Never, in his wildest dreams...
When Julien woke up the following morning it wasn't a need to urinate that propelled him into wakefulness: there was someone between his legs engaged in an activity that probably nobody could have slept through. Apparently his young sleeping-partner was anything but selfish: as a well brought-up young Dvârian he knew that receiving pleasure without reciprocating was the height of bad manners, and he was now doing his best to make up for falling asleep too quickly the previous evening – and he was doing so with great enthusiasm, too. Furthermore, he was displaying a technical prowess that reflected very well indeed on whoever had taught him.
Afterwards it took Julien a good five minutes to recover. Once his breathing was back to normal and he was able to think straight again he pulled the boy on top of him and hugged him.
“Thank you, Dillik,” he said. “That was very nice of you.”
“It's only fair,” the boy replied. “Last night I fell asleep.”
“Well, so did I. I fell asleep right after you did.”
“You mean you fell asleep without... well, doing anything?”
“Yes. I felt comfortable as I was, just holding you.”
“Do you like me?”
“Well, yes, of course.”
“But you're still going to leave soon, aren't you?”
“I have to. I've got to get back home.”
“When are you going to leave?”
“Tomorrow. I'm going to buy passage on the Star of Kenndril.”
“Can't you stay a bit longer?”
“No, I'm sorry, I really can't.”
“Will you come back one day?”
Julien hesitated. He had too many memories of promises made to him by adults that had subsequently been broken, and he didn't want to do the same thing.
“Listen,” he said, “I promise to come back if I can. I'm not sure that I'll be able to, but I promise to try. Will that do?”
“You're really going to try?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then yes, it'll do. And since we're still a bit early for breakfast, would you like to...?”
Julien decided that he would definitely like to.
They ate a magnificent breakfast together in the nearly empty dining room of the inn. The innkeeper was smiling a lot and Julien was afraid that she was going to ask him how the night had gone, but fortunately she didn't. But she did offer the blushing boy (and Julien wished he could find a way to stop himself from blushing all the time) the use of the family's own private bathroom, on the grounds that he was now 'a member of the family, in a way.' Julien felt a bit awkward, but he accepted all the same, relieved that at least this meant that he wouldn't need to put up with the touching (in every sense) attentions of the bath-master at the Public Baths again.
Dillik really wanted to stay and keep his idol company, but his mother reminded him firmly that he had to go to school in the morning and help to serve the guests of the inn at noon - “but if the Young Master doesn't mind putting up with a tiresome brat in the afternoon,” she went on, “that is his business and I won't interfere.”
So after breakfast Julien left the inn and made his way in the cold morning sunlight to the North Quay, where the Star of Kenndril, with all its cargo hatches open, was being loaded. It was a two-masted vessel about a hundred and twenty feet long, whose longitudinal rigging allowed it to sail close to the wind, something that was essential for any vessel that had to journey between Dvârinn's innumerable islands without having to rely too much on favourable winds. A busy First Lieutenant managed to find a moment to speak to him, adding his name to the passenger list and informing him that for a further ngul tchoung and twelve sangs he could use a bunk in a shared cabin, or alternatively he could sleep on deck or in the fo'c'sle with the crew for free.
Julien chose the cabin. The officer told him that the ship would be departing with the morning tide and reminded him that 'time and tide wait for no man'.
The lieutenant went back to his work and Julien strolled off into the town, where he spent the rest of the morning wandering round the shops. He found one that had a large array of strange items in its window and went in for a closer look, and he came out with a tightly-wrapped roll under his arm which contained a magnificent silk kite in the form of a haptir. He also had a small bag which contained a beautiful, if rather expensive, doll, which the merchant assured him would delight any little girl.
