Flor’s rosy, leather shoes dug into the gravely shore, pushing the wooden frame of the boat’s starboard hull forward with ease. The port hull easily followed suit, the catamaran’s two hulls leaving smooth trails in the murky pebbles of the shore like the runners of a sled. The large crowd that had gathered at the bay cheered as Flor leapt onto the now-floating ship and raced up to the steering blade to set the two sails right. As Flor focused on moving the boat in the correct direction, drifting on the high evening tide and sailing with the right winds, Klyra and Chroma looked back to the island.
The grassy, treeless slopes of Cambia reached down to the beach, where the water washed over only gray pebbles and shells. The sun was setting over the left side of the larger island, so that the shadow of the main island left the smaller, rightmost hump in near total darkness. Both slopes were dotted with wooden houses, wooden mess halls, and various other wooden buildings.
The top of the bay’s hill would have blended in with the main island’s largest hill, atop which was situated a stone palace, if it hadn’t been for the Travel Academy marking the top of the comparatively smaller peak. All hilltops were rounded, nearly all buildings were wooden, and nearly every inch of space in the bay was taken up by spectators. People clad in all sorts of colors had come to see them off, but most prominent were the black and white checkered uniforms of the students. The King and Queen were foremost on the shore, waving goodbye to their daughter. The farthest back were the spectators having picnics in the twilight on the bay hillside.
Klyra glanced around the ship curiously. They stood on the aft end of the deck, holding onto the rear mast, the ropes to the triangular sails curled around the wooden pole. There was no rail separating them from the back edge of the boat, but the edge did not lead to the water: two curving ramps led to a smaller, ovular deck. Two alcoves in the lower deck at the tail of the boat each held a set of blankets and pillows. The entire body of the ship was supported by the two hulls, like two long legs, attached to the decks by a series of wooden supports. Apart from the fore and aft masts and the steering blade, the only other feature of the ship was the dorsal-fin-shaped, wooden shelter in between the masts. The shelter was hidden from view by curved, wooden walls and a door in back, though there were glass windows at the fore end of the shelter.
Chroma watched as Klyra shuffled about, exploring the boat. “You…have been on the Gladiator before, right?” she asked.
“Nope,” Klyra replied cheerily, stepping past Chroma to hop down to the lower deck. “Do you want the left bed or the right one?”
“You mean port or starboard?”
Chroma eyes widened, her lips thin. After a moment, she prompted, “So, you’re fantastic at translating? We weren’t told much more than that. There’s nothing about you on the register.”
“I’m the very best at translating…apparently,” Klyra responded, popping her head and shoulders onto the main deck. She reached up to rest her elbows on the upper wood. “Left bed or right bed?”
“Left looking towards the front of the boat, right?”
Klyra’s head disappeared again.
The sound of spraying water caught Chroma’s attention, and she glanced to her right, towards port. Small ripples of water were barely distinguishable in the faint moonlight.
Chroma grinned, rushing to the edge and staring at the water. A black dorsal fin just barely breached a few feet away from her.
“Orcas!” Chroma announced happily, cupping a hand to project her voice towards Flor at the fore of the boat.
“Way ahead of you,” Flor commented. She was holding a woven basket of fish in one hand, a fish in the other, as she appeared from around the edge of ship’s dorsal shelter. She waited a moment at the edge, grinning. When the distinctive squeak of an orca sounded, and an enormous, black and white head poked above the water, Flor tossed it three fish in astonishing succession. The treat and then the orca head dropped out of sight quickly.
“How many?” Chroma inquired, taking a few steps closer to Flor, still smiling herself.
“Four spotted, three fed,” Flor responded, setting down the basket and holding a single fish at the ready. “It’s definitely the eastern pod.”
“Good,” Chroma nodded. “We’ll be at Klima in no time.” There was a pause. “Don’t forget to feed them regularly. A little gratitude goes a long way.”
“Believe it or not I have sailed before,” Flor replied.
Chroma frowned. “I know, I’m just making absolutely sure. Better safe than lost at sea.”
“You think it’s your job to remind me of such things? I’m the navigator, so I’d been assuming that navigation was in my jurisdiction.”
“Please, Flor,” Chroma pleaded. “I’m just trying to be an attentive captain.”
“Aaaaand there it is,” Flor spat, not taking her eyes off the water. Orca fins and white spots occasionally appeared above the water, but Flor held her fish back.
“There what is?”
“You feel the need to boss me around because your mommy and daddy made you captain. And what a big surprise that was.”
Chroma stood silent with her mouth slightly agape.
“What? Nothing to say, o eloquent captain? What were the traits they listed for you? Bold adventurer, well isn’t that rather vague…animal-tamer. Hmm, I guess we could come across dangerous animals out there, but here I am feeding the orcas. Oh wait! Now I remember: born leader. Ah, yes, that must be the reason you were in the advanced class. Your leadership definitely shined through in every category.” Flor took a break to glance at Chroma, who still stood dumbstruck.
“What did I miss?” Klyra asked, popping her head and shoulders above the back edge of the deck again.
“Nothing,” Flor answered quickly, turning her gaze and her fish-laden hands back to the water. The same three orcas kept breaching.
“Really? It sounded like an argument.”
“It sounded wrong,” Flor told her.
“Interesting, because I could’ve sworn I heard the spiteful tones of a revolutionary. But you’re right, that can’t be it, because there’s no way they would ever put someone ideologically against the crown on the same ship as the young princess.”
