Wile Away
A new hobby sweeps through Iremima's crew. (1525 words)
2014-11-18
Sea travel wasn't always speedy.

Even with one of the newest, sleekest ship designs, the Wave Climber took several days between ports - sometimes tendays, if the sea monsters were restless, or the weather unfavorable.

When Ussil took up crochet, Iremima didn't say anything. The man may have only come up to most people's waists, and he was the only normal-sized Djuurludirj on board, but he was a tough and resourceful warsailor, and if he had found some entertainment in raveling together sheets of yarn to occupy those times he wasn't on watch, Iremima wasn't going to say anything about it. His sharp eyes still spotted sea monster threats, and his sharp weapons still cut them away from her ship.

Thlima, looking sideways at her, also chose not to comment on the non-descript bag Ussil took to lugging around with him. The rest of the crew took their cues from the captain and her second, and simply ignored the matter, even when the scarf took rather gargantuan length and became something of a hazard when extracted in full.

It was only a tenday before Ussil had taught the cook to crochet, producing a spare hook and a skein of yarn, and patiently explaining the basic stitches to the grizzled old man. He turned out quite deft at it, and had completed a very basic - if lop-sided - hat within several days.

The food didn't suffer for it, so Iremima continued to ignore it.

Their first port stop, Ussil came cheerfully back on board with a bag full of yarn, babbling about colourways and variegations and gauge. Iremima had just received word from the cartage guild that she'd been assigned to go exploring north with a small party of wayfarers and explorers, and that they would have to transport horses from Tifanaro, so she only scowled at Ussil until he stopped waving the tangles of color at her and stomped around to get the ship ready to sail.

Iremima's mood improved when they got underway; it always did when there was water flowing away beneath her beautiful ship and she was away from ports where her guild could bring her bad news. That morning, as dawn washed away into day, Iremima found Thlima guiltily hiding a hook and a ball of yarn.

"You, too?" she asked in astonishment.

"It's very relaxing," Thlima said, looking like a skycat sitting on a pile of feathers.

After that, Iremima seemed to find it everywhere - grown men and women counting stitches and exchanging tension technique. It became an epidemic - everywhere she turned, someone was being congratulated for mastering the petal stitch, or the improvement in their stitch regularity. Perfectly serviceable hats and scarves were replaced with more colorful and fanciful versions - Iremima was astonished to find the navigator wearing a neck gator that was decorated with a pattern of tridents and spyglasses.

He stroked it a little shamefully when he caught her scowling at it. "It's warmer than my other," he said defensively.

Iremima doubted that, but chose to say nothing. The ship still went where it was meant to.

When they got to port at Tifanaro, Iremima returned from her firolk tournament to find a set of wee crocheted firolk balls on a tiny crocheted mat in the six-sided shape of a firolk table. The crocheted rails were too weak to contain the balls (she rolled one into them to test it), but the set made her smile as much as the trophy she strapped into the case above her footlocker. It was almost as good as the news that she would only be transporting four horses, not a dozen.

Heartened by her acceptance of the gift, there was a flood of new crocheted things. Not a day went by without some new tiny thing - fruit, or sea monsters with tiny wiggling paddles - showing up tucked into her bunk. A scarf with a mottled sea-color pattern appeared on her clothing hook, and a matching snug warm hat was found wadded in one of her coat pockets.

They arrived at Tifanaro to bad news; a runner from the cartage guild brought a note explaining that in place of the extra horses, they'd be transporting dogs, five of them. A cleverly crocheted dog turd appeared on the floor beside her bunk that night, and Iremima went to find Ussil with fire in her eyes.

"This isn't funny," she said, flinging the turd into his lap. He was working with some kind of color-changing yarn, and Iremima was dismayed to realize that she knew it was called variegated.

Ussil gave her a mild smile that was at odds with his grizzled warsailor face. "That's hilarious," he disagreed.

"I'm tired of this yarn and hook thing on my ship," she said in accusing tones.

"Really?" Ussil said skeptically. "You really mind that the crew has found something productive to occupy their hands and minds that happens to produce warm clothing, harmless practical jokes and useful items?"

Iremima rubbed her face, feeling her anger at the news about the dogs fizzle away to nothing in the face of Ussil's reasonable answer. She hated it when her crew caught her being irrational.

"It's been useful outside of that," Ussil said coaxingly. "Thlima used what he learned from one of the stitches to modify the way we tie rigging - helps the tension in the lines and keeps things from tangling." He tossed the turd back to her. "It's not all useless twiddling, and it's better than drinking and fighting."

Iremima squeezed the crocheted turd in her hands - the fibers squeaked a little, and she found the motion of it unexpectedly relaxing. "You're probably right," she admitted. "I just... really hate dogs."

"More than horses?"

Iremima made a noise, and Ussil guessed, "It's not just the animals, is it." It wasn't a question.

He gestured to the paper she had unwittingly crumpled in her hands. "The Cartage Guild?" he guessed.

It was not secret that Iremima had a rocky relationship with her guild; her elevation to Captain had been hard-won, and more based on luck than favor. She had fought tooth and nail to get the crew she had, and it was fairly well known to avoid her for a few days after getting Guild orders -- especially if they were stuck at dock those days.

"Some days," she admitted, "I would rather be a pirate, and sail out under my own will. I'm tired of the Guild micromanagement. The paperwork and the bureaucrats... the way they talk down to the people who actually do work with their hands."

Ussil, wrapping yarn around finger and hook without having to look at it, gave a humorless smile.

"The Empire provides," he said with irony.

"At the expense of freedom," Iremima countered.

Ussil frowned. They were alone on the deck, but Iremima knew that such talk was not always safe, and she sighed and smoothed the paper out again against her leg. "I'm not ready to join a revolution," she said with a half-smile. "Don't worry that I'd jeopardize the Wave Climber to spite a few old men behind desks."

"Supplies won't be brought to the docks for two days yet," Ussil told her, getting to his feet and packing away his yarn. "Why don't you head down to one of the dockside slophouses that's got a level firolk table. I'll keep an eye on what's left of the crew."

Iremima didn't apologize for her outburst; they had worked together long enough for her to know that neither she nor the warsailor would take anything from it and didn't need it.

She found good players at the cheapest slophouse she could find, won a few games and lost a few, drank just enough bad mead, and returned to the Wave Climber in a much improved mood.

She fell into her bunk to sit bolt upright again - on her pillow was a small wrapped package that poked her viciously in the back of the head. She released the paper to find a small roll of red and brown yarn, stuck through with a now-familiar silver hook. The inside of the paper wrapping had a few simple diagrams.

When she had recovered from the laughter that sent tears down her face, she tried a few stitches, experimentally. By the time her head was bobbing in exhaustion, she had crocheted a thin, useless strip of yarn, far longer than she had realized.

If the crew thought it odd that she crocheted during her off time, she was still able to captain the ship where it needed to go, so no one said anything.


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