The Sky's Embrace: Chapter 1 The Ambassador's Watch
The blade slid over the block in swift, precise movements. Each stroke nicked into the wood neatly slicing a sliver from its whole. The newly freed shaving fell away cleanly, only to be caught by the wind, and hurtled into the world beyond.
Cornelius Binns admired his handiwork. Each careful chisel had whittled the carving into the willowy form of a maiden dancing.
His voice boomed with the jovial assurance of a drum, “What do you think, lad?”
He held up the wooden dancer for his companion to assess.
The young man he addressed, Carson Pierson, turned from looking out on the forward deck, to regard his handiwork. Unlike his older companion, Pierson’s voice was careful, inexperienced, and was occasionally as shrill as that of a cracked reed in a flute. “It’s quite striking, Ambassador. How long have you been working on it?”
Binns shrugged, “Here and there for a couple of weeks. I hope to have it finished before our next shore leave, so I can give it to my youngest daughter, Willowmee. Her sixth naming day is approaching.”
“I’m sure she’ll love it,” said Pierson.
“She better,” Binns laughed. “Or I earned all these splinters for nothing.” He sighed. “Ah, me, she worth every sliver and more.”
Unsure how to respond, Pierson diplomatically nodded. He glanced out on the deck. A moment later, he sighed himself, “Ambassador, do you ever get weary of this view?”
Binns looked out beyond the deck at the vistas of green and blues that were painted before his eyes. Wisps of clouds drifted below them, partially obscuring the mountain range and forests. He could just make out the Eastern river falls raining on the mountains off in the distance. He glanced up at the encroaching island sized branch suspended leagues above them. The sun glowed brilliantly through the canopy of mountain-sized leaves that hung high above them, where the air was cold and thin. It was a beautiful day.
Binns replied with an easy smile, “I can’t say that I have, lad. It’s beautiful sights like these that keep me sky bound.” He chuckled. “Of course, it’s my wife’s beauty that keeps returning me to Brom’s blessed earth.”
Pierson's pot-marked cheeks creased with a small smile. Binns glanced up at his back and chuckled.
“What is it?” Pierson asked.
Binns shook his head. “It’s nothing, lad.”
In many ways, Binns was the antithesis of Pierson. Whereas the young man was thin, alert, and drank in the sky with every sweep of his gaze. Binns greeted the sky’s view with the ease and familiarity of an old friend. He sat on the deck; his ample bulk spread out around him as he lounged against ballista’s fixed mount, with one foot dangling over the edge of the deck. The naked wind beneath tugged at his boot. Unlike his younger companion, this was far from his first watch.
Pierson turned from staring at the sky below them and asked, “Have you ever seen any Godlings, Ambassador?”
Binns nodded, “A fair few. They are not that uncommon once you venture away from civilized lands.”
“Have you ever been attacked by one?”
Binns considered the question as shaved another sliver from the block. “There have been a few worrisome moments here and there, but we have never, thank the Parent Gods, had to confront a Godling directly. Most of the more hostile Godlings are deterred by the Windsinger’s presence. Not many of them want to offend one of the Mother Goddesses’ acolytes.”
“What about monsters? Have you ever faced those?”
“Good Gods, yes! Brom knows how many of those blighters I’ve faced on this ship.” He patted the ballista behind him.
“That’s why the Captain so staunch about us testing our maneuvers on these things. We’ve faced giants, dracos, and harpies aplenty.”
Pierson’s face flushed. “Harpies?”
Binns chuckled. “Yes, harpies. The torment of every lonely sailor. Heads and torsos with the supplest bare breasts of the fairest maiden you ever hope to encounter. Funny how your adoration vanishes the moment they get up close. If their wings and talon-like hands and feet do not deter you, their stench of week-old blood and piss will be sure to curve even the most carnal appetite. Harpies can make even the bawdiest of sailors swear off women for a while.”
Pierson's eyes bulged, “Really?”
Binns nodded, “Honest and truly.”
“Were you in the Katanni war?”
“Good Gods! How old do you think I am? No! I was too young when the war broke out. I was about to be recruited when those draco-loving blighters called for peace. If you want to know more about the Katanni, you need to ask,
Spider, or the Captain, himself.”
“Oh! I didn’t mean offense. I just—”
Binns waved the remark away. “Think nothing of it, lad.”
The bell above his head rang. With a groan, Binns started to haul his immense frame off the ground. However, before he could reach the speaking tube, a young hand lifted its latch.
