Shikoku

Surolam and the Romance of the Sea

From within the box, there are many murmurs of items and objects bowing out – but at the bottom, a deep, weary, wistful voice comes: “A ship, you say? I was once from a ship…”

Surolam takes care in shifting the objects around, gently reaching for the voice.

“That must have been long ago, right?” she asks softly.

The objects jostle against one another, even with your gentle reach. You hear a few of them even apologize to one another – a pocket watch, a monogrammed handkerchief, a nigh-illegible button-pin.

At the bottom of the box is an old bronzed sextant, with glass still intact. It harumphs gently as you touch it, almost more from politeness at being grasped.

“I was indeed, miss. The Silver Bell, she was. Perhaps… two hundred years ago? When the skies were clear and the map was not yet filled…”

Surolam smiles a bit. “I don’t think it’s filled now either,” she says, trying to recall the scope of the world maps that were presented to her in her studies. She never thought that she would have any opportunity to see a place beyond her small hometown, but now their content might actually be important as she travels.

Hrm! That, to me, sounds like a General Education check, if you want. :3

The sextant might be exaggerating. But then, most maps don’t actually have blank space on them…

“Well, it’s good to hear there are still new places to go!” You can almost hear moustache-fibers twitching.

“Now, what ship are we on today, hm? A luxury cruise-liner, perhaps? Ah, or a battleship, the jewel of a fleet, I’ve always wanted to see one of those.”

“It’s called the Early Delibird, I think? It’s a cargo ship, though.” Surolam sounds a bit apologetic.

“Ah, well, nothing wrong with cargo ships. Good, solid work, hauling.” The sextant seems only momentarily crestfallen. “But any ship that’s seaworthy is a fine one, in my log.”

“Now, then, shipswoman,” it says jovially. “If you’re offering me a berth, I’d appreciate being in the captain’s quarters. Best for him, having the tools available to guide without those silly radio-things.”

Surolam smiles. “I’ll see what I can do,” she says. She turns back to the cargo crate, patting it affectionately.

“Thanks for talking to me,” she tells it. She pauses, before continuing, “Do you know where the captain is likely to be at this time?”

The cargo container chews a moment. "Most workers aren’t doing work this time of day. It’s quiet and the seas are calm. I think lots of them are really really still during the hot times, so… maybe in the dark, not-moving?’

“Ah, the siesta,” says the sextant. “An efficient measure! No need to navigate when there are no stars in the sky, and a good chance to give lower-ranking crewmembers a little bit of experience!”

Surolam pauses. “Then maybe it wouldn’t be a good time to approach the captain now,” she ponders.

“Would you be okay with waiting until dinner for me to present you to him?” she asks. “Maybe we can talk to the ship a bit as well, let you get acquainted with each other.”

“Ah, that would be just fine,” says the sextant, not-moustache bristling. “I’ve been on land for fifty years, a few more moments won’t be much of a delay at all.”

Surolam nods, standing up and picking up Donphan-tooth. “It was nice talking to you,” she tells the cargo crate as she carefully makes her way towards the front of the ship, where she feels its voice is most obvious.

“You too!” calls the shipping container, before it goes back to being very still and not being open – a perennial favorite.

The bow of the ship is cluttered, with rope and hooks and an anchor. But the very tip of the bow is clear, just a few square feet of empty deck. Here, you can feel the ship pressing against the water, exerting its own will against the sea.

“Hello!” Surolam calls to the ship. “I’ve brought along a sextant for the captain. I thought it might be good for the two of you to talk as well.”

The ship perks up, giving you a modicum of its attention. “Ah, hey gal.” The ship has a rough, feminine voice, calling to mind a riveter or porter – the kind of lady who happily does hard work all day. “We’ve got pretty quiet waters, I got time. What’s this about a sexy now?”

“I say!” The sextant cries, harrumphing. “I’ll have none of that! I am a sex tant, madam.”

“He’s…pretty old. He used to serve on a ship called the Silver Bell, about 200 years ago,” adds Surolam.

“Ahhhh, an old-timer, hunh?” The ship giggles. “Well, good fer him. Makes me feel like a lady, an older man calling on me.” You can feel her smirking, enjoying the joke, trying to let you in on it. You can feel a gentle nudge.

