Two ships sat abreast, gently rising and falling on the waves of the Valenfaer Ocean a few leagues to the north-east of Dargon. One was a small fishing boat, the other a three-masted schooner. A red pennant flew from the main mast of the larger vessel telling everyone who saw it she was a pirate ship.
Two heads broke the surface of the ocean about three hundred feet away from the ships.
“Where did ship come from?” Danae asked. Her voice sounded strained as if it were difficult to speak. She swallowed hard to clear her throat.
Percy gagged and then vomited up saltwater. It took him a moment to expel the water out of his lungs so he could take a breath of air before saying, “Good question. A better one would be how did they know where to find us?”
“Pirates?” Danae asked. “I cannot see very far out of the water.”
“Ol’s balls,” Percy spat as he hacked up the last bit of water from his lungs. “Of course they’re pirates.”
“What now?” Danae asked. “Who are they?”
“What?” Percy asked. His head felt like it was full of water, making it hard to hear.
“Who are they?” Danae repeated. She was getting angry trying to speak to Percy.
“From the colors she’s flying, it looks like that’s the Red Roger. I’ve heard talk around Dargon about them, and none of it good. Rumor says the crew is as bloodthirsty as they come. They leave a trail of dead men behind wherever they go.”
“Swim to shore?” Danae asked. “It’s a long way. We could make it.”
“That would mean leaving Redale behind and you know I can’t do that,” Percy said. “I guess we have to deal with the pirates.”
“No!” Danae said. “You know what they do to me?”
“Yes, I do. But I have to try,” Percy said. “Stay nearby, but if it all goes to gong, leave us. Save yourself.”
Danae nodded and disappeared beneath the surface without a splash.
The Groggy Pig was little more than a hole in the wall. It was in a short alley between two warehouses near Dargon’s harbor that ended in a small open space against a third building. A makeshift roof consisting of discarded deck planking covered the open area in the center. Driftwood and relics from wrecked ships covered the walls as decorations. The place stank of unwashed bodies and stale pipe smoke. No sign advertised it; the location spread by word of mouth.
The Pig’s regular patrons were sailors and dockworkers who came there to get drunk or spend time in the arms of a whore. During the day, it was usually empty but today two men sat at a table talking. A tall man wearing an apron stood behind the bar glaring at the men.
“Tormey, give me another grog!” Redale shouted. “This time, don’t water it down like you always do.”
“You got a Penny to pay?” Tormey was the tall man standing behind the bar and the so-called owner of the Groggy Pig. No one was sure who the real owner was, but rumors said it was a local Dargonian cartel.
“I’m not paying,” Redale said. “Percy here is paying.”
“That so?” Tormey stared at Percy, waiting for a response.
“Straight,” Percy said. “I’ll cover whatever he drinks while I am here.”
“You’re a good man, Percy,” Redale said.
“Or an idiot for offering to cover your tab,” Tormey muttered as he filled a tankard for Redale.
As soon as the tankard was in hand, Redale took a long draft of the golden yellow liquid. Some of the drink dribbled down into his unkempt beard. “Now that was good.” Redale looked at the tankard a moment, took another long draft and then set it down on the table.
Percy looked at Redale, his cousin by marriage. What he saw was a worn-out, used-up, drunk. Redale was scraggly and unwashed. His hair was long, shaggy and matted in knots, as was his beard. His face was cracked and wrinkled from many years of working as a deckhand at sea. He still wore the same clothes he had been wearing while working on the ship; worn leather boots encrusted with salt, pants, tunic, shirt and a red scarf around his neck.
Percy was nothing like Redale. Percy was tall with neatly trimmed brown hair, beard and mustache. His appearance and attire were neat, and he had the bearing of a naval officer, which he had been until recent events forced him to leave the Navy.
“Redale, you were telling me about the ship.” It was hard to keep Redale’s attention for any length of time unless drinking was involved.
“What? Oh, straight,” Redale said. “It was about ten years ago when a ship carrying gold for the duke sank during a storm. Duke Dargon hired someone – I don’t remember his name — to recover the gold. I remember I was working the Green Squid, one of the ships they used to raise the sunken one.”
“How did they do it?”
“How did they recover the gold?”
“Oh, the gold. I don’t remember everything we did. I think there were several ships and divers. Somehow they used the vessels and ropes to haul the sunken one to the surface.”
Redale took a drink from his grog. “They got it up, but by Ol, it was too heavy. The damage from the storm and the weight of the gold made the ship break in half. It sank back to the bottom.”
“What did they do then?”
“They had ten-foot tall upside down glass tankards made. They tied ropes to them and lowered them into the water with the divers underneath them for protection.” Redale said. “Sharks were everywhere, and the water was real deep.”
“Are you sure what you’re telling me happened?”
“I remember it just like it was yesterday,” Redale said. “On my honor and if I’m lying may Cirrangill take me into his watery embrace.”
Redale finished his tankard of grog, and then said, “You can’t tell anyone I told you about this. They said bad things would happen to us if we told anyone.”
If Redale’s story were true, they would soon be wealthy men. The question was could Percy trust the old sot’s memory?
Even though it was mid-spring, outside there was a frosty nip in the air. But inside The Rogue and Quiver was warm and fragrant. Aromatic pipe smoke drifting on drafts created by oil lanterns formed odd shapes as the smoke moved around the room. The flickering orange color from the lamps lit the dark wooden walls. The coals in the hearth added a red hue to the shadows. All around the room men and women wore tired expressions upon their faces. A bard singing a bawdy tune tried to lift their spirits and maybe get a few coins in return. An old man sat at the bar, alone, slowly sipping something brown from a small glass. He had a nearly empty bottle at hand. Not far away a young couple was oblivious to everything except each other.
In an isolated corner, three people sat discussing a business venture.
“I’ve made all the arrangements,” Percy said. “I just need to know when, so I can make sure the ship is ready.”
“The Friendly Lion is going to head into dry-dock at the Naval Yards for repair in Yuli,” Danae said. Danae was a stoutly built woman with thick muscles and wide shoulders, but her most unusual feature was her dusky brown skin. “She is scheduled to be there for a sennight. While she is having her hull repaired, some of us have been given shore leave.”
