The little skiff floated out into the Murkenmere.
“See?” said Jean confidently. “All that worrying, and we’re home, safe and… oh, damn.”
A rather impressive array of small ships was lined up out there before them, their night lanterns shining on the water.
Justinian leaned up from the bottom of the boat. “I heard a swear word, and then silence. And you all look rather… displeased. So are we doomed, after all?”
Jean raised her hand. “No, no. I was expecting something like this. It’s just… a bit bigger than I thought it would be. But nothing I can’t handle.” She glanced at the others. “Any of you can handle this skiff? I mean--you are--fishers, right…?
Justinian groaned “That’s not comforting, Jean.”
“No, no, I just need someone to steer for a moment…” noted Jean, waving her hand. “So anyone…?”
Theodora stood up. “I’m the one you want. Ivana left very young, and Ivanushka… well, he’s in really no shape for it. And honestly Ivan was really the one Father was training.”
Jean blinked as she handed Theodora the oar. “Your family seems to be very fond of that name.”
“It was Grandfather’s name,” said Theodora. “And life on the Breakers is hard--if you a name to pass on, you hand it out as much as you can.” She sighed, as she began to steer the skiff. “It’s just that we proved to be a fairly--hardy brood, so--well, there were a lot of nicknames.”
Jean nodded, and walked to the prow of the boat. She spread her arms and simply stood there. For a while, all was silent, except for the sound of water splashing and the occasional caw of a gull. At last, Julia coughed. “What are you doing?”
“Magic,” answered Jean. She stared ahead fixedly for a moment. “Huh. That’s odd. Never thought I’d see HIM here…”
“Who’s ‘him’?” asked Julia looking around.
“That guy in purple and white over there on the largest ship,” said Jean. “You see him?”
“Kind of…” noted Julia, squinting.
“That’s Guigemar the Bottomfeeder,” Jean declared. “Used to be a River Trader, until he was thrown out of the Society.”
Justinian blinked. “You can… stop being a River Trader?”
“Pretty much,” said Jean. “We look after each other, to a certain extent. However, if you cross certain lines, we stop. And if the lines are bad enough, we start trying to get you killed.” She frowned. “In Guigemar’s case, it consisted in kidnapping children to sell into slavery. On both sides of the river.”
Julia nodded. “Ahh. Hence the nickname.”
“That’s part of the reason,” said Jean. “The other is… well, let’s just say he used to sample his own wares on occasion before selling them, and leave it at that.”
Julia’s eyes went wide. She placed her arms around Malina’s shoulders. “Maybe you should--sit lower…”
“But then I won’t see whatever cool thing Jean’s going to do!” complained Malina.
Theodora gulped. “Umm, the ships are… coming closer…”
“Relax,” said Jean. “Hey, Justinian, remember how I always had the knack for dealing with birds?”
Justinian nodded. “So you always claimed. Why?”
Jean waved her hands. And suddenly, swarms of gulls were flying at the decks of the ships, attacking their crews. The sorceress smiled. “I’ve been practicing.” She turned to Theodora. “Okay, you can give me back the oar. I can take it from here.”