My heart raced at a gentle touch to my face.
"You wanted me to wake you at first light." Silah's voice coursed through my head, as my blood surged at being awoken.
I blinked twice and saw her face close to mine, honey-brown eyes glistening from the the pale pink sky that was just now coming through the window. Her eyes were calm, crinkled slightly at the edges from a sly smile. My heart surged again. I smiled in response, raising a hand to brush away her short dark brown from her cheek, then gently laid my immense hand on her face. My heart swelled with the exchange.
I took in my surroundings, feeling suddenly vulnerable. We had avoided Pike's and the dancing girls and returned to Butterwicks. Bromm and I had kept Beidrick from the festivities. It would have been quite unfair for us to participate. I pulled my hand back and moved to sit up, but she remained, unmoving keeping me in place.
"We have time." She whispered, "We'll get to the boat soon enough."
I was tense for a moment unsure of what she was saying, but her eyes became stern. I decided to take the advice and eventually allowed myself to relax. Silah moved under my arm and curled around my torso, laying her head on my chest. I caught my breath, feeling her warmth press against me. She raised her head from my chest and looked at me.
"Calmly, my beast." She said through a musical laugh and laid her head back down, listening to my heart beat.
I stared at the ceiling listening to the blood beating in my ears, watching the pinkish light turn more golden. I placed a hand to the small of her back, feeling anxious, but slowly letting that fade and enjoying her presence.
Just as the first rays of the sun were streaming through the window, she moved up and gave me a peck on the cheek.
"There. Much better. Yes? We're not always at war, soldier. We're allowed to live gracefully and relish comfort in those moments in between." She whisper breathily into my ear and stood. "Unfortunately, now we're going to be a little late."
She held out a hand down to me. I furrowed my brow at the gesture, but I reached up and took her hand anyway. She clamped down on my the meaty part of my hand and thumb. My eyes bulged and I grunted at her iron grip. She pulled me halfway to my feet with little effort, I then, awkwardly, had to get my legs under me to stand the rest of the way.
"Ouch." I rubbed my hand after stabilizing on my feet and gave her a hurt look.
She shot me a feigned pout and patted my arm clucking her tongue affectionately.
"You really don't know your own strength." I said, while moving through the room, putting on the breastplate, pulling the duster from the hook on the back of the door, and slinging my rucksack in place.
"I think I do." She paused, her eyes staying on me as I moved through the room. "Though, I may have misjudged yours."
"Ouch again. You're in a mood this morning." I rubbed at my still throbbing thumb.
"We're travelling again! Why wouldn't I be excited?"
"It's just business." I shrugged dismissively, feeling that it was much more than business.
She shot me a glare, "Who's in a mood this morning?"
I smirked and opened the door, bowing gracelessly, and motioning to it.
"M'lday? Shall we?"
She gave a small "hmph", lifting her chin defiantly. She took a stately pose and strode through the open door majestically. I looked around the room, assured that everything was in its place and locked the door behind me. Just outside of Butterwick's, a somewhat impatient Silah was waiting. I started to walk, but noted that she didn't move.
"You had a good thing going on back there. This whole M'lady bit. Why spoil things by not being a gentleman?" She folded her arms and looked at me dangerously.
I approached and held out my arm, bowing again, but this time with a more refined approach, feeling awkward in my poor man's armor escorting this stately woman. She twined her arm through mine, letting a subtle smile curl the corners of her mouth. She was completely unaffected by the cold. Her impossible warmth kept the chill at bay as we moved through the streets toward the docks.
The crispness of the air was punctuated by the bursts of wind bringing the fresh smell of the sea into the harbor. It had been an ever present musk that defined the Northern coast. It was strange to think it had been there by varying degrees ever since I stepped off of the Ethesia House platform on my way to Kellas House. It was even stranger that the smell was beginning to remind me of home.
I nodded silently to myself with the realization. Blustery, temperamental, and raining for weeks at a time, yet I was a newly adopted orphan by the North Coast. Silah patted my arm, looking up at me with an assuring smile and I nodded to her. I had become used to her way of poking through my thoughts. Perhaps she had become better at not calling it to my attention?
From a distance, I saw Beidrick standing midship, barking out orders and insults to two shaggy looking boys. A smile spread across Silah's face.
"Look who's a captain now?" She said to herself, untwining herself from my arm, moving down the dock, and stepping to the edge of the boat. I felt a twinge of jealousy as Beidrick approached her and took her outstretched hand, leading her into the boat. The boat tipped as she stepped on board, giving Beidrick a bit of a shock as she glided to a seat and settled in.
I moved aboard, carefully, watching Beidrick berate the shaggy youths. Floki had settled in uneasily, as did Bromm, sitting gingerly in the center of the boat. Floki had been interested in an overland trip, but Bromm and I had already set things in motion to make the trip by sea. Plus, telling Beidrick that we spoiled his night of fun just to recant would put him in a foul enough mood, at least he'd be making some money for his time and effort.
