|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
nce out in the open water, the crew elects to try a route they have long planned since first coming to these waters. The Strait of Belle Isle, with its extorting sea-folk and their captive sea serpent seems far too dangerous to try again. Instead, they will sail to the east of the great island that lies in the estuary and double back on the Lantic side. Making straight across the estuary, they intend to head directly for the island and then follow the coast around. They see numerous smaller isles, but a long hilly island to the port catches their attention. Nearly a hundred miles in length, the crew a certain they see a orchard of fig trees. Taking a closer look, they make out a large native village. Given their last two encounters, the put a wide berth between themselves and the habitation. Nevertheless, they are poorly provisioned after their precipitous flight and would like to take some of the figs aboard. They put the launch ashore at the north end of the island, where they see a small number of wild trees growing. It takes them all day to harvest a few barrels, but the only inhabitant they see is a small native boy. Though Tira speaks kindly to him, he clearly does not trust them and through sign language, accuses them of theft. Gilead takes pity on the lad and gives him his signal mirror.
Soon they have crossed the bay and are travelling along the coast of the great island the ancients called Nova Scotia. As they get nearer to the Lantic passage, they become a bit concerned over drag they are developing due to some variety of kelp. The stuff seems to be clinging to their hull. Still it seems of little problem. Later, when it proves to be tangling up in the wheels, it brings real concern. Crockett orders them to change course, but the new heading seems to bring no relief. Attempts to remove the kelp reveal that it delivers a paralyzing sting, much like a jelly fish. Eventually, the kelp has accumulated to the point where the river Master fears damage to the paddles. He orders a full stop and rigs for sail. This works for a while and again they make some small headway. Unfortunately, neither the wind nor the current prove to be favorable. They are driven further into the weed. Hank arranges to have the crew pull a chain along the hull of the boat in an attempt to scrape the kelp free. It is difficult work that delivers minimal success.
It is at this point that they see another ship. It glints strangely in the late afternoon sun and Gilead's spyglass soon confirms their odd suspicion. Against all reason, the hull of the ship appears to be made of solid gold. The sailing ship is lying off-beam and obviously hopelessly tangled. Their crew signals the Columbia and the Columbia hails them almost simultaneously. For a brief time they are in shouting distance. The golden ship is called the Bonaventure and they are in dire need of rescue. Though the expedition can do nothing to save the ship, they agree to take the Bonaventure's crew aboard. The strangers quickly pass over in two trips of their launch.
They are Anglish speakers, though their accent is strange. They claim to be from a City called Halfax. Their ship is a weedrunner, her golden hull designed to give less purchase to the sticky weed. They can safely navigate the extremities of the bed, but were forced deeper into the deadly vegetation by a Leviathan (their word for the gargantuan sea serpents of the Lantic Ocean.) For days they fought the kelp until they were approached by the odd barbarians who actually live in these waters. The people are called the Lamanaria, and they are scavengers, salvaging what they can from ships unlucky enough to be caught by the kelp. They themselves seem to be unaffected by its properties.
Captain Sable of the Bonaventure had refused their offers of 'help', which were actually thinly disguised offers of ransom or slavery in return for their lives. Though he reveals that the kelp will eventually eat through a solid hull, he says that he would rather wait until all was helpless before giving into their demands. He thanks the River Master and orders some of his crew to spell the Columbia folk upon the chain. He introduces the Bonaventure's owner, a veiled woman he calls "Mystic Baccara". The Halfaxi apparently call their adepts, mystics. Baccara reiterates the thanks and accepts Tira's invitation to share her quarters. There Tira begins to learn a little of the strange practices of Halfaxi adepts.
Apparently, though they split spirit up into morphia, anima and psyche, their method of manipulation centers around the idea of fusion and sundering. They combine or remove specific traits of one or more objects. The hull of the Bonaventure was built of wood, for instance, and then fused with gold. The crew quickly realizes that the Halfaxi have little regard for the worth of gold, which they consider to be an excellent building material when properly fused.
