Chapter Thirteen – Orion
On the third day after the encounter with Asloft and the birdmen of Aern, Dragonsbane came upon the Anglánder’s ship. Magnus stood at the bowsprit and stared, awestruck, as the details of the large sailing vessel’s size and design emerged from the salty haze.
“Have you ever seen a ship like that?” he asked of his navigator.
“Never.” Aesgir moved up beside Magnus. “It is unusual.”
“And quite large.” Magnus leaned his arms on the rail as he inspected the vessel looming before them.
It had three masts and full sails, both large and small. A long black banner attached to the tip of the center mast streamed in the breeze.
So many sails, he thought. She must be fast.
From his vantage on Dragonsbane, he could not count the strange ship’s decks, but from the height of the sideboards, which he estimated at over fifteen feet, he felt sure there was more than one. Riding high in the water, the strange vessel projected an ominous appearance.
On an elevated structure, aft on the top deck, a man held onto a large, spoked wheel. The ship’s rudder control? Magnus turned to his navigator.
“What do you make of that?” he said and pointed.
“How can they steer a ship that size without a rudder?” said Aesgir.
“Perhaps with that wheel.”
“There must be one somewhere.” Magnus continued his appraisal.
A second man stood near the man at the wheel and held something up to his eyes. Magnus had the feeling this man was looking at them through this contraption. He raised a hand in greeting but received no response.
As the distance between the two ships decreased, Magnus could make out more details about its construction. It seemed a very sturdy vessel. Dark hull planks from the waterline to the top rail were interrupted by large oar ports along its midline.
I’ve never seen closures for oar holes, Magnus thought and wondered why one would need wooden doors over oar holes.
Close as the two ships were, he could see more activity from the ship’s crew. Several men lined the rail. They held what looked like long rods or poles and pointed these at his ship. Again, he raised a hand in greeting but still received no response.
“Ho there,” Magnus called out. “Are you Anglánders?”
As Magnus watched, the man on the upper platform lowered the item he was holding, leaving it suspended about his neck, and moved closer to the railing.
“We are,” the man said through cupped hands. “How do you know us?”
“I don’t, but you rescued one of mine, and she told of your kindness. I wish to thank you.”
The man climbed down from the platform and moved along the lower railing and signaled to his men who lowered the items they were pointing.
“You may come alongside, Sir,” the man said.
The crew reefed the longship’s woolen sail, and Aesgir steered Dragonsbane toward the other ship by oar and rudder.
As the two ships drew near, the man called out, “So, the eagle girl returned safely to you? That is good news indeed. We enjoyed her visit and were concerned for her safety when she left us.”
“See for yourself.” Magnus beckoned to Windancer who moved up to stand beside him.
She lifted a hand in greeting and smiled when several of the men on the other ship cheered and whistled.
“I am pleased to see you again, young lady.”
Windancer nodded but said nothing.
“Your vessel is magnificent,” Magnus said. “Its design is strange to me. And I have never seen a ship…so large. Would you allow me to come aboard for a look?”
The man, whom Magnus identified as the ship’s captain or master from his bearing and the deference shown him by the other men, considered his request for a long moment.
At last, the man nodded. “You are welcome, of course, but allow me a few moments to make my vessel ready to accept you.” He called to two crewmen to toss lines over so Magnus’s men could tie up alongside. Thick, woven bumpers were hung over the side of the strange ship to form a cushion against rubbing or banging from Dragonsbane while it was tethered close. Soon both ships were secured, and a wooden gangplank laid across their railings and tied fast. The height difference between the two ships made for a steep, unsteady crossing.
Magnus stepped aboard first and was met by the captain. Magnus extended his left hand in greeting. “A dragon took this one in my wild youth.” He lifted his covered stump.
“A dragon,” the ship’s captain said, seeming impressed. “Well, I’ll say.”
“I am called Magnus.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Magnus. I am Captain Sir Geoffrey Perceval Matheson the Third, at your service.”
“That is quite a name,” Magnus said and took in the captain’s appearance.
A tall, lanky man with dark hair falling to his shoulders, the captain looked to be in his thirties and hale. He wore a strange, three-cornered hat, which he removed so he might wipe his brow, using a cloth pulled from a jacket pocket.
The man’s face was unremarkable, save for the observant green eyes and a well-trimmed goatee. His attire was neat, but of a style Magnus was unfamiliar with. The captain wore a deep blue jacket fastened with gold buttons. Matching gold braid at the shoulders and cuffs decorated the jacket. His trousers were white with a blue stripe down each leg and disappeared into black leather boots polished to a high sheen. The man was neat, but something in the green eyes told Magnus this was a warrior.
