Eevin dunked his hand into the dirty water sloshing within the leather bucket beside him. Removing the worn bristle brush from the bucket with a splash of filthy droplets, he quickly leaned forward on his hands and knees to scrub the stone step. His weary eyes sought out every inch of dirt and tar left by a mariner’s boot upon the expansive stairs of the trading court of Maduc, assaulting them with his brush.
A fat man sat nearly bursting the lace holding his jerkin closed over a stained and russet colored tunic. Perched on the granite stairs several steps above the barefoot child working feverishly in ragged clothes below him, he bit the head off of the dried herring in his hand.
“I can’t believe what a lazy, worthless little rut you are, Eevin! Look at this!”
Several coveting seagulls nearby peered at the dried fish he shook at the boy. Eevin doubled his efforts at the scolding, scouring the steps with all the strength his red, calloused hands and eight years of age could afford him. “I’m sorry Marn Tafod! I’ll work harder!”
“We’ve been here since dawn and the morning’s almost over! You ain’t even half done yet!” The bald man yelled spitting bits of fish that the gulls watched fall with hungry gazes. His flabby chin jiggled snapping another bite off the herring, and then Tafod spoke with a mouth full of food. “You’ve already lost yourself any meal today, lad! If your orphaned bones can’t finish the job by noon, half my pay is forfeit and you’ll earn a beating!”
The child in threadbare black breeches and a yellowed linen shirt didn’t look up as he moved his brush even faster. “Me hands will make the courthouse steps shine, Marn Tafod! I promise!”
“They had better!” Tafod grumbled before snapping off another cheekful of fish. The fat man shifted where he sat on the stairs chewing the salty, dry herring before lifting his gaze off the boy to look down the uneven hillsides of Eastport Maduc.
It was an overcast, balmy day above the hilly bands of shanty houses and brick and timber dwellings that comprised the town beyond its busy piers. Winding its way up from the dockyard wharves, a promenade of calico cobblestones ended at the steps of the trading court that Eevin furiously scrubbed. With midday approaching, the thoroughfare was bustling with passing groups of sailors and whores, laborers and merchants.
Tafod scratched the stubble of his blubbery neck while he gnawed on the last bony mouthful of herring halfway up the stairs. Watching his movements intently, the seagulls yearned for the morsel he ground upon with rotten teeth before he swallowed. Wiping spittle on his sleeve, he spied the white sails of a square rigged Yaleish barque making a wide turn around the half sunken wreck of Kora’s Blessing in the harbor. The ship slowly slid past the rotten galleon and the rocks she had rested on for a dozen years.
Picking his teeth with a grimy thumbnail, Tafod looked back at Eevin diligently brushing the last bit of dirt from a now immaculately clean step of granite. The man flicked his finger and sent a bony lump of fish and spit rolling onto the stone step under the boy’s nose with a snicker.
Eevin stopped his work for the first time in hours, looking up at the grinning Tafod with his exhausted mismatched eyes of blue and green. He raised a fist at the child and Eevin lowered his gaze back to the stairs at the threat. Before the boy could swipe it away, a gull flew past his nose in a rush of white and grey feathers to gobble down the morsel and save him the trouble.
“Thank you, bird…” Eevin sighed watching the bird fly away with a shrill cry and wishing he could take wing with him.
“Get back to work!” Tafod shouted with a snarl.
The fat man settled back onto his perch on the steps watching Eevin lift the bucket onto the next slab of granite. The child had just started a new round of vigorous scrubbing when the distinctive tap of armored footsteps descending the stone stairs reached Tafod’s waxy ears, approaching from behind.
His bald head turned to see a group of four men making their way to where he corpulently lounged. In the lead was a man armored in plate, his face covered by a sallet helm and visor. He was flanked by a pair of men that were obviously sailors. One was old, beady-eyed and in a striped shirt. The other was a bullish young man with a neckbeard and girth that matched Tafod’s own. Behind those three was a figure unseen except for the bobbing black top of a tricorne hat.
Tafod rose with a gulp as he faced the quartet coming to a stop above him. “H-how can I help you fine men?’
The sailors gave him hard looks but said nothing, and the tall armored man stopped and stood coldly silent before Tafod. Finally, the crisp aristocratic voice of a man spoke from underneath the tricorne.
“You are Marn Tafod, are you not?”
“Aye, that I am… H-how may I help you, good sirs?”
“Hollomon, would you kindly let me pass?” The voice in the rear said before the armored figure stepped aside to reveal a young man in a red leather longcoat underneath the black hat. He leaned forward, a smile on the lips of his clean-shaven face, before a stride from his knee-high boots brought him face to face with Tafod’s wary expression.
His eyes were the color of amber as he brushed back the singular braid that bound back his long blond hair. “Is that the boy the orphanage lent you for the month?” He pointed at Eevin, unfurling an arm that had been crossed behind him. The boy remained scouring away several steps below.
“Aye, it is,” Tafod cautiously nodded, “… for a sum o’ six silver pennies.”
The smile on the unblemished face of the man in the tricorne became more pronounced. “Very good, Marn Tafod. I will be taking custody of the child from here.”
Eevin stopped scrubbing the stone slab at his knees and looked up at the men opposite of Tafod wide-eyed.
Tafod’s eyes darted between the young man and the child. “Uh, you’re what?! Who are —”
“—I am Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of Gwern.”
Tafod backed away, turning pale before he slipped down the step behind him. “Y-your Lordship! I beg your pardon…I was unaware…”
The young Lord-Captain waved away Tafod’s awkward apology then reached into an inner pocket of his longcoat. “No offence taken. I have procured the child’s guardianship through reasonable and legal means as you can see.”
The aristocrat produced an officially signed and stamped parchment from his coat and held it up to Tafod’s illiterate eyes. He quickly stuffed the document back into his pocket as Tafod stammered unintelligible words. The young man’s hand returned from the inner lining of his coat clutching a tight palmful of copper and silver pennies which he threw down at Tafod’s feet.
“For your trouble and cooperation,” the Lord-Captain smiled as he watched the fat man drop to his knees and scramble like a dog to collect all the coins.
“Your Lordship is very kind! Very kind indeed!”
As Tafod stuffed the pennies into the flaccid purse on his belt, the nobleman turned and nodded to the bearded sailor. “Seaman Twitch will escort you to take care of some, formalities and statements. We would attend to them here, but my haste requires that I outfit my new cabin boy properly before we set sail for Gwern on the afternoon’s tide…”
“O’ course Your Lordship,” Tafod said eyeing Eevin as the boy stood up straight for the first time all morning. The child chucked the brush into the bucket with a splash as Seaman Twitch put an arm around the fat man’s shoulder and led him down the stairs.
“You’re still a miserable whore’s mistake,” Tafod murmured with a wink to Eevin as he walked past counting his coins.
The boy turned and watched his former master exit down the stairs until he noticed Seaman Twitch look back to his Lord-Captain outside of Tafod’s smug gaze. The neckbearded man gave a wink of his own, one that convulsed for a second into a distorted squint. The sailor then turned back and disappeared with his charge onto the bustling thoroughfare.
“Well, my lad!” Lord-Captain Anise boomed over Eevin causing the child to spin around on his bare heels to face him. “Let’s get a good look at the latest addition to my crew and household!”
The aristocrat squatted down and the tail of his red leather longcoat gathered on the steps before Eevin stuck out a dirty, wet palm. “Pleased to meet you!”
“Such manners,” the young Lord-Captain said clasping the boy’s hand and shaking it while his free hand ruffled Eevin’s dirty brown hair. He then broke the handshake and pointed with splayed fingers to the child’s mismatched irises. “And such unusual eyes…”
The sailor in the striped shirt next to the motionless armored figure nodded in agreement. “Aye, Lord-Captain, those be a Bryne’s eyes for sure.”
Lord-Captain Anise rose up from his haunches and frowned with irritation as he discovered the grime left on his hands from the boys palm and hair. He wiped them clean on the brown breeches above his boots before grabbing at the short leather cylinder that was on his belt.
“An excellent observation, Boatswain,” he said removing a roll of aged vellum from the map case. “I am eager to start this venture! Hollomon, would you kindly hold the boy’s arm?”
The cold steel of Hollomon’s gauntlet grabbed Eevin’s arm before the child could react with a tug and yelp.
“Now, now lad,” the blond young man scolded at the boy’s cry while he unrolled the vellum. “Let us not spoil our good start, shall we? Struggle will only make it worse.”
“What… what are you going to do?” Eevin said lowering his voice and watching the tall armored man lift his arm by the wrist.
The nobleman smiled with teeth as white a pearls. “I am going to reunite you with your father… a grand and gracious thing for me to do, is it not?”
“Me father? Everyone says he was eaten by sharks!”
The Lord-Captain stretched the vellum flat between his hands. “You had best hope that is not the case, for your sake.” He then turned and nodded to the Boatswain who unsheathed the rigging knife on his belt.
Eevin struggled against Hollomon’s grip, but couldn’t budge his hand as he felt the sting of the beady-eyed Boatswain’s knife cutting a deep nick into his palm between the thumb and forefinger. The boy bit his lip, containing his desire to cry out as the rough grip of the sailor removed his blade and pressed Eevin’s bleeding hand onto the blank sheet of old calf-skin the Lord-Captain held beneath it.
The young man watched the growing blot of the child’s blood spread over the vellum. “There. That is enough Boatswain, give this stoic lad something to staunch his wound.”
The stripe-shirted seaman guided Eevin’s hand away while Hollomon still held his wrist tightly. The aristocrat remained transfixed on the bloody smear on the aged brown sheet, as was Eevin while the Boatswain wrapped a rag around his wound.
“Show me his father,” the Lord-Captain commanded of the vellum.
At first nothing happened as the Boatswain finished binding Eevin’s palm with an expert knot and the boy watched the sanguine stain. Then his blood on the page began to squirm and worm about.
“Oh yes,” the Lord-Captain smirked, “the old pirate is still alive…”
Eevin forced himself to continue looking as he felt a cold chill and a racing heart in his chest. His blood on the vellum ebbed and flowed, etching a map in red as if it were drawn by a dozen invisible quills spreading out in as many directions.
“… Sorcery and Demon Princes!” the child exclaimed in hushed shock as the self-drawing map completed its task with a large ‘X’ just off the edge of a coastline.
