They had some more to drink and smoke, the elf maiden and the bald dwarf, but he didn’t feel up to asking any more about her relations with the captain and his wife, and she didn’t think to ask what he had meant way back all those minutes ago when he had said something about “it” being a bit “weird tonight.” Ryel was very tired and rather drunk and fell right asleep in the first minute of what was supposed to be a trance. All the great elf princes and princesses could do it: trance or vigil instead of sleep. Ryel wasn’t pure enough of heart, or something.
The next morning the Storm Queen ran west across a hard south wind over mountainous waves. Ryel got up, had a look above deck, then returned below to use the head, which she had been told was what they called the bathroom. It wasn’t what she called a bathroom, in any case. She went back to the cubbyhole and got in her hammock, the upper one. She closed her eyes and let the rolling of the seas put her in trance. Just as she was starting to manage it, the dwarf let out a grunt, then a fart, which he laughed out loud at.
“Well, that’s the alarm,” he said. “I’m off to the head. That’s what they call the bathroom on a boat, you know.”
Yes, I knew that, Ryel said to herself. It was another ten minutes before she got calm enough again to retreat into trance.
Some hours later, the elf maid crawled out of her hammock, cursing the ocean. She was born in the highland forest, and for her, water was wonderful scampering down wooded hillsides and singing as it cascaded over rock formations and going “Whoooo!” as it plunged over twenty-foot falls. She made it to the deck and had a look over the side. It would seem a dishonor to her kindred to give in and throw up, here in front of a boat full of humans. So she stood there at the rail, looking off to starboard. The sky, that odd Dream World sky, the curious cumuli and rather too fractal cirri. The water, so curiously clear. Shouldn’t oceans be sort of dirty, like a decent soup, full of life and fish sperm and every imaginable creature’s shit? Ryel thought of forests and how what you were walking on was dead forest turning back into live forest. It was so full of fungus and maggot and seed that there was almost nothing else to it. She grew up swimming in rivers where it was four feet deep and you couldn’t see the bottom. The Long Lake? The only place you could see ten feet down was where the dragon had crashed a few years ago, and there you could see all the way to the lake bed, where the old guy lay, a giant lizardy skeleton amongst his regalia of gold and diamond. It weirded out the humans, of course, and Ryel kind of got why, even back there in her waking world where it had seemed an oddly powerful superstition, since it had succeeded in keeping them from diving for riches.
Oceans, in her limited experience and in her intuition, were thick and full of stuff, more like amniotic fluid than glass. But this sea was in the glassy category. She looked down and found herself fascinated, entranced, enraptured. A flotilla of fish swam this way near the surface; fathoms below them a dolphin couple swam that way; tens of feet further down a hammerhead shark swam yet a different way; other things, rays, merfolk, squid, passed this way and that. She suspected she saw an anomalocaris making its way along what seemed to be the top of a crenelated stone wall. Other things she saw that she was not so sure of.
That wall. It was the wall of a city. The city ran down into a deep valley, a little dimmer and green-bluer than the higher lands under the wave. It did not look inhabited by any but the fish, but it did not look like it was built for fish.
She sensed someone beside her. She turned, expecting Arkmar, and found instead it was Elena. She was dressed in long dark pants, sturdy work boots, a head scarf and a brimmed leather hat, and a bright red bikini top: perhaps it was just her bra from last night.
“Hi,”said the redhead.
“Hi,” said Ryel.
“Keep looking,” said Elena.
What, at the sea? was what Ryel thought. She tore herself away from Elena’s lovely top and what it contained, and looked down again. The green blue vista was so wide and open that at first she wondered how she would know what she was supposed to see. But the city was running out below her, and the sunken land rose to hills just, oh, twenty or thirty fathoms down, then fell again. Something like a paved road ran incongruously up over the hills and down, and then started up again. It came to something like a temple, but without doors, without windows, a hermetically sealed place of worship, a church whose parishioners never went home.
Below it there was something like a cemetery. Above it, there was a single post driven into the sunken ground.
The figure of a man was in some way attached to the post. Upside down. In the garb of a sailor. Perhaps what Ryel did not like about the way he stared was the fact that he had no eyes anymore.
She looked up at Elena, who was sort of smiling. Elena said, “Can we talk after dinner again tonight?”
“Talk like we talked last night, you mean?”
Elena just smiled, turned and strode off toward the forecastle.