Afsan had been thinking of how to get an appointment to see Captain Var-Keenir. There was no doubt in the young astrologer’s mind that a hierarchy operated aboard the ship, that each member of the crew had specific responsibilities, and reported in turn to a designated individual. But, as to what that order was, Afsan had been unable to tell. Back at the palace grounds, Afsan had come up with a simple rule. If it wore a sash, call it "learned one." If it sported robes, call it "holy one." And if in any doubt, simply bob concession and get out of the way.
But the routine of the ship baffled Afsan. One day, an officer might be the lookout atop the foremast. On the next day, that same person might be working in the galley, pounding salted meats to tenderize them, and then carefully soaking them in the ship’s limited stock of blood to make the meat at least appear fresh. It was as if they rotated duties, but if there was a pattern to the rotation, Afsan had yet to perceive it.
Finally he gave up and simply decided to approach the captain directly. The Dasheter had been designed to appear sparsely populated even when carrying a full complement. That meant Afsan had to wind his way to the captain’s cabin through a maze of walls that seemed to serve no purpose except to shield one Quintaglio from another’s view. These walls seemed to creak the most as the Dasheter tossed upon the waves, as if protesting their lot in life.
At Keenir’s door, Afsan hesitated. What he had to ask was critical, and the captain’s mood had not been good of late. Afsan had overheard the captain mumbling to Nor-Gampar about how much he disliked holding station here beneath the Face of God. Not that Keenir didn’t revel in the spectacle — no, his heart was not so hard as not to be moved by the swirling maelstrom covering a quarter of the sky. But, said Keenir, a ship should sail! It should struggle into the wind, or fly like a wingfinger with a strong breeze at its back. It should move.
Well, if Keenir said yes to Afsan’s plan, he’d get all the movement he could want.
Afsan watched his own shadow flickering on the door in the lamplight, a quavering silhouette, a palsied specter. He lifted his claws to the copper plate.
Keenir’s voice was so deep as to be almost lost among the groans of the ship’s lumber. "Who’s there?"
Afsan swallowed, then spoke his own name aloud.
There was no verbal reply — did Keenir know how difficult it was to discern his voice over the sounds of the ship? Or did he simply choose to ignore a passenger — a child — invading his privacy? No, there was that ticking, the sound of Keenir’s walking stick. After a moment, the door swung open. "Well?"
Afsan bowed. "I cast a shadow in your presence."
Keenir made a grumbling sound and Afsan’s eyes were drawn to the scar on the captain’s face, still inflamed although it was fading with time. It seemed to dance in the lamplight. "What do you want?"
Afsan found himself stammering. "I need to talk to you, sir."
Keenir looked down his muzzle. Finally: "Very well. Come in." The old captain walked back into his cabin. His tail had almost completely regenerated. It was as long now as one of the captain’s grizzled arms, but still not long enough to reach the floor, and therefore of only limited aid in balancing the oldster’s tremendous bulk. The tickings of his stick marked each pace back to his worktable. Afsan marveled at how the twisted length of wood managed to support Keenir.
On the walls of the cabin hung a variety of brass instruments, including several sets of articulated arms with scales marked on them. The captain’s worktable reminded Afsan of Saleed’s, back in the basement of the palace office building. Strewn across it were charts of the planets and moons. Indeed, although it was hard to tell viewing them upside down, some of them seemed to be in Saleed’s own hand.
Keenir lowered himself onto his dayslab, the wood groaning. "What is it, eggling?"
Eggling. The word seemed destined to haunt Afsan for the rest of his days. The captain had to take him seriously — he had to!
"Captain, when do we head back?"
"You know the schedule as well as I do. A pilgrimage ship must hold directly beneath the Face for ten even-days and ten odd, unless weather or other circumstances prevent that. We’ve held this spot" — Afsan detected a certain weariness in the captain’s tone — "for seventeen of the required twenty."
"And how will we head back?"
"What do you mean, how? We’ll hoist the sails, and the steady wind — that same wind we tacked against all the way here — will blow us back." Keenir clicked his teeth in satisfaction. "You’ll see this ship move then, lad! Nothing moves faster than the good ship Dasheter when the wind is at its back!"
"And what if we went the other way?"
"What other way?"
"You know, continued on, into the wind. Continued east."
From Afsan’s vantage point, perpendicular to the crowded desk, he could see Keenir’s tail jerk behind his stool. Keenir had tried to thump it against the floor, but it didn’t reach.
