breezeshadow: TEA TIMES ICON (ALLtheTea)
[personal profile] breezeshadow
The ship's horn bellowed out at the isles, shaking the hull and making the dishes on the table shake. Rose May's lungs seemed to shudder with the jolt, and she put down her fork to concentrate better on gasping and coughing her way out of the fit. Thankfully, it passed quickly, leaving her gulping down air and listening frantically for the sound of her children screaming and crying. They were silent; perhaps they were already used to the foghorn, 100 kilometers into their journey, with another 3000 to go.

They would stop at one of the isles, if she recalled the map correctly, to pick up supplies and more people for the long journey to Arebe. A long path of open sea, too far south for sirens, and without their influence the merfolk tended to be shyer. But they traded them for the much rougher, storm Andus ocean. She did not look forward to it; even the relatively calm waters of the Rezten Sea reminded her of the wobbling floors of her home, losing its battle against the cannons and fireballs of the Invasion.

Getting away from Antelon and to Dragon's Port had been absolute chaos, compounded by Rose May's athsma, which took the smoke worse than even the young twins. Meander had no rest, helping them move along when they were too sick or exhausted, communicating with Nur about the safest routes and how to move around the army advancing toward the capital. By luck, or perhaps the will of the Great Mother, they made it to the coastal city, finding more chaos as hundreds like them begged for a ship out.

They discovered quickly that the reason for some many stranded people was not that there were not enough boats, but rather, that the captains of the ships had seen an opportunity and were demanding life-breaking prices for room on the ship. Any seaman offering free or reduced fare was quickly overwhelmed, forcibly pushing people back or even throwing them back off of the ship so it would not sink from its own weight. But from the crisis came ingenuity, and as the Eramen's army came closer and the amount of refugees became critical, other methods of leaving the country arrived. Powerful telepaths offered teleportation to Pooselridge -- having declared independence and, due to the Empire being distracted, ended their bloodshed quickly -- or the outer isles of the continent. Gryphon and hippogriff riders offered flights out to the isles -- a long distance for one flight, but possible with relief beasts if people were willing to change mounts in mid-air. And as more of these options arrived, all cheap or free, the sailors reluctantly lowered their prices, and Rose May and her family found themselves traveling to Arebe on a steam barge.

The fresh air of the open sea helped her breathing, when she was able to get up onto the deck and take it in. Most often, she would end up too exhausted and simply find a port window to stare out of, or she would get up on the deck only for a large wave to soak her with salty water and leave her shivering for hours. Meander's skills had never been in teleportation, and even without telepathy of her own she could feel his exhaustion. Most days he stayed down in their quarters with the twins, who had nightmares unless they slept during the day and with one of them nearby. Most days the sunlight and close quarters made the cabin too stuffy for Rose May to stand, and so she offered to stay awake and (relatively) alert.

She had never been outside of the Welen Empire before, let alone off of the continent. Many of the other refugees were in the same situation; farmers and craftsmen, most never had a reason to even leave their sector and gained their wordly knowledge from Empire propaganda and bar tales. There was no room for rumours and stories on the barge; Rose May and her family only had a cabin at all because of their injuries and the twins' age. Most everyone else rested in makeshift tents out on the open deck, finding places to rest in between the ship's normal cargo of iron, bauxite, and galena. Thankfully, the sailors did not perturbed by their rooms being taken up by refugees, though perhaps it was because most of them allowed the sailors to share it; Alex was currently sleeping in the second bunk in the room, since Rose May was not using it.

It was a miserable situation for one and all, perhaps even for the captain, though he was making good coin by doing this. He may find himself spending it on more food and rations for the journey, rather than a drink at a pub or a fun night in a woman's bed.

"Hey, Bentley!" A dark-skinned lad walked in with a fish nearly as big as him, shouting at the top of his lungs. "Are you able to cook this bastard up? I'll help ya skin and flay 'im!"

Bentley, poking at something he had put into the cooking fire, looked up at the voice and smiled, as best as his mangled face could. He had been caught near a bomb according to rumour, and while he had luckily escaped with his life and relatively minor injuries, his hearing was reluctant to return to him. The lad's bellows did not seem to register as words, but some quick gesturing and he understood and was nodding enthusiastically. His skills as a cook were quickly apparent and gained him a paying job on the ship, and thus the respect and protection of the sailors.

"Hey-ya." The sailor held up his hands when Rose May jumped. "Sorry. I just wanted to warn ya that it's going to smell like fish in here. I know that ain't anyone's favourite smell."

"Oh, thank you." Rose May's voice was raspy and weak, and the sailor leaned close to hear her. The gesture warned her heart and she smiled. "I can handle the smell. Do you want me to leave?"

"No, stay here if you're comfortable." The sailor made a few gestures toward Bentley, who saluted with a terrifying knife in return. Then, to her surprise, the lad sat down across from her. "Name's Nkosana, but ya can call me Sana."

"That's not a Msakajunia name, is it?" Rose May forced herself not to tense up -- she knew from personal experience that not every Msakajunia was a soldier that had invaded her home.

To her surprise, however, Sana stiffened, his smile a bit strained. "Believe it or not, they ain't the only black folks. No, I'm Eyoqobo-aBantu. From what's now south Eroqu."

"My apologies. I did not mean to offend." Even as a lawyer, there was so little she knew about the world out of Welen. Her sigh turned into a wheeze. "What brings you so far from home?"

"Working back a loan. Another year and I'll be a free man -- truly free." He grinned, and she realized that he could not be older than sixteen, despite the bags under his eyes and the slight touch of grey in his hair. "I like sailing, though -- never a dull day. But I'd find another Captain. Matthew is nice and all, but ya never trust a man who buys slaves and makes ya pack 'im back. You may end up stuck under 'im forever. I've been counting carefully and in one year, if he ain't honest, I'll slip away." Sana's voice lowered at the end of the paragraph, though Bentley was the only other person in the kitchen, and unlikely to overhear.

Just something I'm working on today.
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