Minnerva was anchored outside the harbor, obscured from mortal eyes by the morning fog. It had taken Niece Kindrel half a bell to row the small dinghy into Trel’s port. It was possible that with Loy’s help they could have made better time, but he did not know how to row, and although his niece had offered to teach him, he had refused. Rowing was outside his role and it was only proper that he leave such menial tasks to Niece Kindrel and her ilk. Taking up the duties of another was dishonorable, especially those so far below his station.
He would give Niece Kindrel credit though. She had attained an admirable level of comfort in her role, and was quite capable. Still, she was his lesser. After all, he was fifty-third son of Order and a member of the Second Generation whilst Niece Kindrel was merely a member of the Third.
In the two months it had taken to travel across the ocean, she had been acceptable company, but he would much rather have been at home, sharing wine and words with Sister Spade. Contrary to his role, and Father Order’s assertions, Loy was not one for sailing or travel, but to become a god he must fulfill his father’s wishes. This was the way of the world and Loy had no intention of changing it.
“Niece,” he began, ignoring her discontented frown. The first time he had called her niece, she had laughed in his face. He had made certain to use the designation liberally ever since the affront. “Cannot you go any faster?”
She scowled at him. “I am six hundred years your elder,” she said. He had been waiting for this moment the entire journey. Finally, he’d gotten under her skin. It had taken long enough.
“Yes, of course, Niece, but that does not answer my question.”
“You’re welcome to row yourself,” she said, offering him the oars.
Though she’d been rowing nonstop for half a bell, she seemed unaffected by fatigue. Not even a single drop of sweat cursed her brow. Such stamina was impressive.
“Or better yet,” Kindrel went on. “I can stop here and you can swim the rest of the way.”
Ah, he bemoaned, an unfortunate time to break her. “Thank you, Niece, but that will be unnecessary; I was only inquiring.” He did not understand why she found the word ‘niece’ so irksome. As a member of the youngest brood, Loy had a great many nieces and nephews that were older than he, and these honorifics were customary.
Niece Kindrel was far from normal, however. Like Sister Wanderer, Niece Kindrel was often thought of as an eccentric. Now that he had met the woman, Loy was inclined to agree. For some odd reason, Niece Kindrel had chosen a life aboard a ship rather than one in Lendal. Because she was often away at sea, Loy had been unable to learn much about his niece, but the longer he watched her, the more he felt that he understood her.
Niece Kindrel gave him a wide smile. Perhaps understanding was the wrong sentiment.
“Why do you smile?” he asked.
“Just thinking of all the lessons you’re about to learn,” she said.
“How do you mean?”
“What do you know of Trel?” she asked, ignoring his question.
Loy studied her between narrow slits. She seemed to be leading him into a trap, but it was too early to identify her motive. For now, he would play along.
“The city or the peninsula?” he asked.
“The Trellish Peninsula is our former home and birthplace of the gods. What more is there to know?”
She scoffed. “Who are its peoples? What are the nations? What do those nations stand for?”
“There is only one nation,” he spoke with pride. What she asked was basic history. “The Nation of Trel, which has two states. Trellahn in the west and Atherahn in the east. Both are sworn to the Mother’s rule and wish only to serve her.”
“Certainly,” she chuckled. “Perhaps if this were five hundred years ago, that would be a great little summary. But I am talking now. What is Trel like today?”
Loy grimaced. Truthfully, he did not know. Niece Kindrel and Sister Wanderer were the only two members of the family capable of crossing the ocean, and whatever knowledge they had of Trel, had not been shared with him.
“I cannot say,” he admitted. “Enlighten me.”
“Mmm,” she hummed. “No. I do not think I will.”
“You will not tell me of Trel?”
“Nope. I’d prefer to watch you flounder.”
“Then why have you agreed to this task?”
“Lack of choice. Grandfather is hard to refuse.”
“Then I will be certain he hears of this.”
Kindrel shrugged. “Go ahead. After all, I do not think he will mind my behavior. In fact, I am only denying you knowledge which he has already refused you.”
He studied her with skepticism. “Explain,” he commanded.
