Chapter 2 - Beyond, A Shining Sea
Above Lysa Harbour
The boy's face is painted in black and white squares; his clothes are motley rags. Here and there the bright colours are still visible, tags and ties and sequins and lace. His eyes are unmatched – one amber and the other pale milky blue. His hands are soft and smooth, the hands of a child.
Far below him, a wide turquoise bay, crusted with whitewashed buildings, lies draped around the smooth curve of the crystal bay like a coral necklace. Beyond the bay, a shining sea sparkles in the bright sunshine. In the far distance, buffeting the horizon: the Drift.
A brown mouse sits close to the boy's ear. It nibbles a corner of wheat cake, holding each crumb daintily between its tiny forefeet. When it opens its mouth to speak, we see the teeth are broken.
The curved bay clasps the bejewelled ocean like a lover's arm. Small islands stud the bay, tiny emeralds, layered with verdant trees. Ships fill the bay. The burgeoning landscape seems to swell under the boy's gaze, pregnant with possibility and flux.
"So remind me, why are we here?" The mouse brushes a tiny fragment of cake from its whiskers like a London gentleman brushing crumbs from a tailcoat. "You know I like a nice picnic as much as the next, but don't we have more important things to be getting on with?"
It squares its small shoulders and pats its chest with its forefeet, as though straightening imaginary lapels. Its voice, though tiny, carries a distinct cockney twang.
The boy makes no attempt at a reply. Instead, he gazes out to sea. His mismatched eyes absorb everything. The mouse knows better than to ask again; the boy is waiting for something.
The bay is crowded with ships. Trading skiffs from the east lie alongside immense cargo hulks from the Southern Countries, sails painted bright with images from popular stories. Light wooden rafts move among them, transporting crew and supplies from ship to ship and ship to shore. Aboard the ships, hundreds of sailors stand at the rails calling to one another and trading wares.
The mouse surveys the scene with a professional eye. "They're trading directly ship to ship to avoid the revenue. The Ombudsman must be getting lax again. Sailships only, no djinncraft. Not many rich folks this far down the coast. I see a couple of fibre yachts though."
The mouse squints his eyes against the glare from the water. "I say, is that a drowning barge they're bringing out?"
The boy places one finger to his lips. "Hush little mouse."
The mouse, with ill-concealed impatience, ignores the shushing finger. "So why are we here then?"
"You'll have to wait and see," says the boy, munching an apple. When he speaks his voice is full of colour, but if you were to listen very carefully, you might detect a deep sad hue. It is a voice worn thin and old like the motley rags he wears.
In his own time, and with perfect poise, the boy draws back his arm and lofts the apple core out from the cliffs and over the bay. As it tumbles through the air, the apple spins itself into a shining white dove. Something glints at its ankle.
"Nice move." The mouse feigns professional detachment as the dove skims between dark and craggy rocks, slipping through the wind and down the mountainside. White wings flick the air. "Now we're getting somewhere."
The mouse finishes the last crumb and, wiping its whiskers, tracks the bird carefully with bright button eyes. The dove approaches the harbour, barely visible, a tiny white speck tight over the water. It flashes over a pontoon and passes a burned log, perhaps the remains of an ancient tree. Coming in fast and low over the drowning barge, its claws skitter over the tarred black deck. The flash of bright gold on its leg is still visible even at this range.
"Well that ought to set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons," says the mouse, in a voice only the boy can understand.
The wind holds it's breath, expectant. Something is beginning.