Hey, kid—stop hanging off that rail!” A sailor, one of the women, was yelling at me. “We’ve only told you a dozen times! If you fall overboard, we’ll not turn back!”
“Can ya swim all the way to the Battle Islands?” another sailor called. “If ya can’t, ya’d best keep alla yerself on th’ ship!”
“If I fall in, will I sink all the way to the bottom?” I yelled back. I didn’t pull myself up off the rail. If I sank, I would be lying among stones again. I would be among my own kind, with no fathoms of nasty water between me and solid earth.
“The salt water holds ya up, wench! You’ll float whilst the fishies pick at ya!”
“But my bones will sink. That’s what matters,” I replied. And I muttered, so I wouldn’t be scolded for rudeness, “I can take care of myself.”
I dropped until I hung from my knees, my back against the ship’s hull. Then I stretched out my hands. The choppy water was still dozens of feet beyond my reach. I let my magic stream through my fingers into the sea. It plunged through water and salt. I strained and strained, but the sea has its own magic, a power that hates mine. I couldn’t feel the earth anywhere below me.
I hate traveling by ship. Hate it. As soon as I can’t feel the stone of the ocean floor with my power, I’m lost. It’s like the day my mother sold me. She left me with no family and no way even to speak to my new, foreign owner. Aboard a ship, when I wasn’t trying to feel the approach of land, I huddled in a corner. There I placed my own stones around me and held my friend Luvo in my lap.
Luvo helps me some. He’s about eighteen inches tall. He has the shape of a bear made of clear, deep green, and purple crystal that’s been rounded and smoothed by water. His face is a gentle point, not a muzzle. He’s not truly a rock, though he has the magic of a thousand stones. He is the heart of a mountain, a living creature with power for blood. So even though Luvo is a good friend, and company as I travel, he can’t make up for the feel of rock under me.
I shouldn’t have been on that ship. Dedicate Rosethorn—my guardian—was the one who had been called to Starns, one of the Battle Islands. They needed her to see why their trees were dying. She was packing to go when I had a problem with some rich boys who were students at Winding Circle temple. They were bothering some of my friends. I said I would hit them with my staff if they didn’t stop, and they drew swords and daggers on me. It wasn’t as if I actually broke any of their bones. They were disobeying temple rules. Rosethorn told the temple council that the boys got what they deserved, and their parents could put their complaints someplace tender. But I also heard her tell Dedicate Lark, my other guardian, that she would take me to Starns, so the wealthy parents would have time to calm down.
“I won’t have anything to do!” I cried, when Lark and Rosethorn gave me the news officially. “These island people want Rosethorn because their plants are dying. That’s no bread and salt of mine. And I hate ship travel.”
“Then you may partake of confinement to Discipline cottage,” Rosethorn told me. “That’s the punishment the council wants for you, since you pounded those boys after you disarmed them. Travel to Starns and help me find what is killing their trees, or stay inside this lovely, tiny home of ours. Your choice.”
So now I hung from the rail, stretching my magic as far as it would go and feeling lost.
“Do you know, Evumeimei, that ocean rocks do not swim to the surface?”
Luvo always said that when he found me hunting for the sea’s floor. The hearts of mountains apparently never get tired of telling the same jokes.
They also never get tired of hearing the same answers, so I told him what I often did, “There’s always a first time.”
I think the reason Luvo came out of his mountain to meet me, and the reason he’s stayed with me ever since, is because I make him laugh. Though I don’t actually hear him laugh, I know he does.
“The sailors have told Dedicate Rosethorn that we should see the island of dying trees tomorrow, if not today,” Luvo said. “You will be able to sense the ocean floor soon, I promise you.”
“I know,” I replied. “You never lost touch with it. I’m sorry I’m not centuries and centuries old. I’m sorry I’m not even a great mage. I bet you Rosethorn knows each and every plant below us, however many fathoms deep they are right now. But I’ve only been at this mage business four years. I have some catching up to do—”
The hairs on my arms stirred, then stood up. My belly rolled, like that first cramp that warns you the sausage was bad. My magic flexed. Far under the sea I felt power move. The Pebbled Sea had earth tremors and earthquakes, plenty of them, but this one was different. It was thick and heavy, like molten stone. My body filled with a deep, bone-tugging hum. It swamped my teeth and made them itch.
I began to slide off the rail. I swung, twisted, and grabbed. I clung tight to the rail with both hands and one leg. My hold was strong—I was used to climbing mountains. I waited for the world to settle, especially my magic. Right then it was still bouncing up and down, making my bones rumble.
“Did you feel that?” I called to Luvo. I thought I might pop out of my skin, I was so excited. “What was it? Is it going to happen again?”
“It is a waking tremor.” I heard Luvo’s voice as clearly as if he hung beside me. “It may well happen again. You should climb back on board, Evumeimei.”