Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea
- Emily Dickinson
"It's like old times," said Lucy. "Do you remember our voyage to Terebinthia - and Galma and Seven Isles and the Lone Islands?
"Yes," said Susan, "and our great ship, the Splendor Hyaline, with the swan's head at her prow and the carved swan's wings coming back almost to her waist?"
- C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
History would record the Splendor Hyaline as Peter's project, and indeed the process of shipbuilding suited him well. There wasn't a morn that dawned before the High King was already at the newly constructed pier, poring over schematics and planing wood before the day's work truly began. Peter loved building things, and in truth nearly every new construction in Narnia justly bore his name. The road to Archenland, the ferry at the Fords of Beruna, the aqueduct from the northern slopes to the drought-prone southern flatlands – all were Peter's, and all held a single stone engraved with the two-tiered crown that was his royal symbol.
But for all the time that he spent with the Galman shipbuilders, the Beavers and Otters, Mermaids and Mermen, the Splendor Hyaline did not bear Peter's sigil on her graceful bow. Nor did it carry Edmund's balanced scales (although he spent nearly as much time at the shipyard as his brother) nor even Lucy's shining heart, even though the very idea of a Narnian ship had been conceived for love of her.
History may not remember it, but the Splendor Hyaline and the carven, gold-painted sigil she bore – the palm of an outward facing hand raised as if in greeting or warning – they were Susan's.
For the raven-haired ruler, so-called Barbarian Queen of the North, had ever been both Gentle and firm, welcoming and unyielding, as stately and wild as the sea herself. She would not be remembered as a warrior or explorer, although she had been both. Her legacy would be writ in ink and song, but also in the curve of bow and wave and the faint line where sea met sky. And history mattered little to the sea.
Truthfully, it was something of a relief to Susan that the full story would not be told throughout the ages. Adventures by nature were not terribly dignified, and the genesis of Narnian shipbuilding was even less so than most.
Naturally, as all adventures seemed to do, this one began with Lucy.
After watching her sister slip away after breakfast every morning for weeks, Susan followed her. She found Lucy barefoot (which was no surprise) on the golden sands, scrambling among windworn rocks and laughing spray.
"My feet itch," she explained with a rueful laugh.
Susan placed her own slippers carefully on a flat rock and waded out to join her sister. "It's spring, and we have no travels planned," she said in quiet understanding.
"It's not just that." Lucy skipped a stone out to sea; a floating Otter snagged it mid-skip and waved in thanks before gleefully putting it to use cracking mussels. Lucy waved back.
"You do seem… restless."
"More so than usual, you mean?" Lucy grinned, but her mirth faded quickly. "It just seems the world is getting so small," Lucy confessed. "And now with Peter's roads and bridges – all very good things," she hastened to add, "but everything is getting closer together. Even the Western Wild is… well, it doesn't seem as wild as it used to be."
We've grown up, thought Susan, but she remained silent. She too had felt the world constricting around her, but instead of roads and bridges, it was scented letters and sly looks and tittering princesses and courtiers looking down their noses at the Barbarian Queen of the North…
It had been a long time since Susan had looked forward to a journey.
"I do wonder what's out there," Lucy sighed wistfully.
The wind stirred Susan's hair, teasing strands out of her braid. Susan bit her lip. She would not run away from her duties, not for her own sake, but… The thought of Lucy, demure and diminished and confined to a world smaller than her dreams – it was not to be borne.
"We could stow away on the Galman ship," Susan jested, half-expecting Lucy would take her seriously.
"Or commandeer it!" Lucy laughed. Her eyes sparkled with a little too much enthusiasm.
"Or," said Susan, and stopped. There were so many other priorities. Funds were sorely limited. They had to equip a caravan for trade along the Sunthatched Road to Calormen. The eastern granaries should be expanded, and the castle roof could use repairs…
"Or?" prompted Lucy.
"We could build a ship."
It was not that simple, of course. Being Queen was not sufficient to procure the much-needed expertise and supplies; negotiations were a tedious but necessary evil. Fortunately, the Galmans were not only superb shipbuilders but also had a taste for Narnian wine. The two nations exchanged delegations of vintners for shipbuilders, and construction of a small but serviceable vessel proceeded apace.
It took the Galmans a while to become accustomed to Lucy. Alarmed at first, they entreated her not to climb through the half-constructed hull. Later, they indulgently watched her scale the mast and rigging. Susan suspected they took bets on how quickly she could reach the crow's nest. The Crows that perched at the top of the mast were probably the bookmakers; Susan preferred not to inquire.
