A ship is alive, and he is like a man, with a true man’s heart. Treat him well and care for him properly, and he will fight for you against the worst sea. He will fight to keep you alive even after the sea has long since given him his deathstroke. Neglect him, though, ignore the small warnings he gives of danger, and he will drown you in the flat sea beneath a cloudless sky.
Prophecy had risen from the shore. Its origin swathed in ignobility – Tear will fall to him first, then along the fingers of the Dragon more tears accompanied the Coramoor, ascending from the swirls of the sands, the Prophecy began its journey’s crossing, and with it voices bearing accents diverse as each creature in the seas, bellowing the sails with its whisperings. The chaotic shadow fell across the oceans as the Prophecy spread, cutting the sun’s ray from the landfolk belonging to warring nation-states, its frustrated light illuminating others, carrying with its feathers strange tidings to the people who listened placidly, unflappable by upset of terms in the bound world, for they were far stranger folks than those they gathered stories from, beneath the salt sprayed exterior, beyond the rigorous hierarchical control, the people expected true in their faith, to freedom, to the peace of a man’s bargain with his will, merciful beyond any storm, one in doom that pledged glory forever.
With trumpeting so came the Prophecy, for with glory came the glory seekers, they came all over to herald its coming, directing the destiny of a new Age, an Age not yet come, an Age already passed, this Age fated to arrive, doomed to leave, and come to pass. Some shorefolk spoke of new livelihoods, of retribution, of fearful losses to conflicting towering menaces, of gallows built by those who returned to invade, of the end, the final rally before the Prophecy.
The people of the seas do not contort the fulfillment of the Prophecy with dread, they eagerly confront, not await the harbinger, even if the anticipation meant the waking of the old one, Father of Storms himself. Instead these dark skinned seafarers prepare their children, and sons and daughters thus educated in the culture of the sea hone the training for posterity, to strive, to dance in the wild windblown rain. It was the divine opportunity to the bold and adventurous - not at all reluctant, are heedless of the glitter, unrelentingly snatching at the gold. Born on the waters, passed into the same, the Atha’an Miere saying goes that the wave that has passed cannot be called back.
Since the Age when land-men suffered upheavals during the Breaking, their ancestors made vessels, and when the storm eased they already called these magnificent ships home, addressing the man that was the vassal, the vassal who turned to vessel, and in service became greater than either vassal or vessel, propelling the Sea Folk’s prowess in sea-trade. The oncoming threat of the Ever Victorious Army, the ribbed sails had shaken the foundation of all, smothered the land with the resounding Return. A split sail is split. Those that once ruled have returned, and have been driven back for the first time. Very well, this Wave had come to pass like foams sinking into the sand. None can be bothered to recall such a return to life on the seas. The people of the seas enshroud themselves in secrets, dressing on glamorous scales, earning treasures and boasting the freedom in wearing these rings and medallions, these webs of tattoos, of six pointed stars, of waves, of stars, and of the birds in the sky. No fortress on land for the wanderers, forever searching to push the limitations and boundaries that mankind restricts the woman in the name of vanity or cowardice. The least free of people must be the woman inside every man, hidden under protocol, shielded from growth or positions of power. For the one that gave the post with the claim “I am the Mistress of this Ship!” there is much influence to be sought, and taken.
This is the tale of ones who have been given the influence to seek. Born of women, their powers were, and to the women the powers have returned. The current Mistress is Lexi din Corbn WhiteWater, and these are her vessels …
One of the deepest known spots in the ocean is near the Aile Somera.
For two moons, Starling din Eiran Blackwind considered Rossaine’s relations with Somarin, a prestigious Clan. Trade had always been of vital concern to any of the numerous Clans which clustered about the Aile, the sea town Cantorin at Aile Somera alone bustled with marketing activities, not to mention the more robust trading communities in Dantora (Aile Jafar). They had passed the mudflats in which ships deeper than theirs were mired in earlier in the morning, and gone inside the lopsided bowl of a harbour that Cantorin had to offer, behind the wall where they docked the Lightbringer, a raker of the Clan. Rossaine was not come to gawp at the terraces of the Governor’s, whose magnificent palace rivaled any of the mainland structures with its marble balustrades facing the sea. The crew had gotten close enough to the railings to marvel at the beauty of its wood, lovely panels the colour and what was more, the scent of roses. Rossaine appreciated, yet was not intoxicated by the perfume of the Cantorin. They came because it was the most westward port of the Aile, and it was here that the Clan would triumph, or dash its board members against the walled Cities. To Rossaine the ivory from behind the walls of Shara was a route that they could afford to avoid no longer. With the ways there would be honour, but the way filled her with dread, even as she sought to restore the Clan’s former glory. “Dearest ’Ponine, we must see this through.” Using whatever means necessary at the wheel, she added in the quiet of her own mind.
