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Winds of Change

Winds of Change

NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Gale's Storyline.

     There was a song in Gale’s soul and a smile on her lips as she leapt nimbly up onto the seaside quay. Her movements were so fluid and fleet that she was practically dancing as she wove her way through the bustling crowd to the mouth of the harbor, where a row of tall ships lay temptingly at anchor. Her strides were long, and her footsteps light. She could feel her heart beating in duple-time. The scent of brine filled her lungs. The sun felt warm on her skin.

     For the first time in a long time, Gale felt as though she were in her element – as though she were where she was meant to be.

     She felt vibrant.

     She felt alive.

     She felt whole, and complete, and full of music, and she let the sights and sounds and smells of the sea come flooding into her like a tidal wave of pure and sensual pleasure, until she felt as though she might burst from the sheer ecstasy of it all.

     She could see towering mainmasts rising up into the high, cerulean sky, as though the ships themselves longed to kiss the heavens, where their indigo-dyed moonrakers caught and filtered the summer sun like panes of stained glass. Down along the bustling docks, merchants wrapped in brightly-colored silks bartered tirelessly with sunburnt traders, while sweat-soaked shoremen labored in their midst, naked from the waist up, singing and swearing as they hauled on ropes and mended nets and rolled barrels down ramps, so that the rough talk of sailors peppered the moneyed rhythms of commerce. Gale’s pulse quickened as she gazed out across a turquoise ocean so clear and so blue that it seemed to just melt away into the beckoning horizon, as though, off in the vanishing distance, both sky and sea became one. All the while, overhead, green-billed and rainbow-tailed birds of paradise shimmered iridescent in the sky, where they flew in long, languid loops atop warm, wavy updrafts, before gliding back ashore to roost atop the canopies of sinuously-bowed coconut palms.

     Save for those soaring birds, the sky was clear as crystal, and almost as still, with only the barest hint of a breeze to set the palm fronds rustling and unfurled sails rippling. From her spot on the quay, Gale could hear the whispering wind, and she could sense that it was waiting, waiting for her. She could hear it holding a single, soft, steady note, which she felt reverberating through the very fiber of her being, and she knew that the wind was keeping time for her, waiting for her soprano voice to break the silence, to lead it in a new song – a song that had never been sung before.

     The possibility Gale felt in that moment was powerfully, magically seductive, and she would have given anything just to bottle it, just to savor it for even a second longer. So she closed her eyes, and she inhaled deeply, and she drank in the world around her.

     She smelled salt. She smelled seafoam. She smelled drifting sargasso. She smelled wet canvas sails spread out to dry in the sun. She smelled myriad spices, and the perfumed traders who sifted them through their fingers and haggled over price. She smelled fish heads and oyster shells growing ripe beneath the boardwalk, and she listened to the screeching of the gulls as they fought for their suppers.

     Beneath her feet, she could hear waves lapping gently against barnacle-clad pilings. Further down the pier, she could hear ship’s lines moaning softly as they tugged against their moorings. And, from somewhere close by, in the darkened cellar of a grog house, she could hear heavy tankards clink, and drunken men laugh, while a concertina played.

     Above all else, though, Gale heard the soft, sultry song of the sea. It ran through the dockside soundscape like a unifying lyrical thread, pulling all the component sounds of maritime life into harmony with its ebb-and-flow rhythm, and Gale stood there at the center of it all, as though she were the conductor of this windborne symphony.

     Gale opened her eyes then, and, just for the pure joy of it, she spun once on the balls of her feet. It was all she could do to keep from bursting into song.

     The music-filled world that she had wandered to wasn’t her home. But it was everything else she longed for.

     It had azure seas. It had high, blue skies. It had white sand, and warm winds.

     And it had ships.

     Once she had recovered from the shock of finding herself delivered from her purgatory on silent, soulless Wreth and transported to this new, and blue, and beautiful world, she had dried the tears of joy from her eyes, and she had sung out to the wind and the waves, introducing herself to them, baring her soul to them, and begging them to take her into their arms. And they had done so, embracing her as their own, welcoming her voice into their chorus, and joining her song with theirs.

     The sky and the sea on this world spoke with strange and exotic accents, and Gale had enjoyed the sensation of learning their language. She had toyed with them, played with them, even teased them at times, singing point to their counterpoint until she grew attuned to how their words felt on her tongue, how their rhythms felt reverberating up and down her body.

     Then she had asked them where ships could be found, and they had told her.

