The far-seer was marvelous. Before dark, Afsan practiced with it, looking up at the Dasheter’s riggings, catching sight of old Dath-Katood snoozing in that little bucket atop the lead mast, the place from which he was supposed to be watching for — for Afsan knew not what, but Captain Keenir had insisted that there be someone in the lookout’s perch day and night. Afsan had heard grumblings that Keenir was obsessed with having the waters watched, and that, in the view of at least some of the crew, it was a waste of time. Apparently Katood was one of those who felt that way, and so was taking advantage of the quiet and warm sun for a rest. Afsan wondered how Katood’s stomach stood the swaying of the mast at that height.
Afsan also briefly turned the far-seer onto the sun itself. That had been a mistake. The sun was always glaringly bright and hot, but, except when seen at the horizons or when partially obscured by clouds, it was hard to tell that it was a disk rather than simply an incredibly bright point. But through the far-seer, the radiance was amazing, and Afsan’s eye had stung with pain. For the rest of the day, he had dark afterimages floating in front of him.
There was little else to look at in the daytime. Waves through the far-seer looked much like waves close up. It was briefly amusing to examine things through the wrong end of the tube, and see them as though from very far away. Land was quite hilly, so this reverse view was an unusual perspective. Afsan had never seen another Quintaglio from such an apparent distance. Still, even looking at them this way, Afsan could tell some of his shipmates apart. Dybo’s round shape was unmistakable and Captain Keenir’s stubby tail betrayed him when seen in profile.
At one point, Afsan saw a giant wingfinger in the distance. Its wingspan was perhaps as great as the length of the Dasheter. The graceful tawny shape in the circle of light at the end of the far-seer never flapped its leathery wings. Rather, it seemed to glide forever, rising and falling on currents of air. Afsan wondered if the huge creature spent its whole life aloft, skimming the surface of the water to scoop up fish or baby serpents. The freedom of its flight captivated Afsan, and he watched for a good daytenth before losing sight of it.
Four moons were visible as faint ghosts in the purple sky. It was not unusual to see a few during the day. Afsan turned the far-seer on each of them, but the images were washed out by sunlight.
Patience, he told himself. Night will be here soon.
And, indeed, it did come quickly. The sun, purple with the age of the day, egg-shaped, veiled with wisps of cloud, slipped below the horizon. Darkness gathered rapidly, and a few pinpoints of light appeared. Afsan, of course, knew which were stars and which were planets. He chose a star, the bright one that represented the shoulder in the constellation of Matark, the hornface upon which the great hunter Lubal had led her disciples into battle. A few twists of the far-seer’s tube, already cool in the night, brought the star into crystal focus. Afsan was disappointed that, although the image was perhaps sharper than what he was used to seeing, it revealed no detail: just a yellowish-white pinpoint of light.
Undeterred, he aimed the brass tube at Kevpel, one of the planets, a speck in the firmament that, to the unaided eye, appeared no different from a regular star.
Afsan staggered backwards, almost tripping over his own tail. He put down the far-seer, rubbed his eye, and tried again. The planet showed as a disk — a disk! — in the eyepiece. No doubt: it was a circular object, a solid object. He marveled at the sight for some time before he realized that there was more to the image than he’d at first realized. Off to the left of the disk, there were three tiny specks of light in a line, and on the right side there were another two specks, one of which was so faint, Afsan wasn’t absolutely sure it was even there.
He swung his gaze closer to the horizon, not far from where the sun had gone down, and turned the far-seer on Davpel. Again, Afsan was shocked by what he saw. This planet showed a white crescent face! Did the planets go through phases the way the moons did? Incredible.
And what of Bripel, the only other planet visible tonight? Afsan trained the magnifying tube on it. The Dasheter chose that moment to roll violently under a wave, and Afsan heard the creaking of the hull, the snap of sails, the pounding of water. When the ship had calmed itself, he searched again for Bripel. What he saw he could not believe. There were handles on the sides of Bripel, hollow curves protruding to the left and right.
He lowered the eyepiece to contemplate. One planet apparently went through phases, just like the moons do. Another had an accompanying collection of lesser points of light. A third had handles, like a two-fisted drinking cup.
Afsan shook his head. It was all too much to absorb at once. But, already, one thought burned in his mind. He couldn’t give up using far-seers upon return to Capital City, regardless of what Saleed demanded. There was more to the universe than Saleed knew, more than Afsan had ever imagined. He was determined to learn its secrets, no matter what.