Eponine knew that Starling’s voice was softened, honeyed words intended to cushion the deliberate blow, but she felt her breath shorten still, and all the risks that Loki warned her about rushed to the fore of her thoughts. She kept her expression neutral, but the dark eyes gleamed as she bowed, crossing her fingers to the forehead where the silver streaked through her unusually fair head of hair, and doubling to tuck her chin to the heart. Then she backed out of the cabin double-quick, never minding that her green silk pantaloons might rip in her haste. Why, the last thing she needed was for Loki to see her in such a state.
“Little sour face! Why so pale, was somebody upsetting you?” And there he was, manifested in her path as if the very thought of him beckoned. She blinked at him, lounging lazily like a leopard, and waved, lips desperately contorting into a sort of smile. He must have heard of her being summoned, and positioned himself so that he was waiting when she rushed out. Her vision fogged, and he reached to steady her, then he leaned on the railing as he suddenly staggered.
“Loki!” The Sailmistress cried, fearing for her aging Cargomaster.
Hissing, he withdrew the hand from the iron links roped by the cabins. “Days like this they get so naughty the joints are swelled to melons.” He joked but through the mist she saw the tears running from the corners of his hazel eyes, and the condition of both his hands.
Dark splotched skin covered veins cavorting with sinews like serpents in the seas; she took these old hands into her grasp to warm them, rubbing the bones so light as to remind her of the hollowed ones of birds, how easily crushed they were, she said, comforting “you are getting soft in your old age, elder. It must be awkward for you to see the Wavemistress, nevertheless you still defend her with stout words.”
“I protect her always.” He insisted stubbornly, wrinkling his face. “Whether she would or not, I am still her husband if neither Sword nor Cargomaster of her vessel. She has not stripped me of that responsibility yet. Tell the Wavemistress that she should alleviate such a burden,” a sudden grin lit the Cargomaster’s features, “I weary of barring the reputation of her words from the likes of you impudent infidels.”
He knew she would do no such thing, and shifted the conversation to the cargo. Another cart of green porcelain had arrived from Tremalking, and were as they speak readied to be stocked into storage barges. This news made Eponine tilt her head, and she came down smilingly “Mistress Dara – the sculptures?” He nodded. The woman in question was one of the Amayar on Tremalking, shorefolk but a good sort, shy and passive as they go, and quite apt in the art of the porcelain making. Amayar goldsmiths forged the quality gold of the rings and nose chains for the Atha’an Miere. Loki dimpled, thinking of how little this fact was known to the shore-bound outside the Sea Folk society.
As he stood to send her on the way to supervise the addition to the Lightbringer’s inventory, his knees wobbled creakily, and she scolded him for not resting more. “Bugger off, lass,” was his good-natured response. “When I go back into the water I can ignore the reveille.”
Eponine stepped away, chuckling at his waspish dart. The allusion referred to the occasion of his demotion, the same day as Eponine’s own promotion to Sailmistress of this raker. Loki had been Swordmaster of Glowingpool until one morning Starling informed him that he was no longer a crewmember, for his incompetence the Wavemistress announced in public, ostracizing him in front of the entire Clan so he would never have face to return to her ship with honour. It had not been totally out of the blue, as such demotions were wont to be, but the reason for his expectation was his astute sense of observation. “Wife, have I been demoted to Deckmaster while I was not looking?” He asked her keenly in private the night before, and she confided that his fate was to be much worse than that of even the lowest deckhand, and Loki had accepted Starling’s decision willingly, single-handedly constructed a new raker and with a fresh crew served Sailmistress Eponine din Starling Pontmercy on the Lightbringer with a prussic adamancy that was his characteristic. “The right is his, but I am Wavemistress. His is Trade, and I cannot give him cause beyond what I would give a raw hand. The scar on his face he earned clearing the Seanchan from the Glowingpool ’s decks. He bears older scars earned protecting my ship, and I have only to put out my hand to have gold placed in it because of his trading. Now I seek to remove the tattoo of my ship from the web of his hand to protect him from overworking himself to an early grave in the waters, and I must make it up to him, for his sake.” She confided in her two blood-daughters years later after Loki left, none of the kissing fingers to press to his Wife’s lip, nor had the “Light willing, we shall meet again” farewells of close family members or lovers passed his lips, but with these words from Starling, these words that burned in Eponine’s mind now, that she would have revealed to Loki had he not confirmed tide and tide again that he understood Starling better than any, even herself.
