Redale waited on the starboard side of the Friendly Lion for the gangplank to hit the pier. No matter how hard he tried, he could not stand still. He fidgeted and paced. His palms and forehead were wet with sweat. If he had to wait one more mene to get off the ship, he would explode. Just leaping over the rail and swimming to shore was a tempting idea.
Redale was lucky; the Friendly Lion had arrived in Dargon on the high tide just after dusk, so there would not be enough time to unload the cargo before dark. The ship was loaded with goods from ports along the northern coast of Cherisk destined for Dargon merchants. Herbs and spices from Kimmeron, metal ore from Comarr, bolts of silk, casks of rum and ale, and ten barrels of sand from the Monroydan desert for a wizard named Alg-orge.
As soon as the mooring lines were secure and the gangplank lowered Redale shouted to Kodo, the ship’s bos’n, “Permission to go ashore?” Redale hesitated only for an instant, just long enough for Kodo to nod in consent, before he crossed the gangplank onto the pier.
“Try not getting thrown into brig this time!” Kodo shouted.
“Straight. All I want is a drink. If you weren’t so afraid of wizards, you might leave the ship yourself sometime. You might even get groggy and enjoy a whore or two.”
“I’m perfectly fine right here. There ain’t any wizards as part of the crew yet,” Kodo said. “And I don’t need to get groggy, but I would admit a whore might be fun.”
A sense of excitement started to grow in Redale. Dargon was his first port of call after being restricted to the ship for the last six sennights. The worst part of being restricted to the ship was the grog Captain Tennant stored on-board. It was barely drinkable. Redale gave up trying to get his shipmates to give him gulpers when they ganged up and tossed him overboard while anchored at an island for supplies. Captain Tennant gave the crew permission to perform the heave-ho to teach Redale a lesson.
As Redale made his way along the pier, he heard Simon Salamagundi making his sales pitch. “Bottom of the pot, only a little bit left and it’s the best stew of the day,” the stew seller yelled. “I’ve got some sun-sweet left and it would be a shame to waste it.” Redale was not hungry for food. Something else was calling him. Its name was demon rum, and its call was hard to resist.
Activity on the docks wound down as the darkness of night settled on the port. The land breeze blew from Dargon toward the harbor carrying the scent of garbage, decay and creosote. The lamp lighter made his rounds lighting the docks lanterns while the evening watches took their places on board ships and the piers.
Tucked in a pouch in his pocket, Redale had what was left of his pay form the last six sennights. He was ready to have an evening of shore leave. When he woke the following day, he would have very little money and probably no memory of how he had spent it. He headed toward the closet place where grog was available, the Groggy Pig. Mostly sailors, whores and dockworkers frequented the Groggy Pig. The Pig was a rough place where those who worked on the docks came to get drunk or spend a wee bit of time in the arms of a whore.
The Groggy Pig was located down a short alley between two warehouses. No sign on the street advertised its location, you knew where the place was or you did not. The alley ended in a small area covered with a makeshift roof. Tables, chairs and people filled the area. The air stank of sleaze, stale ale, unwashed bodies and pipe smoke. Across from the entrance, a tall man wearing an apron stood behind a bar. Three women carrying pitchers of ale, grog or wine, and platters of meat, cheese or bread moved from table to table.
Redale flopped down at the only empty table and shouted, “Give me grog and make it the good stuff, not that weak-assed ale you serve! And don’t stop! Save the bad stuff for later when I won’t know the difference.” He put his head into his hands and looked down, trying to gather his scattered thoughts.
A server brought a full tankard of grog from the bar and set it on the table for Redale. “They’ll bring you a pitcher in a mene, honey.”
“Hoy, Redale, is that you?” a familiar sounding voice shouted.
Redale lifted his head. Across the floor, someone rose from a table and made their way through the crowd toward him. The others at the table he had just left tried to call him back, but he continued toward Redale instead.
The man approaching Redale’s table was tall with neatly trimmed brown hair, beard and mustache. His appearance and attire were very neat, which was nothing like Redale. Redale’s hair was long and unkempt. He had fled the ship so quickly he had not taken time to change from his sea clothes. He still wore what most sailors wore at sea: worn leather boots encrusted with salt, pants, tunic, shirt and a red scarf around his neck. The other man wore a neatly pressed uniform of the Baranurian Navy’s Seventh Fleet, based out of Dargon.
“By the children of the Sea God, it is you! How long has it been, at least a year I’ll wager?”
“Percy,” Redale said. “I heard you had drowned.” Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on Redale’s part, but he was sure that was the rumor he had heard.
“I did drown, but Cirrangill didn’t want me and threw me back. He did leave his mark on me though.”
Percy proudly held out his left hand so Redale could see a tattoo on the back of it. Redale glanced at the tattoo, but thought it looked rather ordinary for the mark of a god.
