He followed Kliner's advice and took some water with a piece of salty shortbread for his breakfast. He had no appetite at first, but forced a few small bites of the bread along with a sip or two of water before his rebellious stomach began to rumble hungrily. There were few places to sit that weren't in the way of the crew, so he retreated to the stairs leading down into his room. He sat with his back to the open hatchway, listening absently to the sounds of the men as they worked.
Graven didn't make a sound as he approached from behind, and Sahm had no idea how long the Halfling had been there before he spoke. "They say there's a sea of sand in the far south. That true?"
Sahm sat up, suddenly and embarrassingly aware that he was no longer alone. He turned and glanced at Graven, who was perched nimbly at the top of the stairway. "The desert, yes," he answered.
"Does it shine like diamonds in the sunlight?" Graven asked. His voice betrayed his youth, but his question was painfully sincere.
"I suppose that is one way of saying it," Sahm answered. "It depends on the color of the sands. There are parts of the desert that are red, like the blood of some great giant."
Graven was obviously in awe of this description. "A giant died in the desert?"
"I have heard legends that say such things," Sahm replied, nodding slowly. "Other tales say that it was a great dragon's blood that was spilled upon the sands. None but the gods can say for certain."
"I would like to see these deserts," Graven declared.
"Perhaps you shall, someday," Sahm said. He wasn't quite sure what to think of Graven. He certainly wasn't like the hawk-eyed Halflings of his homeland, that was for certain. He seemed somewhat simple of mind, naïve at the least, though that could be a clever act. But to what end would such a deception be attempted? Sahm wasn't sure.
Graven's eyes, distant with the thought of crimson deserts, cleared suddenly. He looked at Sahm and asked, "Why are you leaving your home?"
Sahm was taken aback by the question. Such a direct inquiry would be considered impolite in Uman, or anywhere else in the Southern Empire, for that matter. But he was no longer dealing with the more polite folk of his own lands, nor did he expect to for years to come. He had best get used to the rude ways of the northern folk, starting with Graven.
"I am seeking my fortune," Sahm replied guardedly. If the ship's crew learned that he was wanted in Uman, they may decide to turn the boat around and take him back. He doubted that the reward that was offered for him in the south was particularly large, but that would be little consolation if Kliner decided that it would make a nice addition to a profitable south-bound cargo.
The untruth went ignored by Graven, who leaned forward, his elbows propped up on his knees. "You have a fortune?"
Sahm chuckled. "Not yet, no. That is why I am seeking it."
A deep voice boomed across the deck. "Graven!" it called. "Where ya at, ya louse?"
Graven's eyes widened in horror. "Fallon!" he exclaimed. "He'll have my gizzards if he catches me loafin'!" The Halfling stood suddenly and scampered off, leaving Sahm to finish his paltry meal. The conversation had been a welcome distraction from his physical discomfort and the dismal thoughts that had haunted him since his conversation with Kliner.
(Special thanks to Stan! for the art. Thanks, Stan!!)