The spoonful of runny gruel hovered motionless just two inches from Galdar’s mouth. Globules of the stuff slowly fell off the spoon to land with a plop in the wooden bowl he was holding. Galdar stared up at the mainmast, above the crow’s nest, and studied the strange red and black flag flapping in the morning breeze.
“I swear that flag wasn’t up there yesterday,” he thought. Yesterday as they left port he could have sworn the crest of the noble Taskerhill’s, a ridiculously wealthy, old plantation
family, was flying upon the mast. Now, a completely new and unfamiliar flag had replaced it.
Roy Tully, the ship’s first mate happened to be making his way up to the forecastle at the time. “Mr. Tully, what’s that flag all about?” Galdar asked.
Tully looked up, shielding his eyes from the bright morning sun. “That’s Shar,” he said, as if that was all the explanation that was needed.
“Never heard of a Shar. What is it?”
Tully laughed a hearty guffaw. “Let’s just agree you not knowing is a good thing. How about we keep it that way,” the first mate said as he climbed up the short ladder to the upper deck.
Galdar looked back up at the flag, now even more confused than before.
The day was much like the previous one. A brilliant yellow sun rose and arched its way across an equally brilliant blue sky. The wind continued to be good and the air was hot and humid. The three friends continued to take turns either following Derg around wherever he went on the rather small ship and taking up station outside his cabin door. It was a routine that they found not unpleasant and truly a simple one to perform.
Tonsil served small meals throughout the day to the crew and passengers. Galdar was a big fan of the fish chowder and sliced fruit. He wondered just what the cook had done to make the sliced pineapple taste so sweet. The juice ran down his chin and Kate teased him for being such an uncultured slob.
As evening set, Kate found herself talking with Lady Min, one of the ship’s agile riggers. At first she was intimidated by the bigger-than-life presence of the woman – and the Captain’s rather scary introductions hadn’t helped her anxiety of actually speaking with her. But, after a bit of small talk, Kate found the older woman to be really quite nice.
“This is not your first time on a ship,” Min said as a statement.
“I grew up on boats. My father owns a fishing ketch and my mother runs one of the gondolas in town.”
Min smiled. “But, I take it this is your first time outside ‘town’, is that right?”
“It’s that obvious?” Kate blushed.
Min laughed. It was a light laugh and not one Kate would have expected from such a rough looking lady. “No, not at all. It was just a good guess on my part. Mostly from the way you are constantly gawking at the sky and the sea and the jungle. Folks who live on the sea just tend to see those things with a more casual eye.” A pod of porpoises breached the wake of the Dragonsprit and continued to play amongst the white cresting waves and foam.
The two watched them for a minute or two and then Min turned slightly to study the young girl. Kate’s gaze had left the porpoises and she was now scanning the horizon intently. After awhile Min spoke. “So, what is it that you are searching for when you stare out into space like that?”
Kate gave a little jump, as if startled, “Oh geesh, was I doing that again?” Min nodded. “Nothing, really.”
“That’s not what I call searching for nothing,” Min said with a sly smile. “What is it you’re expecting to see out there? A long lost favorite uncle returning home, are you looking for pirates, or perhaps….is it a boy?”
Kate blushed again. “Oh no, it’s nothing like that,” she paused as if considering something very important. “It’s just…well, I was hoping to see a dragon.”
“A dragon?” Min said with mild surprise. “Well, I suppose that could happen.”
Kate was suddenly very excited. “Do you think? Do you think there could be one out here? Would it come from the sea or perhaps the jungle…”
Min laughed again. “Wow. You really are eager to see one. You know if the stories I’ve heard are true, I’m not so sure I’d be all that enthusiastic about running into one. Deadly creatures, dragons are, and usually they’re hungry.”
“What stories?” Min asked excitedly. “Can you tell them to me?”
“Whoa, now. Hold up there, little miss. There will be plenty of time for stories on this trip, but my break is about over. I’ve gotta go help Rhemmi pack the sails for the night. But maybe later.”
Min started to climb down the ladder leading to the fore-cabins and then she stopped and turned back to Kate. “You know I saw a dragon once,” she said softly.
Kate’s eyes lit up like lanterns. “You did?” she squealed. “When? Where? Tell me!”
Min smiled and shook her head. Then she looked out across the jungle to the south of where they were anchored for the night. “Right out there,” she said pointing toward the crest of a distant volcano. “Mount Hurlon,” she said “It’s claimed to be the home to Hookface, a terrible beast. He and his brood have terrorized the Amedio for centuries. Pray you not meet that one, child.”
Kate’s jaw dropped as she stared at the faraway peak which was gently puffing smoke into the purple evening sky, as Lady Min climbed back down the ladder and disappeared into the ship’s hold, below.
That night, after her shift, Kate climbed above decks and found her hammock. As she lay there, half awake, she looked up at the nearly full moon, Celene, and was amazed at her splendor, with a blanket of stars strewn out across the night sky. But then she spied another glow. This one about a mile wide that graced the top of the high basalt cliffs to the south. She sat up in her hammock and stared.
“Moon palms,” Lady Min’s soft voice came from a hammock swaying above her, higher up in the ship’s rigging. “I’ve only ever seen one grove of them in all of my travels. No one really knows why they glow like that. Some say they only do that when Celene first waxes from new, as if they are welcoming her back from wherever she had been hiding.”
Kate lay back down in her hammock and tried to sleep, but thoughts of dragons and volcanoes and silver goddesses flying across the night sky filed her mind with wonder and for the first time it occurred to her that she was truly glad to have taken on this journey. It was a long while before she finally fell to sleep.