“Mind if I share your table with you?” Percy, like most sailors, was a long-winded blow hard who loved to tell others of his adventures. To Redale, there was a time for sea stories and there was a time for drinking. Now was a time for drinking. Stories could come later.
“Of course I mind Percy, but you never listen,” Redale said. “Go ahead, sit, but I’m not paying for your drinks.”
“You always have been a money-grubber. I just don’t understand why I like you.”
“Maybe it is my affable nature and my stoic disposition. Not to mention I think my third cousin is your sister’s husband,” Redale said. “You talk too much; I came here to drink not to talk about drinking.”
Percy held his tankard up to toast with Redale. Redale stared at Percy for a few breaths wondering what the penalty for killing happy people was. Redale did not think it should be a crime. Some people were just too happy. When Percy did not lower his tankard, but waved it in the air for attention, Redale clanked his tankard against it. Then he downed his drink and slammed the tankard against the table.
“Another round for me and my tight-fisted friend,” Percy said.
“I’m not buying the next round, no matter what you say.”
“I don’t expect you to, even though you probably have every Bit you own stashed away on you somewhere.”
“I’ve got enough get drunk on, if that’s what you mean.”
“You really should try to save some of your money; you will never be able to settle down if you don’t.”
“Who wants to settle down? I will die at sea, just like a sailor is supposed to do,” Redale said. “But all I want to do right now is to get drunk.
“Oh, I see you made lead mate.” Redale noticed the insignia Percy wore on his sleeve.
“It was a little bit over three months ago. If you work hard, do your job and keep your nose clean you will be rewarded,” Percy said. “So, what ship are you on now?”
“I signed on with the Friendly Lion about six months ago,” Redale said. “She was sailing the northern trade route hitting all the ports before winter set in. We docked in Dargon today at sunset.”
A full figured woman wearing a low-cut bodice that barely covered her large breast brought a pitcher of grog to their table. She filled up their mugs and then set the pitcher down on the table. Percy leaned back and pinched her on her ass. The woman responded with a giggle, a smile and a gentle slap on the side of Percy’s head. Percy laughed and tossed a copper coin down her bodice. The woman headed back toward the bar.
“Her name is Tarah. She’s one of my favorites here,” Percy said. “Have you ever seen an ass that looks better than that?”
Redale did not care what the woman’s name was or what her ass looked like, he only cared that she brought him grog. The woman turned her head back to look at Percy and her smile grew bigger. She blew Percy a kiss and smacked herself on the rear.
“Oh, Tarah, you’re such a sassy tease,” Percy said. “What are you doing later? I’m sure I can find something you will want to play with.”
“Percy, will you just shut up and drink or go sit somewhere else and let me drink by myself.”
“I can tell you just got into port,” Percy said. “Give you a few more rounds and you’ll friendly up some.”
“Straight,” Redale said. “Give me a few more rounds.” Redale downed his tankard and refilled it from the pitcher.
The pair sat for a couple of menes drinking in silence. Redale watched Percy light his pipe.
“You’ll never guess what I saw the other day,” Percy said. He sat back in his chair and drew smoke into his lungs from the pipe. As he exhaled, he made smoke rings that drifted in the air above the candle.
“Nor would I try,” Redale said. “Unless it was a ship filled with casks of grog or rum. Now that would be a pretty sight. I guess you’re going to start spouting one of your sea stories now. Why don’t we have a couple more tankards of grog first?”
“Just listen, this story is a good one,” Percy said.
“Percy, according to you all your stories are.” Redale thought about moving to another table, but all the other tables were full.
“Damn right, I’m one of the best story tellers anywhere. Anyway, listen up. A few sennights ago we were on patrol sailing northwest of Dargon and I saw a fleet of ships that were made out of rock!” Percy waited a few breaths for it to sink into Redale’s head. “That’s right; I saw four large ships made out or rock. Each of the ships had three round sections of stone in a row. The one in front and the one in back was taller than the one in the middle. To each side of all three were outriggers with large round balls attached to them to stabilize the thing. There was another outrigger affixed to the bow that cut the headwater so the water flowed around the ship.”
“Straight. A stone ship,” Redale said. “You can’t make a ship out of stone because stone won’t float. You can’t have a stone ship.”
“As surely as Cirrangill pulled me from the sea, I am telling you the truth of it! Those ships were made of stone. They were not making much headway; their sails did not seem to catch much wind. I would guess they were making one knot, maybe two at the most. We could have sailed circles around them. When we pulled within hailing range, we did not get any response. They did not respond to the signal flags either. The lookout said he saw a bunch of faceless people wearing what looked like clothing made out of round plates and capes topside on the deck. Have you ever heard of anything like that?”
“Can’t say that I have, but I’ll drink to it all the same!”
Breaking crockery followed by shouted curses cut through the ambient sound of rough voices filling the area. A dockworker had smashed his flagon upon the skull of an angry sailor. The sailor and his friends pushed back their chairs and upended their table. Three sailors stood facing a single dockworker. Other dockworkers were quick to move to the lone dockworkers defense. The bar seemed to be taking sides, dividing into three groups: sailors, dockworkers and everyone else.