The man placed the hat back on his head, returned the cloth to its pocket, and admitted, “It is, but call me Sir Geoffrey, or Captain Matheson.”
Magnus liked the man’s self-deprecating manner. “As you are the master of this fine vessel, I shall call you Captain Matheson.”
“Splendid. Would you care for a tour of my vessel?”
“I would, but first, Windancer told me you offered to give us water. Is this true?”
“It is. We have more than enough to share. I shall have several casks removed to your ship.”
“Thank you,” said Magnus. “Now, as for your offer of a tour, you must first tell me her name. It is bad luck to walk the deck of an unnamed ship.”
“Ah, you hold to the old ways I see. But of course, in this you are correct.” Captain Matheson leaned in, one eyebrow raised and said, “One would not peek beneath a lady’s gown, certainly not before knowing her name. A ship deserves the same consideration.” He spread his arms wide and said, “Welcome aboard the Orion.”
“Orion,” Magnus repeated. “A fine name for a hunting vessel.”
Captain Matheson looked confused. “Hunting vessel?”
Now Magnus was confused. “I was told this was a fishing vessel, and that you were using the wingwalkers as guides to find good fishing grounds. Is this not true?”
“Ha, ha,” Captain Matheson laughed. “I forgot the story we fabricated for the eagle girl.”
“I was curious about the lack of nets,” said Magnus. “Windancer did not mention that when she described this ship.”
“You say her name is Windancer?”
“Well, it suits her. We all watched when she flew off to return to you. She definitely danced on the wind.”
“So, you are not a fishing vessel?”
“Ah, no. I’m sorry for the deception, but it was necessary that Asloft and his cohorts think so. Two of his kind are below, fearing for their lives should they be discovered trying to escape his iron-fisted rule.”
“They are afraid of Asloft? I don’t understand.” Magnus scratched at his beard. “He and several of his birdmen attacked us, thinking we held their companions against their will. Windancer assured them they are well and have been treated fairly while in your care. She told them this ship lies in another direction, and they went that way.”
Captain Matheson raised one eyebrow. “That is good. You may see them if you like, but let me show you Orion first. I think you will be impressed. I know of your longship design and respect its ability on the oceans, but Orion is quite different, as I think you will agree.” He took Magnus by the arm and guided him aft toward a door set into the bulkhead supporting the elevated platform. Before entering, he called back to his first mate, a tall, dark-skinned man with black eyes and bright white teeth. “Zeb, the others may come aboard as they wish, but see they are escorted at all times.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Zeb, the first mate, said.
Captain Matheson held the door for Magnus and followed after. They walked along a narrow passageway that had two doors set into the aft bulkhead. Both were closed, and as they passed, Magnus noted the first door was secured with a lock he was unfamiliar with. Made of some dull metal, it hung from a hasp affixed to the doorframe.
His host guided him to the second door, which was not locked, and as before held it open for Magnus to enter, which he did and found himself in a most interesting room. The aft wall was dominated by glass windows that looked out on the open water. A large desk sat in front of the windows. Captain Matheson walked to it and sat in an ornately-carved chair behind the desk. He offered Magnus one of the two chairs that faced the desk.
Magnus looked around the room, impressed by the multitude of strange items hung on the bulkheads, standing on the deck, or leaning against a large cabinet. The shelves of the cabinet held various items, some familiar: a sunstone, like the one Aesgir used to navigate in cloudy weather, and an assortment of weapons—knives, swords, and a wicked-looking club. However, most of the collected items were too strange to define. He noticed a small, carved skull on the top shelf, and saw a red glow within one of the eye sockets. He was about to mention it when his host spoke.
“So, what do you think?” said Captain Matheson.
“You have quite a collection, but several items are unknown to me.”
“Thank you. I have been working on it for many years and have things from strange places around the world.”
“You say you are not looking for fishing grounds. Are you merchants then?”
Captain Matheson smiled. “No, Magnus, we are not merchants, our business is not fishing or selling. We are searchers.” He indicated the cabinet of shelves. “Those are just a few of the more interesting things we have discovered on our many voyages. That is what we do, Magnus. We search for special things, and when we find them, we try to keep samples.”
Magnus said, “What if their owners do not wish to part with them?”
