Telling Tales 59
The Squirrel’s Craft
“Are you sure it’s supposed to be doing this?” Vasilisa’s scream barely carried over the sound of the wind that whipped at their sail. Below them, the sea was a blur. The very boat howled, the wind’s song echoing its own chorus in the maze-like bowels of the hull. Both of her hands were on the tiller and the muscles in her arms strained to keep the craft moving in a straight line.
Ivan pointed ahead and to their left at a sliver of land in the distance. “Can you head that way?”
Vasilisa didn’t hear a word he said either, but she recognized a pointed finger when she saw one and steered the ship toward the island. For his part, Ivan was tying himself off to the mast with the stout rope that the squirrel had taught him to weave. As the island grew, he made sure that the anchors, crooked pieces of green oak as big as himself, were ready standing by, and he turned to the mast. He signalled to Vasilisa and unlashed the cords that bound the top of the mainsail. It plunged to the deck, a bird falling from the sky, and the boat slowed at once, but the chorus of wind was no less loud.
As they approached the edge of the island, Ivan picked up one anchor and heaved it over the port stern side. Then he danced to the starboard stern side and did the same thing. Two more anchors fell over aft sides, and the four mighty spools around central mast played out their rope as the anchors plummeted to the earth.
“Hold on!” Ivan called, and although Vasilisa still could not hear him, she recognized their agreed-upon gesture, a clutching hand pumped up and down above the head. She shifted against her own ropes without loosening her two hands from the tiller, and was satisfied by their strength. Well, as satisfied as she could be, but there was no way she was letting go. She’d made that mistake once before. She watched Ivan’s five fingers splayed out. He pulled his pinky. His ring finger. His middle finger. Index.
Before he could make a mist, the stern jerked abruptly and dove down and to the left. When the starboard anchor caught, the whole craft dipped and Vasilisa found herself high, much higher than where Ivan stood at the front. His feet were planted against the prow’s gunwales and he was holding on to one of the ropes with all his strength.
The ship moored, Vasilisa could afford to take one hand from the tiller. She banged her fist against a square of wood, the top and center of a grid of square, three by three, carved to show the front of the ship. She felt more than heard the attendant beams under her shift in response, and the rear of the craft responded by falling slightly so that she and Ivan were close to being on the same level. His arms flew from one side to the other, relentlessly pulling at the rope, steadily pulling them toward the beach. She slapped two more squares in quick succession, these with the carvings of the port and starboard sides. With each punch, the wind below decks grew less.
A man below them sat a fire waved. “Good evening! Join me once you’re down! A fine craft you’ve got. That’s the first time in my years I’ve ever seen a sailboat flying through the air and come to land on a beach.”