The Hook and the Disobedience – NaNoWriMo 2013

If you want to see what I’ve word ‘sploded day for day, you can do so here. This is unedited so consider yourself warned. This is an EverQuest themed piece of fan fiction… With pirates!

Warning: Some graphical violence, mature themes.

"Ships Stern in Sunlight" by Jessie Lam

“Ships Stern in Sunlight” by Jessie Lam

The image above was made by an excellent Twitter pal of mine, Jessie Lam, who doles out gorgeous pieces like this week after week on Twitter! (follow Jessie on Twitter) You can also see more of her work in her online gallery. Click here or hit the image itself.

Disclaimer: The world of Norrath belongs to Sony Online Entertainment.

Updates:

Week 1: Check out this YouTube playlist with the Assassin’s Creed 4 – Black Flag OST! I bet it’s as awesome to listen to while reading as it is while writing!

Day Two: I feel like I need to apologize for my seemingly random use of Norrathian place names in this text. Since we don’t have a clue what political and/or naval powers (if any) will be in a game where they are completely reworking the lore I decided I’d stick with churning out the story and adding in better place names if needed later. The Sea of Pearls is entirely my invention though. Scroll down for a temporary map of the area.

Day Four:

Made revisions to the first 2 chapters!

The Hook and The Disobedience

Always practice any form of experimental magic in utmost solitude and ward against other magic. Old stray bits of magic, old enchantments or even nearby acts of extreme emotional excitation, can twist and tangle an unfinished spell in unpredictable ways.

– Master Aerennhir Celindel Lecturer on Experimentational Magick, Her majesty’s Academy of Magic

1.

The singing had started above decks as all hands raised sail. Agnes stripped out of her dripping clothes and wrung out a bedraggled red braid. They had taken a fine prize today all thanks to her and she was sure her face was trying to split apart with the grin she’d carried for hours now.

A heavy thumping on the narrow door to her cupboard sized cabin brought her out of her reverie. “Are yer having a lie down in dere, lass? Hop to it! Mister Copperhill wants you in the nest now or you’ll taste the Monkey’s Fist, for sure”. Agnes laughed and flung a boot at the door. “No one takes a rope to me today, Brazbak so just you mind your own business!”

Despite her impetuous words she still tore into a shirt 2 sizes too big for her and sailcloth pants. She was still tying the flapping shirt in close with a length of cloth when she sprinted across deck to the rigging. A couple of sailors shouted intelligibly at her as she zipped past, but The Dissy was her home and she could tell they were all pleased with her today. A handful of sailors were transferring back to the merchant ship as a prize crew to sail her into a friendly port after putting her sailors in a boat somewhere they couldn’t dispute the ownership of the vessel. Agnes was content to know that the merchantmen crew would not be treated roughly and would be given provisions to last the trip. Some pirates outright slew every witness but not the ones who sailed under Captain Hemlough. In this she took a great deal of pride. A flash of gold drew her eye as she hauled herself toward the main top castle.

The quartermaster’s penetrating brown eyes followed her ascent from his usual spot next to the helm. If his old clan could see him now they would not have recognized him. From the slicked back hair tied in a long knot to the forest of gold rings jingling from both ears. Mostly though, he often thought with amusement, they wouldn’t recognize a Copperhill dwarf with a smooth chin. He’d taken his nick name from that act of rebellion. They called him Chin Copperhill aboard ships and he liked it. He rubbed the symbol of his freedom and glanced at the Captain. “Her plan worked out just as she said it would, Captain. She’s earned a bigger share today.” He started in his quiet gravel voice. “The crew agrees.” Captain Torias Hemlough scowled but remained silent. He was a tall, gangly man with a long, square face dominated by a towering forehead a long clefted jaw. It made it seem like his eyes were tiny, disappearing in the long expanse of his face. “Even the lads clinging to the keel all afternoon are singing her praises. She kept them in good spirits and led the boarding well.” Those cold, angry eyes never wavered at the Quartermasters words. “On top of that Hernandel swears she saved his life and offers her his share of the prize.” Hemlough’s knuckles were going white at the rudder and Chin judged there was maybe room for one more salvo before his Captain lost his temper. “A good sailor and a good pirate, she is. What would we tell the crew if we don’t let her have her due? That the Captain’s daughter is special and doesn’t get rewards?”. Hemlough’s long face snapped around to glare at him. “I will not reward unorthodox tactics like that. I should never have agreed in the first place!”. Chin carefully rolled his eyes where his Captain couldn’t see it. It seemed every time he almost forgot that Hemlough started sailing on a Queen’s ship he would use a fancy word or dig his heels in over something silly. He still thought in straight lines when, at least to Chin’s way of thinking, being a pirate was about sailing knots around straight lines.

But this time his Captain’s intransigence wasn’t about innovative tactics or lowly pirate girls getting their fair share for a good days work. It was about the soul-shriveling guilt he felt every time he saw a flash of her bright red curls or heard her merry laugh ring out from above. He wasn’t that half-elf girl’s father no more than he was Chin’s old man. He’d orphaned Agnes on The Disobedience’s first caper. He’d been so angry at the Navy for pushing him into piracy for the crime of saving his crew. So furious that one look at a naval officer’s coat and his sword had flashed out. Through the man’s heart and into his elven wife behind him. Chin had been there that day. The golden-haired elf’s eyes were so wide, so fearful as her throat fought for air to speak. Chin had been afraid in that moment that her lost words would always haunt him but the wail that tore through the silence told him exactly what she was trying to say. Tall Torias Hemlough turned slowly, face paler than bone, his sword still dripping with blood toward that damning sound. Chin had been sure he would witness the greatest atrocity that day. But instead Hemlough dropped his sword and tore through the bales and boxes to find the child hidden among them. A tiny little thing under an unruly mob of copper hair like her father’s. He wrapped her up and carried her over to The Disobedience leaving a stunned Chin to follow in his wake.

The tale of what happened spread like wildfire among the crew and no one came right out and asked what was to happened to the child. Not even among themselves. She was just there now. A part of the ship, a part of them and nobody spoke of how she’d come to be there. As years went by and new folks sailed with them she was introduced as the Captain’s Daughter. Nobody knew who started calling her that but Hemlough never corrected it and so it was that Agnes Adaire was known as Torias Hemlough’s daughter.

But as today’s argument was proving, he wasn’t a kind-hearted or loving father. In many ways the crew made up for that and Chin in particular had take her under his guidance once she was old enough to talk. But it was his job to make sure matters of the crew went smoothly and he was also in charge of dividing the plunder. One sailor being denied his or her fair get could spark distrust among the crew and Chin did not want to have to kick and cajole ruffled feathers for weeks to come. By the set of Chin’s shoulders Hemlough decided to retreat from an unwinnable engagement. “You do what you feel best, Mist Copperhill” He forced out through gritted teeth. “You always do anyways!” He silently added to himself. Chin nodded, calculating brown eyes seeming to see right through the Captain to that unspoken addendum. “That’s settled then.” Quiet gravel with an iron tang.

His words had barely flown away on the wind when the target of so much commotion sang out from the main mast. “Sail ho!” Agnes pointed wildly “Two sails! South by South-West, skipper”. Crewmen gathered starboard aft to catch a glimpse of what was coming up behind them. Spotting sail from a pirate ship is always a coin toss. Is it a fat merchantmen or are there navy guns hunting for us. The position of the sails, however, told a grim tale of its own. Pinning the Disobedience between themselves and the open seas at the very edge of the Seas of Pearls. “Three sails! Three sails, skipper!”. Hemlough didn’t need to wait for confirmation now. “Mister Copperhill! Pile on every scrap of canvas we’ve got. Wake the sailing master and get me a lookout on the Mizzen as well!” “Aye skipper! And the prize crew on the fat duck back there?” There was no time to wait for the slow freight ship to catch up if any of them were to make it away alive. “Tell them to run for it, away from us and those dogs on our heel.” He hesitated, a second look-out in the Mizzen mast called it three sails and he sighed. The merchant ship was doomed. “And Mr. Copperhill,” he added quietly. “Tell them gods’ luck and damnation to the Anties.” It was a saying on the Disobedience. Had been for years now. What they shouted when there was no way out but through. Chin knew what it meant. He clasped his sword hilts in the Dwarven tradition of bracing to attention and turned to rush to the signal giver.

Agnes could hear the tightness in the skippers voice even as far up from the decks as she was. The ships following them was still just bobbing on the horizon. But they were there and coming closer and they hadn’t changed course at all, so they must have spotted her first. Bigger ships then with taller masts. Antonican frigates maybe. She shuddered. This far out from any ports they wouldn’t bother transporting pirates all the way back to a judge somewhere. They’d be hung and dropped in the drink. At least they would be dead first. Even navymen wouldn’t leave anybody to drown in the ocean. Bad luck. She saw the prize ship peeling off to port almost perpendicular to their current course in a bid for freedom which relied on the pursuers wanting the Disobedience more than 5 or 6 lowly pirates on a merchant vessel. That might have worked too had there been only two ships following them. But with three it was more likely that one of them would peel off to hunt down the merchantmen and attempt to catch up with her squad mates later. Agnes tried to picture the faces of the men who had transferred over. Reem and Henrik was there. Lang, Wessel and… did Haefiz go too? She wasn’t sure. She had been below when the party was organized. She should have known this. It was important.

At the sound of quiet jingling she stuck her head over the edge of the nest. Chin Copperhill was almost up to her with a looking glass of his own and what looked suspiciously liked dinner. It was going to be a long evening then. She sighed. She’d hoped there would be singing and celebration tonight with her at the center. Instead there was tension, gnawing worry and a sick taste of dread at the back of her throat. One more thing to hate the navy for. Chin swung himself into the basket and passed her the food and skin of watered down wine. “What’s this I hear about ships then. Haven’t you made yourself famous enough today?” Agnes snorted as she chewed on a heel of bread. “Not me! I thought I’d be dancing tonight!”. Chin chuckled quietly and noted the strings she’d tied in the weave of the basket in the direction of their pursuers. “Course corrections?” She nodded. “The lead ship is shooting for us like an arrow. The starboard mate is riding its coattails but the third one had to correct three times” She pointed. “I think its fallen behind the two a bit but I can’t be sure in this light.”

Chin pointed his viewer toward their menace and sure enough the royal crest was just visible on the lead ships foresail. He was quiet for a moment and when he spoke his voice was leached of all emotion. “There goes the second ship after our friends to port” He didn’t add that their course would take them across the bow of the merchant ship. They weren’t going to bother with capturing her then. They’d just cripple or sink her and turn back to the race. Agnes bit her lip to keep it from trembling. It was too late to do anything about them now but hope. She swallowed and cleared her throat. “So what’s the plan, Chin?” She asked him, a little too matter-of-fact. “Do we break for Sina Lagos at dark?” She looked intensely at the dapper dwarf. “They’ll expect that though, won’t they?”. Chin lowered the looking glass and cocked his head, looking hard at her as he often did when he was assessing a crew member. He liked her looks even if she was shaped all wrong for his tastes, not to mention that he had never had much interest in females. But she had that rich, flaming red hair he associated with his dwarven kind. Like a little bit of home – the nice parts of home anyway. And her tri-coloured eyes that were so fascinating. Brown and greens and gold flecks. If she had lived the life that was meant for her she would have had the pale, pale skin the rich women yearned for and those hazel eyes would have seemed even larger still. He liked her freckles and tanned skin though. They and her roughened hands showed she would never be one of those useless birds. And she was smart too. Always trying to make things better for the ship and the crew. “You’ve earned the right to make a suggestion lass.” “I suggest,” he emphasized, “that you choose your strategy carefully, lest I think your fortune today was just a fluke.” Agnes felt her spine straighten and she nodded seriously and thought hard.

“If we break for due East for Sina Lagos, which is the closest neutral harbor to us it’ll turn us too close into those navy ships. They might catch us up quick, long before we saw lights from the Troll Isles.” Chin harumphed and jutted his namesake at her in a ‘go on’ gesture. “We could veer around in a far circle west toward Mar Turin. They don’t like pirates but they like Antonicans even less. But it’s a long way and if they guess our plan they will be inside our circle the whole way, inching closer every minute.” Chin’s eyebrow raised at her but he still didn’t say anything, letting her work her way through the options. “That leaves either the open sea, with a full belly of haul but not much in the way of food and water or…” “Or Toruga Island.” He finished for her. She swallowed and pointed down towards the deck. “Do they know?” Chin shook his head and looked back out to sea. “Not yet, and you’re staying up here where your face isn’t telling them.” He sighed and held up a hand to forestall her spluttered protests. “Your face, girl. Everyone on this ship can read your thoughts on it like an open book. That’s a good thing.” He caught her chin with his hand. “Just not right at this moment, see.”

2.

Commodore Joris Lowther clasped his hands behind his back and fought back his irritation with the Captain of HMS Glory of Bayle. 5 course corrections so far to get his ship in formation and now they were trailing 3 ship lengths behind the Starcrest and his own Concordant. At least the Starcrest had been tucked in neatly on his starboard side before loping after the bumbling merchant ship. Graceful and lethal. Of course her captain, Styr Bedenkin was an old hand at sea. Lowther turned his cold gaze back to the straggler. while His Honor the Viscount of Queensbury Lord Adelard Brookwaters-Falish was, In Joris Lowther’s opinion, a pompous little ass who had gotten himself a Captain’s billet by asking his mummy until she gave in. The Commodore’s jaw creaked as he contemplated all the ways he would like to dress his wayward Captain down but couldn’t because of politics. A quiet voice alerted him to a steaming cup of tea proffered carefully at his elbow. He took it and flashed the lieutenant a grateful smile. Emboldened by this the young man cleared his throat. “You have something to say, Falthorpe?” Lowther recalled that the meticulous and observant young man before him came from family just as rarefied as ‘that ass Brookwaters’ and never let it interfere with his duties nor did he fail his courtesies to anyone of higher or lower rank. Now the Lieutenant straightened and clicked his heels smartly. “Sir, I must inform you that the Glory of Bayle appears to be taking on water, sir.” A small tick at the young mans left eye was all his face showed of the painful wince he was hiding. But Joris saw it anyway and it mollified his own flash of rage. Very carefully, he set his mug down on the railing and spoke through tight lips with his back to the young man, so he wouldn’t see just how angry Lowther was with that damned ship and her captain. “Please signal the Starcrest with my compliments, suggest they cripple or fire the merchantmen and return with all speed to the pursuit.” His measured polite words dropped ten degrees. “And signal HMS Glory of Bayle. Inform her that the pursuit of the pirate ship will not be abandoned nor slowed. She is to take her position in the formation within the hour or return to port.” He did not add the usual courtesy of ‘with my compliments’ and it wasn’t lost on the lieutenant who blanched a little. Instead he ripped off an even smarter salute, about-faced and marched off.

With that Joris put The Glory of Bayle out of his mind and focused again on his fleeing target. It was the Nelly alright. His old ship captained by his old first officer. They’d changed her name. Defaced her with an angry name like Disobedience. There had been other changes. At least one of the masts was new and she was painted a a deep green now. His nostrils flared. She had been such a beautiful ship under his command. His first command. He had been so young then. Younger than Lieutenant Falthorpe in many ways. And Hemlough, a very different lieutenant to a very different Captain Lowther who had turned traitor to Her Majesty’s Navy and to him. Had commandeered the Nelly to the cheers of all but a handful of her crew and run from the enemy. Oh in hindsight if he had known then what he knew now he would never have engaged those Freeportian ships with his single caravel. But at the time he was convinced he had to slow them down, keep them away from vulnerable Antonican ports only a few days sailing away. And there was the honor of the Queen to consider as well. Instead, after a shameful argument right out on the stern deck for everyone to see, Hemlough had punched him out, tied him to the mast and turned the Nelly away from the broadside trade she had been positioning for. Once the Freeps realized what she was doing they started firing. The range was long but not quite long enough and the ship took several hits without bothering to shoot back even once. Joris had come to during that barrage and had screamed and wailed like a madman pulling himself bloody against his ropes. When the last of the read Freep sails had dipped beneath the waves on the horizon the crew gathered to vote. Vote! Like they were filthy pirates already. He’d known then he was going to die with the shame of having lost his command to honorless men. Instead he and a few remaining loyalists had been given a longboat and provisions enough to reach the Antonican shoreline. They’d even rigged a small sail and the crew treated them with more sadness than anything. Not so much sadness that any of them would return to Qeynos and stand trial for their foul deeds of course. But that care and last respect rankled Joris Lowther more than anything else. Seeing Hemlough in the stern watching them until they were out of sight as if he, his rightful Captain, might need help sailing a dingy. It was too much. The hatred that boiled up in him that day had never left him since. Over the past decade he had hunted down every pirate he could lay his hands on. As Queen’s colonies were founded in the Sea of Pearls he took charter to form an anti-pirate task force in those waters and he had made himself a ruthless legacy. And now he chased the very man who started it all and he meant to have him.

“A stubborn bunch over there.” Chin’s eyes were narrowed as he watched the pursuing ships, but his usual cunning expression had an edge of worry to it, which Hemlough didn’t fail to notice. He tapped his long fingers on the railing and once again took note of how tightly the lead ship was handled. “I think that’s the Concordant, Chin” He said quietly. Chin’s thin lips thinned even further and his eyebrows shot up. “Well then…” he folded his sleeves back in a neat manner. “If that’s the case then we won’t be getting bored tonight at least.” Hemlough grunted and flung the cold remnants of his mug in the water. Chin slid his gaze over the taut sailors squaring the deck away for combat. “You think they’ll catch up before we make Toruga?” Hemlough nodded. “We won’t have to make it all the way to the island. If the tales are true the becalmed area stretch out far around it. But still I think our gallant Captain Lowther will kiss us once or twice before then.” Chin ran a hand back over his oiled widow’s peak, which gave his cunning urchin face the appearance of a pair of demon’s horns in the right light. “Regrets Chin?” Hemlough asked quietly without looking at the dwarf. “None save one, Skipper. I should have spent more than one night with that pastor’s son in Kiens.” Chin flashed his captain an outrageous smile, waggled his eyebrows and headed for a cluster of men preparing the longboats for heavy duty.

By then the fleeing merchantman with its prize crew and unwilling passengers were the size of a shilling on their port side. Her pursuers had swung a deceptively lazy circle toward her and was just coming into range of the fleeing vessel. Hemlough imagined he could hear her cannon ports swinging up and he hoped his men had realized what was coming for them and had a boat on stand by. Hopefully one that would hold both crews too as those blasted Anties apparently cared not two whits for any civilians getting caught in the crossfire. No that wasn’t true. Not of every captain in the Navy and not of her Majesty either. But it was true of Lowther and the vicious unmerciful person he’d become of the past decade. “That one’s on me.” He sighed. And then. “Skipper! Smoke, port side!” He barely registered the shout. The white clouds that rose from the Anty where dwarfed by the billowing black plumes roiling out of the merchant ship. Her main mas took a glancing hit and fell, pulling on the rigging and then on the ship as it went over. It was hard to tell from this distance but Hemlough had seen a lot of battle damage in his time and it looked like the mast was pulling the railing under water. The Disobedience had fallen silent as all hands watched their friends’ plight. The Anty never stopped. Didn’t even send out a boat of its own. It just continued it’s arrogant, smug circumlocution heading back to join up with its mates. “And that one’s on you, Lowther” Hemlough growled with hate.

He turned and signaled the Bosun, A square-set man named MacNevin, to call all hands on deck. It didn’t take long. Most had already been up there watching the ‘mercy’ that awaited them at the hands of Lowther and his men. A sea of faces turned up to him as he squared off in front of the helm. For a moment he peered at all their faces. As always he was aware of a flash of red curls up by the top of the main, peering down at him in turn. “Here’s where we stand.” He gripped the guard rail to steady himself though the sea was smooth tonight. “We are pursued by 3 Queen’s ships. Frigates led by the Concordant under Captain Lowther the Black-Hearted himself.” A shocked buzzing broke out and he waited until silence fell again. It didn’t take long, everybody would like to know what to do when a demon his chasing you. “As you saw, we can expect no mercy at his hands.” He stopped for a moment. “And I am not feeling much, myself either.” An angry growl of agreement met his words. “But neither do I want to die today!” “So these are our choices. We can try to break East or West, for safe ports under cover of darkness but he’ll be expecting that and those are frigates. Fast and full of guns and either way we break, they’ll be on the inside of us the whole way.” This time there was just silence as the crew weighed their chances on the Concordant jumping left while they went right. “We could try a feint. Break East now and turn West after dark but we’d lose an awful lot of lead doing so and more still if he figures our play. We could be counting his guns before midnight that way”. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Skipper, but can’t we outrun them out to sea?” One of the riggers asked. Hemlough smiled thinly. “What say you, Mister Copperhill. Do you wish to brave the blue?” Chin swung himself up on top of a large water barrel and cocked his head theatrically. “Crossing the open ocean is a hungry trip.” He stroked his smooth chin with deliberation while eyeing Pieterson up and down. “Under other circumstances I might not turn down feasting on a seasoned sailor.” He winked lasciviously at the crew. “But even I draw the line of nibbling on your pockmarked hide, Pieterson.” Raucous laughter broke out and a spluttering Pieterson was dragged back into the crowd. “One is falling behind. Let us turn and fight them!” The slow thunderous words rolled out from Grak-Jon the Master Gunner who, as it were, was also an ogre and a proud son of Guk who could trace his family back to Toskirrak. No one knew why he had decided to turn pirate and no one really felt like braving his ire enough to ask. Hemlough smiled fiercely at the ogre. He liked how nothing ever got Grak-Jon down. “Would that we could! But the Concordant alone sports 28 guns to our 6. Is there honor in that fight?” Grak-Jon’s face clouded for a moment then he spat in the general direction of the Antonican ships. “No honor is slaughter!” He declared and sat back down so the crew could see around him again.

Hemlough was quiet for a moment as he weighed the mood of the crew. Did they fully realize yet how perilous their situation was? Should he lay more wood on that fire? “TORUGA!” The bell-like shout tore through the silence like nails on a blackboard and he had to actually grip the railing in front of him with both hands to keep from hiding his face in them. Agnes’ descent down the rigging looked more like a piece of copper and white sail tumbling from perch to perch than anything that could be named with an orderly word like ‘climbing’. She swung in for the deck armlengths from the railing and landed with theatrical panache in the open circle in front of the crew. “Tell them, skipper!” She planted her fists on her hips and cocked her head in a demeanor that was uncannily like Copperhills. Except with more swagger and less guile. “We’re going to Toruga, aren’t we?”. Hemlough fought for his patience which was only made harder by the sight of Copperhill hiding his mouth with a mug. But this was no time to lose the reigns on a delicate proposal to a nervous and superstitious crew. “Miss Adaire has guessed my intention, well done!” You could strip the paint of the Dissy’s hull with his words and Agnes realized she’d stepped in it – again. Her face and shoulders fell and she plunked sulkily down on a coil of rope. Meanwhile the crew had had time to recover from the initial shock and instant disbelief that their captain would sail them to such a place. Now came all the questions at once. “It’s a place of evil!” “The island is cursed!” “No one comes back from Toruga alive!”. Much of which, if you believed the reports might actually be true. Except:

“Now listen up you headless chickens.” Chin Copperhill was in the cleared center now, practically vibrating with irritation. “We know that the waters around Toruga have been weirdly becalmed this whole year, exactly because someone made it back from there. Several someone’s to be precise.” He pointed a finger at the oncoming ships. “They can pack on more sail than we can and sail for longer than we can.” His mouth split in a ferocious smile that showed a thin row of round little teeth. “But those ships are also heavier by far than ours!” Some of the crew turned to look speculatively at the longboats they had been preparing for the past hour. Chin’s face took on his usual devilish expression. “You lads, are in for a night I guarantee you’ll never forget!”. The penny was dropping here and there among the brightest of the crew but Hemlough needed to steer the talks through to their inevitable conclusion. “Mister Copperhill says it true. The strange becalming of Toruga will be our salvation tonight. And the island may indeed be cursed but I mean to skirt the calm and take us around it until we lose sight of our navy friends there. Nothing else. It can keep its curse and rot with it, for we will be far and away by morning!” Cheers and heavy stomping broke out on deck before Chin and the Bosun sent them scurrying with renewed faith in their captain and immediate future.

Hemlough watched them speed out to their respective tasks and then turned to find Agnes lounging against the railing behind him. She could be quiet as a mouse when she wanted. “It must be her elven heritage,” he thought to himself.

“And what if the calm turns out to be more than just funny weather? What if it’s dangerous? What if it’s magic?”. Her eyes were large and by far the most beautiful he’d ever seen in man, woman or beast. Golden brown and flecked with deep greens the same color as he’d had the ship painted. Pain squeezed his heart as an image of her dying mother flashed before his eyes. Again, always, every time he looked at her. He looked away. “Then we will deal with that too.” His voice came out clipped and dismissive. He heard her sigh and walk away and his eyes flicked to the lead Antonican ship. “That’s on you too, captain!”

3.

As night fell around the tense crew of the Disobedience a lucky south-Western breeze kicked up and lent their caravel valuable speed they would need once they hit the strange becalmed waters of Toruga. The direction of the winds also added credibility to the course they were offering to their pursuers. One which would allow them to reach an excellent point of choice to break either East or or hard West and leave it up to luck if the frigates chose to jump the right way. As plans went it was a desperate one with dependence on luck only desperate scallywags with a future to the gallows might take. Or at least that is what Agnes hoped those Antonican bastards would think. Veering due North into unknown and unnatural waters was the last thing any sailor with his head on straight would do. It was also a really good plan, especially for someone who wasn’t likely to be in the longboats dragging the Dissy behind them on their backs. But she couldn’t help feeling apprehensive about what they were heading for. She was clinging precariously to the very top of the Mizzen mast within arms reach of the swaying lantern marking its top. Across from her she could make out Hernandel, the golden-skinned old elf who had been with her on yesterday’s boarding party. No only a handful of hours ago. She shook her head in amazement. It seemed so long ago now. He too was positioned in reach of a lantern, waiting for the order for lights out from below. Her thoughts returned again to their unsettling destination as if anchored their by the knot in her belly.

This whole past year ports around the Sea of Pearls had picked up stories from ships turning back from Toruga. Creepy tales of weird lights and waters flat as glass along in an unbroken circle around the island. The tales also told of the circle getting bigger and some mentioned sirens and dead walking, but that was the nature of a seafarer’s tale. It had to grow bigger in the telling. Agnes looked up to see a light dusting of clouds beginning to obscure the stars and she grinned broadly and caught Hernandel’s attention, pointing upwards. She wasn’t really a superstitious person herself but it did seem like someone was wishing the Dissy and her crew a fair get-away from the hounds on her heels. “Lights Out! All quiet!” Chin’s tense tenor made her jump a little and she lifted the lantern lid and blew out the candle. The same happened all over the ship and no one made a sound. It was the eeriest thing she’d ever seen on board. And crawling back down the rigging in pitch blackness was not as easy at she had assumed either. Her feet seemed to quest forever for the next ring of rope and the descent could have taken her hours for all she knew.

As soon as her feet hit the deck she felt the ship change course. Riggers where in the sails and would likely have to stay there until they hit the calm. More clouds were gathering and the stars were all but blotted out. Now and then they could see lights from the pursuing ships and it seemed as though they were continuing on the previous course. A collectively held breath seemed to be going out when a hoarse whisper drew all eyes back to the Anties. The lead ship was going dark from as if a giant cloth was being pulled over it from bow to stern. It’s escort followed suit quickly after and the third ship lagging far behind was too far to make out clearly anymore. “And so it’s a game of cat and mouse, in the dark.” Chins quiet voice came out of the darkness beside her. Agnes looked at him, eyes large in the gloom. “So now we won’t know if they take the bait or have spotted us after all?” Chin nodded. “But what for? If they’ve spotted us then that’s it, isn’t it?” Chin smiled thinly. “Maybe, Maybe not. This way we won’t be making any plans to jump in another direction since we won’t know if they are still back there or not. And veering off might take us closer to them than we like.” He smiled and cocked his face. “Or it might not!” Agnes exhaled in disgust and wrinkled her nose at him. He treated her to one of his teasing winks and headed off to the bow. Presumably to look for a place with no wind, she thought uncharitably.