Baccara delivers a dramatic demonstration of this principle when the ley line to the Bonaventure snaps. By this time, the Columbia is stuck fast in a similar fashion. Through Gilead's spyglass the hull of the doomed ship is seen to be crawling with the Lamanaria, who are stripping it of everything they can. Suddenly the hull seems to ripple and turn a dull brown. The fusion has sundered and the ship is mere wood now. This change is the final stress needed to founder the Bonaventure. The ship suddenly pitches and begins to sink. Lamanar tribesmen are thrown into the water but seem to suffer no ill effects from the kelp.
Meanwhile, efforts to clear the kelp from the wheel housings have been slow and difficult. The wheels are full of the deadly stuff and special clothing and tools need to be made just to work on it. It takes a full day to clear them to the point where they might be carefully moved. Hank volunteers to go below the surface of the water and try clearing the hull laboriously by hand. Though he tries a number of ingenious methods over the course of two solid days, nothing works well enough to free them. The stuff is too thick and sticky.
During this time, the Lamanaria approach the Columbia, offering a deal similar to the one they offered the Bonaventure. In short, they will rescue the people, but claim all of their belongings. Captain Sable indicates to the River Master that he believes the barbarians might just kill or enslave them once they were in their power. Gilead speaks for the crew and delivers a "nuts to you" speech, just as politely worded. At least Captain Sable's initial estimate of three days for the Columbia's survival is revised when he realizes the marvelous properties of morphically-enhanced wood. He now believes the paddle wheeler can last over a week.
The hull clearing only allows them to travel a few hundred yards before being stuck worse than ever. Finally they realize that they need a new answer. The Lamanar have left a single boat to watch the Columbia. The party rationalizes that the barbarians must have some method of keeping their boats free of the kelp and their bodies free of the paralyzing sting. Using Hank as a swimmer, they rig Farallon's tent with floats. The enhanced cloth is capable of resisting the kelp's effects long enough for two more people to cross the water between the Columbia and the barbarians. Gilead goes, and takes Tira along for her spirit sight. They catch the bored and inattentive guards by surprise. The Lamanaria attempt to capsize their own boat in an attempt to paralyze their attackers, but are thwarted by Gilead's quick reflexes. In short order, they have two unconscious captives aboard the Columbia.
Here is where Mystic Baccara shows some more of the ways of the Halfaxi. She fuses the memories of one of the captives with a volunteer from her own crew. The volunteer can answer questions as if he were the barbarian. He retains his own personality and loyalties. Even more impressive, he can draw inferences and conclusions based on the life experience of the captive. Soon he has told them all they need to know.
The Lamanarian boats are some kind of natural seed pod that they modify. They are unharmed and unimpeded by the kelp, being a natural product of the plant. Their bodies are protected by a thick oil that is extracted from flowers cultivated from something he calls a "stipe garden". The blossoms are six feet across on average and he feels that a dozen would be enough to coat the Columbia with a bit to spare. The gardens themselves are composed of layers of broad floating leaves, strong enough for people to walk upon.
Fortunately, there is a nearby stipe garden. They coat the most vulnerable parts of their bodies with the small cache of oil on the captured hip and row the pod-thing across the kelp. Under cover of night and working swiftly, they cultivate the required number of blossoms, narrowly avoiding alerting a Lamanar encampment and huge predatory insects that swarm around the garden.
Though it takes several days of distillation and hard labor, the Columbia is cleared of the kelp bed. Her hull is doubtless a mess and she limps along at a fraction of her former speed. They have conferred and decided that dry dock time is necessary for them to have a fighting chance to get home. The Columbia will return the Bonaventure crew to the City of Halfax and seek to barter for repairs. They are anxious to see this foreign city, which they have been told is roofed with gold and bears a city wall made of diamond. Could this really be true?