Loki said, “Think of the silks too. So rare even the least skilled of Traders can demand any price for it in Tear and make the bargain. Silks and the ivory from Shara, they are worth their weight in gold.”
“I shall when we make it west and back.” Replied the Sailmistress grimly. She barked a chore at Alex the deckboy, punishment for being such a clumsy bilgestone.
Not faraway on the same stretch of water, another deckboy in dark oily breeches and matching brown sash polished the graceful curves with smooth stone with meticulous swabbing, particular in an environment remarkable for its punitive nature to the young. His cotton shirt hung in the cramp area of the cabin that he shared with three others of the same menial rank, unadorned in the humidity. He was glad of the intricate knot in his sash, the fringes trailing below his knees, to be considered mature enough, to go bare-chested and footed as the crewmen do. Ah, there worked a happy lad!
He was aboard the Wavesinger, which would enter port in less than an hour. Windfinder Cori hastened the ship’s process with a Weave of Winds, the thick cables of interwoven Green and Blue into a web that corresponded with the colour schemes of her dress. They were close to land, and the women in the crew now wore blouses indicating their respective ranks.
In the Sailmistress Tubai’s cabin, the chairs were rooted to the boards of the Wavesinger ready to strap in the sitter from even the rockiest waters.
Elsewhere in the World - drumrolls entered the stage, the thunder came, snarling and growling mirroring the ominous heaving of the stormy water, strong, black and bitter like the brew of the people, the lightning struck faster and faster, heated various regions of the seas with its angry flashes. Beaten, voices of the Prophecy clamoured in outrage.
Off the rocky cliffs of an uncharted territory in the near vicinity of Cindalking, a Wavemistress of the Clan Catelar laid dying on the decks of Waverider. The ship sailed twenty lengths more, she passed into the water, into the peaceful oblivion from where no wanderer returned. The crew made their respectful salutes, but they knew with sinking hearts that it was the passing of a First Twelve, and that another would be chosen from the Clans once this was known. Selection would further the intra-clan feud between Shodein and Takana, and that the competition would be fierce.
Already the tide receded, and a flagship was in the building process. Two previous warships, the first Crimson Water to Shodein, the CWII attributed to Takana, with a new technological weapon the Kanons. The CWII was given into the capable hands of the Master of Swords appointed by Lexi, but Kelt’s disappearance to the west placed his second Ogrim in command of the ship, and another vessel had to be built for Kelt’s successor, for no ship would follow one that did not create him.
Even the highest aboard do not stand steady without the people’s will.
Untouched by politics out on the Northwest corner of the World, the inhabitants of Aile Dashar renowned for the polished lenses of the land, gathered in a ship-meet, of which no outsiders partook in. But even in the soaring merriment of festivities, they heard the coming of an Age.
Winds of Prophecy came…
Exposed to the elements, the Prophecy brushed by a channel, and to the ready ear the summons came to the Soarer, melded to dock with wool bags while his Cargomaster negotiated his trade, more skillfully at bartering than the shore-bound. Even Domani merchant could be outwitted. A woman of the White Tower, stranded on the Mainland docks this tide, stood waving a ring of Great Serpent at the Cargomaster of the Soarer, "Let us talk, Sailmistress, of sailings and ports, and the gift of passage." The Sailmistress of the Ship looked to her Windfinder, who nodded her consent.
Somewhere in the World, the phrase Choedan Kal was whispered.
In Qaim on the unnamed flagship the new Master of Swords was being sworn into office.
