Longbow laughed. Eleria was an absolute delight, and it was that, perhaps, that made her even more dangerous than Zelana herself.
“Fun isn’t a bad thing, Longbow,” she said, nuzzling at his cheek like a small kitten.
“Why don’t you speak with Zelana?” Longbow suggested. “This might be a good time for a flock of geese to fly over the Seagull. Let’s brush away Hook-Big’s doubts so that they won’t concern him anymore.”
“That would be nice,” Eleria said. And then she giggled.
It was not a very large flock, Longbow observed as the geese came out of the north, just before the sun sank into a red-flushed bank of clouds low on the western horizon—six or seven birds at most. It should be enough, however, to make a believer out of Hook-Beak. Longbow took up a handful of his new iron-tipped arrows and his bow and went to the stern of the Seagull, where Sorgan, Ox, and Ham-Hand spent most of their time. “I’m growing a bit tired of eating fish, Sorgan- Captain,” he said politely. “Would you find it offensive if I bring us something different to eat?”
“What did you have in mind?” Sorgan asked.
“Those,” Longbow replied, pointing at the incoming geese. “I haven’t made any contribution to what we eat here on the Seagull, and that isn’t proper. I think that geese might be a welcome change for you and your men.”
“Them geese are pretty high up in the air,” Ham-Hand suggested dubiously.
“Not quite high enough,” Longbow assured him.
Ox squinted off to the west, the fiery sunset painting his face red. “The sun’s going down, Longbow,” he said. “You might be lucky enough to hit one or two of them geese, but finding them floating in the water after it gets dark won’t be very easy, will it?”
“I’ll do what I can to make it easy,” Longbow promised.
It took a bit of careful calculation, but Longbow had chosen the time of day quite deliberately. Killing the geese with his arrows would be simplicity in itself. Hitting them in the dim twilight and making them all fall on the deck of the Seagull instead of into the water would be a bit more difficult—but hardly impossible. Zelana wanted him to impress Sorgan and his men with his skill, and this would probably be the easiest way to do that.
It rained geese onto the deck of the Seagull not long after Longbow had spoken with Hook-Beak, and Sorgan and his crew began to treat Longbow with a great deal of respect—tinged with a certain degree of awe. Longbow was accustomed to that. The men of Old-Bear’s tribe had been looking at him with a similar expression since he’d been very young.
She’s a lot older than she looks, Longbow,” Rabbit was saying the next morning. “From what I’ve heard, she was a pretty battered-up old tub when the cap’n bought her from the old Maag who owned her before. It took the cap’n, Ox, and Ham-Hand better than a year to fix her up. About the first thing they did was to add this.” Rabbit stamped one of his feet on the deck. “Up till then she was a lot like an open rowboat. They decked her over and built in those long, narrow ports for the oars. I guess part of the idea was to protect the oarsmen from foul weather, but the main reason for adding the deck was to give them as was going to do the fighting some running room. If you’re going to jump from one ship to another when the water’s choppy, you need to be moving pretty fast. If you’re not, you’ll probably get wet.”
“It does make some sense, I suppose,” Longbow conceded. “Back in Dhrall we don’t fight out on the face of Mother Sea. It’s not a good idea to irritate her.”
“We get along with her pretty good,” Rabbit said. “Anyway, the notion of decking over a longship’s fairly recent. It was, oh, maybe twenty years ago when a shipbuilder down in Gaiso came up with the notion—probably because some ship cap’n wanted to have his own cabin so that he wouldn’t have to sleep with his crew. Some ship cap’ns get kind of uppity sometimes.”
“Isn’t it a bit difficult for the oarsmen to steer when they can’t see where they’re going?” Longbow asked.
“That’s where the tiller comes in. If you look back toward the stern, you’ll see Ox standing there holding on to a long handle that’s attached to a post. The post runs all the way down into the water, and there’s a big flat board built out from the bottom of the post. It’s called the rudder, and it makes the ship turn this way or that way when Ox pulls on the handle to one side or the other. The oarsmen do the rowing, but Ox does the steering.” Rabbit grinned. “I don’t get stuck with that chore too often. It takes a pretty beefy man to steer a ship as big as the Seagull. Ox is pretty good at it, though. He’s got muscles on top of muscles from his neck down to his toenails. He could probably pick up something that only had one end if he really wanted to.”
“I haven’t seen many things with only one end,” Longbow noted.
“They are just a bit rare,” Rabbit agreed.
“We like to think that it’s the prettiest place in the world,” Rabbit was telling Longbow and Eleria a few days later, when the three of them were sitting near the bow of the Seagull. “Of course, I grew up there, and everybody I’ve ever met seems to think that no place in the whole world is half as nice as the place where he grew up.”
“It’s proper for you to be loyal to the home of your childhood, Rabbit,” Longbow told him. “Loyalty to place and people is the beginning of honor.”
“I’m not all that big on honor, Longbow,” Rabbit confessed. “No matter where I go or who I hook up with, I’m always the runt of the litter. Every Maag I’ve ever known seems to think that bigger is better, so they always think that I’m not really worth much because I’m short and scrawny.”
“But you like it that way, don’t you, Bunny?” Eleria said shrewdly. “You want them to think that your mind is just as teenie-weenie as your body is. That’s why you always talk so sloppy around them, isn’t it?”
“Bunny?” Rabbit protested.
“It’s a friendlier sort of name,” Eleria told him from her usual place on Longbow’s lap, “and I feel very friendly about you, since you’re almost as teenie-weenie as I am. Longbow here is one of the biggies, so he doesn’t really understand us teenie-weenies. I do love him, but he has a few flaws. But then, nobody’s perfect—except the Beloved, of course.”