Lord Anise contentedly held the map aloft to inspect it, removing the illustrated side from Eevin’s sight. “It is most certainly the former, Lad. The latter may be true as well…”
“Well, damn my eyes!” the Boatswain said looking over his Lord-Captain’s shoulder and then up and out over the sprawling town before them.
The Lord-Captain lowered the map, then joined the Boatswain in glancing up from it several times while sighting landmarks. His eyes finally came to rest on the wreck of Kora’s Blessing rotting in the harbor before letting out a triumphant, nasally laugh. “I was certain that we would be sailing halfway to Ozmana and back! But this! This is truly a gift of Fate!”
Eevin’s unease intensified as the young nobleman hastily rolled up the map and slid it back into the case on his belt. Then Hollomon stiffly followed the Lord-Captain as he and the Boatswain made their way down the stairs. Eevin scrambled on tip-toes as he was dragged along by the iron strength locked around his wrist.
“Do keep up, Lad… And do not speak unless spoken to,” the Lord-Captain warned as they stepped onto the calico cobblestones of the promenade. “Hollomon is just a word away from snapping your arm, or your neck, if you are difficult.”
The boy nodded and hurried along the side of the armored man leading him in his bare feet.
Lord-Captain Anise then turned to his Boatswain. “Collect Twitch and help him wrap-up any loose ends. Then the pair of you will collect a dory from the Storm-Eagle and meet Hollomon and I at the old Ozmanan pier… No one else will be on that pile of rot-wood.”
Chapter Two: The Brume
The dilapidated Ozmanan pier hadn’t seen a proper ship, or a moment’s repair, since before Eevin was born. Although the occasional midnight smuggler might have drawn a dock beside it, mostly it was a roost for the flocks of seagulls whose excrement had stained its poles and planking a splotchy white. Now those same birds gave raucous calls both on and above the rotten pier while Eevin stood sandwiched between the Lord-Captain and the silent Hollomon.
There was a wet splat and metallic ding on the armored man’s shoulder as another gull flew past and strafed him with runny feces. Eevin looked up and gave an annoyed look to Hollomon, who continued standing like a statue with no reaction whatsoever. The steel grip of his gauntlet around the boy’s wrist hadn’t slacked in the two hours since grabbing him. Cocking his head to the right, Eevin saw Lord-Captain Anise, unstained by excrement, fanning himself with his tricorne. He stood watching Twitch and the Boatswain row the dory towards the dock after spying them a thousand yards away.
“Well, it is about time,” the young aristocrat said sliding the hat back over his towhead locks. He then dipped a hand underneath the breast of his longcoat and searched for an inner pocket.
Eevin coughed, then looked up at the Lord-Captain. “Permission to speak, Your Lordship.”
“Granted,” the nobleman said pulling a clear vial containing green fluid out of his coat.
“Are you hunting me pappy for revenge, or for his treasure?”
The young man glanced away from the vial in his hand. “I hunt him for both, and as a matter of honor.”
“Either reason makes sense, Your Lordship, but why both?”
The Lord-Captain scowled. “Because your black-hearted sire gained his treasure over the slain body of Lord-Admiral Anise on the eve of my thirteenth winter! My family has had to bear that dishonor since about the time you were born.”
“I see,” Eevin said looking down into the lapping water below the old pier, “Me pappy killed your pappy like he did so many others. I’m sorry.”
The young man looked back to the vial he held, then yanked out its cork stopper with a pop. “I will confess that I hardly knew my father, and I do not recollect displaying any such weakness as crying upon his death. My life at your age was all books and wizards, Lad… Until I graduated from my apprenticeship and came of age to claim my title last year, it had remained that way.”
The Lord-Captain narrowed his eyes on the uncorked container, then ran a finger down its side bearing a look of concentration. Eevin heard half-spoken whispers of arcana from the aristocrat as he watched the green contents within the vial begin to softly bubble and spew-forth a thick white mist that cascaded down to the seawater under their feet. The gulls that had remained gawking and wobbling about on the pier shrieked at the sight and sudden presence of the unnatural. Taking flight in a swarm of ruffled grey feathers they retreated from the filthy planking amid a cacophonous, squawking chorus.
The mist continued to spread across shallow waves as the Lord Captain spoke again. “It is the stain of dishonor that my father left on my family name that I wish to wash away. Should I reclaim the Ozmanan treasure hoard he lost to such unworthy scum as your whoring sire, I will surely regain the King’s good graces upon my house. From there, restoring my blood-right to be the Grand Chamberlain of the Albine Fleet will only be a matter of time.”
Eevin stared at the sea as it churned and frothed an ever thickening fog amid the lapping waves. He squirmed against Hollomon’s unmoving grip to escape the unnatural fog that was rising past his knees and quickly spilling out to fill the harbor. “Y-you’re mage-touched!?”
“I am indeed, just as my father was before me,” Lord-Captain Anise said waving his hand to part a bubble free of brume out of the vapors before him.
Within the growing bubble, a formless cloud drifted at the center. With series of pointed gestures, the Lord-Captain sculpted the milky mist into a skull-like simulacrum before beckoning the monstrosity closer. Eevin watched the vaporous, man-sized head float towards the pier dragging hazy tendrils along the rolling fog and water beneath it.
The boy could no longer see the shore through the fog, or the dory that he could still hear rowing closer across the water. He could barely see the Lord-Captain through the mist as he leaned in and whispered something black and arcane to the giant skull now directly before the aristocrat. Anise then spoke a command in a plain tongue Eevin understood.
“Guide the dory to this pier, then await a new command.”
Eevin pulled futilely against Hollomon’s unmoving arm. “What is it?!”
“It is harmless,” the Lord-Captain said hurling the glass vial into the fog. It disappeared into the mists then made an unseen splash in the water. “I can sculpt the spirit into whatever shape I desire, but in the end it is merely a mask for something faceless and intangible.”
The boy watched the vaporous phantom turn on drifting tendrils before it floated into the churning fog and disappeared. Eevin stood wide-eyed on the pier, knowing that just minutes prior an overcast summer’s afternoon had been above him. Now the brume became so thick at the spirit’s departure that all had become a grey twilight.
“Your Lordship, why—”
“—I revoke your permission to speak,” the Lord-Captain said without looking at the boy. “I tire of your low-born banter.”
“—Do not tempt me, whore spawn! With a word I could have Hollomon drown out your prattle at the bottom of the harbor… the entertainment would be worth the inconvenience!” The young Lord-Captain turned and loomed down and met Eevin’s mismatched eyes with his own amber gaze. Touching a forefinger to the boy’s lips he flashed a smile that guaranteed that his was no idle threat.
The child bit his lip shut and looked away from the nobleman. He could barely see the pier under his dirty toes, and if he hadn’t had his eyes cast downwards he would have screamed as the seagull bumbled across his bare foot half-blind in the mist. Too sick or old to have taken flight with the others, it gave a shrill complaint to the boy for being in its way as it hopped one-legged along the pier’s edge.
Eevin watched the bird dodge a swift kick from the Lord-Captain’s boot before disappearing again with a caw. “Get to your friends, you dirty old bird…” the orphan muttered.
The next few minutes were spent in uncomfortable silence as the trio stood fogbound on the pier. Only the sound of lapping waves and oars drawing closer on the water passed between them. Finally, the boy saw a narrow band of the mist part as the phantasmal skull drifted nearer with the dory lurching close behind with every sweaty oar stroke from the neckbearded seaman.
The Boatswain kneeled on the bow of the boat in his striped shirt, ready to steady and moor the dory as it came alongside the pier. “Ahoy, Lord-Captain! I’m seein’ that ye has uncorked the bottle… May I assume ye’ll want a hasty embark and no rest for Twitch’s fat arms as well?”
The handsome aristocrat bore a confident smile stepping sure-footedly into the boat before it glided to a stop. “You assume correctly, Boatswain. We will have cover until sunset, and I want us back aboard the Storm-Eagle with the ship ready to sail as soon as it lifts.”
“Aye, Lord-Captain. Ye hear those orders, Twitch?”
The panting, girthy seaman nodded as he dipped a hand into the foggy seawater alongside the boat and splashed cool water across his brow.
The Boatswain pulled and steadied the dory alongside the pier while the Lord-Captain settled himself onto a planked seat. The beady-eyed old sailor then looked up at Eevin as he gripped a mooring pole.
“Well? What are ye waitin’ for? An invitation from the King?”
“Don’t ask me, ask him!” the boy said pointing to the unmoving figure of Hollomon that held his wrist like a shackle.
“Boatswain, allow me,” the Lord-Captain said curling his fingers and motioning to the armored man. “Hollomon, would you kindly seat yourself and the boy in the boat?”
Eevin gave a cry of surprise as the dirty soles of his naked feet were hoisted up into the air with a yanking pull on his wrist. Hollomon held the boy aloft with an outstretched arm like one would present a feasting goose, then stepped off the pier with a stiff step. Eevin yelped as they fell into the dory in a graceless clatter that could have capsized the boat if not for the quick work of the two experienced sailors within it. While the Boatswain cursed and Twitch rolled his eyes, Hollomon jerked himself up off the floor of the stern holding Eevin aloft without even a grunt.
The child was swung about as Hollomon turned on his heels and slammed his armored backside down onto the aft bench beside the Lord-Captain. Dazed, Eevin was jerked backwards and rudely parked on his captor’s cold steel lap.
Shaking his head, the Lord-Captain brought a hand over his face and sighed. “Poor form, Hollomon. Very poor form indeed…”
The Boatswain wasted no time in kicking off from the mooring post and using that momentum to point the dory away from the rotten pier. The fog-skull drifted along with the boat just beyond and over its bow, extruding a bubble around itself and the dory so they were free of mist as the Lord-Captain addressed it.
“Guide us to the wreck of Kora’s Blessing that rests atop Keel Cleaver Rock.”
The phantasmal death’s head turned on it skimming tendrils slack-jawed at the command and awaited the dory to follow. While Twitch watched for the boat to come about with his oars raised above the water, the young nobleman spoke to the sailor from where he sat opposite of his henchman.
“I trust that you and the Boatswain have tied-up the loose end?”