“Abuh- wh-why madam, I never-!”

“Oh, is this courting?” asks Surolam. “Not something I have personal experience with, yet.” She chuckles a bit, leaning carefully against the ship’s railing.

The ship gives the equivalent of a pat on the shoulder. “Ah, you’ll do fine. Men fall in love with women almost as fast as they fall in love with ships. Even a clunker like me gets humans to fall head-over-heals, and I have -” the ship blushes a bit, and whispers, so that the sextant cannot hear. “- rust. I mean, just a little, y’know, down aft.”

Surolam blushes as well. “Thanks, um, miss? Ma’am?” she says. “I mean…this is actually my first time leaving home. I don’t even know the procedures for…casual courting?” she guesses. She has a vague memory of that old dusty book about the farmhand and the nobleman’s daughter she found stuffed behind a shelf, but she has no idea how good a reference that is.

“Well, that I can’t help with much. I don’t have to do much more than my job, and men swear their devotion to me. Well, for a decade or two, then they go back to living on land. " She shrugs. “I’m pretty sure that’s where humans do a lot of their love stuff.” Then she ‘speaks’ a little louder. “But since you were kind enough to introduce us, I wouldn’t mind hearing more from our new friend!” She… nods? To the sextant, bringing it into the conversation.

“Well, madam – I’m a navigation aid. I served on the Silver Bell several centuries ago, proudly. But when radio -” he says the word with loathing, as if it were a sworn enemy that spat in its coffee “- came along, I found myself with less time under my beloved starlight. One thing lead to another, and I ended up in this fine shipwoman’s care.”

“Alright… Hey, one sec.” She gets distracted, and a moment later, the ship crashes over a larger wave. Not enough to cause any damage or even shake things up, but enough to wake you up and make you grab for the nearest solid object. “Sorry about that. Now – navigated around anything interesting?”

“Of course! I was there in the Sevii Islands during the war-”

Oh, I don’t know, the one with cannons. Nasty things, but we never got hit by them. Thank you very much.

“But the Sevii islands were full of shoals and sandbars, and…” The sextant tells the story at length, quite proud of it. It sounds at least halfway impressive, even if the device is puffing itself up somewhat.

“That sounds so exciting!” exclaims Surolam. Her history books never told her about the individual battles of the wars in much detail.

“Indeed it was, shipwoman! A real game of Meowth and Rattata, as they say, with fog closing in all around, but for the sky.”

Surolam tilts her head back, looking around. Everything is still mostly a coloured blur. She supposes fog would have dulled those colours a bit, and maybe it’s a bit harder for people who don’t need canes to get around.

“And which were you?” adds the voice of Little Pummerin, the bell that has been accompanying Surolam for a while now. It’s kept mostly quiet for most of the trip, but is speaking up now.

“Wh-why, the Meowth, of course. Hrmph.” It seems just the tiniest bit uncertain about this fact, before it clarifies. “…Excepting the days of August 3rd through the 7th. Those were true nail-biters, had we any nails left!”

The ship leans over; you can sense its spirit gently enveloping you, an arm over the shoulder. “You know, at first I thought he’d be a blowhard – and I guess he kinda is – but he seems nice enough. Tells a good story, too.” The ship pats at you gently. “I guess he can stay.”

Surolam smiles, feeling relieved and excited at the same time.

Several hours later, in the waning hours of the sunlight, it’s dinnertime on the ship. Much of the crew has gathered in the galley to cook and be jovial, including the captain, and elderly, balding man. The food tonight is gumbo, a rich stew in celebration of hitting land tomorrow morning.

Surolam eats slowly, trying to get used to all these new tastes. Gumbo is not something she’s really had before…but it is delicious. She makes a mental note to try and find more places selling it later on.

She props up Donphan-tooth by her chair, asking the cane to watch for a chance to talk to the captain, mainly wanting to wait for a time when no one else is talking to him.

It takes a bit of time – the crew is in high spirits, and they even decide to have a toast, if for no other reason than to “break out the good stuff”. The Captain indulged them, but follows it up with: “But only one toast, you dogs! It’s not even a proper layover and I won’t have you hungover in your bunks when it’s time to unload tomorrow.”

