P is for Pontoon
“You can’t cross the river here. You have to take the pontoon!” An old man ran down the bank waving his arms. “It’s not safe, I tell you! Not safe!”
Jem looked up from where she was crouched at the water’s edge. “I’m not crossing,” she said. “Just looking at these fish. Their changing color pattern isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. Do you know what they are?”
The old man stopped abruptly, the concern on his face giving way to fear for a moment before a clearly artificial smile took over. If Jem hadn’t been looking right at him she might have missed it. “Never you mind about those fish. Just go see the pontoon man. He’ll get you where you need to go. He’s right down by Milford Gate.” He gestured haphazardly. “Now you get going.”
Before Jem had the opportunity to repeat that she wasn’t planning to cross, the old man turned and hurried away even faster than he’d approached her.
Despite not having any travel plans, she figured it couldn’t hurt to talk to the pontoon man. At least he would probably know more about these unusual fish.
She figured it had been roughly half a sun-hand of walking when she saw the dock with a large, flat raft moored at it’s side. “Sun day,” she called aloud as she approached. “Sun day, pontoon man.”
A young man, more a boy really, stood from a low seat just off the dock. “And day of the sun to you as well, lady. Do you require passage?”
“Actually,” said Jem, “I was just curious. There are fish in the river unlike any I’ve seen. I thought maybe you could—“
He sat back down with a thud. “I’ll not talk about the Gillers,” he said. His head turned away from her as his eyes seemed to scan the waterline.
“You just move along, lady. I’ll not take you on this pontoon today. Not now.” He sounded resolute.
Certain she would get nothing more satisfactory from him, Jem turned back toward the town. Once the pontoon dock was out of view, she angled back toward the river, farther downstream this time. She’d not be put off by the fools in this town who wouldn’t even tell her about the fish.
“Acting disgusted that I’d even ask. As if I was the one being rude.” She shook her head, muttering to herself. “Wasn’t I only curious? Wasn’t I just interested in their silly fish? You’d think I’d asked how to unlock the bank, or the magistrate’s favorite color. They are the ones with no manners. Not me.”
Her diatribe tapered off as she reached the edge of the river once again. Deft fingers dipped into her waist pouch and removed a small coil of nearly invisible string and a tiny, shiny hook. She would simply catch one of the odd fish for herself and just take it with her. Jem was certain her father would be able to identify it.
She had no bait, but the fish were plentiful enough and she knew a coax that should put one on her hook in just moments.
Braced on a rock at the water’s edge, she dangled the hook just above the water’s surface before dropping it in.
Daughter of men. A voice bubbled around Jem. We accept your servitude. Welcome to the realm of the Gillers.
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