Chapter 1: The Glittering Ocean
Early, before the sun rose, I packed up camp and walked to the dock to wait. Somewhat later than I expected, the woman and her three men and the innkeeper appeared. I threw myself at her feet, and I explained to her that the Spirits told me very clearly that I must follow her wherever she goes. Most people look at me like I've lost my mind when I talk that way. But she looked thoughtful for a moment, and accepted me into her group. She is the Lady Miyara, and I fell in place behind her. Of course, the spirits have paved my way with her somehow.
We boarded the barge, and were given places on the deck. It took only a day to reach Marigliano, and I spent the time drumming and dancing my appreciation to the spirits. When dinner-time came, I finished my dance upon a crate -- the only clear place -- and a crewman offered me his hand to climb down. He was fascinated with me, rather than frightened, and he made a halfway decent pass at me. He might have been a pleasant diversion for an hour or two, but I really wanted to return to my meditations. I have a lot to consider. I told him kindly that although I was flattered, I was following the purposes of the spirits, and there were other things I needed to do that night. He looked confused, and a little disappointed, but he accepted my excuses pleasantly enough and didn't bother me again.
Once in Marigliano, the Lady Miyara unerringly found passage on a ship that was leaving for Luccini that very afternoon. She paid for us all, and we were led to a small, cramped cabin below decks that we five would have to share. Small, close, dark, no window. It smelled of too-old fish and too many people. I will have to spend as much time as possible on deck in the free air.
In fact, we stored our things quickly, and all five of us went up on deck and watched us cast off and sail into the sea. Lady Miyara's servant Sun stayed near her, watching the sailors with distrust. I looked around at them curiously, and discovered that one was a spirit! She danced through the riggings, and went about her work with the natural grace of a spirit. I watched her avidly, and to my surprise, she also watched me. At last, a corporeal spirit took a direct interest in me! She was so beautiful, and her every move enchanted me. I watched her, paying little attention to my surroundings. She is tall, as all true spirits are, and her cropped hair a lovely blond color.
The captain rigged up a tent on deck for us, which was much nicer than the cabin. We ate dinner, provided by the ship and brought to us by Sun. By the time we finished, the sun had gone down. Luckily, the ship was well-lit. I found a clear spot on the deck, closed my eyes, and began the Dance of Thanks. As I whirled in the intricate circles and spirals, I whispered my thanks to the spirits, and my promise to Tanis to help him.
When my dance drew to a close, I came to a stop in the Pose of Gratitude, and opened my eyes.
The spirit walked right up to me and greeted me. I assumed the Pose of Supplication and I don't even remember what I said. She appreciated my Spirit Dance, and asked if I knew other dances, like the Tilean ones. I confessed I knew only the ones I had been taught and begged her to teach me the ones that would please her. It stands to reason that different kinds of spirits must have their own preferences. She graciously offered to teach me one at once.
She asked for some of her crewmates to play a tune on their pipes, and she took me in her arms and began to dance with me, guiding me and teaching me the steps and movements, like Ivanna used to. Only better. In every way.
I told her my name, where I came from, and my status as a shaman who speaks with the Spirits. She was truly interested in me, and asked questions, listened to my answers, and told me a little about herself. She told me her name in return, Mehli, and said she'd never been to Kislev, although she's seen so many other places. She is a sea spirit. We discussed wood spirits; one taught her the bow. I never learned archery, having too many other things to do, and of course my skill could never match that of a spirit. Still, she offered to teach me sometime. She praised my poor skills at the dance, although I felt so infernally clumsy compared to her.
She said something to the crew in Tilean, and they started to play a much slower song. She taught me another dance that required that we hold each other closely. I closed my eyes and moved with her. Her arms tightened around me, and we gently swayed to the sound of the pipes, the movement of the deck beneath us, the soft winds that caressed us. I lost myself completely in the moment, breathing in the salt air and her scent, salty and a little musky. Her body was tight and lithe in my arms, her skin soft and warm. One of her hands burrowed through my hair and I pressed the back of my head into her palm. She bent towards me, and I felt her lips on mine. I breathlessly returned her kiss, and we sank to the deck together. Ah, heaven, to spend an evening with a spirit, and such a spirit!
All too quickly, she had to return to her duties, and she apologized kindly. I wanted so much to lose myself in the rhythms of the drum, but it was late and I didn't want to disturb everyone. So I just seated myself comfortably, slipped into a trance, and thanked the spirits profusely for their kindness and generosity to me, especially in sending Mehli to me. The sign led me to Miyara, who led me to Mehli. Surely I am now on the right Path, and I will find Tanis and do whatever he needs. And in the meantime, there is the lovely Mehli, until it is time for us to move on.
Refreshed, I found my hammock in the tent and immediately fell asleep on the interesting contraption. It was very comfortable to me, although Miyara had some diffuculty in getting into it, and Sun gave up on it completely. He spent the night curled up in some ropes just outside the tent's entrance.
The next day, after Mehli had slept off her night watch, she came to me again, and we spent a few incredible hours together. The ship arrived at Luccini, but we spent the night moored in the harbor before entering the next morning. I was torn: was I to follow Lady Miyara, or stay with the spirit? I didn't received any further signs, so I concluded I must part from the tempting Mehli and continue to follow the Lady Miyara to her homeland.
Much to my delight, Mehli disembarked with us. She asked where I was going, and I told her I follow the Lady Miyara. She looked thoughtful, and said she would very much like to go with us to Nippon. Her employment with the ship was over, and she carried her belongings with her. She asked me if I would intercede for her with the Lady. I lost my nerve. I felt unprepared, and thought the Lady Miyara was more likely to listen to Mehli than to me. She doesn't know me at all, really. I told Mehli she might be better off talking to directly to the Lady.
I didn't hear what she said, but Lady Miayra accepted her into her entourage. Mehli at once helped the Lady find the Nipponese ship that was waiting for her, and within a short period of time we were settled on board. They swiftly reconfigured things and created a couple of extra rooms for us. Miyara took the room that was meant for her, and Sun slept outside her door. Peter and Tony took another room, and Mehli and I shared the final room.
We sailed that very evening, close by an imperial ship. Its sailors shouted the rudest things to the Nipponese, who ignored them. The past few days had passed very quickly, and we found ourselves about to spend the next several months in each other's close company. We spent a little time introducing ourselves. Peter is a doctor, Mehli Tashonai is an accomplished archer, besides being a sailor. She speaks Tilean and even a little Nipponese. I explained that I am an intermediary between the mortal world and the spirit world, and that I walk half in one and half in the other. I serve mortals and spirits equally. Tony is a soldier, the only one left alive in his company after a terrible battle. That explains the sadness.
I don't know what the other end of this trip across the oceans will bring me, but I am content in the meantime. I get closer every day to whatever task the spirits set me. And I can spend my time in the presence of the spirit Mehli.
I look forward to days spent langourously entwined with her in a hammock, swaying with the breezes. Other days watching her practice her mystical archery, learning her philosophy in the company of Lady Miyara, who is also very interested in archery. Warm, still nights in the cabin, our skins slick with sweat and sex. Becalmed afternoons swimming in the water.
And always, drumming, dancing, and communicating with the spirits in the trance at the edge of the veil between our worlds.