. He’d been sulky and saying that it could squish into our travel chest.
I didn’t want to drag a lot of stuff around with us. I had my scholar’s robes that I wore over my shirt and kilt. Gannara said he needed to get a sword, too, if we were going to travel around all over the known world. After the fiasco of getting Ili his knife, we were both teaching him what we knew, and he wore it on his hip as though he’d been crowned.
Gannara was tense as a feda string about to snap, even after we’d gotten up to watch the sun rise over the water, before boarding the ‘Winged Dayan’. “It’s the time of year,” he kept saying. “We might be delayed a day or two. It’s just the time of year.” I wasn’t asking what was delaying us but it was as though he felt compelled to keep telling me.
We were at the leeward side in the hopes of minimizing the amount of spray. I didn’t have my robe on because the ends tended to flap and threaten to drag me overboard in the wind. Gannara’s mane of hair was braided tight and mine and Ili’s hair was tied back at the napes of our necks. I searched for a topic of some kind to distract Gan.
“Gannara?” His gaze snapped to me from the direction of Asinanai. “You don’t have seasickness at all. But Ili and I had to recover from it right at the start. I think you’re right that all my stomach stuff is nervous based.”
He grinned. “Some people, the ship’s barely out of the harbor, rolls a bit and bllleeeahhh.” He made such a good imitation of the sound I had to grin. “Some people don’t make it to the side…”
“You trying to see if you can get me turning green again?”
“Sorry, I’ll shut up.”
I poked him. “Hah! Not likely! Offer them some fried bacon.”
He blinked at me. “Oh yeah, that’ll help a lot,” he said sarcastically. “I offered someone raw eggs as a seasickness cure… I had to clean it up.”
“Kri would help,” I teased.
He wiggled his fingers like tentacles. “Akopo-e, or aspic…”
I laughed at him again. “Hey, like I said... my stomach is affected by spice because of something else, not the spice!”
He sobered. “Some of the stuff your father used to eat. Like oysters…” his face went tight and closed again.
“What?” I put my arm around him. Fat guy memories for him were so close all the time now.
“He liked stuff in aspic. Like hummingbird tongues.... And there was the penis of some animal, I don't know what, roasted.”
“Yeah.” It was odd remembering the groaning weight of food presented to father and I. It was far enough away that it was like an evil dream. “Octopus – akopo-e in cream sauce, with black fish eggs.”
“That was fine, except he'd want me to eat it.”
“Let’s go have some bread, all right?”
“Gannara,” I said, a chunk of bread in hand. Ili hadn’t wanted any. “I'm hoping that this will help you, help fix things. Its because of the fat one that you are still hurting. I want it to stop hurting for you. You need to do this. For you and your family.”
“I know. I know. I'm just scared.” He was pulling the bread apart more than eating it. The sailors called in the rigging and the sails came over with a boom. “We’re heading in. Looks like the captain thinks we can make it in, this tack.”
“Um...” It was my turn to pick at my bread. “Gannara…” He looked at me. “I asked in Selina… what happened in Asinanai and found out a few things.”
His face was full of dread and he threw the bread over the side where a gull snatched it before it could hit the sea. “Like… like what?”
I took a deep breath. “Asinanai was one of the last cities to be liberated and there was a lot of underground fighting there... privateers…”
“Yeah.” He gulped. “There would be.”
“It was held three years. and a lot of people were taken away and sold.”
“Exactly... people notice how beautiful you are...”
“Meh.” He spat over the side, luckily it was downwind and so it didn’t blow back on us.
“The centre of the town was taken down... partly... but it was freed before it could be finished. They were – we were -- going to put their barracks there, like usual. It won’t be pretty. But not sacked. Not burned out.”
“That's..... okay, yeah, that's good.”
I sat and looked at him. “I’m sorry, that’s all I found out.” He shrugged. “The server said. “’your friend? Like a red-haired Chevenga.’”
His eyes grew wide and white all around. “Oh fik me. I... I have to wear a hood or something.” He looked around as if someone on the ship was about to leap up and point at him and yell ‘You look like Chevenga!’ “That'd look so suspicious in summer!”
“No, no! You'll be fine... a red-haired Chevenga. He wasn’t saying anything but commenting on your good looks. Not on 'being him'!”