“Do you think Redale will get shore leave?” Percy asked.
“If he can stay out of trouble between now and then he should be good to go,” Danae said, glancing at Redale.
“It’s not my fault,” Redale said. He banged his tankard of grog on the table. “Everyone’s lying about me. I haven’t done anything to them. You know they’re just all out to get me. Everybody hates me. And I think Kodo has been trying to throw me overboard.”
“Isn’t Kodo the cook?” Percy asked.
“It’s the booze,” Danae said. “If we can keep him sober, he will be all right.”
“Fark you, you ugly old fish,” Redale said. “I can handle my grog.” Then he took another gulp of grog to prove his point
Danae leaned over toward Redale and in a low, menacing voice so only those nearby could hear said, “If you keep calling me a fish in public, you won’t have to worry about Kodo trying to throw you overboard. I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure no one notices you’re gone until it’s too late.”
“Stop it, you two,” Percy said.
“How do you know that Redale isn’t making it all up?” Danae asked. “Can you trust him?”
“Redale was there when they tried to recover the ship the first time,” Percy said. “I went to the harbormaster’s building and asked a few questions. I found out who was the harbormaster at the time Redale thought the ship sank. His name is Jocco Kehlar and lucky for us he is still alive. I paid the young lady five Bits to find out where he lives now and then went to talk with him. Jocco told me he remembered all the activity that was happening, but he did not know why. After that, I spoke with some of my Navy friends. A couple of old sea dogs heard the rumor of a ship so loaded down with gold that sank during a storm. So I think the information is sound.”
“I was where?” Redale asked as he swatted at some smoke that had drifted toward him. “Where was I? Can you prove it?”
“On the Green Squid ten years ago when they raised the ship,” Percy said. “You were the one who told me about it.”
“No, I didn’t,” Redale said as he swatted at the smoke again. “We were sworn to secrecy about that. They told us if we told anyone we would be tossed overboard or worse.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Percy said. “It was a long time ago, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
A serving girl interrupted their conversation just long enough to set a platter of sliced beef, spiced cheese, and hard-crusted bread on the table. “The shepherd’s pie will be out in a mene or two.”
“I know a woman who works for the duke,” Percy continued after the serving girl was gone. “It’s amazing what you can get a lady to say if you know how to treat them right.”
“What is it with you and young women?” Danae asked.
“I just know how to treat women like they want to deserve, and Misral is not so young anymore. I took her to a quiet dinner at the Golden Lion and then we went to her place. We talked late into the evening.”
“Talked,” Danae said. “I’m sure that’s all you did.”
“You wound me with your words,” Percy said. He placed one hand over his heart and wiped the other one across his brow. “Or are you just jealous?”
“You’re cute,” Danae said, “for a man. But I don’t think you’re something I would take home with me.”
“Misral said she overheard Levy Barel talking to the duke. Barel said after they recovered all they could, three chests were still missing.”
“Are you sure no one else knows?” Danae asked. “This sounds very dangerous, and I’m not just talking about recovering the gold.”
“Other than those initially involved,” Percy said, “only the three of us know.”
“I’m in,” Danae said. “But we need to take it slow and be very careful.”
“So, it’s a three-way split?” Percy said.
“Straight,” Danae said.
“What’s a three-way split?” Redale asked as he swatted at the smoke again. “Is the smoke bothering anyone else but me? I think it is attacking me.”
Danae, Percy, and Redale finished eating and then left the Quiver. Unbeknownst to them, their conversation had not gone unnoticed.
“Follow the drunken one,” Barnaby said. “Don’t lose him.”
A man sitting at the bar nodded and said, “Yes captain.” Then he followed the trio out of the inn.
“Cirrangill must be watching over us,” Barnaby said. “We managed to avoid the Baranurian patrol undetected, and now a treasure just drops into our laps.”
“Perhaps Cirrangill is watching over us, and perhaps he’s not,” said Taja Tallot, the ship’s mage. She sat next to the captain smoking a long-stemmed white clay pipe. The smoke from her pipe drifted through the room, at times moving against the drafts and forming odd shapes. “From the way it sounds there may be a treasure, but I’m not sure how they will find the chests on the bottom.”
“Aye, that be the truth of it,” Barnaby said. “That is if they can even find the location where the ship sank.”
“What does a chest hold?” Taja asked. “I would guess around a thousand gold per chest.”
“At least,” the captain said.
“It will be easy to take it from them,” Taja said. “If they find it.”
“Jonathan, what about the delivery to the judge?” Captain Barnaby asked. “We don’t want the Town Guard looking for us too hard.”
“I had Steven do it,” said Jonathan Willowford, the first officer. “In gold as requested.”
“Why didn’t you do it yourself?” Captain Barnaby asked. “Did I ask you to do it or did I ask Steven to do it?”
“You told me to do it,” Jonathan said and glanced nervously at Taja. “One of the particular items Judge Ponnardt requested has to be handled carefully and very discreetly. Steven is the best on the crew at meeting the judge’s requirement. I don’t think the judge would be happy if anybody found out about it either.”
“Everything is looking good then,” Barnaby said. “We’ll cycle the crew through town over the next few days and let them blow all their money during the festival of Melrin. With as much gold and other things we give Judge Ponnardt to overlook any indiscretions the crew may make, we should be free and clear. Not to mention the hefty fines he levies when someone gets caught.”
“I’ve picked up on some rumors flying around Dargon,” Taja said. “There have been some problems with the Doravin and the trash that lives in Pickett’s Let. For some reason, the people who live in the Let do not want to move as the duke has ordered for them to. There have been reports of open rebellion and bloodshed.”
“Tell the crew to stay away from Pickett’s Let and the Doravin,” Barnaby said. “We don’t want to get caught up in local politics.”
“And the drunk?” Jonathan asked.
“Leave a crewman or two in town to follow him everywhere he goes,” Barnaby said. “But don’t let him know. That shouldn’t be too hard to do; the man seems to have drunk himself to the bottom of the barrel.”
