"Now, what breed are you, dear?" Doctor Newbury asked as he scribbled notes onto a piece of parchment he had resting on a barrel.
"Sylvan," Shanku said as she balanced on a deck rail.
"Where are the Sylvans from?" Doctor Newbury asked. "Be careful there."
"North of here, the Nyre forest," Shanku said absently as she walked to the shrouds.
"Interesting. I've been there many times and never seen one of your kind before," remarked Doctor Newbury.
"We hide," Shanku stated with a finger in the air matter-of-factly as she dangled from the shrouds with her other hand.
"How did you end up down here?" asked Doctor Newbury.
"Left the Nyre, met Dai. Went to Wynfall, left in the spring. Met Rhett, came to port Tephras," said Shanku. She slipped her legs through the shrouds and then dangled upside down from her knees.
"Headrush... Er, Wanderlust," Shanku mumbled as the pressure built up in her head. She became too dizzy and inadvertently let go of the shrouds with her knees, which resulted in her crashed down to the deck.
"Perhaps that is enough for today..." Doctor Newbury said slowly.
"Owie..." came the weak reply. She shook her head and seemed recovered. She pointed a scrawny arm at the doctor. "So what are you doing out here, Doctor Newbury?"
"I am the medical doctor of this ship. Have been ever since I finished my apprenticeship when I was a younger man," Doctor Newbury said proudly and raised a finger in the air. "And I conduct studies on people and creatures I meet."
"What kinda creatures?" Shanku asked from her position on the deck.
"Any I meet. Goblins and faefolk mostly. Occasionally a dwarf or centaur," he said as he counted them off on his fingers. Then he put a fist to his chin thoughtfully. "Even saw a mermaid once. She nearly crashed the ship."
He turned to face Shanku. "Of your kind, I've only met the ones in the ports of Mruha and I've heard rumor of one that sails with pirates. But I didn't know there were actually some that lived outside of the ports away from the sea!"
"Well, there's two kinds in L'aernth that I know of," Shanku said as she sat cross-legged. "Us Sylvans, and the Plains. I'm not aware of any seafaring Kurach."
"Interesting..." Doctor Newbury looked at her thoughtfully for a moment before gathering up his pen and parchment. "You're free to explore the ship now. I have some work to do."
Shanku watched him go below deck to his quarters. She looked curiously behind her. The deck was broad, had a few barrels of water to the sides with empty ones nearby to catch fresh rainwater, and between the three masts were two grated openings leading to the cargo hold. She strolled past these to the open door of the kitchen. Shelves and cabinets and counters lined the room and it smelled positively delightful. There was a man at one of the counters in the white shirt with short, loose sleeves and grey breeches the crew often wore. He was clean shaven and had a white bandana tied around his head. He was chopping a fish into slices.
"Can I help?" Shanku asked as she stepped beside him.
"Ya can peel them taters if ya don't cut yerself," he gestured with the slimy knife to a pile of potatoes below the counter. He went back to preparing the fish. "So, you're doc's new pet, eh?"
"I'm not a 'pet', but he is looking after me. Name's Shanku Ravenwing," Shanku said grumpily as she reached into a basket for a potato.
"Jeffrey Templeton, ship cook!" Templeton introduced himself.
"Where will you cook at?" Shanku looked around the room. Nothing was in there but the cabinets, drawers, shelves, and counters.
"No cookin' in this room. Stove's at the prow in a sand pit. Don't need the wind blowin' a possible fire through the whole ship, after all," Templeton nodded.
"Makes sense. What's for dinner?" Shanku asked eagerly.
"Fish an' taters!" Templeton beamed and held the fish up by the tail.
"Yum!" Shanku grinned.
"That's 'bout all your kind eats, eh? Fruit, fish, and clams? And sometimes a dog?" he grinned.
"Nah. Back home it was all roast deer and goat," Shanku said as she begin to peel the potato. "Or other critters. But never dogs or cats. Fellow predators aren't very tasty."
"Strange. the ones I see usually eat snails, mussels, and other stuff outta the water," he said casually as he finished chopping the fish. "I prefer fish and shellfish. Much better than snails."