Redale did not like the looks of things; fights like these had the tendency to spread until everyone inside the bar was involved, even if they did not want to be. Getting into a bar fight and arrested by the city guard was the last thing he wanted to do. If the guard arrested him again, there would be no telling when the Captain would let him off the ship. All he wanted was to get drunk, so he decided it was a good time to make an exit.
“Percy, let’s grab a couple bottles of rum each and head over to the sailor’s shrine,” Redale said. “We can drink in quiet there. Maybe the Death Rattler will find our drunken corpses in the morning!”
“I have a better idea. A new place just opened not far from here where we can catch a bath and drink at the same time. I have not been there yet, but some of my crew mates have. What do you say? Want to go?”
“I don’t need a bath,” Redale said. What a stupid idea. “I just want to drink until I can’t drink anymore.”
“Come on, It will be fun. And from what I hear, the servants are women and they are naked.”
“All right, I’ll go, but they better have something to drink and naked women,” Redale said. “Do you think we should grab a couple of bottles to take with us just in case?”
It was full night when Redale and Percy left the Groggy Pig. Darkness had descended upon the docks providing cover for those who sought to do business that went unnoticed by the local authorities. The air on the docks outside the Groggy Pig was less humid than the air inside the enclosed space. Percy managed to walk normally; he had been on land for a few days. But Redale had not yet gotten his land legs. To him, everything seemed to tilt and pitch from side to side, and the effect was not from all the grog he had been drinking. Percy had to help him walk in a straight line.
After walking for a while, Redale started to grow impatient. “Do you know where this bathhouse is or not? I’m tired of walking and I want a drink.”
“No, I don’t know exactly where it is, but we have to be close.”
“Damn it all to the watery depths,” Redale cursed. “I knew we should have taken those bottles to the sailor’s shrine. I would be groggy by now.”
“We haven’t been walking about long; it’s only been a mene or two,” Percy said. “Is that all you think about? Getting drunk?”
“Straight. When I’m on board ship I work. The only time I get to really drink is when I go ashore, and it’s been a long time since I was off ship,” Redale said. “So drinking is all I’m thinking about and it’s all I want to think about. Why don’t you just leave me alone and let me get groggy? Or did someone make it your mission in life to get in my way?”
“It’s not like that at all, I just wanted –”
“It doesn’t matter what you wanted. All that matters is I want to get groggy!”
The bathhouse was located not very far from the Pig, but the pairs stumbling path had taken them the long way around. It was a newly built large multilevel building. Several piles of burnt wood stacked in an alley beside the bathhouse made Redale think the bathhouse had replaced an older warehouse that had recently burned to the ground.
Large main doors stood open allowing light to spill out into a courtyard surrounding the entrance. Music, singing, and laughter filled the air. The scent of flowers and incense drifted from inside. The air in the courtyard was free of the taint of salt. Anywhere else on the docks, you could smell salty ocean air; inside the courtyard only the fresh scent of flowers, herbs and incense.
A few couples sat on stone benches in the courtyard talking or being intimate. A small fountain with flowing water sat in the center of the courtyard. Above the main entrance a light shone upon a statue of a naked woman, her most private parts covered with spring wheat. In her left hand, she held a short wooden staff. Cradled in her right arm she held an infant. Cascading water flowing over a rock facade behind the statue gathered into a pool at her feet.
Redale stood just outside of the courtyard looking into the bathhouse. He was still uncertain if he wanted to take a bath or if he just wanted to find another bar, but Percy convinced him to go in by dragging him across the courtyard.
Inside they found a large open space that took up half of the original warehouse. On the far side of the room was a white marble counter. Colorful paintings and tapestries hung on every wall. The floors were richly detailed marble and shimmered like translucent glass. Inset in the floor in the center of the room was an image of a woman posed just like the statue standing above the door. Behind the counter, to the left and right, curved polished red maple wood stairs led up to the second level. Padded wood benches lined the walls. To the left and right side of the room, openings lead deeper into the main level of the building. The passageway to the left was marked with the sign of healing. The passageway to the right was marked with a sheaf of spring wheat, the symbol of life.
People of all ages moved about the room. Some were going up the stairs and some were coming down them. More people moved through the openings that lead deeper into the bathhouse. At least seven couples were dancing in the center of the room while other couples sat on the benches. Everyone seemed to be happy or content, filling the air with peace and tranquility.
“Welcome gentlemen. Welcome to Dargon’s temple of Illiena,” said an attractive older woman standing behind the counter. Streaks of silver highlighted her waist-length dark hair that flowed over her shoulders and down the back of her sleeveless robe. A golden sash wrapped around her waist held her robe closed. “My name is Sharonala and I a priestess of Illiena. How may we serve you this fine evening?”