     They had led her down a long and winding cape, and they had brought her to the bustling port where she now stood, surveying the line of tall ships that lay anchored at harbor. The diversity of ships on display was impressive, ranging from small, square-rigged sloops that hugged the sea’s surface, all the way up to great, five-masted schooners that reigned over the ocean like empresses of the deep, bedecked in sailcloth in place of silk shawls, and festooned with footropes that hung from their spars like strings of pearls.

     There was not a poor ship among the lot, and Gale took her time to admire the finer points of each.

     But, from the very first moment that Gale’s eyes had caught sight of the sleek, sharp-lined clipper ship that lay moored at the pier’s end, she had known from the very bottom of her heart that this was the ship aboard which she longed to sail.

     The clipper was an object of beauty. She was built for speed, with her body drawn-out and fine-lined as it moved forward, so that it would clip along the very tops of the waves. Her bow curved up into a lengthened prow that was tipped with an exquisitely-carved figure of a siren, bare-breasted and arch-backed, with golden hair and aquamarine eyes. The ship grew broader further aft, flaring-out into a sharply-raked stern with almost no tumblehome, which Gale knew would stay buoyant amidst even the heaviest seas. The foremast had been set back as far as was possible, trading maneuverability for speed, and the mainmast soared more than two-score fathoms high, with a mizzenmast that was nearly as tall.

     Closing her eyes, Gale brushed her fingertips across the clipper’s curved flank with a tenderness that bordered on reverence, and she felt as though she could sense the ship stir beneath her touch.

     “She’s a good-looking ship, isn’t she?” came a voice from behind Gale. It was a man’s voice, weathered and well-traveled, and it seemed to drift into her reverie like the half-remembered words of a dream.

     “She’s a thing of rare beauty,” Gale said, half-whispering her reply.

     Opening her eyes, Gale turned around to look at the man who had spoken to her, to put a face to his voice. His was a face that had seen countless years at sea, with deeply-tanned skin and wind-burnt cheeks. It was crowned with salt-and-pepper hair – still more pepper than salt – and accented with a neatly-trimmed beard. The man had full lips beneath a sleek, aquiline nose, and, when he smiled, he showed his good teeth. He stood broad-shouldered and solidly-built, with brass buttons on his vest and matching buckles on his boots, and he wore a tooled leather patch over his right eye, which seemed to suit him.

     Even if Gale hadn’t seen the braids of rank on his shoulders, she would have known just from the way the man carried himself that he was captain of his ship.

     “She’s yours, I take it?” Gale asked, patting the clipper’s side.

     The man nodded.

     “What does she carry?”

     “Black tea, and green pepperberries, and good silk.”

     “And does she have a name?”

     “She does,” the captain said. “Blazing Star.”

     “Blazing Star,” Gale whispered back, feeling her pulse quicken as she did, and the first notes of a new song beginning to stir deep within her. “That’s a good name. A fast name.”

     “A fast name for a fast ship.”

     “How fast do you take her?”

     “With a fair wind, she’ll make eighteen knots.”

     Gale exhaled slowly, feeling the power of the ship beneath her fingertips.

     “She can go faster,” Gale said. “I can take her faster.”

     At that, the captain arched one eyebrow, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Suddenly, Gale could feel him regarding her minutely, appraisingly, sizing her up from head-to-toe, as though his gaze could mark her depths.

     “Have you sailed on a clipper before?” the captain asked. He framed the question as a challenge, but his tone betrayed curiosity.

     “I have,” Gale said. “But that was a long time ago, and very far from here.”

     She did not try to explain just how far, because it could not be explained. She just stood tall and straight, with her hands on her hips, and she held the captain’s gaze.

     The captain nodded his head slightly, but did not uncross his arms. “Tell me about the last ship you crewed, then,” he said. “What was her name, and who was her captain?”

     “She was a fishing boat, called the Autumn Crane, and her captain was a man called Lonnell,” Gale said.

     Gale had wanted desperately to lie, to tell the captain instead about the years she had spent helming the single-masted cutter that she had loved like a sister. But her sense of honor would not permit her to misrepresent her service to a fellow sailor, no matter how desperate her need, or how worthy her reason.

     Again, the captain raised one eyebrow, and tilted his head slightly to one side.

     “I don’t believe I know that man, Lonnell,” he said. “Should I?”

     “I would not think it likely,” Gale said, her voice suddenly distant and low. “The waters he plies are far from here.”

     “Name me a captain of yours who I would know, then.”

     For a moment, Gale hesitated. She could feel the song that had been stirring inside her starting to quiet, to slip away, and she clung desperately to the strains of its fading melody.