"Continue on, lad? Continue on? That’s madness. We’d end up sailing upriver forever."
"How do you know that?"
Keenir puffed his muzzle in exasperation. "It’s in the books, eggling. Surely you’ve read the books!"
Afsan bowed slightly. "Of course, sir. Believe me, an apprentice does little but read. Perhaps I should try my question another way. How did the authors of the books know that the River continued on endlessly?"
Keenir blinked twice. He had obviously never thought about this. "Why, from other books, I’d warrant."
Afsan opened his mouth to speak, but Keenir raised his left hand, claws slightly extended. "Hold your tongue, boy. Grant me some intelligence. Your next question was going to be, And how did the authors of these earlier books know the truth?’ " Keenir clicked his teeth in satisfaction. "Well, they knew it through divine revelation. They knew it directly from God."
Through force of will, Afsan kept his own tail from thumping the deck in frustration. "And all knowledge is gained thus? By divine revelation?"
"But what of the discovery by the Prophet Larsk of the Face of God itself? That was only a hundred and fifty kilodays ago, long after the end of the age of prophecy told of in the holy writings."
"Prophets come when they are needed, lad. Obviously God beckoned Larsk on, to sail farther and farther until he came upon the Face."
’’There’s no chance Larsk simply stumbled onto the Face by accident? That he sailed so far east out of — out of curiosity?"
"Eggling! You will not speak thus of the prophet."
Afsan bowed quickly. "My apologies. I meant no blasphemy."
Keenir nodded. "Saleed said you were prone to speaking without thinking, lad."
Speaking without thinking! Afsan felt the muscles of his chest knot. Speaking without thinking! Why, I speak because I am thinking. If only others would do the same — "Honorable Captain, did you ever eat plants as a child?"
Keenir scowled. "Of course. Gave me a monstrous bellyache, too. I imagine every youngster tries to eat things he or she shouldn’t."
"Exactly. You were doing a different kind of thinking, sir. You had seen some animal — a hornface, perhaps, or an armorback, or maybe a turtle — munch away on some plant. You said to yourself, ’I wonder what would happen if I ate some plants myself.’ And you found out — you got sick. We, and the other carnivores, such as the terrorclaws and even the wingfingers, can’t eat plants. We can’t digest them."
"So, that’s a way of looking at the world that scholars use. You make an observation: some animals eat plants and some do not. You propose an idea, a pre-fact, shall we say, a statement that might be a fact or might not: I can eat plants, too. Then you perform a test: you eat a plant. You note the results: you get sick. And you draw a conclusion: my pre-fact was in error; it is not a true fact. I cannot eat plants."
"Afsan, you credit youngsters with too much thought. Observations! Pre-facts! What nonsense. I just stuck some leaves in my mouth and swallowed. I’d done the same thing with dirt, with pieces of wood, and so on. It wasn’t some grand test. It was just the silliness of childhood."
"Good Captain, forgive me, but I don’t think so. I believe you did go through every one of the steps I described, but so quickly, so seamlessly, that you might not have been aware of it."
Keenir’s tone was hard. "You are presuming a great deal, eggling."
"I meant no presumption, but surely…" Afsan thought better of what he was about to say, stopped, swallowed, and tried again. "Scholars have found that there is value in this method of inquiry."
"Well, if it got you to stop eating plants, I suppose there is." Keenir clicked his teeth in self-satisfied amusement.
"May I tell you of some other observations I’ve made?" asked Afsan.
"Lad, I’ve got chores to perform." He looked pointedly down his muzzle. "I suspect you do, too."
"I will be brief, sir. I promise."
"By the prophet’s claws, lad, I don’t know why people put up with so much from you. Somehow, even Saleed takes you seriously. And you’ve got the ear of the crown prince." Keenir was silent for a moment, and Afsan thought about what he’d said. Saleed takes me seriously? Ha! At last, the old captain spoke again. "Very well, Afsan. But I’ll hold you to your promise of brevity. There’s only a few days until we set sail again, after all."
Afsan decided that it would be politic to click his teeth in appreciation of Keenir’s joke. Then: "I’ve been making observations with the far-seer and with my own unaided eyes. I’ve seen that the Face of God rose into the sky as we moved east, until, as now, it’s at its highest point. It can rise no farther into the sky, for it sits directly overhead. I’ve seen, too, that it goes through phases, just as the moons do, and just — as I’ve learned by looking upon them through the far-seer — as some of the planets do."