Percy pulled Redale closer to the counter so they could speak. Redale was not in a mood to talk, so Percy spoke first.
“My friend and I have come for a bath,” Percy said. “We need a long soak in hot water to cleanse the salt from my friend’s hair. He has been at sea for many days and he wants to be free of the taint of the sea.”
“I don’t want a bath, I want to see naked women,” Redale said. “You do have naked women here don’t you? And rum, Percy said you would have rum. I want rum.”
“My friend has had a wee bit too much to drink,” Percy said. “He means no harm.”
“If I can still see you and hear your arrogant voice, I haven’t had enough to drink yet,” Redale said.
“We have drinks and we do indeed have naked women or naked men if that is what you prefer. If you would like one to bathe you while you soak, all you have to do is ask,” Sharonala said.
“Yes, I think we would like that,” Percy said.
“I’m not paying for your bath, either,” Redale said. “You can pay for your own. And I see enough naked men while I am at sea, so I don’t need to see any now, if you know what I mean.”
“So you would like a private bath then,” Sharonala said. “Not a communal one?”
“Yes, just my friend Percy here, me and two beautiful naked ladies to bathe us,” Redale said. “And rum, don’t forget the rum.”
Sharonala picked up a tiny crystal bell from behind the counter and rang it four times. A mene later two young women descended the stairs to the left. Both girls wore the same sleeveless white robes Sharonala wore but they used a silver sash tied around their waist instead of gold to hold them closed. A silver loop held their long hair pulled back behind their heads. One of the girls had light brown hair and a fair complexion; the other had hair so black it appeared to be blue and dark skin. The girl with brown hair walked up to Redale, the other walked over to Percy and they put their arms around the two men.
“This is Latera and Berae. They are acolytes of Illiena,” Sharonala said. Latera was the fair complected one, while Berae was the dark, mysterious one. “They will happily see to your needs, all of your needs. And may the Blessing of the Goddess Illiena go with you.”
The girls lead the men across the marble floor toward the opening with the symbol of fertility on it.
“What’s that way?” Redale pointed toward the passageway with the symbol of life on it.
“That is the way to the healers,” Latera said. “We help anyone who comes to us. We use the magic of nature and herbs to heal. And if someone has reached the end of their days, we help them depart this life in peace.”
“What’s upstairs,” Percy asked?
“Private chambers, offices, our living quarters and sanctuaries,” Berae said. “Places where people who want to be alone can enjoy their time together.”
The girls lead them into a long hallway that ran half of the length of the building. Openings to either side led to private chambers. At the far end of the hallway was the communal bathing area.
The soft sound of running water came from the individual rooms that had open curtains. The curtains were thick enough to block off most, but not all of the sound from inside the room when closed.
“Here we are,” Latera said. “This is your chamber.”
Inside the chamber was a large four-foot tall stone basin, several tables, a padded bench, chairs and a door on the rear wall. The padded bench was large enough to sleep on. Stairs led up both sides of the basin to allow access. Steam gently rose from the water inside the basin. One table held towels and white robes; another table held bottles filled with various oils and perfumes. The stone basins were large enough for several people to bathe in at the same time. Redale noticed the wooden floor under the basin. Heavy reinforcement provided extra support for the weight of stone and water.
“Off with these nasty clothes,” Latera said.
“We will have them washed while you bathe,” Berae said.
“Where is my rum?” The edge from all the grog Redale had already consumed was wearing off. “You can take my clothes and burn them if you want, just bring me some rum!”
After undressing Redale and Percy, Latera and Berae removed their robes without showing any timidity while they worked. The girls each led their male partner up the stairs and into the tub. A three-inch thick layer of rounded porous stones covered the bottom of the basins, allowing the dirty water to drain from the basins. This kept the water in the basin as clear as possible. Fresh hot water entered the tub from a copper tube with tiny holes encircling the top of the basin.
Two more acolytes entered the room from the door in the rear. Both were female as per Redale’s request. Both wore the sleeveless white robes of the order, but these wore a green sash to hold the robes closed. One of the acolytes set a platter holding two glasses and two bottles of rum on it down on a table. The other picked up the befouled clothing and left the room.
“Blessing to you in the name of the Goddess Illiena,” the newest acolyte said. “My name is Loran. I have brought you the rum you requested.” She opened one of the bottles, filled the glasses and then brought them to the men.
“Finally, the rum is here.” Redale took the glass and drank the first half in a single drink. His face turned a slight shade of red and his eyes started to water. “Ah, the good stuff.”
“I don’t think you know what the good stuff is,” Percy said. “Hand me that bottle.”
Loran handed Percy the bottle for him to examine. Percy read the label and whistled. “You’re right. This is fifteen-year-old imported Pyridain rum. This is the good stuff.”
“Straight. I told you so,” Redale said. “I know my rum.”
“Yes, I guess you do at that,” Percy said.