     “I cannot,” she said, quietly.

     The captain gave his head a skeptical shake, and he again looked Gale up and down, as if struggling to take her measure.

     “You ask a great deal of trust from me,” he said, “presenting yourself to me as you do, but offering no reference. I seldom take on hands without the word of someone I trust to vouch for them.”

     Had Gale been on her own world, she would have untied the laces of her shirt, and let its fabric fall down to her waist, so that the captain could examine her marks. He would have seen the good ink upon her skin, and he would have known her merit. For Gale’s marks told the story of her life at sea. Her body itself bore honest witness.

     But Gale knew that her marks held no such meaning to the captain who stood before her, questioning her skill as a sailor. They would be a curiosity to him, but nothing more. And that knowledge cut sharper than any knife.

     All she could do was look the captain squarely in the eye, and tell him: “I know my ropes.” So she did.

     If her marks could not speak for her, then she would have to speak for herself.

     The captain regarded her for a long time, and the look on his face was one Gale could not read. Then, slowly, he uncrossed his arms, letting them fall to his sides. He sighed, and shook his head.

     “Even if I wanted to take a chance on a stranger with no one to speak for her – and I think that I do, because, in spite of my own better judgment, I think I might like you,” he said, offering Gale a wink as he did, “my ship’s fully-crewed for the next three voyages. I have no shares to offer.”

     The captain turned his back on her then, as if to walk away, so Gale seized him around the arm. She could feel him tense in response, but she would not release her grip, and she moved round to stand in front of him so that she could look him in his eye as she spoke.

     “Please,” she said, “I beg you, let me sail aboard your ship.” The desperation in her voice was real, and raw, and she did not try to hide it. “I ask only for a hammock and rations. I’ll take no share, and I will do anything you ask of me. I will scrub the decks to shining. I will take the watch every night. I will work until my fingers bleed, and you will hear no complaint from me.” Gale released the captain’s arm, then, but she held his gaze, and she willed him to understand. She willed him to understand with every fiber of her being. “Let me sail aboard your ship,” she said, “and you will have no regrets. For that, I give you my word – one sailor to another.”

     For a long, terrible moment, the captain just stared at her, his eye impassive, his expression unreadable. Then, finally, he nodded his head, and a small smile appeared around the edges of his broad face.

     “Very well,” he said. “As one sailor to another, I accept. I’ll take you on a trial basis, and we’ll see just how well you know your ropes. But you’ll work for a half-share – no one serves aboard my ship without pay. I’m the captain of a ship, not the leader of a press gang.”

     Gale nodded emphatically. The money was irrelevant to her, but she had no wish to begin her new posting by giving her captain offense.

     “Understand that means I’ll be paying you out of my own share,” the captain said. “So don’t let me down.”

     He extended his hand, which Gale shook with so much force that it made the bearded man start.

     “I won’t,” Gale said.

     “It feels like introductions are in order,” the captain said. “I’m Vasco. And you?”

     “They call me Gale.”

     “Welcome aboard the Blazing Star, Gale.” And the captain patted the painted hull of his ship.

     “With your permission, I’d like to go aboard now,” Gale said. With every rising, drum-like heartbeat, she could feel the sea’s music surging up within her, growing and growing, so that it begged to turn her whole body into an instrument, and she longed to lend her voice to its siren’s song. “I’d like to get to know your ship, to feel her decks beneath my feet. I’d like to stand at her bow, and feel the wind on my face.”

     The captain laughed, and shook his head.

     “Look around you,” he said, gesturing to the sea of slackened sails that dotted the harbor. “The coast is becalmed down the whole length of the cape. We haven’t had a wind to sail by in days.”

     Gale listened to what the captain had said, and, in response, she simply smiled.

     Then she closed her eyes, and, beneath her breath, she whispered seven quiet words to the waiting wind.

     “I have a new song to sing,” she said.

     No sooner had Gale’s words left her lips than she felt a warm zephyr kiss her cheek, and the trade winds began to swirl. In an instant, they straightened and freshened, growing into steady, westerly gusts that whipped the waves to whitecaps and set the Blazing Star’s sails billowing.

     “Winds change,” Gale said to her stunned, slack-mouthed captain.

     Then she climbed aboard her new ship.

"Winds of Change" by OrcishLibrarian was originally published as part of the Expanded Multiverse project.

To learn more, and to read more Expanded Multiverse stories, please visit the Expanded Multiverse forum at No Goblins Allowed.

Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use. 

All works copyright their respective creators.

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