A case of beers are brought out from the fridge, a thick, dark ale from Garden City – maybe not really the best ‘good stuff’, but certainly not cheap college-student-on-a-Ramen-budget at-least-it-ain’t-rubbing-alcohol. The Captain makes it a point to offer you one, as well. “You’ve put up with us well enough, and you ain’t caused any problems. That’s a good passenger in my reckoning!”

Surolam pauses, then accepts, despites a few whispers from Little Pummerin about being cautious. However, also knowing about the potential effects, she asks for a smaller portion first.

“Ah, not a problem.” He whistles at a crewmate. “A glass for the lass, you ass!” He chuckles. “Sorry, I had to, the rhyme was right there.”

A moment later, you can hear the glass clink in front of you, and the ale being poured into it, a golden-brown color almost like syrup. The Captain fills it only halfway, then leaves the bottle on the table, before grabbing and raising his own.

After taking a swig, he slaps the bottle on the table. “…Now, lass. You look like you’ve had somethin’ on yer mind. Not havin’ second thoughts, are ya?”

Surolam shakes her head. “I have someo-something I’d like you to take a look at.” She takes out the sextant, which she has polished to her best ability.

The Captain blinks, and leans in, squinting at it. “Oh, my – that is one beautiful antique. Haven’t seen one of those since I learned my trade, really…”

The sextant harumphs. “And I’ll bet it was your binky then, too. But at least you know quality when you see it!”

Surolam stifles a giggle at the sextant’s comment. “From what I’ve learned, he-it’s at least 200 years old, and was from a ship called from the Silver Bell.” She conveniently leaves out the source of this information.

The Captain looks up. “The Silver Bell? That’s a name I haven’t heard in an age and a day. Little cutter of a ship out in the Sevii Islands during… ach, can’t remember the war. Some stupid little territorial tiff.” He waves it off. “Still, the ship herself is ever-so-slightly famous. Dodged three other cutters for three weeks around three islands, they say.”

The sextant smiles. “Well, it was really only two islands, but I think I like that better.”

The Captain’s eye glints. “Where did you get this?” he says it with a hint of awe.

Surolam pauses. “The vault of a rich family that didn’t value it,” she says at last. She does her best to express that she doesn’t want to specify how she gained access to said vault.

The Captain lets that hang in the air for a moment, but nods. “Alright. S’pose I don’t need to know much more than that. Lemme ask somethin’ different, then, lass – what’re you going to do with it?”

“I was hoping to offer it to you,” she admits. “I think it’d be in a better place on board a ship than in that vault or with me.”

The Captain blinks. “Are you- hah!” he laughs, thinking it a joke… right up until he doesn’t. “…Really?”

Surolam nods.

The Captain takes the sextant gingerly. “Ah… Thank you, lass. And here I thought you might be bad luck when we first let you come aboard, hah!”

He immediately looks through the eyepiece, gently adjusting the movable parts. “It even still works…”

The sextant… it’s hard to explain, but it’s like it stands at attention and brushes dust off its petticoat. “Of course I still work! Not one to lay down on the job, never have been!”

Surolam smiles, just a bit proud at having brought the two together.

“That’s excellent!” she exclaims.

The Captain gently sets the sextant down, stands up, and offers you his hand. “Lass, I hope you find what yer lookin’ for out there. An’ if you don’t, just lemme know and I’ll see t’givin’ you one more ride, eh?”

Surolam nods, shaking his hand. “I hope so too,” she says. “And I hope we’ll have the chance to meet again either way. You’ve been a wonderful host.”

“Ah, you do fine, too.” He raises his head, and yells at the crew. “An’ good on you lot fer not doin’ anythin’ untoward to the lady!”

A crewman pipes up. “But you said if we did, you’d cut off-”

Even so, thank you for not bein’ bilge-rattata!

Surolam smiles around, a bit nervously. Little Pummerin harrumphs from her side. “If they’d tried anything, we’d have shown them what the Arcel line can do, I’m sure!” it growls.

The Captain sighs, contented. “We’ll be pullin’ into Cianwood harbor tomorrow morning. Get some sleep, lass – tomorrow’s th’first day of the rest’a yer life, right?”

“Right!” exclaims Surolam.

That night, she dreams of the sextant, the captain, and the ship, gliding across the waves and through treacherous inlets together.

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