Latera and Berae used course sponges to wash Redale and Percy. The sponges were rough, scraping the skin to remove all of the dried salt and old dead skin, but not enough to be irritating. The water in the basin was hot, but not too hot. Everything about the bath was perfect. To remove the salt from Redale’s hair they used a soft floral-scented soap. While they washed the men, the acolytes sang very softly in harmony with each other. Latera sang the high notes, while Berae voice was very surprisingly deep. Their voices intertwined and wove an almost hypnotic effect on the men.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s been bothering you,” Percy said. “I can tell something is eating at you and I want to make it straight.”
“Nothing’s bothering me,” Redale said. “I just want to get drunk and forget everything. I don’t know when we will be putting out to sea again.”
“Just the fact that you want to forget everything tells me that there is something bothering you and you just don’t want to share it with me. You might as well go ahead, because I’m not going to stop until you do.”
“So you’ve turned into a Stevenic priest now?”
Redale took another big drink from his glass and then held it out for a refill. Loran filled Redale’s glass and then returned to stand behind the table where she appeared to be chanting a silent prayer.
“Percy, you’re worse than bilge slime. No, not bilge slime; you’re worse than a Monrodyan gong eater. You never know when to leave things alone.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Percy said. He tipped his glass toward Redale. “Anything I can do to help.”
“If I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone. Especially my cousin.”
“Whatever you did, it can’t be that bad.”
“Straight,” Redale said. “First off, I have to tell you that I do not actually remember what happened. I only know what the guard and captain Tennant told me. Not that I’m saying the Captain would lie to me.”
“I don’t think Captain Tennant would lie to you, but the city guard would,” Percy said. “That I know for a fact.”
“It seems while I was ashore at the port of Miass, I got a wee bit too drunk. But when you’ve been at sea for over a few sennights, drinking is about the only thing a man’s got to look forward to. Well, drinking and whoring.
“So, like I said, I don’t remember anything, but the local guard said I ended up running through the market place naked. I’m sure most ports of call are used to having sailors running through town naked at one time or another, that can’t be anything new. But it just so happened that the daughter of the local regent happened to be out shopping with her mother and several of her noble friends.
“Now, that’s just my luck, wouldn’t you know it. Neither the mother, nor the daughter found it very amusing when I ran up to the cart they were standing at and starting singing a bawdy bar song and shaking my man package at them.
“Their personal guard beat the gong out of me and turned me over to the city watch. The watch tossed my naked ass into the brig. The Captain left me in the brig the entire time the Lion was in port. When he got me out he had to pay a hefty fine for me.”
“Now that’s funny,” Percy said.
“Go ahead and laugh you smelly butt crust. It may be funny to you, but I didn’t think so,” Redale said. “And neither did Captain Tennant. I had to work off the fine before he would let me go ashore again. This is our first port of call since I paid him back. That means I have not been able to get drunk for a long time!”
“I can see how that could be a big problem,” Percy said. “Did you get the shakes?”
“Not only the shakes, but I had the visions too. And they were bad,” Redale said. “At one point they had to tie me to my bunk to prevent me from jumping overboard. I kept seeing things in the water that called my name.”
“That’s why Captains usually keep grog aboard their ships,” Percy said. “To prevent things like that from affect their sailors. Give them enough grog to get them over the worse part.”
“Ah, that was the problem. Captain’s Tennant’s grog was so weak-assed it did nothing to help.”
“I’ve told you before you need to watch your drinking,” Percy said. “You know what a sailor’s life is like. You work hard while you’re at sea and then when you hit port, you blow all your money on wine, women and song.”
“Argh! It’s a sailor’s life for me,” Redale said holding his glass up to toast with Percy.
“And how many sailors end up dead before they get back to their ships? You need to think about the future. I used to be just like you, but I managed to get my drinking under control and you can too.”
“Oh, piss off. If I wanted a damned sermon, I could probably ask one of these nice young ladies to give me one. But what I want is to get drunk and forget about everything, including you!”
“I think you’re trying to hurt my feelings,” Percy said. “But I just consider the source. You’re just a bitter old drunk who has nothing to look forward too other than where your next bottle is going to come from.”
“Hear, hear!” Redale finished his glass and held it out for more. “Here’s to the next bottle. If I finish my bottle first, I’ll start on yours.”
Loran filled Redale’s glass. Percy just shook his head.
“Redale, do you want to hear how Cirrangill saved me from the sea and gave me his mark?”
“No, I do not. That’s not the mark of the Sea God, it’s just an ordinary tattoo and you probably got drunk in some run-down port and don’t even remember how you got it.”
“Oh, I remember how I got it. And yes, you are interested in how; you just don’t realize it yet.”
“I know what I know, and I know I don’t want to listen to you anymore.”
“I would like to hear your tale,” Berae said.
“Me too,” Latera said.
“And I,” Loran said.
“You seem to be outvoted Redale. My tale it will be.”
