"The Adventures of Reur" — Part II — June 7, 2012
The stranger was Reur, a Kalkoraen mede. His ancestors had favored him. They had favored him with a nose like a potato, mismatched eyes, a receding hairline despite his 24 winters, bad knees and a curiosity that would have killed the same cat nine times. For every question he answered for himself — and there were few people willing to help him answer the kinds of questions he asked — there were ten more to find answers for.
So when the opportunity came to join the Kalkorae, he signed on. He had learned so much about ships on the way here, and the great albatross that flew ahead of them, and the magnificent, giant whales that stormed up to break the surface, and the mechanics of waves, and the patterns of winds over open sea, and currents, and that was just in the first week of the three month voyage.
The continuing story of Reur, the first mapmaker.
It is a actually a collection of shorter stories that have been arranged chrono-
logically into a saga. It is an example of the Mar mapmaker tradition — any story about the adventures of a reckless and foolish explorer who survives trials through a combination of cleverness, stubborness, and dumb luck.
And when land was in sight, the captain all but fell over himself to offer Reur the opportunity to make landfall first. Reur had been building up the courage to ask the man, whose usual response to him was to yell and scream and threaten to throw the young mede off the ship, but this time, the captain came to him and helped him on the boat and gave him the fully powered belt and sent him on his way. Reur couldn't have been more thankful, even if it was nearly dusk when he set out. It would take most of the night to reach this new land.
More than halfway there, he stopped the boat because he saw something at the sea bottom and wanted to know what it was. Stripping down to just his pants and the belt, he dove into the water, kicking poorly, and bumped his head against the bottom because it was much closer than it had appeared from the surface. An eel flashed before his sight, and he reached out for it, receiving a shock for his efforts. Several more appeared, and each shocked him, so he made a mental note to bring a net next time.
The thing at the sea bottom was a body. Reur, his lungs near to bursting at this point, grabbed the skull and surfaced. He tossed the skull back onto his boat and climbed after it. Then, shivering, he pulled out his tablet and wound it up. Knowledge and Wisdom gathered, and he marked his observations on the tablet, which would store them until he could transfer them to something more permanent.
"The bone structure is very similar to those of medes from home (are these a previous expedition the history books ignored?) High forehead within variation, 12 teeth showing (but several missing, signs of some removed with force), eye sockets within variation, brain cavity within variation. Maybe there was one small ship that tried it, and that's why no one wrote about it.
He put the tablet away as its power faded, and set the ship on course again. Just as the sun was setting, he saw something that must be manmade, far northward up the coast, and set a course for that. Of course, on the way, there was a patch of kelp that he had to examine. The kelp only slightly disappointed him because it was exactly the same as most they had found deeper out in the sea. But this was interesting, because the variance was so small. Reur was a big person for variance.
Night fell, and Reur made notes about the rise of Frovera in first quarter, exactly the same as in his homeland. The star charts weren't any different, either, not outside the variance of what could be expected for their new latitude. All through the voyage, moon rises hadn't been dramatically different from when expected, given a certain amount of time related to the sun. Things were too big, he supposed, and too far away, for any real change. Briefly he considered what it would be like to be on Frovera looking down on Diah, and that amused him for nearly fifteen minutes.
Soon the ship was much closer. In the light of Frovera, Reur could just make out that it was a shallow-depth vessel, suitable for coastal travel but not for deep oceans. A couple of strong swells would capsize it, and a storm would sink it without pause. It had low sides, and eight oars rested in locks on the edges. Toward the back, a tall pole rose, and the lump on the top of it was a lantern, though dimly lit. Reur supposed it was shielded from one or more sides. He wondered if the ship was designed for war, and who manned it, and if the people who manned it were related to the skull he had found, and if so, why his ancestors may have forgotten how to build deep-water vessels. Assuming these were relatives from many hundreds of years ago. His mind twisted this for a while, while his hands were busy writing down those thoughts they could.
Somewhere in there, his small craft bumped up against the hull of the larger vessel, and he started in a small amount of shock as he made out the bones attached all hither thither over the hull and low sides. Even his boat was taller than this thing. They seemed to be human bones. Reur wondered if these were enemies, or ancestors, or sinners, or prisoners, or a previous dinner. He reached out and tugged at one, but it didn't come off. The boat, though, was made mostly of wood. He wound up his tablet again, and scribbled furiously on it.
His ideas temporarily stored, he looked up again in surprise that his boat was farther away from the strange bone ship. Thinking about currents, weight and mass, he guided his boat back in and attached it to the strange ship so it wouldn't sail away. Absently turning on his belt, he stepped down onto the new ship and gasped in surprise and joy.
People! About a dozen rested around the ship, breathing deep and even. Most wore thick beards. All wore leathers and a few had furs. That made sense, as far north as they were, but it was a summer month, so why wear them now? Maybe because these were all their possessions, or maybe they had come from farther north where it might be cold anyway, or maybe this land produced chilly weather all the time. That one didn't make much sense to Reur. Perhaps it was a status symbol. The eight chained to the oars wore less than the rest. Slaves? Reur looked closely at them, and their thick beards and striped backs, and guessed as much. They treated slaves poorly here. Maybe, prisoners? Destined to be bones on the ships? There was no evidence on the ship that anyone had been eaten for dinner.
