XIX. Avren and Pramil Meet
They brought Avren downhill in the early morning,
shivvied him cross-square to the booth of Pramil
which stood beside the wharf, dyed like his crimson hood
to demonstrate his rights and authority there.
Pramil was port-minder, and in his care and grip
Turned the harbor’s tiller; thus ships did what he bid
Or else risked re-mission, or seizure of their ships.
Who knew how this moot went, ‘tween sea- and heron-men,
This gathering of folks from sea-shore and mountains?
Men remembered the talk for ages afterward:
It opened up new worlds. No one had imagined such a thing,
Not in a thousand years. For when the heron’s men
Came down to Pramil’s booth bringing Avren with them,
(Him still quite innocent of what was going on),
They found a dismal thing. Avren’s vessel was gone.
And in its former place, pieces – teeny tiny ship-bits
Scattered across the grass – broken and undone.
Pramil had set a trap, a marvelous puzzle,
A thing of great beauty and terrible glamour,
before his pavillion – Alba’s harbor-master
had taken Avren’s ship, that little leather boat
and disassembled it. Every rib and hull-hide
he’d separated out, from the linen lacings
to the oxhide hullplates; these lay upon the grass,
the alder ribs of frame arranged like a compass:
Pramil had done all this, laid it out as a test:
Mast and decking unpegged, the boards set as wind-points.
The keel lay in sections, its swallowtails unmazed,
setting the North-guide the wide black running line
Pointing to the polestar – the guide in all the worlds.
Around it in great coils the ropework lay circled,
Knotted up mightily: square knots, bowlines, turk’s heads,
Running lines and spring lines, and all manner of twists.
The backstay and forestay, together with the sheets,
Curled up like a cobra upon the balance point.
Even the ship’s bailers, scoop-cups of salt-stained hide,
combined with six long oars, boat hooks and oil-cloths,
and the four giant sails helped form the great compass
for everyone to see. And Pramil had done this,
laid the double -test out that the crimson hoods do.
First, the unmade vessel, which an apprentice takes.
But as mere beginners, they start with a row-boat,
A toy for lakes and streams, not a sea-going ship.
But first, the later test, the one for journeymen:
the rose of many winds stood naked to the sky.
“I hear you’re named Avren,” said the cunning sailor,
who made four voyages on the long passage routes
before coming to rest and take up the duty
of Factor in Alba for the navigators.
“We call this a wind-rose, you may know other names,
but do you recognize this pattern I have made?”
The mountain men all roared, and expressed their anger,
Roared at the crimson man who stood in his circle
Made with Avren’s vessel, the wreckage of his ship.
They made to draw their swords, but Avren stepped forward.
“I recognize my ship, if that is what you mean.
Yes, I know this pattern, I have studied it some.”
So saying, he stepped in, entered Pramil’s circle
And joined the master’s dance, consenting to its steps.
“You come from Tarvenis, or so it is spoken
by men who know little, who don’t know the courses —
and dare not speak such things if they should somehow know.
Tell me about your trip, Mister So-called Heron,
And how you came to us on tiny Alba, here.”
Wellan’s men were ready to rush and seize Avren
To bear him to safety, but Avren answered him,
Pramil the windfinder, to the wonder of all:
“I think I know this game, and I will play it now,
just as the pieces stand.” He stood at the southmark,
then round west half a pace, back again a quarter
or just a little less. “Here is where we started,
a great long while past, following the osprey
across open water, adrift on Ocean’s sway
Twelve hundred forty days, then six ‘til we landed.”
“When did the three moons rise?” said Pramil the sailor.
“Two of them must be new, Muranda and her friend,
Avanath of fury, warrior of mettle. Tell me when you saw them.”
“Sixty-two days out, day eleveneightfour,
They came up from the east, hard upon their sister,
Like galloping horses or the sea in fury.”