“Latera, please just drown me now,” Redale said. “If not that, then Loran, please keep my glass full because I think this is going to be a long one.”
Percy took a sip from his glass of rum. He was drinking slowly compared to Redale. Redale was well over half way through a bottle. Percy paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, and then he began his story.
“About nine months ago I was stationed on a small frigate named the ‘Wind of Dargon’ and we were on patrol out in the deep sea. The wind and sea were rough that day, but not bad enough to furl the sails. We were sailing west and because the wind was a headwind coming from the west most of the day with gust from the north, we had to tack to the west.
“The sun had just crossed past mid-afternoon when there was a call from the crow’s nest. The lookout cried out, ‘Ship ahoy’. He had spotted a ship to the north, but he lost sight it amidst the rough waves. A few minutes later, the lookout saw it again. There was a ship to the north of us.
“The captain ordered us to heave to and bring our bearing to north, but at the exact same time the wind shifted full to the north and the waves turned to a head sea. It was almost as if the sea did not want us to close on that ship.
“Before we had left port, some of us had heard rumors of pirates flying red pennants raiding merchant ships in the area. I guess Captain Tolworth wanted to check out the ship in case she was a pirate. If she was a pirate, we could take her and get the gold bounty.
“We sailed north against the wind and sea for about a bell, slowly getting closer to the ship. The bow lookout was the first to notice using their watch glasses. This time, the lookout did not shout, he screamed as loud as he could.
“‘Harbinger,’ he screamed. ‘The ship is a ghost ship!’”
“What’s a har, ah, harbinger,” Berae asked? Her voice was almost a whisper in Percy’s ear, low and sultry.
“A harbinger is a forerunner, an evil omen,” Percy said. “It foreshadows things to come, usually evil things. Many sailors fear them, others don’t believe they exist.”
“That ship was not a pirate ship. It was sitting dead still in the water, riding against the waves. The sails were ratted and torn and would never catch a wind again. The masts were cracked, rotted and decayed, but they did not appear to be broken. Barnacles covered the rotted hull. Seaweed festooned the entire ship as if it had arisen from the depths of the sea.
“Before we could come about, the sky started to darken from full day to as black as night in an instant. Dark black clouds rolled in from the north, moving from behind the harbinger, and they rolled in fast. The way the clouds moved was not natural. I’ve been a sailor for many years now and it was one of the scariest things I have ever seen.”
“Harbingers my ass,” Redale said. “I’ve been at sea longer than you have, and I ain’t never seen nothing like that.”
“Just because you haven’t seen one, doesn’t mean they’re not real. I swear by the lips of the Sea God it’s true,” Percy said. “But there’s more. When the clouds rolled in, they brought cross winds and lightning with them. The winds started whipped from all directions at the same time. We were windbound and could not make any headway. The jibs and mast were swinging about wildly and the water beneath the ship started to swirl like a whirlpool. Lightning struck the main mast several times.”
Redale was starting to feel the effects of the rum. He was having trouble concentrating on Percy’s story. But Percy’s tale had enraptured Berae, Latera and Loran. They were listening to Percy’s words so intently they were no longer bathing the men. Percy’s voice and running water were the only sounds in the chamber.
“So there I was upon the main deck. I had not made lead seaman yet, so I was working with the other deck hands to get the sails furled before the winds tore them loose. The wind whipped so hard from random directions it caused the yardarm to swung free and hit me in the stomach. The yardarm picked me up and shifted hard to port just as the ship listed hard to starboard. I tried to hold on, and I think I managed it for a few breaths. Then I was flying through the air and into the sea.”
“No,” Berae gasped.
“Yes,” Percy said. “I went overboard into the sea! I was as good as dead and I doubt any of the crew realized I was gone until much later. Even if they had known, I don’t think there was anything they could do to help me. The sea was just too rough.”
“What happened next,” Latera asked. “Did you drown?”
“Of course he didn’t drown,” Berae said. “If he’d drowned, how could he be here?”
“Oh, but you’re wrong, my sweet thing,” Percy said. “I did drown. I died there, under the sea.”
“You’re so full of gong,” Redale said. His words were starting to sound slurred.
“Are you going to let me finish my story before you start judging it?” Percy lifted his glass to his lips to take a sip of rum, but his glass was empty. Loran moved to the side of the tub to refill his glass.
“Straight,” Redale said. He drained the rest of the rum from his glass and held it up for a refill too.
“I went under for the first time. I admit that I was scared, because the ship was pulling away from me in the rough waters,” Percy said. “Or, it could have been I was pulling away from the ship. Anyway, just then, a huge wave washed over the ship, almost causing it to capsize. The wave came toward me and I felt myself being drawn down by the draft and then hurled up, high into the wave as it crested over the top of me.”
When Percy said ‘hurled high into the wave’, he quickly brought both of his arms up from under water and splashed everyone to emphasize his story. Berae and Latera gasped with excitement. Redale was so impressed he took another drink of rum.
