“While the organization required was enormous and the complications in execution many, the central idea of the Concord Army was a simple one: either we all won together, or we all perished together.”
-General Perion Byrne, Lord Commander of the Concord Army
I was in the hold of the Nostrus Turus, helping a couple of the ship’s crewmen stow away some empty water barrels and pull fresh ones from our dwindling supply when I heard the cry of “Land!” from the watcher above us at the prow of the ship. I gave the empty cask I was pushing one last shove, butting it up against the others, and then nodded to the crewmen and dashed back to the ladder at the rear of the hold and climbed up onto the deck.
Already, the top deck of the forecastle was filling with soldiers and sailors looking to catch a glimpse. I rushed to the side rail, leaning out to duck my head under the forecastle’s wider deck. From this distance, all that could be seen was a thin line of white and green on the horizon.
I heard and felt the thump of boots on the railing behind me. Looking back, I could see that Maricius had jumped up on the rail and was now leaning out off the side of the ship, hanging out from one of the stay ropes that ran from the rail all the way up to the mast. He looked down at me, grinning. “No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old,” he said to me in Euphenti.
“It certainly isn’t old for me,” I responded, also in Euphenti. “We pig farmers don’t get out much.”
Maricius laughed, and jumped down from the rail. Calling myself and the other Tillish on the ship ‘pig farmers’ had becoming something of a running joke between myself and a few members of the Turus‘ Euphentine crew, Maricius included. It had started on my fifth day on the ship, just as the vessel reached the end of the channel between the southern coast of Happslund and the island of Grardhom, when I’d overheard them joking about us.
“No, seriously,” Maricius had said in his native tongue, a language he obviously believed we didn’t understand, “I’ve heard that the philosophers say a man becomes what he consumes, and the Tillish obviously raise nothing but pigs!”
The sailors sitting with Maricius had laughed. I’d rolled my eyes and tried to concentrate on getting the knots on my hammock tight enough, tried not to let it get on my nerves. It wasn’t easy; Oskar and I hadn’t said more than two words to each other since we’d left Kintinvale, and with Bat tied up in planning with Sir Hagan, Ran being more or less continuously sick off the side of the ship, and most of the other boys and soldiers off in their own groups I hadn’t really spoken to anyone in almost a week.
It might have ended there, but then Maricius had gestured toward me with a bowl of the stewed mutton that was that evening’s meal. “This one, in particular, he’s obviously fat as one, got a pig’s round belly. I wonder if they’re all dumb like pigs, too?”
I’d dropped the end of the hammock, turned on my heel, and started marching toward him. He nodded to me, still laughing as I approached, but his face shifted to confusion and worry as I kept moving forward, not stopping until I was right up next to him.
He stood up, turning to face me. He seemed intimidated, and reasonably so; he was broad-shouldered and tall compared to most of the other members of the ship’s crew, but I still stood a full foot taller than he did, my head scraping the boards that held up the deck above, and I probably weighed half again as much as him.
“Is there a problem?” he’d asked me, in passable but heavily accented Tillish.
I’d raised my eyebrows at him. “Problem?” I asked in Tillish, and then in Euphenti I said, “No, no problem. But I have seen my share of pigs, and they’re smarter animals than you’d think. For example, they know when to be quiet when there might be danger around.” I glanced down at the bowl in his hands. “Unlike sheep.”
The room had erupted in cheers and laughter from the sailors. Maricius had held up his hands and apologized, surrendering to my ‘superior pig knowlege’. For the rest of the evening I’d sat with the sailors, sharing stories from Cantlay and hearing tales and jokes from half the world over, it seemed.
The next day, the ship had left the channel and headed out into open ocean, and the wind had shifted from a westerly direction to blowing north, directly against our direction of travel. Sir Hagan had split us into shifts and had us join the crew in manning the ship’s oars, and I’d discovered that I’d been a fool to believe that a full day’s hard march was the most exhausting thing a man could do.
Still, I had a little time between my shifts on the oars and my time fast asleep in the hammock, and with Oskar on an opposite shift to mine and Ran still constantly queasy and in no mood for conversation I found myself taking meals and talking further with Maricius and the other sailors. My Euphenti vocabulary improved, mostly in the areas of bawdy songs and lewd jokes, and I learned the the names of alcoholic drinks from Escana, Preyant and the Ursane States and how to say ‘pub’ and ‘piss off’ and ‘give us a kiss’ in half a dozen other tongues as well.
About a week ago the wind had shifted and the sails had been raised, freeing us from rowing duty. I’d been glad for the respite, but while Ran’s stomach had improved and Oskar and I were now awake at the same times, I’d still ended up spending my time finding odd jobs to do about the ship.
Maricius clapped me on the shoulder, pointing toward the distant coastline with his other hand. “Imagine you’ll be happy to be back on dry land.”
I nodded, though I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt. Certainly it would be good to have a meal that wasn’t twice-baked bread and salted meat again, to sleep on solid ground and warm myself by a fire, but I knew that going back to land meant going back to battle, back to more of the kinds of things that seemed burned into my memory. That boy from Wollen dropping like a stone over the edge of the cliff. Blinding-bright strokes of lightning flashing down into the men in front of me. Kellan’s leg, black and bloated as the physician cut away the cloth of his trousers.
Behind us, from the rear of the ship, the Euphentine captain shouted to the sailors to get back to work, and Sir Hagan called out in Tillish to pack up and make ready to head out. Maricius gave me a knowing look and then rushed off, shouting something about a line needing to be tied up, and I made my way back down into the belly of the ship.