“What’s there to explain? I thought this should be rather obvious. Your father knows more of Trel than he’s told you. For example, did you know that you are the second spy I’ve ferried across the ocean for him?”
A cold wind came up from behind, blowing Kindrel’s brow length bangs out of her face. As Loy huddled into his damp hide jacket, she rowed unnerved, her bare arms dotted with gooseflesh. Maybe he should have been more cautious with his words. He may not like her, but she had lived far longer than he. It was becoming clear that she knew things he did not and perhaps Father had chosen her for a reason. He should have been more thorough in his investigation of this woman before his journey…
No matter, if she would not share her secrets then he could accomplish his tasks without her. He was not without his own abilities. And his own knowledge.
He mimicked her crude grin. “Ah, but I do know, Niece. Why do you think I am here?”
She was sitting in the front seat, her back to the bow of the little vessel. Letting the oars drop, she leaned forward. “I doubt even you know the reason,” she whispered, her tone one of feigned severity. Even without her strength pulling them forward, the dinghy glided ahead at the same pace.
He glared at her as she leaned back into her seat and retook the oars.
“Why do you live aboard a ship instead of in Lendal?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes. “One such as you wouldn’t understand.”
He gave her an annoyed glare. “I afford you the respect due a god. You could give me the same courtesy.”
Niece Kindrel roared in laughter. His flesh tingled in discomfort; the woman continued to shame him with that accursed cackle.
“You think yourself my equal?” she said.
“Greater, I am a member of the Second.”
She laughed even harder. “That may have meant something once, but no longer. If it were Harvest, or Planner, or her brother, Kalec, before me I’d be inclined to agree, but you are not them.”
“No,” he agreed. “I am not. But at least I call my betters by the titles they have earned. I do not shame Sister Wanderer by calling her Harvest.”
“And yet you call me Niece Kindrel.”
This woman was infuriatingly brazen. Now she tried to call herself a god when they both knew that very few achieved that station? What absurdity.
“You would claim godhood?” he asked. He had tried to frame the words as disbelieving, but that is not the way they sounded. Instead, he sounded petty and childish.
Niece Kindrel did not answer; she smiled a mischievous grin. “It’s cute how your father leaves his children in ignorance. Have you never wondered why so few of the older generations live amongst you in Lendal?” She drew the oars out of the water and placed them at her feet. The boat skimmed across the waves.
“They are dead or fallen,” Loy asserted.
“Ha!” she laughed. “Many of us perhaps, but most are like Harvest and myself. We remember a better past than the future your father promises.”
The words were sour. He did not have an answer to them.
His niece smiled as she put a hand out to her left, and out of the fog, a wooden beam materialized beside it. When the dinghy came up parallel to the pier she grabbed it with her outstretched hand and the boat halted. The pier, surprisingly low in the water, was only an inch higher than their small rowboat. He scurried to his feet and lifted himself out of the dinghy. She did not rise to follow him.
“Are you not coming?” he asked.
“I would love to, Uncle,” she mocked, “but that would be stepping outside my role.” The sigh she gave was greatly exaggerated. “But such is the way of the world.”
Annoyed, Loy did not offer her a second glance as he followed the pier into the city. “Be ready to leave when I return,” he yelled.
Kindrel laughed as Loy stormed away. She’d held her tongue for as long as she’d been able – a full two months actually, which, in her opinion, was quite impressive. Even though Loy was thirty-five, he acted like a child. Grandfather had certainly done a number on that one. Ever since Silt’s disgrace, Nikom had become overbearing and stubborn. He had given up his city and his aspect as Farmer in favor of some silly ideal, and now his descendants were discarding their chance at godhood for their patriarch’s ill-conceived utopia.
It was a shame. The world Nikom was creating was not one she recognized. It was no surprise that the pantheon had not recovered under his guidance. She hoped that Loy would succeed in his task. The family would need the Mother’s guidance if it was to recover. Sighing, she retrieved her fishing pole and tackle box from beneath her seat and set to baiting the hook. Loy would be sitting on a pile of fish during the return trip. She smiled at that.