“It may be that it will be in the best interest of the tribe, my father,” Longbow replied. “Zelana of the West has told me that the Maags can show us ways to kill more of the creatures of the Wasteland, and that may please the spirit of your daughter Misty-Water.”
“Then it is proper for you to go, my son,” Old-Bear agreed. “Do not be concerned about your absence. I myself will attend to the grave of Misty-Water while you are gone.”
“I would appreciate that, my father,” Longbow said. “It may be that in time you and I will be able to bring the head of the Vlagh itself to the grave of your daughter, and that should please her spirit.”
“I know that it will please mine,” Old-Bear said approvingly. “Go, then, my son, and may the spirit of Misty-Water watch over you.”
“It shall be as you have said, my father,” Longbow said quite formally. He went on down through the village to the pebbled beach, pushed his canoe out from the shore, and took up his paddle to cross the choppy water to the Seagull. The village and his forest were fading behind him, but he didn’t look back.
“Nice little skiff you got there, friend,” a fellow with enormous hands observed, leaning over the rail of the Seagull.
“Skiff?” Longbow was puzzled by the word.
“That skinny little boat you got there. It goes real fast, don’t it?”
“It takes me where I want it to go.”
“You want we should bring it on board?”
“It might be best. I don’t know the tribe of the Seagull as yet, and if it happens that I don’t get along very well with them, I might need the canoe to take me back to where I belong.”
The man with the big hands laughed. “There’s been a few times when maybe I could have used a skiff of my own for the same reason. I’ve been at sea for most of my life now, and every so often I’ve had trouble my very own self getting along with my shipmates. You’re Longbow, aren’t you?”
“That’s what they call me.”
“They call me Ham-Hand,” the man at the rail said. “It’s not much of a name, but I guess I’m stuck with it now. Come on board, Longbow. The cap’n wants to see you. I’ll take care of your canoe for you.”
“I should tell Zelana of the West that I’m here,” Longbow said.
“She’s with the cap’n in the cabin back at the stern,” Ham-Hand advised. “She took his cabin away from him back at the place called Lattash. He wasn’t none to happy about that, but she’s the one who’s paying us, so he didn’t argue with her. He still uses the cabin for business during the daytime, but he bunks with me and Ox after the sun goes down.”
Longbow handed the braided thong attached to the front of his canoe to Ham-Hand and climbed smoothly aboard the Maag ship. “Just exactly where’s the stern?” he asked.
“The back end of the ship,” Ham-Hand explained.
“Who’s this one you call ‘Cap’n’?” Longbow asked. “I’m not familiar with that word.”
“You talked with him the last time we passed through here,” Ham-Hand replied. “His name’s Sorgan Hook-Beak, and he owns the Seagull here.”
“That clears things up a bit. We Dhralls would probably call him ‘the chief.’ I’ll talk with him and let Zelana know that I’m here.”
“I’m not sure you should take that there bow with you,” Ham-Hand said dubiously. “It might just make the cap’n a little nervous.”
“It goes any place where I go,” Longbow said curtly. “If that bothers the people here on the Seagull, I’ll go back to the forest where I belong.”
“Don’t get excited,” Ham-Hand told him. “We’re all on the same side here.”
Longbow grunted and walked on back toward the stern of the ship.
There was a burly Dhrall with a flaming red beard leaning against the low structure at the rear of the boat. “I am Red-Beard of the tribe of White-Braid,” he introduced himself rather formally.
“And I am Longbow of the tribe of Old-Bear. I was told that Sorgan Hook-Beak wished to speak with me and that Zelana of the West is with him.”
“They are in there, Longbow of Old-Bear’s tribe,” Red-Beard said, pointing at a rectangular opening in the front of the low-roofed structure.
“We will speak again, Red-Beard of White-Braid’s tribe,” Longbow said. The formalities might fade as he and Red-Beard became better acquainted, but for right now formality was probably the more proper way to go.
The child Eleria leaned through the opening Red-Beard had indicated. “He’s here, Beloved,” she called back over her shoulder. “It’s that one who spends all his time killing those he doesn’t like.”
“It’s not right for you to say that, child,” Longbow chided her.
“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps, but it isn’t polite to come right out and say so.”
“Oh, poo,” she said. Then she held her arms out to him. “Carry me,” she said.
“Did you forget how to walk?”
“No, but I like to be carried, that’s all.”
Longbow smiled faintly, picked her up, and carried her into the place that smelled of tar and had a low roof.
“Welcome, Longbow,” Zelana said. “Why are you carrying Eleria?”
“She wanted me to,” Longbow replied, “and it didn’t particularly bother me.”
“He’s very nice, Beloved,” Eleria said. “He didn’t object in the least little bit to carrying me.” Then she kissed Longbow’s cheek. “You can put me down now,” she said.
“He’s not a dolphin, Eleria,” Zelana chided.
“I know,” Eleria agreed, “but he’ll do until we go back home. I need to kiss things every now and then. You know that.”
Zelana sighed, rolling her eyes upward. “Oh, yes,” she said. “This is Sorgan Hook-Beak of the Land of Maag, Longbow. I believe you’ve met him before.”
“Yes,” Longbow replied. He looked at Sorgan. “The man called Ham-Hand told me that you wanted to speak with me,” he said.
“It’s not really all that important, Longbow,” Sorgan said. “I just wanted to let you know that we’ll make you as comfortable as we can during our voyage. Is there anything you’ll need?”