He waited until after he had eaten the midday meal to hand out his presents. Dillik not only served him and hovered round him while he ate, eager to get him anything he wanted, but he also jealously kept his sister from coming near the table. But the appearance of the wonderful doll quickly dispelled the growing sibling rivalry, and the kite won him a kiss on the cheek and an insistent demand from Dillik that they should go up the hill to try it out straight away. Naturally he also got a telling off from Mistress Nardik – really, she said, he shouldn't be spoiling her children like that...
So Julien and Dillik climbed up to the top of the hill above the town where the cold wind sent the shiny haptir very high indeed, its long tail snapping in the wind and combining with the faint jingle of the three tiny silver bells attached to the kite.
“He's beautiful!” declared Dillik. “I'll call him...”
“Call him Xarax,” said Julien. “Please – I'd like you to.”
“That's a funny name!”
“It's the name of a friend of mine.”
“I wish I could see a real one – a haptir, I mean.”
“Who knows? Maybe you will, some day.”
“No, I'd have to go to Kretzlal for that. And they're really dangerous, too. Nobody can kill a haptir! So... have you ever seen one?”
“I've never been to Kretzlal,” Julien told him.
“Obviously – it's only the Noble Lords who get to travel between worlds.”
“Is that what you think?”
“That's what my dad says.”
“I'm sure he's right, then.”
“But he also told me that sailing on the ocean is even better than travelling to another world. “
“Is that what you want to do when you grow up?”
“Yes. I want to be a trankenn captain. That's why I have to work hard at school. I go there nearly every day. I can read, and write too. And... can I sleep with you again tonight? You don't mind, do you?”
Julien laughed. If nothing else, the kid had a wonderful talent for a non-sequitur.
The sun was already low on the horizon by the time they got back to the inn. Mistress Nardik again offered him the use of the family bathroom, and although this was nothing like as big or as luxurious as the one in Bakhtar Tower, Dillik quickly demonstrated that it could just as easily be used for fun and games as well as mere washing. By now Julien was coming to the conclusion that boys in this wonderful land were expected to indulge themselves in sexual entertainment whenever the opportunity presented itself, and so by the time he sat down for his evening meal he was both famished and at the same time completely happy. Once again Mistress Nardik gave the concept of a shared bed her blessing, although this evening's cuddling was almost chaste – apart from the last ten minutes or so.
Xarax made another nocturnal visit as he he had promised. This time he actually had to wake Julien up: Julien was deeply and happily asleep with an angelic-looking Dillik in his arms The only light in the room this time came from a thin crescent moon.
Xarax has come to tell you that everything is fine. Yol is starting to get used to the wilderness.
Give him my best wishes and tell him that I'm looking forward to seeing him again. My ship is supposed to get to Ksantir the day after tomorrow. It's not so very far, just one night at sea.
That will cheer him up. At his present speed it will take him two more days to get there.
I'm sorry – it must be really difficult fighting his way through that forest.
Xarax notices that the boy is still here. It would seem that he likes you.
Yes. And he dreams of one day meeting a haptir.
Does he? Unfortunately we cannot grant him that wish, can we? But if you wish Xarax can still do something for him.
Can you really? That would be amazing!
If you agree, Xarax will lay a hand on him and do as he did with your parents. Xarax will show him the world as Xarax sees it. He will be a haptir. That will certainly be a dream that he will not forget for a long time. But to do that Xarax will have to wake him. He will think that he is dreaming, and afterwards Xarax will slip away. That is why Xarax must say goodbye to you now.
Xarax moved across the pillow, breaking contact with Julien and then keeping still for a minute or so. Then he seemed to vanish into the air like a ghost.
“Anhel! Anhel!” said Dillik. “Are you asleep?”
“Huh?” said Julien, trying to sound like someone just woken up from a heavy sleep. “No, I'm not... well, not any more. What is it? Are you sick?”
“No! No!! I had a dream!”
“What, a nightmare? Are you scared?”
“No! It's the most wonderful dream I've ever had in my life! I was a haptir!”