With her sister drawing harmless attention, Susan was free to study the plans, tidal charts and navigational tools. From time to time, her brothers joined her; Peter loved carpentry and Edmund loved maps, and of course Lucy was a force of nature unto herself, but Susan's daily presence at the fledgling shipyard flummoxed the Galmans. Why would a woman be interested in such things, they muttered among themselves – and muttered other things, too, that Susan coolly ignored until they began muttering while looking at Lucy from below.
A quiet conversation and a well-placed arrow on a conveniently man-shaped practice target soon put an end to that.
Her pointed remarks had the fortuitous side effect of spurring the Galmans to greater speed, helped of course by a veritable army of Narnians. Otters dove beneath the keel to check for leaks; Red Dwarves forged anchor and chains; Fauns and Dryads coaxed the wood to bend and cure and join water-tight; Beavers felled and stripped tall, straight aspens for the foremast. And the Wolves of the Watch, who stood constant guard over their Queens and Kings, acquired a taste for fish.
By summer, the schooner Foxfire was deemed seaworthy. And that was when the whole project ran aground.
The Galman sailors upon whom so much depended balked at the idea of taking a woman aboard – let alone taking orders from one.
"Bad luck," grunted Kraenen, a weatherbeaten old man with hands gnarled like oak branches and a face like a stump. While not the head of the Galman delegation, he was one of their most experienced seamen, and Susan had counted on his guidance for their maiden voyage. She and Lucy had even discussed naming him captain, but now she wondered whether he would accept the honor if bestowed by a mere woman. As Kraenen put it, "Womenfolk don't belong at sea."
"But we've been here all along," exclaimed Susan in exasperation, trying to keep a rein on her temper. "This is Our project, and part of Our bargain with your guildmasters. My sister Queen Lucy and I are to sail with you." Her tone brooked no argument, but Kraenen shook his head.
"That's as may be," he said stubbornly, "but I aren't putting out of harbor with no woman, even if she be a queen. Even if she be two queens." His accent grew stronger in proportion with his agitation.
"Why not?" interrupted Lucy. For once, she was the calm one.
"The Sea's a jealous woman." Kraenen touched his bent, swollen fingers to his heart, tapped twice, turned his head and spat. "She can't abide no other."
Stymied, Susan drew Lucy aside. "Perhaps if you go with Edmund," she suggested in a low voice. "They might accept that. Or with Peter, if it's only a short voyage. Just long enough for our crew to learn." Peter would not thank her for volunteering His Royal Most Seasick Self for the Foxfire's maiden voyage. He may have loved the process of shipbuilding, but Peter hated boats – at least once they were in the water. The rocking motion of the sea that Susan found so soothing upset her brother's normally stalwart constitution. She had seen him eat the Black Dwarves' heavily spiced cooking without ill effect, but even a day's journey along the coast would likely make the High King lose his lunch.
Fortunately for Peter, Lucy was adamant. "This is our voyage, Susan. You adore the sea. You must come with me. We simply need to find sailors who are less…"
"I was going to say hidebound, but yours is more diplomatic, as always." Lucy grinned. "Come on, Susan. Let's go recruiting!"
Unfortunately, as Susan and Lucy soon discovered, the Galmans had a great many traditions.
They would not sail with a woman, which extended to Nymphs and Dryads. They would not allow a goat on board, which meant no Fauns or Satyrs. Some Seabirds were bad luck; so were some mammals, especially if their fur was white – which put Starthroat the Wolf in such a temper that her mate, Frostfoot, volunteered to guard the ship at night rather than sleep on shore. Susan wondered if that particular superstition was a relic of the Witch's Winter. At times she feared it would take another hundred years before the other countries would trust Narnia again.
First Lucy, and then Susan, and finally Peter asked Kraenen to captain the new Narnian ship. The stubborn, stump-faced Galman refused every time. Lucy entreated him. Kraenen spat in the sand. Susan reasoned with him; he spat farther. Peter attempted to order Kraenen to take the post, which Susan could have told her brother was precisely the wrong way of going about it. At that, Kraenen swore a blue streak that he would never set foot on the ship if women were aboard. "Never happen," he grunted. "I'd have to have landlock of the brain."
It was maddening.
In the end, a brash youth called Sendaar volunteered himself for the post of Captain, and that broke the logjam, for it turned out that Kraenen could not abide the thought of a job done poorly – and Sendaar was as feckless a youth as Susan had ever encountered.
