It was a night of storytelling, and it ran nearly to dawn. Freethspat told how he and Whandall had gathered a wine wagon. He still had a flask to pass around; only Yangin-Atep might know where he'd hidden it all this time. Whandall let him describe the escape. Then he told how he'd turned himself and Freethspat and the wagon into a garbage hauling business. He much enjoyed Wanshig's open amazement and Freethspat's determined grin.
Wanshig let the flask pass him while he told a story of being chased by a snake-armed monster bigger than the ship. When Freethspat called him a liar, Wanshig only shook his head.
The old Wanshig would have had some clever riposte. The new one saw how they stared, puzzled, waiting.
He said, "We sailed into Waluu Port eighteen days after Jack Rigenlord drowned. A woman came down to the dock asking for Captain Jack.
"Now Jack, he didn't have more than one woman in any one port, and some of them thought he was captain, I guess. Fencia, she had a marriage contract. When Jack didn't appear, she found us at the nearest saloon.
"Manocane knew her. He made her sit down, and bought her a mulled ale and made her drink, and then he said, 'Jack married the mermaid.' "
Freethspat was delighted. "I've heard of mermaids when I was a boy-"
"Oh, the merfolk are real enough," Wanshig said. "They're wonderful! They like to pace a ship, ride the bow wave. Where the magic's weak they take the shape of a big fish, but they breathe air, not water. There's a nostril right on top. Where the magic's strong you see a man or woman with fishy hindquarters. We don't offend the mers. They can drive fish toward a fleet or away, and show you where the rocks are when it's thick with fog. We like the merfolk.
"But it's just a sailor's way of speaking, 'He married the mermaid.' Jack Rigenlord drowned. We don't like to say drowned. But Fencia of Waluu Port didn't know that. She was furious. 'He was going to marry me! I waited through six years and four voyages for him to get enough money, and now he's married a mermaid? How does he expect to get children?'
"We'd been drinking. She was so angry, you know, and I guess I thought it was funny. You know: married!" Laughter rippled. Wanshig didn't smile. "Manocane opened his mouth, but I cut in first. I said to Fencia, 'No, wait, they aren't married yet. He says he wants your permission.'
"I saw every head turn. I heard a lot of laughing choked back.
" 'My permission!' she screams, and she makes me tell her all the details...hat was he doing when she popped out of the water? What did the mermaid look like? Did she cover her breasts? Did she sing him down into the water or did he just see her and jump? Did Jack even remember Fencia? I made it up as I went along. By now we were surrounded. Sailors have a deadpan way of telling a story, so they kept straight faces. If Fencia heard any cackling she must have thought they were laughing at her because her man left her.
"I thought we were about to get some real entertainment. Sometimes an angry woman can remind a sailor why he left the land."
Whandall waited. When Wanshig didn't speak again, he asked, "Then what?"
"She gave it," Wanshig said.
"She didn't do any more screaming that night. She just turned around and stalked out, head high. The next morning Fencia came to the dock and announced to a big crowd that her engagement to Jack Rigenlord was at an \ end and he was free to do as he liked. If she cried, it wasn't where anyone could see her. Manocane and I got all the other sailors to hold their tongues. I heard what they said afterward, but me, I thought she was brave.
"I've lied since," he told them all, "but I don't like it. People get hurt. And I'm home now, and I won't lie again."
On subsequent nights, Shastern listened quietly to Wanshig's tales of the sea. He concealed his thoughts, but when Wanshig spoke, Shastern always came to listen. Whandall noticed, and wondered if Shastern's thoughts resembled his own. If Whandall was fated to leave Tep's Town ... despite Morth of Atlantis, might it be by sea?