“Yes! And I was flying! It was a very long dream. I did acrobatics in the air and I could actually feel the wind beneath my wings! And I was flying over the Emperor's Palace!”
“Wow! What was it like?”
“It was incredible – it was so beautiful! I can't really describe it. You've seen pictures of the Palace, I suppose?”
“Of course I have.”
“Well, it was a thousand times more beautiful than any picture. I'm sure that's what the Palace really looks like.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I'm sure. It's like I've really seen it. And in the dream I was flying between the towers of the Palace. Do you think I dreamed it because of your kite?”
“Who knows? But... I'll tell you what I think. The man who made it lived on an island far away, on the other side of the world. He was very old, and a true Master Craftsman, and he was especially good at making kites in the shape of a haptir because he'd actually met one when he was still only a boy. A haptir had fallen to the ground right in front of him, struck by a falling star. Of course such a thing is virtually impossible, but in this case a powerful Black Sorcerer who had a grudge against the haptir had caused it.
“The haptir was half dead. He had fallen from a great height and one of his wings was almost completely destroyed. If it had just been one of the little wings they use for speed he could still have flown, but it was one of the great wings that they use for gliding, and without it he would never be able to fly again. He was doomed to spend the rest of his life just crawling on the ground, and there could be no worse fate for a haptir. But the boy, who had always dreamed of meeting a real haptir, instead of running away like most kids would have done because they'd be scared of the haptir's poisonous teeth, took him and hid him in a secret place, a place he often went to when he wanted to go and invent stories without being disturbed.
“But the boy wasn't just good at making up stories: in fact he had a Gift. Not just a talent, but a real, magic, Gift for making kites. Even though he was still only very young people used to come from the villages round about to buy them, because every child in the area wanted one of his kites. So when the haptir began to recover from his fall the young boy started to try to repair the damaged wing. Nobody else could possibly have succeeded, but his Gift was so powerful and he so much wanted the haptir to be able to fly again that, just as he stuck the final tiny piece of silk into the final fold of the wing, his work came to life. It wasn't a construction of wood and fabric any longer: it became strong, supple bones and the colourful skin of a haptir who had been restored to full health at last.
“Of course the haptir became the boy's friend, and to thank him for restoring his wing he gave him a gift: he taught him how to weave a spell into the fabric of his kites so that any boy who truly loved haptirs, who wanted to meet one even though they are really dangerous, would once – just once! - have a wonderful dream, a dream far more real than anything he had actually done in his life, a dream so vivid that he would remember it for ever. And in that dream he would really be, for a few unforgettable moments, a real haptir of Kretzlal.
“So I think that, entirely by accident, I must have bought you one of those kites – possibly the last one that still exists – and that you truly love haptirs so much that the injured haptir's magic spell actually worked for you.”
The Star of Kenndril
Next morning the weather was fair and the wind was just about perfect from a sailor's point of view – a moderate breeze. However, the moderate breeze was blowing against the current and churning the sea up into a choppy, irregular wave pattern that made the ship's movements unpredictable. Julien wasn't enjoying himself at all. But despite the cold wind he didn't dare go below to put on another layer of clothing: he recognised the sheen of perspiration on his forehead and the queasy feeling in his stomach only too well, and he knew that going below decks would just make everything feel worse. He'd hoped he'd cope better than this, but of course this world didn't have a nice friendly pharmacy that would sell him a packet of anti-motion sickness pills. Normally he took one of the pills a while before going on the water, and then everything was fine: yes, the pills made you a bit drowsy, but they enabled the inner ear to adjust to the moving floor beneath your feet. But here there were no pills. He leaned over the railing and looked at the water below, thinking that if he started to feel even worse at least he'd be able to end it by jumping overboard – in temperatures this low, death would be sure to come quickly. And if the cold alone wasn't enough to finish him off he could always hope that there would be some local version of a shark to come and hurry things along.
