Every day the Ox anchored by another village, every day the traders set up their market on the beach, and every day Ivy was left behind at the door of the lean-to. By the third day out from Engelica she could no longer stand the tedium of watching the ocean’s backwash lap listlessly at the hull of the crewless ship, and she begged a ride to shore. The traders ignored her. But Mantry, overseeing the loading of the rowboats, came to her rescue. “Get the kid off the ship,” he barked. “I can’t watch him mope around the deck another day. It disturbs a man’s napping.” Ivy watched him for a wink or even a glance, but she didn’t get one. As the traders helped her roughly into the boat Mantry called, “And be sure you bring him back, or you’ll answer to me!”
Ivy’s hopes of finding a job were crushed even before the boat was beached. She leapt out eagerly to help drag it onto dry sand, but the men crowded her out of the way and had the crates unloaded before she could get near them. They set up makeshift tables and laid out their wares in an orchestrated blur of activity. Every man knew his job and everyone else’s too, so that as one finished a task another was ready to pick up the next. They didn’t speak and barely glanced at one another as they worked. Ivy couldn’t help but be impressed by how well they knew their work and trusted their mates to do their share, but her heart sank to see how complicated it all was. She didn’t see how she could ever find a foothold.
A few women had jogged down from the village to get first crack at the best wares. They picked up this or that, turned it over in their hands, unfolded it or weighed it or sniffed it, and clucked disappointedly to one another—a sound Ivy knew meant nothing. It was all part of the process of bargaining. Holding up a piece of cloth to see its drape one woman made a face as though it stank of rotten fish and said, “How much are you gentlemen asking for this lovely thing?” in a tone that made clear that the traders weren’t gentlemen and the cloth was far from lovely.
The trader behind the table ignored the insult. “Two stater for the bolt,” he said politely, making it clear from his tone that he could not have cared less whether she bought the cloth.
“Ha!” The woman practically snorted. She turned to her friend. “Two silver stater for that!”
“It sold in Engelica. It will sell tomorrow.”
“Engelica,” she said, frowning at the cloth. “The pattern is nice enough for southern work, but I know it will fade as soon as you’re out of port.”
“That’s the best dyework from Salindon,” the trader said, pretending to be offended. “Set with huwwort. You’ll fade long before it does,” he added.
The woman cackled, pleased at the joke. She held the cloth up to the light and turned to her friend. “What do you think?”
“I’d give five lepta,” her friend said, shaking her head. “Not a tamut more.”
“Five lepta!” It was the trader’s turn to snort. “Feel that weave! That ain’t cottage work.” He peered at them more shrewdly, now, and said, “If you’re serious, I’d consider one stater five.”
Ivy knew it might be some time before they agreed on a price. For the women, market day was entertainment, and haggling was part of the fun. The traders seemed to enjoy the bickering as much as the women did, but for them it was work. Only a few handled the exchanges while the others stayed well out of the way, talking or napping in the shade.
A trader saw Ivy hovering by the tables and snapped, “Are you buying?”
“I might be,” she said defensively.
The trader shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
But the Cenmere Ox was not, as she had observed, one of the better trading ships, and the goods for sale were ordinary things—dried figs and berries, sorghum, pots and knives, leather goods, cloth and jewelry and pottery better than village craftspeople could make, but not much better. She found some sheaves of paper and felt a sheet between her thumb and forefinger, but it was rough and grainy, and she set it back down with a sigh.
“Looking for something in particular?”
Ivy shrugged, not sure how much to say. “I guess I was hoping for something more…”
“Exotic?” The trader smirked.
“Do you have any books?”
“No books. Can’t sell ’em in the villages. Wait ’til we get to Northsward, there’s booksellers in some of the big ports. If you have the money,” he added.
“I have a little money.”
The trader looked her over, seeming to consider his words, and then lowered his voice. “We’ll pick up better goods in Northsward and the Dragon Isles,” he confided. “We sell it on the way south, so there ain’t much left for the trip north. This is all southern wares. The hold’s full of blacknut oil.”
“Thanks,” Ivy said.
