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Jinavail of the She-Bear, an introduction

Sometimes I need a frame for the story being told, a reason for my narrator to talk to me, even if nobody else needs to know. So talk to me, Jinavail, damn you, tell me your tale …

There are days when it’s difficult to remember, and there are days when it’s difficult to forget; I knew, as a I rolled reluctantly out of bed and my gaze fell groggily upon my framed commission, that it was going to be one of the latter days. There was a time when I doubted I would ever hang that splendid parchment proudly on any wall, much less on the wall of my own chamber, and the memory of those doubts was very fresh and clear as I awoke, and I knew that it would linger.

It was there as I pulled on clean hose, and savoured the joy of it: clean hose, expensively dyed to a fashionably dark blue, not patched or faded, or marked with rusty stains that defied our best efforts at salt-water laundry, but that was a very small part of my delight. The luxury, you can’t imagine, the luxury of having slept somewhere so warm, so private, so secure from imminent disaster, that I might sleep bare-legged. I threw on a tunic and tried to push the memories away, crossing to the window to open the shutters on a bright, serene morning, but the memories followed me, insistent, manipulating every sensation to their own ends. Below me a dairy maid was singing to herself as she crossed the busy yard, and she brought back the memory of prayers to Marralya. I never did decide, you see, whether there is always music in prayers to Marralya, or whether there are always prayers to Marralya in the music of sailors – in the rhythmic chants of the capstan-head, in the raucous songs of the tavern, in the melancholy thread of sound that drifted through the open hatch of my cabin on that other fine morning.

My eye wandered back to the commission. To m’lady Jinavail Falco r’UlteerIt seems, sometimes, that it can hardly have been addressed to me. It is an ill-omened thing, I am told, to rename a ship, and her name suited our purpose very aptly, but perhaps I should have renamed her, for all that, for it is a very sorry thing to abandon the seal-name so carefully chosen by one’s mother, and though there is a hawk, still, upon my seal, for a seal is not lightly changed, yet I am Jinavail of the She-Bear now, for good or ill.

It had seemed very much for ill that morning, the morning that I reached across my narrow cabin to slam the hatch closed against that thread of music, though I knew that I could not shut it out, that it came through the deck as much as through the open hatch, and that, in any case, the words I knew so well would haunt me whether I heard them or not.

When I first posted this I wasn’t sure whether Jinavail – a khyran lady, and therefore a lady to whom a tunic and hose are appropriate – would ever sail into public view. She did, and you can read her tale in the Anthology Club collection Cutthroats and Curses.

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