A lone figure draped in a dark cloak dashed down an alley between two squat, grey-stoned warehouses. His hard-soled boots splashing dark water from puddles – the remnants of last eve’s drizzling rain. He stopped suddenly and pressed himself against a damp wall, trying to wrap the shadows around himself. He fought to control his breathing, sucking in lung fulls of cold, damp air through his nose, blowing out through his mouth; trying not to be heard by early morning dock workers. He could smell the sea now. The inviting aroma of salt and dead fish, tar and sweat. He was almost home, almost safe. A couple more controlled breaths. He scanned the alley behind him, looking for pursuers. After a few tense moments he let out a breath. Turning back toward the wharf he peered around the corner. He saw a wide, muddy avenue, another row of warehouses, and, beyond that, the masts of ships docked at the pier. Almost home.
The rising sun broke through a dark cloud on the Eastern horizon. A cold wind stirred the hem of the man’s cloak, blowing the fetid smells of the city out to sea. He smiled. The tide was going out. The wind was with them. Before the morning mists were burned off the shale rooftops the City of Karazim would be a memory on his horizon. He pulled his cloak tight about him, assumed the hunched posture of a disgruntled dock worker, and shuffled out into the avenue. Minutes later he was standing at the foot of a long stone pier. At the end of the pier was docked the most beautiful two-masted Brig he had ever laid eyes on. The Salty Mermaid was an old ship, as ships went. Most of the square-sailed vessel was old, anyway. The fore-mast was only a year old. The port side railings had all been replaced on this stop. The rudder, six months ago. The Salty Mermaid wasn’t a merchant vessel. In these waters she was a Privateer of Argos. In waters to the North she was known by another name: The Bloody Mermaid. Pirate ship.
He squared his shoulders and strode confidently down the pier, throwing his cloak over his shoulder. The stone pier. Stone. Everything in this drab country was made of stone. He longed for the feel of hemp rope and polished wood. Halfway down the pier his stride slowed. The small hairs on the nape of his neck bristled. Something was wrong. His ship should have been a hive of activity preparing to launch. He could see no one. No sailors in the rigging. No one in the crow’s nest. The forecastle, quarter deck, poop deck – all empty. A cold lump formed in his stomach. He turned to walk back to the city and stopped. A phalanx of cyan-crested soldiers was marching out of a nearby warehouse and forming up at the base of the pier. His escape route was effectively blocked. He momentarily thought of jumping the side of the pier, but the sight of waves beating against jagged rocks changed his mind. He sucked in a deep breath and continued toward The Salty Mermaid.
He saw people on board now. A small honor guard of soldiers, red shields emblazoned with the crest of the House of Zed-ei-el. Dred washed over the man like a cold rain. Before he could decide what move to make next, two people separated themselves from the soldiers. He knew them both.
“Sirrah, I do not know what you are saying!” The heavy set bearded one was saying.
“This is now my ship!” The other, dressed as a local nobleman demanded. “I won it in a game of chance with your captain.”
“My captain?” the bearded man said, flabbergasted.
Just then the two men, almost simultaneously, noticed the man standing on the pier. “There!” the nobleman pointed, “There is your captain! He can explain to you.”
The bearded man stared, gape mouthed. In a heartbeat confusion drained from his face and was as quickly replaced with red-faced rage.
“Silwynn?!? My captain?” He sucked in a deep breath, seemingly having trouble speaking. He turned back to the nobleman. “My lord. That man is not the captain of The Mermaid. He is just a deckhand. I, sirrah, am the captain of this ship.”
That information took a moment to register. Yes, Silwynn thought, I duped you. And almost got away with it.
“I will have this ship!” Lord Zed-ei-el screamed. His snake-encrusted headdress shook with his rage.
“My lord!” Panic made the captain’s voice crack. In a moment, he recovered his composure. The famous Captain Balthasar, who once talked a Kushite crew out of their hard-won plunder without ever raising his sword, smiled at the irate nobleman. He stepped in close to the man and spoke in conspiratorial tones, “I have some Aquilonian Brandy in my cabin. Perhaps we can find a way to compensate your losses over a drink?”
The nobleman looked dubious. They always did at first when dealing with Balthasar. “And what of him?” Lord Zed-ei-el looked at Silwynn.
“By all means,” Balthasar’s smile had a hard edge to it, “take him into custody.”
Lord Zed-ei-el made a curt gesture with his hand. Guards marched down the gang-plank. Laid rough hands on Silwynn. Escorted him onto the ship. Home suddenly felt like a prison.
Much later, too late to sail on the morning tide, Lord Zed-ei-el and Captain Balthasar walked out of the Captain’s quarters. They were laughing like old friends. Lord Zed-ei-el was carrying a small chest, holding it protectively with both hands. Captain Balthasar walked over to Silwynn and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. “There are prices to be paid for the games you play, Silwynn.” Balthasar dug his fingers painfully into Silwynn’s shoulder. “I hope that the price you will have to pay is far more painful than the price I paid.” He released Silwynn’s should and turned his back on him.
“Take him!” Barked Lord Zed-ei-el. The guards formed up around Silwynn and escorted him off The Salty Mermaid. Cold rain began to fall as Silwynn was marched down the stone pier. Stone. The prisons were probably made of stone as well. He would soon find out. Craning his neck, he could see activity on The Mermaid now. The gang-plank had already been removed, the lines had been freed of the stone cleats on the dock. Silwynn’s heart sank. As he turned and walked into the cold rain one bright thought rose through the darkness clouding his mind. He couldn’t suppress a chuckle at the irony, “At least my wife won’t be able to find me here.”
The Trials of Silwynn Bloodbane
by Silwynn Bloodbane on May 07, 2017 at 04:58 PM}