Despite the growing knot of tension in her gut, it decided to inform her it as also hungry. Nobody appeared to be looking for her at that moment, or not anyone she could see anyways, besides it was right next to her “cabin” which contained, she just remembered with a groan, a pile of wet, stinking clothes on the floor. Brazbak, despite his surly disposition which could be argued was a part of trollish cultural tradition, was usually surprisingly good tempered so long as nothing drew him out from the galley and his constantly bubbling pots and kettles. Trolls are commonly thought to have disgusting habits and a particularly so regarding their eating habits. But somewhere in between the commonly held misconception of ‘will eat anything’ and the gruesome imagery of ‘will try anything at least once’ lies generations of creative cooking and appreciative eating. Of course the latter has led to trolls often or even actively spreading tales of their revolting omnivorous nature in order to keep foreigners from their dinner tables.

Brazbak didn’t mind that his talents went to feed a crew consisting of every race or mix capable of crewing a ship. He only asked to be left to stay under decks as much as possible and to be informed if anyone got sick or died from his cooking. Which to anyone’s knowledge hadn’t happened yet. The ship didn’t have a bursar though, mostly Chin handled any purchases the ship needed and Brazbak was not very good at explaining what foodstuffs he needed. Instead, Agnes and a handful of others were tasked with searching any loot they picked up for food, spices or cooking implements of any sort. It was a secondary haul which tended to spread it’s glow much longer than any gold or treasure. Not that anyone really thought of it that way. Brazbak’s cooking was good eatin’ and that’s all there was to it.

He didn’t look around at Agnes as she entered the galley with her arms full of wet clothes. One of his long, gnarly arms unfolded and retrieved a bucket from a floor cupboard. While his hunched over form never seemed to move very fast the bucket turned up at her feet, with scalding water, lye and a long handled spoon in a matter of heartbeats. “Soak, eat, wash!” She plunked her clothes into the water and seeing as there was more room added some of Brazbak’s used dishtowels. No sense wasting the lye. The cook uttered an approving rumble but she could have sworn he hadn’t seen what she was doing. Brazbak always knew what was going on in every inch of his galley. A bowl of thick soup appeared on the little corner table and Agnes scooted in on the narrow bench and tucked in quickly. Brazbak flipped a lid on a pot and put down two steaming cups of tea on the table too. Agnes sniffed the tea and her eyes widened. The cook never looked directly at any one but his long troll face rumbled and hummed in a troll’s way of smiling. “Is flower tea with sugar. Good hot or cold!” Agnes took an careful sip and it was as if sweetness and colour and scent of flours were singing a hymn in her mouth. Brazbak rumbled and hummed again and sipped his own cup noisily.

With the worst edge of her hunger sated she filled him in on what had been going on above decks, since they took the prize earlier that day. Through it all the troll just stared into his mug and listened to it all. When she was done he chuffed, drained his cup pointed at her laundry bucket and cleared away the dishes. Agnes shrugged at his back. It wasn’t like anyone expected Brazbak to be doing anything other than cooking but she’d made a habit of telling him everything that was going on so he’d feel more apart of the ship. But as far as she knew he considered the rest of the ship to be a superfluous area you couldn’t cook in which sometimes shook his pots in an irritating manner. Her hands were red and wrinkled by the time she’d hung all the laundry to dry on the safety bars, meant to keep regular sized cooks from pitching forward onto a hot stove in heaving weather. Brazbak just dug a clawed hand into the ceiling and held on to what he was cooking, cursing in troll.

The sound of many feet rushing up on deck, eerily without a single shout uttered, whipped her head around and she was out the door in a flash, joining the mass of sailors boiling up the ladders like a fish joining a school climbing for higher waters. Everybody were headed forward leaning out to look at a weird wall of greenish light. Much like the glow the sea took some times only in the air held up by… nothing and taller than the main mast. “It’s like dem lights in the sky up North. Only not moving” She heard one sailor whisper. “Don’t be daft. You don’t get thems down ‘ere an’ b’sides it’d be brighter than day” The whisperers were fell silent at a vehement command from the Quartermaster. Agnes couldn’t see his face from here despite the eerie light in front of them and she really wished she could. “Mr Copperhill have the men back at their posts and standing by the long boats. We’ll lower when we lose enough speed” Captain Hemlough’s voice was as tight and clipped as usual and the crew took heart from that. Chin pushed his way through the dispersing crowd and made a bee-line for her when he spotted her near the back of the crowd. “You girl, take three men and send them topside, you stay as far aft as you can possibly get with your eyes glued to our wake. I want to know the moment you see anything behind us, shadow, ship or shade, do you hear?!” “Aye!” she responded and tore off for the crew deck. Meanwhile the long boats were swung out on winches and held ready to be lowered into the black, churning waters and the Disobedience shot bravely into the wall of strange, green light.

4.

Agnes scooted out as far as she could on the broad, aft beam, staring out behind them for the first signs of any trouble. At first all Agnes could think about was how incredible the water looked. It was flat as a sheet. As a mirror! It reflected the stars as if the stars were really under water. The greenish light wasn’t an impenetrable fog at all. In here it was the thinnest of mists. But behind them the wall had closed in green, opaque curtains. Her eyes drew back to the stars under water. It was the most marvelous thing she’d ever seen. Their wake was shining, green froth and the only waves were the ones the Disobedience forged in the water. She began to notice that her skin felt tight and itchy. As if it was stretched out and playing host to an army of fleas. But she rolled her shoulders and willed the sensation to the back of her mind. She had a job to do and she could worry about hygiene later!

The sails had gone slack the instant they’d crossed over and that frothing wake was getting less impressive by the heartbeat. “Boats aweigh!” The whispered command carried remarkably well across ship and she fancied she sensed every sailor wince at its noise. The boats were being lowered, two to each side and rope ladders rolled out to allow the crew to climb down into them. Soon they cast off, trailing a thick rope behind each tethered to the stern of the ship. Chin was piloting one ship and Bosun MacNevin the other. Chin was setting the beat with a whispered rhythm the sailors all took up. It sounded like a giant bellows of explosive, rhythmic breathing and Chin hoped it was too low to carry on these strange waters. Sitting at the tiller he could see the nervous glances the men were sending the glass-clear surface. He couldn’t blame them. It wasn’t right. Nothing about this accursed green stuff and dead air was right. He scratched the back of his neck which was incessantly crawling but it didn’t seem to stop. Instead he raised the tempo a little. Better to get through this soup as fast as possible. No one seemed to take an issue with this.

Hernandel joined her on the aft beam. His lithe, golden form as sure footed her as 100 feet up in the rigging. He brought out a small, clay flask with an old wax seal on it. He broke the seal, took a long draft and made a face. Then he offered it to her. “Do not inhale.” He warned “It has an unpleasant odor.” Agnes looked suspiciously at the obviously very old decrepit-looking bottle. “So… What is it?” Hernandel’s old weathered face crinkled. “Have you ever heard of the rejuvenating potions of my people?” Her eyes widened. Who hadn’t!? Those were renowned for giving you all sorts of boosts and powers and all-night stamina, which she assumed meant it kept you awake. She took the flask and quickly chugged the thick liquid down before the taste hit her. Which turned out to be a good thing as it had more in common with rancid cod liver oil than anything that had passed her lips had any right to. She convulsed and had to fight to keep it down. When she finally, gasping and sweating looked up into his sad eyes he spoke again. “I was going to say, this potion is nothing like those.” He winced at the look she threw him. “I’ve been saving that bottle for an occasion like this.” He continued, looking out across the eerie calm. “There is something in this light. Something foul, dead or seeking death. I cannot be sure. I was never any good at magic.” He smiled apologetically at her. “My sister made me that potion to protect me should I ever come under magical attack.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t expect miracles but it should keep our mind free of the worst of the influences assailing us.” Agnes blinked and then realized the itching was gone.

She was about to thank him for his kindness in sharing this valuable potion with her when a light, merry tenor called out on their port side. “Ohoy!” They looked around but couldn’t see anything. She turned a confused look on the elf. “Ohoy? What ohoy?” No one else on the ship seemed to have noticed the shout yet and Agnes grabbed a rope end and leaned out as far as she could. Just then the prow of a little, round dingy broke the water so close to the Dissy she bumping gently off the hull at intervals. “Hullo in the ship! A little help here?” A lone, tall man stood in the boat waving some sort of cloth. “Hullo yerself.” She said. They were miles from the Toruga yet what was he doing out here in that ridiculous tub? Hernandel indicated he was informing the Captain and left without a word. Leaving her to deal with Mr Ohoy. Perplexed Agnes secured herself on the beam again and uncoiled several armlengths of rope. “If it’s not too much trouble, could I perhaps come aboard? I’m really a very friendly fellow, I assure you!” She could almost make out his face now. Long with a think beard tracing the longest chin she’d ever seen – including her Captain’s. There wouldn’t be much opportunity to continue the talk in a few minutes if she didn’t do something. She waved the coils of rope to catch his attention and threw it to him. He caught it, a little awkwardly but secured it to the dingy and pulled himself closer so he was right beneath her. When he was close enough to see her face his split in a huge, dazzling smile. “Well a very pleasant surprise you are, miss…?” Her eyes narrowed “I’m asking the questions here, Ohoy-man. Who are? Where did you come from?” His smile barely faltered but his eyes flicked around to what he could see of the ship, to her worn seaman’s clothing to the long, red braid dangling over her shoulder. He didn’t miss the knife at her belt either. “My name is Rhodry Llewellyn and I am a purveyor of all things, who took a post on the trading vessel Fayberry Fair, out of Butcher Block.” His smile soured then as he continued. “It was my first stint on a ship and apparently the Captain was stricter about contraband items than I had assumed.” Agnes couldn’t help a small smile curling her lips. He really was quite dashing despite the foot-long chin and being tall as mast. His hair, in the dark looked like to be a light brown, was long enough to be tied back into a pony tail but long wavy strands had escaped and framed his face. He had also cultivated a neat short-cropped chin beard which smoothed the long lines and planes of his face. It would have looked ridiculous an anyone else but it was handsome on him. She realized she had been quiet too long and blushed at the wicked gleam in his brown eyes. “Strict enough to dump you in a boat all the way out here?” His smile thinned and he nodded. “The day before yesterday. Funny that.” The smile was and his eyes twinkled. “Seemed like so much longer sitting in that boat.” Then he straightened up with renewed energy and to Agnes’ horror smacked his palms together with a loud crack. “What does a guy need to do to hire on with your, fine ship?” “Are you insane? You will keep your voice down if you want to keep your tongue, stranger!” His long, elegant eyebrows shot up in surprise but she didn’t notice. She looked back towards the rest of the ship, but no one seemed to be coming to give her any orders. She made up her mind then. Better on board and quiet, than behind them bringing the Anties down on them with his shouts of ‘Ohoy’.

“Alright, secure your boat, Ohoy-man. Tightly mind you! Then hand me up your knife and I will take you to see the Captain.” He didn’t hesitate for even a heartbeat, but did what she said in short order. The knife he handed her was a beautifully wrought dagger with a polished wooden handled that felt smoother than silk in her hand. She tucked it in her belt with a little pat while he climbed aboard. He noticed her proprietary touch and bowed to her with an extravagant flourish which drew attention to his long ruffled cuffs. “My gift to you, milady. And the name is Rhodry Llelwellyn, in case you had forgotten.” But the look she sent him was not amused. “You should know, Rhodry Llewellyn, that you stand upon the decks of the pirate ship Disobedience under Captain Torias Hemlough” She told him gravely and added with a touch dignity. “And I am his daughter!”. She was rewarded with a blanch and a nervous swallow. She hid a smile and nodded him ahead of her towards the quarter deck. This would be interesting.

5.

Torias Hemlough was at the helm and more sensed than saw their approach down the narrow stair case, from the poop deck. He was far too worried about how far from the edge of the calm they had traveled to be dealing with whatever the girl had fished out of the drink. Still, no Captain worth his salt would let a stranger on his ship without at least meeting him first. The stranger cleared his throat but the sound was cut short abruptly when Agnes stepped on his foot and dragged him into Hemlough’s view so he wouldn’t need to crane his neck away from the helm. He let the silence stretch out between them a while longer. Captain’s privilege. Besides he wanted to know how nervous this fellow was. An Anty spy might conceivably be feeling a little tense at this moment.

“Explain!”

“I let him aboard to stop his yelling, Skipper. He says he’s called Llewellyn and is out from Butcher Block on his first voyage on a trader. They abandoned him in a dingy when he was found smuggling.” She handed him the dagger from her belt. Hemlough took it and inspected its craftsmanship with rising interest. He waved Agnes over to take the helm, ignoring the flash of delight on her face. Then he looked the lanky, young man over. The neatly trimmed chin beard and careful stance as if the deck might buck at any moment told it’s corroborating tale. “What contraband?” The young man brightened and reached into his shirt. Hemlough braced surreptitiously and let his hand fall close to his pistol hilt. He couldn’t risk firing the weapon for risk of giving away their position to the Anties, but it was still an effective melee weapon in experienced hands.

Seemingly unaware of his peril the fellow pulled out a thick package wrapped tight in oiled leather. “I am even happier now that I managed to snag this before they dumped me in that forsaken bucket. Please Captain,” He passed the packaged over to Hemlough in an elegant manner. “Consider this payment for my passage if not as proof of some of my talent.” Hemlough unrolled the package carefully and the exquisite aroma of halfling pipe-weed enveloped him. He didn’t need to try it to know it was the good stuff too. Fine, golden flakes positively glowing with fragrance. Worth more than a Queen’s Sailor saw in a year. “T’is a good bargain, I’ll grant you, but no one sits idle on the Disobedience. What skills have you?” Llewellyn blinked and then stood to attention and answered promptly. “I hired on the Fayberry for my skill with mathematics, sir. I speak and read the languages of all the major races. I have also have studied physics and chemistry and have trained with both sabre and rapier. I play 5 different instruments and I can pick a lock or a pocket.” He sucked in breath and added “Sir!” for good measure. Agnes snorted quietly at his ramrod straight stance but Hemlough quelled her with a look. “And did you serve in the military?” He studied the man’s face carefully for any dissembling. “Yes sir. That is, I enlisted with the Freeport Guard. Uhh… for a day, sir.” Hemlough indicated that he should explain and the young man’s shoulders finally fell a little. “I ran, sir. I couldn’t follow the orders I was given so it was that or fight my commanding officer and entire squad.” Hemlough nodded and thoughtfully turned the leather pouch and dagger over in his hands.

He made up his mind and handed the young man back his dagger. “Welcome aboard, Llewellyn…” he didn’t get to finish that sentence for at that moment a tremendous pillar of water rose less than a hundred yards of to Starboard. Seconds later the sound of cannon fire seemed to ricochet across the water. A second water spout erupted off to Port and quite a bit ahead of the crews in boats. “They’ve found us!” Agnes whispered her eyes dark and luminous against a pale face. Hemlough took the helm back from her. “Almost. They know we’re in here somewhere they are waiting for the sounds to carry back to tell them if they have a hit.” Llewellyn swallowed “Once they hit us once, they’ll keep shooting at the same spot. How many guns are back there?” Agnes’ wide eyes turned to him but she gave him a stiff smile. “Less than 100!” He flashed her a grin and stepped to the railing. There was only a handful of sailors left on the ship and they’d be needed if she took fire. “You need more speed!” Hemlough didn’t comment but Agnes threw her fists on her hips “Can you fill our sails with all that talk then, Ohoy-boy?” She thought he was ignoring her at first.

His eyes narrowed and he leaned forward suddenly over the hand rail squinting at something. Then his face turned back at her with a smug grin. “No, but if you have someone who can man that anchor chain, I think I have a way to make us go just a little bit faster.” Another spout shot up close enough that some of the sea spray fleck the deck. Hemlough shook his head. “I know what you mean to do. Pull us on the anchor chain but we don’t have the muscle for it, all the men except a few are in the boats.” Llewellyn’s face fell. “Besides you mean to row faster than the ship with the anchor weighing down your skiff?” Before Llewellyn could answer one of the long boats impossible shot up on it’s prow disgorging seaman-shaped projectiles of it’s own. For an impossible second it teetered there before crumbling into the sea. Hemlough’s face went white. “Do it! Agnes you’re in charge.” He gripped her arm as she turned to dash off. For a moment it seemed as though he meant to say something different. He stared at her with an odd fierce expression then gave her arm a little shake. “Make his plan work, lass”. She gave him a choppy nod, huge eyes never leaving his face. “Aye Skipper” then she was gone.

Joris Lowther stroked the short-cropped curls that traced the outline of his chin and cheekbones, while he watched boats being filled with mariners, armed with muskets and sabers. He leaned his head slightly back to Lieutenant Falthorpe who immediately stepped up to his elbow. “We’ll continue firing until we lose sight of the boats. Signal Captain Bedenkin with my compliments, and have his boats stay clear of our firing lines until they hear the cannons stop.” Falthorpe saluted. “And the Glory of Bayle, sir?” Lowther’s mouth thinned in distaste. “She can stand guard over us while we wait. Should we lose any of our men out there on the boats we may need to transfer some of her able seamen over.” The young man saluted again. “Aye sir… “ Lowther heard the hesitation and looked at him with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t usually play favourites with his officers, at least not the way that some captains did. He did believe in encouraging intelligent, strong, self-reliant officers so the navy could benefit in the future from intelligent, strong, self-reliant captains. “Do you think it’s likely, sir? That we’ll lose them all?” Lowther pursed his lips. “I would feel more confident in any loss projections if I understood what all this…” He indicated the shimmering green wall in front of them. ”Fog, for lack of a better term, is” “But I will say this, when you send your men into the dark, be grateful if it let’s you have any of them back.” The Lieutenant saluted again and left to convey his Captain’s orders.

It might be a risky proposition, sending off so many men in boats into gods knew what that stuff was. Weather could blow up out here, beyond the calm and all hands would be needed to reef sails and turn the ships. It was conceivable that he would have to order his convoy to abandon the men, at least for a time until they could return. He had scraped both his own Concordant and the Starcrest for any man they could spare and then some to fill the boats. And those were all the boats they had. Lowther drummed his fingers on the railing, trying to stare into the fog. He was fairly confident they wouldn’t need the boats themselves, surely. Still, it was an uncomfortable feeling not having them or the men. Finally there was this fog stuff. It could be harmful to his men, but at least in that case, he comforted himself, it would be so much more harmful to Hemlough and his pirate scum, seeing as they had spent so much longer in it.

6.

Chin craned around wildly looking for more bobbing seamen in the water. The wreckage of the fourth boat was sprinkled around them but it wasn’t really that much. Not enough to really account for the shock of the cannon fire hitting the boat, of seeing it flip up on it’s nose like that. He thought they had maybe pulled in a little over half the men that had been in it. The rest were either gone or floating face down in the water behind them. It wasn’t possible to know for certain who was gone and who was still with them and a couple of the men the other boats had pulled in looked pretty done for. Even from over here and through the cursed mist, had he been able to make out a spray of blood from one sailor’s neck. With the cannon balls still flying in at them there was no time to sail the wounded back to the Dissy either. It was row, and row even harder now or swallow another cannon ball.

He turned back to his own rowers and noticed a man squinting out into the fog, his oar just trailing into the water. “Oy! Did you miss what just happened here or are we boring? Get on that oar!” The man shook himself and took hold of his oar again but his face still looked puzzled and really worried. So worried that chin couldn’t help himself. “Were you planning on sharing what you’d seen then?” He had expected a shrug or even an embarrassed duck. People reacted strangely to cannon fire up close even when it was the first time they were in it. But the man didn’t look shook up. He wasn’t pale and his voice was firm. “To be fair Quartermaster, I dunno what I saw.” He pulled on the oar a few times but Chin could tell he wasn’t done talking. “It seemed like, for a minute there the mist… pulsed. Like it swallowed something, if it had a mouth to swallow with.” Another water spout erupted on the far side of the Dissy. None of them had yet to hit the ship. “When was this?” Chin asked the man, hunching over his tiller at the back of the boat. “Right after the boat got hit, sir”.

Chin stayed quiet for a while, conscious of all the faces that were so studiously not looking at him from their oars. “Alright, anyone see anything weird in that fog you share it. We don’t know what that is.” HE spat over the side of the boat and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “But we do know what waits us back there so the task remains.” Then he gave them his evil little smile “Only now you dainty Fae have to put your backs into it.” Appreciative chuckles rumbled back and signaled the lead oarsmen to start a rowing song, quietly but the rhythm and the well-known song would comfort the men. He wished it would comfort him too.

Agnes caught Llewellyn’s sleeve and pulled him with her to the stairs leading down to the cannon deck. There it was obvious where they were headed, towards a lone, towering shape, hunkering unhappily over one of the Disobedience’s port cannons. Grak-Jon was forlornly checking and rechecking the powder supply, the wicks, the winches anything that had to do with the cannons which was one of his main duty areas. He hadn’t been allowed in the boats, not because he wasn’t strong like, well like an ogre. But he was also as big as any of his people and every bit as prone to frustration when left to do nothing in a dangerous situation. He growled out at every spout of water the Anties cannon fire were. Sure they were still only shooting one cannon at a time and waiting for the echo to die out but it still felt an awful lot like letting the enemy shoot at you for free.

At the sound of running feet he looked up and noted the beeline the two small humans were making for him. Well, one of them was pretty long for a human and had a strangers face. His large fist curled around a ramrod. Although the 12 feet long pole seemed like a brittle stick when he wielded it, many of the cannon crews knew exactly how quick that hated thing could whip out and smack an erring hand.

“Aggie-girl” he rumbled when she skidded to a halt in front of him. “What do you have their? One of those dogs yapping at us?” She grinned at Llewellyn’s suddenly apprehensive look. “Naw, I plucked this fish straight from the sea. And now he wants to breathe the same free air as us!” She turned to Llelwellyn. “This is Grak-Jon, he is the strongest person I have ever heard of. Every time we make port he challenges anyone who wants to any test of strength they want. And he’s never lost. I once saw him lift a cannon, by him self off a man to save him and then he swung that cannon like a club into the guy trying to kill them. It was amazing! Grak-Jon stood a little taller under her praise and his face looked fierce. She turned fully to him and his face was serious. “But now I need your help, Grak-Jon. This fish has a way to give us more speed. He means to sail the anchor in front of the Dissy, drop it and pull the ship to it on the anchor chain.” She waited a few heartbeats until he worked his way through the plan. People thought Ogres were dumb but she’d lived her whole life in the shadow of Grak-Jon and she knew better. He didn’t think the same way she did. Her mind skipped from rock to rock on the surface of the pool of thought until she got to her goal. His mind dived into the water and swallowed it until a path to his goal presented itself. It might take him longer to think through a problem but, along the way, he wouldn’t miss anything, any alternative solution, any previous experience he’d had with it.

Now he grunted, nodded and seemed to send the capstan at the bow of the ship a speculative look, through the deck planking. Agnes bit her lip. “Skipper says I must make his plan work. Can you help us?”. Grak-Jon stood what seemed like minutes in deep thought while cannon balls dropped from the sky on both sides of the ship. Then he shook his head. “Cannot pull the chain alone.” Agnes’ let out a disappointed breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes hard. Then she looked to Llewellyn and grabbed his arm, hard. “Then we’ll have to come up with something else before they put a hole through our hull!” His sad brown eyes told her before he opened his mouth what he was going to say but a large ogre finger appeared between them, right in front of her nose. “You are too quick to lose faith in Grak-Jon, Aggie-girl.” He rumbled at her sadly. Her eyes sought his big, craggy face with renewed hope. “I can’t do it… alone. You must get the cook. Convince him. And we will pull this boat faster than those little boats out there can row!” Agnes launched herself around his neck and kissed one huge cheek. “I knew you could do it!” She hit the deck with a thump and peeled off with Llewellyn again in tow. Grak-Jon shook his head, secured the ramrod, gave the cannon a last loving swipe with the cuff of his shirt, and lumbered off to set up the capstan for two people, instead it’s usual 12. This was a feat they would tell tales about for years to come. He started humming.

Agnes tried out different things she might say to Brazbak to convince him to leave his precious galley with minimal fuss. She halted at the narrow stairway that would take them down another level to where the galley was in one end and the berths in the other. At a muffled sound behind her she turned to look at her gangly, what she call him? Prisoner? Crew mate? Surely not. He was fighting, and losing she noted with growing irritation, the blossoming of a broad grin on his face. “Just what about this is funny?” His smile grew wider still and his eyes twinkled. Very nice, brown eyes she couldn’t help noticing. “Well all of it is, milady. Don’t you see? I was going to die alone in a stupid little boat not half an hour ago and now I’m here, with you, on a pirate ship, getting shot at but Anties, in a creepy magical fog! What ever else may happen I can swear I was not bored today!” She rolled her eyes. “I hope that glib tongue of yours can help convince the cook to abandon his pots to save the ship.”

She flew down the narrow stairs that were swallowed in the darkness of the ship. Llewellyn had to follow more gingerly but it gave him time to wonder out loud. “Very dedicated fellow is he? Or just prone to seasickness on deck?” Her voice told him she was smiling though he couldn’t make out her face in the darkness yet. “Neither. He’s a troll!”. She giggled at his muttered curses as they made their way to the back of the ship to the tiled galley. That was another thing troll artisans had mastered over the thousands of years they had walked on Norrath. Their pottery might not rival any other species’ in looks but its heat resistances and tensile strength was remarkable. And the price of covering the galley in the stuff had been negligible in comparison to fire proofing an area of the ship that always had live flame on it. Just last Winter they had come upon the husk of a ship that had burned out from the galley and up. When she told Brazbak of it that evening he scraped a live coal out of the oven and dropped it on the floor. A smack of a long handled spoon had put her back in her seat when she rushed to put the fire out with a yelp. But nothing had happened. Brazbak had left it there until the shine was all gone before dousing it with a handful of wet sand. He made her clean the spot up so she would see that clay hadn’t even changed colour. It had given Agnes a healthy appreciation for just how astounding the dun-coloured stuff was.

Now they entered the comparatively bright galley where Brazbak stood hunched over some kettles and something spicy smelling, frying in a big skillet. She grabbed Llewellyn’s sleeve again, so he wouldn’t sit down without permission. “Hullo, Brazbak. This is Llewellyn, he is new. We found him afloat in a boat without food or water and now he is helping us save the ship. She sensed Llewellyn was going to speak so she pulled firmly on his sleeve again. She hoped for his shin’s sake he would take the hints. He did and braced himself to be inspected by the troll cook. This didn’t happen though. Brazbak sniffed the air, rumbled and pointed a long, gnarly finger behind him at the corner table. Agnes pushed Llewellyn into the corner. “We don’t really have time for this. Cannon fire, remember?” He expected her to glare or possibly punch him but she didn’t. Her face was serene despite the stress she had to be feeling. But she folded her hands in front of her on the table and told him: “This is how it is with Brazbak, rain or shine, thunder or cannons.” Two plates of the spicy meat was placed in front of them. Llewellyn hadn’t really reached the level of starving yet on his involuntary boat trip but he’d have admitted to being a little peckish until the aroma of Brazbak’s cooking hit him in the face like a hunger mallet. He was halfway through his plate before he breathed again and his eyes were huge and happy. Brazbak watched his hands working the meal like a huge gargoyle craning around his shoulder. He gurgled a troll snicker and brought the skillet over to top off the ravenous humans plate. Agnes smiled as Brazbak dumped the skillet in the sink and returned to lower himself on his stool at the table.

