As Eirik opened the door, the smell of fish hit him like a slap to the face. The Wandering Spirit was normally a fishing vessel, and even though her hold was empty on this trip, she would never be quite free of the scent which revealed her true purpose to anyone with a functioning nose.
Two of the crew slept peacefully in hammocks, their oilskins hanging nearby and still dripping onto the planking, while the rest could be heard moving around on the weather deck. Eirik went up the ladder to find them busily hauling crates up from the dock. He ducked below some ropes which served to turn one of the spars into a makeshift crane, and headed toward a man with graying hair who was directing the effort. “Angling for a fast turnaround, Captain Eriksson?”
The captain spared him a glance and a smile. “Good morning, milord,” he said. “No reason to waste time.”
“I suppose not. Could you spare one of your men to help me with my things? I feel I’ve probably been in the way more than enough.”
“Well, now,” the captain said, giving Eirik a hearty clap on the shoulder, “what kind of host would I be if I made an honored guest work when I have a perfectly good crew for that? Ragnar! Haakon! Below decks with you, and bring the master’s luggage up!”
Eirik pressed his lips together. The captain was only trying to be polite, but deference where he hadn’t earned it had always put Eirik on edge. He knew better than to complain—all it seemed to do was cement his reputation in Mikelsfjord as a friend of the common man. The two sailors returned, carrying Eirik’s chest between them, setting it down and waiting impatiently as Eirik said his farewells to the captain.
Eirik went down the gangway, the sailors grumbling as they lifted his luggage and followed him, and engaged one of the dozens of coaches littering the docks for the rest of the morning, and before long it was rattling away over the pavement. Eirik steadied his breathing, closed his eyes, and then opened them to see the world in an entirely different light.
He had tried to explain it to the captain over dinner a few nights ago. He’d thought his metaphor very clever—he had stretched out a napkin, had the captain drop utensils on it, and held it overhead, but the captain and his officers had gotten bogged down in the details, and Eirik had given up. The next night’s attempt proved more fruitful when he realized that there was a much better way to put it.
“Picture yourself standing on a riverbed,” he had told them. “You can see the rocks, the shoals and sandbars, and the old wrecks. They change the way the water flows, but you can’t see how. Then suppose you looked up toward the sun. The light moves to reflect the currents.
“The riverbed is the world all of us can see—the world where physical things exist, and where I can do this.” He rapped on the table. “The water is magic—invisible unless you know how to look, but an important part of the world, and one which pushes and pulls at us all, even if we don’t realize.”
It had been a good one, Eirik thought to himself. Misleading in a couple of ways, and outright wrong in at least one, the metaphor had nevertheless been near enough to the sailors’ collective experience to get the general point across.
He had tried to explain spirits, then, and clarify a few of the points he felt he hadn’t done justice, and that had gone very badly; the sailors’ protested he’d contradicted himself, and their tone had gone from good-natured curiosity to anger in a matter of minutes. He had decided to quit while he was ahead.
He’d done his best, though. He smiled to himself and turned in his seat to watch the spirits out the coach windows, playing at might-have-beens in the fog.