Captain Matheson nodded, “That happens from time-to-time, and when it does, we simply describe the item by drawing it and documenting what the owner knows of it. We never forcibly take anything.”
“Mmm hmm. May I ask a question?”
“How did the two birdmen come here? They are a highly secretive race, one I only thought existed in children’s stories. How is it two of them are on your ship?”
“Well.” Captain Matheson leaned back in his chair, his hands locked behind his head. “We happened upon their homeland six days ago and went ashore to meet with their leader, whom we learned was this Asloft fellow.
“They were not very pleased that we found them, but relaxed once we promised our intentions were peaceful. We invited them to come aboard and afterwards were invited to share in a meal with Asloft and his primes—his advisors.
“After giving and receiving gifts, and with the promise of never returning or sharing their location with anyone else, we departed. Once at sea we discovered two stowaways—the missing birdmen whom Asloft seeks. They begged us not to return them to Aern and the harsh treatment by Asloft and his primes. And after listening to their story, I agreed.”
“What is their story?”
Captain Matheson sat forward and clapped his hands once. “I think you should hear it from them.” After rising from his chair and coming around his desk, he said, “I’ll take you to their quarters.”
Magnus rose and followed his host. Before leaving, he turned to give the room a final look and noticed the skull, its eyes black and vacant. I must have imagined it, he thought and stepped into the passageway behind Sir Geoffrey.
They turned left and descended a ladder to a new level. Here, a passageway ran fore and aft and had four doors on each side. Captain Matheson went straight to the second on the right and stopped.
“They are very shy and scared, as I’m sure you can imagine,” he said. He tapped lightly on the door and waited.
Magnus listened and heard a startled rustling sound as if a flock of birds had taken wing at once.
Then a soft voice called out, “Come in.”
Captain Matheson pushed the door open and allowed Magnus to enter first. When he did, Magnus saw the two missing wingwalkers and thought he understood why they were there. Each looked young and smallish, much smaller than the ones that attacked Dragonsbane three days earlier.
Their room was tiny and unfurnished save for a pile of straw in the far corner. It was on this the two stowaways cowered and held on to each other. Though Magnus could see the concern in the young wingwalker’s eyes, it was not fear that compelled their embrace.
“Asloft forbids your union?” Magnus said to the two birdmen in the corner.
They both nodded slowly but said nothing.
“I don’t need to hear their story,” Magnus said. “It is plain to me.”
“They tell me Asloft would put them to death,” Captain Matheson said from Magnus’s right side. He leaned against the doorframe. “I could not return them, knowing that would be their fate.”
“Perhaps,” said Magnus, turning to face Captain Matheson. “But you may have earned a dangerous enemy, and trouble if Asloft discovers them.”
Captain Matheson shrugged. “A minor inconvenience.” He clapped his hands again, “Come, let me show you more of Orion’s secrets.” Without waiting, he turned and walked forward along the passageway.
After a final dispassionate glance at the two forbidden lovers, Magnus stepped out of the room and followed the Anglánder captain.
“I want to show you the cargo hold,” Captain Matheson said and stood next to an open door at the end of the passageway. He held a lighted candle in his hand. “You don’t have anything like this on your ship, I’d warrant.”
Magnus shook his head and glanced about. “This is an incredible vessel.” He looked at Captain Matheson. “How many decks does she have?”
“Three below the main deck, and one above—the pilot box.”
“I do not know that term, ‘pilot box.’”
“The helmsman steers her from there.”
“Ah, I wondered about the man at the wheel,” Magnus said, and together they descended to Orion’s lowermost deck. Magnus stepped into a large dark room, damp from dripping seawater, and saw many different sized cartons, boxes, and crates, stacked atop one another from one end of the room to the other.
In the faint candlelight, Magnus could see each box or crate had been marked with a similar word, which Magnus did not understand.
“What do the markings mean?” he asked.
“Oh, that means the contents are fragile and can be damaged if handled carelessly. Our journeys are long; we should not want to repeat a voyage because something got broken before we returned.”
Magnus stopped, suddenly curious. “I have not heard of Anglánders before. Is that your country, Anglánd?”
Captain Matheson nodded, “Close enough, I suppose, though not all my crew are from there. We hail from several countries and come together for these searching voyages.”
“Are there many ships like Orion in Anglánd?”
Captain Matheson nodded. “Oh, yes. Though Orion is one of the newer, more advanced types.
Magnus filed that knowledge away and asked, “How long have you been away?” He thought it must be a long time judging from the number of containers down here. They stretched away as far as he could see in the dim light.