Twitch said nothing, but cocked his thick neck hard to the right to make an audible crunch that made Eevin wince. He then lifted up a semi-flaccid purse and jangled the copper and silver pennies inside it before his face contorted into a quick spasm.
The Lord-Captain smirked. “Very good. You may keep that as a bonus.”
Eevin hid his concern by looking back to the pier as it began to slip into the thick fog around them. With its planks abandoned once more, he saw the one-legged seagull hop onto the mooring post and tilt its head before the enveloping mist obscured it completely. The boy heard the bird cry a wailing goodbye as the oars slapped water, and carried him from the shore with the murderous quartet.
Chapter Three: Kora’s Blessing
There was the long ripping sound of tearing cloth as Eevin struggled face down in the boat under the pinning knee of the Boatswain.
“Stop ye squirming!” the old sailor growled grabbing the boy’s wrists with his deft hands. His calloused fingers turned the tightly twisted remains of the child’s yellowed linen shirt into a series of expert knots that bound the child’s hands behind his back.
“Please don’t drown me!” Eevin managed to blurt before a folded strip of torn linen was looped over his face and yanked backwards forming a gag between his teeth.
“Belay that blubbering,” the Boatswain said tightening the knots of the gag behind Eevin’s head while the boy tested the strength of the cloth binding his hands. He found the sailor’s knotwork like iron while he writhed and kicked.
The beady-eyed sailor grabbed Eevin by the hair and pulled him to his feet with a muscled forearm that bulged under the short sleeve of his striped shirt. Shoving the child back into Hollomon’s cold steel gauntlets, he looked to the amused face of Lord-Captain Anise.
“Beggin’ the Lord-Captain’s pardon, but do ye really think Bryne will bargain anythin’ in exchange for one of his old whorin’ mistakes? I mean my Lordship, he’s killed a hundred men or more in cold blood and—”
“—He will serve as a distraction if nothing more, Boatswain.”
“Aye, Lord-Captain… but to whom?”
The nobleman eyed the shirtless, gagged boy in the rolling fog. “If Bryne is as uncooperative with us as he was under the lash of the High Inquisitor himself, then I know a whispered arcana that will wrest whatever secrets we want from his corpse… Providing his progeny’s heart still beats as I cut it out of the whelp.”
Eevin grew still and pale as the aristocrat’s words sank in, and the old boatswain needed to look away from the child before he nodded. “Aye… Aye yer Lordship.”
The boy stood there with Hollomon’s armored fingers clamped onto his shoulders for several minutes while the bullish arms of Seaman Twitch propelled the dory across the calm waves of the harbor. The ghostly skull of tentacled mist had led the dory for nearly an hour within its fogless pocket as the Boatswain’s ears detected the sound of wave on rock and ordered the fat oarsman to slow-down.
Making his way to the bow, the Boatswain kneeled down as the barnacled hull of Kora’s Blessing emerged from the brume. They came alongside the old galleon, its fore keel shattered and wedged atop the low black rocks she’d been wrecked upon for more than a decade. The old sailor’s hands steadied and slowed the dory on the rotting timbers of the ship as the port side of the boat bobbed against the hulk.
Seaman Twitch pulled up the oars and laid them on the sides of the dory, then nodded towards two small boats moored next to a rope ladder dangling above the lapping waves. With the poke of an oar against the old ship, the neckbearded sailor assisted the Boatswain in maneuvering the boat beside the ladder where several bent and rusty spikes served as moorings pounded into the galleon above the waterline.
The Lord-Captain shot Eevin a look that told him to not even attempt a sound while the Boatswain and Twitch secured the boat. He then looked to the fog-born spirit and calmly commanded it to stay until ordered otherwise while reaching into a side pocket on his coat.
“There can not possibly be many aboard the wreck,” the young nobleman said removing an object bound in wire from his pocket.
“Aye Lord-Captain, too many comins’ and goins’ here would draw the Harbormaster’s attention. Shouldn’t be anythin’ we can’t handle.” The Boatswain then cast a dubious look towards Hollomon, “Twitch and I are ready to scale and board on yer order, but what about, eh, Chumbucket over there?”
The Lord-Captain smiled, holding up a bundle of dried seaweed bound in silver wire before tapping it on the brim of his hat.
The old man’s grin mirrored his commander’s. “Aye, the Kelpie’s Wrack! Last time I saw that charm was under your father’s command. ‘Twas one of his favorites.”
“And I am twice the wizard he was, Boatswain.” The Lord-Captain turned away from the sailor and looked into the foggy sea. “I do not intend to lose my life to the same degenerate that killed him. Board the wreck, secure the deck with Seaman Twitch, and I will send the lad and Hollomon up after an incantation.”
Eevin watched the sailors grab hold of the hanging ladder, and the old Boatswain scaled up the rope links like a monkey accustomed to a ship’s rigging. Twitch, on the other hand, lagged far behind, eventually grunting and huffing his way to the top long after Eevin lost interest and looked back to the Lord-Captain. The aristocrat opened his palm and let the bound seaweed fall into the water as he recited a practiced chant of arcane, trilling syllables. Raising clenched fingers as if he pulled a stringed puppet from the sea, an explosive gush erupted beside the boat and rocked it in its wake.
It was a dark serpent rising and streaming with water. Eevin gazed wide eyed at the oak-sized thing as the Lord-Captain gestured at him with a hand that grasped the empty air. The giant mass snaked down, spilling buckets of seawater into the dory as it swung toward the boy held fast in Hollomon’s grip. Eevin tried to scream at the monster’s approach, but the gag largely muted him as slimy branches of cold kelp slithered over him.
A moment of shock passed, and the boy realized that what he had mistaken for a sea-serpent was, in fact, an entwined mass of animate seaweed wrapping around both he and Hollomon.
With a giant’s strength, the worming mass hefted the pair out of the boat. Eevin’s legs struggled as the pair was lifted along the side of the dilapidated galleon and crested the railing of the ship’s deck twenty feet above the water.
The kelp serpent arched down and deposited the stiff Hollomon on his feet, where he remained rigid while the seaweed withdrew its slimy grip and sank back down past the deck. Eevin remained in the armored man’s grip, dripping and still bearing strands of wrack, when the top of the Lord-Captain’s tricorne rose moments later above the deck-rail.
He swung himself over the railing onto the deck, and the Boatswain’s leathery face smiled as the young man strode across the slanted deck of cracked timbers.
“I’m proud to see the father’s talents alive in the son, Lord-Captain.”
The aristocrat withdrew a cutlass from under his longcoat. “And I will be proud to avenge him.”
Hanging in a window of Kora’s Blessing’s aftercastle was a swaying, lit lantern as the supposedly abandoned wreck groaned on the rocks under her keel. The Lord-Captain pointed it out and Twitch unsheathed a serrated cutlass with a basket hilt. With a motion and whispered command from the aristocrat, Hollomon turned and handed Eevin to the Boatswain.
For an instant, Eevin thought that he might try to kick and run, but the sinewy old man’s arms were not to be overcome. The Boatswain then placed the cold edge of his rigging knife against the boy’s jugular vein, convincing him to cease further struggling.
Hollomon grabbed the flanged mace dangling off his belt, hefting it one-handed as his shorter Lord-Captain stepped aside to let the armored man lumber into the lead. With a grimace and point of his cutlass, the Captain and his men rushed the cabin door.
Boatswain let out a bloodthirsty boarding cry, and while the sailor ran Eevin flinched as the rigging knife rose and fell in a series of loops barely missing his nose. A moment later Hollomon slammed his mace into the door with all of his considerable strength, smashing it open to lurch into the cabin amid flying splinters. The remaining men poured into the room from behind the tall man before Eevin jerked to a sudden stop in the Boatswain’s arms like the others.
The sight was not what they had expected.
Sitting so wide and girthy that a barrel was required for each of his thighs, was a giant man with his bare back to the door. He was nothing less than a sheer wall of stacked hairy muscle, fat and tattoos… And even planted on his seat his bald head nearly reached the ceiling. Turning a neck that was a wad of muscle, the ogre cast an annoyed eye at the interlopers behind his brutal shoulders.
Almost overlooked beside the brute was a bearded tattooist standing on a stool to reach the back of the giant’s shaven head. Clad only in breeches, the tattoos and a copious scars across his own naked back shook as he waved an angry tattoo pick at the sailors behind him and his client.
“Hoy ye bastards! Sit down an’ wait yer own dammed turn!” he shouted without looking away from his work.
The ogre turned his head away from the intruders indifferently, and Eevin watched the tattooist strike in a few more details of ink into the man’s skin while the Lord-Captain exchanged confused looks with the two sailors beside him.
The blond young man finally spoke with a look of disgust under his hat. “I am here to find—”
“—Nay-nay! Now wot did I say?!” the tattooist growled over the Captain’s voice.
The aristocrat raised his cutlass and puffed out his chest as Eevin watched frustration redden his fair face. “I am here to—”
“—I be here to finish the tits o’ this mermaid! An’ if yer interruptin’ makes em’ lop-sided, the captain here is goin’ to be pissed! ”
The young man sneered. “So is this the infamous Captain, Hakbutt Bryne?!”
Eevin had just enough time to see the Boatswain holding him shake his head vigorously to the young Lord-Captain’s question before the room shook with a booming shout.
“Bryne? BRYNE!?” the giant shouted. “You DARE to think that I’m that washed up piece of dead sharkbait?!”
The ogre rose from the paired barrels he sat upon, toppling them with heavy thuds that sent the tattooist and his stool sprawling amid a torrent of his salty curses. “Nay! I am Captain BORKGUTTO of the Zacian Lion! ” he bellowed with a blast of spittle past tusked canines.
Picking-up a broad, double-sized cutlass, the ogre snorted as he turned and stooped beneath the ceiling. He stomped towards the quartet of intruders, the planks of the cabin floor warping and groaning under thunderous footfalls. The Lord-Captain stood like a child as Borkgutto’s fanged and leering face looked down upon him. A waft of the ogre’s sweaty, rotten odor reached Eevin’s nose, and the boy caught sight of Twitch’s fearsome serrated cutlass shaking in his hand. The neckbearded seaman’s face was a chain-reaction of spasms.