“I may be able to help with that,” Taja said.
The hot summer sun beat down upon Dargon’s harbor in an unrelenting assault. There had been no rain for the past sennight and Dargon was suffering because of it. A breeze blew out of the town toward the sea carrying the stench of the city to the harbor.
Danae and Percy sat at the end of the pier near her ship.
“Did you get the salve that protects me from the sharks?” Percy asked. “I may not be able to drown, but I’m sure the sharks would enjoy eating me.”
“Yes. I got it,” Danae said. “This is an old sailor’s concoction. I am not sure how well it works.”
“I guess we’ll find out,” Percy said. “What about the harness?”
“I got it,” Danae said. “It has a couple of handles just like you asked for. I can use them to drag you around down there in case of trouble. It has holders so you can attach weights to make you sink to the bottom. You can drop the weights when you need to. Going down should be easy, getting back up will be the hard part.”
“The Children of Cirrangill laughed when they tossed me back into the sea, making me unable to drown,” Percy said. “But I don’t think they meant for it to be fun. It’s far more of a curse than a blessing.”
“Like when I found you on that island,” Danae said. “I wasn’t anywhere near the shipping lanes. You’re lucky I found you.”
“I don’t think is was luck,” Percy said. He rubbed an odd looking mark on his left wrist. “I think Cirrangill meant for you to find me.”
“It was his mark on you that I sensed,” Danae said. “I felt it calling me.”
“So you said,” Percy said. “When does the Friendly Lion go into dry-dock?”
“In three days,” Danae said. “Once she’s in, we should be free to go.”
A moment passed in silence as they sat on the dock before Danae said, “Something been bothering me.”
“What?” Percy asked.
“Redale,” Danae said. “I’m worried about him. If we are successful, he is going to have enough gold to drink himself to death.”
“I’m worried about him too,” Percy said. “But you can’t help someone if they don’t want it.”
“But even so, I don’t wish to be the cause of his death,” Danae said.
Two nights later, Redale sat at a table by himself doing what he loved most, drinking. He drained the last of his grog and then shouted, “Give me another grog!”
A server brought a full tankard from the bar and set it on the table in front of Redale. When Redale reached for it, the girl pulled it away. “Tormey said to make sure you got the Penny to pay. Last time you were here, you didn’t.”
“I got some Pennies somewhere. I just need to find them. I swear by Ol’s Balls,” Redale said.
“Show the Pennies first. If you don’t have any Pennies, then you don’t get no more grog.”
“If I give you an extra Penny, would you show me your tits?” Redale asked.
“If you don’t got the Penny for the grog, you don’t got enough Pennies to see my tits,” the serving girl said.
“I’ll buy him a drink,” a woman sitting at the next table said. She tossed a Round onto Redale’s table. “And why don’t you go ahead and show him your tits too.”
Redale turned to face the woman and stared at her with his mouth hanging open. He had never seen such beauty before. She was very young, not more that twenty-five at most with short auburn hair and blue eyes. She was smoking a long-stemmed white clay pipe, and the smoke swirled around her head.
While Redale had his back turned to the serving girl, she picked up the Round and then pulled down the bodice of her dress, flashing her breasts at the back of Redale’s head.
“Nice breasts,” the young woman said.
“What?” Redale asked. He turned back to see the serving girl pull her bodice up over her breast. “That’s not farking fair! I didn’t get to see nothing.”
The serving girl smiled as she walked away pocketing the Bit, leaving the tankard of grog on the table.
“Would you care to join me?” the young woman asked.
Redale didn’t know what to say. He picked up his tankard and moved to sit down at her table. The scent of the pipe smoke reminded Redale of his home during his childhood, leaving him feeling relaxed and safe. It also washed away the nagging thought he was having of why such a young beauty would be interested in him.
“Redale, would you like something to eat?” the young woman asked.
“No. I’m fine,” Redale said. He looked deeply into the blue of her eyes. “I’m not hungry.”
The young woman drew a drought from her pipe and inhaled deeply. When she blew the smoke out, it swirled in the air in front of her and then formed little streamers that intertwined around Redale’s head.
“My name is Taja,” she said. Her voice sounded soft, far away, and very familiar. “Would you like another grog?”
“I still got this one.” He looked down at his tankard and saw it was empty. He did not remember drinking it. “I reckon I do need another one at that.”
Menes passed in silence with Redale drinking and Taja smoking. Redale tried to think of something to say but found it hard to focus his thoughts on anything but Taja. The blue of her eyes reminded him of the sea.
“You were just telling me about a sunken treasure ship filled with gold,” Taja said. Redale would swear it was his mother’s voice speaking.
“But Percy said not to…” Redale tried to say.
“Percy won’t mind,” Taja said. To Redale, it was his mother’s voice speaking. “Tell me all about it.”
“Tell you all about it,” Redale muttered.
“That’s it,” Taja said. “Tell me all about the gold.”
Redale spent the next few menes telling Taja every detail he knew about their plan. While he was speaking, he started getting sleepy. His thoughts were cloudy and it was hard to focus. Even though he could not think clearly, he thought to himself, “Must be the smoke. Grog never makes me sleepy.” Finally, when he could no longer keep his head up, he laid it down on his crossed arms on the table and started snoring even though he was not asleep. He could still hear Taja’s voice as she spoke.
“He’s asleep,” Taja said. She gestured to one of her guards sitting at a nearby table, who rose and stood by her. “Take him back to his ship, the Friendly Lion. Stick with him. If you don’t, Barnaby will not be happy, and that means that I won’t be happy.”
On Yuli 7th, the day of the summer solstice, everything was ready. The sun had just crested the eastern horizon when Danae, Percy, and Redale finished loading supplies onto the fishing boat.
“Cast off!” Percy shouted. He stood at the aft of the boat with the tiller in hand. “Let’s get underway.”
“This isn’t one of your fancy farking frigates,” Redale said as he loosed the mooring lines holding the small fishing vessel docked at the pier. “It’s a fancy farking fishing boat.”
