PodCastle Episode 289: Rumor of Wings

by Alter S. Reiss

Read by M.K. Hobson

Originally published in Abyss & Apex.

When the shore-men of the Liassen dockyards saw the blinded ship by the first gray light of dawn, they turned their eyes away, and put their backs to their work. When sailors saw that ship, the deep gouges and angry red paint where its eyes ought to be struck them harder. They blanched as they turned away, or they walked back from the docks, spitting twice over each shoulder. One old veteran, deep lines in his face from wind and spray, fell to his knees, and pledged two fine bullocks to the sea, should he survive his next voyage.

There were few sailors who believed that a ship’s eyes would see it through storm and past reefs, but there were fewer who would be
willing to sign aboard a ship whose eyes had been put out, and with red paint, no less. That was the way of sailors–they might have no faith in charms and good omens, but they had infinite belief in curses and foul omens. Whoever owned the ship with the blinded eyes would get no crew at all, even after the eyes were repainted, without some showy exorcism: A half dozen priests in heavy robes, with flute and cymbal, or perhaps some mountain holy man, or witch, or tamed demon.

It was all more or less as Alaneth had hoped, but she could not feel any great satisfaction as a handful of the shore-men were coaxed
aboard by one of the port officers, and set to lowering a length of sailcloth over the ship’s prow, to cover those blinded eyes, so that the other operations of Liassen’s harbor would not be so greatly affected. She was close, but she had been close before. It was too much to believe that this time her leads would prove genuine, that what she sought would not slip through her fingers again.

Rated PG.