Eevin felt the Boatswain’s grip slacken, but the rigging knife quivering under the child’s chin again convinced him to wait for a better opportunity to escape. Instead he watched the Lord-Captain stand resolute before the ogre with the unwavering Hollomon at his side, mace at the ready.
The young man sheathed his cutlass. Removing his black tricorne, he placed the hat over his heart and bowed. “I have made a terrible mistake. Truly, I am a fool for mistaking such magnificence as yourself for a foul degenerate like Bryne.”
Borkgutto smirked and chuckled as he lifted his massive cutlass. “Tis Fine. Your pretty little head will look nice hanging off o’ the stern.”
“So superior are you simply to look upon, that just by the sight of you, I wish to extend the contract and venture I sought to offer Bryne to you instead.”
The great sword was lowered and stayed in the ogre’s ham-sized hands. “Be it known that Captain Borkgutto is… open to parley… Should his price be met.”
Eevin watched the Lord-Captain reach into the breast pocket of his longcoat and withdraw a large gold coin, the likes of which was never found outside of a king’s counting house. “I offer this Royal Albine Guilder, and nine more just like it upon completion of the contract.”
Borkgutto snatched the guilder and held it up to eyes that widened at the coin’s luster behind his pug nose. “Aye… Aye that’ll do just fine.” He then looked over his shoulder to the tattooist lying on the floor under an overturned barrel.
“Sorry, Squid… Looks like yer on yer own with this one…” the ogre captain said before biting the edge of the coin between his fanged teeth.
The Lord-Captain flashed a wicked grin behind the giant’s back. Lifting the tricorne over his heart to shield his face, the guilder exploded in Borkgutto’s mouth and his head disappeared in a flash of fire, smoke and crimson.
Eevin flinched at the noise and shallow prick of the Boatswain’s knife into his cheek as both were startled. The gag in his mouth could not completely silence the boy’s scream as he pinched his blue and green eyes shut to block out the gruesome death of the ogre. But even with them closed Eevin cringed feeling several warm droplets fall onto his face, and the bounce of a fragment that could have been tooth or bone.
He opened his eyes at the sound of the Lord-Captain’s nasally laughter, and watched him sidestep the decapitated, smoking corpse as it fell to the floor. The body crashed chest first into the planking and the whole wreck of Kora’s Blessing seemed to jump at the impact. As objects fell and rolled around them, the blond put his boot-heel on Borkgutto’s headless corpse and re-donned his hat.
Eevin watched Twitch shake a chunk of grey-matter off his boot while the Boatswain retightened his grip on the boy’s waist. “The old ten-counts-from-the-palm-boom, right Lord-Captain?”
The aristocrat’s tricorne nodded in affirmation. He then smirked surveying the body and the sunken outline of bowed and broken boards around it “Glamoured lead coins paired with explosive sigils are so much fun, I shall never be without a pair in my pockets!”
“Oh hardy-har!” the tattooist said pulling himself up on the leg of an overturned table. “An’ o’ course the big bastard had to stick it in his mouth an’ blow his blood and brains all over me proprietary!”
Still smiling, the Lord-Captain cocked his head and regarded the sinewy, middle-aged man wiping the remnants of his client from his beard. “A priceless moment, indeed.”
“He hadn’t paid yet. I’ll have yer hand if ye don’t square up his bill…”
Chapter Four: The Death of Hakbutt Bryne
Lord-Captain Anise’s smile gave way to a look of suspicion watching the disheveled and bare-chested man before him flip an overturned table upright. “I am still seeking Hakbutt Bryne.”
The tattooist squatted down with his back to the four men and started collecting the scattered barbs, needles and pigments that were his trade lying on the floor. “Well, ye ain’t found him.”
With a haughty upturn of his nose, the Lord-Captain beckoned the others closer with a curl of his fingers. “Oh really? Then I suspect he is very close…”
Hollomon clattered his way forward, mace in hand, and took a place beside the Lord-Captain with Borkgutto’s corpse between them and the tattooist. Held aloft and pinned by the Boatswain’s arm, Eevin was brought along as he and Seaman Twitch walked around the other side of the body.
“Look, I know wot yer thinkin’,” the tattooist said as the pair of cutthroats approached his back. “I get that a lot ‘cause I was with the pirate when we broke the prison walls and swam the Shark Shoals last year. But I ain’t him.”
The Lord-Captain grabbed the map-case on his belt. “Fair enough. Then who are you?”
Although his face was still turned away, Eevin could see the man more clearly now from where he was held fast to the Boatswain’s chest. The top of his head was bald save for a few hairs, but greying, long dirty hair fell from its back and sides to well past his neck. His shoulders and back bore numerous tattoos, but many were defaced by the heavy, long whipping scars lacing his back all the way down to the start of his brown breeches.
He rose and Eevin heard the roll of wooden needle and stylus handles dropped on the tabletop. “Me name is Squid… An’ the last I saw o’ Hakbutt, he was bein’ eaten alive by the biggest shark I ever seen.”
Squid turned and winked at the gagged boy with an eye as blue as the sea. But it was his left pupil, the one that lolled white and wall-eyed, that drew Eevin’s gaze as the bearded man grinned gap toothed. “He was a tough bastard too! ‘Cause whilst the monster was chewin’ on him… I had enough time to escape!”
The Lord-Captain removed the rolled vellum map from its tube “Well, Marn Squid, either you are a liar… or I have fallen victim to a misplaced rumor about this boy’s parentage. Regardless, I believe this urchin is yours.”
The man gave a laugh that shook his scraggly full beard of grey, then plucked a tattoo pick from the table at his side before twirling it nimbly through his fingers. “Nay-nay! The boy don’t look anythin’ like me atoll!”
“Well, at least he can count that in his favor…” the aristocrat said unrolling the map.
“Oh, Hardy-har… Ye must be the new young Baron o’ the Red Hills, eh? Come lookin’ for the treasure Hakbutt plundered from yer pappy’s privateerin’ plunderin’ plunder, have ye?”
Eevin watched the bare-chested man turn and face them. His front bore more tattoos than the back, and less scarring, but of these the most impressive by far was a full-sized skull in emerald green. Centered over his sternum and heart, its laughing grimace and empty sockets stared back at the child from Squid’s sweat glistened skin.
The blond looked up from his map and cast a circumspect gaze towards the illustrated man. “You are more perceptive than you look… I am indeed Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of the Red Hills, and wizard-collegiate of The Hightower.”
“Well, that’s a mouthful,” Squid said tossing the spinning tattoo pick into the air and then catching it with the same hand. “Hakbutt told the tale o’ The Stormcrow’s sinking but once to me ears, and he never said more to ‘em than he did to any king’s scourger o’ the fate o’ her treasure.”
“He was notoriously tight lipped about it,” Absyn said ruffling the vellum flat as he looked back to the dried red markings upon it.
“Aye. An’ if I knew where a hoard like that was hidin’, do ye really think I’d be livin’ on a leaky wreck scratchin’ out tattoos on sailors’ asses for rum and bread!?”
“Show me Eevin’s father,” the Lord-Captain commanded of the map.
The tattooist snorted and then spit a glob of phlegm onto the rotten boards between Seaman Twitch and the Boatswain holding the boy. “You should be trying to find Sargassa. If any would have a clue it’d be the pirate queen that betrayed him…”
The Lord-Captain watched the lines on the map rework themselves. “The map needs the blood of a parent, child or full sibling. Hers are all either dead, non-existent or just as elusive as she is.”
Squid caught sight of the boy’s mismatched eyes following his tattoo pick as he tossed it up and down. “Aye, aye… True that. Hakbutt said most o’ her kin was slain before she ever saw a ship, come to think o’ it.”
The blood drawn markings on the aged vellum finished moving, and the Lord-Captain’s tricorne nodded behind it. He then turned the map so Squid could see the drawing. It was a perfect bird’s eye diagram of the cabin they stood in, complete with Borkgutto’s headless corpse in the center. The details were accurate down to the normal-sized cutlass the ogre kept on the back of his belt as a knife, and the top-down representations of all the men in the room were positioned exactly where they stood at that very moment.
Squinting curiously with his good blue eye, the bearded man looked at the ornate ‘X’ marking him on the map. “Huh. Must’ve been a whorin’ night I was too drunk to remember… Let me get a better look at the snotty lad.”
The Lord-Captain shook his head and began to roll up the map. “I will let you confirm the condition of the goods before we enter into negotiations.”
Squid tossed the pick another time and caught it before taking a step forward with a laugh. “Negotiatin’? See? That there is bad plannin’… Hakbutt’s killed a hundred men in cold blood! Do ye think danglin’ some little bastard he never knew he had from the mizzenmast will move that black heart?”
“For the boy’s sake then, let us hope you are who you claim.”
Eevin watched the green skull bob closer with each step of the barefoot seaman’s swagger.
“I be who I be.”
“Of course you are,” the aristocrat nodded before looking to Twitch. With a spastic clench of his cheek, the squat and girthy brute took a step forward. He lifted the serrated blade of his cutlass threateningly as Squid came closer.
The Lord-Captain flashed a handsome, smug smile. “An inspection of the goods may well jog your memory. If that proves insufficient, I have more unpleasant means both arcane and otherwise to aid you.”
“Aye sir, I be sure o’ that… Now wot be this bastard’s name?”
“Eevin, the most polite whore-spawn I have ever had the displeasure of knowing.”
The boy watched the tattooist nod and approach alongside Borkgutto’s body, calmly rolling the tattoo pick between his fingers. As Squid came closer, the boy could make out that the handle was wrapped in black sharkskin with three pearls set in a row on the side. Four empty recesses sat aligned behind the pearls where others once had been set.
Finally, he stopped a step away from the child. Leaning forward, he wrinkled his tanned brow as the boy smelled the odor of spiced rum and sweat emanating from his beard. The man’s glazed white eye looked mindlessly off to the side as the other took in Eevin’s features. He peered up into the Boatswain’s beady, hard gaze above Eevin when he was done, and the boy felt the blade at his throat press a little tighter. Then Squid backed off with a gravelly chuckle.
“I don’t care for his queer eyes,” Eevin heard him say as he felt the sting of the tattooist’s pick over his heart. Obscured by Squid’s beard and a pickpocket’s skill, the nimble move was so swift and discrete that quick glances from the boy’s mismatched irises confirmed it had been missed by the others.
