The sea rolled like the gentle slopes of his homeland's foothills. Its gray-green color was murky with the lowering sky that was bringing rain from the west. An occasional flash of lightning in the distance signaled a squall line off the coast of Serenia, moving inland at a slow and unhurried pace. The wind was freshening, the tang of salt and sea life bringing him fond memories of other sailing trips on the vast expanse of the South Boreal Sea. Crashing bravely through the whitecaps, her bow rising and falling with the sea passage, the Outer Kingdom ship sent salt spume spraying in its wake.
She was hugging the coastline as closely as the reefs and shoals would allow. At times the valiant ship was within shouting distance of the tall white cliffs that marked the passageway between Serenia and Oceania, and he would throw a hand up in greeting to the men who had stopped along the rugged cliff tops to admire the ship's passing. His lips would twitch with what passed as amusement for him when the men would point, recognizing him, stunned to see him on board that strange-looking ship.
Named the Anya Katrine, the Outer Kingdom clipper was something to behold skimming along the cresting waves. Her teakwood decks gleamed, her polished brass glowed. The figurehead at her bow was an intricately-carved mermaid, which had been freshly painted in tones of green and red and was dusted with gilt. Her running lights, lit because of the darkening of the sky and the probability of inclement weather, twinkled on the water and cast a myriad of reflections across the high sheen of the teak. Overhead her sheeting strained with the brisk sea breeze sliding the clipper over the sea with little effort. Her standard snapped sharply in the wind, the coat of arms of the royal family of the Outer Kingdom announcing both ownership and destination of the stately vessel.
Her sailors wore clean and pressed uniforms of sold white tunic and breeches. Her officers were dressed in sharply creased navy serge coat and trousers with an inch wide stripe of fancy gold braid running down the side seams and around the cuffs of their coats. The Captain wore his medals upon his broad chest, as did his First and Second Mates, and the cocked hat which covered their thick manes of curly brown hair, sported white ostrich plumes held in place by the insignia of the Royal Navy of the Outer Kingdom. All in all, the ship and her crew presented a very impressive picture as she made her way steadily south.
"Once we gain the Sinisters, we'll tack east," the Captain informed his passenger in perfect, precise Chalean. "Three days on that course with find us near the Isle of Winds." He grinned. "That's half-way home."
His passenger's brows shot upward. "I thought that sea lane was un-navigable."
The Captain smiled, showing perfectly straight and stark white teeth. He shook his head. "A myth our people started to keep away unwanted Outlanders and trespassers. I can assure you, there are no sea monsters lurking beyond the Sinisters, Your Grace."
Conar Aleksandro McGregor frowned. He could picture the fog-hidden stretch of water off the southernmost tip of Oceania. "From what I could tell when I was there, there are some pretty dangerous coral reefs out there." He turned his gaze to the sea. "Along with that hellish fog, how can you navigate?"
"I have sailed these waters many times, Prince Conar. There is no need to concern yourself."
There hadn't seemed to be any way he could explain to this tall, suntanned and elegant seaman that he was no longer a Prince, that his birthright had been denied him by his own father, his heritage discarded. From the moment he had set foot on the Anya Katrine, he had been treated like the royalty he had once been. He had tried to correct the Captain, whose name he found out was Serge Nikolayevich Kutusov, but the man had politely ignored him.
"You were born royalty, Your Grace. Your mother and father were King and Queen. Consequently, royalty you still are in the eyes of my people."
Once more Conar had protested, telling the man how much he had always hated being called by his appropriate title even when he had deserved it and it was still his, but the man had smiled and shaken his head.
"To us, Your Grace, you are what you have always been. We would not dishonor you by calling you anything else but that which you are."
"Even if I don't like it?" Conar had inquired, one tawny brow lifted in challenge.
The Captain had grinned. "Even if you don't like it, Your Grace."