“By the Light, my soul, hopes of rebirth and salvation, I swear to protect and honour all free souls. Life is a gift that I will cherish, and not take unless in defense of my People.”
It is agreed, under the Light.
“By the nine winds, and Stormbringer’s beard, I swear to search for he who will give us all the seas of the world, and when I have found him, to serve and obey the Coramoor so that he may bring glory to the People.”
It is agreed, under the Light.
“Under the stars and above the waves, by the sky and water, I will not abandon the salt for the lure of farming off the fat of land, lest I be bound to the shore as do the land-men. On my word, I shall return by the salt coursing in my veins, never resting until there is freedom of the seas, when even the Islands of the Dead where the Seanchan dwelt will be known, and the Aryth ocean be traversed by the People.”
Another convergence in the wind came to pass in a clash of interests…
“I am Starling din Eiran Blackwind, Wavemistress of Clan Rossaine. I seek the Sailmistress of this vessel, if it pleases the Light. This is Eponine din Starling Pontmercy, daughter of my blood and Sailmistress of Lightbringer. Beside us is our companion Loki, my salt brother and the Cargomaster of Lightbringer. We seek a boon, if possible. The Light illumine you and your vessel, and send the winds to speed you.”
“I am Tubai din Nesta Laughing Swift, Sailmistress of Wavesinger. This is Cori din Nesta Larking Wind, sister of my blood and Windfinder of Wavesinger. Anything is possible, if it pleases the Light. The welcome of my ship to you on this blissful day and the grace of the Light be upon you until you leave his decks.”
Eponine glanced at Loki but he never gave anybody cause to worry, as the Cargomaster walked smoother than he had in a decade. Neither she nor Starling had judged him capable of this mastery in conduct, but he had somehow shaken off the stiffness and was commanding his body with a control superior to theirs. As he stood there, back straighter than a flagpole, another greeted him, a towering man dressed in bright blue breeches. She eyed the ten earring e wore, five in each ear, a pair more than Loki or indeed herself had, and noted also the two polished stones, marks that this Swordmaster had been lauded for bravery in action. Loki was looking at the knots in the man’s sash, and said nothing of his own unembellished sash.
Swordmaster Tomas led down the ladder to the Sailmistress’s cabin, where Starling, Eponine and Loki were invited.
“This boon which you ask,” the Sailmistress of Wavesinger inquired politely as they settled into their chairs, with a feigned nonchalance, “Do you ask for Clan Rossaine?”
“By the authority the First Twelve (sailmistresses) vested in me, I do indeed speak for the Clan,” Starling replied haughtily. It was tempting to reach the medallions to the white-gold star pendent indicating her position, so she kept her hand in her lap, away from the cluster on the fine chain connected to the left side of her nose to each of the rings she wore.
“Ah, here is Cori with the tea.”
“Is this seat available?” The Windfinder – while serving the tea from a square pot with a golden handle - asked, gesturing at the bench. Eponine nodded, glancing at the frame of the gamboled lamp with a stony expression from her chair as the other filled her cup.
“Every Wavemistress has her Windfinder. Where is Starling’s, Eponine?” Cori shifted closer for more intimacy, “May I call you Eponine, Sailmistress?”
“Heron is still aboard the Lightbringer . We thought it might crowd you had she came along as well, Cori.” Eponine explained, pleased that she had been chosen to come instead of her older sister of blood. “She is Windfinder to Starling’s Glowingpools, while I – ”
A hand applied pressure to her right shoulder. “Sit quietly child, your little talks are disrupting the business.” Loki did not loosen his clasp, but took to caressing the nape of her neck, working at the knots there. The strength in these fingers, pained with rheumatism, warned her and she realized with a sinking dismay how much really depended on the very bargain, and how she had almost disclosed that the Lightbringer. Shamed by the reprimand of being called a child Eponine flushed and directed her focus at the table, where – judging by the heat in Starling’s dialogue – was not proceeding as planned. Or perhaps things were. She could never fathom whether Starling who was usually so calm truly became upset, or if it ad all been part of an intricate calculation. She braced herself as the voice of the Wavemistress rose.
Starling felt her temper rising in waves that she no longer bothered to control. Loki’s eyes flashed like blinkers in a whirlpool but she turned away to address the Sailmistress. “I rank you. Answer me!”
