Eyes fluttered as his consciousness melted in. The soothing rocking ship and lapping waves yielded to cries of men and screams of fiery darts.
A great sea battle raged. A storm whipped the waves higher and higher.
Somehow, they had forgotten to wake him. A jagged boulder shattered the bulkhead, breaking the wall into spears that stabbed into the far wall.
The sleeper took up his sword and seized the ladderwell. His caprine ears twitched. Hoisting himself through, he launched higher than any human could. He instantly saw the reason for the shouting: the timbers and canvas of the ship he’d called home for the last month now blazed. Piratical enemies undulated through the darkness. Fight the fire or the pirates? the recently-awoken creature asked himself. He saw his companions lying unmoving, strewn about the deck like rags, and he wondered if he was the only survivor.
Then he remembered his charge. The infant son of the king lay belowdecks. The keeper picked out the child’s cries above the din and turned back to the hold.
His unshod hooves clacked noisily on the oaken deck. He heard the enemies turn after him. Though his lower body had the form of a goat, empathy showed on his human face. He spilled oil and touched a torch to the stairs behind him to slow his pursuers. The timbers creaked above as the enemies crossed to find a different entrance.
The cries of the child gave the position away. The keeper swooped him up. He could hear the bite of axes as the pirates chopped through the ceiling. Suddenly lightning illuminated the hole in the bulkhead. A lifeboat, somehow loosened in the struggle, shivered over the mountainous waves. He knew it was his only chance. The pirates broke through the opening and landed inside the hold, all bronzed men with layered linen and crooked teeth and crescent blades.
As evil fingers tried to hold him, he pulled himself low and sprang impossibly far into the water. He did not land even half the distance to the little rowboat. He held the child above the surface. The waves pulled the wooden safety farther away. “Your father would perish if you sank,” the keeper sputtered. “You must live!” he shouted above the waves at the baby boy.
The wind separated the ship from the keeper, but the pirates pointed the prow towards the escapees, and the fiery vessel bore down like a swooping hawk.
The keeper’s energy renewed, and his powerful hindquarters pushed him forward. With a last heroic kick, he gripped the gunwale. He heaved the child in then hauled himself up. The storm ripped the sail of the pirate ship, taking away their ability to steer. The crafts started drifting apart.
The keeper hunched over, protecting the child from the wind. “You’re safe now,” he whispered tenderly. From behind, a pirate arrow found the faun’s heart.
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