"Ew..." Shanku winced. She slid off the counter and went back on deck. "I'm out."
"Have fun! Come visit me again!" Templeton called cheerfully after her.
I hope I never learn anything that nasty again. Beetles, yes. Slugs, no! Shanku stuck her tongue out and laid her ears back at the thought of eating slugs and snails. She looked curiously up at the white sails billowing out above her. On the highest mast there was a basket. I wonder what's up there?
Shanku crouched and jumped up. She beat her wings laborously against the wind and slowly made her way up to the basket. She kept close to the mast to guide herself with her claws. She gripped the edges of the basket and pulled herself up to a perch. She found another man up here! He had brown hair down past his shoulders, his loose white shirt had long sleeves, and he wore the expected grey pants.
"You're the stowaway, eh?" he asked her cheerfully when she landed.
"Yup!" Shanku nodded and added uneasily. "Although, everybody else thinks I'm a pet."
"Are you?" he asked simply.
"No way!" Shanku exclaimed.
"You're welcome to be my pet," he laughed and leaned back against with his elbows resting on the rail.
Shanku hrmphed indignantly.
"Is this your first time on a ship?" he asked.
"Yup," Shanku nodded.
"You have good balance," he nodded to her perching on the edge. "Might be the bird thing."
"Perhaps..." Shanku said slowly as she eyed her wings. "Is this your first year too?"
"Fifteenth," he said. "You'll be here for several weeks. Best to get acquainted with the crew as soon as possible."
"Will do," Shanku saluted him and allowed herself to fall backwards off the edge. She glided back down to the deck and landed with a thump on a barrel.
Whitten glanced up from his mopping for a moment. "You're not so scary," he grumbled and went back to mopping the deck.
"I coulda told ya that," Shanku huffed and sat more comfortably on the barrel. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Moppin' the deck," Whitten said boredly.
"Housework?" Shanku asked timidly and pulled her wings and knees together. Many memories resurfaced of Mrs. Birchfield having her help mop the floors.
"Tch," he scoffed and sneered over his shoulder at her. "Man's work."
"I've done it," Shanku crossed her arms over her chest. "It can't be that manly."
"Then do it again, would ye?" Whitten laughed and tossed the mop at her. Shanku squawked and tried to keep her balance as the mop handle bopped her on the head.
Down below in the captain's chambers, Doctor Newbury was having an audience with the captain.
"Why is there another of those things on my ship?" Captain Morgan asked sternly. His hands were folded before his chin and he was leaned forward with his elbows on his desk. His light brown hair was pulled neatly together in the back. His tidy blue jacket was pressed, with big cuffs and shiny brass buttons, and his white pants showed not a speck of dirt.
"A good question," Doctor Newbury said as he stroked his chin. "I do believe she stowed aboard the ship at Port Tephras out of sheer curiousity for searfaring vessels."
"No more pets, Doctor Newbury," Captain Morgan said firmly. "Put her out when we dock."
"But she isn't native to Mruha!" Doctor Newbury threw his hands out to his side. "She wouldn't be able to survive."
"Then let her swim home," Captain Morgan sad as he gave the doctor a cold look.
"She's just a child! Probably no family," Doctor Newbury pleaded.
"Probably ate them," Captain Morgan said flatly.
"That was a one time incident!" Doctor Newbury shook his finger at the captain.
"I miss my dog, Doctor," the captain growled.
"I told you not to cut that Kurach's rations," Doctor Newbury chided as folded his hands behind his back.
"Shoulda cut his throat instead," the captain grumbled. He closed his eyes and held the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "Why do you want this thing?"
"Valuable study! A breed thought extinct! A piece of history thought lost!" the doctor said excitedly.
"But will she be a danger to the men?" the captain asked.
"No, she's too young to be much of a threat," the doctor shook his head.
"She will be if she acts like a gully hen," the captain warned.
"I shall see to it that she is better than that," the doctor frowned.
"If she harms them, so help me..." the captain trailed off and dismissed the doctor.
Above deck, Shanku was doing just that.