Tubai sipped her tea, and looked up. “With all due respect, Wavemistress, you came to me, not I to you. That sets the basis for our bargain.” She picked up a sheet of jade, and laid it on top of the even thinner golden plates. “This porcelain alone is worth its weight in silver pieces, thin as it is, the silver is solid enough to content me. Why would I run the course to the ports of Shara, where the moors stand empty, as they had for so long?”
Loki tensed, visibly itching for the dagger that was not in his sash. The tide had not yet come for battle….
Here we drift on the World vast
By Water, by Wind, by Chance
By the Coramoor, the Wheel’s turn
Spoke “Heave to,” and up goes the mast!
We’re spinning on this great expanse,
While lands of the Towers burn!
The high tide was over; a lean handsome man at the helm paused in the singing, and asked whose turn it was at the Wheel. Songs soared in festivity at the Ship-meet...
After the storm in the cabin passed, Cori smiled at Eponine. “We are close friends from this moment forth, like the stream rippling due east, and the fabrics of time continue to swathe their paths through the stories of our vessels. Would you care to join the Sailmistress Tubai and I for a bath after the repast at midday?”
Eponine agreed, making all the proper responses that she had been taught by Starling earlier in the morning. It would be her first time invited to such an activity, and so would it appeared that the Wavemistress was correct in her anticipation after all, for it shall be in the exchange of honey wine and droll stories moving the three helplessly in convulsions of laughter or sorrow, that the Sailmistress of Lightbringer would conduct her bargain to further the honour of Clan Rossaine.
As Eponine went off Starling was much amused. The daughter of her blood had not believed in her heart why she was chosen for this purpose, though the courtesy of tradition was customary. But amusement passed as all things came to pass, and the Wavemistress sat in the bow in hope that all her speculations should come to be, if it pleases the Light.
Before the Night of the Prophecy had fallen, the People of the Sea have risen. Akin to the tides the voices had came, and rose with the fervor of Truth. Akin to the tides the voices had passed, and faded into anonymity once more. Who the speakers were was not important, and their words scattered, dispersed like the ships torn from their niches and gone with the gale.
The Prophets glorified the Prophecy with loud voices. The wanderers in the Prophecy spoke the same words, words that the salt water in their veins brought to their hearts, words that allayed all bad winds, and were louder, clearer than the glory they sought.
All will be well, if it pleases the Light.
Yonder the Aes Sedai saw how to her advantage the Windfinder could channel, and was a Cloud Dancer at that. She wanted to better learn how to direct the flows with a finesse the other could, and promised to teach some Weaves of Fire and of Earth better.
“It is agreed, under the Light.” Said the Windfinder to the Aes Sedai.
All will be well, if it pleases the Light.
“May I be bound to the sand, forsaken from the World, if I ever renounce any word I have spoken here, on this Ship on this tide I name Keltyar , on this sacred water. I pledge myself to the People of the Sea. May the embrace of the eternal Mother, who has bathed me in her gifts, eased me in my tears, and cleansed me of my mortal transgresses, come rest my soul in water.”
It is agreed, under the Light. People cheered the appointment of their new Master of Blades and his Ship.
All will be well, if it pleases the Light.
“It is agreed, under the Light.” Eponine placed her right hand to Tubai’s lip, and those were her words. In the moist moment her finger was removed, contact was broken, and the seal forged between the Sailmistresses what would not be spoken of again until the fulfillment of its pact.
Who is the Coramoor? He is the Wheelman. He brings to the People the freedom of the World, liberated from the Father of Storms. The seas to the Atha’an Miere is our World, and we have always valued the freedom of seas most dearly.
On the open seas they convened, Soarers, Rakers, Darters, ships of all sorts as if drawn by invisible lines. The vessels dispersed, and a ship-meet had come to pass…
With a final Ka-boom! The thunder of the Prophets on shore were silenced as the chanting grew in volume, becoming louder than the Storm, which grumbled then heeded the following words, words earned with salt blood from the heart, the words of the People as they thrived, ever faithfully basking in the Prophecy.
“If it pleases the Light, all will be well. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well, if it pleases the Light.”
Came to pass, Jendai Prophecy! Neither the end nor beginning, yet for the people here, the rain was a beginning. It was from the dark potent shores where the Evil worked his storm, swelling from the Eye of the World.