Most importantly, they didn't look like medes. For one thing, they were larger, by almost a tenth on average. For another, their hair and skin were too fair. For a third, nowhere were their signs of artifacts that could be for magic, except maybe at that pole at the end.
Reur stepped over someone, nearly slipping on the damp deck — there must be a leak somewhere, he thought, or a wave broke over the low sides of this ship — and made his way to the pole. The lantern mostly illuminated down, he saw now, to a small table with a box on it. On top of the box was a figurine of some sort.
The table might be an altar, he thought, and the figurine an idol. Why not? But why do that on a ship? This culture was primitive, if it hadn't discovered magic yet. He felt around the bone-encrusted table. Hmm. Touching the box, he was surprised to feel warmth. There was a grate in the side, and he looked through. Coals burned in there, untended. That was odd, because the box itself was made of wood. A wooden brazier? He made a note. Could wood be made resistant to fire?
He reached out and picked up the figurine, which rattled a little. It was a poorly carved man, with a large head and forehead, in fact it was mostly forehead, and almost no torso. He took out his tablet and started sketching it, so he could compare it to others if he found it. It seemed he could slide the top off and ...
Something in the belt tingled, and he looked down in surprise. Magic? But there was no sign of it. He stepped back and turned, slipped on the wet wood as someone cried out on the ship, and fell into the water as the vessel exploded.
Later, he wished he had thought more clearly when he fell off, so he could have figured out why he survived. The force of the explosion must have blown the ship into a thousand bits, mostly down, which maybe pushed the water and him out of the way, forcing them up to make room for the ship, and so he landed smack again, the ship bits rising beneath him as he entered the water again. Or something like that. But even so, he found himself in the water with his boat destroyed and nothing left of the bone ship he had been on.
Who would have destroyed such an interesting artifact? Reur started swimming toward land, his mind awash with the strangeness of it. Why was there an altar? What was the figurine? Who destroyed the ship? Where had the bones come from? It never crossed his mind if anyone else might have survived, except maybe peripherally: Which man was the captain? What was the culture like if it had slaves? But now, as he swam to shore considering the length of his stroke versus the distance left and turned over on his back to conserve energy, he finally noticed that the ships he had come in on were no where to be seen, even in the half-light of the moon. They must have gone south, he thought. Well, they were supposed to make landfall, so he could wander that way on his way back.
His back scratched against the sea bottom as he got close to shore, so he turned over again and stood up in the water, grinning to himself and staring at the new plants. These were well outside of the variance from home. These were very different plants. This meant the animals would be very different. Oh, how wonderful! Then he noticed the two people watching him.
One was huge, bigger than anyone of the strange ship. He would have towered over Reur's short frame. The other one was closer to his height, but still bigger, and with a deep scowl on his face.
"Hello! Reur said. "I bring greetings from far away. I had gifts, but they were destroyed with my boat. Can you tell me where I am? Or what these plants are? Did you see the ship in the water back there? Can you tell me why it exploded? What do you know about magic? Oh, I think, you can't understand me, can you? Well, that means I probably can't understand you either, but I imagine we can teach each other a language we can understand, yes? So if you could say something, I think we can get along. He paused.
Then they did speak, eyes wide. Reur tried to figure out what they said, but he didn't have much to go on. Then they ran.
"Wait! It's OK, I won't hurt you!
He raced after them, but stopped very quickly when he tripped over a sharp rock and landed on his face in the mud. It tasted terrible, but he scraped some off and looked at it in the light of the moon. Just plain brown mud. He grabbed some leaves from the low bush near him, and wiped his face clean with them.
Then he stood up and followed the broken trail left by the two natives. They had crashed through this forest, leaving little confusion about which way he could go. He heard an animal call in the distance, and he repeated it a few times so he could remember it. Then he entered a clearing, where the shorter of the two men was driving his dagger into the neck of a third person.
His mouth formed into an O of shock as they looked up at him. The murderer said something — it sounded like "fuleson — then pulled the dagger free from the man.
The other man fell over with a loud thud, and Reur rushed to him. Surprisingly, the smaller man did as well, though to bat away Reur's efforts to check the giant's pulse. It looked like he had fainted.
Reur sat back as the smaller man checked the giant with an expert air. He pulled out his tablet and wound it up, making notes. Then he went over to the corpse and examined it, aware of the murderer's eyes watching him. It never crossed his mind that the dagger could be used against him. Maybe, if they had wanted him dead, he would be already.
It had been an expert strike to the neck, and Reur noted that despite the coarseness of their hygiene and clothes, and language, there were some things these people did very well. Killing, for instance. Whoever this man had been, he had had no idea someone was close enough to stab him. His eyes had not even opened when the dagger plunged home.
Finally, as the sun rose, and Reur was feeling tired, the giant woke, and said something to the murderer. The murderer responded, and the giant noticed Reur again. Reur waved and smiled encouragingly, yawning into the back of his hand.
They talked, rapidly, and Reur couldn't quite concentrate on the words. But the last one was fuleson, again, and then the two were kneeling before him.
"Stand up, " he told them. "I won't hurt you. My name is Reur, and I've come to learn everything I can about you and your land.