Chapter 3: Island Troubles
“We don’t want you here. Leave these islands, or suffer for your mistake.”
Barthen Grosht merely stared at the young man, wondering why he was so angry. He did not know the name of the boy, though there was something familiar about his face. All he gathered was that this one islander wanted Barthen and his fleet gone from El Redro Delshoi. Barthen simply continued to stare up into his guest’s face until the boy got the message. He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him so hard that the room shook and a painting of Alquendiro, as seen from the south, fell off the wall. Barthen walked over to the painting and hung it with care back on the wall. He returned to his desk and looked out of the window, picking up a knife when he heard the door open behind him, and turning it in his hand so that he could throw it easily if he had to.
“Was back again, was ’e?”
Barthen breathed a sigh of relief. While he would do it if forced, he really did not want to kill the lad. He’d taken a lot of lives, first as a Mordak Rider, then as one of the Masters of the Brotherhood. He would hate to have to take an innocent one on top of those. “Yes, Tarick, he was. I don’t understand it. What does he have against us?” Tarick Jreshti, former Grand Admiral of the Drogodan Imperial Navy, walked further into the room, but not to his new superior’s side. He instead walked to the locked cabinet that stood in the corner which contained the more potent alcohols with which Tarick had acquired his impressive reputation for drinking. But he surprised his new superior by pulling out a single bottle of Eschcotan Whiskey, Barthen’s of course, and two glasses. After pouring what he considered two small drinks, and most other Drogs, aside from the old Morschcoda Taren Garrenin, would consider medium or large, he placed one glass on the desk behind the new Admiral and wordlessly tossed back the other. “The islanders ’ave always been independent, sir. Drogoda and Caladea both claim us, but we belong only to ourselves. That lad is just worried, that our hiding here will bring … unwanted attention.” Barthen turned from the window and picked up his own glass, noticing how eagerly Tarick was eyeing the whiskey. “What can I do about him?”
“Nothing.” Tarick set his glass down on the desk. He sat, leaned back in his chair, and set his booted feet on Barthen’s desk. “The people of these islands may not want even we sailors of their own blood here, but they want Deshik scum less. The lad won’t do anything, mark my words.” Barthen nodded, but did not say anything. Tarick got his meaning, and stood to go. He paused at the door though. “Don’t worry about him, sir. I’ve already had a tail put on the lad. Just to make sure he won’t try anything.” Barthen nodded again, but he still did not say anything. Clearly dismissed, Tarick left. Barthen turned his chair towards the window, watching the narrow street of Carvea Harbour that it looked out on, pondering the twists of fate. He had no experience as a sailor, but Edya had named him the new Grand Admiral of Drogoda’s Navy. From what he had seen so far, most of the men were willing to accept that he was there, but they still needed to see Tarick to know that everything was the same as it ever was. ‘Though nothing is the same anymore’ he thought, rather unhappily. He would have loved to continue with his quiet retirement from the military, he was eleven hundred after all, but Edya needed him, and for that girl, he would do anything, even if she were not Morschcoda. A pained smile crossed his face as several centuries’ worth of memories surfaced. Barthen had known Edya’s father well. Erdil Reeshnar had been a good man, and he would be proud of his daughter.
Barthen started to savour his whiskey. He knew in his heart that sitting by a fire, reading some book with his feet propped up, sipping brandy or wine out of a crystal goblet was not a life he wanted to live, especially with the Deshika and their Devil masters returned to Anaria. A thought came to Barthen’s mind. “The men like Tarick. They trust him. They don’t trust me nearly as much. I should write to Edya, and name Tarick my second in command. That way, he can give orders to everyone, like everyone is used to. Continuity. Good for morale.” He said it out loud, believing that no one could hear him. But what Barthen did not know, as he turned around to write a letter to Morschcoda Edya Reeshnar, was that the boy who had been in his office earlier was crouched outside of his window, eavesdropping. There was a bloody knife tucked inside of his loose shirt.