Redale jumped into the vessel, laughing at his joke. He coiled the lines onto the deck and then pushed away from the pier. After the boat had cleared the dock, Redale worked at getting the sail ready.
“Do you have to piss on everything?” Percy asked.
“Kodo’s lying,” Redale said. “I did not use one of his cooking pots to piss in, I swear.”
Danae stood at the prow of the boat, her face toward the open sea. She listened to Percy and Redale as they bantered between themselves, but she did not hear them. Instead, her attention was on the water of Dargon harbor as it slipped by. Once they were clear of the harbor, the smell of the open sea filled her with excitement. The call of the sea pulled her, making her want to change. Her clothes started to itch, and an almost unbearable urge to be free of their constraints and dive into the sea swelled inside of her.
“Hoist the mast and raise the sail,” Percy said as the wind from the south picked up.
The sail caught the full wind. When they were clear of the main shipping lanes, they headed north along the coast. After several leagues, they passed by the harbor where the Seventh Fleet made its homeport. A five-masted caravel was lumbering its way out of the harbor, trying to reach the open sea. Two three-masted frigates followed. The flag of the King of Baranur flew from all the ships top masts. Below that were the colors of the Seventh Fleet.
Danae knew little about the port or the naval base. She had never been there, but she knew it was as large as the city of Dargon. Ships always filled the dry docks, and there more ships waited for service. She could not see it, but she knew her ship, the Friendly Lion, was there for repair.
On the hillside above the harbor, Danae saw the naval base. It was complete with barracks, parade grounds, mess halls and everything a sailor might desire. One thing struck Danae as funny, for as far as she could see, there were no trees.
They sailed all day before reaching the area where the ship had broken apart. At sunset, they lowered their sail and dropped a sea anchor.
The next morning Percy woke before everyone else early and sat at the tiller waiting. A sense of excitement coursed through him, but at the same time, a feeling of dread filled him. He watches as the sun edged over the eastern horizon, casting a red hue over the ocean as the cloudless sky faded from black, to purple, and then blue.
Breakfast consisted of hard biscuits, summer sausages, cheese and sweet meat pies. Once everyone had eaten, Percy raised the sea anchor and maneuvered the boat to the location he had discovered in the harbormasters logbooks. After triple checking the coordinates, he dropped the anchor again.
Danae and Percy checked his gear, making sure the harness he wore was tight, the lead plates securely fastened and everything was in place. Percy could barely walk with the extra-added weight. Once the vest was secure, Danae coated it and all exposed areas of flesh on Percy with the shark salve.
“By Ol’s hairy balls,” Redale said. “What is that smell?”
“Shut up,” Percy said. “As long as it keeps the sharks away, I don’t care how bad it stinks.”
“It’s the stench that keeps them away,” Danae said. “It gets into the water and makes it taste bad.”
Ropes with heavy weights tied to one end lay coiled on the deck. Each rope was over three hundred feet in length with the top end tied off to a cleat mounted on the boat. One by one, Redale tossed the free ends overboard, and the weight slowly pulled the ropes into the water. In the center of the main deck was a large winch.
“Now remember, no matter what happens, no matter how long it takes, do not abandon us,” Percy said. “We will come back.”
“Straight,” Redale said. “I’ll just fish while I’m waiting. I wish you had let me bring some grog, it would have helped the time pass more quickly.”
“When we get back to Dargon, you can have all the grog you want,” Percy said. “For now, just drink the wine.”
As Percy and Redale were talking, Danae removed her clothing and dove into the waves without a splash. When she surfaced in the water, she was no longer human; she had changed into a daughter of the sea. Her skin was as blue as the deep sea, her fingers ending in black talons. Armored scales covered her from her elbows to her belly. There were webs between her fingers, and her feet were flatter and more articulated. Save for the tangled green locks that draped over her shoulders, her hair was gone.
Instead of gracefully slipping over the rail into the water as he pictured in his mind, the boat tilted on a wave causing Percy to stumbled. He tripped and fell over the railing, plummeting beneath the surface. Once in the water, Percy sensed Danae’s hands holding on to his harness. She was riding him down to the depths like an anchor.
The sun’s light and the ocean waves quickly vanished above Percy as he sank deeper and deeper into the sea. The farther he dropped the dimmer the light became until he was barely able to see anything. Up until now, he had been holding his breath. He did not like the sensation of water filling his lungs. Every time it did, he felt like the first time when he died. Some might consider it a blessing by the god of the sea, but it would be just like a god to make it painful as a reminder that he did not belong here.
Percy opened his mouth and allowed the seawater to flow into him. The cold water surged down his throat and set his lungs a fire in a blaze of agony. His chest convulsed, expelling a large bubble of air that sped toward the surface. Seawater rushed in to replace the air with pain and fire. Percy coughed, trying to breathe one last breath before he started convulsing.
As the pain subsided, and Percy reached a strange state between life and death, awareness returned, Percy heard, or thought he did, the faint sound of children whispering the sea god’s name in his ear, “Cirrangill.”
While underwater, time became meaningless to Percy. As he slowly descended into the dark depths, his eyes adjusted to the gloom. He saw drifting patterns in the darkness as he dropped through layers in the sea.
Something moved through the darkness just beyond the extent of Percy’s vision. He tried to follow it, but it moved too fast. A couple of breaths later, the creature made another pass at him. This time, Percy saw the outline of the fin of a giant shark.
Terror surged through Percy. He sent up a mental prayer to Cirrangill for protection. As if in response, the Mark of Cirrangill on Percy’s wrist began to itch.
From out of the darkness, the rounded snout of the massive shark suddenly appeared. The creature swam directly at Percy, coming close enough that the shark’s lateral fin scraped along Percy’s side as it passed him. The creature hit him with enough force to push Percy to the side. If Percy had any air remaining in his lungs, it would have knocked out of him. The physicality of the blow had little effect on him.
All Percy could do was pray and continue to drop into the darkness. He could not detect Danae’s presence above him. He did not know if she were still riding him to the bottom or if he were alone.
During the descent, more sharks made passes at Percy, but none seemed to be actual attacks. The creatures were playing with Percy, taunting him.