"Mop yer own deck, ya swab!" she growled as she brought the end of the mop crashing down on Whitten's head. Whitten glared at her through the strands of the mop head as she flew off.
"Lazy brute," they grumbled in unison.
Shanku flew up to the crow's nest and landed grumpily next to the bored man looking out at sea.
"Hello again," he said.
"Yo," Shanku said gruffly and stared at the sea with him.
"Whitten try to get you to do his chores?" he asked blandly.
"Yup," was Shanku's flat reply.
"Hmph. The cur."
"Name's Dawson, Caelin Dawson."
"Ravenwing. Shanku Ravenwing."
Thus was the end of their brusque conversation. Night began to fall and Shanku decided she wanted to sleep up in the crow's nest.
"Suit yourself," Dawson shrugged and descended down to the deck.
He had soon returned with a blanket by orders of the doctor. Shanku laughed, thanked him, and curled up for the night. The following evenings she made sure to tell the doctor where she was. Doctor Newbury was very intelligent and had all sorts of stories to tell about faraway lands and strange creatures. He had come from a wealthy family and was able to study as a doctor. His passion lay in learning and exploration, and he had used his education as a doctor to obtain a position on the Meriweather as their physician. He was presently writing a book about the different creatures in the world and Shanku felt proud she was able to contribute to help him with some of it by telling him of her own people.
This turned out to be a good thing to exchange for the stories the rest of the crew had to tell.
"Your turn!" she would chirp when she had finished telling of the Sylvans, Wynfall, and the minocentaur she had tackled with Rhett Talbot.
"Well, I come from a farm," Templeton nodded while they peeled potatoes together. "Twelve brothers and sisters! We worked the fields together. Corn, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, beans, cabbages, all sorts o' good stuff. Well, with all of us workin' it, Pa was able to finally give us what he wanted to be able to. My sisters were married off to other farmers and they traded things between the farms like milk and eggs. One of my sisters married a shepherd, so now they could trade for knit blankets and clothes too. My brothers all loved farming, so Pa was able to help them get houses built and they all tend the farm. But I wanted to cook! When I was a younger man, we got wind that a ship in the nearby town was gonna be needin' a new cook soon, and Pa let me go check it out. I was hired on the spot and here I am!"
"That explains your love of potatoes," Shanku giggled.
"Never underestimate the importance of a tuber," Templeton grinned and shook a freshly peeled potato at her.
"Daniel O'Hare, little miss," O'Hare properly introduced himself when Shanku followed him one afternoon. He had a scanty beard and his hair was curly at the back of his neck. "I'm an archer."
"What is there to shoot at?" Shanku asked curiously. "Fish?"
"No, no, nae fish," O'Hare shook his head as he braided ropes. "Pirates."
"Pirates? What's a pirate?" Shanku asked.
"Oi missy, yae mean yae've never heard o' pirates?" O'Hare asked in shock. "Where've yae been?"
"Well, it started with this bull..." Shanku began again.
"Ne'er min' that," O'Hare waved his hand. "I didn' mean licherally. Pirates are thugs on the seas that go 'round robbin' from folks. 'Tis my job ta shoot 'em down if'n they try ta board us."
"Were you hired then because you're a good marksman?" Shanku asked.
"Kinda. Me Da serves on the La Sirenita an' he taught me ta use a bow."
"Does your mother work on another ship too?"
"Na, Ma died o' fever when I was a lad. Me Da went ta th' sea shortly after wi' his brother. I grew up on ships. Felt like th' natural thin' ta do when I got old enough ta be useful."
"I'm sorry," Shanku said sadly and her ears drooped. "I don't know what I'd do if something happened to Ma."
O'Hare shrugged and continued to braid rope. Shanku loved listening to his lyrical accent, but was a bit embarrassed to engage him further.
"What about you, mister?" Shanku sheepishly asked a tanned fellow with thick dreadlocks who was helping them braid the rope.
"Similar tale. Fatha worked on a ship, Motha waited on land. I followed Fatha to de sea and me sista stayed on de island," Marley said.
"The... island?" Shanku asked.
