© 2016 Iscah

Seven and 13

by Iscah

Chapter 2

The wind snapped the sails as they pulled into shore. Snowport's port consisted of one long dock, but it was used so seldom that the town's inhabitants had not bothered with a permanent structure. Instead, a small rowboat came out to greet them, and after a brief shouted conversation, returned to shore where a series of rafts tethered together were pulled out of storage and slid out into the water, with the last one tethered to a pair of permanent posts on the shore.

"That doesn't look strong enough to hold a horse," the child remarked as she stared down at the floating dock as it bobbed on the gentle wave.

"I suspect that's by design," her grandfather replied as a plank was lowered from the ship onto the dock, and the sailors worked to further secure the walkway to the anchored ship with ropes. "They don't mind visitors but don't wish to be overwhelmed by them."

"Is that why we didn't bring any horses?"

"That and the boat is too small to accommodate them. You'll soon see why they're not needed."

When the sailors were done, the king tested the dock before gesturing for the little princess to follow him. She had grown used to the sway of the ship, but the dock bobbed more dramatically. She waited for her grandfather to step off the next raft before following him. Her nanny followed behind carrying a few bags she did not trust to their trunk. The princess had offered to help when they boarded the ship in Tivin, but her nanny had scowled as though she had said something naughty, so she didn't do it again. She was tempted to stick her hand in the water, but the bobbing of the dock convinced her to stick to the middle and keep pace with her grandfather.

The town only had small rowboats on shore, so she suspected that fishing was not their main trade. She thought of her great white castle in Tivin and suspected it would house the entire town. The princess glanced over her shoulder at her nanny and thought the woman looked a bit green. She pondered offering to help again but suspected that taking one of nanny's bags at this point would throw her off balance. The end of the dock brought the princess to the beach, and she observed it was rockier than she had perceived at a distance. She knew nanny would fuss if she got her hands dirty, so she tried to look about for a stick, but there were no trees in sight. Nanny stepped off the dock with an audible huffing sigh of relief. "Head on up there off the beach," she said gruffly.

The princess obeyed, and Nanny dropped the bags on the ground, so she could fuss with her. She pulled the princess's wrap up to cover her head and pulled a thin pair of leather gloves from the bag to cover her hands. "It's too warm for all that," the princess protested.

"I don't want you all freckled before we reach Uritz," her nanny said bluntly.

The princess sighed. She did not mind the head covering so much, but longed to go inside so she could shed the gloves. I am a little doll, and the sun shall break me, she said inside her head. Her skin was very pale, even for a Tivan, and her mother and nanny were rather obsessed with keeping it that way. The townspeople in Snowport were a bit browner, not quite to the deep tan of the representatives from the southern tip, but enough she could see they were a shade darker than Tivans. Most of them were blond, though a few had red hair or brown. They glanced up at her from their work with a bored curiosity. None of them were dressed extravagantly, not even dyed fabric, but many of them had their clothing or hair embellished with colorful beads.

The children she saw seemed as busy with work as the adults. No one seemed concerned with keeping them out of the sun. Her grandfather was deep in conversation with the man she guessed to be the village chief. He had more beads on his outfit than anyone else. She stepped up quietly beside him, and he put a hand gently on her head. "This is my granddaughter Seventh Night."

The chief gestured for them to step inside a wooden hut with a straw roof. "Is she ill?" he asked as they passed through the door.

"No, she's quite well." Her grandfather's voice betrayed his confusion at the question, but after he inspected her and thought a moment, he understood. "Her caretaker is a bit over protective." Seventh Night stripped off her gloves, though she was careful to loosen each finger as her mother had taught her.

"If my child was so pale, I'd call a doctor," the chief continued.

Seventh Night cocked her head, "I am an indoor child," she said, not sure how else to explain herself to him.

"Will the pearls be sufficient payment?" her grandfather interrupted, returning the matter to business.

The chief nodded. "Perhaps you are made of pearls," he suggested lightly.

Her mother did call her my pearl, the princess reflected, but I'm not that pale…or shiny.

"She's not that delicate," her grandfather said. "How soon can the carriages be ready?"

"After lunch," said the chief.

~713~

The carriages that sped them to the boats were simple vehicles with little embellishments, except for some well stuffed and colorful cushions softening the bench seats. Seventh Night thought it might be fun to ride on top or hang onto the back of the carriage like some of the soldiers were doing, but they did not stop long enough for her to ask. She was able to stick her head out of the carriage window and watch the countryside pass and the mountains grow larger. Tivin had some hills, but it was fairly flat country for the most part, so the mountains were a sight she wanted to press on her mind. When she took breaks from the window, she nestled against her grandfather and laid her head against his arm. He was quiet during the ride, watching out the window to the east away from the mountains, but squeezed her hand in his.