The man leaned over the table and dropped his voice further. “If you’ve got money,” he said, “best keep a close watch on it.”
From his expression she couldn’t tell whether he was offering advice or making a threat. “I will,” she said, and backed away.
With nothing else to do, she walked up the path to the village. The rocky beach, the scrubby woods, the sharp rise to the escarpment where the people had built their houses all looked just like Ennatin. The houses were built of the same fieldstone and roofed with the same dune grass. The people dressed the same, spoke the same, made the same tired jokes. She found her way to the center of the village and listened to the conversation at the well. That, too, was what she had heard all her life—only the names were different—and the water she drew had the same flinty taste she had known. She had traveled barely fifty miles up the coast. But she hadn’t been prepared for just how strongly this village would remind her of home, and how hollow it would feel without the people she had loved. She left before anyone could ask who she was, or why she had come.
She was awakened by the rustle of footsteps. For a moment she thought it was Panther—until she remembered that she was not on the ship but huddled in a nest of dry leaves and moss she had made herself on the beach. Remembering the trader’s advice she had gone to sleep hugging her satchel. It was still there. Silently, not daring even to open her eyes, she slid her hand into the satchel’s pocket and drew her knife from its sheath. She waited, still as the ship’s cat.
The footsteps slowed as they grew nearer, until whoever it was could not be more than two paces behind her. Then she flipped over and onto her knees, brandishing the knife.
In the moonlight she recognized the trader who had been haggling over the Salindon fabric. He raised his hands to show that they were empty.
“What do you want?”
The trader grinned. “I was just checking on you. Making sure you’re all right.”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
He kept grinning, so she added, “I was trying to sleep. Should I reconsider?”
The man spread his hands theatrically. He backed away a few steps, and then he sauntered back down the beach to where the other traders slept.
Ivy lay awake the rest of the night with the knife in her hand.
The next morning when the Ox was once more at sea Mantry appeared in the door of the lean-to. “I hear you want a job,” he said.
“Yes!” Ivy cried, leaping to her feet.
“Can you sew?” Mantry pointed to a folded sheet of sun-bleached canvas. “Sail’s torn. We’re running a spare now. I need it patched tonight.”
Ivy hated sewing even more than she hated hoeing fields, but she hid her disappointment. “I can sew,” she said.
“Good stitches. Small and tight. Nothing that will come apart next time it blows.”
Mantry looked at her hard to make sure she did. “There’s extra canvas, needles and thread in the aft storage below,” he said, and left her without further instruction.
The rip in the sail was nearly two feet long and needed a patch twice that big. She made neat, tiny stitches, hoping that Mantry would be pleased and give her something more important to do. At least it was work, and it kept her busy while the men traded goods on the beach. Mantry came to check on her only once. She pretended not to mind that he stood watching, and when she looked up he was gone.
The job took her almost until suppertime. When she finished her right hand ached from holding the needle, and her left was red-pocked where she had jabbed herself. Her head throbbed from sitting in the sun so she could see her work. But she was done.
She folded the sail with her stitching on top and presented it to Mantry. He examined the visible stitches, then unfolded the sail and yanked at it to see if the patch would tear free. The canvas snapped tight as a drumhead. He squinted at the stitches again to see that they had stayed tight. Then he grunted. “Fold this up again and take it below.”
“Is there anything else I can do?”
Mantry raised his eyebrows, and Ivy thought he almost smiled. “I reckon if you don’t have enough to do you can mend the master’s shirts.” He laughed and walked away, leaving Ivy to guess whether he was serious.
She ate her supper with aching fingers. From the stern of the ship she could hear the traders laughing on shore. They wanted nothing to do with her, and she wasn’t sure how much she liked them, either. Even when she found a way to make herself useful, she only felt more alone.
You’ll never fit in here, said a voice that seemed to come from the wind.
There’s always Alfland, she thought. But she would be stranded there, with no way home. What could she do in Alfland? The skills of a girl from a small southern town would be worthless in the cities of that great island. Horribly, she saw herself mending shirts in a little room somewhere in Alfland, struggling to save money for passage south.
You should have stayed home, said the voice.