"I'm a Mruhan!" Marley grinned. "An' you'll see me beautiful home soon enough."
"So I've heard from Jeffrey," Shanku giggled. "They don't really eat snails there do they?"
"Ya, miss. Fried up with butta and salted just right, they are delicious!"
Shanku shook her head. "I don't see how you eat that!"
"Very chewily," Marley teased.
Shanku grimaced and darted out the door. O'Hare and Marley chuckled and continued repairing the ropes.
Outside, Shanku bumped into somebody.
"Ah, sorry, mister um..." Shanku looked up at him. Waaay up. He was a good six and a half feet tall! "Giant."
"Ed," he said simply. Everything about him seemed long and skinny. His fingers, arms, legs, nose, even his head and mustache. Except for his hair, it was short and curly.
"Nice ta meet ya, Ed!" Shanku grinned. Ed nodded and plodded on his way. Shanku watched him leave, her ears askew in confusion. That was odd.
"He don' talk much," said a heavyset fellow nearby propped up in the shade of the deck railing. He had black hair, a thick beard, and rather hairy arms.
"Why not?" Shanku asked.
The man shrugged. "Just don'. Name's Charles Smith. Folks call me Chuck or Smith, dependin' on how they feel."
"Shanku Ravenwing," Shanku grinned. "Most call me That Stowaway or Newbury's Pet."
"It suits you," he chuckled.
"I'm not a pet!" Shanku said indignantly. "And I didn't intentionally stow away either. I was just exploring the ship when it started moving."
"Sure, kid," Smith teased her. Shanku huffed and stormed off.
Shanku yipped and ducked quickly as a mop handle was swung over her head.
"Ha ha!" A strange man with wavy dark brown hair, a wiggly goatee, and a small good hoop in his left ear chased Shanku around the deck, swinging a mop at her with flair and finesse. She finally took refuge in the shrouds out of his reach.
"What's this about?" she barked down at him.
"Ne'er mind Fancy Clancy here," Smith called out from his relaxed position nearby. "Thinks he's some kind of master swordsman."
"You wound me! I am a master swordsman. The best in the land!" Clements bowed.
"We're at sea," Shanku said grumpily.
"Touché, my young adversary. So we are. Then for the time being, I am the best in the boat!" Clements laughed and extended a hand to Shanku. "A gentleman helps a lady get to where she needs to go."
Shanku eyed him for a moment then grinned deviously. "If you insist!" Shanku pounced on him and knocked him to the ground.
"Thanks for the hand!" Shanku giggled.
"My pleasure," came the strained reply. Shanku climbed off of him and extended her own hand. "I'm no lady and I don't mind helping a gentleman up."
Clements laughed and took her hand. He got back on his feet and dusted himself off.
"I am Clancy Clements," he introduced himself with an elaborate bow. He took her hand and pressed it to his chin. "Who might you be, young ma'am?"
"Shanku Ravenwing!" Shanku said and did her best curtsy, which was terribly rusty since she hadn't used it since her time in Wynfall.
"Have you ever been to sea, Miss Ravenwing?"
"Nope, first time," Shanku shook her head.
"Never seen the grandeur of the great ocean?"
Shanku shook her head again.
"Well, if you'll just step this way," Clements offered his arm to her and Shanku looped her arm through his with a giggle. "I shall show you around!"
"This is the bowsprit sticking out from the prow here. It and the stern are a ballast for the masts here so they don't topple so easily in storms and high winds," he pointed at a great log on the front of the ship and to another in the back. Long ropes ran from them to the masts.
"And these two bays here between the masts are how we get the cargo in and out easily. Cranes at the port lower a platform inside, we load it up, and out it goes onto shore!"
"Cranes?" Shanku asked.
"Large contraptions of wood, gears, and iron chains. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but I believe mules are involved. Now, this is the stern, as you know, and the helm where the Captain stands and guides the ship. G'day, Captain!" Clements saluted the captain.
Captain Morgan looked at him and Shanku with narrow eyes.
"Captain does not like to be disturbed when steering the ship," Clements whispered and ushered Shanku through the door below where the captain stood.
