Narendra looked up from his reading at the sudden shouts from out on the deck. He had been completely engrossed in his favorite pastime as the ship floated lazily down the Guzzar river, but the commotion outside snapped him back to reality.
As one of only two passengers aboard the vessel, he shared a small cabin with his assistant. The room was cramped, with barely enough space for two small bunks, but there was at least a small window to let in a light breeze, for which Narendra was grateful. It was mid-afternoon, and the deck had been quiet up to now, as the small crew often took a midday nap to avoid the worst heat of the tropical sun.
Opening the door, Narendra nearly bumped into Kali, who was rushing past all in a fluster.
“What’s going on? I heard shouts.”
“Eka found a boat!” he shouted over his shoulder, not breaking his stride. The boy was barely older than Narendra’s grandson, but already well on his way to becoming a full-fledged sailor.
Narendra followed Kali out from below the overhang of the cabin area and onto the open cargo deck. Like many of the local pinisi cargo ships, this one had a single mast in front which could double as a crane for loading cargo. It was propelled by simple energy orbs, wind, or, when needed, long poles. Built for hauling cargo up and down the network of rivers on the island’s interior, the deck was filled to overflowing with an assortment of lumber, crates, barrels and sacks.
The commotion was centered around the front of the ship, where the crew were talking and gesturing excitedly. Narendra joined them, leaning out over the railing to see what they were pointing at in the river below.
A short, burly man steadied himself on a dangling rope as he straddled a small dugout canoe that was bumping against the side of their vessel in the river below.
“It doesn’t feel right. Let it go, Eka,” a stout woman next to Narendra shouted down at him.
“It’s unlucky to meddle in their funeral rites,” someone else chimed in.
Inside the little craft were two figures, tightly wrapped in traditional woven fabrics. Scattered atop were flowers and other bundled offerings intended for the journey to the afterlife.
“They may have died of sickness; best to let them go, Eka.” Niko, the captain of the cargo vessel spoke reason to the crew. Although he generally thought them all an overly superstitious bunch, Narendra silently agreed this time, wanting to get home to his family without incident or further delay.
Movement caught his eye from inside the smaller craft as Eka prepared to jump back aboard.
“Wait! There! What is that?” Narendra pointed to a third bundle at the front of the canoe, the one wrapped more loosely than the larger two. It was barely noticeable amidst the many odd-shaped funeral objects, but he was sure it had just moved.
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