Squid backed away from the Boatswain and Eevin, slowly twirling the pick from finger to finger as the Lord-Captain slid the map into the case on his belt.
“He is your son, Hakbutt Bryne.”
Eevin watched a wry smile form on the tattooist lips as he tossed his pick upwards with a flick of the wrist. “Aye.”
The boy’s heart pounded at the admission, but his eyes were locked on the pick while it cartwheeled straight up. It had just missed the ceiling and started its return fall when one of the three pearls remaining in the black sharkskin handle popped loose and fell free. His gaze lost sight of the white pearl, but he did see the tattooist catch the pick deftly, then fumble it.
The tool hit the floor with a dull clatter, and Hakbutt watched it roll to the side of Borkgutto’s corpse. He shook his head as the sound of the pearl rolling around somewhere in the background met Eevin’s ears. “Aye, aye… You caught me. ‘Twas Squid that got eaten by the shark, not I.”
The Lord-Captain nodded. “I will admit that it was a convincing cover, Captain Bryne. It was aided in no small part by the fact that you are far less impressive than the stories told about you.”
Hakbutt took a few steps to the side and Eevin watched him look down at the pick before an intense irritation began to prickle across the boy’s chest. “Yer pappy said somethin’ like that too, ‘fore I killed him.”
The young man scowled and grabbed the basket hilt of his cutlass. “I will say this only once: Tell me where you have hidden my father’s treasure and I will let you live.”
The pirate titled a look at the aristocrat with his sea-blue eye, then met Eevin’s gaze for a moment before he turned his back on all of them. He squatted down beside the dead ogre’s belted waist and reached for his pick. “Nay-nay, I won’t be tellin’ anythin’ today.”
The itching had spread from the tiny point where Hakbutt had pricked him and wormed across Eevin’s bare chest in a dozen directions. The Boatswain’s arm and knife kept the boy from seeing the lines of blue ink marking the outline of a roped anchor on his young skin, and with their focus locked on Hakbutt neither the Lord-Captain nor his men had noticed it either.
But the pirate’s good eye had seen. Seen the ink finishing the image of a seagull with wings splayed atop the cross of an anchor. Hunched and shielded from the gaze of the quartet, the jade-green skull tattoo on Hakbutt’s chest began to glow as he clenched a fist.
The Lord-Captain drew his sword and leveled it at Bryne. “Very well. Hollomon, would you kindly break this degenerate’s legs then hold him?”
Eevin had fought to remain still as the ink burned across his skin, but finally a squirm or two escaped as Hollomon hefted his mace and stepped forward. The Boatswain pressed the cold, sharp steel of his rigging knife to the child’s neck that drew a drop of hot blood. The old sailor then felt the boy somehow slipping from his grip. He squeezed his arms tighter to hold Eevin fast, but more rapidly than the Boatswain could react the weight of the boy in his arms virtually disappeared as he literally shrank out of his grapple.
“Seven devils!?” the Boatswain yelled as his arms scissored awkwardly and he nearly fell over. Under his crossed elbows, a gull with the spotted brown plumage of a juvenile screamed out a shrill cry frantically kicking away from the sailor. Its webbed feet fell onto the floor at the same time as Eevin’s empty black breeches, and every eye except Hakbutt’s watched the squawking, graceless bird scamper and hop about for a stunned second.
With a growl, the one-eyed pirate seized the moment. Reaching across to the cutlass that lay sheathed over Borkgutto’s backside, he grabbed its basketless hilt and drew the weapon springing to his feet. Only paces away, the lumbering Hollomon charged towards Hakbutt and prepared to sprawl the bearded man flat with his mace. The Lord-Captain turned back just in time to see the pirate’s open, outstretched palm unleash a flaming green skull that screamed as it left a tail of hurtling fire.
The skull of burning energy rocketed into Hollomon’s sallet visor and exploded with a green flash. Showered with steel fragments, Seaman Twitch and his Captain wavered as Hakbutt sprang forward in the now smoke-filled room. His bare foot hit Hollomon’s breastplate with an empty clang as the henchman’s armored body was kicked backwards. The tall man clattered headless into the planking at Twitch’s feet near the broken cabin door.
“S-sorcery!” the young Lord-Captain shouted thrusting a free hand under his longcoat and into an inner pocket. “Never have I heard that you were capable of half-witted arcana!”
“I be full of surprises!” Hakbutt snarled as he lunged over the young seagull that leapt out of the way as Bryne grabbed the off-balance Boatswain. The pirate locked his fingers around the sailor’s wrist and jerked it hard and fast under the old man’s chin. The rigging knife snapped loose and fell from Boatswain’s hand with the crack of his dislocating shoulder, but it was only as the sinewy old man tried to cry out in pain and only gurgled that he realized his throat had been cut from ear-to-ear by his own blade.
Enraged, Twitch yelled at the sight of the Boatswain buckling over to grab and gasp at the bloody torrent of his mortal wound. The neckbearded young man rushed like a bull and swung with the serrated blade of his cutlass, and would have cleaved Hakbutt in two if Bryne hadn’t slapped the blow aside with his less impressive weapon.
The Lord-Captain produced a shark’s tooth dipped in worn, black wax from his coat and began the incantation of an arcana as Twitch and Hakbutt traded a quick series of parries. Forced back by the strength of the sailor’s blows, the pirate glanced to the Boatswain choking on his own blood and grabbed him by the hair. With a boarding cry that had chilled the blood of countless men across the ocean, Hakbutt thrust the dying man into the seaman.
Unwilling to strike at his friend, the Boatswain’s skull cracked against Twitch’s face. The brute staggered backwards as the old man fell to the planking, dead. Spitting out broken teeth, the thick man drooled bloody spittle onto his beard and contorted his face murderously at a winded Bryne.
Scampering up and onto the back of Borkgutto’s corpse, Eevin still flapped his wings in a panic as he watched the unfolding fight with the clarity of a bird’s vision. Twitch rushed Hakbutt enraged, and the pair locked cutlasses as the big man pushed the far slimmer Bryne into the cabin walls. The seaman twisted the serrated blade of his sword, catching and pinning the pirate’s weapon as Twitch reduced the contest to one of pure strength that he would surely win.
There was the sound of grinding steel as Bryne grimaced trying to maintain a grip on the cutlass slowly being pried out of his hand. He leveraged his back against the wall, and with a push he staggered the bullish man backwards just enough to pummel an explosion of punches into Twitch’s kidney. Unfazed, the brute looked into Hakbutt’s good eye and spit with a vengeful smile.
Chapter Five: Fathers an’ Sons
Twitch laughed as Hakbutt fought temporarily blinded. Grinning, he anticipated the moment when the pirate would be disarmed, lusting for the prestige that being the man who killed Hakbutt Bryne would bring. Watching Bryne slowly losing the fight, Lord-Captain Anise chanted arcana far behind Twitch’s fat shoulders.
Then the pirate’s glazed white eye lolled pupil-less to met Twitch’s murderous stare.
A pin-hole of green appeared on the milky surface of the eye. For a moment Twitch dismissed it as a reflection, but it grew and flicked like a flame as Hakbutt kept his weapon in rigging-worn fingers. Then the fire in Bryne’s white eye flared, and the seaman could see a wavering green skull laughing at him like a pupil within it. Twitch’s fist shook within the basket hilt of his cutlass, and he looked down to see Hakbutt’s unshielded, weapon holding hand burst into licking green flames.
Fire lapped against the big man’s arm as he stepped back with their blades still locked. Bryne’s hand became engulfed by emerald flame as they struggled back and forth, creating a basket hilt in the form of a ghostly, leering skull that taunted Twitch with every push and shove.
His good eye of blue now free of spit and blood, Hakbutt caught sight of the Lord-Captain completing his arcane spell far behind the burly sailor’s back. A wisp of smoke and bone rose from the aristocrat’s hand to form a disembodied maw of translucent shark teeth beside him.
The young man caught the pirate’s gaze and grinned. “Eaten by sharks, indeed!”
Whipping his open palm at Bryne, the Lord-Captain hurled the snapping jaws and they flew across the room still connected to the aristocrat’s hand by a tether of smoke. With an instant to act before the Lord-Captain’s deadly puppet tore him to shreds, Hakbutt let go of his cutlass and Twitch’s arm swung free from the sudden release. The pirate’s cutlass was flung across the cabin with its phantom hilt cackling fire while the hefty man tottered on unsure footing. Bryne hooked an ankle behind Twitch’s boot and shouldered him just in time to send him careening backwards.
The young Lord-Captain squinted, appalled at the agonized wails of the seaman pushed into the path of his summoned monstrosity. Twitch’s cries stopped a moment later with the crunch of shredding bone before he could yank the spectral teeth off of his crewman with a tug of its ghostly umbilical.
Now standing with no one left to shield him from Bryne, the wizardly aristocrat pulled back the phantom jaws and readied to lash out with them keeping his cutlass high and ready to strike should he come too close.
The rendered, bloody body of Seaman Twitch slumped and fell with a moist thud between the captains.
“Yer pappy killed me best ship’s dog with that old trick, Boy! There ain’t nothin’ new in yer repertoire, is there? ”
“Shut up!” the Lord-Captain sneered at Hakbutt.
Disarmed, the scraggy-bearded pirate clenched his fists and grinned gap-toothed before winking with a lolling white eye. “An ye so wanted me talkin’ earlier…”
The young Lord-Captain shook the cutlass in his hand. “You should know that I have trained with the greatest swordsmen that can be bought!”
“ ‘Tis fine, lad! I’d bested a score o’ those ‘fore ye was born!”
With a scowl and fiery glare from amber eyes, the young man reined-in the floating jaws and prepared to flail them at the pirate. “I will maim you and I will torture you! I will strip every secret you have locked in that tiny, diseased skull of yours and leave it empty! ”
The Lord-Captain whipped his open hand once more and the phantasmal mouth of fangs flew forward to clamp down on Hakbutt’s knees. The pirate captain had seen the deadly accuracy of this spell firsthand before, and without cover or distraction he held little hope that a nimble jump would save his legs. But no sooner had the attack been cast than a young seagull flinging itself through the air with no proper knowledge of flight managed to smack into the fair face of the aristocrat.