It was something to behold. Beidrick had a glimmer in his eyes looking out at sea then looking toward the two boys whom he had well in line. His words were sharp and they snapped to attention.
As preparations were getting underway and the youths, visibly quaking and showing no proper experience on a boat, muddled around with the tasks assigned to them. Beidrick came and sat next to Silah and I. And began telling a story, loud enough for everyone to hear, especially the new deckhands.
"These two, I tell ya. They said they wanted to make their ways in the world, get off their farm, sail the seas." He spoke with a bravado I had not seen from him. I couldn't help but smile at the transformation. The quaking youths were clearly under his spell.
He continued, "So, they say they have some goods they can give in exchange for training and they mention they've got a 'bug problem'." He looked toward one of the shaggy headed boys and raised his voice, "Hah! A bug problem?"
"A bug, as big as a damn horse, climbs out of the ground and that one there, Finn," He jabs a finger at the smaller one, "He tossed himself right into the jaws of the thing. And that other one, Tad, starts hitting the thing with his fists like he can do anything to it!"
Silah was enraptured with the story and I had a wide smile on my face, as much from the reaction of the timid boys as Beidrick's retelling of it.
"I pull out my hammer." He grasped at his waist, where this hammer with a hooked end was currently slung and he held it aloft. I had to think for a moment, last I saw him, I swore that he'd been sporting a longsword before now.
"I pull this out and start raining blows on the thing until it stops moving. The boy over there was bloodied up pretty good, but they got themselves healing on their own dime." He leaned back, looking over his shoulder toward the cowering boys, "I can't say it's a good tactic to stay alive, mind you. Bloody foolish, but it gave me time to do the critter in."
"Heh, a bug problem. Masters of the obvious, these two." He jerked a thumb their direction. He stood, shaking his head, and moved in to give them a new set of instructions.
The sails unfurled and the ropes went taut. Beidrick had the boys reposition the sail as he moved back to the till. He shouted to bring the anchor up and the two boys turned a crank in turn until the boat eased back from the berth out into open water. Floki and Bromm looked considerably more uncomfortable as there was water on all sides. Beidrick used the backward momentum to swing the boat around.
"Mind the sail, lads." The broadcloth took hold of the wind easily.
Beidrick was able to catch the wind at a steep angle moving North. There was a wide smile on his face as he settled in, leaning against the till. The sun began to warm the deck. There were bright, crisp skies and a fair wind from the Northwest as we moved from the harbor.
Floki and Bromm took turns at being the very picture of discomfort. Silah saw it as an opportunity and started to move about the ship, engaging Bromm first.
"I don't mind the sea, it just doesn't mix well with powder." I overheard him say as part of their conversation.
It was an understandable discomfort. His livelihood was at stake out on the open water. However, as a juxtapose to his concern, out in the bay was a large ship from the Princess's own navy. A row of cannons were brought to bear North against the open sea. The blasts rolled over the bay and echoed off of the bluff. It was a ringing counterpoint to Bromm's concerns. He smiled as the sound rolled over him.
"But, there... that's the sound of money." He smiled placidly while the bright sun lit his face. He seemed to relax, feeling more assured.
Floki, on the other hand, still looked wary. I rolled over onto my back on the bench, watching the wispy clouds against the bright blue sky. Feeling the boat rolling on the waves below me.
At around the time the sun had passed its zenith, Beidrick announced that we had rounded the horn. As he eased the boat around, the sunlight shifted from our left to now slightly behind us. I had moved under the benches, keeping the sun off of my face. Silah had moved back to give Beidrick company. He was no longer manning the till, but keeping a watchful eye on an unkempt boy who he had tasked with it. That boy, Tad, was feeling proud of himself, for the brief moments that Beidrick would let him.
"Sails!" Beidrick announced. I glanced back toward Beidrick and Silah from the hollow under the bench. He was squinting North and East.
"Red sails." He shook his head and grumbled to himself, "I knew this was too easy."
"Red sails is a bad thing, I take it." Bromm said.
Floki was on his feet, stumbling slightly from the boat's movement. He moved over to the forming group. The boys looked very anxious.
"You could say that. The Mezzaqat. They raided Dowry some years back. Think of it as the one reason you're going to get paid so well for that powder." Beidrick's dark humor was punctuated by a smirk. "They're faster, likely have a crew of near fifty hands, and are already ahead of us."
He thought for a moment, weighing his options, eyeing the sails on the horizon. He shook his head.
"We'll put in here on the shoreline." He waved to the boy manning the till and the boat rocked suddenly.
"Ease it in, Tad! This boat isn't like your mother! She can only take so much!" Beidrick's insult sent the boy into a fit of red-faced shame.