The last of the Concordant’s long boats was being lowered over the side as Joris Lowther watched. He had grown increasingly restless as it and the Starcrest had disgorged its crew into the boats and sent them against the unnatural fog, in two neat lines like ants marching to a feast. Falthorpe made a fine figure, standing at the stern of the boat with one hand on the hawser as the boat was lowered little by little. Lowther watched him and tapped his fingers endlessly on the railing. Just as the boat touched the water his decision crystallized and he ordered the crew lowering the boat to delay and lower a ladder. He caught a glimpse of Falthorpe’s surprised face as he swung himself out onto the ladder. Lowther descended quickly, irritated that he was holding his own orders up with his change of mind, irritated that his crew should witness him changing his mind in the first place. He dropped himself the last five feet neatly into the boat. The lieutenant was holding the ladder steady for him and he hid any disappointment he might be feeling at the order that must follow. “You know my plans, Falthorpe. Take command of the ship until I return. If I haven’t returned by dawn set sail for the nearest harbor you can put her in safely, as the wind allows.” Flathorpe saluted. “Aye, sir! You will return, sir and we will be here” Lowther padded his shoulder once, awkwardly. “I must see this through myself, Lieutenant, it is not a comment on your performance.” The young man relaxed a little and put a foot on the ladder. “And Lieutenant, no need to mention to the Glory of Bayle that I left with the boats after all. Not unless absolutely necessary, if you get my drift?” The young man glowed with pride. “Understood, sir! I’ll have her take up station once she arrives and send our boatswain over to assess her damages.” Lowther allowed the young man to glimpse his Captain rolling his eyes for his benefit. He was rewarded with a quick smile before the young man peeled up the ladder with all the energy of youth. He turned to the steersman who waited patiently on his Captain’s pleasure. “Let us away then, men. We have ourselves some pirates to surprise!” Feral grins met him as he took a seat feeling impatient still but better, much better to be going into the fog so he could see what was going on for himself.

Back in the galley of the Disobedience, Agnes thought “This was going well!” Everybody was calm, Brazbak liked the new guy. This was good. Now she had to steer the conversation to the problem of the anchor chain. But Brazbak had anticipated her. As usual he never looked straight at her or anyone but the gnarly finger flipped up from the table and pointed at Agnes. “Ask!” It was not his friendly voice. For a second the back of her mind marveled at how he always knew when he was needed on deck. She sighed and laid out the plan and why he was needed at the capstan with Grak-Jon. Brazbak’s lips skinned back from his teeth and he thumped the table so the plates and cutlery danced. “I stay here!” Llewellyn scooped the last of the food down extra quick and wiped his hands vigorously clean on his pants. Keeping one hand close to his dagger, Agnes thought. He obviously had never fought a troll before if he thought that little sticker would do him any good. She had to change tactics with the troll since sweet talking him was off the table now. She stood up and hammered her own fist in the table. “We need you Brazbak! Your strength and Grak-Jon’s can save the ship. We are being shot at and we have no wind to sail away.” Brazbak shot up from the stool and leaned over the table at her, teeth still out. “Brazbak makes food, doesn’t go on deck! That was deal with Captain!” Agnes hid a wince. He had to be really upset if his language was slipping back into country-troll. But if she backed down now he’d never leave on her order. Not now, not ever. She put her knuckles on the table and leaned over them, mimicking Brazbak’s stance. “You must come, Brazbak. You must, or we die!” He raised both fist in the air and slammed them into the table which miraculously withstood the assault.

Llewellyn snuck a peek beneath it and found the table had been reinforced with steel beams. It occurred to him that this was confrontation that had happened before. Enough times to warrant spending the steel on the galley. He had an idea then. He gingerly pushed his clean, metal plate against her tightly clenched fist. Once, twice he knew she couldn’t take her eyes of the angry troll but he prayed the red-head would catch on before the cook did. Her hand finally opened and closed on the heavy plate. Then she snatched it up in both hands and brought it down hard on the little table with a resounding clang. The noise startled Brazbak so much his eyes met hers across the table. Fear, he was afraid. She finally understood. He loved this galley, loved cooking for a crew who would willingly steal him things to cook. Who were happy to let him try whatever he wanted to try and provided him with a wider variety in food stuffs than he had ever had as a poor troll in the hills or a poorer one in the alleyways of the human cities. But to sail with them meant he had to brave the seas and he was terrified of the wide expanse of water.

Thunder shook the Disobedience then. First a sharp crack of it and then a long, drawn-out groan at the end of which the deck under their feet dipped sideways. Brazbak’s kettles scooted around on the stove and bumped against the safety bars where they gurgled some of their content onto the floor. Agnes leaned against the dip, fear trying to squeeze her throat but still with her yes locked on Brazbak. “You can’t see more water than could fill a small lake today and there are no waves, I promise.” She reached over and touched the troll’s shoulder, it was thrumming with tension. “Now go up on deck to the front of the ship. Find Grak-Jon there and do as he ways.” She squeezed the wooden shoulder. “That’s an order, Brazbak.” She added quietly and marveled as all the tension seemed to flow out of the troll at those words. He chuffed, grabbed his long spoon, jammed it behind the rope that held up his apron and went out the door in a strange liquid gait. They were both quiet for a heartbeat, looking at the suddenly empty galley. “Well, I’m glad that’s settled then!” Llewellyn said. “Yeah” She agreed though neither of them had moved a muscle. Then she blinked and slapped his chest with the back of her hand. “Good thinking with the plate! Let’s get topside and see what happened.” He grinned back at her. “And hope my stupid skiff is still there or all this effort would be wasted!”.

7.

The destruction that met their eyes as they came up on deck was sobering. The noise was torturous from heavy wooden planks were being wrenched and pulled in ways they weren’t shaped for and the deck was listing crazily sideways and seemed to have exploded in ropes, pulleys and splintered bits wood. A single shot had smashed into the mizzen mast sending it careening into the main. Both toppled sideways from the impact, their rigging tangled hopelessly together. The mizzen was already under water and pulling the main down which was still attached to the ship where it had broken. Grak-Jon was hacking at that break with a huge axe, his big arm rising and falling so fast it seemed almost a blur. Brazbak was heading for the bow hatch which lead to the stores and where the bosun kept his tools. Agnes slapped Llewellyn on the arm to get his attention and pointed to the troll. He was no doubt getting one of the two-man band saws up from the hull and would need help using it. It was faster by far than Grak-Jon’s axe. Llewellyn took her meaning and sped off as quickly as he could on the dangerous deck.

Agnes picked her way as fast as she could toward the stern of the ship. The trajectory of the cannon ball had taken it clear over the raised aft portions of the Disobedience, but only by a monkey’s hair and she couldn’t see the helm, for a large chunk of sail and rope that had landed there. Now, as she came closer, could she make out any movement at all. She pulled her knife out of her belt and started pulling and cutting her way into the mound that should contain the large spoked wheel of the helm and hopefully their Captain as well.

She uncovered the helm which was thankfully, miraculously still intact. A big chunk of sail had covered it neatly and protected it from flying and falling debris. She slipped the two hawsers on it, securing the rudder. It wasn’t as if they would be needing any fancy steering for the foreseeable future. There was no sign of the Captain in that mess though and she looked around the tilting deck. “Oy! Is that you, lass?” She was so relieved to hear the sound of Copperhill’s melodic tenor that she realized how close to hopelessness she had come. She slid carefully to the railing and looked out. Chin had taken all three boats back to the ship and was standing a careful distance away from the dangerously leaning Disobedience. “Mr Copperhill!” She hailed him, formally, since they were in earshot of the men. “Mizzen’s gone pulling the Main and us down and the Captain’s missing.” Her ears picked up the rhythmic sound of a saw then and she smiled. “Brazbak and Llewellyn are taking a saw to it now and…” She ignored his surprised “who?” and craned around to see down the deck. For a heartbeat the only movement she could see was Brazbak’s hunched form at the saw. Then she spotted an axe swinging on the rigging lines clawing at the ships railing like the hand of a drowning man. She turned back to Chin and pointed “Grak-Jon could use a hand clearing the rigging, I need help looking for the skipper and our people and we’ll need men on the pumps as soon as the mast is clear.” Chin watched her lithe form as she gesticulated and felt a surge of pride. She was no dwarf daughter but that didn’t matter out here on wide blue. She was his kid as much as she was the skippers. “Aye lass! You’ll be happy to know, we already fished up one of yours.” He pointed to a huddled form in the bottom of the long boat and Agnes was relieved to see Hernandel wave tiredly at her. “I have the other two long boats on your port side. If the ship doesn’t right herself we can try pulling her up.” “Understood!” Neither of them added that it might not matter if the ship had taken on so much water she didn’t flip back up after the masts were severed. Chin ordered his rowers to take them to where Llewellyn’s skiff was still fastened to the stern. Agnes expected he would send a couple of men up and probably climb up himself as well. Things might not be looking much better than they had a few moments ago, but she felt better about their chances with Chin at her side.

She turned back to the mass of mast junk with renewed vigor. One mound had piled itself against the door to the war room almost on a straight line across from where the Mizzen had stood. As she started pulling at the debris she heard a quiet groan from the heap. It made her tear into the hill with a ferocity she didn’t know she possessed. Ripping off a piece of dirty sail uncovered the Captain’s too pale face. She saw from the corner of her eye as she tossed it, that the lower part of that sail patch was crimson with his blood. He was still breathing, Agnes saw, but it was all too clear where all the blood was coming from. A jagged splinter of wood, a foot or more long, pinned him to the lower wall of the poop deck. It must have shot off from the Mizzen straight into his chest. Hit a lung too unless she was mistaken. She cleared away an armful of heavy ropes that had fallen on his legs. They didn’t seem broken so there was that at least. She let out a small sound that was supposed to be a short laugh but sounded suspiciously more like a sob. Which, of course, was when Chin climbed over the edge of the Quarterdeck and spotted her and the skipper.

His eyes narrowed at the ghastly chunk of wood sticking out of his Captain. “Alright then.” He said, businesslike while pretending not to notice how wet her eyes were. “He’s still with us and it won’t be the Dissy killing our Skipper, you mark my words, girl.” He grabbed some of the sailcloth lying around them. “Here, help me cut up some strips. We’ll tie them around the splinter, squeeze his chest tight until they get done with that blasted mast down there.” Agnes didn’t trust her voice but nodded firmly and cut quickly. Chin threw her a surreptitious glance, but though she was pale and obviously scared for her ship and for her adopted father, her hands were steady as she cut and tied the cloth around the skipper.

“We’re almost through! Everybody hang on to something!” Llewellyn could put some remarkable volume in his shout, Agnes noted as she and Chin braced Hemlough between them and held on tight to the war room wall. Then the world heaved as the main mast tore across the deck and over the side of the Disobedience. She righted herself ponderously and groaning like an old woman but she did right her self. Clinging to her deck like ants her crew were along for the ride and it was to the sound of their cheers and whoops that Hemlough finally opened bleary eyes. “Nice of you to join us, Skipper. Though you missed out on all the fun.” Chin tenderly slid his hand behind the Captain’s shoulder with his face pressed against the wall. Hemlough went even paler and his jaws clenched, but didn’t make a sound. “Part of the ship appears to be sticking out of me, Mr Copperhill. I trust you will be sorting this out presently!” The dry tone and beetled brows may have been much more faded than usual but it still looked and sounded like the Captain. Agnes discovered she could swallow around the lump in her throat again. Chin snorted. “Looks like we’ll be needing a saw of our own, seein’ as you’ve decided to nail yourself to the ship, beggin yer pardon Skipper.” He winked at Agnes across his captain’s outstretched legs. “Fetch me one from stores, Aggie-lass. The smallest you can find if you please. And see to it the men are clearing away all this rubble in double time. We’ll need them back on the oars or risk taking another hit.” That’s when it struck them how quiet it had become. The Captain’s voice was tight and not just from pain this time. “How long ago did the cannons stop?” When neither answered he gripped Agnes’ wrist tightly. “Get our cannons primed and put a musket in the hand of any man still able to stand and aim. The Anties are coming!” “Aye, Skipper!” He let her arm go and she ran off on the now, blessedly straight deck. Every old saying about how life could go from bad to worse danced through her mind like taunting, grinning goblins. She wished every Anty into the maw of a dragon and especially those three ships back there.

8.

The longboats from the Starcrest had become obscured by the fog almost as soon as they entered it. For all he knew, his 6 boats were all that was left in the world. So at least, it seemed to him in that quiet, lonely moment as the forged into the fog. In case the magic interfered with their compasses the tillers were being locked in position so, hopefully the long boats from the two frigates would either come upon the pirate ship or meet up at the point of intersection. Lowther squinted hard into the fog ahead and tried to listen for any possible sound. The cannons had stopped almost as soon as the boats had disappeared into the fog. There was no telling what this green cast would do to the boats (or men) in time or space and young Lieutenant Falthorpe, left in charge of the task force, was probably loathe to risk shooting his own Captain. A sentiment which Lowther quietly admitted he was in agreement with though he’d heard what sounded like a hit just moments before they crossed into the calm and he would have dearly liked to have followed that up with more of the same. No matter though, they had hit the blasted ship and soon they would swarm the crew and cut every last one of them down until he found Hemlough and hoisted him with a rope around his neck by his own two hands. He pulled out his pistol and checked the powder and wished he could speed their progress along.

Maybe it was half an hour or forty minutes of hard rowing, though it seemed interminably longer, before the first sounds started carrying through the fog. A loud shout, definitely the wooden sounds of ship. Another few endless minutes dragged by before a giant shadow coalesced ahead of them. Lowther signaled for quiet on the oars and the oarsmen pulled gently, dipping the oars with care to avoid alerting the pirates to their presence. And there she was, his Nelly, in her dark green pirate garb and her angry pirate name. “I’m taking you back, sweetling” He whispered to himself. “And he’ll pay for stealing you away from me!” They crept closer and Lowther noticed she was sitting low in the water. Not dangerously so, not yet, but low enough to warrant the sound of the pumps which meant fewer men to meet his rush. The day was looking better and better.

A loud thunder tore through his musings and he instinctively ducked, but no smoke showed on the Starboard side where he and his men were creeping closer. They must have spotted the crew of the Starcrest then and where firing port side. Hopefully Lowther’s 6 boats were too close for cannons already though the sound of the cannon fire had a specific quality to it. They sounded like Carronades and those had a much shorter range and could fire closer to the ship too. If they’d primed those they must have anticipated the boarding party which meant. A puff of smoke blossomed from the cannon deck ahead of his longboats and the explosion was deafening at this range. Two boats in the middle of the group of six erupted in blood and gore. They were using grapeshot, just like he would have. Probably loaded the cannons with tight packages of anything small and metal that could be found and rolled in canvas. There was no elegant or fancy tactical moves to make here. “Scatter and row for your lives, men!” He roared and fired his pistol at the gun port that had offered them such devastation. He never noticed the fog around them pulse with every death it was fed.

Grak-Jon roared in triumph as his shot took out another boat which fountained in frothy whites and pinks. To port there were only two boats left to contend with and the handful of crew mates standing with him were firing down into them. He rushed across to the Starboard side and saw that four ships were all but clinging like limpets to the ship’s sides. He grabbed an 8 pound cannon ball in each hand and hurled them straight down into the boats below. The curses and yells as one sprung its seams from the impact, put a smile on his square face.

Agnes punched an Anty sailor in the face with the heft of a saber just as the bald fellow managed to pull it up over the lip of her gun port. He gave her an utterly confused look as his fingers went numb and keeled over backward into the water. Llewellyn had dug a pair of crossbows out from the armory and was firing them as quick as he could load them. Obviously something he had done before, Agnes noted in the back of her mind as he jammed his foot in the stirrup and hooked back the string. He’d appropriated two small swords as well which he’d jammed into his belt and a pouch of something from Brazbak’s spice cupboard. The troll was waiting for his first Anty to climb to his gun port and Agnes almost pitied the poor sod who would be greeted by an enraged, yet aromatic troll. Chin was on her other side, his old fashioned broadsword already dripping with blood and his smile was more evil that ever. “No need to be gentle with them, Aggie-lass. Don’t want them coming back out of the water now!” He admonished and she steeled herself as a hand clamped onto the gunport frame in front of her. She clenched her jaw and brought her saber down hard, severing fingers and biting into the wood. She had to tuck several times to get the saber lose again, all the while fighting back the gorge rising in her throat. She’d fought before along side the crew but fingers was always bad. Cut a man’s throat and that was bad, but it was what it was and sometimes it was that or get your own throat cut. But fingers now… Bouncing off the deck and lying there where you might step on them. It made her skin crawl.

“Are you feeling unwell, milady?” It was that stupid Llewellyn and his stupid long face with the pretty eyes. She growled at him and took her ire out on the next Anty customer at her window by jamming her sword straight into his throat and kicking him in the face to get him off the blade and off the ship. “Mind your own business, Ohoy-boy. You have a caller!” She watched him grab his opponent by a fistful of hair, pull his head into the window and slice his throat with the pretty jeweled dagger. All along the gun deck on both sides the gun ports were spattered with red. But there were too many sailors climbing the side of the ship and some of them were bound to make it through the ports or climb beyond them to the deck above. There were shipmates up there hurling anything they could find down at the boarders as well but the Disobedience only had her crew. She didn’t have a company of soldiers attached to her like frigates did. Where she could fill 4 long boats with a full crew they could launch 6 each and still have enough to sail their ships. Grak-Jon’s impossible loading speed that got their carronades ready at the last minute even the odds out for them, a little but it was still going to take a hard fight to win the day. At least the pirates had one thing their boarders didn’t. Their backs to the wall and nowhere else to go but through the Anties.

Brazbak shoved a particularly large sailor into a gunport head and feet first. Effectively plugging the narrow opening. Agnes shuddered to think what that looked like for those climbing outside. She felt like she had been fighting for hours and the saber in her hand seemed to have gained 20 pounds in the last few minutes when she finally found herself in a lull. All around her people were fighting, bleeding or dying, but she couldn’t tell from the melee which side was winning. She ran up a pile of barrels and caskets to poise on top of one of the cannons. There seemed to be an awful lot of uniforms still upright and too many familiar faces lying down. A thundering of feet coming down the staircase nearby, brought her face around and dropped a clump of ice in her gut. More Anties! How many were there? Four of her shipmates rushed to meet them in the doorway, fighting furiously to keep the Anties penned up in the stairwell. Agnes whipped back to look at the cannon’s primer, it was loaded with powder which meant the cannon was loaded too. “Grak-Jon, Brazbak! To me!” She saw the ogre’s huge shape shift direction and wade through the melee, cleaving a path like a ship’s prow through the sea. She jumped down and pulled two stout poles out from one of the dead sailors. Fitted them as quickly as possible, into their receptacles at the middle of the carronade’s slider carriage.

The stout cannons had been taken off a broad beamed merchant to her captain’s loud and furious complaints. He’d only had them for two months and Hemlough had liked their lightweight lethality and mobility – in relative terms. When your master gunner is an ogre you have much more options when it comes to moving cannons around while still at sea. Now he and the wiry cook grasped the cannon and whipped it around to face the doorway like it weighed nothing. Agnes stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled like a screaming banshee. Heads whipped up, mostly pirate heads who recognized the warning. Realizing what was going about happen at the stairwell, the four pirates fighting there were pulled roughly out of the way just as she reached over to pull the string to the flintlock.

There was a moment of perfect stillness, the Anty mariners in the doorway realizing their peril and trying to back up the stairs against the tide of their comrades who couldn’t see what was happening. In front of the door people were throwing themselves to safety left and right, Anties and pirates both. Then the thunder came, smoke and sparks threw a wall up between her and the doorway and the cannon disgorged it’s deadly grapeshot and shot backwards, crushing a wounded man on the ground behind them and smashing into another. She staggered and coughed. Brazbak pulled her away from the cannon smoke, along the wall of the hull and she swallowed when she made out the grizzly results. The door was just gone. So was the lower part of the stairs. A big ragged hole in its place, smoking, blackened and burning around the edges. And so were the soldiers, just gone. Nothing could be seen that was even remotely shaped like a body any more. A cheer rang up from the pirates but Agnes felt numb and lightheaded. As if it were all happening somewhere else. To someone else. Llewellyn showed up in her field of vision. His mouth moved and he was grinning but it was as if she was trying to listen under water.

“I said good work! I can’t believe I just saw that. You have given your men hope, but we need to keep that fire burning if we are to win this day!” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her gently. “Come on, Aggie. You need to give them a show, something put fire in their bellies and pride in their hearts!” He smiled and cupped her pale, uncomprehending face and started singing of all things. His melodic tenor rose above the din in the beginning of a rousing sailor song. His eyes never left hers as he pulled the leather thong out of her braid and shook out her red curls. The song was a bawdy thing about a merry halfling widow but as he sung to her and the hard-pressed pirates, he changed the words to make the song about a red-head called Dissy. Her eyes widened as her scrambled mind finally began to catch up. He wasn’t just singing either. His song had a feeling to it. Something concrete and heavy. Ethereal, golden motes appeared in the air around Llewellyn and she didn’t even care that her jaw dropped. He winked and pulled her by the hand up onto a sturdy stack of crates, all the time singing lustily. Agnes was amazed to hear other voices joining the refrain now and she looked wide-eyed out across the melee. Llewellyn squeezed her hand once and let go with a flip of his head. He wanted her to sing too, she realized. Her foot bumped against a lifting hook thrust into the lid of the crate. She pulled it out, gathering her thoughts. This was never going to work! But she pulled in a breath, lifted her weapons and joined her voice to his. “If I survive this day,” she thought as she parried a thrust from a prim looking elf. “I will have to talk to that boy about his crazy ideas.” She sang at the prim elf and his face blanched as if she’d pulled out a third sword somehow. The Disobedience’s crew pushed in around her crate as if she were a flag and they her soldiers. Even Grak-Jon was there, rumbling tonelessly on the beat to the song. A reedy sound behind her told her Brazbak was flexing his social interaction like never before that day.

Chin Copperhill led a couple of athletic fighters around the edge of the fighting, his knives whipping out to eviscerate or otherwise grievously wound every Anty, unlucky enough to fall into the tender mercies of him and his Bleeders, as he would call them. They left a lot of live foes on the floor behind them. Live and screaming in agony to shake the determination of their mates tripping over them. She caught his eyes for a second and her grinned at her, lifted the tip of his blade in an ironic salute before shooting his arm forward between an Antie’s legs. Her eyes flicked back to her surly looking opponent. His movements were slowing as if he was getting tired but Agnes found she had a second wind now. Even singing. Fighting and jumping she felt fresher now than she had a few minutes ago. She knocked his short blade out of his hand with the heavy hook, to his gaping astonishment. His expression fixed like that as her saber ran him through. She kicked him off and looked around for another opponent in a rising thunder of voices singing.

Rhodry poured every scrap of power he had into the song. He was trained in maintaining a song’s magic cadences while fighting but that usually meant a melody and lyric he’d spent months practicing. This was adding a magic cadence to a a song he had never sung himself before, while changing the lyrics to fit the situation and evoke the emotions from the singers that would fuel the magic in the song. He had never imagined himself doing anything of the sort. It was battle-barding like in the old days and it was wild and heady. The rough voices singing around him, more and more joining the chorus feeding the spell that in return offered the illusion of freshened limbs and soothed aches. They would pay for the energy expended this way, later. But if that meant there was a later he thought it was worth the gamble. And the girl fighting so determinately atop her box with her eye-catching curls flying inspiring her friends to fight harder still and shaming anyone feeling cowardice slow their blades. It was as if one of the old songs was coming alive around him. Like standing inside one of the paintings in the rich estates he grew up in. The son of a servant wistfully gazing at the vivid scenes of far away glory days. The song was coming to an end and the circle around Agnes was pushing outward. Impossibly, every man was fighting someone and in many cases more than one, yet they were pushing the Anties back. Agnes looked around for someone to fight and he caught her attention. The main mast continued down through the gundeck here and looked much more like a broad, wooden pillar than anything else. Things tended to end up piled up around it though as it made for a natural focal point of the wide expanse. She rolled her eyes at him and ran up the stacked to shout a dramatic ‘a-wheigh’! On the song’s chorus. Rhodry had to fight a huge grin back, not something one can easily sing around after all, and filled his lungs to start a new song. A heavier one this time, he decided looking at the how the battle fortunes were turning. Something compelling and determined. One of the heaving shanties, designed for pulling the heavy sails up, should do.

Oh the times were hard and the wages low

Leave her, Tony, leave her

And the swords were sharp and the clubs a’blow

And it’s time for you to leave her!

Not a pirate throat was silent for this ones chorus, he was sure of it. The changes he was making to the song and the rhythm he set changed it from a mournful shanty to a menacing march and the refrain boomed like a broadside of voices:

Leave her Anty, leave her.

Oh leave her, Anty leave her.

For the voyage is long and the winds don’t blow

And it’s time for you to leave her.

9.

Joris Lowther backhanded a pirate with the gold filigreed hand guard on the hilt of his long sword. The man went over the railing before he could finish him and Joris thought he should be grateful, the pattern shape his face was sporting now was probably worth more honest pay, than the brute had seen in a life time. He had relentlessly butchered his way through every one of the scum he could lay hand or sword on and still there was no sign of their cowardly, self-styled ‘captain’. When the cannons had started firing he had ordered his men over the side of their long boat. Clinging to the sides of the boat they had kicked it quietly in under the protruding quarter deck where a 3rd mate, with family in the rugged mountains, had quickly hammered finger thick iron nails in, one above the next all the way past the gundeck. Once up there handholds were plenty and they managed to sneak onto the quarterdeck without incident. As much because the other crews were fighting tooth and nail to boar amidships.

He had 20 men with him and they fell on the top side pirates from behind. That first rush had cost the pirates two scores of dead and he hadn’t lost a single man. The fighting was harder after that, of course, but his men were tough and experienced fighters with a sweet first victory to ride. Soon they were fighting on planks slippery with blood and it was still mostly the pirates’.

It felt like ages later, when he came upon one of the Starcrests’ mariners. Grievously wounded by shrapnel the man had managed to pull himself up on deck from a nearby hatch, it seemed. Through a pain filled fog he recognized the task force Commander and tried to salute even though he could barely raise himself onto his elbows. Lowther looked in the direction the man had crawled from. A thick melee was taking place around what he recalled as the main hatchway to the gun deck. “Something happened with them… Commander” The man wheezed, feebly trying to grasp Lowther’s arm. “We were…” spasmed, coughed with a bubbling sound that made Lowther’s gut turn, and then tried again. “We were cutting them down, sir, I could sweat to it. They were dying! Then the cannon fired into us. So much blood. And they started singing.” He wheezed but he finally managed to grab Lowther’s arm. He had to fight an urge to pull away from the dying man’s touch. “You mustn’t go down there, commander. They fight like they don’t feel pain now. You mustn’t!” He did pull away now, with disgust at the man’s cowardly ravings. He watched him struggle to breathe a moment longer until the inevitable last ragged attempt petered out. A pitiful end. He looked around the deck. There were pockets of fighting happening in various places but the most concentrated seemed to be around that hatch.