Finally, the descent stopped. The bottom was not mud, as he had feared, but rock and sand covered with life. With his limited vision, Percy saw a multi-colored array of coral, plants and fish. Schools of fish swam around Percy. Some even nibbled at his hair. He brushed them away. Crabs scuttled to hide under overhanging coral when he came near.
Danae appeared from out of the darkness. Percy watched as she moved through the water with natural ease while he, burdened with the weights, had to take laborious steps. Large blocks of coral stood in Percy’s way wherever he tried to go, so he had to climb either around or over them. Using basic hand gestures they worked out earlier, Percy signaled Danae to start searching. She acknowledged and vanished in the distance.
Back on the surface, the day passed slowly. Around the fifth bell, Redale stood at the tiller, staring at the waves. The bright summer sun shining upon the sea warmed the air but did little to the cold, dark water. The sunlight glinting from the waves struck Redale as particularly beautiful. Of course, the beauty of the waves had nothing to do with the three empty bottles of wine lying on the floor.
“Hand me another bottle of wine,” Redale said to himself. “Would rather have grog, but no, Percy wouldn’t let me bring any grog.”
Redale looked toward the north and saw a sail on the horizon. As the day passed, the ship drew closer until it was within the range of a spyglass.
“By Ol’s Balls,” Redale said when he saw a red pennant flying from the main mast. “Pirates.” Redale took a big drink from the wine bottle. “But I’m just a fisherman. Pirates don’t pay any attention to fishermen unless it’s to steal some fish. Maybe they’ll pass us by and pay us no never mind.”
The pirate ship was a three-masted schooner, and its course was going to bring it within hailing distance of the fishing vessel. When it drew near, the larger ship’s sail furled and it turned hard to starboard, using the water as a brake. It came to drift alongside the fishing boat.
“Hail, prepare for boarding,” a voice called from the pirate ship. “Don’t do anything stupid like trying to run.”
Redale sat on the stool next to the tiller and laughed, saying, “Like I have anywhere to run.”
Multiple lines with grappling hooks flew through the air and landed on the deck of the smaller vessel. The lines pulled taut, drawing the fishing boat to the pirate ship. Fierce looking men lined the railing looking down.
“Ol’s Balls,” Redale cursed again. “Percy is going to be so mad at me.”
Four men jumped from the pirate vessel down onto the deck of the fishing boat. Redale continued to sit by the tiller as the men quickly searched the fishing boat and the hold. They found nothing, not even fish.
“Captain,” one of the pirates called out, “there is only one man on board.”
The pirates standing at the railing parted and a lone figure stood there looking down.
“Bring him aboard,” said a woman’s voice that sounded like his mother’s.
Two bells later, Redale sat in a large cabin aboard the pirate ship. Sitting behind a large maple desk was a rather short man wearing a silk shirt and leather breeches. Standing next to the captain was a stunningly beautiful young woman with short auburn hair and blue eyes.
“Redale, is that your name?” the man asked. “My name is Captain Barnaby, and this is Taja.”
Redale looked around the cabin, noting the various trinkets Captain Barnaby had collected during his adventures. Redale was not frightened; his wits were too addled to be scared. He noticed how short Captain Barnaby was, and he looked long and hard at Taja. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt that he had met her before, but he just could not get the thought to surface. Instead, he remembered his mother’s voice.
“Would you like some wine?” Taja asked. She poured a glass of wine and set it down in front of Redale. “We picked this up from a Welspeareian merchant several months ago. It is a very elegant wine with a berry aftertaste.”
“Have we met before?” Redale asked.
“Do you think we have met before?” Taja asked.
“You remind me of my mother,” Redale said. Redale stared at the glass of wine. “I would rather have grog. Do you have any grog?”
“Yes, we have grog,” Barnaby said. “Bring the man some grog.”
Taja loaded her long stemmed white clay pipe with tobacco from a leather pouch. Next, she took an ivory box out of the pouch, opened the lid and stuck her finger inside. When she withdrew her finger, the tip was covered with a black powder that burst into flame.
“Don’t worry, it’s not magic. Just a simple trick I learned many years ago,” Taja said as she lit her pipe.
A moment later, the cabin door opened, and a young boy entered the room carrying a tray with a tankard and a jug filled with grog. Redale smiled. His voice tingled with excitement as he said, “Now that’s more like it. Percy did not allow us to bring any grog with us.”
“Are you hungry?” Captain Barnaby asked.
“No, not hungry,” Redale said. He picked up the tankard and took a big drink. As the liquid warmed his insides, it also helped to focus his thinking. He knew he was in trouble, but it was evident Captain Barnaby wanted something from him. “How can someone so short be captain of a pirate ship?”
Anger flashed across the captain’s face, but it was only there for an instant. Taja chuckled. The captain turned to look at her with a glare that could turn one to stone.
“Redale,” Taja said, “what are you doing so far out from the fishing areas?”
“I was fishing,” Redale said.
“Yes, you were,” Taja said. “But there wasn’t any fish in the hold. Not having any luck?”
“No,” Redale grumbled, “Bad fishing in these parts.”
“Who else was with you?” Captain Barnaby asked. “You aren’t alone are you?”
Redale thought for a moment. If would not do any good to lie to them. They would find out what they wanted to know, no matter how much pain he had to bear.
“My cousin Percy and my shipmate Danae are around here somewhere,” Redale said. “They went swimming.”
“They went swimming?” Taja asked. “When did they do that?”
“This morning at first bell,” Redale answered. “They jumped overboard. I have not seen them since then.”
“Doesn’t that seem like a long time to be swimming?” Captain Barnaby asked. “Don’t you think they might have drowned by now?”
“No,” Redale said. “Percy told me to wait until he came back up. He can’t drown. Neither can Danae.”
“He said something about it the night I met him in the tavern,” Taja said. “But he didn’t give me any details.”
“Why can’t they drown?”, Captain Barnaby asked.
Redale started to sweat. Percy told him never to tell anyone about Percy’s curse. That would include pirates, but then he thought about the pain of not telling. Percy would just have to understand. That would go for Danae too. And when had he spoken to Taja in a tavern?