Silah clicked her tongue at the insult, shaking her head, which prompted a "Bah!" and a dismissive gesture from Beidrick as he moved to the hold. He proceeded to pull up a grey mesh of fabrics and a long length of twine.
"As soon as we're ashore, we need to pull down the mast. The faster we do this, the better of a chance we'll have to avoid fifty-some blades." He was facing away from us as he spoke.
I looked sidelong at Silah, considering the prospect with some interest and excitement. She read the expression and shook her head with a mocking chuckle.
"So, who is the real danger to whom?" She asked, rhetorically.
I shrugged, thinking better of it, then moved to help Beidrick.
"The boys can do this bit. You help me with the mast." He turned from the pile of gray and white netting. "Boys, spread that over the aft of the boat. That's the rear of the boat. We're a rock. Keep that in your head as you're tossing the net around. A rock, boys!"
He flagged to me and we moved over to the mast. I looked to Silah, who had settled onto a bench with a smirk on her face as she watched the men set to work.
Following Beidrick's instructions, I wrapped my arms around the mast and lifted slightly, he pulled a large steel pin out of the housing and then helped me lift it and then lay the mast down gently. Within moments, our boat has become a rock, blending in with the boulders tossed to the beach from the cliffside. We hopped off the boat, completing the dressing as Beidrick followed the red sails on the horizon. We watched from behind the rocks as the ship angled slightly in, but then continued on.
Beidrick let out a relieved sigh.
Bromm was moving down the beach, not paying much mind to the distance of the red sails.
"Anyone want crabs?"
Floki sniggered and Beidrick said, "You haven't even met Sally, yet!"
Bromm looked annoyed, but then pulled up a burlap sack with several crabs attached to it showing Floki and Beidrick who, at first, looked surprised, then nodded approvingly. He shook them off into another bag he had procured. I continued to watch the shoreline, feeling anxious, looking for other red sails while the others continued to gather the plentiful horseshoe crabs that had amassed on the beach. All this while we waited for the red sails to get some distance.
Beidrick looked out to sea again pointing at a disturbance on the water, "Hmm, that wasn't there before."
He dropped his sack and looked closer, "Wait, it's moving!"
Water crashed against a large shell that erupted from the surface. A man-sized claw was wrapped shut with old fish netting and lanced with a couple of javelins that struck true. Maddened by a festering infection, it's beady blood red eyes looked toward us. The other free claw was raised, waving aggressively. The creature rushed forward in a hurry, but as it crested the water, it immediately slowed, unaided by the buoyancy of the water.
"Silah?" I looked behind and she was there, I reached back and she took my hand, melting readily into her Greatsword form. I breathed deeply, preparing to attack.
There's just us. I don't think we can rely on any of the others engaging directly.
I could feel her nod, but I could also sense the anticipation climbing through the blade. Eyes blazing from her massive shadowed visage on the darkened stage of my mind.
I brought the Greatsword to bear and called out to the boy-men.
"On my side! I'll engage. You follow my lead."
I heard a click to my left, and Bromm swore audibly. Arrows sped out from my right, clattering off of the shell. I could hear Beidrick moving on the boat, but I couldn't see him over the towering crab.
The net covered claw sped toward me, and I braced against the impact, which sent a shockwave of force through me. My vision was blurred and my ears rang from the impact. I could taste blood and felt the skin split along my left forearm. I dealt with the pain, feeling a raging heat rise in me. A throbbing red haze filled my vision as my anger mounted. I curled my lips back, bellowing at the monster, moving a step forward to engage. The heated attack struck true, cleaving through the shell and exposing more of the warm white flesh underneath.
"One of you, get behind him!" I yelled to the brothers.
I heard Bromm fiddle with his gun quickly then fire a shot, peeling back some of the shell and taking a few chunks of white flesh with it. Then he ran to the ship, climbing up a boulder and heaving himself over the edge of the boat. More arrows lanced out, one disappearing into the gap I had opened on the beast's carapace. I heard Beidrick shouting from above, but I couldn't make out what he was saying from the rush of blood pounding through my ears. All sound started to fade as my vision narrowed and my heartbeat mounted.
I need you. I might not be able to take another hit like that.
"What would you have me do?" She was recovering from the reverberations from our first attack, but she reflected my feeling of concern.
Healing. I need … No. I have this.
"You're no good to anyone dead."
Yes, heal me.
"Done." She whispered close.
There was a sort of ecstasy, but almost a pained release of energy back into me. A surge came from the sword, lacing down my arms, sealing the split in my forearm. I was able to focus more clearly as some of the pain waned.
One of the claws locked on to Finn, boy behind me. He was pulled into the air effortlessly by the massive creature. He screamed in alarm as he was hoisted up. He rained blows from his boarding axe onto the shell with little effect. His brother had moved around back and was tapping ineffectively at the rear of the creature, doing nothing more than distracting it.
