The dog days of summer hung heavy on the oak of the hull. Sweat rolled off every muscle that she moved, so she’d opted not to move at all. The captain’s dogs traipsed about the deck, though they’d moved more slowly throughout the day as the heat became first a presence, and later an oppression. The crew had unpeeled the sails from the masts and now they lay flat above the deck, open to collect rainwater should there be any and above them to provide shade against the scorching air above. It made no difference. The heat was a constant, nagging companion for them all.
Nearly nude, Apainia sat in a white cloth chair, covered only by strips of what had at first been a long flowing gown. She’d paired it down to only the most essential pieces days ago. To her side sat Hert, Bulwer, and Martan. Hert had followed her from Talan and his stateship there. He was the only statesman to volunteer, and Apainia’s husband had grimaced at the fact. Not only did no one else step forward to lead with her, but this man had three young grandchildren and six children grown. But he’d said nothing as he’d kissed her goodbye. Bulwer they’d picked up near the beach, he was a guide for the natives, and knew the waters well, well enough to get them across them. Or so they’d thought. Martan was the only man near Apainia’s age, and was a warrior of Talan himself, though he’d been recruited by Ronan to augment Apainia’s knowledge in survival and strategy. She knew nothing of his background and didn’t care to ask. He’d repeatedly shown his worth on the mainland by guiding them around treacherous cliffs and through native plants and paths, any of which could have devastated the small band. He said little during the voyage and less since they’d been on the ship.
Forty seven days ago they’d left the cover of the mainland to find the dark waters of Partha. Apainia hoped that the queen there would have the maps she needed to burn a trail through the new continent and with its subsequent wealth, end the war. Thirty five days into the journey they realized that they’d strayed south of Partha when the ship happened upon a pirate’s refuge with no name. As they glid past the town several ships pursued them. Their escape had left them with a skeleton crew of twelve men and two dogs, but no captain.
“Do you realize how foolish it is to sail without a map in order to find a map?” Hert grumbled, sipping a glass of dark wine.
“This is how maps are made.” She replied.
“We must pull into the next port we see, pirates or no pirates.” Hert said.
“We can’t. Every port south of Partha is riddled with ravenous dogs or cannibals or both.” Bulwer smiled, rotten teeth gleaming in the sun, “I tell you it’s a death sentence to step off this boat anywhere but Partha. Besides, once we get there, the queen will provision us. Like I told you, she owes me one. She never would have set foot in Partha if not for me.”
“Why did you leave?” Martan asked. Hert and Apainia started, they’d thought Martan was asleep.
“Huh?” Bulwer asked.
“Right,” Hert joined in, “why leave this famed paradise if the royalty of said paradise was so indebted to you? Why not stay and live out the rest of your days with a full belly and under beautiful women?”
Bulwer burst into cackling laughter, “What can I say? A man’s got to have adventure in his life.”
He gave Apainia a look that was too knowing, and made her feel completely naked instead of nearly. She managed to pull herself out of her chair and crossed the deck to look out over the water. The waters had been darkening as they approached; she knew they were headed in the right direction. Now it was only a question of which shore they found. If Bulwer was right, they had a narrow area to hit. Partha was a single island surrounded by others that created wild sinkholes and riptides that tended to rip smaller ships apart without the encouragement of a storm. The other islands were teeming with poisonous snakes and rabid predators as well as bogs and caves. The inner island, Partha, was surrounded by dark water but was completely flat, will rolling grasses and fruiting plants unique to the island that could be sold on the mainland for three mountains and a firstborn child. The people there were said to be godless and wild, governed by their own law. Unlike any other island in these waters, Partha had no need to unite to fend off pirates due to the surrounding islands, and so the laws of Partha had shifted with the tides over time. The combination made Partha part paradise, part death trap.