Keenir raised his muzzle, exposing the underside of his neck, a gesture of mild concession. "I’ve used the far-seer myself to have a peek at the planets. I was mildly intrigued by that. Told Saleed about it, but he dismissed what I’d seen."
"Indeed?" said Afsan, grateful that Keenir had been curious enough to make some observations himself. "I think it’s significant."
"Well," said Keenir, his voice a low rumble, "I did wonder how what previously had seemed only a point of light could show phases."
"I’m sure you saw through the far-seer that some of the planets show visible disks, Captain. They appear as points of light only because they are so far away."
"Far away? The planets are no more distant than the stars, no farther than the moons. All the objects in the sky move across the same celestial sphere, just sliding along it at different rates."
"Uh, no, sir, they don’t. I’ve made models and I’ve done figuring on writing sheets." Afsan paused, took a deep breath. "Captain, my observations lead me to propose a pre-fact: the world is spherical, just as the moons are spherical, just as the sun is spherical, just as the Face of God is spherical."
"The world spherical? How can that be?"
"Well, sir, surely you have stood on the docks at Capital City and seen the tops of masts of ships appear at the horizon before the rest of the ship does." Afsan held up his right fist and moved a finger of his left hand over its curving surface. "That’s the ship coming over the curve of the world."
"Oh, don’t be silly, boy. There are waves in the great River — you can feel them tossing this boat right now. Well, some waves are so big and so gentle that ships move over the crests and troughs without us being aware of it. That’s what causes the effect you’ve described."
Can he really believe that? thought Afsan. Does he accept everything he reads so easily, without question? "Sir, there’s a lot of evidence to make me believe that the world is round. It must be! A sphere, a ball, whatever you want to call it." Keenir’s tail was swishing in disbelief, but Afsan pressed on. "Further, this round world is mostly covered with water. We, here in the Dasheter, are sailing not on a River but rather on the watery surface of our spherical world, as if almost the entire surface was a — a — super-lake."
"You’re saying we’re a ball of water?"
"No, I’m sure the rocky floor we see beneath the coastal waters continues all the way around, even here, out where it’s far too deep for us to see the bottom. No, our world is a sphere of rock, but mostly covered by water."
"Like a raloodoo?"
"Like a what?"
"Eggling, they don’t feed you apprentices well enough at the palace. A raloodoo is a delicacy from Chu’toolar province. You take the eye of a shovelmouth, remove it carefully, and dip it in the sugary sap of a mladaja tree. The sugar hardens into a crunchy coating over the surface of the eyeball."
"Yes, then, you’re right. Except that the eyeball is the rocky sphere of our world, and the thin coat of sugar is the water that covers almost all of the surface."
"All right," said Keenir. "I don’t accept this for an instant, you understand, but at least I can picture what you’re talking about."
Afsan nodded concession, then went on. "Now, then, how big is our world?"
"Surely that’s impossible to tell."
"No, Captain. Forgive me, but we have all the information we need to make the calculation. As you remarked earlier, we are sitting still beneath the Face of God. If we don’t move the ship, the Face doesn’t appear to move at all. It is only the movement of this vessel that causes the Face to apparently rise or set. Therefore, we can use the speed of the Dasheter as our measuring stick to calculate how far we’ve sailed around the world. You yourself told us it was a four-thousand-kilopace journey from the point at which the Face of God was just below the horizon to when it was just above."
"Aye, I did say that. Thirty-two days sailing."
"Well, if it takes thirty-two days for the Face to rise by its own height, we must in those thirty-two days have sailed one-eighth of the circumference of the world."
"How do you figure that?"
"Well, the Face covers a quarter of the sky, and the sky is a hemisphere — a half circle."
"Oh, right. Of course. If the Face covers a quarter of a half, it therefore covers an eighth of the whole. Yes, I see that."
"And the angles subtended by the Face…"
"I said I saw it, eggling. I’m a mariner; I know all about measuring sky angles for navigation."
Afsan cringed, bowed quickly, then pressed on. "Now, it took thirty-two days to sail the four thousand kilopaces needed for the Face to rise by its own height. Thus, in thirty-two days we sailed one-eighth of the way around the world. Therefore the circumference of the world is eight times four thousand kilopaces, or thirty-two thousand kilopaces."
Keenir nodded dubiously.