“One year so far,” Captain Matheson said. “With at least that much longer before we return if all goes well.”
Magnus nodded. “Not such a long time, for seafaring men. I have been away nearly that long before.”
“Where did your journey take you this time?” Captain Matheson asked as he led Magnus back up the ladder to the main deck.
“We visited the Western Lands, where my daughter’s grandparents live.”
“I have not heard of this place. Your daughter’s people are from there you say?”
Magnus nodded as they stepped out onto the open deck and into the late afternoon sun. “She is their queen now, and three of her subjects travel with her, as well as two wraith faeries acting as her protectors.”
“Faeries, you say,” Captain Matheson said, and stroked his goatee. “Now that would be something to see. Are they dangerous?”
“No,” Magnus said and shook his head. “Unless, that is, you mean to harm Ästa.”
“My daughter—their queen.”
“Ah, well, I would not consider harming someone royal. I’m familiar with that sort.”
“Mm-hmm,” Magnus said.
“Would you allow your daughter and her subjects to come aboard so I might talk with them? I promise you, no harm will come to them.”
Magnus smiled at the thought of any of these Anglánders trying to threaten his daughter. “As her father, I am always concerned for her safety. However, if she agrees, and if my nephew, Torval, and one other can come along, I see no problem with you speaking to them.” When the captain nodded his assent, Magnus signaled to Caillen, who was standing at Orion’s railing, speaking with one of the crew.
Caillen hurried over. “Yes, Magnus.”
“Please ask Torval and Haruka to come aboard.”
“I will,” said Caillen. He turned to go, but Magnus stopped him.
“After that, gather the other Lupanora, and Ästa, and come back as soon as you can.”
“Yes, of course,” said Caillen and started away.
“Tell Alec he is welcome, and if they ask, Prisa and Kalen may come over as well.”
Caillen nodded and hurried across the gangway to collect the others.
“Lupanora?” Captain Matheson said.
Magnus nodded. “They inhabit the Western Lands. There are at least three tribes, or clans if you will that have a certain talent.”
“If they are anything like the eagle girl, Windancer, I can hardly wait to see.”
“There are two other clans besides the eagles. The bear and wolf clans are quite startling to see if you are unprepared.”
“I assure you, when we observed Windancer change to her eagle form, it was indeed startling.”
“Have you no magic in Anglánd?”
Matheson shook his head. “Not that I am aware of. Our people are rather plain and unremarkable, except for our dogged determination to know why.”
“Why a thing is what it is,” Matheson said wistfully. “To know all about something is very fulfilling, especially to us searchers.”
Magnus nodded. “That is why we Vikings sail the ocean—not the why of a thing, but the where and what.”
Matheson smiled and slapped Magnus on the shoulder companionably. “I see we are similar types of men. I am glad we met, Magnus.” He turned to look as Torval crested the gangway, staff in hand, with Haruka at his heel, her sword in its customary position on her left hip. “Now, who have we here?”
Magnus gestured for the two to join them. “This is my brother’s son, Torval. And this is Haruka, a warrior from the east.” To them, he added, “This is Captain Matheson. Orion is his ship.”
“Thank you for the water, Captain Matheson,” Torval said with a respectful nod.
“Not at all. Can’t have you drinking seawater now, can we?” He regarded Haruka. “An adherent of the bushido code, yes?”
Haruka’s eyes went wide. “Bushido, hai, I mean, yes. You know of bushido?”
“Only from my studies. Yours are a very proud and honorable people,” Matheson said and bowed.
Haruka returned the bow and smiled.
Following a few steps behind Torval and Haruka, the four Lupanora approached, with Kalen and Prisa hovering at Ästa’s side.
Magnus introduced them. “My daughter, Ästa.” He put an arm around her shoulder. “And this is Caillen and Montu. Windancer you have already met.” He indicated the two faeries. “This is Prisa and Kalen, wraith faeries of the Birchwood forest, and sworn protectors of Ästa—their queen.”
Magnus asked Caillen, “Alec?”
Caillen shook his head and shrugged. “Said he was not interested.”
“Well, it is indeed a pleasure to meet all of you,” Matheson said and removed his hat with a flourish and a bow. “I am very interested in learning about you and the Western Lands. Do you think we could retire to my cabin and talk?”
Ästa glanced at her father for guidance. “What do you say, Father?”
Magnus shrugged. “I see no danger in talking with this man. If you wish to, you may go. Torval and Haruka will accompany you.”
