In which our protagonists gain their sea legs, and make some surprising discoveries.
The clan elder cautions the cousins that a mercantile clan will expect members to give good account of the resources and clan members entrusted to them. As only Mu’on and Changi have any nautical experience, she suggests a familiarisation cruise along the Mssuma estuary to the south of Jakálla.
The clan has interests in salt pans to the south along the estuary. The cousins are to take the sampan The Flying Sea Serpent collect a load of salt and return it to Jakálla. The clan elder introduces Cho, the Master of the vessel.
The Flying Sea Serpent
A small sampan, 18m long and 4m in the beam, with a single stepped mast and battened sail.There is a covered cargo hold amidships, the fo’csl has the crew quarters, and at the rear is a small cabin with the galley, Master’s quarters and 4 bunks. The crew often sleep in hammocks strung above the deck.
The crew are all members of the clan and are familiar with the river and estuary.
Cho takes the cousins on a small sampan moored by the riverside out to The Flying Sea Serpent, which along with a huge number of vessels rides at anchor in the center of the river.
Wuruli asks where he might set up his painting easel. He is given a spot and told not to get in the way of the crew.
The Flying Sea Serpent sails downriver and crosses the shipping channels to the western bank of the estuary, where it moors off the fishing village of Kali close by the salt pans. There are many vessels in the main channels, but only two come close-in to shore. A sampan carrying ordure to fertilize the fields further along the estuary. A boat with pearl divers makes frequent stops.
There is a old temple inland, so the cousins make a late afternoon detour. They find a Temple to Dlamélish, the Green-eyed Lady of Pleasures. The temple is old and decorated with carved stone panels, worn with age. The usual erotic decorations. One set of panels is unusual, and depicts ships and demons. Perhaps worthy of a more thorough examination later.
The first night is uneventful, though the cousins keep a careful watch.
On the second day Tanic, Changi, Mnela and four of the crew work on gathering and loading the salt. Juyami watches the workers and contemplates the movements on the river. The pearl fishers continue their work. The party working the salt pan finds a disc of an iridescent golden metal. They return to the sampan with the disc and after a quick discussion return to work so as not to draw attention.
The Temple of Dlamélish
After loading the salt, the cousins return to the Temple of Dlamélish.The panels show massive, 5-masted, sea-going junks, daemons and sea-monsters in some cataclysmic conflict on the ocean. And figures armoured from head to foot in unknown styles of armour. Wuruli sketches the junks and daemons. The writing on the panels is not Tsolyánu. There are legends of the empire of the Fishermen Kings around the Southern Ocean. They take rubbings of the writing.
Back on The Flying Sea Serpent they re-examine and discuss the metallic disc. It is an iridescent, golden colour. It is not gold: it is not heavy enough and the colour is wrong. It is 35cm in diameter incredibly light and very stiff. On the disc are engraved 13 concentric circles, each surrounding a series of glyphs. The cousins pool their knowledge but no-one recognises the language of the glyphs.
There is a hole at the center of the disc. Very careful examination of the metal of the central rim shows witness marks; the disc originally had a metallic insert around 30mm diameter. How did the disc get into the salt pans? Was it washed in from the sea bed? Or perhaps lost from a vessel in the estuary? Whatever it is, it is clearly extremely valuable. Is anyone looking for the lost disc? Where is the lost centrepiece? And what does the artefact do? The cousins need to get the mysterious aretfact safely back to the clanhouse.
Again they set watches overnight.
On the Third Day of the Sea Trials
The pearl divers are still working in the estuary. They clearly anchored overnight close in to the salt pans. The cousins wonder if the pearl divers are actually searching for the disc. They notice that the divers are able to remain underwater for longer than expected.
From its registration number the Master says the pearl divers’ sampan is from a port further along the coast, though the registration is at least 5 years old.
The Flying Sea Serpent sails back to Jakálla with its cargo of sea salt, arriving in the early afternoon. The cousins leave the crew to transfer the salt and hit the temples.
In the safety of the Clanhouse The Little Ray of Darkness casts Perception of the Energies on the disc.
“It’s complicated” is her conclusion .. is there some link or connection between the disc and another plane?
In the Temple of Thumis Wuruli and Mnela identify a few glyphs from the disc that are similar to ones on a stelae in Mnnnn. The reference is to a prohibited text. Not a restricted text, which are common enough even in a Temple devoted to knowledge, but a prohibited one. They decide not to push their luck by enquiring further.
Changi determines that the glyphs from the rubbings from the Temple of Dlamélish are classic Engsvanyáli. The temple itself is described in Volume 14 of Temples of the Tsolyáni Imperium, a classic if dated text. The panels describe a fleet that went to the aid of Éngsvan hla Gánga when doom fell upon it and what they found where once the island had risen above the waves. Some of the fleet were swept to another plane and encountered the Silver Suits. The temple was built at the first landfall the fleet made after their return from the inundation, and the Planes Beyond.
Mu’on asks around about the nautical events of the last year. There have been emissaries from overseas to attend upon the new Seal Emperor, and some came via the port of Jakálla. Impressive vessels.
There have also been heavy storms in the last 2-3 months, which have disturbed the coastline of the estuary.
Day 4 of Sea Trials
The Flying Sea Serpent departs Jakálla again for the salt pans. They anchor and continue searching the salt pans, and the margins, gathering salt as a cover. They do not find the missing centrepiece.
Mnela, Wuruli and The Little Ray of Darkness decide to visit the pearl fishing boat. The crew tell them that the master is farming for pearls, and that the sea bed is disturbed. They speak with the master who gives nothing away. The Little Ray of Darkness buys herself some black pearls from the master of the pearl fishers as a cover.
The medically minded cousins (Mnela and Cheshan) observe that the divers have much deeper chests than most Tsolyáni. This would given them greater lung capacity for diving.
Mnela asks at the fishing village who else normally fishes this area? Some boats with the same home port as the pearl fishers, but different masters. There is wrack and driftwood from a ship on the foreshore from the recent storms.
Over supper Wuruli talks to some of the local fishermen. They discuss legends of sea monsters and things with tentacles. There are many, many, stories and legends.
Day 5 of Sea Trials
The Flying Sea Serpent returns to Jakálla with another cargo of salt.
The clan elder has the disc, while the cousins have rubbings of the glyphs.