A sailor only a few years older than Pierson, but broader of shoulder, and surer of carriage spoke into the tube. “Lower deck, Ayo here.”
Latarius Ayo grinned at Binns as he listened to the voice carrying from the other side. Binns could just make out the muffled-yet-gravelly voice of Lt. Ekeene.
Ayo nodded, “Yes, sir! I let him know right away, sir. I’m sure we’ll take care of it post-haste. Lower deck out.”
Binns arched an eyebrow, a small smile played at his lips. “And what, pray tell, are we going to take care of right away, Master Ayo?”
“Didn’t want to disturb your ‘watch”— Ayo’s eyes flickered to the carving of the wooden dancer— “but Lt. Ekeene noticed that our Starboard side wing sail was tangled on the horizontal mast. He says we’re drifting.”
Binns looked past him and saw that the canvas of the wing sail had indeed gotten tangled on the end of the mast. “So it is,” he noted. “We should call for them to drop canvas on the topside masts, and we’ll do the same here.”
Ayo laughed. “If that’s how you want to play it, Ambassador.”
“Do you have another suggestion, Ayo?” asked the older sailor.
“I bet I could climb out there on that mast and untangle that snarl myself.” His grin broadened as he tugged on the rope tethering Binn’s bulging harness to an overhead bar. “In fact, I bet you I could do it without a safety line.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Sailor!” Binns snapped. All his good-natured amusement vanished in an instant as he jabbed
Ayo in the chest with his finger. “If I ever catch you making a blighted fool suggestion like that again, I will personally make sure the Captain demotes you back down to a fledgling ranked sailor.”
Ayo's expression froze. “You wouldn’t?”
Binns took a leisurely swipe of his carving. He smiled at Ayo with hardened eyes. “Try me?”
Ayo looked away first, flushing.
Binns motioned him back at the offending sails. “Off you go, lad. Let’s see if your muscles can keep up with your mouth.”
Ayo saluted. “Aye, sir!”
Binns shooed him away. “But make sure you tether your fool behind in first before you get on with it.”
Ayo took the coil of rope from his harness and tied it into the runner rails and set off to the stern of the ship.
Binns smirked as he watched him go. He caught Pierson’s eye. He nodded to the young man’s harness, with the coil of rope secured to his only his hip. “You might want to make it a practice to keep yourself tethered in, Lad.”
Pierson nodded and hurriedly unbound his rope. In his haste, his foot got tangled in the coils, he tripped, stumbled back, and toppled backward over the railing. His hands clawed at empty air, as the world below him expanded before his eyes!
Pierson had one brief instant where he stared at the ground upside down. Something slammed into his chest, and his descent halted. He craned his neck to see a wide-eyed Binns staring down at him. One of the big sailor’s hands grasped the railing. The other hand gripped his harness. Something tumbled beyond his periphery. Both men watched the carving of the dancer plummeted to the ground far below.
Binns regained his swagger with a smile. “Not to worry, lad. I’ve got you.”
He heaved the young man back up with a mighty jerk and planted him on his feet. “There you go, sailor.”
Binns then took Pierson’s rope from him and tied him onto the runner rail. He slapped him on the shoulder. “Lisema would be more than happy to take you into her embrace, Lad, but she is hardly known for stopping those who embrace her from their meeting their destinations on the earth below.”
Pierson gasped and gulped in rapid succession. He stared up at the older sailor, wide-eyed. “Ambassador, you lost your daughter’s sculpture?”
Binns slapped him on the shoulder. “Not to worry, my lad. Not to worry. There’ll be more carvings, but there’s only one you.”
Binns glanced at the sailors stationed on the other side of the of the lower deck. They stared back with varying levels of shock. He caught Ayo’s eye and shouted, “That’s why you crude blighters always harness in!”
Several sailors stared down at their ropes and hastily tied them in. Binns turned and chuckled. “Why don’t you sit for a spell, Master Pierson, and reclaim your nerves. I’ll take a turn at the view.”
“O—okay,” Pierson said shakily. He sank to the floor and leaned against the ballista head in hands.
Binns took a deep breath and took in the view. He paused, something moved in the distance. He picked up the nearby spyglass and brought it to his eye.
He cursed, “Damnation!”
Pierson looked up. “What is it?”
Binns ignored him as he opened the messenger tube’s hatch and pulled the bell ringing the aft castle.
A gravelly voice came through. “Yes?”
“Lt. Ekeene, we’ve seen something on the horizon, sir.”