Tomes in Amber
“You hate it. I can see it plainly on your face. Well, you are in common company with that opinion. They hate it too. But I bought the place from Ma’ fair n’ square before she died and so I’ll do with it as I please!” Pola shook her finger in the air with the last words, a gesture so reminiscent of the departed matriarch that Dak had to blink to shed the illusion that it was his mother circling the old table, setting dishes for dinner. Pola had always been a bit smaller than her sisters and vastly more prone to daydreaming than any other member of the family. He saw her now, a woman who had fallen in love with the off-lander way of life that the Stitches were famous for. Her hair was bleached, braided and unkempt, her skin sun-touched and freckled. There was a looseness in her speech, an islander drawl that Dak hadn’t heard since he was very young.
He looked around the dining room and found that where once had been the simple, somewhat old-fashioned décor of his parents, there was now a wild mix of driftwood (some carved, some not), glazed boxes filled with sand and strange polished stones, a long embroidered banner depicting divers trading goods with fantastic sea creatures and several dozen shells pasted to the walls in a pattern suggesting waves. “It looks like the beach invaded.” Dak said with a smirk. “Ah Pola, it’s just a strangeness I’ll have to get used to. It has been a long time, and on the afternoon I left, that tangle of driftwood and dried saltstars was dad’s first carving attempt. Remember how Shel had it mounted and he was embarrassed for weeks afterwards.”
Pola stopped setting the table and turned to face her brother. “Come with me,” she said. “Come on, I’ll show you something.” Dak stood and followed Pola down the hallway towards the bedrooms. Pola stopped at Inna’s old room and opened the door, gesturing with her hand for her brother to enter first. Dak arrived at the threshold and saw that his sister’s room had been transformed into a cluttered shrine to their father’s carving work. There were dozens of the bone sculptures sitting on simple shelves or standing on wooden bases on the whitewashed floor. The carvings ranged from the earliest crude renderings of boats and anchors to Gawr Gallam’s final complex and rich dioramas depicting life on the wharf. They stood together at the doorway, neither of them able to enter. They stood there for a long time.
As they returned to the dining room, Dak saw through the slim crack in the door, that his childhood quarters had been turned into a kind of junk room. He began to enter but was interrupted by a loud knock at the front door. “Dak, can you get that, I bet it’s Shel. She hates the painted door so much I think she strikes it instead of properly knocking.” Pola called from the kitchen, where the familiar smell of steamed fish and fresh bread had begun to escape into the rest of the house.
Dak unbolted the door and opened it just as his eldest sister was drawing back her closed fist. “Hello brother,” Shel’s famous half-smile transported Dak suddenly to the schoolyard, where his big sister had ensured the classroom bullies left Dak alone. Shel’s tight embrace brought him back to the present and he struggled to speak in her grip.
“Sister,” Dak managed before she released him and stepped back to inspect her once bookish and vulnerable little brother.
“You’ve a beard. It looks good. Wave’s end, you look like Pa, only thinner and with a city dweller’s complexion.”
Shel had only become more herself in his absence. She had always been the most physically gifted of the Gallam children, and now, with a decade of fishing and wrestling the elements in the far waters, she was more muscular than ever. Her black hair was cut short and near the scalp, highlighting her prominent cheekbones and chin she had inherited from their mother. Shel looked as though she had just stepped off her fishing boat, with her oil-cloak, deck-boots and close fitting canvas and leather overalls. At her side was their father’s old knife; the long curved blade set into a new nightpearl handle.
“Shel won the harpoon toss last year at Dockwars,” Pola called from the kitchen.
“Is that right?” Dak helped his sister out of the heavy cloak, hanging it on a hook made from hardened coral by the door. “I’m not very surprised really.”
“Weak competition, the Barkle Boys got caught out near the Galigphs cause of the wind, so it was between me, Tatters and some new kid from Galadale who figures himself a divine gift.” Shel sat at the table and kicked off her boots, sliding them with her feet towards the entryway.
“She outdistanced the Galadaler by two boat lengths and split Tatters’ Harpoon into quarters before passing clear through the target. They’re going to use grimwood this year just in case Shel competes again.” Pola laughed, setting a basket of rolls on the table. “Not until Inna gets here,” she said, admonishing her siblings before they acted.
“Through the target stand?”
“I like what you did with dad’s knife.”
“The old pommel is still around. It’s stuck into the rail on the starboard side as a pinion for the drifting sail.”
“I was at the grave last year. Not too many people left in the region. I heard something about some northerners putting an offer in for the whole territory. We’ll see.”
“So is it true that the king is going to build one of his towers in Phane? Celia overheard some of the council members…
Shel was interrupted however when the unbolted door opened and shut suddenly, letting in a strangely furtive and out of breath, Inna Gallam. Too startled to welcome her, Dak and Shel watched as the normally primped Inna stepped out from the entryway looking haggard and nervous. She brushed a stray strand of her copper coloured hair from her face and declared to the room, “I wasn’t before, but now I’m certain of it. I’m being followed.”