Blinded at a critical moment by Eevin’s pelting wings, the Lord-Captain missed the sight of Hakbutt leaping over the jaws that then sailed into the wall paces behind him with a crash. The juvenile gull squawked as he was backhanded away, leaving the young captain’s forehead nicked and scratched before he looked wide eyed at Bryne.
The pirate pulled the bloody hilt of Twitch’s serrated cutlass from the sailor’s dead hand. Bellowing a growl with a lunging dash he sprang over the headless body of Hollomon lying supine on the floor to reach the Lord-Captain. The young man slashed boldly with his cutlass, but Bryne sidestepped the stroke. Slapping down the saw-toothed serrations of his blade into the backside of the aristocrat’s weapon, Hakbutt locked a grip upon it with a twist. Before the Lord-Captain could react, he watched his cutlass tugged free of his grip and chucked away with the yank of Bryne’s sword.
Hakbutt snarled face-to-face with the shocked captain. His one good-eye caught sight of the Lord-Captain pulling back his smoke-wrapped hand to return the spectral jaws at the end of the tether. The pirate captain grabbed the young man’s forearm in response, then cleaved his magic wielding hand clean off at the wrist.
“Nay!” Bryne yelled amid spraying blood and the Lord-Captain’s scream.
The hand fell limp onto the floor and the smoky umbilical bound to its fingers drifted way as it slid on the planking. At the end of the ectoplasmic thread, translucent shark teeth fell to the floor with a sound like clattering dominos in the background.
Hakbutt hauled back his arm and punched the Lord-Captain square in the nose with the steel basket of his cutlass, snapping his head back with the crunch of cartilage and bone.
“Threaten me son and the child o’ Sargassa’s flesh will ye?!” Eevin overheard shaking his feathered head and coming to his senses at the men’s ankles. A black tricorne hat then fell right beside the bird, knocked off the blond locks of a man receiving the beating of a lifetime.
The pirate pushed the aristocrat’s back into a wall, and the Lord-Captain gargled out something unintelligible in a gush of blood from his now broken and crooked nose. Hakbutt hefted his cutlass above a balding scalp and the young man at his mercy watched the blade fall wide-eyed. With a chop, Bryne buried it inches deep into the wood beside the captain’s ear and left it jutting out from the wall. With a second hand free, the pirate gripped the stump of the Lord-Captain’s severed wrist and clenched the spurting wound so tightly that the young man screamed a second time.
“Ye think I’m goin’ to just let ye bleed out, boy!? Nay!” he yelled landing a head-butt that left his opponent weak-kneed. “That’s too good for ye!”
Eevin watched green fire burst from Hakbutt’s clenched fingers around the bloody stump. Flapping his wings, the juvenile gull fumbled his way into a clumsy, web-footed scamper as the smell of searing flesh filled the cabin.
The Lord-Captain pulled the smoking, cauterized stump at the end of his left arm free of Bryne’s grip. In an adrenaline fueled panic, he lashed out in an attempt to break free and run.
“Oh nay ye won’t!” the bearded pirate said grabbing a handhold on the man’s belt. Hakbutt snagged the captain’s map case as he struggled, snapping its thongs as he pulled the leather cylinder free and tossed it over his shoulder. “ ‘An I’ll be takin’ that!”
Now a safe distance from the stumbling fight, Eevin perched atop Hollomon’s cold metal chest and watched Hakbutt grip the back collar of the aristocrat’s red longcoat. Using the leverage, Bryne bashed the Lord-Captain’s face into corners and walls.
“None uses a child o’ the Bryne as ye hast! I’m goin’ to strap ye to an anchor an drop ye so deep into the Abyssal Straight that Morbia herself will never claim ye sorry soul!”
Broken toothed and black-eyed, the Lord-Captain lifted his arms and slipped free of his leather longcoat to escape Hakbutt’s grapple. The pirate was left holding the collar of the empty coat as the young man started a stumbling run for the open door in a frilly and bloodstained silk shirt.
Bryne threw the longcoat aside and its flapping dusters sailed into Eevin, scooping up the flapping gull as he gave a shrill cry. Dragged off of Hollomon, he slid within the rumpled leather folds of the coat as it spilled coins, trinkets and spell components from innumerable pockets until it came to rest across the room.
While Eevin squawked and thrashed to find an exit from the coat, Hakbutt tackled the fleeing Lord-Captain and slammed him to the floor. Bryne flipped the young man face up on the planking halfway out of the cabin door, his knees pressed into his gut. He swung a right hook and then a left into the young man’s cheeks, snapping his head back and forth. Having reduced the formerly handsome youth to a broken and bloody wreck, Hakbutt curled his fingers around the languid man’s throat and hauled his face up to meet his burning eye.
“You ain’t half the man yer pappy was! But I’ll grant that ye heart ‘tis twice as black!”
“…Would? W-would you?” the Lord-Captain wheezed between coughs of phlegm and blood.
“Wot?” Hakbutt said squinting to look into the swelling slits of the young man’s eyes. “Aye, I would, ye scrawny little snot!”
The Lord-Captain weakly shook his head, then ran a tongue over broken teeth before speaking more clearly. “H-Hollomon… would you kindly grab him?”
Bryne raised an eyebrow at the strange remark as he lifted a fist to deliver the knock-out blow that would end the fight. Then the cold steel fingers of armored gauntlets wrapped around his neck from behind.
Hakbutt released the Lord-Captain and kicked off his body, struggling to his feet. Bryne was able to spin around and face his attacker as they stumbled out onto the fog-shrouded deck of Kora’s Blessing. Yet the iron grip of Hollomon’s hands remained locked on Hakbutt’s sweaty throat, and as the pirate thrashed to escape the deadly grapple he looked up to find no trace of a head above the armor’s shoulders. They tugged back and forth as Bryne gasped for air and the pirate noted that for all his monstrous strength, Hollomon was as light as a child.
Eevin wiggled his way out of a sleeve cuff to exit the Lord-Captain’s longcoat just in time to see Hakbutt plunge a grasping hand elbow deep into the hole that was Hollomon’s neck… and find nothing within.
The headless armor lifted Bryne’s bare feet off the rotten deck of the ship, and the pirate kicked his heels ringing out dull hollow gongs in the fog. With lurching strides the possessed and empty suit carried Hakbutt to the worm-eaten ship’s railing, and slammed him down hard enough to snap the post underneath.
The Lord-Captain, broken and bloody, slowly dragged himself up off the floor holding the stump of his wrist to limp toward the futilely struggling pirate. “I no longer care about the risks!” he spit out from swollen, split lips. “I will gladly owe a favor to the dark ones to watch you die! I will cut the heart out of your son, bird or… whatever he is now! Then the devils can dredge the secrets from your corpse!”
Eevin wobbled around unseen within the wrecked cabin, behind the struggle outside. His gull’s eyes of mismatched blue and green peered around in a panic. He looked to the door and scampered towards it. Looking towards the fogbound sky, he knew that even if he didn’t get the knack of flying anytime soon, with a splash into the harbor he could paddle and swim his way to safety bobbing on the water.
But he stopped short of leaping off the deck. Catching sight of the Lord-Captain leering over Hakbutt, he paused as the blond taunted the pirate from behind the headless Hollomon choking him to death.
Eevin turned about, and with a determined gaze flapped his way back into the cabin. Searching for something, anything, that could help, he instead clumsily slipped and fell when his webbed foot slid out from under him on a coin spilled from the Lord-Captain’s pockets.
A coin the size of a Royal Albine Guilder, but made of lead.
Eevin cocked his mismatched eyes and looked down at the coin as he rose on knobby gull’s knees. Then he glanced back over his folded wings of grey and spotted white to the Lord-Captain’s severed hand. Bending down and with several clumsy pecks he managed to get the big coin into his mouth.
With a flap of wings he hopped to the hand that lay palm side-up on the cabin floor and dropped the lead coin onto it like a tip. Slowly, the warm glow and luster of gold enveloped the dull slug as the illusion of a true Guilder took hold. Eevin wasted no time in snatching it from the open palm with his beak and scrambling out the door.
Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of Gwern, loomed beaten but smug behind the hunched back of his spirit-driven automaton choking the life from the pirate captain that had bested him. His broken, bloody smirk mocked Hakbutt as he struggled and drew what could be his last breath. Hearing the flutter of the gull’s wings before seeing Eevin, he made the mistake of trying to grab the bird that flew in from the left with an arm that no-longer had a hand.
The juvenile seagull tumbled onto Hollomon’s shoulder. Both men looked to the bird and the Lord-Captain raised his remaining hand to snatch him where he teetered. The aristocrat locked his fingers around the avian as the bird flipped the coin in his beak into the hole where Hollomon’s head should have been.
“Seven!” the gull cried in a shrill voice that was between boy and bird.
Eevin looked to Hakbutt’s one blue eye. The pirate and the nobleman heard the coin hit the bottom of Hollomon’s empty chest where it dinged and rolled around as if within an enormous bucket.
“Six!” Eevin’s small, sharp voice cried out again.
Stunned, the Lord-Captain stared down the open neck-hole. “You! Little! Bast—”
Eevin saw a flicker of green fire in Hakbutt’s milky eye, and before the Lord-Captain could finish his curse the pirate surged up with his last reserves of strength. Unable to break the grip of the hollow man choking him, Bryne ducked and shouldered the empty armor at the waist. His bare feet slapped across the decking, slamming and shoving Hollomon into the master leaning behind the puppet.
The bird struggled free of the aristocrat’s grip and Hakbutt pushed with all his might, ramming the young man’s backside into the opposite rail across the deck.
Pinned and panicking, the Lord-Captain slapped and clawed in vain to escape or grab-hold of Bryne crouching behind the armor. Then with a look of remembrance, he shouted down into the empty neck of his automaton. “Hollomon! Would you kindly—”
The explosion blew Hollomon to pieces and was heard across the old shores of Eastport Maduc.
The blast blew the men in opposite directions. Bryne flew backwards holding onto the front half of a breastplate. Skidding along the deck on his buttocks, he crashed into the barrel Eevin had scrambled behind for cover. Simultaneously, Lord-Captain Anise was blown right through the rotten railing by the explosion, falling with a splash into the harbor.