“Sergeant! Form up those men from the Starcrest there.” He pointed at a group of sailors beating on a pair of disarmed pirates. “And break that cluster over there. I want to know what they are so keen on protecting. The man saluted smartly and headed for the group. Lowther wiped the handle of his sword with a piece of sail cloth. Wind or no wind, this ship was dead in the water after the number the cannons had done on her masts. The missing Main and Mizzen masts spoke for themselves but he could see from here the Foremast was askew. They probably had a mast in stores if they had any sense at all. Raising it with a few score tired, wounded men would be all but impossible and for all intents useless too. He sighed, He hadn’t wanted her destroyed, his old command. But if it had to be done he would scuttle her himself. Once the rest of these vermin were cut down or strung up from their crooked foremast. He started heading towards the melee when a shout drew his attention. “The fog! It’s changing!” Lowther’s eyes flicked to the featureless wall he had all but ignored once his foot touched the Nelly’s planks. It had changed. Not green and light anymore but a sick bruised colour, darker than before and oddly pulsing. It looked intimidating, certainly. But it didn’t seemed to be doing anything, yet. It might have some use though, he mused. “Sooner we get through these pirates, the sooner we can get back to our ships!” The sailor took his meaning and threw himself into the nearest cluster of fighters. Lowther spared the ugly fog another irritated glance but a voice from the past whipped his head around and his eyes blazed with triumph and fury.

“Stand fast lads! Don’t let any stinking Anties get by us!” Hemlough’s chest seemed to flash hot and cold with every move he made and there seemed to be too little air in cramped fighting around the fore gun deck stair case. The aft access hatch was thankfully buried in sail and rigging and whatever they’d done with the cannon downstairs had cleared the stairway itself of Anties like a bloody wind had blown. He’d peeked down far enough to see the gruesome scene below. He’d seen worse in other fights but it was going to be memorable enough – should he be in any position to remember anything at the end of this day.

They should have all been dead already. He had thought this to himself over and over since the Antonican sailors boarded his ship. How were they still alive and fighting? And winning, at least from the sounds coming up form the deck below. It was impossible. They were swarmed by sailors, they should have been cut down to the last man. She should have been cut down. His mind cringed away from that thought. She wasn’t dead though! His old, jagged guilt. The child he orphaned and stole. Her clear voice rose from the gun deck and buoyed him. He had foot-long piece of mast through his chest, he almost couldn’t breathe but so long as her voice was in his ear, he would keep lifting his sword until it wouldn’t lift anymore or they ran out of Anties. And he’d keep these bastards away from his daughter!

He had his left arm tucked around the jagged splinter, trying to keep the skin from moving too much around it as he parried and thrust with his right. The wound didn’t feel as bad as it should. Not since the notes of the song started curling up around him and his men. Why were they singing at all? He wondered. He was going to ask her that, the girl. It must have been one of her fool notions. More Anties were joining the knot around the doorway. Which meant more of his men were dead or dying. The fog around them seemed to undulate around them in its new, dark blush. As if all the blood being spilled was colouring the air itself. Maybe it was. The itchy feeling it had given off since they entered it was worse too now. Or maybe that was his wound. Didn’t itching mean it was healing? He started to laugh in spite of himself and it made him cough a spray of blood.

“It would seem I found you in the nick of time, traitor. Why don’t you lay down your sword so I can give you a quick merciful death?”

Hemlough looked up and straight into the point of Commander Joris Lowther’s bloody sword. The fighting around them came slowly to a halt as realization spread that the skipper was in trouble. The sounds of fighting from downstairs also seemed to be abating and this was important though Hemlough couldn’t make his brain tell him why just then. Instead he gave Lowther a wry, tired smile. “The years haven’t been kind to you, Captain.” Lowther’s lips skinned back in a snarl and his fist tightened around his sword hilt. “Don’t you call me that! You have no right to call me that, traitor!” Hemlough wheezed a little chuckle and rested his sword point on the deck. It had become abominably heavy now. “And what else should I call you then, Torias? That is what you were when I disobeyed your order to kill this ship and her crew.” Lowther went white as the blood drained from his furious face. “Is that why you have come then? So we can all die together like you wanted all those years ago?” Lowther was visibly fighting his temper. The tip of his sword vibrated with the need to punch forward and end his life. “Order your men to stand down, Hemlough. You have my word your death will be painless!” A ringing silence fell after those words and Hemlough strained to hear anything from the stairs behind him. But his ears were full of the sound of his pulse laboring away at what little blood he had left. All he could do was hope and buy his redheaded daughter a little more time. That was all he had left to give her in penance for what he had taken away.

“You want me to trade for your mercy? To ask your forgiveness for saving your life and the lives of half the men you are murdering today?” He spat. “I have done a lot of things I’m not proud of, Captain.” He made the honorific sound like it meant something noisome. “Do you even know why you gave that order to turn into enemy fire and sure defeat?” He leaned across the sword hovering inches from his mangled chest and grabbed Lowther’s yet pristine white cravat with his bloody hand. Lowther seemed transfixed by Hemlough’s words and his utter disregard for his sword. The pirate captain was covered in blood and dirt and obviously grievously wounded, probably even dying but his eyes were locked on Lowther’s as inevitable as a broadside of cannons. He pulled Lowther toward him, jabbing the Commodore’s sword into his own flesh without apparently noticing. “Did you ever stop to think why you ordered us to turn into an overwhelming force instead of running and fighting another day?” Their faces were barely a foot apart now. “Because you, Captain, were too afraid to tell the Admiralty that you… Wanted… To run!” Lowther screamed then. Screamed into this hated man’s face. Screamed at his words and the years of queer looks from nobles at court and Admirals who wouldn’t support him. Screamed and thrust the sword home until his hand was warmed by Hemlough’s gushing blood. Finally he ran out of air but the scream still sat in his throat like bile. His old lieutenant swayed , still on his feet with Lowther’s sword clasped between his hands. A beatific look spread on his face as if he had just remembered something important and a little funny. Then he toppled over backward in the the stairwell behind him. Lowther only had a split second to wonder at that look when another scream, much different from his wounded, tortured cadence, rose from the cavernous darkness below. A tidal wave of pirates erupted up from the stairs, led by a willowy girl with scarlet curls flying around her head and a murderous expression. She came straight for him with a saber in one hand and a rusty hook in the other, still screaming like a banshee. Lowther backed up, casting around wildly for a weapon to defend himself with. He thought he understood Hemlough’s last amusement now. He’d taken Lowther’s sword with him. His men pressed in around and in front of him offering him some time but none were offering him their weapon. Not that he could really blame them. He tried to reign his thoughts in to focus on the immediate danger but they kept scattering around, offering silly commentary like that instead of helping him arm himself. His numb feet only worked in slow reverse and he stumbled over bodies and debris. He couldn’t take his eyes of that furious girl. What ever had he done to her? Who was she and why was she fighting with a bunch of pirates? A tall, gangly man with his hair in a courtier’s pony tail fought close on her heels. Ducking blows, cutting and jabbing at anyone too close to her left flank. Men were toppling to her right too. Lowther spotted what seemed to be a quite short man or possibly very tall beardless dwarf on her right slicing with both hands, wicked looking daggers held in a reverse grip. Lowther finally felt the splintered edge of the railing cut into the back of his thigh. He had backed all the way across the deck, just watching the ferocious, impossible skirmish. Hadn’t he been winning just moments ago? What happened. He was having trouble remembering. Behind the trio a huge shape had unfurled from the hatch opening. They had an ogre ship mate? And behind that monster… Was that a troll? He shook his head, confusion laying a cloying haze over his vision.

10.

The wind seemed to have gone out of the Anty sailors following the sally up onto the main deck. They fought tiredly and with little hope. The best sort of enemy, Chin thought. He ought to have been tired by now but he’d never felt so alive and full of energy. The songs had washed away his aches and weariness and warmed his gut like a shot of fine rum. He didn’t know who that young fellow was now where he had suddenly come from but Chin new magic when he felt it, even his he had none of his own. The runes in his golden earrings had warmed to the spell as they had chilled to the fog. Not the most sophisticated of warding runes but one he had made good use of over the many years since he had left his clan. Knowing if a spell you were encountering was good or bad for you was really what it came down to in the end. In this case he was certain it had saved their lives. All, that is, but the Captain. “Stubborn old goat!” He thought vehemently as he ducked low and twirled, arms outstretched like a lethal dancer. “He just had to go and get himself killed without explaining anything to the girl.” Flesh parted for his wicked blades and two sailors went down screaming, hamstrings cut. One of them hit the deck with his knees right in front of Chin and he silenced him with a blade through the throat. Sensing movement behind him, Chin rolled to the right as the other man tried to fire an unloaded pistol at him. Chin tutted at him and snapped a blade across the surprised mans gut. “I think you’ve got your hands full now, mate!”

Over the dying man’s shoulder, Chin spotted a big, burly Halasian, lifting a keg over his head with a roar. He was turning to face Agnes, who was busy fighting an elf in an officer’s uniform. Chin flipped a dagger around, to grab its tip. He might be loathe to lose a fighting dagger on a toss that might or might not kill the bastard but there was no time. He drew back for the throw when Llewellyn stepped up in front of the barbarian and threw a handful of powder in his face with an elegant gesture. It looked to Chin as if he had hit the guy with a ten foot invisible club. Stunned the blonde Halasian froze in his tracks, the heavy barrel still suspended in straight arms over his head. His face was scrunched up for a full three heartbeats. Then his eyes flared wide open, blood streaming from both of them and from his nose too. He must have forgotten about the barrel but his arms couldn’t hold it upright anymore and it crashed onto his head throwing the giant to the ground. Chin lowered his dagger and noted with satisfaction that the barrel held. That was 20 silver worth of gunpowder saved.

Chin watched Llewellyn fight out of the corner of his eye while he plowed through white-clad sailors who tried to reach him or his Captain’s daughter. Llewellyn’s long shape danced around on Agnes’ left side, crippling opponents, much like Chin was doing on her right. Leaving Anty sailors on the ground for the pirates behind to finish off. He never seemed to keep a weapon long but wielded whatever came to hand with effectiveness and style. Mostly launching things with deadly precision and from time to time grabbing a handful of powder from a pouch at his belt and treating another devil to the same that felled the barbarian. Chin had to admit he approved of the young man’s style. And he had to admit the stranger was handsome, even if he was as tall as a tree. Given how protectively he fought for the girl though, that particular issue might not come up for one dashing dwarf such as himself though. He slammed the butt of his fist in the groin of a sailor who had taken sideburns to a whole new level of hell. The fellow’s eyes bulged with pain and after a thought Chin kicked him hard in the face.

Llewellyn tried to watch everything coming at the mat the same time. Anything to keep his eyes away from the mask of grief and rage on her face. She was only a girl, still a little unfinished, her cheeks a little too round yet. But with the promise of such a woman beneath it all. The first thing he had done upon boarding this ship was look into those deep, mysterious eyes and he had drowned there. Drunk in her beauty and strength and laughter. He wanted to know who she would grow to become one day. He needed to be there when that happened and for her to live that long. As he fought to keep his side of her clear of enemies, he realized he was doing exactly what he had fled first the bard academy and later the Freeport guard for. He was fighting for a cause like all the sad sacks he had mocked his whole life and the admission was acid on his tongue. Yet he knew one look at her tear streaked face and he wouldn’t care. He would kill anyone for her, go anywhere she told him even to his own death. And he had known her for less than a day. It wasn’t just infatuation either. The gods knew he’d known and loved many women and men in his life already. They came and went, as the winds alighted butterfly on your hand to lift it away moments later. There was happiness in such a life, never tying yourself to one place or person. But the sight of her, fighting and singing, her hair whipping around her face, a smile curling at the corner of her lip. In that vision he had glimpsed a future as glorious as any he had dreamed off as a small boy. Heroes, and villains, adventure, pirates, treasure! “So that’s my price then?” he asked himself, bitterly. “Offer me glory, adventure and a gorgeous pirate girl and I’ll sign on the dotted line, is it?” He shoved the toe of his boot under the heft of a slim, straight sword and flipped it up in the air, to meet his hand before whipping it across a man’s face with a satisfying whack. “Turns down fame with the bards, money from the guard, a fortune even but no, Rhodry Llewellyn sets the price of his soul at the tears of a pirate girl.”

Agnes fought through a red haze not really seeing the faces that came against her. Not feeling the cuts she took in return for her furious charge. Everything came with a price. They would win this day, she knew that with a bitter certainty now even as more sailors stabbed or ran at her. They would win and the Captain would still be dead and broken at the bottom of the stairwell. No last farewell, no final explanation. No chance to tell him she didn’t care what he had done in the past and she didn’t hate him for being hard and cold with her so much. The rare glimpses of tenderness he had shown her over the years had become treasures she had hoarded and kept in her heart. She knew he would have given more if he had had it to give. She also knew he had kept always her safe. Even to the last he was guarding her back, fighting in front of the hatch. He could have taken his men down and joined up with her but he chose to give them time to work through the crowd they had downstairs before the next wave could overwhelm them all. Had he done all that just for her or for all of them? She wasn’t sure and it didn’t matter. He was gone, she couldn’t ask him and she hadn’t told him she loved him, because they never spoke like that together. She hacked and smashed her way at the Anty sailors, since she couldn’t hack and smash at the hurt inside. She wanted that sallow faced man with the overly cultivated chinstrap beard. He had stood at the top of the stairs, in the middle of the circle of stunned onlookers, pale and shocked. He was dressed in finery. Not just an officer but a leader of these men, and his sword hand was empty. She had seen the beautiful gilded cupped sword hilt sticking out of Hemlough as he toppled down the stairs to lay crumpled at her feet. He had to be Lowther then. The Skipper’s old Captain. A man Hemlough would rarely speak of and always with such barely concealed contempt. His oldest enemy. Hers now. She had never wanted to kill anyone before. Had to kill, in a fight in self defense as with these sailors getting in between her and her target. But now she wanted to kill someone. To hurt him like he had hurt her and to take his life as he had taken the Skipper’s from her. Finally, after endless fighting she broke a mans neck with an up-hand swipe of the hook, using the blunt side of the heavy rusty tool as a club. Behind him there was twenty paces of free deck to the splintered railing and in front of that, with an arm half-raised in self defense, Lowther. She started running, screaming his loathsome name and raised her weapons, the ghastly hook held high and weeping blood. Fear and confusion suffused his pale face and he took a step back… onto the splintered railing. Agnes saw his arms fly up and windmill as he tried to regain his balance. She was almost there but it wouldn’t be enough. His foot went through the railing, almost perpendicular to the deck which gave her one shot at exacting the price she wanted from him for killing Hemlough. Her left hand, with the hook shot out and time seemed to freeze for an instant as the wicked tip tore into Lowther’s right eye. Blood sprayed from his face and his jaw opened in a scream but his momentum was carrying him out and down, away from the ship, from this horrible demon girl and her awful hook. He had one terrifying glimpse of his eye, impaled on the rusty metal spike before Lowther’s tired brain shut down and soothing darkness enveloped him in its kind, forgiving arms, as he fell.

11.

Chin ordered the remaining Anties tied up smartly before he came over to where Agnes was still standing staring out at the dark waters, still as a statue. Llewellyn hovered by her elbow, a little green around the gills from the sight of the gory trophy she was still holding up. Chin spared him a raised eyebrow and the young man returned a guarded look. “He’s not stupid, that one.” He thought to himself and leaned carefully out over the splintered railing. “Well then, I’d say that takes care of him then.” His smoky voice the driest he could make it. “Glad to see you haven’t been building your fierce reputation or nothing.” He eyes flicked to him, not understanding. He noticed a slight tremor going through her body. He nodded nonchalantly ad the bloody hook in her hand with its prize. He was pleased to see her go pale at the sight. He wasn’t sure he wanted anyone on board who could do a thing like that and not blanch at all. She held the hook down and out from her and she was visibly trembling now. “Sometimes…” The slow drawl came from Llewellyn, who gently took the hook from her hand with a small smile. “A fierce reputation can save a lot bloodshed down the road.” He turned in one smooth move and launch the hook at the remains of the Main Mast. It spun through the air, over the heads of the tied up Anties, showering them with fine droplets of blood until it stuck with a twang in the splintered wood. Chin rolled his eyes at the obvious grandstanding but he did notice the terror in the eyes of the Anty sailors as their gazes fixed on the quivering hook.

“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, yet.” Chin said, leaning back against a safe spot of railing and cleaned his daggers with deliberate menace. The tall young man threw him a dazzling melt-in-your-mouth smile and Chin’s mouth went dry. “Rhodry Llewellyn, bard, thief, lover and of late marooned sailor. At your service and with my sincerest apologies, sir.” He even added a little bow though he had to be as bone tired as Chin felt. With the rush of the fight gone weariness wasn’t so much creeping up on him as crushing him to the deck sole. “Bard huh? Well that would explain the singing I suppose.” His eyes flicked to Agnes but she still stood there, unmoving as if she couldn’t hear them or couldn’t move. “I’ll hand it to you that for a pretty boy you weren’t bad in a fight. So what would you be wanting to apologize for?”. The dazzling smile turned down a notch or two. Chin marveled at the how devastating that smile was, and wryly filed away the knowledge that he himself was not immune to its effects. “Ah the singing before? I managed to weave a spell with the songs to keep us fresh through the fight.”

Chin felt his eyes close and had to force them open when the meaning of the lads words hit him. “Oh bloody hell!” He turned and bellowed at the pirates weaving drunkenly on about the deck and bellowed as hard and loud as he could: “Get everyone below decks now! Make sure the prisoners are secured. Do it you scum suckers or I’ll have an ear off of each of to hang on Aggie’s hook!” Years of feet doing what Mr. Copperhill bellowed at them kept them going but only just as they stumbled to the prisoners and then to the hatchways. Chin turned to grab Agnes but she had evidently already collapsed into unconsciousness. Llewellyn stood with the girl in her arms and a bleary-eyed expression on his long face. He waved the toward him. “This way. To the Captain’s Quarters. There’s room for all of us. And you can sleep on the table.” Llewellyn snorted. “Whatever you say, uhh…” He stopped and gave Chin a slow blink. “What’s your name then, uncle dwarf?” Chin sniffed at him and gave him an evil glare that had none of the sharpness to it it normally would have. But he was so tired now. “You can address me as Mr Copperhill and only when I want your opinion on something… Which will be never, pretty boy. Now watch where you put those hands and get our girl in tucked up in bed, on the double.”

The infuriating young man clicked his heels smartly at him and looked so fresh and awake Chin wanted to strangle him. “That spell of yours. You didn’t make it so you would be the only one awake by the end of it, did you?” Llewellyn ducked through the door to the roomy, by ship’s standards, aft cabin. “You have a suspicious mind, Mr Copperhill” He enunciated the name with just a little bit of emphasis. Enough to tell Chin he was teasing but he was too tired to do anything about it. “As a matter of fact,” He placed Agnes gently on the broad bed. “I am also feeling the need for a nap most keenly.” He kicked his boots aside, tore the tattered and bloody remnants of his shirt off and let it fall with a wet splat on the floor, and slid into bed with his back to Agnes. Chin felt indignation bubble up and fizzle against a crushing weariness that gave him the choice between lie down or throw up. Llewellyn padded the bed besides him invitingly and Chin threw up his arms in disgust. He toed off his own boots and pulled his equally drenched shirt over his head to let it drop besides Llewellyn’s. Then he sank down on the bed and let his head fall on the pillow besides the young mans. “You are explaining this to her when we wake up. If we wake up, that is.” He was answered by only light snores.

12.

Joris Lowther found himself aware of surroundings growing in light and focus. It was an odd sensation. There was no pain or weariness, no gasping for breath as water filled his nose and mouth. He felt like he was floating suspended as if by the sea except he didn’t feel wet or any dry or anything for that matter. It was quite… pleasant in a way. He sensed movement as if he was a mote being buffeted by an unfelt wind towards something, light was growing from the direction he was heading but he couldn’t make out any shapes in this strange dream world. “Possibly”, he mused to himself calmly. “I am dead and this is what comes after.” The sensation of traveling went on for some time or at least Lowther thought it did. It was hard to tell how quickly time passed. But a change was happening in front of him, in the center of the growing diffuse light. A shape grew from apparently nothing and became a face, then a head. The head slowly grew into a body and a man stood before him. A stranger, garbed in the robes of a wizard. He had a noble face with a high brow, deep-set blue eyes and a nose almost too small for the large face. His square, pointed chin had the merest hint of a dimple in it and his lips were a thin slash. It was a face that seemed to have aged too quickly- There were few wrinkles in his face but the hair was iron grey and the smile lines around his mouth that spoke of better days in his youth were being overwritten by lines of grief from later years. There was a coldness in the mans eyes that chilled Lowther for a moment. But then he spoke and his voice was measured and courteous.

“Can You hear me, sir? My name is Renard Debreyt I am an appointed member of Mage’s Conclave to Her Majesty’s Court in Qeynos” The man might as well have told him he was an emissary from the queen of the faeries as absurd as it was to meet a Qeynosian court mage out in the middle of, where was he again? Near some island. Toruga! He tried to open his mouth to answer the mage but found he didn’t seem to have one. A gentle smile spread on the man’s face. “I’m afraid You are not exactly, here with me in my study. You must try to think your answer at me, rather than speak it.” Lowther concentrated on his own name and rank. The man cocked his head politely and appeared to be listening. “I see! You are Commander Joris Lowther of her Majesty’s navy in command of the vessel…” His face took on a concentrated look amended himself. “The frigate Concordant and two others, is that correct, sir?” Lowther found himself trying to salute and something of that must have been imparted on the man for his face lit up in amusement for a moment before taking on a more serious countenance.

“I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you, Commander” Lowther braced himself “Oh here it comes,” He thought. “I’m dead, am I not?”. The man laughed a pleasant little laugh. “As a matter of fact no. Or, I should say, at least not yet. I fear you have sustained a grievous injury somehow and are currently floating a few miles off the coast of this island. Miraculously, You have managed to hold on to, what I assume must be, some flotsam, even in Your unconscious state, but I fear the situation cannot possibly last. I’m afraid eventually your grasp will slip.” Lowther chewed on that thought for a moment. A few miles off the coast might as well be lost at sea, if all he had was a plank to hold on to. And wounded the man had said? Lowther couldn’t recall receiving any wound. He couldn’t recall much of anything of the past day and it nagged at him. “In that case, Sir, I fear You have troubled Yourself to no avail and You are correct. It is only a matter of time before I slip from this into true death.” The man touched his lower lip with a thoughtful gesture. “I believe I can possibly pull you closer into the shore even shock you awake with your help. But I fear it will merely trap you on this island with me and the poor villagers dying here.” The man looked sadly away out at something Lowther couldn’t see. “The fog, You see. It is killing us inch by inch every day in spite of my constant and now lagging efforts.” He sighed and Lowther noticed now how tired the man looked and he wanted to help this kind, noble soul. “How many villagers are there with you? There is room on my ships since… The pirates! We fought them. They are here!” The man looked up sharply at that. “Which pirates? You say you fought them, in the fog?” Lowther nodded though he had no head to nod. “Aye, we fought them, nearly had them too. I sent 12 long boats into the fog after the Nelly and her pirate crew. All dead or captured now.” The man’s face had relaxed into a compassionate look. Another thought nudged itself on Lowther. “I slew her Captain, I remember!” Something else had happened which was important but remained tantalizingly out of his grasp.

The mage meanwhile seemed wholly uninterested in his tale, grim as it was. “So many dead would explain why the spell convulsed and twisted so tonight. Who knows in what ways it has been altered.” He seemed to have forgotten Lowther completely as he contemplated this information, walking slowly back and forth in his library, glimpses of which showed itself to Lowther behind the robed figure. He stopped then, and looked over his shoulder at Lowther. “How many men remain to You under Your command?” Lowther thought about it. “Assuming all of the men in the long boats are lost there remains less than 50 men between the crew of the Concordant on the Starcrest. If the Glory of Bayle has finally caught up, however her compliment of 65 should still be intact, seamen, ratings and all.” The mage seemed very interested in this. “And the pirate ship, it was a large crew as well?” Lowther nodded wordlessly though he didn’t know if the man realized it or where his line of thoughts were taking him. The mage was getting more excited by the word, almost feverish and Lowther wondered at the man’s change of mood. He paced back and forth like a caged beast for a while longer then stopped abruptly and pointed a long, elegant hand at Lowther. “This is what I propose to do, Commander. I will attempt to wake you and push you out of the fog. I would offer to translocate you entirely onto your ship but I fear it is a delicate and exhausting spell that requires pinpoint precision. I do not know the exact location of your ships and, of course holding the fog at bay is wearisome.” That last part he seemed to add as an after thought. “What I can do instead, is set a light above you. Night has fallen on the Sea of Pearls and surely your ships will investigate such a thing?” His voiced raised in a question and Lowther agreed. Possibly His Ass, Lord Adelard would think a mysterious light suddenly appearing on the ocean, was some sort of odd fish and ignore it. Young Falthorpe or Captain Bedenkin, though, would both insist on seeing if it was their men returning.

“And in return, will you take your ships in to Toruga and save the poor villagers from pirates and this cursed spell?” Lowther again felt compelled to lend this man his aid but had to point out the obvious problem with the plan. “Without a wind that will be impossible, Sir. We cannot kedge our frigates on our anchor chains like the pirates did. They are too heavy as are the ships themselves. The man smiled tiredly at him. “I believe I can force the fog back, if only for long enough to allow you to sail into the harbor on the West side of the Island. And again to leave once the villagers are safe on board.” “And You Yourself as well, surely?” Lowther felt a deep admiration for the man who was obviously giving his very life’s strength to keep the villagers of the Island alive long enough to allow them to escape. The man lowered his eyes modestly. “If I can, Commander. The spell I will be working may well cost me my life but You have my word that I will do everything in my power to have You and Your men away from these cursed shores as quickly as possible.” Lowther believed him and swore to himself that he would save this man too if he could. This was what he had joined the navy for, not hunting stinking pirates but keeping her Majesty’s seas free and safe for her citizens. Pride and duty strummed through him and he felt strong enough to lift the island of Toruga from the sea with his bare hands.

The mage’s eyes had closed and his thin lips were moving quickly though Lowther could not make out any recognizable words. He made a quick gesture with his hands and then looked up at Lowther. “I have called a light to hover above your form out there in the waters, Commander. It will dissipate of it’s own in an hour or so, but do not worry, I will follow your progress from here and recast the light should it be necessary.” His voice took on that compassionate timbre he had used before when they first started talking. “You recall that I said You were grievously wounded Commander?” He didn’t wait for Lowther to answer but continued quickly. “I dare not attempt to push you before you wake up and secure your hold on the planks that are keeping you above water. So I must jolt you awake first, but Commander,” He stared intensely at Lowther. “I fear the wound you have taken will be too painful and shocking to bear.” If Lowther could have swallowed he knew his mouth would have been too dry to do so anyway. “You must not let go, Commander, or you will be lost and all of the villagers in my care as well! Swear it to me, upon Your honor, that you will not let go no matter how terrible the pain is!” Lowther trembled at the intensity in the man’s eyes and the certainty that he was about to wake up to tremendous agony. But he swore on his honor and by his duty to the a Queen that he would live to bear the message to his ships to sail into Toruga and rescue her people. The a flash ripped across his vision as if a lightning bolt had struck the ground in front of him without any sound. No that wasn’t right there was a sound. A long, drawn-out, ragged scream bounced across the gentle ripples of the water, becalmed by the fog. Such a sound was too awful to ever have been torn from a living man’s throat. Such agony it must have been born from. His agony! His eye! Lowther’s shaking arms clasped harder onto the ragged planks that bore his head out of the water. A small, white ball of light bobbed above him, casting a sphere of illumination on him and turned the green fog into an impenetrable, closed wall around him. His ravaged face turned up to the light and he sucked in another ragged breath into burning lungs, to scream again and again as invisible hands sped him through the fog toward the starry night outside.

13.