Flor shot back, “And you’d think they would give her royal highness a translator who’d actually been on a boat before.”
“Yes, you’d think. But instead they bribed the best translator in all the land with mountains of privileges just to convince her to set sail into the unknown. Go figure.”
There was a pause.
“You’re here…because the king and queen paid you?” Flor finished.
“Everything suddenly makes sense, now doesn’t it?” Klyra replied.
“Guys, enough,” Chroma ordered in a sharp tone. Klyra glanced at her, though Flor’s eyes were still on the water.
“Look, we’re all obviously here for a reason. We’re all extremely gifted individuals, and we don’t have to go butting heads five minutes into our first voyage. I want you both to take good care of yourselves. Klyra, get some sleep; Flor, get something to eat. And I’m sure we’ll all feel better about this in the morning.”
“Sleep? Don’t have to tell me twice,” Klyra commented, disappearing once again into the living quarters.
“Don’t you want to see the orcas?” Chroma called out.
“I don’t think we’ll have any shortage of those on this trip!” Klyra called back.
Chroma sighed, shaking her head.
“I notice you included yourself in the ‘extremely gifted individuals’ part of that speech,” Flor commented.
“Flor, what is your deal?”
“’My deal’? Are you really that blind?” Flor shot back. “My deal is that I’ve dedicated nearly my whole life to becoming a voyager, and in the last few years it looked like I could even be on the First Contact voyage. Sailing uncharted waters with a competent group of adventurers. But no, apparently the system doesn’t work like that. They didn’t put the best travelers out there first. No, they put the princess and the translator who can’t even show up on time. Do you honestly think you were in the advanced class because of your skills? Or that you’re here because you deserve it? No. You’re here because you just so happened to be born into the family that violently conquered all of Cambia. So not only do I not get the best of the best to have my back on the hardest journey anyone’s ever taken; not only do I have to babysit a privileged Orca Royal who’s probably never gone a day without a bath; but I also have to be demoted, and told that you’re in charge of me? I’ve worked my entire life to have this, only to have it taken from me by the oh-so-high-and-mighty nobility. Is there any justice in that?”
The fourth orca finally appeared, a small calf swimming in the wake left by its elders. Flor tossed it the two fish at once. It didn’t catch them, but seemed to have a wonderful time playing with them in the water.
Flor snorted, grabbing the fish basket roughly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ship to sail for nine straight hours of darkness while you and the translator sleep.” Flor turned around so quickly that her long, red hair could’ve acted as a whip.
Chroma stared after her as she vanished behind the dorsal shelter and began to man the steering blade. The orcas swimming alongside them were veering slightly east, and Flor turned the boat appropriately to follow them. The transition was swift and smooth.
Chroma stared after her for a long time, then pressed a palm to her temple and groaned. She turned around and hopped down into the living quarters, where Klyra was already tucked underneath a blanket in the starboard alcove.
“Don’t worry about her,” Klyra assured Chroma. “Actors change personalities all the time, so one of them is bound to like you.”
Chroma shook her head. As she did so, she spotted something. On the shelf between the two beds, she’d placed a potted plant. The plant’s waxy, curved leaves grew directly off of a stem about the length of a forearm. At the top and on some of the leaves budded stark, cup-like, purple petals with white tips. Yellow markings streaked the plant haphazardly, but they formed symbols, crude near the roots and intricate near the highest flower.
“You brought your Thelt with you?” Chroma gasped.
“Yep,” Klyra answered cheerfully.
“But…” Chroma shook her head again. “We have plenty of food, and we shouldn’t be introducing invasive species to these islands!”
“We already brought Theltes to half a dozen islands.”
“Yes, but that was before—” Chroma cut herself off. “What if it gets stolen? Or lost? Or what if it just falls down into the ocean six feet away?”
“It’ll be fine. I’m less concerned about my Thelt when it’s in my line of sight.”
“Did you not pay attention to any of the rules before coming on this ship?”
Klyra rolled her eyes. “What are you going to do? Throw it overboard? Lock it in the hulls where it can’t get sunlight?”
“Great, then it’s settled: the Thelt stays.”
“Why do you even want it with you?”
“Gotta make wealth somehow. Besides, backup food and medicine never hurts. That’s like asking why you’d want to have a Thelt around back on Cambia: same reasons.”
“You just—these places we’re going don’t even use Thelt leaves as currency!”
“You don’t know that.”
“You just said ten minutes ago that my mom and dad are paying you loads to come on this journey!”
“I know—I’ll practically be at your status when we get back.”
Chroma snorted. “You. Don’t. Need. Thelt. Where we’re going.”
“We’ll see what the future holds,” Klyra chimed, turning over in her alcove. “Good night.”
“You can’t drown me out. I’m your captain!”
“And I’m your translator. Good night.”
“Do you know how much trouble I could get you into when we get back?”
“Probably about as much as I could for me being late to the ceremony. Yet here I am, warm and cozy and rich.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Klyra.’ Good night.”
Chroma gawked at her translator’s back as it steadily rose and fell. She glared out at the sea beside them, where the Gladiator and its orca guides were making blooming ripples. The moon was out now, so Chroma could almost distinguish between the sea and the sky, though there was nothing on the horizon.
She laid back in her alcove, staring up at the wooden ramp above her, a crease of concern across her brow.
α α α
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