In reality ‘the boy’, as Barthen and Tarick called him, was the son of a good friend of both men; Drogoda’s last High General and Lord of the Mordak. He had died defending his country’s proud flag from a foe beyond any man or woman on the battlefield that had come to be known as The Grave of Drogoda. Regath Encarthian, whose broken body Edya had found and cradled in her lap, had told no one from the mainland that he had had a son. But news of his father’s death had reached Regath Encarthian the second. And Regath Encarthian the second did not blame the Deshika or the Seven Devils for his father’s death. He blamed the Morschcoda Council. He cursed them as blind fools, who had not the wits to see that Anaria was doomed. They had been the ones to insist on a last stand for honour and glory and all other things that he considered worthless. ‘What use is honour or glory to a dead man? How is it any comfort to his orphaned children to tell them that he died honourably?’ But then, he got an idea. Merchant ships still sailed from the islands to Grathen Harbour, though it was under Deshik control. But Deshik control was exactly what he wanted. He turned and ran towards the merchant docks, hoping to find a fast ship and a captain that was less cautious if his presence meant either more profit or a quicker one.
“What do ye know about tobacco, boy?” the giant captain loomed over him. The first mate and the cargo master stood a little way off, continuing a conversation that their captain had been pulled out of.
“Not much sir, but I know my way around a ship. I can do anything you need me to on board.”
“Tha’s what I like to hear. Enthusiasm. Good sign in a new sailor. Won’t be there in a week, I promise you, but good sign all the same. Welcome aboard the Foam Rider. Ye will make yourself useful an’ help haul the rest of the leaf below decks. But before ye run off to do that, have ye got a sword or a bow?” “No sir.”
The captain pulled a coin purse from his belt. “Take that an’ buy yourself one. The cost will be coming out of your wages mind, so don’t pick anything too fancy.”
“At sea, we say ‘aye aye, captain.’ Don’t forget.”
“Aye aye, captain.” The huge man let out an equally huge laugh, shaking the dock. Then he turned around and inserted himself back into the conversation with his two shipmates.
“Well, Tarick, it has been almost one week, and that boy hasn’t been back.”
Tarick fiddled with his empty cup, staring at it without really seeing it as he answered Barthen’s comment. “No, but we‘ve a good idea of where ’e is.”
“So, your man has been able to keep an eye on him.”
Tarick grimaced. “Yes an’ no, sir. The first man was knifed. I suspect the boy. Three others ’ave had a time keeping up with ’im, but it was managed. ‘E went down to the merchant docks, and then back into the city. He went through more than one smithy. Came out o’ the last one with blade. My sailor said a longsword, not a cutlass. Then he went back to the docks, an’ started hauling tobacco up into one o’ the ships anchored there.” “Which ship?”
“The Foam Rider, an’ a beauty she is. Fast an’ trim, with two banks of oars and a tall mast, but her draught is deep.”
“When do they sail?”
Tarick paused, wondering why Barthen was so interested in the ship. “Three days ago, sir.”
“Three hells.” The curse was almost more of a statement than anything else, muttered with an exhaled breath and in a low voice. “We need to catch that ship, Tarick. We may have to sink it.”
Tarick yawned. “Why?” That Tarick had had to ask confirmed to Barthen that he’d been drinking with his men last night. Normally, the former pirate was much quicker.
Barthen rubbed his eyes. “That boy bought a longsword, Tarick. He wouldn’t have bought a longsword unless he intends to stay ashore when they reach Grathen Harbour.”
“An’ if he wants us gone badly enough,” ended Tarick, trying to shake off the last dregs of his hangover, “he may tell the Deshika where we are.” Tarick was almost to the door before the cup he hadn’t realized he’d dropped had hit the floor.
Barthen called him back. “Can we catch them?”
Tarick paused with the door half open. “Her hold does be full of the island’s finest tobacco, sir.” Tarick thought for a moment. “I’ll take a ship an’ set sail today. If Caltia be for us, ye’ll have the boy in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, sir, I suggest ye prepare for an assault. An’ these islands do nay be very defensible.” “One second.” Barthen rummaged around on his desk for a moment, and then pulled out a paper. “I meant to give this to you the last time we talked, but it slipped my mind.”