“Well, see, Danae is a fish and Percy is already dead.” Redale took another long drink from the tankard to wet his dry mouth.
“What are you talking about?” Taja asked. “Your grog addled mind is not making any sense.”
“Taja,” Captain Barnaby said. “Give him a chance to talk.”
Redale looked at Taja, who was glaring at him. “When Danae wants to, she changes into a fish. Not all of her, she doesn’t grow a tail or anything like that. She keeps her parts, you know, legs and stuff. But everything is covered with scales. Even her tits. And her mouth is filled with sharp pointy teeth.”
“What about Percy?” Captain Barnaby asked. “How can he be dead?”
“We were in the new bathhouse in Dargon, the one near the docks, and Percy told me a story about how he had drowned at sea and the Children of Cirrangill brought him back to life. I didn’t believe him at first. He was drinking almost as much as I was. He said it was a more of a curse than anything else. Something about magic in his bloodline. He has the Mark of Cirrangill on his wrist to show the sea god chose him or something like that.”
“Taja, does any of this make sense to you?” the captain asked.
Taja puffed at her pipe, and the smoke wove intricate patterns in the air as she thought. Redale watched her eyes, something about them. Did his mother have blue eyes? He could not remember.
“I’ve heard tales of the southern seas about women who can shape change, taking on the form of a child of the sea. Very rare, but did you notice Danae’s skin color is a dusky brown? She could be from the south.” Taja said.
“What about the other one?” Barnaby asked.
“Some rumors. But nothing sure,” Taja said. “Stranger things have happened. But he cannot be dead.”
“What about the gold?” Captain Barnaby asked. “How are you going to get the gold?”
“Gold?” Redale said. “What gold? We are just out fishing.”
“Come now,” Taja said. Some of the smoke drifting around Taja’s head slowly drifted towards Redale. As he watched the smoke, it formed into long, semi-solid needles that began stabbing into his scalp. “Don’t start lying now.”
Redale felt the sharp piercing pain of the needles and without further thought said, “They’re going to swim down to the bottom and tie lines to the chests. After that, we’re going to haul them up to the surface.”
“I see,” Barnaby said. “Taja, do you have to be so ruthless?”
“No, but it does help him do as we want.” The needles dissipated and the pain stopped. “And we have your image to uphold.”
“I guess you’re right,” Barnaby said. “But you don’t have to make it so obvious how much you enjoy it.”
“It is my pleasure to serve,” Taja said.
Barnaby signaled for one of the guards, “Take Redale to the mess and get him something to eat.”
“Can I take the grog with me?” Redale asked.
After eight bells searching the ocean floor, all Percy had to show for his efforts was some gold pieces tucked into a bag. Danae had also recovered gold pieces from the sea floor. When the treasure ship sank or during the attempt to raise it, one of the chests must have broken open and dropped its contents into the ocean depths.
Just when Percy was ready to give up his search, he stumbled across the mouth of a cave. He stepped off a ledge and found himself sinking deeper until he landed at the cave opening. The cave mouth was only seven or eight feet across, and the interior descended downward at a steep angle.
Percy stood looking into the cave mouth until Danae swam up to him. He motioned to Danae that he was going to go into the cave, but she grabbed him by the shoulder and frantically tried to stop him. She attempted to speak, but Percy could not hear her. She pulled at him, to drag him away from the cave. When he would not move, Danae held her arms wide to indicate something huge. Percy knew she wanted to warn him desperately about something, but he decided to head into the cave anyway.
Inside the cave, the temperature of the water was warmer than on the ocean floor, and there was a funny taste to the water. It was a familiar taste, but Percy could not identify it. He had not spent this long underwater since the children of the sea god had blessed him with the inability to drown. He only hoped there were no lasting effects.
The narrow mouth of the cave opened into a space big enough to house a good sized fishing boat. Sitting against the rear wall of the cave were four chests. One chest was broken open, and the gold scattered across the cave floor along with broken shells, fish bones, human bones, and bones of larger sea creatures.
With an enormous amount of effort, Percy managed to drag the three unbroken chests from the cave. Danae remained outside of the cave, refusing to go in. Once free of the cave, she helped Percy secure the wooden chests with the lines for hauling.
Percy signaled Danae he was ready to go. She nodded and watched as Percy removed the weights from his harness and affixed them to one of the chests in case they needed to make another trip down. The weight of the gold they carried in the bags would slow their ascent a little bit, but it was worth it.
Now came the hard part for Danae. She had to drag Percy to the surface.
Percy felt like he was dead weight. Water had seeped into all of his bodily cavities, overcoming any buoyancy he once had. Danae had to use the handles built into the harness Percy wore to drag him up toward the surface. With each foot they rose, Percy felt the pressure inside himself equalizing with the external pressure. Water forced its way out of every opening, causing intense pain. He screamed continuously during the descent to prevent his lungs from exploding. The agony stopped when Danae had to pause to rest, or Percy signaled her he could not take it anymore. Percy swore to himself that he would never go this deep again. He could not stand the pain.
After a bell of ascending, Percy and Danae broke the surface of the Valenfaer Ocean a mene or two before sunset. The beauty of the setting sun shining through the clouds on the horizon to the west was lost on them as they stared at a large ship with three masts anchored next to their small fishing boat.
After a brief discussion, Danae dove beneath the surface. Percy swam toward the fishing vessel. Just before he got close enough for the deck watchman to spot him, Percy took a big breath and went under the fishing boat. Feeling his way along the bottom, he attached the bag of gold coins to the underside and then he climbed onboard the fishing vessel.
Still unnoticed by the pirates, Percy sat down to rest for a few menes and let last of the sea water seep out of him. Once he felt able to stand, he stood in the center of the main deck, facing the pirate ship and called, “Ahoy!”
Heads appeared at the ships railing. Less than a meme later, a woman’s voice called down to the smaller vessel, “Percy, is that you?”
“Aye, I’m Percy. You haven’t hurt Redale have you?”
“No more than needed, though I was disappointed he gave in so quickly. He’s currently secure with a bucket full of grog to keep him happy,” the woman said. “Throw him a ladder.”
