On Darker Waters
Uri hadn’t seen the sun for days.
It had been a long voyage as it was. They’d been at sea for months, after making that detour to steer clear of the Isle of the Damned. But they were s’posed to have gotten to port at least a week ago. Instead, they were heading into the middle of nowhere, low on food and fresh water. Of all the bad decisions Captain Stavery’d made, this was by far the worst.
A loud screech echoed through the mist that cast a thick veil all the way to the surface of the waters, which were swirling and foaming all strange like. It weren’t the first one; the screeching was becoming more of a constant thing the deeper they got into the mist. But Uri cringed all the same, trying to peer for the source of the sound from the railing of the crow’s nest, where he was leaning. All he could make out was the dark cliffs that loomed to the right of the ship. They were sailing unusually close to them, which even he knew was dangerous. The odd screeching from the top of the cliffs and the occasional falling rocks weren’t helping to ease his nerves.
It weren’t normal; none of it. He just wanted to go back to where the sun was shining and he could watch it glinting off the waves like a bunch of glittering crystals. Or actually feel the breeze. That’d be nice.
There was a sudden commotion down on deck, and Uri peered down the mast. The crew was drawing anchor and preparing to lower one of the row boats. He barely had time to wonder what was going on when there was a shout of, “Captain on deck!”
The crew all clambered to salute, but Uri only scowled. He was up in the crow’s nest anyhow. It weren’t like they’d see him if he didn’t fall over himself to pretend respect he didn’t feel.
“Hurry it up!” Captain Stavery shouted, then took a swig from the bottle that rarely left his hand. He cast a glance at the cliffs all worried like, and then turned all the sudden, his gaze landing straight on Uri. Uri ducked back, hoping he hadn’t been seen.
“Boy! Get down here!” the captain’s course voice echoed in the still air.
Uri had no choice but to do as he was told. He scrambled down the rigging and approached cautiously, ready to high-tail it back up the moment he saw there was any trouble.
“Get in the boat,” the captain snapped. “You’re comin’ with me.”
Uri moved his bare toe over a knot in the wood of the deck. “Why for?”
“’Cause I said so! I don’t want no back-talk from you, ya hear? Get in the bloody boat!”
Uri glanced nervously to the cliff. “Where we goin’?”
“It ain’t your concern! Get in the boat before I throw you over the side.”
The boy high-tailed for the rigging, but two of the crew members grabbed him, dragging him to the boat. He struggled against them, but it was no use. They tossed him into the boat. Pain vibrated up his leg, and he swore loudly.
The captain climbed into the boat after him and it was lowered into the churning waters below. Uri glanced down. He didn’t trust this sea.
Captain Stavery shoved an oar into his hands. “Start rowin’,” he ordered, sitting down across from him.
Uri noticed no one else was coming with them, but he didn’t dare ask why not. He took the oars and started rowing. His orange hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. The air was unbearably warm.
Their destination soon materialized from the mist in the form of a dark fortress, which rose above a narrow pass between two cliffs. The pass led to the harbor they were in. There was a strange glow around the fortress, almost like it was on fire. Only there were no flames that he could see.
They reached the docks at the edge of the rocky shore, and Captain Stavery stepped out, the boards creakin’ under his feet. He was greeted by a whole lot of fellows in black outfits. They seemed not to like people lookin’ at them, ’cause their faces were all covered up. After a few words with them that Uri couldn’t make out, Stavery turned back to him.
“Don’t just sit there, boy. Get up!”
Uri quickly scrambled out of the boat, tripping over the edge and falling down. Got a splinter in his hand from the rough wood of the wharf, but the captain grabbed his arm, jerking him to his feet. He shoved him to walk in front of him as they followed the guards up a steep pathway toward the creepy castle. They were led up to the front door, which they reached by climbing up a long flight of stairs and then crossing over this pit filled with this spitting, glowing gold liquid fire stuff. Uri was relieved when the front door was opened for them, until he saw inside. Everything was all black: the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. There seemed to be designs carved on the walls, but he couldn’t make them out because there were hardly any lights in the place neither.
A squad of even more of the guards with covered faces came to meet them. At their head, there was this short girl near Uri’s age. She approached Captain Stavery, folding her hands behind her back, and Uri could swear he saw the captain flinch.
“This way,” she said, all stern like, and the captain followed. Uri trotted after them.
They were led to a large room where there was this red carpet and a throne, and lots of big stone statues of people holding torches on either side of the carpet. Oh, and big metal bowl things that had fire in them up in front of the throne. Uri was too busy looking at it all that he didn’t notice the others had stopped, and ran into the captain from behind. Captain Stavery grabbed his arm and made him stand beside him.
“Stavery,” a soft, chilling voice resonated in the room. “It has been a while.”
“My liege.” Stavery bowed, shoving Uri onto his knees while he was at it. “I’ve come as always to show my loyalty to you, and to make a request. That request bein’ that which I’ve always wanted: a better way to serve you, master.”
“And I have told you,” the controlled voice responded, and Uri thought he saw a person on the throne in the shadows now, “that I cannot give you the fleet of ships you desire unless you give me something valuable in return.”
“Well,” Uri piped up, “if its gold you’re after, the captain’s got tons of it.”
Stavery cuffed him upside the head.
“It is not gold that I require, boy,” the voice said from the shadows. “I need something more precious than that.”
“I have another offer to make,” Stavery said, shoving Uri forward. “My son. You can have ’im. He’s the most precious thing I got.”
There was a long and dreadful pause. Uri wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but he didn’t like it.
“You would trade your own son?” the voice said at last.
“Yeah, I would.”
“No he wouldn’t!” Uri cried, starting to panic. “P-pap, I’ve been good! I’ll be better! You can’t-”
“I can do what I want,” his father replied gruffly. Then he turned back to the man on the throne. “Is it a deal?”
“No! I ain’t gonna stay here! Please-”
He was cut off as Stavery struck him, knocking him to the floor. “Is it a deal?”
Again, there was silence. Uri lay still, tears wetting his face. He shoulda known. His pap had never wanted him. Never really...
“If this is a bargain you are willing to make,” the voice said slowly, “than yes. You shall have your ships. But you must know that there will be no going back on this trade.
Stavery glanced at his fourteen-year-old son. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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