Agnes woke up to a plethora of hurts and aches. Squinting one-eyed from the pillow her face was buried in, she could see that her left arm was criss-crossed with cuts of varying lengths and depths. Her knuckles were scraped raw too. Had she been fighting with her fists? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember much about yesterday except that one thing she didn’t want to remember. She tried to burrow further into the pillow and her shoulders, back and legs all decided to clamor for attention at once. She had one moment to realize what was coming and kick the covers aside, before wracking cramps shot her out of bed like she’d been fired from a cannon. She hopped around the cabin from one cramping leg to the other until her motion brought her around the carved, wooden table in the middle, to face the bed. “Ooow! Friggin’, feckin’, Fu…” She stopped, momentarily shocked out of feeling the rolling pains at the two… Two?! Male faces grinning out at her jumping antics. “What the… Oooow!” Her back muscles cramped up too then and the pain blurred her vision with tears.

Hands grabbed her and massaged her stone-hard twanging muscles though it didn’t feel like it was helping any. “This is all my fault! I’m so sorry, Agnes!” Llewellyn’s voice sounded at least like he meant it but she could tell he was holding back laughter too. “Why? What did you do to me? Why does this hurt so bad?” She didn’t like how whiny her voice sounded. Not one bit. Chin came around and pried her hands off the table where they had taloned. “Keep walking, Aggie. We overspent ourselves thanks to your new friend’s magic tunes. That’s why you are cramping up now. You’re lucky you didn’t tear something the way you were fighting, girl.” Llewellyn spluttered and Agnes threw him a quick glance between the rolling cramps. He looked like he had just had a lovely nights sleep after a refreshing week of leisure. She glared at him and he pointed a finger at her. “Hey now! If I hadn’t managed to give us that edge, we would be floating face down now. Those Anties weren’t looking for prisoners!” Her motion around the cabin had taken her around the table to face him again. And he pressed his lips together at the sight of her obvious pain and injuries. “But essentially, what your Quartermaster said is correct. Most battles tend to end when the survivors are too tired to fight any longer, with the winners being the side that held their weapons up the longest. This is where rejuvenating battle magic shows it’s biggest potential.” He smiled sadly at her. “Of course there is a price to be paid. There always is with magic. We ignore our bodies at our own peril.” He was going to add something to that. More bad news, she thought. “Say the rest, bard. I want to know everything this spell will yet do to us.” She lifted her hand in amendment. That last part had sounded overly ungrateful even in her ears and she added in a more gentle tone. “I am happy to still be alive and we all owe you our lives and our thanks. I do know that. But I also don’t like bad surprises.” She looked him in the eyes and saw the defensiveness ease out of him. He plopped himself ungraciously down in one of the chairs and picked up a stylus to toy with so he wouldn’t have to look at her. “I’ve never done anything like those songs, yesterday. I’ve heard of doing bard songs on the fly like that, there are tales you are taught at the college, but… He waved the stylus in the air in the air to express his discomfort. He grew quiet for a heartbeat and Agnes had time to think she would have to prompt him again. Chin was watching them both as if he knew what was coming next. “Like I said I had only ever heard of these spells and what we felt yesterday was powerful. To add to that we shared more than one song.” He held up his right hand. It had a cut straight across the palm. “I remember getting this and I never felt a thing when it happened.” He looked up at her then, his deep brown eyes apprehensive. “I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the men we saw stumble down stairs after the fighting was over won’t wake up today.” She bit her lip. More dead to pay for their survival. She swallowed a few times to get rid the lump that was squeezing her throat. When she thought her voice was steady again she nodded and said: “I see.” Then she nodded again, realized what she was doing and stopped. She turned to pace some more and by herself a little time. Finally she managed to say what had been stuck in her throat. “We need to know how many we have lost.”

Chin sighed and pulled out a chair. “Aye we do, but you have another decision to make first, lass.” His voice sounded so heavy she couldn’t bear to look at him. What else were they going to throw at her today. Couldn’t she just stay in bed and… And what? She knuckled her hamstrings vigorously, starting to get angry with herself. “Sit down, girl and listen to me.” It was his command-voice and her feet were under the table almost before she had registered that he had said anything. He looked her in the eyes as if weighing a decision. Llewellyn tapped the end of the stylus impatiently on the table, not looking at either of them but obviously listening intently. It was an irritating, staccato rhythm with a definite get-on-with-it sort of undertone. Tap… Tap, tap, tap, tap. Chin’s quelling gaze found no purchase with the insolent young man. He rubbed his tired eyes and looked back up at the pale girl across from him at the table. “The Skipper’s gone,” He reminded her gently. “This is a pirate ship and we’ll be voting on a new Skipper soon enough, however…” The stylus tapping stopped in anticipation of his next words. “Given the events of yesterday below decks and your… Center role in them, I think the crew is best served if you stay in charge, for now.” Tap! He leaned his head sideways a little. “At least until we’re out of this screwy fog and sure we’ve got those damn Anties off our backs.” Tap, tap. He kept looking a stunned Agnes straight in the eyes but leaned across the table and pulled the stylus out of Llewellyn’s hand and jabbed it into the wood in the space between the bard’s thumb and forefinger. The interplay broke the spell of her shock and she blinked. “Me? Chin, I can’t! I always thought you’d take charge if, when something happened to…” She couldn’t finish the sentence. Chin leaned back a little uncomfortably and cleared his throat. “Yeah see, you’re father and I had an arrangement about that. We’d both groom you for the helm and he’d stick around long enough so I didn’t have to put on the hat. Except, now we’re here. He’s gone, you’re still too green and I still don’t want the post, see.” There was silence between them that stretched out until Llewellyn broke it by unceremoniously snorting. “I don’t see what the problem is, really!” He tipped his chair back and put his long legs up on the table. “Between us we have three people here who don’t want to be Captain but between the two of you, yourselves you’ve got the brains and the brawn enough for one. All you really need is someone to supply the looks! I’d nominate myself of course…” He stretched his arms out expansively with a bright smile. “But that would be unforgivably immodest!” Before Chin or Agnes could more than suck in breath the yell at him someone knocked on the door. Chin looked meaningfully at Agnes but Llewellyn called out: The Captain says she’ll see you!” And rocked gently on the chairs hind legs with a serene smile to her.

Hernandel elbowed the door open and brought in a pail of steaming water in each hand. He had a wad of cloth tucked under one arm that turned out to be mostly bandages and some towels. “Glad to see you are all alive.” He said in his usual quiet manner. “We lost three in the night and 18 died yesterday. That leaves us with 26 and the cook but I’m afraid another 4 are too injured to do much work on deck. And two more are up and about that really ought not be.” Llewellyn sniffed at one of the pails and pulled his head back, eyes screwed tight. Hernandel pointed to the pail. “That’s vinegar and boiled water to clean the cuts with.” He pointed to the other pail. “That’s just water for cleaning up.” He turned to leave but hesitated at the door and looked back at Agnes. “I heard some of what you were talking about before. For what it’s worth, I and the crew will follow you if the Quartermaster will vouch for your Captaincy.” He didn’t wait for her reply just slipped quietly out the door again.

No one spoke in the cabin while they cleaned themselves up and bandaged wounds that started bleeding again. The vinegar tore at their eyes and nose and stung in the open cuts but none of them skimped on using it. One saw too many festering wounds on a ship’s journey to not take precautions. Llewellyn helped her bandaged her hands and arms until they looked more like the cloth wound cannon bound end of the ramrods, the cannonneers used to tamp the wads of cloth down that kept the cannon ball from rolling back out the barrel. Chin cleaned a cut on Llewellyn’s back, across his lower ribs with a brisk, businesslike manner. Agnes noticed the leather pouch that still hung from the young man’s belt and she recognized it. It was the powder Llewellyn had used during the fight but she had seen it before, on Brazbak’s shelves over the stove. She leaned over and tapped the pouch to get his attention. He turned to smile at her and winced at Chin’s vigorous scrubbing. “You did ask the cook for permission to take that spice pouch, right?” Llewellyn’s smile faltered a little but he gave her a wide-eyed stare. “I uhh, can’t quite recall now. We were being boarded, there was shooting and fighting to be done.” She leaned back and felt her mood improve again. He seemed to do that without fail. Just oozed got humor into a room. She gave him an impish grin “Ah… Well the good news is then that, you will be sailing with us for a while” His eyes narrowed and he answered her slowly. “I am happy to hear that, I think.” He noted her innocent expression with rising suspicion. “And the bad news?” IT was her turn to tip her chair back. “Oh I think you will be paying off your spice theft by helping Brazbak in the kitchen. I’m sure you two will get along like a house on fire.” She smothered a giggle at Chin’s involuntary snort and Llewellyn’s startled expression. Things were bad, they might even get worse but eventually, if they made it through in one piece, she’d be alright again. They would all be alright again.

14.

“Captain Bedenkin agrees with your recommendations, Lieutenant and adds that he seeks permission to send over his own physician to aid in the care of the Commander.” The non-commissioned petty officer reported the signals received from the Seacrest moments before. Lieutenant Thomas Falthorpe suppressed a shudder at the mention of his Captain’s terrible wound. It was a miracle Commander Lowther still breathed at all and from the little he had managed to tell Falthorpe before slipping into unconsciousness, this was only due to the self-sacrifice of a loyal citizen to the Queen. One who might have given his last breath to ask for their aid. Falthorpe was keenly aware that, regardless of the fact that they hadn’t known Toruga was suffering, they had driven a ship of desperate straight at it, to add to the peril of the islanders. And they ought to have known. That was the worst part. They were out here patrolling the Sea of Pearls in her Majesty’s name and rumours of Toruga’s strange calm had been floating about for months. They should have investigated it long ago. He quickly took himself to task for second-guessing his Captain’s priorities. Stopping pirates from boarding and killing legitimate merchant vessels was crucial too. Of course! He waved a boy over to take a message.

“Run down to the sick cabin, ask the healer, with my compliments, if the presence of the Starcrest’s physician would be aid to him. Then catch up with the P.O. And give him the message before he signals the Starcrest back.” The boy flipped a saluted and sped of. Legs and elbows furiously pumping. He clasped his hands behind his back in a manner he had often seen commander Lowther do before deploying his ships.

The petty officer hesitated a fraction and Thomas raised a shapely eyebrow at her. She fixed her gaze at a point a little above nad behind the Lieutenant and continued her report.

“The Glory of Bayle signaled as well, sir. Shortly after Captain Bedenkin’s query the Glory informed us that they regretted not being able to send over their healer at this time, sir.” Falthorpe blinked. “They what?” The woman’s shoulder’s fell and she looked directly at him again. “Permission to speak freely, sir+” Thomas nodded solmenly at her though he was still seething on the inside at the insolence of Lord Falish. “It’s their Captain, sir. Everybody knows he’s terrified of contagion. He probably told his doctor if he went he wouldn’t be allowed to return to the ship. I believe that was their first officer’s roundabout way of informing us, sir.” Thomas closed his eyes and counted slowly until he thought he had his temper under control. “The Commander is not sick, he’s wounded and needs all the medical care we can find for him.” She straightened back up to attention. “Yes sir.” He shook his head. “I suppose that doesn’t matter to Lord Falish though.” He sighed. “If he it is any consolation, sir. I believe the Glory’s healer is actually Lord Falish’ family physician and not actually well versed in battle wounds, sir.” Falthorpe shook his head. The perfidity of the man knew no bounds. If his ship saw combat all his men would have was some powdered nobleman’s healer who knew all there was to know about head lice and sniffles and nothing about gun shot wounds or malnutrition. But none of that mattered right now.

“Please acknowledge Captain Bedenkin’s reply and add the healer’s advisements then signal both ships to set sail for Port Toruga as soon as the fog clears.” The petty officer, stocky built woman with a short-cropped and very handsome salt-and-pepper hair came to attention and asked politely. “You believe this mage… will be able to lift it then, sir?” She had been about to say something else though. Probably to ask if he believed the mage was real at all, the Commander had taken a severe injury to the head after all. Maybe he had lost more than his eye. “The Commander was very specific, P.O. There was no doubt in his mind the mage would come through.” She saluted again, sharper this time, as she understood he had answered both her questions. “I’ll see to it that the message is away, sir.” She turned on her heel and left him on the Quarterdeck.

The Commander would normally return to his cabin for some tea after setting his ships in motion like this. It was a way to confer his utter reliance on his men. Falthorpe himself took great comfort and an inordinate amount of personal pride from that ritual but he couldn’t bring himself to do the same today. He was worried sick about his Captain, devastated at the loss of so many men, fretting about what to do if they ran into the pirates now and more than a little apprehensive about taking the ships into that dense purple and green muck. He was glad they had rekindled the lamps and lanterns on the ships though. The moon had long since gone down and the wind might have died down a lot from earlier but it had still dragged in enough clouds to make the night very dark indeed. They’d set anchor not 100 yards from the wall of fog and he wanted time to react if any of the ships came adrift and strayed into each other or the fog. He paced the deck for another 10 minutes before shouts from the lookouts above brought him to the Starboard railing. The fog was dissipating. Slowly at first then as if an invisible hand was tearing giant cotton patches out of it. Far ahead tiny, fixed lights sparkled across the waves that immediately began rolling in towards the long deadened island. Falthorpe saw no sign of the Disobedience out there, but unless she lay right between him and those lights, she could be all but invisible to them unless she lit up herself as well. He was just as happy to leave them for later. His priorities was to make port as quickly as possible, get help for the Commander there if there was any to be had, evacuate the citizens onto his woefully empty ships and hopefully, escape the island before the fog returned and trapped them there. He sprang to the guard rail and began barking quick orders, urging a well-rested crew on, to set the sails as quickly as possible and get them under way. Crewmen scurried over the ship like ants on an anthill and sails unfurled like wings on all three ships.

The runner boy from earlier appeared at the Lieutenants elbow and he turned to look at the boy with an upturned eyebrow. “Please sir, t’other doc is aboard an’ below an’ ours says to ask if ye’d come down. Sir!” That last ‘sir’ came a little late but it did get there. This was the boy’s first voyage and Falthorpe could almost swear he could see the boy growing, just standing there. He nodded his acquiescence to the boy who sped off again and started himself toward the main deck hatchways, bracing himself for what was to come.

Sick berths didn’t bother Falthorpe like it did so many others. His mother had been a healer his whole life and ever since he could remember the west wing of his family’s manor had been well-frequented by the sick and the poor. His father had received quite a bit of ridicule from his peers for allowing his wife to expose herself and her family in such a way to the poor, but she was not an easy woman to argue with once she set her mind and the manor house belonged to her in any case. So when he had to brace himself, before entering the sick room on the Concordant it wasn’t his own mortality keeping him in check. It was memories of his first encounter with horror as a small boy. They had been returning from a family trip to his father’s holdings in the mountains when a orc war band had attacked. They had beaten them back but one of the men they had had with them, took a terrible wound in the thigh, from a jagged orc spear. His mother feared it had been poisoned too and mad him and his father hold the man down while she sawed the man’s leg off with what tools they had with them. By the time she had cast her healing spells and closed the wounds of the man only a stump remained to him of his right leg. After that Falthorpe hadn’t been able to bear the look of meat being cut until he was well into his teens.

He hesitated with a hand on the door jamb, steadying himself. This wouldn’t be the same, it wasn’t a limb that was missing and there would be no sawing. Still, the thought of the Commander’s eye was making him nauseous. He straightened himself off, stuck his hat under his arm, took a deep breath and knocked smartly on the door before entering.

The room was low ceilinged but well-lit, compared to any other cabin below decks. A pale looking elven boy was holding a tray of instruments out across the bed, while the Starcrest surgeon, (what was his name? Something like Danner or Donning?) was bent over the Commander’s wrist and mumbling to himself. The Concordant’s own healer Harry Neafe, was a serious old halfling, who had been treating sailors at sea for the past 20 years and knew his crew’s peculiarities well. Now he pushed himself in between Falthorpe and the bed with a large tumbler of amber liquid held in each hand. “I am sorry to have called You down here, Lieutenant, but I fear the Commander would not wait. So first I want You to down this. In one swallow if You please, sir” He handed Falthorpe a glass who did as he was bid. The liquid turned out to be Vale Whiskey but so smoky it tore tears from his eyes. Neafe squinted into his face and, apparently satisfied with what he saw there, downed the other glass himself. “Alright then, You will keep this conversation brief, please Sir. Do not agitate the Commander or in any way give him cause to move.” The halfling led him over to the bed. “As you can see, my talented colleague, and may I add thank You for having him brought over, is currently working to save what he can of the Commander’s face.” Falthorpe felt his gaze drawn to the pallid, sunken face behind the surgeons steadily moving hands. Lowther had only been gone a few hours but it seemed years had passed and taken with them the fill and colour of his face. Falthorpe tensed when Lowther’s good eye opened and fastened on him. The Commander’s eye flicked up to the surgeon who gave his patient an incredulous look and then stepped back from the table, bloodspattered hands held high. Falthorpe stepped over quickly. Hopefully this wouldn’t be a lengthy interview.

It would have been incredibly hard not to look at the damage the Commander had taken in the fight so Falthorpe didn’t pretend. The look in Lowther’s single working eye told him his honesty was appreciated. “Bad?” Lowther’s voice was slurred and so roughened Falthorpe barely recognized it. The lieutenant thought of his mother and her strong, patient demeanor. “Quite, sir. But not, I think, career ending thankfully.” Lowther grunted and Falthorpe realized it was a sort of laugh. He wondered what had happened to Lowther’s throat to make his voice sound so ravished. “Under way?” Falthorpe had to lean in closer to hear him now and he keenly felt the impatient and disapproving stare of the doctors in the room. He would have liked to have told them both how deeply he agreed with them. This was not the time for a lengthy chat. He briefly wondered which would out-stubborn the other, his mother or his Captain. “Yes sir, course set for Port Toruga. Fog has cleared. It’s dark but the town lights are leading us in.” Another grunt followed that. The young man braced himself. “Sir, I must insist that we continue this interview after your surgery is done, it is not…” A finger came up silencing him peremptorily. “Pirates?” Falthorpe hid a sigh. “No sign of them, sir but the guns are out and we are keeping a look out, sir.” “Find them!” Falthorpe straightened and saluted. “Yes sir, if he spot them we will pursue immediately. Now I really must insist You allow the surgeon to work, sir.” Lowther waved a hand which Falthorpe took to mean acquiescence and stepped back immediately. The two doctors surged forward and he wasn’t so much dismissed from the room as forgotten altogether. Falthorpe was troubled when he left the sick room. Hunting the pirates down was their duty certainly, but with civilians and a court mage in need of rescuing that had to take priority didn’t it? What was the point of patrolling these waters otherwise?

15.

Agnes squinted morosely towards the slight blacker outline of the island on their port side. She had conferred with Chin on where to put the Disobedience in. That the ship would have to anchor up near land needed no saying. The paltry bit of sail they had left to them on the fore mast, strained to pull the ship around but she like they were dragging anchor the whole way. It had been difficult to raise sail as it were with no lights and so few hands. She even had the Anty sailors pressed into helping out but they had to work even slower than her own crew, who knew the lay of the ship in the dark. It had turned out to be the right decision though when Llewellyn pulled her sleeve to point out tiny lights bobbing a long way off behind them. It was hard to be certain but it seemed that when the fog lifted inexplicably, the Anties had set sail for the harbour town on the Island’s western side. It made sense, they had lost a lot of people too and might still hope to find them. It didn’t put the Dissy in an inviable spot though. Even if they could find a place, in the dark, to anchor with access to one of the island’s small groves of trees, they still had to hope the Anties didn’t decide to circumvent Toruga to search for them and Agnes couldn’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t do just that. They might also decide to search the island on foot. Though it seemed unlikely unless one of the prisoners in the ship’s hold got lose and made his way back to the harbour town. That possible risk didn’t seem like reason enough to kill unarmed prisoners though and no one had come right out and suggested that possibility to her anyway.

Chin had said to steer counter-clockwise around the island and had disappeared into the Captain’s cabin with no explanation. She decided she had waited long enough and they would be needing more specific directions soon, if he had any to give. She pushed away from the railing and turned around. Llewellyn was there, watching her leaned nonchalant against guard rail that overlooked the main deck. “Did you want something?” She asked. He smiled and sauntered over to her, his eyes roaming over her face as if he tried to memorize each feature. He leaned against the railing with one elbow which brought their eyes closer to level. “I wanted to make sure that you meant what you said about me staying on with your crew after this. I’ll freely admit I was not enjoying the lifestyle on that merchant boat and I’ve already had more adventure with you in a day than I had with them in 6 months.” She looked up at those eyes that wouldn’t let her go. “Is that what you are looking for then? Adventure?” He smiled crookedly at her and pulled out the leather thong that held his ponytail. “From what I’ve seen so far it seems as good as or in some cases a better reason than most men have.” He raked his fingers through the long curls and suddenly this talk in the darkness seemed very intimate to her. As if they were in a cocoon of privacy. “What about yourself? What do you want, Captain?” Agnes pressed her lips together. “Not to be Captain, but since I am I guess it’s my decision whether you stay with us or not and I made it already.” He tied back his hair again. She liked it better that way. His face was too long for a curtain of long curls to pull it down even further. His eyes were so intense and a little hungry. “We are not going to have a… a thing. I’m not into you, that’s not why I’m letting you stay!” She suddenly blurted out and instantly wanted to kick herself. “My my, aren’t we a little presumptuous? Who says I want to have a… thing with you?” But the wicked grin on his face took the sting out of his words and she was grateful the darkness hid her furious blush. She flipped him off and turned to head toward the cabin. Llewellyn followed at her elbow. She felt like she ought to take offense at his intrusion but she didn’t and she suspected he was being led by his curiosity in any case. Besides saving their lives and fighting side by side with them had earned him a bit of leeway with the crew. She did wonder what to do with him if he continued to follow her around like this. Maybe she could appoint him her cabin boy. The thought brought a sly grin to her face which Llewellyn caught as he opened the door to the cabin for her. She snorted at his inquisitively raised elbow but kept the joke for herself – it might be just the thing to cut him down if he got too full of himself.

Inside the cabin’s big table had sprouted a library or so it seemed. Books, all notebooks Agnes noted, where strewn across it. At the far end Chin was reading yet another old notebook intently. He grunted when she entered but held up a hand to forestall questions while he read. Instead she picked up a few of the books on the table and looked at the first entry. Most of them were written in a familiar hand. Notebooks Hemlough had kept of their travels and encounters. Weather notations, names and addresses of particular merchants that had treated them well, notes on happenings aboard ship. He had kept many of his naval habits when he began his career as a pirate and notes on disciplinary actions where neatly mentioned and signed by himself and his second-in-command, Chin Copperhill. The older books were in a another’s handwriting. Flowing script and long-winded phrases. It must have belonged to the man who had captained the Disobedience before Hemlough had taken her. But that had been that man today on the deck who had murdered Hemlough. She couldn’t see a man of such rage and long-simmering hatreds produce writing this relaxed and smooth. She looked over at Chin who had an arrested expression on his face. “Chin, were these other books written by that man I fought yesterday?” The dwarf blinked and focused his eyes on her momentarily confused. Then he squinted at the book she was holding. “Naw. All of those were written by the Captain before him. A Lord Erlitz Leddingfield. He was so old and decrepit when he finally retired they had to carry him ashore in a wicker basket.” Agnes was surprised. “You served under him?” He nodded. Dwarves lived long lives but she tended to forget that in the day-to-day until Chin said something like this. “You look good for an old dwarf though!” Llewellyn sounded like he meant it sincerely though and one of Chin’s dark eyebrows shot up. “Talk like that on this ship will get you after hours duties in my quarters, pretty boy.” Llewellyn flashed him another dazzling smile and said “Oh now, surely you wouldn’t tease about such things!” Suddenly she regretted having made that comment earlier.

Chin’s face grew serious. “I was looking for a notation for when the Disobedience was last in these waters. I thought it was before, when she was still the Nelly but as it turns out I was wrong. It was very shortly after.” Agnes looked at him, confused as to why this had any bearing on their current situation. He fiddled with the pages in an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty. “I hadn’t realized we were here last when you… came to us.” She blinked. “You mean, my parents were killed in these waters?” She could see Llewellyn’s eyes widen out of the corner of hers but she kept her face calm and impassive. It was long past time this conversation happened. And it didn’t have it’s primary participant anymore. Chin’s eyes bugged out. “How long have you known?” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I know you and the Skipper tried to keep it a secret from me but we live on a ship. I must have been 10 the first time a drunken sailor sobbing in his beard, confessed this story to me. And I’ve probably heard it a dozen times since.” At Chin’s obvious consternation she suddenly felt strangely guilty and added a lame “Sorry.” Llewellyn was making strangled hiccuping sounds and Chin found his temper in a quelling glare for both of them. “Well, glad we got that sorted out then.” He smacked the book open-faced on the table and stabbed it with an index finger. “According to this there is a small protected bay deep enough for the Dissy, almost at the very northern tip. It has a…” He consulted the page his finger was one. “…tall cliff side with a small path that leads up to a wooded area above.” He quoted. “Sounds like just the quiet we need to raise a mast and set our ship to rights.” “Hoorah.” Agnes replied with little conviction.

Having to replace a mast on the fly as it were, was a bad enough day to look forward to, add to that how few of them were left and the Anties on the other side of the island. And the prisoners. And their dead. “I think as auspices go, my first day as Captain has offered a wide range of bad omens.” She added downcast.

“If I were a superstitious dwarf and sailor.” Chin began thoughtfully. “Which naturally you aren’t!” Llewellyn supplied helpfully. Chin tilted his head at him as if to concede him a point. “Which of course I’m not, but if I were I would find it very odd that the Dissy should find herself for the first time, back in the same waters she took an orphaned half-elf girl aboard, on the day that girl takes the helm of the ship.” “The same place and on the same day!” Llewellyn added with triumph. Agnes threw him a confused look. “What are you talking about? We’re in high Summer. They fished me out in the Fall.” Chin nodded. “Yeah, we set her birthday that day since we didn’t know what it was otherwise.” Llewellyn looked crestfallen. “That’s not much of a tale of superstition, is it? You are telling it wrong!” “There is one thing you two haven’t mentioned at all yet.” Llewellyn put in and the cheer had left him as he spoke. “That fog was not a fog or it wouldn’t have lifted so rapidly.” Agnes looked at him, eyes serious. “Yeah. Well what was it then?” He shrugged “I’m no expert on magic spells, I’m not a mage.” He lifted a hand to ward of Chin’s protest “Yes, I was trained to weave magic and music together but it’s not the same thing and we didn’t cover experimental arcane magic, why would he have?” He shook both his head and the upheld hand. “The point is, what ever it was, it wasn’t natural. And it was too precisely located and held in place over this island to be anything short of a spell. An insanely huge spell at that. And if it was cast and lifted what’s to say it won’t get recast at any moment? I don’t even want to think about what monster was strong enough to cast the thing in the first place, whatever the spell was meant to do.”

Agnes looked at him for a heartbeat then switched to Chin. “Alright. I say we raise one mast, dump the prisoners who want to stay and run for it. I don’t want to tangle anymore with the Anties if we can avoid it. Question is, can we avoid them?” Chin drummed his fingers on the table. “I don’t know, lass. But we can try and what you just said about the prisoners gives me an idea. Maybe this glib-tongued fellow of yours can come in handy again.” Llewellyn looked interested “You want me to talk to the prisoners and see if any of them want to join us? Oh that’s cheeky!” Chin rose up from his chair and gathered the notebooks into a pile. “It’s not too far fetched. After all, I used to be one of them and the life isn’t all it’s made to sound like once you’re at sea.” Llewellyn nodded“ Add to that the awful day they’ve had I think there might be a chance. Alright, I’ll do it!” Chin looked at Agnes. “He doesn’t really have the hang of being given an order, does he?” Agnes tossed him the notebook she had been holding. “So he’ll fit right in. A pirate in the bone! You two go recruit us some folks in the hold but you make sure they understand there’ll be no killing whatever they choose. I’ll get the bosun and a work crew started on getting rid of the main mast stump. Hernandel has the helm I’ll tell him to look for a high cliff.” She opened the cabin door and shouted “And let’s get some lights on this damn boat!” “Aye, Skipper!” Came a muffled reply.

