Afsan restrained himself for all of the first day of the voyage, although he saw Keenir several times, his cane ticking against the creaking timbers. Keenir would often go up to the pointed bow and use his cross staff to measure angles in the sky, making sure the Dasheter was on the right course. The captain had looked at Afsan once with an expression that might have been recognition. But the voyage would last many days — 130 or so out to the Face of God, 10 beneath the Face, and perhaps 110 to return. Afsan knew his chances of success were better if he did not seem greedy.
He watched Land dwindle as the sailing ship moved farther upriver. The Ch’mar volcanoes made a jagged line like Quintaglio teeth.
It wasn’t long before Land disappeared beneath the horizon. Gone was Capital City and every other place Afsan had ever been. All that was left was water, choppy and blue. The red sails whipped in the steady wind, a wind strong enough to make Afsan close his eyes when he faced into it.
That first night was even-night, when Afsan normally slept. In fact, half of those aboard were being told to sleep that night, in an effort to keep the confined population — eight crewmembers and twenty-two pilgrims — out of each other’s way. But even with his porthole open, Afsan was unable to slip into unconsciousness. The sounds of the ship, the yawing back and forth — it was all too strange for a youngster from Carno. He lay on his belly on the floor, waiting for the night to end.
Every now and then Afsan would hear a tapping coming from above, growing fainter and fainter, then progressively louder, a wooden tick-tick-tick against the background sounds of the ship. Afsan eventually figured out what it was: the captain’s walking stick striking the deck. He seemed to be pacing, endlessly pacing.
At last morning came, heralded, even here, far out in the River, by the calls of wingfingers. But these were louder calls than those Afsan was used to hearing back on Land — deeper calls, the calls of much larger flyers. Afsan stretched, growled to himself, and rose.
Water was plentiful aboard the Dasheter — bucketfuls could be hauled aboard easily. It was somewhat salty, but nothing that Afsan’s salt glands, between his eyes and nostrils, couldn’t handle. Excess salt would be eliminated from the small openings over his pre-orbital fenestrae, on either side of his muzzle. That gland was the only part of his body he really had to wash regularly, the only part that might give off an unpleasant odor. As for the rest of his thick, dry skin he simply rinsed off any visible dirt. Then he donned his sash, yellow and brown, colors worthy of an apprentice, and headed out of his quarters, up the groaning ramp, and onto the deck.
The sun was rising on the eastern horizon, up ahead, with almost visible speed. The Dasheter’s red sails snapped salutes at the dawn.
Some crewmembers were hauling food nets aboard. The morning’s catch included fish; some small aquatic lizards, their shapes streamlined like those of the fish; and several coiled mollusks, clusters of tentacles sticking out from their ornate shells. Some of the mollusks, already dying, were squirting ink onto the Dasheter’s deck.
Afsan wasn’t hungry, but others were. They grabbed things to eat, trying to get them still wiggling, with some fight left in them. First to go were the aquatic reptiles. The dorsal fin was the best part, since it was solid meat, completely free of bone. A mate named Nor-Gampar grabbed one with both hands, seizing its long, toothed snout in his left, and gripping it just above the tail with his right. In one shearing bite the delectable fin was gone. Afsan watched long enough to see if Gampar would then help himself to everybody’s second favorite part — the upper portion of the tail fin. It, too, was solid meat, for the reptile’s backbone bent downward and reinforced only the lower prong of the tail. Gampar did indeed bite that off next.
Afsan walked across the connecting piece that joined the Dasheter’s fore and aft diamond hulls. It rose up like a bridge spanning a creek, and as he got higher above the waterline the swaying of the ship seemed even more pronounced. Spray hit his face.
On the foredeck he found Keenir, standing hands on hips, near the point of the bow, looking out at the waters ahead.
Afsan approached as close as he dared — four paces away. The yellow scar on Keenir’s face looked fierce in the sunlight. The captain turned to look at him, blinked once or twice, then nodded slightly. It wasn’t a bow of concession, but it certainly wasn’t a challenge, either.
Encouraged, Afsan spoke. "I hope the day brings you a successful hunt."
Keenir looked again at the boy. After a moment he clicked his teeth. " ’Successful hunt,’ eh? Seems an odd thing to say aboard a sailing ship."
Afsan felt his dewlap tightening in embarrassment. The ritual greeting did seem incongruous in this setting. "I only meant to wish you a good day."
"Well, if we find something for me to hunt, it will be a good day, indeed, youngster. A grand day." He looked back out at the waters. "You’re Afdool, aren’t you?"
Afdool meant "meaty legbone." Afsan meant "meaty thighbone." It was a forgivable mistake, especially since Afsan was by far the less common name.
"Uh, it’s Afsan, actually."
"Afsan. Of course. Saleed’s apprentice. I hope you last longer than your predecessors."
"I already have." Afsan instantly regretted saying that; it sounded boastful.
But Keenir did not seem to be offended. "Your master and I go back a long time, boy. We were creche-mates. But he was never as skinny as you are. What’s a slip like you doing with a name like Afsan, anyway?"
"I did not choose the name."
"No, of course not. Anyway, I thank you for your good wishes. Successful hunting to you, too, young Afsan — whatever it is that you seek."
"Actually, sir, there is something I seek."
"The far-seer, sir…"
"Yes. You remember, you had it that day we met in Saleed’s office."
"Indeed." Keenir’s tail swished. "Saleed thought it had no applicability to his work. Would he approve of you using it?"
Afsan felt his posture drooping. "Um, no, sir, he wouldn’t. I’m sorry I asked." He turned to go.
"Wait, good Thighbone, I’d be delighted to let you use the far-seer."
"You would? But why?"
"Why?" Keenir clicked his teeth in glee. "Simply because Saleed would disapprove. To my cabin, lad!"