Blue Monk was an old tub with no sails and a bilge full of sand from cracks in its hull. Its owner worked on its ancient tread continually, with decreasing success. It ate an absurd amount of yellow clay.
It also carried a dozen sick lobsters in its cabin and a stockpile of grain in its hold, so Staever was going to have to usher it down a cliff.
He used his mirror to flash a signal to Wrest, who was leading a line of lobsters down the switchback ridge. Wrest waved his claws back, a response he didn’t need sign language to understand: no way on land were they getting vessels onto that trail.
Behind him, a backup of ships, wagons, and sleds stretched out of sight. Each carried water, food, or passengers he couldn’t afford to lose. Two near the front had blue streaks on their hulls, marking them as mobile birthing pools. Hard-bitten midwives guarded their decks.
Emaria was conferring with Blue Monk‘s doctor. “Em, meet me down here when you can,” Staever called. “I need your help gathering rope.”
She gave the doctor a last word of encouragement and climbed down. “Rope? We can’t haul it over this.”
“I know. I need to look like I’m doing something.” He stopped a passerby from the day’s work detail. “Grab two others and get me a rope inventory.”
“Yes, sir.” The lobster hurried off. Staever winced. “I hate when they call me that.”
“Would you rather they didn’t listen?”
“Some of them call me ‘boss.’ I like that more.”
He watched the worker corral two others from fixing a prow. The three ran along the queue to knock on cabin doors.
They would travel to the rear of the column, to the trailing ship where Eventhe kept watch for stragglers. The lobsters of the Eye had altered the landscape: rocks disturbed in rubble fields, gouges through patches of fine gravel, trails of garbage by the road. Many lobsters had left carrying housefuls of belongings. When they discovered themselves lagging behind, out went the water organs, the fine nets, the shell dishware. One night, Eventhe had reported a family of six guiltily unloading a Khalis door, leaning it against a standing stone like they expected to come back for it.
“So, you’ve bought time,” Emaria said to Staever. “Do you have a solution, short of dismantling it and rebuilding it down there?”
“That was my solution.” Nervous as they were, they both laughed.
“I’ve got a better idea.” Emaria drew out a bundle of scrolls from her pack.
The Iris Librarians rode their own wagon, an enclosed four-crab behemoth they’d kept in a stable beneath the library. The most valuable scrolls–the signed Turners, illuminated manuscripts of Clearing bards, account ledgers in the old script–never left this wagon. If disaster struck, such as the city being washed away, they didn’t want to waste time searching for the scrolls most worth saving.
However, being librarians, they’d scavenged the less valuable as well. For those scrolls, Emaria had given over space on a ship called King Crab, in exchange for unfettered access.
King Crab was as old as Blue Monk, with one crucial distinction: Emaria’s grandmother had retrofitted it, so it now belonged to Emaria. The old seneschal driving it had sought her out on the first day, begging her to take the hulk since he couldn’t locate any other relatives.
Emaria gave him the topmost scroll from the pile. “I had to talk them into letting you borrow these, but they saw the light. Since you insist on walking in front.”
Staever unrolled the scroll. It was a map, vividly enough to shame Cyprus’s monochrome diagram. The continent unfolded in greens and yellows, bounded by the blue of the all-watering sea. A band of red–the mountains where they now stood–covered the top third, sloping south. Fine black lines crisscrossed the page, weaving through the rocks and highlands.
On a beach in the southest corner stood the Clearing, its gates, palace, and walls marked within it. A featureless yellow desert filled the northwest, marked with the words poor sand.
“This is pre-Eye.”
“I noticed. Check the signature.”
It was in the ocean between the compass and a doodled whale. Emaria smiled at Staever’s awestruck expression. “You see why I had to work on the librarians.”
“It’s a Turner!” He looked up. “Why was it on King Crab?”
“Turner’s maps aren’t considered his best work. Alta will tell you.”
Holding it up to the light, Staever caught sun shining through a gash in the center. “What happened here? Cyprus has a canyon there.”
She inspected the hole. “Ah. See…I have no idea.”
Staever traced his claw along one of the black lines. The closer he looked, the better he could tell how they moved with the landscape–dodging spires and winding passes, heading south as briskly as possible. “These must be trails.”
Emaria pointed. “And this is where we are right now.”
There was a trail paces behind them, winding down a sedate slope he thought had been solid rock. Someplace his weariness and apprehension had kept him from noticing, two walls converged in just the right way to hide a valley.
“Em, this is fantastic.” He smiled broadly.
Emaria’s face colored. “Well,” she said, eyes glued to the landscape. “I’m happy to be using the boat for something.”
“Oh, yeah…” Staever’s smile vanished. “So…the old guy hasn’t turned anybody up?”
“No,” Emaria muttered.
If it had been Wrest, he wouldn’t have had to say anything–the letters from the army for his father, mother, and two brothers had each brought a silence, Wrest withdrawing to struggle with himself while Staever hushed the crying larvae that were his friend’s remaining family. But Emaria had cut herself off differently. He had no way into her grief.
He edged closer. “I’m all right,” she said harshly.
“It’s…” I’m terrible at this. “It must have been a while since you saw them…”
“Exactly. They aren’t my family. They weren’t my family. You are.”
Leaving Staever speechless, she stalked away. “Start reading that map. And fold it right when you’re finished, or it’ll crease.”
That was either the nicest thing she’s ever said, or she’s in complete denial.
Three lobsters ran up to him, laden with rope. “Should we start tying them into pulleys, sir?” asked the one in the lead.
“Good work,” Staever said. “Give it to the quartermaster on Good Harvest. We’ll need it soon enough.”
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