“A glittering gem is not enough.”
“But, Mi’Lord, surely this emissary bears his shiny fare as a token of his appreciation,” declared a resolute Ekon. He looked from the great ship’s captain to the strange man from the shore.
Leal glared at Ekon. “Do not presume to title me, Sir. The old apple revels in its authority.” Leal turned his back to Ekon and the stranger and watched linesmen secure the great ship to the canal walls. Without turning back, he continued. “You saw the rotten apple and his worm leap over the railing only moments before.”
The stranger stepped forward, the gem still presented. “I fear my intention was not clear; I merely mean the gem as a gift. A token for your daughter, perhaps?”
Leal spun to face the stranger. “What do you know of my daughter?”
“When the victorious maiden brings her kin to the great river, the river stole the gods.”
Leal’s eyes narrowed to slits. He stared at the man. He didn’t even know the man’s name or the strange things he said.
“Not to worry, Captain,” said the man. “I merely quote the chronicles of Akila. I’ve dedicated my life to following the path she laid out for us.”
“Akila?” inquired Ekon.
“The goddess of bounty; the keeper of love; arbiter of wars and oracle of the future and past.”
Leal closed his eyes. What were the odds that a religion worshiped a goddess that shared the name of his late wife? he thought. Leal crossed his arms. “You speak of strange things from a strange land, Sir.”
The man bowed deeply at the waist. “If it pleases you, Sirs, you may call me by my given name, Themba. And I respectfully remind you that we are all strangers in strange lands floating amongst each other in a river of time and thought.” Themba looked to the rising sun. “Lady Akila tells us that the stranger officiates the meal. Hove you eaten your mid-day meal?”
Ekon placed a reassuring hand on Leal’s shoulder. To Themba, he replied, “Tell us more about Lady Akila.” He looked to Leal. “Perhaps at the captain’s table?”
Leal nodded and the trio walked to a wooden hatch leading into the belly of the great ship.
* * *
Nichelle watched her father, Ekon and the strange man from the wheelhouse. Although the wheelhouse and the fo’c’sle were yards away, she could hear the conversation clearly. Nichelle reveled in her status aboard the great ship. Men had ruled the land. Men had warred for dwindling resources. Men dictated their daughter’s hands in matrimony – usually to further land or war.
But, on the ship commanded by her father and built by the great Ekon, she had stature – more so than her siblings. The denizens of the great ship somehow bestowed her status upon the young woman. She mediated disputes. She was allowed to man a look out post.
Nichelle smiled. Even the job is ‘manned,’ she thought as the conversation unfolded below. How would Themba, a man who worships a goddess, feel about a society governed by men?
Nichelle shrugged and started to turn away as the trio walked to a hatch. Out of the corner of her eye, Nichelle swore she saw Themba smile at her.