Percy climbed the rope ladder and men pulled him aboard the ship. He was still wet, but not dripping. A good thing was the smell of the shark repellant had worn off.
“My name is Taja. Follow me.”
Taja led Percy below decks to the crew quarters so he could dry off. When he was dry, she led Percy to meet the captain.
“Have a seat. My name is Captain Barnaby. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Taja took the seat next to the captain; Percy took the seat across from his desk.
“So, the story about your death is real?” Taja asked. “I’ve heard some rumors about you. Seems you drowned and now you can’t drown a second time.”
“You could put it that way,” Percy said.
“Would you show me the mark?” Taja asked.
Percy rolled up his sleeve and showed her the Mark of Cirrangill. “It just looks like a tattoo,” Taja said. “Yet, I sense a presence there.”
“Where is your partner?” Captain Barnaby asked. “Redale said her name was Danae?”
“She will not surrender herself,” Percy said. “You can understand that she fears being held in captivity and treated like an animal.”
“As long as she does not interfere it should not matter,” Taja said. “Although she would be a valuable asset if she were a member of the crew.”
“So, Percy, how many chests of gold did you find down there?” Captain Barnaby asked.
“Would you believe me if I said none?” Percy asked.
“Yes, I would believe you,” Captain Barnaby said. “Then I would have to pull up those lines, and if there were chests on the ends of them, I would have Taja deal with you for lying. She can be very mean when she wants.”
“You’re going to have me killed anyway,” Percy said.
“Why do you think that?” Captain Barnaby asked. “We are not as bloodthirsty as you may think. If something has value, we do not kill it just for fun.”
Taja chuckled to herself.
Percy began to think he might just get out of this alive. “There were four chests. One has broken open and spilled all over the ocean floor. Three were intact. They are secured to the ends of the lines, ready to be hauled up.”
“Splendid,” Captain Barnaby said. “Taja, see if you can’t find somewhere for Percy to spend the night. We’ll begin hauling up the chests in the morning.”
Taja and two of her personal guards armed with swords escorted Percy to the lowest deck of the ship.
“Sorry to do this to you,” Taja said. “Most people who are our guests are not a problem, since we are leagues from shore, but someone who cannot drown could just throw themselves overboard without a second thought.”
“I could give you my word that I would not try to escape,” Percy said.
“I’m sure you would honor your word,” Taja said. “And we have Redale, who will pay should you escape, but I think this would be best.”
A rooster crowing woke Percy from a deep sleep. At first, he did not remember where he was, but that didn’t last long. The manacles around his ankles clanked as he sat up; reminding him he was in the pirate ship’s hold. Ten menes after the timekeeper rang first bell, the hatch in the ceiling opened and Taja, accompanied by the same guards from the previous evening, looked in.
“Good morning,” Taja said. “Today is going to be a good day; I just know it.”
The men hauled Percy from the hold and then took positions behind Taja.
“We’re getting ready to pull the chests to the surface,” Taja said. “Would you like something to eat before we go topside?”
“Not if I have to eat it here,” Percy said.
“We’ll be breakfasting in the captain’s cabin,” Taja said. “If you give me your word that you will not try to escape, I will have them remove the manacles.”
“You have my word,” Percy said.
“I’m sure you know,” Taja said, “that if you do manage to escape, or cause any trouble, I will kill Redale. Captain Barnaby does not like using drastic measures unless he must, but I do not share his view on life.”
After removing the manacles, Taja led Percy to the crew’s quarter where she had clothes waiting for him. “Clean up and change into these. They should fit. I’ll be back.”
Taja returned after a few menes and led Percy back to the captain’s cabin. Breakfast was fried eggs, bacon, toasted hard-crusted bread, honey, and fish. Percy was knackered and famished. He had not eaten since breakfast the day before and had spent the entire day underwater.
After they had finished eating, the captain asked, “How long were you in the Navy?”
“Fifteen years,” Percy said. “I enlisted when I was fifteen. Being the fourth son of a lesser noble, I had to find a place for myself.”
“Fifteen years,” Barnaby repeated. “That’s a long time. Why didn’t you stay in until they mustered you out? Don’t they give you a plot of land somewhere to farm?”
“Superstition,” Percy said. “When other sailors discovered what happened to me, they did not want me on their ship. The Wind of Dargon, the ship I was on during the storm reported me as dead, lost at sea.”
“A dead man,” Taja said, “even though you were still alive.”
“What were you?” Barnaby asked. “Your rate I mean.”
“I was a lead seaman,” Percy said.
“Not bad,” Barnaby said. “What rumors have you heard about me? What does the Navy think of my exploits?”
Percy stared at Captain Barnaby for a breath or two as he tried to decide what to tell him. Normally, Percy was good at knowing people. He could tell what kind of person they were, if they were lying or telling the truth, honorable or cheats. The captain was like a stone wall. Nothing. Finally, Percy decided for the truth.
“There’s not a lot to tell,” Percy said. “Your name was not that well known on the ships I’ve served. All I know about you is that you are rumored to be a bloodthirsty killer who left bodies in your wake.”
Captain Barnaby looked at Percy and then turned to look at Taja. He frowned and said, “Straight. Most of the rumors are the work of Taja. She makes sure people remember things the way she wants. We don’t always agree on things, but who does? Taja, check with Jonathan on the preparations to bring up the chests. Let me know when they are ready. I want to speak with Lead Seaman Percy for a while.”
Onboard the fishing vessel, men from the pirate ship transferred the first line from the holding cleat to the winch. Once it was secure, they began turning the crank and coiling the rope into a neat pile on the deck. When there was no slack left in the line, the crank became extremely hard to turn.
“It feels like something’s stuck down there,” the man at the winch called out. “We need more men.”
“You two,” Jonathan called, “get down there and help them.”
The men Jonathan selected dropped from the pirate ship onto the fishing vessel and helped turn the crank. With four men turning the winch, the boat began to tilt, pulling the side of the boat almost to the water line. Then something let loose, and the ship righted itself. The winch started to turn a little more quickly.