“I am promoting you to my second in command, officially. You’ll have the same power that I do, and can order this fleet as you see fit. You should have no trouble arranging whatever is necessary for the pursuit.” “Aye, sir.” Tarick left immediately.
The docks were busy that day. Tarick, knowing he had seven days at most to catch the Foam Rider, had to choose his ship carefully. Three of his warships from when he himself was Grand Admiral were anchored in Cantora Island’s deep northern port, but he needed something with speed, with a tall mast and a keel that stood well out of the water.
“Captains to the shore!” His yell was clear, and loud. He groaned as his head throbbed in response, but already the fresh sea air was clearing his mind. Heads popped out of windows all along the naval docks of Carvea Harbour, and sailors began to appear all along the rails of the ships they sailed. Finally, six Captains had reported to him. “Inside, all.” He opened the door of his own office, as the ships were under his control as Admiral, even before his promotion.
“What is it, sir?”
“I’ve need of a ship with speed. I need to catch a merchant ship afore it puts in at Grathen. They’ve four days on us by the time we weigh anchor.”
“Which ship, sir?” A tall mainland Drog from Grathen Province who leaned against the door was the one who spoke. He kept looking out the window, making sure his sailors were still doing their jobs.
“The Foam Rider.” His captains let out a collective groan.
“If she’s riding on an empty stomach you’ll never catch her, Tarick.”
“I know, Carde,” he said to the woman who had spoken. “But the Rider has a full cargo of Cantora Island’s finest leaf. She’ll be sitting deep.”
“Ye have seven days, a week at most. A Dreshna will nay help ye.” This came from an old seaman with a grizzled grey beard. “And if speed be necessary, yer own ship be no use either.”
“Nay, I know. The Leviathan be no good to me, faithless though that seems.” He groaned at the thought of leaving his ship behind. “I’ll be needing a Skimmer.”
One captain standing close to the table, a young man from the islands, shifted uneasily. “I captain a Skimmer, but she’s in bad shape. We were patrolling north, and we were near run aground on some spit o’ land that not one jack in me crew had ever clapped eyes on. We limped into Carvea with the morning’s tide.” Tarick looked around. “Carde. Your ship be a Skimmer.”
“Aye, and you may be a lucky man, Admiral.” The slender woman with two swords crossing her back had been a mercenary before Barthen had persuaded her to become a Navy Captain, or sent Tarick to convince her, with the promise that she could keep her ship and crew, as well as her infamous flag. The two swords crossing her back were not for show. Though she had never been formally trained, Carde Deithara was a match for most arms masters. “I just had the Vengeance restocked. I was to weigh anchor for the Alega trade winds with the evening tide.” “Then we sail.”
“What do Barthen say in all this?” The same greybeard who had told Tarick everything he already knew looked up at his Admiral.
“Ye need not worry about him. I’ve been promoted. I be now Barthen’s second in command.”
Six days out from the islands, Tarick was buried in his maps when Carde walked into his quarters without bothering to knock. At any other time, this might have upset him, but he knew better than to make Carde angry. It was her ship after all. He also had not noticed the slender woman leaning against the frame of the door that he had neglected to shut.
“We should be on them by tomorrow, Tarick.”
As soon as she started talking, he jumped. He knocked over a pile of papers that he did not remember putting there before coming up with the long knife that he always carried. He moaned when he saw that it was her. “Do ye have to do that to me, Captain?” She cocked her head at his use of her rank instead of her name. “Yes I do, Admiral” she replied sarcastically.
“Well, what is it?”
“Exactly what I said, sir.” She raised her voice at the end, leaving the implied question hanging there. When he did not react, she asked him. “What’s the matter?”
Tarick ran a hand through his hair and then banged his head against the desk several times. He looked up at her and pulled a splinter out of his forehead. “With the winds we’ve had, we should’ve had the Foam Rider earlier today, or seen her topmast by now at least.” “Tarick, the Vengeance is fast, even for a Skimmer, but with the winds we have had, and a three day head start, even a merchant ship sitting deep in the water will have made good time.”