"This is the pantry, as you know from your time with Mr. Templeton, and through that door there is the captain's quarters and through this door here is our quarters," Clements said as he lead Shanku through the door on the left and down a flight of stairs.
"This is the first inner level of the ship. Here is where we store the cargo. See that door far down there near the prow?"
"Through that door is the galley where we eat and where the stove is," Clements nodded. "Now, we can only get hot meals when the sea is calm. Fire on a ship is no good, you know. Come, come, next level."
They continued further down the stairs.
"This door here on the left is the where the other important people of the ship sleep, such as Doctor Newbury and Professor Blakely. Blakely is the one who inspects our gems and metals. And down this hallway here to the right would be the way to ship supplies, crew quarters, and the brig."
"Where the bad people stay that can't behave themselves," Clements winked at her. "Mind that you don't end up there."
Clements lead her back to the deck and then faced her with a bow. "That concludes the grand tour of our grand ship, my little lady."
"And I thank ye for it," Shanku giggled.
With a nod and a wink, Clements returned to his duties and left Shanku to herself.
Over the next two months, Shanku worked to fit in on the ship. In the mornings she would visit with Templeton and help him prepare the midday meal. Her afternoons were spent learning how to spot things on the horizon with Dawson and helping the other deckhands with their duties. And her evenings were spent in study with Doctor Newbury. He sought to pick up where Master Woodstock had left off, much to Shanku's displeasure. It was difficult and she didn't grasp it well. But Doctor Newbury was patient and continued to work with her.
Shanku found herself growing quite attached to the crew and would follow them around during the day, despite growing suspicions that some enjoyed to pick on her. One day as Shanku was keeping Dawson company she noticed he had been looking through his spyglass often.
"Is something wrong?" she finally asked.
"Your kind is supposed to have good eyesight, right?" he asked.
"I reckon," she shrugged. "Why?"
"Do you see what I see?" he asked and handed her the spyglass. She picked it up gently and looked out over the horizon where he had been looking. She adjusted it a bit and squinted through it again.
"Blue. Lots of blue. And a big greyish-green lump way out there," she said.
"Land ho!" Dawson shouted over the edge of the crow's nest, which made Shanku yip.
"What the pluck?" she turned and asked as he began to descend through the trap door in the bottom. She had been taken quite by surprise.
"Land, lassie!" he exclaimed and climbed down the shrouds.
Humans are so weird, she thought. She placed a foot on the side of the crow's nest and leapt off. Oh well. Time to get off of this ship.
"Land indeed, Dawson," Captain Morgan said quietly as he peered through his own spyglass. Doctor Newbury stood patiently behind him.
"Still fond of the crow's nest, I see," he observed to Shanku as she landed on a barrel beside him.
"Yeah, no crows!" Shanku piped.
Just hens, the captain grumbled internally.
"So, what's all the commotion about?" she asked.
"We're soon to arrive in Mruha," Doctor Newbury stated.
"That explains why it's so hot," Shanku said and panted audibly with her tongue out. It had gradually became more humid the further south she went, but Shanku hadn't really noticed it until it was combined with the summer sun. The heat and wet was oppressive and often felt like a vice around her chest.
"Indeed," Doctor Newbury nodded. "Say, why don't we get you fitted for some new clothes! Those are becoming quite worn."
"I dunno," Shanku mumbled and hunched down on the barrel with her wings drawn tight around her. "Can I keep these? Ma made them for me..."
"Tell you what," Doctor Newbury smiled at her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'll buy a little chest for you to keep them safe in."
"Really?" Shanku perked up.
"Yes," he nodded.
"Let's go shoppin'!" Shanku squealed. Her last physical reminder of her mother would finally be safe.
"Right after we sell our cargo then," Doctor Newbury promised.
"Alright!" Shanku slipped off the barrel and went to tell Dawson.
The Meriweather safely came into port. Captain Morgan wasted no time in putting the crew to work unloading the hull while he and Doctor Newbury conducted the sales and negotiations with the local merchants on behalf of the merchants who had hired the Meriweather to transport their goods for them.