Ah, there went breakfast. He wondered how something that tasted so great on its way down could possibly taste so awful on its way back up, and he found himself pitying cows, who had to constantly re-eat what they'd already eaten once.
“Not feeling so good, laddie?”' said a voice in his ear.
He peered blearily at the speaker.
“Yer aall green, laddie. Caarn't ye remember me?”
“It's Tenntchouk. Ye baaght us'n a drink – me 'n Gradik, ye remember? An' 'twas roight good of ye, seein as how we'd been pallin' yer leg a little.”
Somewhere in the depths of his miserable mind Julien remembered the incident, and he supposed that a gleam of memory must have shown in his eyes, because the sailor smiled at him.
“Ye've laast yer sea-legs, hey?” he said. “Yer been too laang ashore! Now stay roight thaar – I'm away to foind ye summat as will haalp.”
Stay? Julien thought that was a certainty: he couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it. He thought he could just about manage to breathe now and again, but that was about it.
The sailor came back and handed him what looked like a sort of sweet.
“Saack on this,” he said. “But moind as ye doan't swaallow 'un, see?”
It actually was a sweet, but one that was infused with various plant extracts that swiftly seemed to flow all through his body, almost instantly dispelling the ghastly feelings of nausea.
“Yer moind an' spit it as soon as ye feel better, now!” the sailor cautioned him. “Else ye'll be as draank as a sailor fresh ashore, so ye will.”
Reluctantly Julien spat out the little sugar sphere.
“Thank you, Honourable Tenntchouk,” he said.
“Hey, don't you staart aall that 'honrubble' staaff wi' me, laddie! So, heave ho, an' Oi'll get ye to yer caabin. Take a good naap an' yer'll wake up foine an'...”
“Tenntchouk! You're not paid to gossip with the passengers!” cut in a voice. “Get back to your duty!”
The scathing voice was harsh, and Julien could see that Tenntchouk was about to answer back, which was no doubt exactly what the officer was hoping for . He put his hand on the sailor's arm.
“Don't say anything,” he said, quietly. “He's just waiting for you to do that.”
Tenntchouk turned away with a sigh and returned to the prow without speaking. But the lieutenant, or whatever rank he was; stepped closer to Julien, close enough for the boy to see that he was wearing the Marks of a Noble House.
“Just because you've paid your fare, boy,” the officer said, “it does not give you the freedom to divert the crew from their work. We will not condone that sort of behaviour. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly, noble Lord,” answered Julien.
“Oh, and I've had your bag moved to the fo'c'sle. The Noble Son Dallek of the Artaks does not wish to share his cabin with a No-Clan. Of course the supplement you paid for the cabin will be refunded.”
Julien thought that if the Noble Son Dallek was even half as obnoxious as the reptile in front of him he'd be far better off sleeping on deck. However, he kept his feelings to himself and just murmured “Thank you, Noble Lord,” with an expression of the utmost respect.
The crew's quarters turned out to be rather more spacious than he had expected, with four rows of bunks on each side of the cabin. A long table of polished wood with the usual anti-roll edges ran down the centre of the cabin, pierced a third of the way along by the thick pillar of the foremast, which continued on down below this deck all the way to the keel. There was a wide skylight that opened onto the upper deck, and this gave the room plenty of light, and in fact made it look quite homely. Julien stowed his bag under an empty bunk and lay back to follow Tenntchouk's advice about sleeping it off.
He woke up later feeling a great deal better, and he was immediately confronted with a grinning face that he recognised.
“Hello, Gradik!” he said.
“Yer lookin' a laat better,” commented the sailor. “Oi came by a minute since, an' ye was out loike a loight.”
Julien stood up and was relieved to discover that the motion of the vessel no longer bothered him.
“An' they say as thaat other baastard, he threw you out af yer caabin?” the sailor went on. “Is thaat roight?”
“It doesn't matter. And to be honest I think I'd much prefer your company to that of a Noble Lord.”
