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A Gift of Direction

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Nestled in her favorite spot on the bow of the Golden Colander, Terradha, a Most Extraordinary Radish, reflected on the journey that had brought her to this time, this place, this set of circumstances. Far below the airship, the ocean glimmered with starlight and the faint moonbeams spilling from the crescent slowly heaving itself over the horizon. It was so quiet on the deck that Terradha could hear the faint hum of the magical gears that turned ceaselessly in the engine room and kept the Golden Colander aloft.

Adjusting her goggles and settling them more comfortably atop her head (she didn't need them at night time, under the gentle light of the moon and stars), she leaned a little further over the bow to watch the faint shadow of the ship outlined on the waves below. In only a few short weeks and some tempestuous adventures, she'd gone from stowaway to crew. Before she came to the Colander, she'd been a Radish innocent of the world, shackled into a marriage she never chose. But now, here she was, crossing the wide ocean, on her way to the Isle of Apples. Amazing!

Her former home was now a faint memory. Here on the Colander, she'd found a new home, a home of perpetual motion and adventure. And then, there was Sam. Her Captain, and lately her friend. He was always in her thoughts of late, so much a vital part of the Colander, looking after the crew, encouraging them or comforting them or chiding them as needed, so that they all stood strong together, greater as a whole. Here, she found herself a part of something incredible, something more than family, something she had never even dreamed existed until she met Captain Sam and his crew.

And he was her teacher as well as her captain and friend: he'd taught her how to navigate a course among the turbulent crosswinds of the Radicchio Straits, how to read an airmap, how to draw nourishment from the clouds and the air. He'd taught her trust, a quality that she found embodied in his golden petals and sturdy stems. The tales she'd heard in her childhood always spoke of the viciousness of Golden Samphires, but in Sam, Terradha saw nothing but honor and, in the quieter times, a gentle sweetness. He was no marauder, no matter what the tales said.

But what was she to him? A purple-hued nobody, perhaps; a tiny, round and awkward thing, especially when compared to the graceful, capable first mate, Margol (a Marigold) or the quick-witted Saffron or sturdy Brock. Terradha folded her leaves around herself and huddled there. Well, Sam had given her a place with his crew. She would be a fool, and an ungrateful fool at that, to expect any more than kindness from him, especially after she'd stowed away and brought those bounty-hunting Eggplants down upon them all. But Sam and Saffron and Margol and Brock had all forgiven her and taken her in.

A soft rustling signaled that she was no longer alone. Turning, she saw Sam hovering over her. He motioned for her to keep her seat and settled himself beside her.

"A clear night, Captain," was all she could think of to say.

Sam looked down at her, petals curling up in a fond smile, a brotherly smile, she thought, hoping that she would not turn into a bitter Radish for thinking such bitter thoughts. "It is, that," he said. "We should reach the docks of Avalon before dawn. Who knows what adventures await us there?" His tone was playful, mischievous. "But you should be resting. I need my navigator Radish to be in tip-top shape, if adventures we must have."

"I'm having a wakeful night," she said. "It's been... quite an eventful few weeks. So many changes."

"I know," he replied. "I was thinking about that, actually, and about you."

Startled, she had no reply to offer. He reached beneath a leaf and withdrew a little wooden box. "I found this ages ago in a Cardamom bazaar. It was one of those things you buy in a fit of whimsy - but I think perhaps at the time, I knew without really knowing that I was going to meet someone special who would find herself in need of this." Sam seemed uncharacteristically shy as he placed the little box in her leafy palm.

The box itself was beautiful, crafted of driftwood and bound in delicate brasswork. Upon opening it, Terradha found it contained a tiny brass and gold compass on a fine golden chain. When she held it up, its needle swung unerringly north. "It's so beautiful," she said. "Sam, this is far too beautiful for the likes of me."

"I wouldn't say that at all," he said, his petals curling up again. "I think it suits you. The gold brings out the red in your coloring. But more than that, I like to think that you have something to guide you, should you need a bit of direction."

"Oh?"

"Well," he explained, looking out at the horizon, "when you first popped out of that hatch, stammering out your story, you seemed so lost. And all I could think was, no Plant should be left so friendless and alone as you seemed to be, thrown out into the world with no resources, no direction. And then you threw yourself into learning the navigator's trade with all your heart. Right before my eyes you grew strong and sure of yourself, and now here you are!"

She felt herself blushing from root to stem. "I don't feel strong most of the time," she confessed. "When those Kelp Pirates attacked, I was so scared! But if I'm less the ignorant Radish than I was before, I owe so much of it to you, Sam. You didn't have to teach me, you could have just thrown me off the ship, but you didn't."

He shook his petals. "I can only teach those who are willing to learn. And you have been a more than apt pupil, Terradha. You're a gifted navigator, and you've made yourself a valuable member of my crew. Anyway," he continued, indicating the compass, "I found that tonight when I was cleaning out one of the drawers in my cabin and I thought 'Ah-ha! Here is a useful thing.' Because you can always find your way with a compass." He wrapped a comforting stem around her, and she dared to lean against his leafy side. "I can't promise that you'll never be lost again," he said, "but if you keep that with you, you'll have a chance of finding your way. If I - if we don't find you first."

Touched and flushed and hopeful, she put on the compass necklace. It glittered merrily in the starlight. "Thank you," she said and couldn't find more words than those.

Sam said nothing more, but neither did he remove his stem from around her. Together, they watched the moon rise, waiting for dawn and their next adventure.