“The wave drew me down to the depths of the sea. I’ll bet I was carried under farther than anyone has ever been before. I was so deep under water that I felt the icy cold heart of the sea beating.
“But I made it back to the surface yet again. My lungs were burning; they felt as if they were on fire. My movements were slow, my body would not respond. I was not going to give up; I was not going to die alone at sea!”
Percy lapsed into silence for a moment, as if he were trying to decide what to say next. Being an expert storyteller, he know just how long to remain silent to build suspense.
“Then I went under for the third time,” Percy said, his voice trailing off. “All my strength was gone and I could not fight the pull of the waves any longer. I felt the water seep into me and could not hold my breath. My lungs burned as water filled them and dread filled my mind. The water took me and I plunged into its dark depths.”
Water filling the basin was the only sound in the room. Percy sat in with his head down, his hair covering his face, dangling in the water.
“I guess next you’re going to tell us you woke up and were in the arms of a beautiful mermaid.” Redale said.
“No. The mermaid comes later. Quit trying to ruin my story.”
Redale held up his glass in a toast toward Percy, as if to say, ‘Go Ahead’ and then took a long drink from it. “I hope be so drunk by then I won’t remember what your story was. I’m well on the way now!”
Percy continued his story.
“I had drowned at sea. Don’t ask me how, but I knew I was dead,” Percy said. “I mean, dead people don’t know things like the fact that they are dead. Do they? I knew I was not dreaming. The pain of dying faded and after the pain was gone, I felt heavy; like I was waterlogged. I was not breathing, my chest was not moving and my lungs were full of water.
“I drifted with the waves for what seemed like an eternity. It was dark, cold and wet. I could not see anything, I could not hear anything; there was only water and the taste of salt.
“Finally the water around me started to grow lighter. I was floating closer to the surface. I had lost all sense of time. I did not know if it had been menes or bells since I had gone overboard.
“Eventually, the current carried me under the keel of a ship. I was so close I scraped along its rough, barnacle-covered hull. When I passed under the stern of the ship, I think I surfaced. The next few events seem unreal, well, more unreal that those that had already transpired.
“Someone on-board the ship used a gaff to pull me in, like I was a piece of drift wood or a dead fish. Once I was on deck, I heard wind, like you hear when you put a sea shell up to you ear. It echoed all around me. I also heard water lapping at the hull of the ship. From afar, something creaked, like a mast settling against the wind.
“I opened my eyes. I’m not sure how, but I could still see. I was lying face down on the deck of the harbinger. No matter how hard I tried, I could not move any part of my body. It seemed the only thing I could do was open my eyes.
“From my vantage point lying on the deck, I saw seaweed and slime covered almost everything. The masts were cracked and the sails in tatters. The wheelhouse was rotten and worm ridden, as were all the railings and fittings. This ship must have been old, if not ancient. And from what I could see, it had to be cursed to boot!”
“So, let me get this straight,” Redale said. “You’re dead, lying on the deck of a cursed ship and you can’t move, but you can see everything around you?”
“That’s straight, or as straight as I can tell it.” Percy said. “It may sound fantastic, it may sound like I’m mad, but that’s the truth of it.”
Redale was having trouble deciding if he believed Percy or not. The effect of the rum clouded his mind. Redale knew there were strange things in world. Wizards who could do almost anything using their magic, but still, being dead and not dead at the same time? He had to admit Percy’s story was interesting, even if he didn’t believe a word of it. As far as Redale knew, Percy was honest and a good sailor. But this story, harbinger, magical winds and waves, well, it was just a little bit too odd.
“Illiena, the giver of life must have blessed you and brought you back to us,” Berae said.
“I will never get finished if everyone keeps interrupting me,” Percy said. “There’s not much more to go, if you will let me finish.”
“You could just stop right here, I wouldn’t mind. I’m just about where I want to be, if you know what I mean.” Redale said. “But go ahead; the girl’s might want to hear you finish your fish tale.”
“Do you want me to finish?” Percy looked first at Berae, then Latera and finally Loran. Each girl shook her head in agreement. They wanted to hear the end of the tale.
“Very well, provided there are not more interruptions, I’ll continue,” Percy said.
“There I was, lying on the deck looking over the ship. A short distance away from me I noticed there were two children, just standing there. I say they were children, but I don’t think they were actual children. One was a boy; the other was a girl. Their eyes glowed with the sea green colored light of the sea, pulsing with the rhythm of the heartbeat I had felt when I had been in its depths. They wore turquoise clothing adorned with iridescent seashells. Their hair was long, black and matted with seaweed. Their skin was white and they were thin as bone.
“When they looked at me, I felt the power behind their cold eyes. They were not just looking at me; they looked deep inside me, looking at my inner self. When they spoke, their lips did not move, I heard their words in my mind.