Over the sea the stars were coming out. The same stars she knew from home—except, she saw suddenly, that they were coming up from the wrong direction. Hard at work sewing she hadn’t noticed the landmarks they passed, but the Ox must have rounded Warlee Cape where the coast turns toward the west. Soon, she guessed, they would be sailing into the Great Bay and up to Delia. Imagining the great cliffs that lined the bay’s far coast and the people in the streets of Acelia’s largest city she felt a twinge of her old excitement.
She dug out her book of maps, along with a few creased sheets of paper she had found in a bin of scraps for starting fires. The loose pages were already covered with handwritten figures of ship’s accounts, but the writer had left wide margins, and with the stump of a pencil Ivy jotted notes about the passage, the features of the land, the winds, the weather, and how far the ship had traveled each day. She tore off her notes in neat rectangles and inserted them into her book between the maps of lands she had seen. It made her feel useful even if she had no real work to do, and for a while, she forgot her fears.
On the eighth day storms hit. Bands of dark clouds passed overhead, spurting rain. They were passing the Bitter Swamp, fifty miles of dank, uninhabited wetland, and they had left the coast to catch better winds and avoid the countless tiny islands and sand bars that dotted the shallow waters. But the winds they found were harsh and blew against them from the north—except when they stalled entirely, and for brief hours the sky cleared. No one would say what every sailor thought, that they were passing through the outer arms of a hurricane, and no one could guess its intentions. The mood on the ship was as black as the clouds.
In the night Ivy woke to a roar of air and water and a wild rocking beneath her. Her clothes were damp from the spray that blew between the boards of the lean-to. The walls creaked under the strain. She opened the door to peer out onto the deck. She thought of running for the hold, but the way the ship lurched and leaned she couldn’t have reached it without a guide rope. Even in the sudden flashes of lightning she could see nothing through the sheeting rain. She heard shouts far away through the tempest that might have been the men working to bail water or safeguard equipment—or of someone falling overboard and drowning. When she shut the door again the darkness was so total and the wind and rain merged into such a deafening torrent that there might have been nothing else in the world beyond the four walls of the lean-to and the violently rolling floor.
Her stomach lunged. She hadn’t been seasick yet, and she swore she wouldn’t be now. She lay flat on her back and closed her eyes.
When the storm at last quieted daylight shone pale through the cracks in the walls. Ivy was beginning to think it might be safe to go out when she heard a pounding at the door.
“Kid? You all right in there?”
It was Mantry, haggard and worried.
“I’m fine. Is the ship all right?”
“Aye, the Ox’ll hold. We’ve seen worse. This one only clipped us. You ever been in a storm at sea?”
“Well. Now you have.” He shook his head as if guessing her thoughts. “Wouldn’t have been any better below,“ he said. “We took on some water. If you can stand, you can haul buckets.”
Water lay a foot deep in the hold. The traders made a line up the ladder and across the deck to the railing. The first man scooped up water, the rest passed the buckets along, the last threw it overboard and passed the empty bucket back, so that two lines of buckets moved at once, the full and the empty in opposite directions. It was a complicated dance, but Ivy learned it quickly, and when she took her turn to bail no one stopped her. The work moved so fast that she didn’t have time to think about how hard it was, and while it lasted she was part of the crew.
Up on top Mantry and the ship’s master argued. Though the sky remained slate gray, the worst of the storm was past and the wind had turned. The master wanted to make up for lost time. But they were out of sight of land, and no one knew just how far they had sailed. Mantry wanted to play it safe, turn west until they reached the coast and spied a landmark. The master said that would cost them two days and they should instead turn north and head for the Great Bay.
In the hold the men reenacted the argument. “Aye, and it’ll cost us three if you’re wrong!“ an old trader named Heibe called, imitating Mantry’s speech. Mantry thought they had sailed too far east and would miss the bay if they turned north—and with the sun buried behind clouds it was hard to tell where north was, in any case. Another man piped up in the master’s voice. “Think of the money in Delia if we beat the Red Star!”
The master chose profit over safety and turned north.