The red haze still lit my vision, and I gripped the blade with all my might, doing a grand overhand stroke, splitting deep into the carapace, splitting down between the eyes and through the frothing mandibles. The strike had sent Silah quivering, but she did not taste death.
It continued to swing furiously, throwing its claws around. Finn cried out in pain as the claw bit into him, blood seeped from claw. He seemed to be barely clinging to life.
I don't think I can save him.
I was distracted with the thought, and another blow landed, rocking me back. This time there was cracking as a few of my ribs gave under the blunt force. The whole side of my body was bloodied and bruised from the ponderous strike. I felt my face and lips start to swell from the impact.
I was lifting Silah for another strike, pained with the effort, then a shot rang out. The hulk immediately went lip, dropping Finn and buckling to the ground under it's own massive weight. My sword was still posed. I looked at Bromm, leaning over the boat's edge with his musket. I glared at him, but I dropped my eyes to the ground and thought of Silah in her human form. I leaned against the rock at my back and tried to catch my breath. I could hear the grinding of cracked ribs in my chest with each gasp. My anger faded and the throbbing red haze parted from my vision.
Beidrick cheered from the back of the boat. Bromm looked warily at me. Silah was slightly perturbed, coming back to her human form mildly sticky and laced with salt water, but her disdain turned to concern. I glanced up at Bromm.
"I'm sorry, I don't blame you. In a situation like that, we shouldn't take any chances." I said, feeling ashamed that I let my anger get the better of me and then directed that anger at a friend.
I sighed. The killing blow. Silah had preserved me with the energy that she had taken from the slain, but I wasn't able to return in kind. I slumped against the rock, feeling every ache.now. There seemed to be little point to me wearing armor. I tapped on the dented breastplate, then started unbuckling it to help me breathe better. Silah approached, helping with the clasps.
"I had it. I almost had it." I groaned, and looked at Silah apologetically. She shushed me, but there was a sort of manic in her eyes; an unspoken need.
She moved her hands over me, checking for wounds.
"It probably looks worse than it is." She chided with a half-hearted smile, "You'll survive."
I took her hand and put it, painfully, on where I felt my ribs had cracked and took a deep breath feeling the pop and grind with each breath. She pulled her hand back with a grimace.
"You should rest on the boat." She reached down and lifted me easily to my feet considerably more gently than she had done this morning.
"I can walk. I just needed to catch my breath." I bit back the pain with the comment.
Where was Danin when I needed him.
I glanced down at Tad who was attending to Finn. Tad seemed tearful, helping Finn to his feet. The blow had nearly killed him, a deep gouge with pock marks from the inside of the claw across his midsection. He fought hard, even while being crushed in the grasp of that crab. Regardless of Beidrick's berating, the boy had the heart of a fighter. In a situation like that, you couldn't ask for much more.
"So, Beidrick, what's good eating?" I shouted up at the boat, shaking off the fear of my glaring mortality.
His head popped over, "Those claws would cook up nicely."
"What about the meat on the body?"
"No, no. Never the body." He disappeared back over the edge quickly.
I shrugged slightly to myself, then took the boarding axe from the ground where Finn had dropped it. I laid the axe at the base of each claw, avoiding a good portion of the healthy flesh around the infection.
"Legs, too?" I shouted up.
Beidrick looked over the bow of the ship with exasperation.
"Yes, yes. Do you mind? I have work to do." He said to the air as he disappeared from view again.
I gathered the legs up with some effort. Bromm had dropped down, joined shortly by Floki. They continued to gather more of the crabs including the bag that Bromm had tossed when their larger cousin had come ashore. Silah had moved up into the boat, helping Beidrick while Tad attended to his brother.
I tossed the bag aboard and caught a glimpse of Silah single-handedly placing the mast while a bewildered, but very impressed, Beidrick set the pin. I couldn't hear his comments, but they prompted a sparkling laugh from Silah. After he stood, she released the mast and dusted off her hands with a self-satisfied smile. She was revelling in the plight of the common man. Her various lives, up to this point, were likely dull and uninteresting courtly affairs. Nothing at all like this. I couldn't help but feel pleased that I was part of this stage of her near immortal experience.
Beidrick carefully checked the horizon again, making sure that more red sails weren't lurking on the horizon. Silah, Tad, and myself heaved against the bow of the ship, pushing it back out in the sea. The cold salt water lanced at my wounds, reminding me of my condition. I climbed aboard and pulled Silah and Tad aboard, wincing with the effort. I settled in, resuming my position lying down under the benches.
"Let's get underway, shall we?" Beidrick said smoothly, then began barking commands to his remaining healthy crewman.
(Get to know Akeron)