“‘Land dweller, why are you so far at sea?’ When he spoke, I saw an image in my mind of a shark closing in to attack. ‘Why have you come to us? Have you come to play?’
“‘No one comes to us.’ The girl’s voice brought to mind a school of fish, swimming in mass and changing direction at an instants notice. ‘We are alone.’
“‘Would you stay with us, or would you return to your home?’ The boy turned to look at the girl.
“I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak or move. All I could so was lay there while they talked about me.
“‘He wants to go home. I can see it in him. He would not stay with us.’
“‘If he will not stay with us, then cast him back into the sea,’ the boy said.
“‘Into the sea,’ the girl echoed.
“After that, I don’t remember anything until I woke up on an island. I was lying above the tide line on a sandy shore. Sitting some distance away in the surf watching me was a child of the sea. She had deep blue skin and her fingers ended in black talons. Dark blue iridescent scales covered her upper body. She had webbed hands and feet. Her hair was green. When I moved she did too, keeping some distance between us. I don’t think she trusted me.
“Nearby I found several coconut shells filled with fresh water and a few fresh fish. I drank the water quickly. I was very thirsty.
“‘Did you save me?’ What else could I say? ‘If so, how can I show my gratitude?’
“‘I heard the mark of the Sea God calling to me,’ she said. Her voice sounded strained, as if she were having a hard time talking. ‘I had to rescue you. I cannot stay long; I must catch up with my ship.’
“Ship, I thought to myself. What would a child of the sea need with a ship? That question is a mystery I still ponder today. I may never know.”
“‘This island is on a trade route,’ she said. ‘A ship should sail by within a day or two and take you back to port. Fresh water and food are abundant, so you should have no problem.’
“‘You’re not just going to leave me here, are you,’ I asked? ‘I owe you my life.’
“‘No, you owe your life to Cirrangill,’ she said.
“‘At least tell me your name!’
“‘Danae,’ she said as she slipped into the sea.
“Just as she said, I found food and water easily enough. I built a big bonfire on the shore and kept it loaded down with wet branches so it would smoke. Two days later a trader saw my bonfire and rescued me,” Percy said. “And I swear by all that the Sea God holds holy that everything I have said is true.”
“I know a girl named Danae.” Redale started to say, but he never got the words out. His head slumped back against the rim of the tub as he passed out.
Redale woke several times during the trip back to the Friendly Lion. Once he was in a rickshaw, moving along the docks. Once while Percy asked a guard which dock the Friendly Lion was moored at, and again just as they reached the Lion.
“Request permission to come aboard and return one of your crew,” Redale heard Percy say. They were standing at the gangplank of the Friendly Lion.
“Permission granted,” a woman said. Redale knew who the woman was; he was just too drunk to recall her name. “Drop him on deck and we will take him from there.”
Redale felt Percy drop him onto the deck with a meaty thud. He lay there, unable to move but able to hear. To him, the evening had been a success. He was drunk.
“That’s twice I have met that man,” Redale heard Danae say after Percy had left the ship. “Damn it. Why would I meet someone marked by Cirrangill twice? Once is too many.”
To Redale, nothing matter. He passed out there on the deck.
“Wake up!” In one hand, Kodo held an old metal pan and in the other a pig-iron mallet. Striking the pan with the mallet was making enough noise to wake the corpses the Death Rattler had found the previous evening. “Wake up! Off-load in twenty menes. Grab some grub and get ready.”
Redale woke with a hangover. He grunted, sat up and discovered he was lying on the deck beneath his hammock. Whoever had brought him below had just dumped him there to sleep it off. He still wore the clothes he had on last night. Even though his head was pounding, he felt good. The second thing he noticed was the smell. Instead of stinking, as he rightfully should have, he smelled like a scented whore. The third thing was his clothing. They were clean! He had been wearing the same pair of pants for the last sennight and the tunic for at least four days. He could not recall how this miracle happened. Even his boots were polished. The last thing he remembered was walking around town with an old friend named Percy.
“Don’t we smell sweet?” Kodo leaned in close to Redale and shouted. “Did you get lucky last night? You sure smell like you did. At least you managed to stay out of the brig this time.”
“Why are you shouting at me,” Redale mumbled. “Can’t you talk without yelling? My head hurts.”
“Aye, I could do that,” Kodo said. “But that wouldn’t be much fun would it?”
“You’re just evil,” Redale said. “And mean to boot.”
“Aye, I might be,” Kodo said. “But that’s what it takes to keep you dogs in line. Now, get your ass out from underneath the damn hammock, get some grub and go topside!”
Kodo continued his rounds, waking the sleeping crew members and getting them ready for the day’s activities. Once he was alone, Redale checked his pocket for his money pouch. He had at least half of his pay left. It should have been all gone. He stashed it in his secret hidey-hole by his hammock to keep it safe.
Redale smiled. If he could get permission to go into town tonight, he could get drunk again! Now, he had something to look forward to all day long.