“drop the fancy footwork; stop playing at the Jade,”
said Pramil with a smirk. “You’re the one on trial,
fine words will not save you. Tell me how your course changed
in all the days before you saw the three moons rise.”
“He said the course was true, following the moon’s road,
straight as a long arrow, across the open sea.”
Wellan answered for him, recalling Avren’s tale
On the solstice evening before the monsters came –
gaverae of nightmare — and destroyed his cattle.
With a glance at his host, Avren refused this word,
And gave his own answer. “Straight as an arrow flies,
Curving from bow to ground, or – gods help – striking true.
We took the silver road, the moon’s light on water,
But her path wandered some, varying night-to-night,
Sometimes sharing the sky with her brighter brother.
We followed the osprey when cloudy skies prevailed.”
Pramil just stroked his beard, considered Avren’s words.
“Do you know on the rose,” Pramil said with a pause,
“just where the moon wandered during your voyage here?”
Avren nodded and danced, walking ‘round the compass
To various wind-points, and naming the weather.
Pramil watched with interest, then growing excitement.
“And when the three moons rose, where did your ship’s stern point?”
Then Avren went and stood by the oar that marked south-east.
“Do they like good fabric, Avren, where you come from?
Do pottery or arms sell well, or poorly, there?
Are there carpet dealers or connoisseurs of wine?
Do they like good coffee, or use olive oil,
Or like walnuts or pears? Is there a cider market,
Or a love of gemstones to adorn the ladies?”
It was Avren’s turn now and he cut in rudely,
“And what about my boat? You have unpieced it all,
and taken it apart, strewn them on your fairgrounds
like leftover wrappers from pastries and candy,
or bid cards at auction just after the last sale.”
Wellan and his men growled, and Pramil’s shore-folk flinched.
But the navigator held his ground and smiled.
“They make this kind of boat in the land I came from,
the island of my birth. I know it and love it.”
Then the navigator said a curious thing.
“I swear to build a ship, and fit her out proper
in the local style, a cog of ninety spans,
or maybe somewhat less, and give half the proceeds
into your very hand, should the time ever come
when I make a voyage to your homeland and back,
and make some decent trades of your land’s goods for mine.
But a more vital task must be accomplished first.
If you can rebuild this, your little boat of hides,
and make her seaworthy, a noble voyage waits,
across to Pendaran, the land of our captors.
In their hands is our crown, the sign of ancient rights
Which these people long held, before the viking times.
Garman of Kemblis rules from the Hall of Pendar
And makes us serve his needs, to the grief of our own.”
“You want me to get this, the crown of this island,
from some other fellow on another island,
and bring it back for you? And that’s my great reward
for putting my own boat back together again?”
Avren almost chuckled; he failed to stop the grin.
“Doesn’t seem a fair trade, if I get my own back,
and you get to be king.” Wellan’s men laughed with him,
liking Avren still more, and not just his war-skills;
Thus he bearded Pramil right before his own tent,
Setting terms to his deal with the old deal-maker.
Pramil was nobody, a fellow from Torban,
Not in line to be king, even with the old crown.
But Pramil spoke his thought, making matters more clear,
“The old prophecies sing with the tongues of White Shawls:
the crown will come home soon, in a boat made of leather.”
Wise men consult White Shawls, reference the auspices
For any deed or act where fate has joined the game,
But Wellan’s men had seen the bloody White Shawl draped
Before Kembirel’s tent, naming both the Eye’s death
And her office empty, calling for election.
Their sailing course was blind, they drifted in deep fog
Without lighthouse or horn to warn of rock or reef
Off some perilous shore. She who called the patterns
On even fortune’s loom, and read destiny’s threads
Could not sing the future without her tongue or throat.
Wellan spoke to Pramil, with Avren beside him,
“We walk on a steep path, sail a treacherous course.
No eye can look for us, the way ahead is dark.”
Pramil returned these words, “Will a better chance come?”
Avren heard both of them, understood their meaning.