A gust of breath. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” He closed his eyes. “Min… You know what being beautiful means, in a city Arkans hold?”
Why was he telling me? I knew as well as he did. “It means nothing but this and that parts of Arkans up your ass!” I clenched my eyes shut. I didn’t understand why he needed to say this to me, except to feel the guilt for being Arkan.
“Yes.” I forced it out.
There were tears shining on his eyelashes as he stared out at the sea and sky. “So we'll get to Asinanai. My home.” I signed chalk. “I'm sorry... You never stuck any part of yourself up my ass.” His eyes clenched shut and opened again. “One of the only Arkans I ever met who didn’t. Thank you.”
“You’re… welcome, little brother.” My mouth twisted on the words. “I would never do that to anyone.”
“That's why I say you're a good person,” he said. “I wish you’d listen.”
I was holding my breath and managed to nod, swallowed. “I am. I hear you. Thank you for that.” I made my lips curl into a smile that felt more rictus than humorous. Oh brother you pour acid on my wounds.
“Yeah, we'll see if you hear me. Probably tomorrow you'll be crapping on yourself again.”
I managed to shrug, I wasn’t going to show him how much what he said hurt me. He couldn’t know it.
“Selestialis hear you, is all I can say, and I'll keep listening to you.” I made the smile wider. “I’m very good at crapping on myself.” If I held hard enough to it, I would make it real.
“Thank you Min… huh, yeah, you are.” He shook himself all over. “I get sick of it.”
“Sorry.” I made a mental note to myself to stop saying anything like that to him ever again. “I get it…” Another deep, salt-laden breath of air. “Gannara... at the start I treated you like shen too, though.” A memory of his skinny arms and legs, the reddened scar on his face, the burn-marks on his rail-thin torso, over little-boy ribs. Cowering at the bottom of my bed on the other side of a barricade of pillows. “Aren't you still angry for that?”
He sighed, exasperated. “So, it didn't even take until tomorrow.” He lay down on the deck as though exhausted. “You looked at me hard, maybe barked at me. If my anger is the Miyatara, that's a drop.” I sat down next to him. “I'm sorry. I'm being angry at you even when I'm saying I'm not, I'm sorry.”
“I didn't intend to crap on myself there. I just didn't realize.”
There was a shout from the crow’s nest and Gannara scrambled up, shading his eyes from the glare on the water. “Asinanai!” He called with as much fervor as if he’d been becalmed at sea for moons.
“It’s wrong!” He said a short while later. “These... shoyal, the way the pilot is going through them... um… shoyal, places were the sea is shallow and the ship will run aground – I could do that… but… it’s wrong. There should be a tower, there!”
I put a hand on his shoulder. “They pulled it down, Gannara.”
“Look, Min. You and Ili might have to take off… if I just start asking around. I don’t want to have to fend of a lynch mob… or lose you.” He was quivering all over his body as the ship picked her way in amongst the mob of smaller boats. “I don't even know if I have any family here, anyone to go to. I think there were aunts and uncles and inlaws and ... I think I vaguely remember that...” His voice died.
“I'll be prepared for any reaction then and we'll arrange to meet back at whatever inn we pick... if we have to run.”
“I don't know what to do.” He looked sick.
“I have to stop at the port office to have my sword peace-bonded and then we find an inn and then seek out the people who made that notice with your face on it.”
He was almost white/green. “I… I…”
“That way its planned as much as we can plan... which inn should we go to? If its still there?”
“Inn? I don't know the inns in Asinanai.”
Pull my other leg, Gannara, I thought. It’s got bells.
“Our meeting place if we get separated,” I prompted, gently. “Ili, come over with us, all right?”
He came trotting over from where he’d been watching smaller boats all around us. “Esara-e says that his brother could make a dayan toy out of soft leather… a little slick even if it isn’t wet.”
“I’m sure he could, Ili.”
“Let's just pick one,” Gannara said, a little desperately.
“All right. But after we face the port office and peace-bond me. Ili, your knife is too short but they might want to peace-bond it, just because we’re Arkan.”
“Really? They need to tie my knife up, so they know I’m safe?”
“Exactly, Ili. You wouldn’t want to scare anyone.” Gan wasn’t distracted much by my nonsense with Ili but my little brother’s chest expanded with the thought that someone might think him dangerous.