“Excellent,” Matheson said and donned his hat. “Then, please follow me and let us get to know one another better.” He turned to Magnus. “I hope you will remain long enough to share a meal with us.”
Magnus nodded. “I see no reason to hurry off. I accept your invitation. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to talk with my navigator.”
Captain Matheson inclined his head then turned away, guiding the eight guests through the same door Magnus went through earlier.
That evening, long tables were stationed on Orion’s open deck, and both crews sat together for supper. Platters of fish and dried meats, fruits and greens, bread, cheese, and butter were arranged along each table, so there was plenty for everyone. A cask of wine was brought up from the cargo hold as a gesture of friendship from Orion’s crew. Magnus returned the gesture with one of strong ale.
He sat near the head of one table at Captain Matheson’s right, where they spoke about various topics until long after the meal was concluded. Magnus had noted his host’s pallor when the captain returned from talking with Ästa and her friends. Magnus smiled at the thought of Captain Matheson seeing the Lupanora transformations, which he assumed one or all of them did. But to his credit, the Anglánder seemed to have recovered and was the epitome of the perfect host.
By the time Magnus dismissed his crew for the night, all had drunk their fill of good wine, eaten as much as they desired, and cemented new friendships with many of Orion’s crew.
* * *
Finally, the time had come to depart, so Magnus and Captain Matheson shook hands, and Magnus went aboard Dragonsbane. However, before Matheson allowed Ästa to leave, he called her over and asked her to sit beside him at the table, which she did.
“Ästa, we discussed many things about your Western Lands earlier.”
“I should very much like to visit someday. Would that be possible?”
“That would please me if you did. I can see a mutual benefit for your visits.”
“That is wonderful news. But as I do not know where your Western Lands are,” he removed a small black rectangular item from his waistcoat pocket and set it on the table. “I want to give this to you as a gift.”
Ästa looked at the little box but did not touch it. “What is it?”
“I call it a beacon. It has a more technical name, but beacon will do.”
Ästa touched the surface. “And what is it made of? It does not feel like wood or metal.”
Matheson waved a dismissive hand. “It is a new material made by my people, but of no importance. What is, is the small button there.” He pointed at a raised bump on the surface of the little box. “If you press that, I will know where you are and can come.”
“How is that possible? Does it contain magic?”
Matheson smiled. “Of a sort. But have no fear, it is not dangerous. It is very useful and has helped me many times to find my way. When you arrive back home and wish for me to visit, simply press that button and I will come.”
“That is all?”
“That is all. Ästa, you and your Lupanora clans are the most amazing discovery I have ever made. I must know more about you and this wonderful land of yours. So, please do not hesitate to call when you want us to visit. I assure you, we will come.”
“Very well, I look forward to seeing you again. Perhaps we can forge some trade agreement.” She rose and pocketed the black box. “I must go now.”
“Of course. It was very good meeting you, Ästa. I hope to see you again soon.” He took her hand and bent over it, placing a kiss above her knuckles. “Stay safe, my queen.”
“And you as well,” Ästa said and departed Orion.
Once the lines were removed, and Dragonsbane freed to make way, Geoffrey Matheson stood at the rail and watched to make sure their two ships did not come together accidentally in the rising seas.
He was joined by his first mate, who rested his forearms on the railing. “Amazing discovery, Captain,” Zebulun Mbutae said as he watched the Viking ship pull away.
“Yes, quite right.”
“You realize we brought the wrong ship this time?”
“An unfortunate, but minor miscalculation,” said Matheson, his voice not hiding his irritation. “Command will adjust for that, next time.” He looked away from the longship and regarded Zeb. “You’ve seen the video footage then?”
Zeb nodded. “I have, and still can hardly believe my eyes.”
“Yes, wolves, eagles, and bears, amazing.”
“And the little faerie creatures. Don’t forget about them.”
“There are no records of such things in the archives,” said Matheson.
“Not everything is,” said Zeb. “This may be a first discovery.”
Matheson returned his gaze to the departing longship. “I think that brute of a Viking might have seen the camera in the skull.”
“He could not know what it was. Did he say anything?”
Matheson shook his head. “No, but I got the feeling he did not trust me. He asked a lot of questions.”
“I am surprised that you let them go?”
“They’re not going anywhere, my friend. Besides, we’re not equipped to hold them without modifications.” Geoffrey Matheson clapped the first mate on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Ästa has the beacon. She will call us in time. And when she does, we will be ready.”
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