After all, it had taken only a few flattering words and fluttering eyelashes to induce the boy to apply for the post in the first place.
It had been Edmund's idea for Susan to use what he called her feminine wiles. (As Peter would say, it wasn't quite cricket, although none of them knew any longer what insects had to do with fair play.) In any case, it worked.
"No land-drunk, legless boy will be captain of so much as a dinghy on my watch," censured Kraenen. "He'd light the pitch for tallow and set the whole ship ablaze and sink 'er in the harbor by sundown. He don't know stern from arse. His luck and looks won't keep the ship afloat, 'specially with woman and goats and dogs and them tree-things aboard."
Susan listened patiently to his rantings and grumblings and, finally, assented regally to his application for the post of captain.
"Wait now," Kraenen protested weakly. "I warn't saying–"
"You may choose your crew, of course," Susan interrupted smoothly. "Although I do insist upon at least half a complement of Narnians, so that Our people may learn the skills of the sea and depend less upon your worthy guildmembers for such simple voyages."
"Well. Hrmph." Kraenen scratched his chin and scowled. "I suppose ye'll be wanting to sail the morrow?"
"In a fortnight," said Susan graciously. "At your discretion, of course, Captain."
"Hrmph." Kraenen's scowl did not lessen, but his clenched fists unknotted a little at Susan's deferential nod.
"The Gentle Queen makes another conquest," whispered Lucy when Kraenen turned away.
Susan did not deign to respond.
To Queen Susan of Narnia, Flower of the North, greetings.
Truly have the poets said that seeds blown on the wind bear the sweetest fruit in other lands. Since our meeting, Most Gentle Queen, my heart has not been quiet. My ears listen for every murmur of thy name. My eyes seek thy gracious form among the gardens of my Father the Tisroc, may he live forever, but even his prized flowers pale against the memory of thy beauty in the fertile ground of my mind.
Hast thou given thought to the offer I made when last we met?
Should this humble letter find favor in your heart, thou has only to send word. As the hawk flies to the Tarkaan, so shall I answer thy call.
Prince Rabadash, First Son of Astiado Tisroc, may he live forever
To: Representative of the Crown of Narnia in the Lone Island Protectorate
Copied: Dockmaster, Felimath Harbor, Lone Islands
From: New Free Shipping Coalition of Terebinthia
Subj: Equitable tariffs on woven and dry goods
Esteemed sir/madam/Black Dwarf,
It has come to our attention that woven and dry goods proceeding from Terebinthia (see: Appendix A, Import/Export) and passing through the port of Felimath (see: Appendix B, Inventory) are subject to a sliding scale tariff (see: Appendix C, Duties Paid) not proportionate to the value of goods received.
The government of Terebinthia having the majority of its concerns in forged goods and fish, we the independent guild members of Weavers, Basketmakers, Millers, etc., etc., propose a fair and equitable reevaluation of the standing Agreement (see: Appendix D, Agreement) according to the attached Terms and Conditions (Appendix E). In order to determine the aforementioned fair and equitable Agreement that shall be beneficial to all parties, we propose a meeting, which we hope may be of like minds. Send word by return ship via the Dockmaster at Felimath Harbor, whose discretion is well-known…
They put to sea eight short days later, for the Captain's discretion depended on the tide. Against all expectations, Kraenen had chosen a Narnian Satyr for his first mate. Equally surly in temperament and capable of drinking equally alarming quantities of wine, the two seemed perfectly matched in personality. Burl the Satyr possessed a singularly salty vocabularly; Susan would not have been at all surprised to learn that was one of Kraenen's key criteria. The Captain and First Goat (as Kraenen scornfully called him) seemed perfectly delighted at the prospect of exchanging insults over the course of the ensuing voyage. Susan sighed inwardly, for Lucy's manners were certain to suffer as a result.
Of course, Susan was not entirely against the idea of expanding one's vocabulary.
Fully half the ship's crew were Galman, including the youth Sendaar who, Susan was dismayed to see, had the audacity to wink at her as he boarded. She bit back a choice word of her own.
"Don't worry, Your Majesty." Frostfoot trotted up to Susan, lifting his tail proudly. "I'll make sure he stays away from you."
Alarmed, Susan crouched swiftly to look the Wolf in the eye. At this display of dominance, his tail lowered. "You will do no such thing," she commanded. "You are here as a member of the Watch, not my own personal chaperone."
Frostfoot's head cocked in confusion. Susan sighed. It would do the Wolf good to expand his vocabulary, she thought sourly.
