Alberick relaxed on the deck of the Blue Spray with his mates. They had left Grand Delving with a hull full of King’s Wheat two days earlier, and so far he had swabbed the decks and scrubbed the ship’s hull from morning to night. He looked at this as a proving grounds for his real work. Today he would begin his apprenticeship as a navigator. Today he would scale the mast.
He broke his fast on the deck with the rest of the crew, but his eyes could not be turned from the glimmer of the sunrise on the gentle waters of the Way. Misty pines shrouded both shores, and here and there great boulders, some as large as the ship, stood watch at the water’s edge.
“Ya’ll need to keep a sharp eye,” the navigator said to him, pulling his attention from the river. “There’s dangers worse than shallows and snags, boy. Ya’ll need to keep an eye for the Waymaidens, and warn us quick if they should appear.”
A hush fell over the crew. One shuddered. Alberick looked at them queerly. “Why do you fear?
“Fool boy,” replied the navigator. “Ya’ll learn yet. The boy before you, Allard was his name, was twice as eager, and twice as clever besides. He was in the mast before we rose for breakfast every morning, and did twice the chores he was assigned. Ya’d do well to best him, and to heed his folly.
“He was a poor woman’s son, whose father died a young man. When Allard grew old enough, he swore to provide for the two of them. He worked his way onto the ship, strapped to the teeth with wild tales about the Waymaidens and the treasures they keep. Thought he could find one and trick it into giving up its gold.
“Most of them come out at twilight, before the dawn breaks and after night falls. They call from the shallows, where many a ship has been lost to their tricks. Waymaidens are most dangerous when they weave their lyrical spells. It’s few that can hear those tones and not feel a stirring in his heart. Others, they tempt a man with sweet words and lusty forms only to drown him amidst the snaring grass at the shore. They sing fine promises to lonely sailors, but a Waymaiden’s word is never good.”
Alberick was blind to the breaking sun behind him, so engrossed was he in the story. “What happened to Allard?”
The navigator let out a calloused chuckle. “The storytellers say the treasure lies in a Waymaiden’s eyes. They’re the lure that draws the fish to the hook, boy, and don’t think nothing else. Allard heard them calling and saw them swimming at the water’s edge. Thought the dim light would keep himself hidden, but a Waymaiden can see in the dark. They say gazing so long at her treasure has put its light in her eyes.
“So Allard swims round to them thinking to come at them unawares, but then he sees a glimmer down below. It looked like the sunrise out of those waves, but deep below his feet. The Waymaiden’s hide their treasure in grottos neath the water, so he thought he spied a nice haul for the ship. No sooner does he look up but a Waymaiden’s staring him in the face.
“She sang to him about her treasure, and he forgot all thought of the ship, or even the river around him. Those riches filled the boy’s world clear up. He begged for them as much as he demanded, which sparked that golden glimmer in the Waymaiden’s eye. Quick as a dragon she wrapped him in her arms and sank into the river. He could barely grab a last breath, but no man among us ever saw him again. What do ya say to that, boy?”
Alberick chewed the last of his bread thoughtfully. “You said a Waymaiden’s word is never good,–“
“—and the Waymaidens sing about their treasure. So is a Waymaiden’s treasure a lie?”
“Ancestors!” roared the navigator, and the crew broke into raucous laughter. “Ya’re a young lad for that yet!”