***

Renard Debreyt paced his study. What a stroke of luck. He we one to believe in such things as luck or good fortune. Four ships converging on this island, meaning hundreds of new people, just when he had reached the maximum extent of his modified spell. The villagers were almost spent. All the elderly and most of the children were dead already and the spell was draining him too. Not at as accelerated a rate as the peasants but his hair had been black, without a blemish when he had arrived here and now it was a steel grey that reminded him of his fathers. He would have to keep them occupied until the spell took a firm hold on them. The lassitude would preclude any violence then but it would still take some time to build up. The idea of an evacuation might still work if the sailors didn’t get too suspicious about the state of the villagers. The pirates might be a problem though. He had to wonder if it were the same pirates that had killed his brother and his family. It wasn’t unthinkable, the Sea of Pearls was criss-crossed by regular trade routes which dictated the movements of pirates like schools of fish dictate the movement of sharks. But to know for certain he would need to ask his brother and that meant finding his bones in the waters around Toruga. He only knew to look here in the first place because his brother had been carrying a powerful focus. A gift from Renard to the Governor of Fort Garr, to start the couple off in style in their new life. Now it was the lode stone he was bending all his power upon finding. Surely it would be near his brother’s bones. Or Elina’s. He wouldn’t raise his niece. There were some things even he would not do unless he had no other choice.

He closed his eyes and tried to sense the progress of the ships. The spell he had crafted in the years since his brother’s family had gone missing with their ship required an immense amount of power. None of his colleagues in Qeynos had been able to solve that issue. The movement and density of the ocean was obscuring and hindering his scrying so the best fix he had been able to get, was somewhere near Toruga. And that had been with hours of intense casting and the willing aid of four other kindly mages who had taken pity on his grief. After that he had reclused himself to bend his mind to the task of crafting a spell capable of delving into the water and searching every inch, in an increasingly expanding circle out from the island. But the power requirement was exorbitant. He couldn’t power it himself and he had wasted years trying to find an object powerful enough to fuel it for him. Finally he had discovered that the academy had dismissed him, he had barely noticed but with that came the realization that there were other magics, darker magics he could employ, if he was not bound by the rules of the Qeynosian circle of Archmages. He disappeared then for years, bartered and conferred tirelessly with warlocks and necromancers, Tier’dal or Arasai, Iksar or Troll. Until finally it was built, his searching spell. Maybe they would name it after him some day. Probably long after he was dead. It didn’t matter, nothing did but finding his brother and learning finally what had happened to him. Who had ripped the good out of Renard’s life and let it sink to the bottom of the ocean. He would find that person, that pirate, for it must have been a pirate, and he would kill him as slowly as was at all possible. And then he would raise the man’s ghost and set it to guard his brother’s tomb forever. Let Toruga be shunned by everyone as a place of death and despair.

A knock on the door brought him out of his reverie. A woman bent over by age shuffled into the room with a tray of food. He watched her slow process across the faded carpets. “Any news, Hanna?” She didn’t stop to look at him but continued on to set the tray down on the table before she answered. “The fog’s gone m’lord.” She said then. Her voice was toneless and weary. In the past few weeks even her eyes had lost their last sheen of youth. Pity, she had been in the prime of youth and strong-willed. Defied her parents to come work for him in the big house. Now barely a year later, she was wizened and brittle like an old crone. She had taken to wear and cloth tied around her head like sailors did, after her hair fell out. “That’s excellent news, Hanna. I am hopeful ships will come and save us all soon.” He watched her wrinkled face carefully but it didn’t show any emotions other than bone deep weariness. “That’s nice m’lord.” She said and shuffled out of the room. Debreyt smiled sadly. The villagers wouldn’t be a interfering with his plans. And soon they wouldn’t be needed anymore with hundreds of strong young sailors to power his spell and push it out even further from Toruga. He could abide having to cancel the spell for the duration while he waited for them to tie up at the harbor. He would have had to refresh the spell anyway after it glitched so awkwardly due to the fighting, and predominantly the dying, taking place inside it. He was sure he was close to finding the wreck of the ship his brother had gone down in. Soon he would finally have his answers.

16.

Lieutenant Thomas Falthorpe held the door to the State-room politely for Captains Bedenkin and Brookwaters-Falish. He had found time to shift hastily into his dress uniform, after the three ships had lowered anchor safely in the bay before the Port of Toruga. He’d even added a black silk ribbon to hold back his dark hair and trimmed the edges of his beard. And he felt every bit the peacock when he came face to face with Styr Bedenkin’s waggling eyebrows. The dwarf captain was as salty and direct as both his culture and his calling made them and had little patience with politics or manipulation. Or courtesies for that matter, but Thomas had always liked the old captain and he knew Commander Lowther held him in a great deal of respect. He also fancied the Captain regarded him well although today’s machinations might cost him some of that credit. It was not for Captain’s Bedenkin’s benefit that he had afforded himself the time to dress up though. The man who followed him closely on his heels into the Stateroom, with every look of irritation at having to follow anybody at all was the target of Falthorpe’s clothing stratagem.

Lord Adelard Brookwaters-Falish IV, the Viscount of Queensbury was a short, plump little man with a round florid face that had been crafted for smiles. His cheeks were naturally red and dimpled at any movement, his eyes crinkled into long-lashed half-moons and his lips were shaped like a red bow. But since his Lordship had taken an early dislike of his familiar ties to the Halfling nations he had perfect a sour, pursed expression for the purpose of seeming more distinguished. Is detractors would mostly call it his constipated face, when they were being generous. Falthorpe wiped any such thoughts from his mind and concentrated on delivering a perfect salute and guiding the Viscount to his chair at the table. The young lieutenant caught a sharp look from Bedenkin out of the corner of his eye but instead of the scathing comment he had expected the dwarf kept his peace. Did he realize Thomas was trying to mollify Lord Adelard? Hope sprang in his heart and he promised himself he could strip out of the uncomfortable finery the moment Falish was off the ship again.

“Please be seated, gentlemen.” Thomas intoned courteously and waited to seat himself in hair next to the empty one at the head of the table. This too was calculated to soothe Falish’s easily roused ire. In navel matters the ranking was straight forward. Lowther was in command of the task force, Bedenkin ranked second as the captain with the most experience and Falish ranked third. It had been rumored that his appointment to Lowther’s task force was both a bid to take him out of the day-to-day affairs of the Royal navy and with some vague hope that Lowther and Bedenkin might set him straight on his own capability and importance. Socially, however Lord Adelard outranked them both as Lowther was the son of a scribe and Bedenkin was dwarf. Of the three ships the were only a handful of old family names and only one very lowly Lieutenant Thomas Martin Falthorpe had the questionable honor of being a member of the peerage himself as the second son of a moderately wealthy Baron. Captain Lowther had utilized that in the past after he discovered the young man did not suffer from the same over-impressed notion of himself that Falish was in possession of. It was one thing to be the Commander’s catspaw, however, and quite another to wield this type of dishonest manipulation himself. Captain Bedenkin tossed his hat on the table and leaned back in the chair. “What’s the word on the Commander, boy?” the dwarf asked and scratched his arm for good measure. Until that Thomas had had a moment of confusion why the Captain would address him as ‘boy’ but between the scratching and Falish’s face going instantly pale with contempt, Thomas realized with amazement, the old dwarf was playing too! He composed himself and answered the Captain with exquisite politeness. “Sir, I have just received the latest from the healers before you and his Lordship came aboard.” Falish’s colour returned and the little man half turned in his seat to give Falthorpe his complete attention, as if to ignore the dwarf with the ghastly sense of propriety. “They tell me the Commander is stable but it is all they can do with continually cast spells to keep the bleeding staunched.” Falthorpe could tell from Bedenkin’s almost wince and flicker of the eyes that he had misspoken. Lord Adelard was pulling out a lacy kerchief from his sleeve to press against his lips and Thomas recalled the mans mortal fear of disease. Surely a battle wound wouldn’t trigger that? But he rushed on to cover the slip with more pleasant words. “I shan’t describe the rude specifics of course, suffice it to say that the Commander will need more magic to see him through the night. As such I would ask permission to go ashore and seek out the Royal mage who saved the Commander’s life once already this night.” Falish lit up at the notion of meeting someone who had been in the Queen’s presence and Thomas had to speak fast to forestall any ideas of his of presenting himself to the mage before Falthorpe could get Lowther some help. ”Unfortunately we are pressed for time in our other duty of evacuating the townsfolk. Without the Commander able, the honor of being the name acquainted with the salvation of Toruga should by all rights fall to one of You, sirs.” Bedenkin swung forward in his chair and banged a fist down but Lord Adelarde, seeing the dwarf was about to snatch glory away from its rightful owner spoke quickly in a pinched tenor. “That honor falls to me, Lieutenant, as my ship still has her compliment of marines intact!” He exclaimed exultantly as if that fact hadn’t come about because of his own incompetent sailing. “This seems mete to me, Milord!” Thomas exclaimed and ignored the amused eye roll from the dwarf who had sat back down. “I wish to aid Your efforts in every way possible and at the very least the majority of the lowly townsfolk can be roofed on the Concordant and the Starcrest as we now, have so many empty berths.” Captain Falish all but bounced in his seat, the thought of getting the renown for a gallant salvation as well as not having the filthy peasants he’d saved under foot on the voyage back to civilization appealed immensely to him. As Thomas had anticipated. The Lieutenant wanted badly to clean his mouth out for paying their dead so little respect but he held his features in check and endured the rest of the meeting.

Lord Adelarde left early has he always did from strategy sessions called aboard the Concordant, though this night he left with something of a spring in his step. It had been arranged that he would send his men ashore to go from house to house and tell people to assemble on the harbour with what belongings they could carry. From there the long boats would begin ferrying them to the ships. Meanwhile Thomas would go ashore with Bedenkin to find the mage, and beg his help once more for Commander Lowther.

Thomas followed the Lord to the stepladder that took him down to his skiff. Two men sat waiting to row him back to the Glory of Bayle. When he returned to the cabin Bedenkin had poured them two glasses of the Commander’s whiskey and unceremoniously handed him one upon entering. Thomas tried to find words to express his embarrassment and apologize to Bedenkin for all the charades but the dwarf forestalled him by pointing at the drink in his hand. “Let’s wash out our mouths first, what do you say, Lieutenant?” Thomas smiled wanly and took a long swallow of the fiery liquid. It seemed to be a day full of drinking so far, he thought to himself. “I get why you maneuvered his Lordship.” Thomas realized he had never actually heard Bedenkin afford Falish his title of Captain. He always referred to him by his social title. Which Falish probably didn’t realize was meant as an insult. “It is easier to do the dance but I have said and I will say as long as I serve in her Majesty’s navy, a man’s background has no meaning on a Queen’s ship!” Thomas nodded very seriously. “I agree wholehearted with you there, sir. But the Commander also says a Queen’s Captain must know how to comport himself diplomatically when needed.” The dwarf barked a short laugh. “Or find a Commander to serve under who does that stuff for ‘im!” He poured himself another glass. “What say you we ask those healers if we can bring them and the Commander safely with us to this mage in one go, rather than extend the time with a round trip and courtesies?” Falthorpe set his glass down and loosened the tight cravat at his neck. “An excellent idea, Sir. Will you accompany me down to the sick berths?” The dwarf snorted at the young man’s fidgeting. “I know the way. Why don’t you go dress yourself like a sailor again and catch up smartly.” Slammed his tumbler on the serving table and leaned across the table to pull his hat towards him. “I’ll send my cutter back over too. I need to warn my ship they’re about to have guests as well.” Thomas straightened in attention and gratitude and the dwarf rapped his knuckles on his chest as he barreled by him out the door. “Good lad, there.” He rumbled in passing.

***

The splintered stump of the main mast had been loosened from it’s filings below decks and brought up to lie forlornly like the severed foot of a giant. The horrid hook still stuck out of it with it’s grizzly prize. It seemed none of the pirates had wanted the honor of pulling the rusty thing out. Agnes didn’t want to touch the loathsome thing either but it couldn’t just sit there like a bad joke. She walked over to the buried hook and looked at it hesitantly. The sight of it re-filled her stomach with the red hot rage that had driven the weapon for her last night. Would that she could be certain Lowther was dead. He ought to be, but she would still have liked to know for sure so she could put it all away. The burning fury was infinitely better than the hollowness left behind by Hemlough’s death. There was so much they hadn’t gotten around to talk about yet. And then suddenly all those years were gone. Snatched away by one man’s refusal to let the past lie. She gripped the hook’s cloth wound handled hard and pulled it free. She hated Lowther and if there was even a shadow of a chance that he’d escaped with his life last night, she wanted to re-introduce him to her hook.

She looked up to find several pairs of eyes watching her more or less surreptitiously.

“If you wanted theater, you should have stayed ashore! Back to work!” Her sharp command was greeted by reflexive ‘aye’s and a couple of chuckles. Most other crews might have been crushed and sullen, having taken losses like they had and being inflicted by weird magics but she felt pride in her ship and crew that they were still working hard.

She tensed as a couple of Anty uniforms appeared on men coming up from aft hatchway. Llewellyn came up with them along with Chin who began dividing group of men between several work parties. Agnes noted he made sure there were only one or two Anties per group and approved of his caution. Llewellyn sauntered over to where she was standing with the hook in hand. “Your Quartermaster was right. A full two thirds of the Anties would rather be pirates with us than spend another day in the Royal Navy that led them to this miserable end. And of the ones that didn’t join us two are unconscious and couldn’t be asked!” He grinned impishly at her and then spotted the gruesome weapon with a grimace. “You’re not going to run around with that thing, are you? You could poke someone’s…” He halted what he was about to say and she rolled her eyes and brandished the weapon at him. “Really?!” He winced even harder and gingerly reached over to take the hook from her, lips curling. “No that was in poor taste of me, my apologies Captain.” He looked around and spotted a ripped bit of sack cloth that might well have been the sleeve of someone’s shirt yesterday. He wrapped it carefully around the end of the hook and pulled the noisome bits off before tossed it with a nonchalant gesture over the railing behind him. He was polishing the tool with his own sleeve when he looked up at her long silence. She must have had a strange expression on her face because he flipped her a wicked grin and jabbed a finger over his shoulder. “What? Did you want to keep that for later?” Someone produced a girly giggle and for a heartbeat she hadn’t realized it was she then she covered her mouth with both hands in embarrassment. Llewellyn was delighted though. “Oh I’m going to make you do that again. Many, many times! That was without a doubt the cutest sound I ever did hear a Pirate Captain make!” She smacked him on the shoulder but she wasn’t really angry with him. Bantering filled up that void in her gut in much nicer ways than rage did.

Chin leaned carefully over the lip of the open loading hatch. Lights shone up from the hold like a blaze, illuminating the frenzied work taking place below. Grak-Jon must have felt the Quartermaster’s gaze on him because he wiped his forehead and looked up. When he saw who it was he grinned and discreetly, for an ogre, tilted his head at a group of sailors working at the other end of the new mast. Chin raised an eyebrow when he saw the Troll cook was pitching in again. That was twice in one day and unheard of degree of taking part in the ship’s work. Hemlough would have slapped his thigh with a laugh at that, if he’d been around to see it. He gave Grak-Jon the thumbs up and pulled back from the edge. Didn’t want the ogre to see his suddenly morose face and misinterpret it as disapproval. Twenty years he had sailed with Hemlough give or take and that wasn’t a drop in the life span of a dwarf. But he had willingly backed the man when Hemlough stood up to his young Captain and saved all their hides. And he had stayed with him even though piracy wasn’t what he had gone to sea for originally. In fact piracy had treated him well, so long as he didn’t have to put up with any crew men committing murder or worse. Out here, under a black flag he had found a freedom to be whoever and whatever he wanted and any man who told him differently he could re-educate with fists or blades. There were no thousand year old traditions to be crushed under on a pirate vessel. You made your own rules and if they didn’t work or didn’t live up to the situation you changed them until they did. But all of that Hemlough had given him and now the man was gone. Cut down without his blade even lifted in defense. Chin had chosen to watch Agnes, a daughter in many ways to them both but it nagged him that he hadn’t been there when his Captain needed him most. And there was no time to mourn, not now, not for him. He looked over to Agnes who was getting the useless stump hauled over board. No time for her to mourn either. Not until they were away from this stinking island with its cursed magics.

17.

Falthorpe walked in front of the cart, they had appropriated on the docks, to carry the still unconscious Commander Lowther up to the lit villa that overlooked the town from a nearby hill. There had been nobody on the docks to ask though lanterns were lit, but it seemed the only reasonable location to find a court mage in this place. Even from this far away they could tell that the villa had lights on in every window, which was more than could be said for any other building in the port town. Their party consisted of two sailors to haul the cart, Captain Bedenkin and himself and with the exception of the two doctors they were all armed and looking about them with wariness. None of them had said a word since they had left the water front. The eerie silence of the town felt too oppressive to break with talk. There was something forlorn about this place, as if none of the houses held any sleeping residents, but were instead empty of any inhabitants. The thought made Falthorpe fervently wish he could halt their progression and knock on one of the doors to satisfy himself on the matter. But there was no time for detours. The healers were both already greying with exhaustion and blood still seeped from beneath the thick bandage that covered half of Lowther’s face. They had informed him, with the typical non-expressions of their calling, that they were more worried about blood seeping the other way, into the Commander’s skull and Falthorpe walked a little more briskly, looking out ahead for the smoothest parts of the road. If the mage in the house up there couldn’t help the Commander, then it was probably all over for him. Falthorpe shriveled at the thought that this great man should come to such a painful end after what hindsight would paint as a shameful defeat. He found that the longer he served under Commander Lowther the more he had come to admire the man’s skill as a navigator and tactician. Although the decision to send the long boats and all their men into the fog seemed on closer consideration, to have been a poor one. Was the Commander blinded by his hatred for the Disobedience and her Captain? Thomas knew little about the man except that he had once served under Captain Lowther, and turned traitor to the crown and the navy, by commandeering the Nelly, as her name had been, and turning her to piracy. A very good reason indeed, the Lieutenant had always thought, to bear a grudge toward the man. He was an example of all the Queen and her navy stood against. But perhaps Lowther hadn’t been such a paragon of Order, fighting against the forces of anarchy and chaos, where Captain Hemlough was concerned after all. Was it possible this came down to the satisfaction of personal vengeance? Falthorpe desperately hoped that wasn’t the case. So many lives lost had to be for a a greater cause than that. It had to be!

He threw Captain Bedenkin a covered glance. He might ask the dwarven Captain. He would understand that Falthorpe meant no disrespect to his Commander, surely. But how could the question itself not be anything short of criticism? And what would this Captain think of a presumptuous, jumped-up junior officer who asks such questions? Falthorpe walked on towards the villa, his thoughts and doubts chasing each other like a pack of dogs.

Debreyt held a looking glass to his eye, from the former mayor’s top floor bedroom window in the villa. The small party’s slow amble up the winding road towards him suited Debreyt just fine. At this rater it would be another 10 minutes or more before they made the front door. The boats streaming out from the ships with such haste, however, worried him more. How long before they began discovering bodies? And how would, whoever was still in charge on the ships react to that discovery. There seemed little he could do at the moment though, so he busied himself with wondering where the pirates might have gotten themselves to. Had they just sailed away? No the memories of the fight he had picked up from Lowther’s summoned consciousness had shown severe damage to the ships masts. They must therefore be anchored somewhere on the coast of the island. If they were, and they would just obliged him by staying there without bothering his plans any further it wouldn’t matter. They would be well within the range of the spell fueling itself and would help power it the same as these poor navy fools outside the harbour. “Soon, my brother! Soon we will speak and I will learn of your fate!” He had spoken in a whisper but it still concerned him a little bit when he found himself speaking as if to his dead brother. It had happened more and more lately. Possibly another effect of the spell, it was draining him too after all. It felt good to not have its weight on his mind tonight. A respite before the last great push. By this time tomorrow night he would have found his brother’s bones and would be able to raise them. He wondered how long it would take for them to assemble in the deep waters and walk back to Toruga. He must make some annotations on that, it would be useful to later generations of casters.

He swept the activity in the harbour once more with the far viewer and satisfied himself that none of the boats had yet to make the docks. There was still a little more time before he would have to put the searching fog back up to prevent the sips from leaving. Once he did, though, he might need defenses in place to ward of any untimely interference from the mariners or the pirates, should they learn where the spell was originating from. But he already had spells prepared and locked in place in the garden and on the main floor of the villa. They hadn’t been needed in subduing the villagers after all, who had all been sure the fog had come from the sea or the gods. And every man of them had praised his success in holding the fog at bay, a few hundred meters out from the island proper. He had been quite proud of that last minute fabrication, taking credit for where the edge of the spell lay. Of course he had no need of searching the island itself anymore. He had done so thoroughly with conventional spells on his first day there just to be sure. So the villagers had brought him food and allowed him to take up residence in the villa and lamented at how hard it must be to keep pushing that fog away from them. The poor fools. All the while dying themselves inch by inch to feed that hungry spell. It was regrettable, he supposed, but who would really miss any of them? Not like he missed his brother, his sweet wife who had adored his brother as much as Debreyt had worshiped him himself. And they little daughter with the impossibly red curls, that wouldn’t be tamed by any combs or ribbons and who had called him Unco. He wanted them all back! Yet the gods would not allow it. But he would at least know why they had to die.

As wild adventures went this part felt all too much like the dull work he had been subjected to on his previous vessel. Using his skills as a negotiator with the prisoners, however, had been exhilarating and he wasn’t ready to let that buzz go yet. Llewellyn cast about for something to do and ducked into the stores of the ship poking about with the sort of equanimous curiosity, that found an unfamiliar bottle of vinegar as interesting as the guilded handle of a long-broken dagger or a bolt of gorgeous deep red damask. He tucked the damask thoughtfully behind some other sacks and pocketed the dagger heft. Then he experimentally kicked a water barrel carefully with the toe of his boot. It sounded empty and an idea formed in his head which drew a relieved smile on his long face. He sprang up the steep and narrow staircases until he made the upper deck. Agnes stood the railing overseeing the mast being carefully hoisted up from the hold. She was paler than she had been when he first met her. Shock still sat in her, he was sure. No one would tell him exactly but he gathered that she hadn’t been Hemlough’s natural daughter and there had been unresolved issues between them. His heart twinged in empathy for her but her was certain any expression of pity would anger the little half-elf. Which he would be willing to risk if it should prove necessary. But he would just as soon not need to draw her ire. She looked up as if she felt his gaze on her and quickly painted a teasing smile on his face as he approached. He gave her a mock bow and reached up for her hand. “I would like to make myself useful to You, Milady. Perhaps that pathway Mr Copperhill spoke of leads to a source of freshwater.” She took his hand and jumped gracefully down beside him with arched eyebrows. He smiled sweetly down at her, now that she was a head shorter than him again. “The barrels in the hold seem a bit low. And besides,” He added with darker look at the top of the cliff enveloped the shoreline of the bay they had anchored in. “I would feel better if I knew for certain there wasn’t a patrol of soldiers coming over that hill.”

Agnes followed his gaze and pursed her lips. “That’s not a bad idea, actually. I’ll come with you.” He gave her a surprised and pleased look. He hadn’t expected her to drop everything and go gallivanting with him. She grimaced “I’m not really of much help here. And while we have enough fresh water to last us to Mar Turin I would be a fool to pass up the chance to refill.” She fidgeted with her bandages and Llewellyn noticed that they seemed dark in many places. She surveyed the crew working and nodded to herself. “We can bring Pieterson and one of the Anties to come with us. If we do find water we can send them back for empty barrels while we keep a lookout.” Llewellyn couldn’t help flashing her a sly grin. “You and I alone, beneath the stars! Why anything could happen!” She scowled at him. “Yes it could and not a man Jack here will wonder if I decide to leave you there behind. You might want to keep that in mind, Ohoy-boy.” He clasped his hands to his chest theatrically and she rolled her eyes turning away. “Get the men ready while I inform the Quartermaster. And fix that bandage of yours, your shoulder is bleeding again!”

Llewellyn looked down in surprise and dismay to find that the cut he had taken was indeed bleeding still. He didn’t think he had been using it over much but he supposed he must have. He went to carry out her orders and find some new cloth to this the wound up with.

18.

As they made their way around a dried up fountain in front of the villa, it’s doors opened, spilling golden, welcoming light out into the darkness. Thomas Falthorpe had had to help pull the cart the last few hundred meters up the hill. The Commander was mumbling and feebly trying to get up from the cart and the two healers had their hands full keeping his head still. A tall, thin man came down the wide shallow steps holding a lantern up to light their way. By his expensive tailoring Thomas guessed this must be the mage who Lowther had spoken of, himself, coming to lead them in. It was odd to find such courtesy in a place like this.

“Good evening to you all, Sirs. Please come this way! We spotted your approach and have made ready for you inside!” He ushered them in with cordial concern writ in his features and Falthorpe felt instantly hopeful the man would aid in the Commander’s recovery. Lowther was carried in and laid on a sheet covered table in the reception room. A woman bent by age, stirred up the fire in the hearth and Thomas saw a kettle already hung there steaming.

Once inside Captain Bedenkin turned to give their host a sharp, appraising look. “You would be the mage our Commander spoke of then?”

The tall man blinked at the dwarf a few times and then seemed to realize it was a question. “Yes! Please apologize my manners I have been working without rest since I arrived here and I’m afraid you find me not at my best. My name is Renard Debreyt, formerly of her Majesty’s Mage’s Conclave and appointee to her court. And if I could ask of you gentlemen to please be gentle with my maid, Hannah, whom you see there by the fire. She is not well I’m afraid, as we all won’t be if we remain here for long.”

Falthorpe chewed on that last bit of ominous information as he made the presentations all around. “May I inquire to the Commander’s present condition?” Debreyt asked worriedly. The Starcrest’s surgeon, Tim Donning, at a look from his Halfling colleague stepped over to the Commander’s form on the table. Thankfully Lowther had slipped back into unconsciousness again while they carried him in. He would not have appreciated being the item of conversation, Thomas was sure.

Debreyt went to stand across from the surgeon and Donning carefully tilted part of the bandage up so he could see the wound. “As you can see the cavity is torn to shreds and we have added stitching here.” He gestured with a long finger. “Here and here.” Debreyt so fully focused on the wound that Falthorpe felt the rest of them had become so much furniture in the room. He and the men who had drawn the cart up from the harbour were all listening and watching intently too despite themselves but Captain Bedenkin was walking slowly around the room looking at everything else. Thomas didn’t think wounds bothered him so he was perhaps trying to judge the man by his furnishings. Donning continued in that barely inflected tone of the professional medic describing a wound so grievous it would change the Commander’s life forever. “By now the shallower cuts should be closing and the blood flow ought to be slowing but it hasn’t and the more we try to staunch it the greater the risk of blood seeping into his brain cavity instead.” Donning threw Concordant’s healer an unhappy look but Harry Neafy simply nodded solemnly and made a ‘go-on’ gesture. Donning sighed. “In our best estimate we think this wound is being kept open by magical means, Sir. And…” He hesitated again but Harry Neafe’s huge, bushy eyebrows raised themselves and Donning’s shoulders fell a little. “…We don’t know how to stop it. Frankly all our healing spells that should have halted the bleeding completely have failed to do more than staunch the flow slightly for a short time.” Debreyt’s light blue eyes looked hard from one healer to the next. “I assume from the pale complexion of you both that this has not kept you from continually recasting heals then? You must be utterly exhausted by now.” Donning shrugged uncomfortably but Neafe scooted forward in his chair. “Is it right though? Is this some sort of curse or something? Do you know of a way to undo this.” The man studied him thoughtfully and absently tapped his lip. Then he stretched a long, elegant hand towards Lowther’s brow but looked up at Donning for permission before he touched him. The surgeon nodded curiously and Debreyt closed his eyes and mumbled under his breath. Something happened to the air in the room that made the hairs on Thomas’ arm stand on end.