Eevin hopped out from behind the barrel while Hakbutt groggily threw the smoking, twisted breastplate in his hands to the side. He stumbled up staggering with a singed beard and eyebrows as his ears rang. The bird watched the pirate remove a lone and lifeless gauntlet still clinging to his neck before he caught sight of the gull eyeing him from below.
“Aye! Good one, Squab!” Hakbutt said looking down and raising the armored hand in a wobbly salute.
Bryne then looked to the hole in the railing opposite him, and cast down the gauntlet with a clang. Eevin scampered alongside as he stomped towards the breach and summoned a growing ball of green flame in his hand that soon assumed the size and shape of a skull.
Hakbutt grabbed a splintered section of rail and sneered looking over it before Eevin hopped up alongside him. Barely visible in the fog-covered water below was the Lord-Captain lying beaten and dripping in a dory.
“Luck o’ a bloody devil!” hollered Bryne as he hurled a flaming green skull that screamed towards the villain.
Exhausted and injured, the Lord-Captain managed a limp swipe of his right hand. A thick tendril of seaweed followed the command and swatted the skull above the dory in an explosion of green fire and steaming wrack that nevertheless left him unharmed.
As Hakbutt summoned up another ghostly skull, the kelp serpent latched onto the bow of the rowboat and yanked it into the fog. Defeated, Lord-Captain Anise lay still in pooled seawater and blood on the bottom of the boat as it was spirited away. Then his hand grabbed Hollomon’s surviving vambrace and gauntlet, and slid it over the stump of his left wrist.
Before Captain Bryne and Eevin disappeared behind the thickening mists above, he lifted the empty armored hand and clenched it into a defiant fist with magical animation.
Hakbutt’s skull formed too late for another attack. With a salty curse he tossed the ghostly thing screaming blindly into the brume where it exploded unseen on the water with a muted green flash. He then put his elbows up on the shattered railing and rested a bearded chin on bruised knuckles.
“He’ll be back, ye know,” he said leaning his head over to look at the juvenile gull with his good eye of blue. “Me bet says vengeance runs thick as the magic in their family blood!”
Chapter Six: Sons o’ the Bryne
Eevin looked up at Hakbut who now seemed like a giant to the bird. “Why did you curse me?!”
The pirate waved his palms and stood up from the rail. “Nay-nay, Squab… Ye hast it all wrong an—”
“—I don’t want to be a dirty old bird!” Eevin squawked with the small shrill voice that was all his new form could muster.
Hakbutt began to waggle a pointed finger at the gull beside him, then caught himself and stopped with a spreading gap-toothed grin. Leaning back, his head and scraggly grey beard shook as he laughed.
“A mark o’ Oceanana is nary a curse, me Son! O’ course that be excludin’ if ye get greedy ‘bout em!”
The pirate offered a calloused palm out to the seagull. Lowering and resting it beside the bird on the railing, Eevin looked at the hand with his dissimilar eyes and then to Hakbutt before he waddled onto it.
The man lifted the young bird to the level of his beard and turned from the fog-shrouded waters. Pressing a hairy cheek to Eevin’s brown spotted plumage, he smoothed the bird’s ruffled feathers. “Cursed? Nay. Now, aye it be strange… an ‘twas a gamble to save ye that I gave ye a mark so young. But ‘tis a gift I gave, Boy! Ye birthright!”
“Will I change back to me proper self?!” the gull asked as the pirate gently touched him.
“Aye, to be sure. It just a matter o’ learnin’ the knack o’ it.”
“Can you cast spells and become a bird?” Eevin asked closing his eyes as Hakbutt ran a hand over his back again.
“Nay. We ain’t wizards.”
“Can I throw… screaming skulls? ” the bird asked with a ring of hope.
“Nay, nay… I doubt it.” Bryne said beginning to walk towards the smashed cabin door.
Eevin sighed and looked up to Hakbutt dour-eyed. “I think me gift is stupid!”
Chuckling, the pirate continued petting the bird. “I’ll admit, it be nay screamin’ skulls, but I think it be a fine gift from the Goddess o’ the sea!”
“It’s a daft gift just short o’ a curse!”
“Belay yer squawking tongue, Squab!” Hakbutt scolded. “Flyin’! Are ye goin’ to tell me ringin’ ears that flyin’s not a boon? Or swimmin’? Or floatin’ on the waves with nary a care o’ drownin’? Har! Why ye’ll be able to strut yer webby feet over any dock or seaside street, an’ none’ll pay ye any attention atoll!”
Hakbutt lifted the gull high above his head and Eevin flapped his wings not knowing what to expect from the man who smelled of rum and burned whiskers. “Aye! Me son will be the finest pair o’ eyes an’ ears that any captain hast ever had!”
The bird looked down at the gap-toothed smile of the bearded man below him. “But how do I change me self back?”
Hakbutt returned Eevin to his cheek and entered the cabin. “There just be a knack to it, Squab. I claimed me own mark only months ago, an’ ‘tis more o’ a feelin’ and imaginin’ kind o’ thing than a knowin’ one. So how ‘bout ye start by imaginin’ yer self as ye was before?”
The juvenile gull closed his eyes and nestled down beside Hakbutt’s grey beard. The pirate continued to smile as he sensed the child tap into his power. Shifting his hands and grip as the gull rapidly grew and shifted shape, he laughed as the weight of an eight-year-old boy filled his arms. Wings grew into naked arms that the boy clasped tightly around the neck of the man holding him.
Hakbut jostled Eevin in his arms and shook a smile onto his dirty face. “Har! See? Yer a natural!”
The unclothed boy found himself lowered down towards the floor. “I did it!”
Still amazed at his feat, Eevin’s toes reached the planking. His face then ruffled into a curious expression as he stood on the floor and Hakbutt joined him in looking down. The pair were united in staring at the large pair of webbed gull’s feet attached to boy’s ankles for several moments.
“Huh. Well, like I said lad, there be a knack to it.”
Bryne tousled the hair on the boy’s head and gave a gentle slap to an exposed backside. “Do some more imaginin’ an’ get ye feet back to normal… Otherwise, ye’ll have a devil o’ a time getting’ yer breeches back on over there!”
Eevin shambled away on his flipper-feet after the slap. Walking carefully and awkwardly, he kept his head down to watch his steps and avoid the gore that puddled in patches on the floor. He eyed his clawed seabird toes, and focusing on his footsteps watched as their splayed webbing slowly reduced and reconfigured. The odd sensation of his transformation stopped by the time he reached his rumpled black breeches.
Hakbutt turned from the boy pulling up his threadbare pants and examining his once-more human feet to look around the wrecked cabin. Closing his good eye, the flicker of green flame flashed on the surface of his blind white one. His searching gaze became drawn to the body of the Boatswain and he squatted down beside the corpse.
“Alright, me Son. Ye hast lots to learn o’ bein’ a pirate, an’ lootin’ corpses is as good a place as any to start!”
Eevin stood poking his bare chest in the dark room. With the distraction of his feet removed he had finally discovered the wide blue image of a seagull with wings splayed atop the cross of an anchor that now adorned his skin. He turned in puzzled shock and looked to Hakbutt.
“I have a… tattoo?” the child said pointing at his chest.
The bearded pirate rummaged though the Boatswain’s pockets and snatched the canvas purse on his belt. “O’ course ye hast a tattoo! ‘Tis yer Brynesmark like the one over me own heart!”
Eevin looked to the emerald skull that hung on Hakbutt’s sternum. “Me mark don’t look anything like yours…”
“O’ the four pearls used by the Bryne in good faith, ain’t none given marks or gifts that hast been alike yet!”
The boy nodded and walked back to the pirate’s side, still glancing down at the illustration upon him. “They hint at our gifts?”
“Aye,” Hakbutt said removing the knife sheath from the Boatswain’s belt. “Me squaby son is a clever one. Now mind ye, were it up to me I would’ve placed yer mark when ye were more o’ a man… We’ll be needin’ to cover that up in public, least it raise flags o’ suspicion.”
Eevin nodded, and the pirate handed the empty knife sheath to the boy without looking at him. Taking it, the child gulped and spoke. “Pappy, you ain’t like the stories say. Not quite anyways.”
“Stories is stories, Squab. Some truth and a lot o’ grog in-between!”
“I heard stories all me life that you were me pappy… didn’t you hear o’ me?”
“Nay, I hadn’t… A man o’ me proclivities and adventures could have dozens o’ sons and hundreds more stories of em’ runnin’ around! But truth told, I found a pair o’ enchanted rings for preventin’ such complications, an’ used the handy trinkets. After I met Sargassa we shared em’, an’ I didn’t give thought to it all me years in prison…”
“Then how did you know I was your son?”
Hakbutt grinned slipping a thin belt off the dead man’s waist. “Yer eyes, for one. ‘Fore me last battle with Lord-Admiral Anise, I had an eye o’ green as well ye know! The thing that puzzles me is how ye came to be… Ye know, given magic rings in all—”
The pirate paused in his looting to scratch his chin and ponder. “Come to think o’ it… there was that last night where we cut that virility potion with rum…”
“But me dead mammy’s name was Buteinia, not Sargassa!” Eevin protested slightly pale.
The pirate tapped his forehead and began to search the floor. “Ah, it be makin’ sense now, Lad! Buteinia was a fine girl, a fence an’ friend o’ Sargassa’s that ran a brothel for cover! But she wasn’t yer mammy… That be Sargassa for sure!”
There was a long silence as Bryne collected a few stray Kopin coins off the floor. Finally he looked to Eevin and found the boy’s eyes wet with tears.
“Then… why did she leave? You didn’t know I was born… But… Why didn’t me mammy want me!?”
In an instant, the child was swept-up and held fast in his father’s arms. “Nay! We both wanted whelps runnin’ about amidships! Just on safer shores than amid bloody cutthroats! Sargassa must’ve hid you for protectin’, ‘cause the moment I heard yer name I knew yer mammy wanted you moored to our hearts forever! ”
Awkwardly held, Eevin squirmed and looked up under Hakbutt’s beard. “How?”
“Eevin was her twin brother’s name. He was me best friend an’ first mate! A lucky charm if ever there was one… An’ he traded his life for hers.”
The boy could find no words as he looked at his father and felt the weight of his revelation sink in. Instead, he buried his face into the pirate’s grey beard that smelled of sweat and stale rum, and held the man as tightly as he could.