It was nearly nightfall when they reached the boats and the river. There were two boats, waiting specifically for them. They climbed on board and were led below decks to some low ceilinged rooms with cots and blankets. Four of their soldiers and a couple Urite boatsmen squeezed in bed rolls on the floor of the room outside of theirs. The princess's bed was draped with a fur, and her velvety blanket was thick. She reflected that her grandfather was wise saying they should not wish away comfort.

In the daylight, she was able to see that the boats while not lavish were fairly new and well kept with painted details on the trim. They were long and narrow with a deck just wide enough for two people to squeeze past each other wrapping around the sides of the center cabin. There was a little more space on the bow but not much. The river was narrower than she had thought at first, barely big enough to hold the two boats end to end without squeezing them. She was delighted to spot a pair of pegasus harnessed and tethered to the boat with long ropes. "Are the horses coming with us?" she asked her grandfather. "I don't see a place for them to sleep."

"They'll sleep on shore," he said. "You'll see."

The Urite men shouted to each other in codes she did not understand. The anchor was pulled up and the boat started drifting forward with the current. The last Urite boatsman who had been checking the pegasus tether, jumped on board from the shore, and a whistle sounded. With the whistle, all the pegasus began to gallop forward, and with a second whistle leaped into the air. Seventh Night took a step back to keep from losing her balance as the boat began to speed forward. "They're pulling it!" she exclaimed with delight.

"Not entirely necessary since we're headed downstream," her grandfather said as he kneeled beside her. "But they speed the journey and make a fantastic difference going upstream. It will cut several days off our ride."

By the third day, the princess was grateful for the shortened trip. They anchored the boat at night to let the horses rest and light a cooking fire on shore. But most of the meals were cold and the boat was cramped. Her grandfather tried to entertain her with books, which worked for the first couple days, and her nanny told nursery stories and attempted to teach her nalbinding, but her legs ached to explore the mountainous country they were speeding past. She was not even allowed to go on shore to the cooking fire, since the wooden plank they used to reach shore was deemed too unsteady for her safety. When she sulked about it, her grandfather explained that she was simply too short. "Dearest, most of the men, even if they fell, could simply stand back up again. It would take very little for you to be swept off and over your head."

"I should be taught to swim," she said.

"And where would you go swimming?" her nanny censured. "Where the current can drown you? Where the fish bite at you? Or where you muddy your dress and make a mess of yourself?"

With a sigh the little princess let the matter drop, but later she asked one of the boatsmen who could swim how it was done. He tried to explain the arm motions and kicking, but it was hard to demonstrate on land. "For now, might be best you just practice holding your breath."

So she practiced in secret. Careful not to puff her cheeks, because her nanny would scold about it not being lady-like. No one seemed to mind her being quiet. She counted to herself and became a little frustrated that she could not make it past forty. And this is how quickly you could die, she told herself, after a count of forty.

"Look!" her grandfather said as they rounded a bend to a particularly spectacular view.

The sunlight hit a massive lake settled amidst a ring of mountains causing it to shimmer like liquid light. "It looks like heaven!" she exclaimed. She wanted to run out on the water but common sense reminder stayed her.

Her grandfather laughed. "Just sunlight reflecting on the water, but it is a pretty sight."

"I know," the princess said, her legs aching to get out of the boat.

A short while later, her grandfather pointed to a patch of buildings on the shore. "That's Lock High. That's where we're going."

The pegasus seemed eager to complete the journey and pulled a little faster. Loch High had proper docks, and from the number of boats Seventh Night suspected that they did a lot of fishing. The city zigzagged up the mountain. There were a lot of people. She did not think the crowd had gathered on their account. They seemed to be engaged in various businesses, but a ripple of understanding moved through the crowd as they turned to look at them. Her nanny invaded her thoughts as she rather gruffly turned her away from shore to tie a long brocade belt around her waist, and then twisted her back again to fit a net of pearls and gold mesh over her hair. She finished by tying a pearl and gold necklace round her neck. The little princess held perfectly still during this operation, because she knew it would get it over with more quickly.

A carriage finished rolling down the mountain for them very soon after they arrived, and the princess was ushered inside. She thought she might have liked walking up the mountain except for the crowd, which now stood still and watchful. They made slow progress up the mountainside, slow enough that their soldiers were walking behind them.

"Try not to look glum," her nanny instructed her in a low voice. "No prince wants a dour bride."

"Don't marry her off just yet," her grandfather said in warning tone. "She's just here to meet them."

"Yes, sire," nanny said primly, though the princess suspected she was still anticipating a marriage proposal.

"Mother said I'd probably marry one of them," the princess offered, more to be part of the adult's conversation than because she had any opinions on the matter.

"You may," her grandfather admitted. "But we're here for someone else's wedding, so don't plan yours just yet."

I won't, the princess thought and nestled back against his great arm. She watched out the split in the curtains at the colorful city. At every other turn, they changed views and sometimes she could see the great lake shine between the buildings.