“And tha’s the fact that worries me. Jus’ how good? If we do nay catch ‘em before they drop anchor in Grathen, I’d rather not try to reclaim Drogoda’s largest port with only one Skimmer’s crew o’ seamen and soldiers.” Carde walked around his desk and stood behind him, and then wrapped her arms around in front of him, pulling him back in his chair towards her. “Why do we even need to catch the Foam Rider? I know the captain. Elgred Varga is a decent man. A bit pompous, and inclined to be a little deaf to haggling, but decent. I’ve enjoyed his cargos on more than one occasion.” Tarick let his head lean to one side, resting on Carde’s hard, muscled, and yet still small arm. She set her chin in the angle formed by her left arm and his neck. She kissed him behind his ear.
“And I‘ve enjoyed some of them with ye. It’s not the cargo or the captain I be worried about. There was a lad in Carvea. He bought a sword and signed on with the Foam Rider.”
“The same one that has been bothering you and Barthen for the past year?”
Tarick sighed. “Aye.”
Before Carde could respond her first mate, a giant of a man with scars and ritualistic tattoos covering his arms and face, stormed into the room. He was from some small island nation that Drogoda had established trade with, but without any real ocean-ready ships or any kind of army of its own. Tarick knew that Carde, before being ‘persuaded’ to join the Imperial Navy, visited the island frequently, though never as a pirate, mostly because of her first mate. But now, the giant paled when he saw Tarick and Carde together. He had been around for long enough to remember when Tarick was no longer just a rival mercenary captain. Carde quickly pulled her arms back from around Tarick.
“What is it, Eck?”
Adr’ve Eck Sshtra, affectionately known by the crew simply as Eck, the only part of his name that most of them could pronounce, stammered something in a mix of his own language and broken Old Morsch. Tarick wondered for a second why he would know Old Morsch, but then remembered how long ago trade had started with his people. Then Eck got his message out in Morschen Basic. “We ah comin’ up on de Foom Rida.” Carde gave the orders. It was her ship, after all. “Call everyone to stations. Varga is smart enough not to fight, but I don’t want him to think that we aren’t prepared for one.” Eck turned to leave, but Carde called him back. “Oh, and Eck.” She smiled, a little too happily, Tarick thought. “Hoist the colours.” Eck smiled too, a big smile showing all of his teeth. And then he started run back up to the deck to give orders.
In his office on the Foam Rider, Captain Elgred Varga had just been informed that a Skimmer was bearing down on them far faster than they could sail. “Archer in the top thought he could see her as of last evening, still some miles to our rudder” Varga’s mate told him. “He was sure that she was back there this morning, but we’ve only just figured that we’re being chased.” “We stood out from Carvea nine days ago. If that Skimmer left the day we did, she’d ’ave been on us afore now.”
“Our leaving was hardly secret, Cap’n, but if she’s a pirate, then someone aboard her can smell blood. They couldn’t have tracked us down any other way. If it’s Drogs, though, they could want anything. Not sure which we’d rather deal with though.” “I’ve a notion … Tell that lad we took on in Carvea to hide himself somewhere.” The mate left and Elgred muttered into his beard as he walked out of his cabin and strapped on his sword. “Just in case.” If he was going to be taken, he was at least not going to give his ship away.
As he emerged on deck, he noticed that his men all had their own weapons strapped on to their belts and the lad was nowhere in sight. “’Ave we got anything new?”
“Definitely a pirate, Cap’n. We just had a good look at her colours. Two swords crossing a torch under a gold skull.”
Elgred nodded in understanding. “So, it be Deithara after us. How far aft is she?”