Hackbutt sniffed and squinted away a tear before patting Eevin on the back. “I’ll teach ye all I know, me Son! O’ sailin’ an’ o’ ropes an’ knots! O’ piratin’ an’ fightin’ an’ how to bite off a man’s ear!”
Eevin nodded still holding his father tight. “I’ll try, Pappy… But me hast never been much good at anythin’…”
The pirate stood and lifted his son up by the armpits before spinning the child around. “Wot!? Belay that talk, Squab! ‘Fore ye is me son, an’ there ain’t never been a child o’ the Bryne that hasn’t loved the sea… or been loved by Her in return!”
Hakbutt put the child down and tweaked his button nose playfully. Then he grabbed the Boatswain’s thin brown belt and pressed it into Eevin’s hands along with the knife sheath he had given the boy earlier. “Here, put these on. We be needin’ to jump ship an’ get movin’ soon, so make some haste!”
“Aye-aye Pappy-Captain-Sir!” Eevin saluted watching his father scour the cabin floor. He quickly wrapped and fastened the belt around his waist. “Are we going to claim your treasure?”
The flickering green pupil returned to Hakbutt’s glazed white eye. “We’re going to give it a shot! —Ah! There it be!”
Bryne snatched the Boatswain’s rigging knife off the planking and gave it a nimble twirl before wiping the the blade off on his trousers. He presented it to Eevin handle first, and the boy took hold of it timidly.
“From me throat to me hand, Pappy?”
The pirate grinned. “Aye, I can’t have any mates runnin’ about deck without tools an’ arms, can I? Now be a good lad an’ scoot to the aft o’ the cabin an’ open me broken chest back there… Inside’s a scrawny old shirt about yer size, paddin’ a bottle o’ rum. Bring me the rum!”
Eevin eagerly nodded and carefully slid the rigging knife into its place on his belt. His bare feet ran past Borkgutto’s corpse and into the back of the room as his proud father looked on.
“Me blind eye sees an enchantment or two on that old knife, so treat her well! There be somethin’ arcane about the marlinspike ye overlooked in yer sheath, too.”
The boy’s mismatched eyes looked alight as he searched for the chest. “Enchanted! How so?”
“Nary an idea atoll!” Hakbutt boomed before laughing with fists on hips. “I ain’t learned how to tell yet!”
Eevin shrugged and playfully rolled his eyes before returning to a ransacking hunt for a bottle of rum. “Where is the treasure hidden, Pappy? I’ve heard so many stories!”
The pirate turned to search the rest of the of the cabin. “Aye. Me too, Squab. But the thing is —Ew.”
“Ew? Where’s that?”
“On me foot. Don’t tarry a look if ye don’t hast to, Son. The fat twitchy bastard’s gone all…chummy fish bait. ”
Eevin didn’t rise from behind the barrels he searched. “Ew.”
“Aye,” Hakbutt concurred stepping over the remains of Seaman Twitch. The pirate shook his head, deciding to forgo searching the bloody mess for valuables… until he spied the man’s untouched legs.
The pirate stripped off the leather footwear and was measuring its sole against his bare foot in moments. After hearing a victorious and happy shout, Eevin caught glimpses of his father hopping on one leg and then another pulling on the cuffed, knee-high boots.
“So where is the treasure, Pappy?” the boy asked again from the back.
“Wot? Oh yeah, that again…” Hakbutt tucked the legs of his brown trousers into the boot’s cuffs. Then with the stomp of a hard heel he strutted over and scooped up the Lord-Captains discarded red longcoat.
“Me Son, the truth is… I haven’t a clue.”
Eevin’s head popped up from behind an overturned table. “What?! How can you not know where your treasure be?”
Hakbutt pointed to his glazed white eye and the long scar that crossed it. “See that, me Son? After the sinking o’ The Stormcrow, I was nearly dyin’ from this partin’ gift from the Lord-Admiral here. I was told afterwards that Morbia would’ve surely claimed me if not for Sargassa’s fine ship’s surgeon…”
The pirate silently collected coins, spell components, and other spilt paraphernalia from the floor as he haphazardly shoved them back into the leather longcoat in his arms. “O’ corse, she probably would’ve run Blackettle through had he failed… But maybe not! He was always a good sort for a dwarf, ye see.”
Eevin shook his head in disbelief. “So if you didn’t bury it, who did?”
Bryne stood and slipped the red captain’s longcoat over his bare chest and shoulders. “It wasn’t Sargassa, I’ll tell ye that. All I found hidden in the spot yer Mammy an’ I agreed upon was the Brynesmark Pick… Speaking o’ which…”
The pirate strutted over to the side of Borkgutto’s corpse and retrieved his black tattooist’s pick. Twirling it deftly, he then pointed-out the remaining two pearls on the sharkskin handle to Eevin.
“ ‘Twas the one dammed thing I wanted most o’ all in Lord-Admiral Anise’s hoard… An’ probably ‘twas the one dammed thing he valued least ‘cause he didn’t know what it was!”
Eevin shifted his foot and a toe struck something. Ducking down he found Hakbutt’s small broken strongbox behind the overturned tabletop. “So ye don’t have any idea where it is, Pappy?”
“Nay-nay, Squab… I’ve got plentiful ideas! The trick is figurin’ out which is right!”
The boy opened the small chest and removed a half-filled rum bottle wrapped in a red- striped shirt. He stood up and ran around the broken table to rejoin his father. “So if you don’t know where it is, where are we going?”
Hakbutt took ahold of the bottle the child offered him. He unwrapped the shirt and tossed it to Eevin before pulling out the container’s cork stopper with his teeth and spitting it out.
“Anywhere but here, lad!” he said before leaning back and chugging the contents of the bottle down in one go and belching when he was done.
The pirate wiped his lips on a coat sleeve. “The young Lord-Captain will be sailin’ here with his whole crew an’ anyone he can hire as soon as the fog lifts… So we’ll need to jump ship soon, Son. But now me cover’s blown an’ word will travel faster than the wind that the bounties on me head still be around for the takin’!”
Eevin flinched as Hakbutt flung the bottle, shattering it in a far corner. Then he stomped off towards the serrated cutlass stuck in the cabin wall. Following on his father’s heels, the boy slipped the red and white shirt over his head.
“But you have a plan, right Pappy?”
“Aye,” he said yanking the sword out of the wall and looping it under his belt. Squatting down with his back still to the child, he claimed the black tricorn on the floor and gave it a shake before looking to Eevin with a growing, gap-toothed smile.
Bryne pointed with the hat before putting it on. “Be a good first mate an’ fetch yer Pappy the Lord-Captain’s pretty map-case over there will ye, Squab.”
Eevin did as asked, and as he waited for the boy’s return, Hakbutt looked down and picked up the severed palm by his boot. Finding it soft and uncalloused, he examined it with a squint before pulling out the semi-flaccid purse that he had found tucked in the fat seaman’s boot. His son returned with map-case in hand while the pirate poured the jangling copper and silver pennies within the purse into his coat pocket.
Bryne nodded to Eevin as he pushed the Lord-Captain’s cold fingers down into the bag and pulled its drawstrings tight. “This could be, handy.”
Moments later Hakbutt held the unrolled vellum of the map before his face. Chuckling, he flipped it down and winked at Eevin with his one good blue eye. “Now THIS changes everythin’!”
Hakbutt lifted the yellow map and spoke. “Show me the whereabouts o’ me boy’s mammy!”
Eevin’s heart skipped a beat, then saw the lines of his blood on the aged vellum reconfigure and shift. Although the child couldn’t see any details in the poor light, he still felt a great sense of relief just knowing that his mother was still alive.
The map finished its reconfiguration, and Hakbutt stared at it for a good minute motionless and silent.
“Huh. Yup, I would’ve never guessed to be lookin’ for her there!” he finally said before hastily rolling the map up and stuffing it back into the case. The pirate shoved the leather cylinder under his belt next to his cutlass, then strode for the broken cabin door.
“Alright Squab! We’re jumpin’ ship and settin’ sail!”
“But, Captain-Pappy-Sir, we ain’t got no ship!” Eevin pointed out.
“We got a BOAT! It’s a START!” Hakbutt shouted stomping out the door and onto the foggy deck.
The child ran after him. “But we ain’t got no crew!”
“Nay! I got ye, me Son! An’ with an EEVIN at me side or coverin’ me back, there ain’t nothin’ I can’t accomplish!”
Eevin followed his father past the broken hole in the railing on the starboard side of Kora’s Blessing. They came to a stop at the rope ladder that led over her side, and with a glance the pirate confirmed a dory still lay moored below. He swung a leg over the rail and started climbing down.
“Pappy! Where are we headed?” The boy cried out scrambling to follow down the swaying ladder.
“To Borkgutto’s ship, Son! The Zacian Lion!”
Bryne stepped off the rope ladder and into the leaky dory with Eevin shimmying down not far above him. “Cause half her crew is ashore on leave, an’ the other half be too drunk to care WHO’S in charge!”
“Alright! Yer the Captain!” the boy said dropping the last few feet to rock the boat as he landed.
Hakbutt steadied the dory, sitting down and taking up its oars as Eevin looked to the mooring post. Knowing that untying the knot on the bent, rusty spike would take too long for his untrained fingers, the boy withdrew his rigging knife and sliced the boat free.
His father lowered the oars he gripped into the fog-skimmed water and pulled the dory away from the wrecked galleon’s hull. His approving nod to Eevin spoke before his words.
“There! See? Now that’s the Bryne’s blood in ye, Squab!”
Eevin sat down and sheathed the knife. “Once we have a ship, are we sailing to find Mammy?”
“Nay!” Hakbutt boomed pulling another stroke of the oars. “Not yet, anyways! First we be findin’ the one man who most likely hid me treasure! A master ropesman an’ fellow to whom I owe a great many favors indeed!”
Eevin shook his head wide-eyed as Kora’s Blessing and the lapping waves upon Keel Cleaver Rock slipped away into the harbor fog. “Who? ”
“Arr! He be me Pappy! Yer Grand-Pappy, Eevin! … Kleese ‘Knotty’ Bryne! An’ we’ll be needin’ his help if we an’ ye Mammy are in half the trouble that I think we be in!”
(c) Jason H. Abbott – February 5, 2016