Afsan continued. "And it took us 113 days to get from Capital City to the point at which we first saw the leading edge of the Face on the horizon." Afsan blinked once, doing the math. "That’s 3.53 times as long as it took to sail one-eighth of the world’s circumference. So, in that part of the voyage, we must have sailed 3.53 times one-eighth of the way around the world." Afsan blinked again. "That’s just under halfway around; 44.125 percent, to be precise." He clicked his teeth lightly. "Of course, that’s too many places of accuracy."
Keenir was deadpan. "Of course."
"And we’ve sailed even farther now — enough to let the Face rise all the way to the zenith."
"So you would have me believe that we’ve sailed about halfway around the world," said Keenir.
"Just about halfway, yes. Land is on the other side of the world from here, permanently facing away from the Face of God."
"The other side of the world," Keenir said slowly.
"That’s right. And, good Captain, consider this: we could continue sailing eastward from here and reach Land again by coming right around the world, in no more time than it took to get here in the first place."
Afsan beamed triumphantly, but Keenir just shook his head. "What nonsense."
Afsan forgot his manners. "It is not nonsense! It is the only answer that fits the observations!"
"A pre-fact? Is that what you called it? Your pre-fact is that the world is round, and that we’ve sailed halfway around it?"
"And you now want to test your pre-fact by having me order us to continue on to the east?"
Keenir shook his head again. "Lad, first, I don’t agree with your interpretation. Second, the journey out is hard; we’ve been constantly sailing into the wind. It will be a lot easier going home by simply turning around and scooting directly back, so, even if you are right — and I don’t believe you are — we gain nothing by going your way. Third, we don’t have enough supplies to last for more than a few extra days. We can’t risk that you are wrong."
"Ah, but if I am right, we do gain, Captain. We gain knowledge…"
Keenir made an unpleasant sound.
"And…" Suddenly Afsan saw a new angle. "And we vastly simplify future pilgrimages. For if the world is round, and the winds run in the same direction around the entire sphere, as I suspect they do, at least here in the band farthest from the sphere’s northern and southern poles, then one could sail to the west to reach the Face, with the wind at your back the entire way. And, to return, one could continue on to the west, again with the wind at your back. Think of the savings!"
"A pilgrimage is not about saving time, eggling. Our goal is to retrace the prophet’s journey, to see the spectacle as he saw it. And, beyond that, consider what you’re asking, lad! God lives upriver from Land, watching out for obstacles and dangers ahead. She protects us. You’re suggesting that we sail ahead, moving in front of God, into waters that She has not first observed. We’d be without Her protection, without Her blessing."
"Enough!" Keenir raised his hand again, and this time the claws were fully extended. "Enough, eggling! I’ve been more than patient. We will head home as planned."
The deck shook as Keenir slammed his walking stick into the floorboards. "I said enough! Eggling, you are lucky I’m not a priest; I’d have you doing penances for the rest of your life. You’re talking not just nonsense, but sacrilege. I’ve got a mind to turn you over to Det-Bleen for some remedial training."
Afsan bowed his head. "I meant no disrespect."
"Perhaps you didn’t." Keenir’s tone softened. "I’m not a particularly religious person, Afsan. Most sailors aren’t, you know. It’s just not in our blood. Superstitious, perhaps — we’ve seen things out here that would chill a regular person to the soul. But not religious, not in a formal way. But the kind of silliness you’re spouting just doesn’t make sense. Keep it to yourself, boy. You’ll have an easier life."
"I’m not looking for an easy way out," said Afsan, but softly. "I just…" But suddenly Keenir’s head snapped up. "What is it?"
The captain hissed Afsan into silence. Barely audible over the creaking of the ship, over the slapping of the waves, came a cry. "Kal!"
And, moments later, the same cry in another voice, louder, nearer: "Kal!"
Then again and again, as if being passed along: "Kal!" "Kal!" "Kal!" And the sound of heavy footfalls thundering along the deck.
Keenir jumped to his feet, fumbling with his walking stick.
There was the sound of claws on copper from outside his door. "Yes!" shouted Keenir.
A breathless mate appeared, her face haggard. "Permission to…"
"Yes, yes," Keenir snapped.
"Sir, Paldook up in the lookout bucket has spotted Kal-ta-goot!"
Keenir brought his hands together. "At last! At last it’ll pay for what it did! Unfurl the sails, Tardlo. Give chase!"
The old captain hurried from his quarters up onto the deck, leaving Afsan standing there, mouth agape.