The mate did not reply. He merely pointed a little to stern and quite a bit to starboard. Elgred followed the man’s finger. The Vengeance was a little out of bowshot and pulling up even with them, but it was not closing. Men were running all over, but Elgred thought that there were some in uniform. One man in particular caught his eye, which was good, as that man was signalling for his crew to stand down and prepare to be boarded and searched. His mate followed Elgred’s stare. “Who gives a pirate leave to search a merchant ship? An’ who tells her she can nay do it?” But Elgred had got the message. “It’s nay Carde in charge. The Drogs needed a fast ship, an’ I remember Carde being in Carvea the day we weighed anchor. Send signals telling them we’ll allow them aboard. An’ tell the men no swords are to be drawn.” “Aye sir.”
“They acknowledge, Admiral.”
“Good.” Tarick turned away from the Foam Rider and towards his own men. A combination of his sailors and Carde’s mercenaries would be going aboard. Everyone had orders that nothing was to be taken except one prisoner. Tarick himself would be going across, as would Carde. Eck would stay behind. Neither Captain nor Admiral saw the need to threaten Captain Varga with the giant. ‘If he do nay cooperate, though, that be another thing.’ Tarick smiled with that thought as the two ships drew abreast and the gangplank was stretched across the gap from the Skimmer to the taller merchant vessel.
Captain Varga and his mate were waiting for them at the other end.
“Captain Deithara. When I saw yer colours, we were preparing for a good bit worse, so this be somewhat pleasant.”
“Not pleasure this time, Elgred darling.” Tarick coughed and raised an eyebrow at Carde’s tone. She sounded a little too happy to be on the ship. Then her tone changed to the one everyone was more familiar with. “But the next time you get a load of Cantora Island’s best leaf, it will be that that I come after. Or, at least the payment for it. In the meantime, allow me to introduce Admiral Tarick Jreshti, of the Drog Imperial Navy.” “Jreshti … Jreshti. That be an island name. ‘Ave I heard o’ ye before?”
“Nay, unless Carde remembers more about me than she lets on.” Both men laughed.
“I remember ye now. You inspected us. Gave us leave to sail from Carvea.”
“I gave you leave to sail with the crew you had when I inspected you. You were not to go picking up dock boys just because they asked for a lift.”
“What boy? We’ve no boys on this ship, save my own lad, an’ even he’s more a man.”
“The one who left the docks an’ came back with a longsword, an’ then started hauling leaf into your cargo hold.”
“I don’t have time for this …”
“Do nay make me take this ship back to Carvea, Varga. Give me the lad an’ we can both go where we be headed.”
“Ye come on to my ship, accuse me o’ lying, and then tell me that ye’ll haul me back to the islands just because ye can. I do nay like …” He had meant to continue, but Carde had slipped back across to the Vengeance and told Eck that Tarick needed him. The giant stood head and shoulders above Varga, large though the Captain was. The rest of the boarding party followed after Eck. “What’s all this?” “I know that the lad be on this ship. I had men watching ’im for a week afore ye drew anchor. Give me ’im, and I do nay ask my men to tear the Foam Rider apart trying to find ’im. It be that simple Varga.” Tarick crossed his arms. When Varga said nothing, Tarick ordered his men to search the ship in pairs, one of Carde’s men with one of his own. As sometime smugglers, Carde’s crew would know all the tricks of hiding what nobody wanted found. And as seasoned pirates themselves, Tarick’s sailors knew how to catch even the best smugglers with their cargo.
Carde, who had come back across with the boarding party, stood beside Tarick and Elgred as the former sat on the gunwale with his arms crossed and the latter fumed about how his ship was being mistreated and how he was a respected Merchant Captain.
“Look, Admiral. I know that Merchant Prince Ren Enschiva wants this leaf as soon as I can get my ship across the water. And I think that he may be willing to … vouch for the lad, if ye take my meaning.” “I happen to know Ren a bit better than you do, Varga. His name will not save ye here. I also know that Ren isn’t involved with the tobacco trade this season, and that he is a devoted member of the Morschledu Remnant, as ye should be. The lad is a traitor, which is why we came after ’im. Give ‘im up, an’ ye be free to go. It’s that simple, as I said afore.” Elgred Varga’s face darkened. He did not like the choices he was presented with, but he had to pick a side.