Two days passed before they sighted land. The sky remained gray, and a fine mist of rain made it seem as though they were sailing through the clouds. The shore was only a dark smudge in the gloom. The master stood at the ship’s prow, hands clasped behind his back, saying nothing. Mantry stood beside him, reasoning. “We don’t know where in all the seas we are,” he said. “We’re low on fresh water. We could be sailing straight off to the reef.”
“Heibe thinks we’re in the bay,” the master said. “It could be Ballica.”
“Well, all respect to you, boss, but if we were in the bay we’d be seeing gulls.”
“In this weather, perhaps not.”
“And in this weather we’d run smack into a bar and go down if one showed its face.”
“Where are we then, Mantry? Where in all the seas are we?”
“I say we’ve missed the bay and we’re sailing straight into Hammer Cape. Rocky shallows everywhere and no safe port for miles.”
“Always the worst with you, Mantry.”
Ivy stared hard through the mist until the smudge resolved itself into a shape she thought she recognized. In the lean-to she paged through her maps until she found the drawings of Remarkable Landforms. She checked her notes and made a quick calculation. Then she ran to the bow, where the master and Mantry were still arguing and several of the crew, including Heibe, had gathered to hear the outcome.
“Excuse me! Sir?”
The master wheeled irritably, but before he could speak she blurted, “I know where we are!”
“Boy, get back to your hole or I’ll throw you—”
“Sir! It’s the Dog’s Head! The Isle of Sprites!”
All the men laughed, even the master. “I say we’ve been blown asea,” Mantry muttered, “but not that far asea.”
“Leave this to the grown men,” said the master, only a little less sharply for his laughter.
“But look at it! You can see the nose from this angle.”
“We can’t have gone that far,” said Heibe. “It’s two hundred miles.”
“We made eight miles an hour in a good wind out of Tokindon,” Ivy said. “This wind has been almost as much in our favor. We could easily have gone two hundred miles in three days. And if we missed our course and headed more east of north—which, all respect to you, sir, but in this weather it would be easy to do…”
“Boss, he could be right,” said Mantry quietly.
The master narrowed his eyes at Mantry. After a moment he stalked to the rail and peered at the horizon. The crew held their breaths.
“Sail closer,” said the master. “But carefully.”
They tacked cautiously against the wind while the men sounded the harbor to check the water’s depth lest they run aground. For an hour Ivy watched from the stern, bouncing nervously on the balls of her feet.
Then the wind changed so swiftly that the crew were caught off guard and struggled to turn the great sail. The mist vanished away to sea. They could see the formation clearly now. A high cliff thrust out over the water in the shape, some sailor had thought, of a dog’s nose. They were sailing for the Isle of Sprites, a barren rock where legend said evil spirits sank ships that lingered too long in its waters.
When the Ox was safely back on its course the master walked slowly to the stern, where Ivy still waited. No one had spoken to her since the master had told her to clear off.
“It seems you were right,” he said. He did not sound entirely pleased.
“How did you know?”
She hesitated, debating whether to admit having the maps, and decided to keep her secret.
“My father was a trader,” she said. “He taught me everything he knew.”
“And you sailed up here with him?” The master sounded skeptical.
“He told me stories.”
The master considered this. “They must have been some stories,” he said.
Early the next morning Mantry woke her with a sharp rap on the door of the lean-to.
“Did your father teach you to sail, too?”
“I know a little. I can sail a fishing boat. I’d like to learn more.”
“You start at the bottom like everyone. You load and unload cargo, you sort the goods, you fetch and carry. You don’t have a chance to break what can’t be mended until I’m satisfied you won’t. You can still sleep in the lean-to, we’re full down below. You look a little scrawny,” he added, looking her over, “but you’ll toughen up with time.”
Ivy fought the grin that wanted to spread across her face. “Thank you, sir!”
“You may not be thanking me this time tomorrow. Get your breakfast. We’ll be in port in an hour, and there’s cargo to move. Beech and Altman will have charge of you. Follow their orders like they were your father’s own ghost.”
For the first time since she had known him, Mantry smiled. “Stories, eh?” he said, and walked away chuckling.
Ivy ran to the hold to find her breakfast.