“Aye, yer'd be roight there. An' that offizer, he's choice, he is. Nandrouk of the Ksantiris, 'e's caalled. 'Is faather is one of the owners o' the caampany, an' 'e pat 'im aboard so as 'e could laarn. But Oi reckon as 'ow it ain't gonna work. 'E's ratten to the bone, 'e is.”
“Do you mean that he's one of the First Lord's sons?”
“Nat exaactly, but to us'n 'e moight as well be. 'E's third son o' Dehal, who's maaried to a cousin o' Lord Ylavan.”
Julien thought that now he was seeing the nobility of the Nine Worlds from the other side of the street, and he didn't like what he saw at all.
“I don't want to get you into trouble,” he said. “You'd better get back to your work.”
“It's noice o' ye to warry, but Oi'm aaff duty roight now. D'ye waant me to show yer the boat? T'other baastard'll be in his caabin, an' 'e won't come out afore 'is waatch. Don't aask what 'e does in there aall day. Oi s'pose it's nat fer us'n to aask.”
So Julien got a guided tour of the boat from the keel to the top of the mainmast.. At one point they passed the captain, who was kind enough to favour Julien with a friendly nod, perhaps because he too had no Marks of nobility.
Julien had done a little sailing and all boats have some things in common, but there was a massive difference between the little cockleshells his parents' friends owned, no longer than twenty feet, and this pure breed of ship, the result of thousands of years of maritime evolution.
At the end of the tour he managed to swallow his nerves and allow Gradik to take him right to the top of the mast.
“Waal, thaat's it, matey: now ye're really paart o' the ship's crew. And Oi owe Tenntchouk a drink. 'E bet me as 'ow ye'd do it.”
“What, so you thought I wouldn't be able to get up here?”
“Waal... mebbe Oi wasn't absolutely sure, loike...”
“I certainly wouldn't have got up here without your help, Gradik – so I'll be the one buying a round when we arrive.”
“Waal, if'n ye insist... now we must go down, an' there's two ways. First, ye can use the raatlines, sort o' loike a ladder. It's a little... waal, it's a little girlie's method. But mebbe for yore first toime...”
“What's the other way?”
There was a glint in Gradik's eye.
“Waal,” he said, “the sailor's way, 'tis to sloide down one o' the loines. Yer mustn't sloide too faast, as that wuld burn yer 'ands an' make yer let go. The trick is to squeeze with yer legs to control yer speed.”
The line he was indicating was very thick, almost as thick as Julien's wrist, and it plunged down to the deck at a fairly steep angle.
“Do I look like a little girlie to you, Gradik?” he aksed.
“Waal, yer pretty enough... but no, yer don't look loike a girlie.”
“So I'd better do it the way sailors do, then, hadn't I?”
And he did. Maybe it wasn't with quite as much carefree abandon as a real sailor, but he was brave enough to give it a try, and managed it well enough that the skin on his palms was still more or less undamaged when he reached the deck. Gradik slid down behand him and dropped easily to the deck.
“That 'twas foine work, laddie!” he said. “An' now 'tis Oi who'll pay for the drinks. Oi insist!”
The voyage was uneventful. The few other passengers were merchants and craftsmen travelling in cabins and eating with the officers, so Julien found himself the only one to be spending his time with the ordinary seamen, who went out of their way to help him despite their lack of refined manners. Of course they all knew about his trip to the top of the mast and the way he had descended again afterwards, and that earned him their respect in a way that he found strangely heart-warming. And once they found out that he was a friend, indeed almost related, to Mistress Nardik of Kardenang, they stopped asking impertinent questions and instead started entertaining him with the sort of tall tale for which sailors are renowned. Indeed, he even thought that one or two of them might have had a grain of truth in them. A number of the sailors would probably have been more than happy to offer to share their bodily warmth with him at night, but since he didn't put out any of the normal signals they had to settle for dreaming about him instead.