“An excellent surmise, my dear Neafe was it? Of the South Vale Neafe’s?” The doctor opened his mouth to answer but Debreyt shook his head. “Sorry! Straying! As I was saying a fine theory but not, I think so. Not a curse nor anything directed specifically at the Commander. But an accident of magical origin.” Falthorpe wanted to ask what was going on, he felt he was only following half a conversation here. Debreyt turned to Captain Bedenkin then. “Captain, when your Commander was fighting the pirates would you say that coincided with the fog changing colour?” The dwarf thought about and then nodded. “As near as I can tell, yes.” Debreyt nodded solemnly and looked back at the Commander. “Then I think it is important, Sirs, that we, none of us, sustain any wounds while we remain on the island. It would seem the many deaths and all the blood spilt during the battle tonight has altered the magic that is threatening Toruga in dire ways indeed.” He looked around at non-plussed faces and shook his face with a tinge of impatience. “Do you not see? The fog changed. It won’t allow the blood to stop flowing.” There was silence in the room as all looked to the commander’s still form. “But the fog is gone.” Thomas said then. Debreyt sighed wearily. “I’m afraid it is and it isn’t. I’m holding a channel open for your ships but I fear I cannot do so much longer. And the damage to the Commander is already done. It would take these gentlemen’s and my combined efforts to save him now.” Falthorpe looked up sharply. “Are you saying there is still hope for Commander Lowther?” Debreyt nodded but he didn’t look very happy about it.

The healers both appeared to be understanding his meaning though. Neafe spoke without ever taking his eyes of Debreyt. “You have learned to channel other’s magic? You are offering to channel one of us into the other to combine the power.” Debreyt nodded. “And add mine to yours. It’s possible. I wouldn’t need to know your spells just add my strength to help power them.” Falthorpe stood up in excitement. “Then that’s wonderful, why not do it right away?” Debreyt smiled sadly at him but it was Donning who spoke, his voice was very serious. “It is a very risky proposition for the spell caster’s involved. In most cases the one donating their power risk being drained completely and left forever in a catatonic state. To even offer such to strangers…” His voice trailed of. But Debreyt waved a tired hand. “Please believe me I wouldn’t if I did not have an ulterior motive.” He switched his icy gaze to Thomas who felt like his insides were being pierced by gentle, probing hands. “Your Commander made me a promise, that he would take those of us who yet live here off and away from this terrible place.” Thomas’ heart simultaneously filled with pride for his Commander and shame for his own misgivings earlier. Lowther was acting selflessly then! “And that’s where the second problem arises. In order to link with these two fine gentlemen I would have to relinquish the spell that is holding the fog back for now.” “But you can recast it, so we can sail away, correct?” Hope had replaced Thomas’ courtesies and it wasn’t until Debreyt answered that he realized how callously he had spoken. Debreyt smiled gently in reply “Yes I can. Provided of course I survive the procedure.” Thomas was aghast at his own behaviour, but Captain Bedenkin saved him from uttering a stream of stuttered apologies. “Before we do anything I think it is time we learn what is the nature of the calamities here. Will you inform us, sir?”

Debreyt narrowed his eyes briefly but his face smoothed so quickly Thomas wasn’t sure what emotion he had seen on the man’s face in that instant. “A good point, Captain. You will recall I asked for your kindness with regard to Hannah, my maid servant. Now comes the time for that gentleness.” Bedenkin looked mystified at the old woman who hadn’t moved from the fire. Thomas realized he had completely forgotten she was there. Debreyt held his hand out to the woman who took it with a quivering, bony hand of her own. Then he led her over to where Harry Neafe sat. “Would you be so kind as to ascertain Hannah’s age, Doctor Neafe” The Halfling blinked in surprise but took Hannahs hand gently from Debreyt and looked into her eyes. Then he pulled out a long tube from voluminous pockets on his coat, placed the wide end against her chest and his ear against it’s smaller mouth. Through it all Hannah just stood, crooked and stoic with barely a flicker on her face. “I would say,” Neafe began slowly “That you are in your late seventies or early eighties perhaps, miss.” Her eyes momentarily filled with tears and she sighed and shook her head. Debreyt spoke for her, his voice very quiet as he guided her back to the fire. “I am very sorry to say that Hannah had just had her twentieth birthday this past Spring.” “That’s preposterous!” Donning exclaimed but silenced himself as he realized the woman was in distress. “Please forgive me, m’am.” Debreyt, however, nodded at Donning. “But you are right, sir. It is preposterous and yet this has happened to her and every one on this island. Myself included.” He pointed to his grey hair. “There was no touch of grey in my hair when I arrived. Everyone here is aging at an incredibly accelerated rate.” A sound from Neafe drew Thomas’ eyes back to the Halfling who looked shocked. “But the ones that were already old are then…?” He swallowed at Debreyt’s serious demeanor. “Infants and many of the smaller children too. The strain makes the adults weary beyond belief but it is too much for the children.” The room was quiet as everyone made a conscious effort not to look at twenty-year old Hannah sitting bent over by the fire.

Bedenkin cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pockets. “So… how much danger are we in here?” Debreyt spread his hands in an elegant gesture. “I can’t give you precise numbers, Captain, but think of it as this: If you stay for a day all you will feel is a touch of fatigue. Stay for a week you will feel exhausted as after a hard week of working. After a month it’s more akin to the tiredness you feel during a bout of influenza.” He went quiet for a moment then breathed in and held up his thinning hands before himself. “Longer than that and you start seeing changes.” “And yet you stayed. You obviously can lift the fog enough to allow a ship passage through.” Bedenkin’s voice was sharp and Thomas wondered why he was so hard on the man. “In one of those tiny fishing boats you saw in the harbour? Crewed by fishermen who have never ventured too far out from the island in there’s or their father’s time?” Debreyt paced thoughtfully about the room. “In any case that option was only open for a short window and then we were all too tired to even try.” He turned to the fireplace. To hide his grief and regret, Thomas thought. “It’s all I’ve been able to do, to ward the island proper of the fog and even that isn’t enough. Whatever is aging us is still getting by all my attempts.” He lowered his head and Thomas could tell Captain Bedenkin was moved by the man’s self-sacrifice.

Harry Neafe came forward then, re-donning his professional mien as he did. “I suggest, gentlemen, that we attempt Master Debreyt’s plan.” He held up a finger before his colleague could protest again. “Taking every precaution and crediting the danger as we proceed. Let us save the Commander while the ships are being loaded with the villagers.” He looked from one tight face to the next. “Then, if all goes to plan, Donning and I will offer the master the same courtesy and aid him in lifting the fog so we may escape the island.” Debreyt straightened and turned in one fluid movement to look at the halfling in amazement. Then he crossed the space between them in two strides and grasped the doctor’s hand. “That… That could work, sir! You would do that? It would save us all!” He shook the Halfling’s hand vigorously and Neafe blushed bright red. “Please sir, in light of your own exertions in keeping these poor folk alive I think I would just as soon we keep mentions of heroisms to your achievements in this matter!”

Thomas felt a lump in his throat for a heartbeat and though he had felt lassitude creep up on him he now felt energetic and strong again. Such noble and inspiring company required him to do more than just his best and he looked over at Captain Bedenkin, trying to impart his sudden eagerness to get back to work. The dwarf took his meaning and stood. “If neither of you learned sirs need our assistance in anything further, I believe our Young Lieutenant wishes to not be completely outdone by your industry. Polite chuckles followed but Thomas didn’t mind the tolerant teasing. Not if it meant he could get back down to the village and pitch in with the evacuation. He did go to stand next to Lowther’s still form. “Just hold on a little longer, sir.” Bedenkin patted his arm and looked back at the healers and the mage. “Can you give us time to reach the harbour. It would be good to warn our people that the fog is going back up on purpose.” Donning came forward to take Commander Lowther’s wrist. “Then sooner would be better than later, Captain!” Bedenkin rumbled, gestured to the two sailors to follow them out of the room and left at a brisk walk with Thomas in tow.

19.

 

Agnes’s legs felt stiff as boards by the time she finally crested the top of the cliff. The path that threaded its way up the face of the cliff was so narrow that in parts, she couldn’t stand with her feet together without being pressed against the cliffside. Llewellyn even had to walk sideways on some stretches and he had been so uncharacteristically quiet on the way up she had found herself looking back at him in the gloom, to see if he was alright. Every time she did, she took herself irritably to task. She hadn’t known him for a full day yet, he was nothing to her. So why should she care how he was feeling? She crested the lip of the cliff and reached back to offer him a hand up. And immediately regretted it when his face, rising into the star light illumination showed his widest roguish smile. She pulled her hand roughly out of his and turned to look back down at the small bay and the ship twinkling up at them. That was home, down there, she thought. That little ship. And she was hers now. The thought was still too big to fit in Agnes’ head properly and she shook it. “Now that is a gorgeous view! That is a beautiful ship you have there, Captain!” Llewellyn’s warm tones echoed her own so closely she pulled back from him. “She looks like a giant fist smashed her masts.” He chuckled but with a sour edge. “Typical women, you’re shown something wonderful and you just have to find fault.” “That’s not true!” She protested. “But you can’t just look at the pretty parts and ignore the broken ones. That’s lying to yourself. Something I’m beginning to think you are very good at!” She turned her back on him to get a look at what was up here. It was too dark to make out a lot of specifics but there seemed to be a few copses of trees spread out over a rough, hilly terrain that kept sloping upward. Impossible to tell if there was any fresh water accessible up here but her eyes were drawn to the highest point which wasn’t merely outlined by the starry sky but crowned with a brightly illuminated fine house.

“How far away is that?” She asked. Llewellyn walked ahead a few steps to a large jagged rock sticking out from the turf. At it’s tallest point it reached past his belt. He turned back to her. “If we had wings I would guess maybe a quarter of an hour or so but if it’s all like this,” He slapped the rock beside him. “It’ll be slow going and slower still to roll full barrels back down without breaking them. She looked at him thoughtfully. “Those people live here. They have to know something about that fog.” Llewellyn grimaced. “What’s to know? It was there, and we’re getting the hell away from here before it comes back!” Pieterson and the Anty sailor both nodded fervently at that. “We aren’t going anywhere far with just a foremast, not at this time of year. Leaving only works if it comes with a not-sinking end of the voyage. So we might as well investigate. You two, do you think you can rig up something fast to raise and lower barrels up this cliffside? Pieterson looked sceptically but the other man tilted his head thoughtfully. “Over there, those two trees look like some sort of willow. They should have the roots to carry a full barrel. At least we won’t be trying to pull full barrels up the cliff side.” Pieterson grunted and rolled his eyes in feigned horror. The Anty sailor looked at her. “I think we can have something solid rigged up in half an hour or so, Captain.” Agnes looked at him and this time the honorific didn’t seem as out of place as before. “Do it then, we’ll trek up ahead and see if there’s any water to be had. No sense going through all the trouble of pulling the barrels up here for nothing.” She looked at Llewellyn. “That is if you feel brave enough to do a little scouting?” Even in the dark his teeth showed white in a brilliant smile.

 

Lord Adelarde pressed his handkerchief against a small vial of perfume, that hung from a chain around his neck. Oh he knew very well the fragrance did nothing to ward off any insidious diseases he might contract in these squalid abodes but it made him feel better. Fortified. As did the heated sherry he had judiciously imbibed before coming ashore. He wouldn’t have ventured into the port town at all, if it were not for the mental image of himself, hailed as a saviour of the plighted citizens of Her Majesty, that kept beckoning him with a sweetness he couldn’t ignore. He was aware of the askance looks some of the lowly sailors were giving him. Especially the few that were here from the other two ships. Peasants all, what did they know about nobility or breeding? Like that man in the row boat. Insolent brute! He had stepped on Adelard’s frock on purpose just he was exiting the boat to the docks as the first person, as was his right. Now the frock hung torn and limp from one tail. And he had dressed with such care to make an impression on the poor villagers. Well now at least they would know how much it had cost him to come to their aid. He was certain they would at least appreciate that!

A shout from the entry way to one of the houses drew his attention. When nobody had responded to polite knocking he had order the men to force entry and investigate. Apparently even these bumbling barrel-legged louts could manage to finally locate the people living here. Lord Adelard huffed and lifted his dangling jacket tail over his arm like the ancients had worn their flowing garments, and hurried toward the door. He hesitated on the door step. Foreign smells assaulted him from inside and he had swallow as bile rose in his throat. He pressed his perfumed handkerchief tight to his nose and mouth and ducked under the low door frame. Inside he found several sailors huddled in clusters on the staircase landings leading up to, presumably, the family bedrooms. They too were holding sleeves against their noses so Adelard felt for once not out of place with his own idiosyncrasies.

He would have said something sharp to the men, just loitering about as he climbed the creaking, rickety staircase but something odd in their faces halted him. One man mutely handed him a visibly shaking, hand lantern. Lord Adelard had never been any good at reading other people’s emotions from their faces or body language. Frankly he thought the exercise a bit crass and invasive for his tastes. But now he wished he had learned so he would know what was up stairs. He took himself to task for his weakness and continued to climb until he made the top landing. None of the sailors were up here but doors stood wide ajar all down the narrow hallway. He concentrated on closing his nose but a pervasive, hair-raising stench seemed to be forcing it’s intangible fingers up his nostrils and down his throat all the same. Sweat broke out on his forehead and that helped a little. He loathed sweating and it would make the powder he wore streak. Irritable he crossed the threshold to what the lanterns circle of light told him must be a little boys room. The light hit the foot end of the bed and showed the tell-tale lumps of a pair of small feet under the covers. He lifted the lantern slowly.

 

Thomas and Captain Bedenkin rounded a corner which took them onto the main street of the town of Toruga. They had been discussing the whole way how best to accommodate the villagers, now that they had some idea of what to expect in terms of these poor victims health and mobility. They couldn’t handle a lengthy journey at sea after what they had had to endure so the nearest friendly port would have to be enough to begin with, until a more permanent solution could be conceived of. Hopefully the journey back would allow the healers to come up with a plan for reversing, or at least offsetting the adverse effects of the curse. Thomas felt uplifted about their prospects. Bedenkin was wholly committed to the evacuation and hadn’t mentioned the pirates once. Thomas would just as soon forget about the pirates all together. Surely they had had enough from last night too. Saving the islanders was a clean task, a noble cause and completely suitable for Her Majesty’s navy and he was proud to play what ever little part in that he could. He as still smiling when he noticed the sky was getting a little lighter finally. He realized, in the back of his mind, that this had felt like a night that would never end and he pointed outward toward the bay for Bedenkin’s benefit. But the dwarf Captain halted immediately in his tracks and one hand shot out and grasped Thomas’ arm in a painful hold. Shocked at the colour draining from the Captain’s face Thomas turned his head to look at what had startled him so.

Out in the bay the Glory of Bayle had set sail and had already turned her bow outward, away from the island. Sails were unfolding as Thomas watched, stunned and shocked. “The damn pirates, they snuck up on her while all her people were away in the boats! Come on, lad no time to waste!” Bedenkin tore down the streets still griping Thomas’ arm firmly. Which was probably a good thing for the Lieutenant was still numb from the shock. His first thought hadn’t been the pirates. It still wasn’t. He was picturing Lord Adelarde being told that most of the homes had corpses in them and how he would react. But he couldn’t have, He was a lord, he couldn’t mutiny, could he? Maybe Captain Bedenkin was right and the cunning pirates had snuck up on the Glory somehow. Yes, that was a better scenario. His legs started running of their own accord and he was pulling ahead of the Captain in a few strides. This was not good terrain for running in. The street was sloped at a fairly steep angle and strewn with dust and fine gravel. He started slowing his headlong run when he saw people in sailors uniforms, gathered in the street ahead of them. His worst suspicions were rekindled as they drew closer and the fearful clatter their boots were making on the cobblestones drew faces around in their direction. Few if any seemed to be of the company of the Glory of Bayle.

Thomas held himself in the background as Bedenkin began querying the men one what had passed. It allowed him to stifle and hide the fury that must otherwise have been plain as day on his face. Bedenkin didn’t bother hiding his contempt at all. He spat vehemently in the Glory’s direction. She was now a perfect tall rectangle with all her sails up sailing away as fast as she could muster. Falish hadn’t even bothered to wait until all his men were aboard either, Thomas learned as he and Captain Bedenkin mustered everyone who was in the town back on the docks. 12 men of her company had been left behind like so much luggage and Bedenkin was spitting nails in fury and shared shame as one who was supposed to be his peer, trashed the honor of the Captain’s rank and the Navy under foot.

After his initial spike of fury, Thomas found he could be calm about it all. Yes he found Lord Adelarde’s behaviour contemptible and he promised himself he would see the man stripped of his rank and hanged for treason and mutiny, if at all possible. But it was a cold, steady fury and he could bank it for later. For the present he still had houses to search for evacuees and only a few boats to transport them out to the ships. While Bedenkin was still raging he began organizing the men in work parties. He nodded solemnly at their shocked tales of dead, wrinkled corpses in the houses and yards and swore to them all it wasn’t contagious. That didn’t mean they were safe from the curse of course, but he felt there was little benefit to sharing that with the men just yet. One man he sent legging it back up to the villa with a full report to the healers and Master Debreyt and made him swear to bring back any news of the Commander’s state.

By the time Bedenkin was recovering his wits might noisily breathing through his bulbous nose, all the gathered seamen where industriously carrying out Falthorpe’s orders. He in turn began to apologize to the dwarven Captain for taking charge but the dwarf silenced him with a tired head shake. “It was unbecoming of me to indulge myself. I’m sure you were angry as well at that traitorous coward’s action.” He had to stop then and his jaws creaked as he evidently bit off a new stream of invectives. Falthorpe felt a lot of affection for the Captain at that moment and almost wished he could have had a stint aboard the Starcrest as well. Bedenkin started again, slowly and measure this time. “Regardless, I am grateful you allowed me the time to rant and I not only concur with your orders but I intend to see to it that the Admiralty knows, how well you have risen to the task of command since the Commander was wounded.” Falthorpe felt a blush creep up his cheeks but he offered the dwarf solemnly his hand in thanks.

 

20.

 

Agnes and Llewellyn crept up to the back wall of the sprawling villa. There was a locked door into what might be the kitchens toward the north corner of the house. They had tried the door but it wouldn’t open. Since there was no lock it had to be bolted from the inside. The wall changed on the stretch between the kitchen door and the corner though and dipped lower. Llewellyn boosted Agnes up to sit gingerly across the wall’s tiled and slanted top. While he pulled himself up she made out in the dim light before dawn, that this had once been a vegetable garden and there was another door here. Smaller and quite narrow. They looked at each other and Llewellyn shrugged, swung a leg over the wall and slid down to land on the withered remains of last years carrot rows. He turned to offer her a hand down, but her back was to him and she was already lowering herself to the ground. He smiled crookedly and went to try the door. Agnes, instead picked her way over to the covered well and judiciously dropped a pebble in it. There was water in it. Far down but it was there. She smiled and gave Llewellyn who looked back at her, the thumbs up. He nodded and pointed energetically at the door. He had opened it a crack. It hadn’t been locked at all, but it bound terribly and the noise it made as he inched it across the floor seemed thunderous. It was a big house, however, and all the lights seemed to be lit in the front half of the villa. Not back here at all.

Agnes couldn’t help but notice how graceful Llewellyn could be. When he needed to be, she amended to himself. He moved like a dancer and barely made a sound at all. She felt clumsy and noisy beside him and tried even harder to be stealthy, so he wouldn’t have ammunition to tease her with later. If they weren’t caught, of course.

For a house that was bigger, in square feet at least, than her ship there didn’t seemed to be a soul living in it. They passed storage rooms and servants quarters and other rooms she didn’t know the use of and they were all covered in a sheet of dust. As if no one had needed them for months. Muffled voices finally drifted back to them from up ahead and Llewellyn, who had taken the lead like he knew what he was doing, cat burglaring someone’s house, slowed them down to a crawl as he inched forward from one dark, squat piece of furniture to the next.

“…think we have made all the preparations we can for the power transference. We won’t be able to restore his eye, of course but he will survive this terrible injury.”

Agnes froze. That couldn’t be. What ever it was that voice was talking about it couldn’t be about HIM. He was dead! He had to be. She’d seen him go over board with blood shooting out of his face. Nobody survived that, did they? She must have made a noise because Llewellyn looked back at. He laid a gentle finger against her lips and raised his eyebrows.

Another voice spoke now. In melodic, beautiful cadences that seemed familiar to Agnes like a song half-remembered from the past. “Doctor Neafe, is that one of your men I see running up the path to us there?” The first voice replied, his voiced tinged with concern. “Why yes it does seem to be. They must be sending us word of some new occurrence at the docks.” Llewellyn looked around sharply. They were in eye shot of the front doors now. Whoever was coming up here would burst through those doors and be face to face with them. He pulled Agnes quickly into a small room next to the one the voices where coming from. They heard the front doors slam open just as they pulled theirs closed behind them.

The room was lined with tables with cloth draped across regiments of glasses and cups and plates. Agnes wondered briefly at what it was all for but she had to know more about what that man had said about an eye. She pressed her ear to the wall but although she could hear voices they were too muffled now to make out. Llewellyn placed a glass against the wall and pressed his ear against that. She rolled her eyes at him. He was looking like a twerp. Instead she tip-toed over to the window and carefully un-hasped the bottom square frame of glass. It swung outward to the end of a small string. But the voices had stopped talking now. Instead she heard footsteps coming closer very fast. She drew quickly back from her window, as the one next door banged open and she saw the tip of a looking glass pointing out from it. Someone cursed like, well like a sailor as it were. It was not the melodious voice nor the old voice. Someone else then.

“What was he doing inspecting the houses himself, the pompous little toad? Mutiny? Can you believe it?” The melodious voice broke into the conversation. Agnes thought she heard rage being held in an iron grip behind that voice now. “If it’s any consolation gentlemen, he won’t get far. I am letting the fog back in now. His sails will have no wind.” Agnes’ eyes widened and she saw tendrils of green fog streaming out across the island. Pouring out from the hill they were on. Something about that was important but the third voice laughed bitterly now. “Serves him right, the bastard. He’ll probably gnaw his own leg off in anxiety out there!”. The old, grand fatherly voice spoke in a soothing tone. “Never mind him now. He has made his choice. Let us save the Commander and then aid the master mage in taking the fog down again so we can leave.

Debreyt snapped the viewer shut and turned back to the two doctors. Neafe told the messenger to return with news, that the Commander should be able to join them soon. Debreyt hid a small smile. They hadn’t noticed his casting of the seeking spell and he could feel its tendrils drawing power from all the extra people on and… Yes and around the island. He could feel a grouping of life forces on the northern coast. Not too far away from here. That had to be the cursed pirates. And out in the fog, now obscured completely to the people in the harbor, the third ship sat caught in his web. He closed his eyes and directed the spell to focus its energy drain from there. No one on the island would know what was happening to them and every minute he could keep that from them was more time for the spell to sap their energy and keep them from interfering with his work.

There, he could feel the spell touching every living soul on that ship and tearing their life energy away from them, moment by moment. The energy being drawn was so explosive that some of it fed back into him, revitalizing him and giving him flashes of the crew being drained. He was there when their Captain dropped his handkerchief and watched it flutter to the ground, unable to make a move to catch it. The man’s consternation that this pristine piece of cloth should touch the ground amused Debreyt greatly. How true to life was this tableau of death. In a few excited heartbeats it was all over and he smoothed spell evenly over the area again. The ship would undoubtedly make for a gruesome, and unbelieved sailor’s yarn. He smoothed his face back into seriousness and turned back to the two healers.

“Alright gentlemen, my fate is in your hands! Let us aid this noble Captain and get him back to organizing our escape. I am sure we could benefit immensely from his leadership.” Nervous chuckled sounded. From both the doctors. “I cannot but admit I am terrified of doing this. Not for myself, you understand, but for any harm that might come to either of you,” Donning said. They had decided that he should be the focus since he, as the surgeon knew best where to direct the magic. Debreyt nodded to him, trying to seem both kindly and serious. “I can understand your hesitation. It is a heavy responsibility. But I fear the good Commander will not allow you time to compose yourself any longer. Look, he is already turning pale!”

Neafe agreed “Yes, we are out of time. Let us do desperate deed and may the gods watch over us!” Debreyt joined them at the table. “Indeed.” He said

Llewellyn came to stand next to Agnes after giving up his attempts with the glass. He carefully tilted the pane of glass so they could see a cloudy reflection of what was going on in the room. He looked uncharacteristically serious and it fed the lump of fear that had been growing in her gut. Now she watched as the three men in the room gathered about the fourth, prone body. It was impossible to see th man’s face from here, but who else could it be? How many Commander’s were visiting Toruga waters today?

“I shall begin by casting the focus spell on on us and tether it to Mr. Donning. You should both feel a sucking sensation if it works. Llewellyn looked puzzled at that and she could see he was concentrating on the tall man who seemed to be in charge. He began casting now, mumbling strange words very fast and hands weaving in the air in front of him. Llewellyn’s face went white and he tried to pull Agnes away from the window. She resisted his attempts, staring into the glass pane to understand what was happening. One of the men spoke hesitantly. “I think it’s working. Something is happening. I feel… strange.” The glass reflection was frustratingly vague and she un-hasped the window pane and carefully leaned her head out of the window, to see into the next room. The tall man stood with his hands held up at shoulder height, palms up. His head was tilted slightly back, his eyes half-closed and his lips parted. If you took away the context of the room and the patient, she would have guessed he was feeling really good. Her gaze shifted to the other two, standing on either side of the table. Their faces, in contrast, seemed to be locked in a rictus of pain and terror. She couldn’t see anything obvious to be causing the two of them such pain, so she assumed it must be the spell they were casting. They were older too than she had imagined from the sound of their voices. Quite a bit older. As she was watching their faces started to thin and pale. It was as if the flesh beneath their skin was evaporating and with it any signs of youth or life. She sucked in a breath but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spectacle in the other room. And then the tall man’s eyes opened and fastened on hers.

Llewellyn realized they were spotted and grabbed a chair with both hands. He hurled it through the window, kicked one of the serving tables underneath the frame and used it to jump out, pulling Agnes after him. They were on the ground floor so the fall wasn’t long but it was awkward as they landed among all the glass and torn bits of framework on a downward slope. He made a bee-line for the nearest corner to deny the mage behind them their backs as a target as soon as possible but he expected to feel something awful slam into his back the whole way. It didn’t and he started to breathe a sigh of relief when Agnes skidded to a halt and squeezed his hand painfully.

In front of them, on the overgrown pathway that led back to the vegetable garden, the tall man stood. He looked composed and at ease. So he hadn’t dashed through the house in order to catch up with them. Mages! Agnes was starting to get really tired of mages.

“Ah, dear guests, where are my manners. I never realized you wanted to leave or I should have seen you out.” Llewellyn looked down into her face and gave her hand a quick squeeze. Then he let go and moved away from her. She understood, two targets were not as easily hit as one. The man smiled sadly as if their actions were the misguided works of children. “Come now, may we not at least get to know each other. You have my word I shan’t be hurling any spells at you.” He seemed so sincere that Agnes felt confused. “If you aren’t here to attack us, why are you here then?”