Now, leaning against the teak railing as the clipper sped ever faster toward the Sinisters, Conar looked out over the side of the ship and stared down into the rushing waters below.
For over an hour the ship had been doggedly pursued by a school of porpoises and he was watching them frolicking in the waves, arcing their silver-green bodies high. Now and again, their squeaky voices called out to him and he smiled.
"You like sea?"
Conar turned his head to look at Yuri. The Outer Kingdom warrior who had labeled himself Conar's personal bodyguard, was slightly less green around the gills than he had been the day before, but his face was still strained, his lips pursed against the tug of nausea. Obviously the man didn't like the sea as much as his four companions did for those men were forever climbing the rigging to relieve their boredom. For the most part, Yuri had kept to his cabin, a basin close at hand.
"But you don't, my friend," Conar answered. He reached out a hand to gently touch the warrior's cheek. "Why don't you stay below, Yuri. You don't need to keep me company. I'm use to keeping my own self occupied." He removed his hand.
The gentle, friendly touch had made Yuri's heart ache and he had to jerk his head away before this man saw just how much it had affected him. "I hate sea," he grumbled. "I, soldier." His frown deepened. "Not squid!"
A soft, sad chuckle escaped Conar's tightly pressed together lips and he turned his head away from Yuri's scowling profile. "I feel as though the sea has always been a part of me," he tried to explain. "And me, a part of it."
Yuri swallowed, trying to calm his seasickness. "There is old saying in my country, 'The man who love sea, is loved by sea, and she always protect him'. Sea love you."
There was a slight dimming in Conar's eyes, but he blinked, shoving it away. "I feel at peace out here."
"I feel.... "Yuri searched for the correct Serenian word. He swallowed hard with strained effort and then turned a sickly green color. "Sick!!" he gasped, slamming his hand over his mouth. He turned abruptly and ran away, his retching sounds concealed behind the constriction of his fingers.
"Stay in your cabin!" Conar yelled after him. "I'll send the healer!"
"Won't do good," one of Yuri's fellow warriors remarked from his place in the rigging.
Conar glanced up. "Why not, Petr?"
The man shrugged. "He no good at sea. Sea make him this way, every time. Potion no good for him. Make him sicker."
"Like Teal," Conar mumbled, nodding. What he wouldn't give for some of Liza's lavender brew for Yuri, he thought. He knew that would have lessened the symptoms if not eradicated them.
Gritting his teeth at the title, Conar turned, saw the Captain advancing on him with a cheerful smile. He tried to answer the greeting, but his jaw was still clenched.
Serge Nickolayevich Kutusov rolled easily with the pitch of the deck. His straight-backed, shoulders-squared walk was very imposing as he came to stand beside Conar. His smile was filled with adventure.
"It just came to me how you might pass this journey and not become bored," he said, rubbing his hands together, his Chalean almost perfect. "How would you like to learn Koussev?"
Conar's brows drew together. "Kou....?"
"Koussev!" Serge exclaimed. "It is our mother language." He waved his hand from side to side, fanning the air. "There are many dialects, but only one root. Koussev is the High Speech used by the royal house." He puffed out his wide chest, straining the fabric of his uniform coat. "I, myself, speak twelve languages." His face sagged just a bit. "As of yet, I have not mastered Serenian enough to feel competent to converse with you in your own tongue, but since you are fluent in Chalean, yourself, I can teach you enough of our mother tongue for you to be able to converse quiet properly with our Tzar and Tzarina."
The idea intrigued Conar and he nodded. It was always best to be able to speak with a stranger in his own language rather than stumble through half-phrases and incorrect words that might prove embarrassing.
"If you're willing to teach me, I'm willing to learn," he answered. "I speak eight languages, myself."
"Excellent!" Serge proclaimed. "Then you should have no problem assimilating Koussev. It is not a difficult language, at all."
"When would you like to start?"
"Now?" Serge asked, eager to relieve his own boredom.
Conar swept his hand out. "Lead the way."