“Did the line break?” Jonathan asked.
“Don’t think so, there’s still weight on it. I guess it snagged on something.”
“Keep going,” Jonathan said. “Pray that we don’t lose it.”
After about a bell, the chest broke the surface. The men standing at the railing of the pirate vessel let out a shout, and the rest of the pirates quickly picked it up until the entire crew was cheering.
“All right, all right, we don’t want a patrol ship to hear us,” Captain Barnaby said. “Get that chest on board, and get started on the next one.”
The second chest did not offer any resistance when they hauled it up from the depths. By the time the second chest broke the surface, the first chest was already sitting on the deck of the pirate ship. After the second chest was onboard the Red Roger, they began hauling up the third.
The sun was heading toward the horizon in the west. Small white clouds drifted by in the distance, but there was no threat of storm or rain. A gentle wind blew from the south.
Captain Barnaby, Taja, Percy, and Jonathan stood by the two chests sitting on the deck of the pirate ship. The rest of crew stood around them, watching. Taja smoked her pipe, the smoke once again taking odd shapes in the air. Some drifted towards the crew, who made sure to avoid touching them. Redale was on board the fishing boat helping to bring the final chest onboard.
“Thanks to Percy and Redale,” Captain Barnaby said, “this has been one of the easiest treasures we have come across. If these chests contain half the gold we think they do, we are all going to be rich men! Yes, we will all be rich men, at least until after the next port of call!”
The crew roared with excitement.
“Quartermaster, if you would open the first chest,” Captain Barnaby said.
Using a hammer and a spike, Jonathan hit the chest’s lock one time, and the lock fell apart. With some effort, he tried to pull open the lid of the chest, but it would not open.
A scream from the fishing vessel broke through the revelry. More screams quickly followed. Percy made his way to the railing to look down upon the smaller ship.
Monstrously large tentacles, covered with suckers, reached out of the sea to grasp the sailors on the deck of the fishing boat. They wrapped around the screaming men’s bodies and were hoisting them into the air. One tentacle wrapped around the chest sitting on the deck and another one wrapped around the winch. Others were flailing about over the deck of the fishing vessel. Redale tried to climb the rope ladder up to the pirate ship, but one of the tentacles hit him and knocked him into the sea.
“Sea Hag!” one of the pirates standing at the railing shouted. “Sea Hag!”
The deck of the pirate ship filled with activity. Sailors ran in all directions, getting ready to fight. Archers lined the railing, stringing their bows and notching arrows. Other sailors ran to get weapons.
“Cut that ship loose,” The captain ordered. “If that thing pulls it under I don’t want us to go with it.”
The fishing vessel bobbed in the water like a cork and started to capsize; the winch snapped from its deck, flying into the sea. With the lines cut, the Sea Hag pulled the fishing vessel away from the pirate ship.
“Bring us about!”, the captain shouted. “Get the sails hoisted, man the oars, and get us away from the thing. Get us underway!”
Archers fired at the creature, but to no avail. All they had to target were its tentacles, and even when they hit one, it did little damage. Tentacles lashed over the deck of the pirate ship, snatching up sailors and dragging them into the sea. One found the still locked chest and lifted it into the air. Men with ax and sword chopped at the flailing tentacles, trying to protect the ship.
“Get the sails up!” Captain Barnaby yelled. “Get them up now or we will be food for the Hag!”
The sails rose rapidly and snapped open with a loud ruffled pop as they caught the wind. The pirate ship slowly moved away from the fishing vessel and the creature.
Percy climbed over the railing, standing on the gunwale for a breath looking into the dark, turbulent water. Instead of running from danger, he was diving into it. Redale was down there somewhere. Percy leaped feet first into the water and swam toward the fishing boat. Just before he reached it, a tentacle surged up out of the water to grab him. As it wrapped around him and started to squeeze, the Mark of Cirrangill on his wrist flared, flashed and began to burn as if it were on fire. The Tentacle released its grip on him, tossing Percy into the side of the boat and knocking the wind out of him. It did not drag him underwater, but it may have broken a few ribs.
The pirate ship was pulling away from the Hag and starting to make good wind toward the north. The Hag released its grip on the fishing boat and silently slipped beneath the waves and followed after the larger ship.
Percy climbed aboard the damaged boat. The main deck had a huge hole in it where the Hag had torn the winch free. Its tentacles had crushed the port side almost all the way to the waterline and the mast was gone. The fishing boat had taken so much damage it was just able to stay afloat. Percy searched the area but did not see any sign of Redale or any other sailors. All he found was debris from the fishing boat.
Standing on the deck of the fishing boat looking out into the darkness, Percy wondered how did everything turn out so wrong? Was he cursed? Ever since his encounter with the Children of Cirriangal, his luck had been on a downward slide. Now he was alone.
A mene later, something thumped against the side of the board, making a splashing sound in the water. Percy looked over the railing and there in the water was Danae holding Redale.
“Help him onboard,” Danae said.
For the next few bells, the fishing boat drifted on the ocean currents. The sun had set, and the only light was starlight shining down on a moonless night. The lights from the fleeing pirate ship were no longer in sight. Danae was in human form and dressed.
“Do you think they will come back for us?” Redale asked. “They have grog.”
“No,” Percy said. “I don’t think they would risk the ship to come back.”
Redale moved to the back of the boat near the tiller.
“Where did the Hag come from?” Percy asked.
“That’s a stupid question,” Danae said.
“Why is it a stupid question?” Percy asked.
“I tried to tell you not to go into the cave,” Danae said. “But you would not listen.”
“So,” Percy said. “What’s that got to do with the Hag?”
“The cave was her lair,” Danae said. “The chests belonged to her. You took the Sea Hag’s treasure.”
“Now what?” Redale asked. “Are we going to head back to Dargon?
“Well, after paying to repair this boat,” Percy said, “we might have enough gold left to last a little while.”
“I managed to save some gold too,” Danae said.
“Good,” Percy said. “I think I need a barber to look at my ribs and maybe spend a few nights at the bathhouse,” Percy said.
“Me, I think I’m going to get good and drunk,” Redale said.