“Why just as I said; to get to know you. Who are you? And where do you come from” He sighed when they hesitated. “Very well, I will start then. My name is Renard Debreyt, I am a mage of some skill and I have business on this island.”

“Which is to say that you are the one casting the fog!” Llewellyn threw back at him, he was angry and scared. “Well observed, young man. I take it you have some skill in the arts yourself?” He looked searchingly at the young man who stuck his considerable chin out in defiance. “Negligible, what a pity.” “What did you do to those men in there? Ans who was that on the table?” Agnes’ voice was taut but there was no point pretending with this man that they weren’t afraid.

“Few things interfere as badly with one another as spells. I needed those two to be in a position where they would not tell their navy friends what I was doing and not cast any irritating spells here on this island, where they might cause mine to twist or change. Rather like your little battle changed the ‘fog’.” The citation marks dropped neatly around the word and Agnes wondered if it was a good thing or a bad thing, that they didn’t know what the fog was doing. “As for the man on the table he was the leader of these navy men. A Commander Lowther, grievous wound, lost an eye… to a pirate wench, come to think of it. Though in his memories she seemed to be wielding a hook. I don’t suppose you would know anything about that?” Agnes swallowed. “Was? He is dead too then?” The man smiled coldly at her. “Yes, doe that please you?” She straightened and looked him defiantly in the eye. “Yes, it does! He slew my father. This doesn’t bring him back but it feels right. I wanted him dead for the years he stole form us.” The man rocked back on his heels at that. “Well then.” He said and his voice grew very quiet. “It seems we are not so different after all. I too am seeking the murderer of my family. My brother, his wife and their child.” He pursed his lips and looked hard at her as if he was trying to view the garden wall behind her.

“May I ask, what was the name of your father that the one-eyed Commander murdered?” Agnes bit her lip and breathed through her nose twice. When her voice was steady she answered him with quiet dignity. “My father, was the Captain of the pirate vessel Disobedience, who hunts here in the Sea of Pearls.” “I see.” He replied solemnly. “And did the Disobedience ever capture a vessel in these waters by Toruga. And slay it’s passengers?” She glared at him “We don’t kill passengers! We don’t kill anyone who isn’t trying to kill us!” Debreyt raised his eyebrows at her. “Oho, such fire! My brother’s wife had spirit like that. But this would have been some 15 years ago, before, I would assume, you took up the trade as a buccaneer.”

Agnes backed away from him in shock. “I… don’t know anything about that.” He tilted his head the other way “But I think you do know something perhaps. More than you are telling, certainly. That’s alright my dear, you can keep your secrets for now. Before the day is done I will have my answers, I am confident of it.” Llewellyn came around to grasp her arm and he looked at the mage, his brown eyes cold. “Will you let us leave then?” Debreyt smiled chilly at them. “To return to your ship and friends? Certainly, do go. But I’m afraid the fog will remain until I am done with it. And I think you will find your ship mates too weary to do much sailing in any case.” His teeth showed briefly in a vulpine smile. “I will give you this advice though, and I think you will find it valuable: Convince your friends to exert themselves as little as possible, while the fog is up. It will prolong their lives immeasurably. Frankly, I am astonished how awake you two still seem to be, but I suppose fear and excitement is the answer. Go now, little pirates. And we will see if there will be a crime to answer for, later!” The mage’s body seemed to shimmer in the air, as though they were seeing it through scalding air and then disappeared in front of them, without a sound.

Llewellyn pulled her around in front of him. He laid gentle fingers against her jaw and lifted her face up so he could look into her eyes. “I’m fine.” She said but even to Agnes, her voice sounded tired and shaky. “Let’s get back to the ship. I want to know what that man meant about the crew.”

 

21.

 

The news that the Commander would soon be joining them was a balm against the creeping lassitude both Bedenkin and Falthorpe had begun to feel. Thomas particularly had felt week and dizzy ever since they had made the trek down the hill. The men were also showing signs of fatigue but it had been a long night and although the cursed fog was back in it was at least day time fog which, apart from the sickly colour of this one, had always been weather Thomas enjoyed. Even as a child he had always gone out in fog, much to his mother’s distress. But there was something magical about how it blanketed areas and how it would collect in low places. He had puzzled over how this fog had seemed to roll out from the top of the hill, rather than back in from the sea though. He chalked it up to not knowing much about magic but it still bothered him. Bedenkin had been summoned by a shout from up one of the side streets, and had left him to get his breath back. Thomas sat alone in the fog on a bench, outside one of the empty houses. His heart seemed to be pounding as if he were still running. He had seen a few villagers being carefully escorted down to the waterfront but it certainly wasn’t the sweeping joyful masses he had pictured in his mind. That brought his thoughts back to Lord Falish. Thomas had maneuvered him into taking charge of the evacuation. In a way the Captain’s defection was due to that fact. He had known about the man’s terror of affliction but he had never thought the little Lord would deign to set foot on the docks himself. Was it his, Thomas’ fault that Falish ran then? He couldn’t answer that with a convincing ‘no’ and it ate at him. It wouldn’t just be Falish who would have to answer tot he charge of treason and mutiny. His crew was doomed with him and most of them wouldn’t know for some time that they were sailing against orders.

If there was any way he could catch up with them in the Concordant he would do whatever he could to ensure the sailors had a choice, then and there, to return to the navy unblemished or to to side with Falish and hang for it. Not a hard choice, Thomas supposed, but at least it was a choice which was more than their Captain had given them. He would tell his father of this on his return to Qeynos. He had wanted to apply his political pressure to boost Thomas’ career and they had fought bitterly about it when Thomas had found out. But he could see a way to use his father’s connections and energy in a way that would benefit both his father’s political maneuvering and Her Majesty’s navy. Thomas would see the end of Captain’s billets being tossed to the rich and idle as a prize. No more Falish’es to cost the navy a ship and 60 men, because he was afraid of the flu. He was so lost in his thoughts he never saw Captain Bedenkin approach until the bench creaked under the dwarf’s weight.

“I need to know how you are feeling right now, Lieutenant. I need specifics and honesty.” Just that, no pre amble. Thomas was confused but it was a request he had heard many times growing up as the son of a healer so he dutifully closed his eyes and began to describe his condition. His heart was still racing, he was tired and dizzy, his limbs felt heavy and he might be having a cold sweat, or it was the fog making him clammy. The dwarf nodded. “I have just watched two of our sailors die. Their hearts stopped, if I didn’t know any better I would say they died of exhaustion.” Thomas blinked in shock. “The fog?” The dwarf shrugged. “Has to be, doesn’t it? And every other man here, including myself, are feeling the same symptoms you are describing.” Thomas smiled wanly at him. “At least you seem to be up and about still, sir.” Bedenkin unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it back to show runed silver cuffs that appeared to be welded onto him. “I’m not just any dwarf, my family is as highborn among our people as yours is in Qeynos. Warding runes for my coming of age gift was considered an expected gift.” Thomas’ smiled grew wide. “That is excellent, sir. You are protected from the effects then?” “Protected yes, in the sense that these…” he held up his wrists “…will ward off some of the harmful magic being thrown at me. But not all of it and not for ever.” He pulled his sleeves back down. “I haven’t ever had them overloaded before. I hope they don’t melt or catch fire.” Thomas leaned back against the wall of the house. “Is that likely to happen, sir?” The dwarf rumbled a chuckle. “I think we’re likely to find out today.” Thomas felt the bench lighten as the dwarf stood up from it. It was a lot more comfortable here than when he had initially sat down. He didn’t even feel clammy anymore. Just that nice, warm sleepy glow before a long slumber.

Crack! His eyes flew up at the sudden loud sound. The wall had shook behind him and Bedenkin stood hunched over, clearly in pain. “Sir!” Thomas came forward, afraid to touch the Captain but frightened by how still he stood. “Have you been shot? Are you all right, sir?” “Balls!” the dwarf wheezed through painfully gritted teeth. “I knew that would hurt by now I wish I had been shot. Balls. Balls. Balls.” Thomas couldn’t help but look around but there didn’t seem to be any sailors in sight to over hear the Captain’s less than cordial words. Bedenkin was tugging at something and finally Thomas realized he was pulling the cuff off his left arm. “Sir, you can’t! You need those to stay awake!” The dwarf ignored him and Thomas felt a chill when he realized the loud crack he had heard must have been the Captain slamming his hand into the wall to break it. The cuff was welded shut around his wrist. Breaking it open would have rendered the runes broken too. “Gods!” he breathed. “What have you done, sir?” “Will you quit your bellyachin’ boy? I did what was…” He tugged one last, long time and his shoulders shook with the pain. Thomas’ eyes filled with tears. “…needed! There, put this on and now we both have protective runes. If this works, mind you.” Instead of waiting for the befuddled Lieutenant to do as he said Bedenkin pulled Thomas’ arm out and jammed the cuff down onto it. Then he unceremoniously ripped Thomas’ sleeve up so the silver, still warm from the Captain’s skin, rested directly against Thomas’.

A light, clean feeling spread out through his body from his arm. It was as if the mist itself had cobwebbed his mind and was now being ousted by the rune on the silver cuff. Thomas realized with a jolt of fear that he had been slipping into unconsciousness or worse. “It was supposed to be weeks or months before we felt the magics effects so keenly!” “Aye.” The dwarf grunted, he looked like someone had dropped a heavy weight on his shoulders. Lines had shown on his face. “Makes you wonder what else we don’t have the right of.” Thomas touched the cuff. He wanted to say thank you for saving his life but he sensed the dwarf would be annoyed if he did. Instead he tried for practical. “How much time did this buy us?” The dwarf squinted automatically up to gauge the height of the sun. Impossible in the fog of course and he growled. “Who knows but I think we have hours and not many of them.” Thomas looked at the ships, dull great shapes darker splotches in the fog. “We need to get away from here.” He turned to look up the hill but it had disappeared in the fog. “And that mage is the only one who can control this fog.” “I am starting to think you are more right about that then we know.”

Thomas turned to him then and loosened his sword in its scabard. “Very well, let us see if any of our men are as fortunate as I, to know a noble Dwarf with a penchant for pain.” That brought a grin back on the Captain’s face. “Aye, and we’ll take them with us up there for a little chat, is what ye’re thinking. Am I right?” Thomas nodded and his smiled was steely. “Hah! Finally, my way!” The dwarf pronounced and banged Thomas so hard on the back the young man’s teeth rattled.

 

Agnes and Llewellyn made it back to the cliff ledge in half the time it had taken them to climb it. Llewellyn had remarked on her unerring sense of direction in the fog. It didn’t seem like such a feat to her. Up here there were different shaped terrain all over that stayed put so you could take your bearings. On the sea the waves were all alike and moving add fog to that and you might as well not try to steer at all. The Anty sailor who had taken charge of the lifting ropes had apparently rigged things up in jig time. There were two empty barrels already up here but no sign of her or Pieterson. “Do you know how to walk down a wall with ropes?” Llewellyn asked. She rolled her eyes at him and swung out from the cliff side. His head popped out over the lip of the cliff to watch her with a grin and she wondered if anything could down that man’s mood for long. “The world could end” She mumbled to herself as she swung down and out in little jumps. “And he’d still be snorting at a knock-knock joke.” She slowed down on the last few feet. The foot of the cliff was strewn with jagged, grey and stark black rocks. Broken flint could cut through a boot if you weren’t careful. She snapped the rope a couple of times until she felt it go taut in her hand. Llewellyn was on his way down then, though she couldn’t make him out yet in the fog. It was denser down here than up at the house, she noticed.

“Captain?” Agnes looked around for the voice. It was the Anty sailor and she kicked herself mentally for not getting her name. “Is that you, Captain?” A darker lump off to the side could be a person sitting on the rock strewn ground. “Hello?” She walked towards it. “Captain, I’m so tired. I don’t know why.” It was her, and she looked grey with fatigue. Agnes knelt quickly and laid a hand against the womans throat. Her pulse was beating feebly like a panicked bird. “Where’s Pieterson?” The woman shook her head. “He went back for another barrel a long time ago. Haven’t seen him since.” Agnes looked around them, something not rock shaped drew her eye a few meters behind the woman. “Don’t move, I’ll be right back!” The woman chuckled tiredly. “I’ll hold down the fort right here then.” “I’m running a crew of comedians,” Agnes thought with amusement. She picked her way carefully over to the lumps she had spotted. They were Pieterson’s feet and he they belonged to a dead man. Agnes closed her eyes. He was just dead, no further away than you could chuck the empty barrel lying next to him. And the woman had been too tired to even know. Unless she was pretending? Agnes looked the man over carefully. He didn’t seem to have any marks on him from a fight. Blood had run from his nose and mouth but his head didn’t seem to have any cuts or bruises. He was lying down half on his side as if curling up to go to sleep. Then his brain had bled and he died. What was going on?

She heard Llewellyn’s voice behind her in the fog. He had found the Anty sailor and was talking to her. She walked as quickly back as the rocky ground allowed for. “Let’s get her back to the ship, we need to know how they are doing. And then we need a plan!” Llewellyn blinked at her. “Aye Captain!” It didn’t really sound like an ‘Aye Captain’ was supposed to, but it was probably the best she could hope for from him. “Do you think you can carry her? I’ll try to pick a path with the best footing for you.” Llewellyn nodded. The woman looked like she wanted to protest and Agnes liked her more for it. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a lot of time.” Llewellyn picked her up like she weighed nothing and Agnes suddenly felt a small twinge of envy. “This way.” She led them passed the body of Pieterson and she heard the woman gasp. Llewellyn said nothing but as she glanced back his eyes held that same hidden fury she had seen when he spoke to the mage.

They clambered into the little skiff that had brought them to shore and rowed out to the Disobedience together. The closer they came the more Agnes’ fears were validated. It was so quiet. The mast hadn’t been raised yet, but she hadn’t really expected it to be. Grak-Jon and Brazbak might be able to replace the strength of 3 men each but even that wouldn’t put them in the numbers they needed to raise the mast without some fancy counterweight rigging. But there wasn’t a sound to be heard as they drew up by the lowered rope ladder amidships. Agnes practically flew up the ladder leaving Llewellyn to deal with the skiff and the stricken sailor. The deck was still strewn with debris but empty of sailors but lights still shone up from the hold. She ran over to the large, square opening, threw herself down on her stomach and stuck her head over the edge or the frame – and came face to face with 2 muskets and a small cannon.

“Captain!” The ogre seemed genuinely pleased to see her and judiciously let go of the firing string on the cannon he, of course, had rigged up to point at the hold hatch. Chin tucked his muskets away too but she could tell she had a reaming coming from him. “You are still alive! We know what the fog’s doing and who is doing it!” She looked around the hold now and noticed crew tucked under anything that would bend enough to be thought of as a blanket. Brazbak was moving from sailor to sailor and feeding them a sip of something directly poured into their throats from a kettle. The thought of the troll as the ship’s nurse was worrisome and she tilted her head in his direction and mouthed “What’s he doing?” at Chin. “Get yerself down here, girl and report what you’ve found, first!” Agnes winced but nodded. Llewellyn was steadying the Anty sailor and they had made their way over to the hatch themselves. With Grak-Jon to receive her it was simpler to just lower her down that way, than go the long way around down several staircases.

She let Llewellyn explain what had occurred up by the house, while she looked in on a few of the nearest sailors. They were sleeping but they didn’t seem in as poor a state as the Anty woman. Brazbak was putting her to bed, as it were and very gently, for a troll. She was wrapped up in a large, ragged piece of sailcloth but under neath that she had a real blanket. They had been moving the blankets over here from the berths then. Easier than moving sailors to the berths, Agnes guessed. “Drink. Will make you sleep.” Brazbak proffered the kettle. It smelled of herbs and flowers and something else that made her eyes water. “I’m already tired, thanks.” The woman replied. Brazbak shook his head. “Sleep clean, not the bad sleep from the fog.” Agnes laid the back of her hand against Brazbak’s shoulder. It was a troll gesture he had once taught her. A way to get another trolls attention but respectfully, with the clean side of the hand. Brazbak looked back at her knees and rumbled. “Allow me, Brazbak. How much should she drink?” The troll handed her the kettle and was already leaving before he answered. “Two swallows. Keep it down.”

The woman laughed nervously. “I don’t think much of your ship’s doctor’s bedside manners.” Agnes smiled at her. “That’s because he’s the cook!” The woman’s consternation made her smile. “What is your name? In all the excitement I never got around to asking you.” Her lips were losing colour and Agnes fervently hoped Brazbak knew what he was doing with this concoction. “It’s Majken. Majken VanGroot.” “Hello Majken. I am Agnes or Aggie Adaire. I grew up on this ship and any time I had a cold Brazbak was there with something he had cooked up and it made me better. Mostly it even tasted very good. I’m told this makes him almost unique among potion brewers.” She carefully proffered the kettle. “If he says you must drink this, he means to make you better, I promise! You are part of my crew now and they have all been treated with the same.” The sailor was probably close to 20 years older than her and had a weathered tough look to her that Agnes liked. Except right now, mingled fear and hope made her eyes look large and lost, and made Agnes feel like the elder in the conversation. She swallowed and nodded then and Agnes carefully tipped the liquid into her mouth. Two swallows and her eyes squinted shut and streamed tears as if she had bit into a lemon. “Oh gods!” She coughed. “This was not one of the times the potion tasted good, you can tell him I said that!” Agnes snorted. “Tell him yourself! I may be the Captain but I’m not getting on the Cook’s bad side, me!” She thought Majken was going to respond but the woman fell asleep between one breath and another.

When she rejoined the others at the table Hernandel had come to stand unobtrusively nearby as well. That made 6 of them, still standing, tired but still in fighting form. “We can’t leave the island so long as the fog is up, and this Debreyt character is the cause of that.” Grak-Jon leaned back against the mast that still divided the room. “So we knock his lights out, take the fog with them?” “Will that work for certain though?” She asked looking from one to another. Llewellyn made a face but Hernandel surprisingly offered his opinion without prompting. “Magic is the art of breaking the laws of certainty and logic.” Chin tightened his lips “Aye ‘tis so. But I have never known a mage who kept casting more spells after I put him to sleep with the polite end of my daggers.” Grak-Jon worked out what Chin was suggesting and said, to be sure he had the gist of it: “So, we hit ‘em, but not so much he don’t wake up again?” Chin tilted his dagger heft at the ogre with a nod. Grak-Jon leaned back with a can-be-done, not-as-much-fun look on his face.

Agnes turned around on the pile of sacks she was using for a chair. Brazbak was packing herbs from a large bucket into neat little packs and tying them onto his belt. “What was in your kettle anyway, Brazbak and how did you know what to do.” The Troll’s movements never stopped but his eyes swiveled around to fasten on her foot. “When dey start droppin’ hardest workers dropped first. Scared ones dropped faster too.” He tied another parcel onto his belt and reached into the bucket for a handful of something moist and mossy looking. “Brazbak thinks that more the heart beats faster the killing goes. And dis is killing magic, I knows that, for certain.” It was a tremendously long speech from the troll. Chin looked at him sharply. “How can you be so sure it’s death magic? You’ve never told us you could cast any spells.” Brazbak shook his head once but didn’t look at Chin. “I knows!” he repeated very firmly. That was all he would volunteer on that subject Agnes thought and was about to turn the conversation onto to what they should do next, when the troll, to her amazement spoke again.

“I is wanting to know why the Aggie-girl or the other is not sleeping.” “I’d like to know that too. Mind you I’m not complaining.” She looked over at Hernandel. “I have you and your potion to thank for that, I expect.” He nodded but Chin wasn’t satisfied. “What kind of potion and how long ago did you take it?” “It was a warding potion, made by my sister. Very potent but we each only had half and that was ten hours or so ago.” Chin grimaced “That’s not good. Whatever we plan to do we better do it fast before the two of you go to sleep and don’t wake up again as well.” Agnes blinked “Is that what’s going to happen to the rest of our people?” Chin looked at her seriously “It will if we stay here in this poison.” He kept looking at her, but spoke to Llewellyn “What about you, loverboy, do you have some protective magic we can use?” Llewellyn chuckled darkly. “Protection yeah, but you would have to skin me to use it yourself.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “I have a warding tattoo on my back.” Chin did look surprised at that and turned to look at him. “Those things are huge!” Llewellyn leaned back and stuck his hands behind his head with an expansive gesture that made his chest seem very wide. “What can I say? I had the space for it…”

He arched an eyebrow at Chin. “What about yourself then? Dwarfs aren’t magic proof as far as I know.” Chin ran a finger up his collection of golden earrings, making them jangle against each other. “Dwarven runes, mate!” It was Llewellyn’s turn to look surprised and to wince in sympathy. “They weld those onto your bodies, don’t they? Auch!” Chin waggled his eyebrows at him “Some of us don’t mind a little pain, you know.”Agnes rolled her eyes. “Focus please. Can’t we just roll up the hill the six of us, backhand the mage and see if that’s enough to let us off the island?” Chin sheathed his daggers with a brisk manner. “Sure, if he doesn’t have any defenses set in place.” “We didn’t see any when we were there.” She pointed out. “True, we didn’t” Llewellyn broke in. “But now he knows about us and I don’t think he’s foolish enough to think we’ll sit on our hands while he sucks our lives away.” “And then there’s that bit about the reckoning he wants to have with his brother’s killer.” Chin said his eyes distant and fastened on the past.

“I was wondering about that.” Llewellyn said. Agnes looked away rather than meet his gaze though she felt his eyes upon her. “Yeah, I suppose there could have been other pirates out here around that time, who happened to kill a man and his elf wife and their daughter. But I wouldn’t give you great odds on that.” “So it was the Disobedience?” Llewellyn said, his voice uninflected. Agnes looked up at him sharply. “IT was a long time ago and we don’t kill passengers. Not since then. Do you understand. And it has nothing to do with me. The Dissy is my home, the Captain was my father and that monster up on the hill who is killing us, is my enemy. Got that?” Llewellyn’s eyes widened but he kept the smile off his mouth at least. “Got it, Captain!”

“So we will be on our guard on the way up there, and then we knock out the mage, if possible. Hopefully that turns off the fog and we can leave… If all our people wake up.” “That’s a lot of if’s and hopes there.” Llewellyn added dryly. “There is one other thing we can do, if we meet with too heavy resistance from him.” They all looked at the young man “We could team up with the other people who are hit by this guy.” Confused looks met him and he sighed. “We could join up with the navy men and hit him together.” His words were met with a silence as disapproving as anything a matron could manage but nobody came right out and refused it all together. “Smart pirates,” he thought to himself. We’ll have to see how flexible they are when the ground’s on fire.”

 

22.

 

Debreyt thrummed with the energy of the spell as he pushed it out from the island, further and further sifting through the deep, darks of the water. He had never imagined the spell could run so fast and far in such short time. It felt like he had hands sifting through the silt in all directions at once, halting briefly at every dead thing or unnatural shape. The extra spell power he had torn out of those two gullible healers had topped off his own reserves nicely and he felt rested and invigorated like he hadn’t in this past, long year. Today would be the day he was finally reunited with his beloved older brother. In the back of his mind he kept reminding himself that he should prepare for that moment. And steel himself for disappointment. But caution’s time had ended this morning. He did this now, and to the hells with all of them or he failed and would disappear into obscurity.

Any beasts large enough to out swim the spell did so as fast as they could. On the surface the intelligent races were easily confounded by what looked like a natural phenomenon. But under water the beasts knew death was flowing out from Toruga like a black poison.

He felt a tug far out in the North-Western corner of the circular spell. The spell flowed over man-made objects strews on the sea floor. Overgrown with algae and coral, covered in silt but the fingers felt along the shapes beneath ocean’s cover up. Remains of barrels and crates and their contents were spread out in a fan shape on the ocean floor. Cannon balls were easy to make out, he could almost taste their iron in the feedback from the spell. An anchor appeared, half of a longboat was wedged in the floor not far behind and then something much, much larger. Debreyt held his breath in excitement. That felt so much like the shape of a ship’s stern. He pushed the spell further but carefully, lest he overshoot this find. The magic hands penetrated the ships hull and began finding the bones of its dead.

There were many and he carefully searched every compartment, looking for the focus he had sent with his brother back then. The tug of the focus did seem stronger here but it was so hard to make sense of through all the moving water. But then, a sharp cold flash, stung him through the spell. A single point of magic, in the hold of the ship, behind the jumbled bones of two people. The focus was there! Hidden in a crate that had held gods knew what, it was all a decayed soup, undisturbed until now. The focus flashed in response to the magic touching it and he triumphantly tethered the spell to it. That in itself was difficult enough and not a permanent tether either. It would decay, when either the spell ran out of power or if anything disturbed the focus. But it would do for now. He knew where the ship was, more or less. And while the spell was tethered to the focus he knew it with pinpoint precision.

He laughed out loud when the spell left his mind and whirled around like a young man at the dance. “Hannah! I’ve done it! I’ve found them, my poor brother and his family! Come, help me with this next part, it will be so easy, I promise” The old woman had sunk down by the fire and was barely able to lift her head up from her chest. Debreyt scooped her up in his arms and whirled her around like a large doll. Hannah started to cry quietly and she snapped for breath as her heart labored. He set her down on the table so her legs were across the Lowther’s dead body. Fear squeezed her heart even more. “Now, now! Don’t die on me now, Hannah. Not when we are so close!” Debreyt laughed again, sprang over to a nearby serving table and snatched up a silver knife. He began mumbling over the blade as he turned and walked back towards the terrified old woman.

When he was within reach the blade’s bright surface reflected the light from the hearth across her sunken features. Behind the lines and parchment skin, a young woman’s blue eyes looked up at him with betrayal and horror. He smiled almost gently at her. “I’m afraid this time, your parents were right. It was not a good choice to come to work for me. But I thank you for your services, Hannah. As will my brother when I call him up from the sea.” He laid the blade against her throat and pulled her head back with a fist in her brittle hair. “Unfortunately I need your death for him to arrive so you won’t be receiving his thanks in person, my dear.” He pulled the knife across her throat and closed the loop of the spell with the power of her blood.

Raising the dead is a simple matter if you are willing to pay the price for it. To raise one dead you needed someone else’s dead. The fresher the dead the lesser the payment kill had to be. You could raise someone who died within the hour with the death of a rabbit. But 15 years under water though, that was an expensive recall and required a full adult person to be sacrificed. But Hannah had already been dying by the time Debreyt offered her life blood to the spell. So it sought other fresh non-magical death and found an abundance of fresh kills in the waters outside Toruga. It drew from them all, pirates and navy sailors alike. It raised the man Debreyt was calling with ease and then had and overabundance of raising power bloating and expanding it until the spell merged with the fog. And every dead in or around Toruga twitched in response to its call.

“Come to me brother, please come. To the island, to the house. Seek me out, your blood, your flesh.” Debreyt sensed something was occurring in the searching spell but it was unimportant now. He felt his brother’s bones stir in the deep and assemble themselves. He sensed as the empty skeleton filled out with the ghostly image of the flesh and garments, it had worn in life. But it had yet to begin moving towards him despite his insistent pleading. Only when the bones of the other dead in the hold moved and formed behind him and slid its bony hand in his, did he turn and start making his laborious progress across the ocean floor. Debreyt marveled at the spell that had allowed his brothers wife to return as well. For an instance pride welled up in him at the thought that he had grown so powerful to be able to raise two dead from one kill. And then he heard movement behind him in the empty room.

2 thoughts on “The Hook and the Disobedience – NaNoWriMo 2013

  1. Pingback: What is “The Hook and the Disobedience”? | WeeMadAggie

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s