"Pardon me, Majesty." Starthroat inserted herself between her mate and her Queen. "It means you're not to follow her around like a pup," the white-furred Wolf explained. "Now go check the perimeter. We don't want any stowaways."
Commander and founding member of the Watch, Starthroat had known Susan since the End of Winter. Susan had been determined to include her old friend on the voyage, and of course Frostfoot had managed to include himself as well. (Lucy's favorite companion, a large and gentle Bear, was deemed too heavy – and his shoulders too wide – for the narrow corridors belowdecks.)
"What's our mission, Majesty?" Starthroat pitched her voice low. "A maiden voyage does not need the Watch. Why are we here? Is there danger?"
After all these years, Susan shouldn't have been surprised at the Wolf's acumen. "It is a possibility," she allowed. She lowered her voice. "We have received messages from a faction calling itself the New Free Shipping Coalition of Terebinthia. It could be legitimate, but…"
"The Gulls bring rumors of piracy in the Bight of Calormen," said Starthroat.
Susan nodded. "It could be a ploy, yes; the entire Coalition might be a front for pirates. Else…" Susan leaned forward. "I don't believe it has anything to do with piracy. I believe the Coalition may be an indirect overture from Calormen itself. The Tisroc will not live forever. One of his sons may be reaching out to us for an informal meeting. The timing of the letters suggests…" she trailed off and flushed. "What I mean is, we might have an opportunity to establish cordial diplomatic relations now."
"Then, when the Tisroc dies, we could relax the Watch on the Southern border." Starthroat's tail wagged slowly.
"And reinforce the Northern Watch against Ettinsmoor," Susan agreed.
"It would be quite a feat if we can accomplish it."
"And quite dangerous if I am mistaken," Susan admitted. "Edmund disagrees with me. He believes it is internal politics – dissent in Terebinthia – and that we ought not get involved."
"Edmund sees conspiracy everywhere," Lucy's cheerful voice interrupted. "What are we conspiring about now?" Startled, Susan stared at her sister, who had flopped down on the deck beside her. "Are you talking about our secret mission without me?"
Susan recovered her voice. "Did Edmund tell you?"
"He didn't have to." Affronted, Lucy poked Susan in the side. "Just because I do not like these political games does not mean I am ignorant of them," she scolded lightly.
Impulsively, Susan hugged her. "I am sorry, Lu, for ruining our first voyage with spycraft."
Lucy laughed. "Don't be! I'm sure it will all be marvelous fun."
That was when Susan felt the first stirrings of misgiving. Lucy's idea of fun was not always… safe.
"You there!" roared Kraenen. Both Queens jumped. "Make yourselves useful or get belowdecks."
"Aye, Captain!" Lucy jumped up and raced for the rigging with glee.
Susan and Kraenen eyed each other like wolves vying for dominance. Susan gave way gracefully with a polite smile. "As you say, Captain." She might sail under this man's command, but she refused to say aye.
Harried and encouraged by Gulls at turns, the Foxfire slipped out of the natural harbor and out from under the shadow of Cair Paravel. Susan's spirits lifted with the breeze. The captain shouted (echoed even more profanely by Burl), the crew heaved at the ropes, and the sails snapped and filled in the wind. Susan lifted her face to better feel the sea air.
From the bow, Lucy called out, "Isn't it marvelous?"
Even the dour Galmans were grinning – except for Sendaar, who was sulking in the crow's nest. Susan surreptitiously adjusted her gown, hoping he could not take advantage of his position. She thought of asking one of the Gulls, but they would be bewildered by the thought of clothing, let alone cleavage. Susan sighed. She had really hoped to leave that sort of nonsense behind for the voyage.
"Bear away," called Kraenen.
"Belay that!" bellowed Burl. "Keep 'er close-hauled!"
On hearing his order countermanded, Kraenen whirled on the Satyr, his craggy face turning red at the audacity. Before he could open his mouth, Burl hurriedly explained. "The wind swirls, sir. She'll luff until we're free of the cliffs."
Kraenen scowled. "I suppose a bloody mermaid told you that."
Burl grinned. "No. Birds." He pointed at the flock of Gulls wheeling overhead. Susan smirked to herself as Kraenen walked away grumbling. Surreptitiously, she saluted the Satyr, who bounded away after the Captain with a clatter of hooves.
The new timbers creaked, the sails billowed and caught the wind, and the Foxfire leaped forward into the waves.
They were underway.