‘Three fathoms captain. They called three fathoms.’
‘I heard the Gods cursed call Mr. Cog, We’re holding course.’
The Lying Wench cruised on implacable, the sea a hissing shimmer of sound as her bow cut through it. The Shackles Sea is clear and blue and wicked and entirely beautiful.
There was blood on my face. It had stiffened into a mask and soaked my clothes, made black scimitars under my nails. Looking along the crimson sheen of the deck, I saw a severed hand lying there forgotten, browning in the sun. Momentarily the violence of the morning came back, bright and unbelievable. As I shifted, easing my shoulders out from under the memory, my boot soles came off the soaked deck planking with little sucking rips of sound that made my stomach churn. My face, as always, retained its slightly amused smile. Far astern a pack of gulls shrieked greedily as they feasted on the corpses.
‘Two fathoms and a half!’ shouted the leadsman in the starboard forechains.
‘We’ll scrape the arse out of her if we’re not careful’, Ratpeg said in his deep burr.
I glanced aft, to where a tense group of my crew were standing with axes, ready to send the anchor plunging from the quarter and bring us to an undignified halt. Shiny stood amongst them, her hair, somehow, still immaculate. She nodded gravely as she caught my eye.
‘We’ll rein her in quick enough, if it comes to that’ I said. I managed what I hoped was a confident grin. Hell, I was actually starting to enjoy this.
Forward of us the crew stood in the waist and upon the fo’c’sle like things frozen, listening for the yell of the leadsman as he swung out the tallow bottomed lead and felt for the seabed which was running under the keel of the ship at a good five knots. Shoal water – treacherous sandbank riddled bad ground with the rocks they called the assassins somewhere in its midst.
‘Even if they can’t follow us their catapults can still reach’ murmured Azothil in his strange tongue. ‘The Assassins are close captain, I can feel it.’
I was not sure if he meant the rocks or the three Chelaxian Galleons that had been chasing us since we sunk one of their fellows that morning. My Azlanti still needs work.
I was looking closely at the approaching coastline of Mokatu Isle, my hand resting lightly on the wheel, going by feel and gut rather than any set course. Finally I saw them, the spire of rock rising from the jungle and the great tree, twisted like a whores promise. Straight from my dream. Dream or prophecy, call it what you will, it was sent from Besmara. I knew it was no normal dream as she was wearing clothes in this one. Goddess I hoped it wasn’t a normal dream. From those landmarks I could calculate the position needed, almost there…, almost there…
‘Cut it’ I laughed, just as Ratline called from the crows nest, ‘Sail ho’.
I say this for my crew, they trust me. That or they are all scared of Shiny, as they cut the balance line, the counterweight sending the anchor plunging into the shallow sea. A grinding lock, shit, there were rocks down their, close. The anchor chain groaned and The Lying Wench heaved to one side as we came to a sudden stop. Spinning the wheel madly I locked us in irons, dead in the wind. Charred sail flapping, crew all looking at me expectantly, me grinning like a madman.
‘Now we wait’ it came out like a cross between a chuckle and a challenge. Ratpeg loomed, Mara muttered some arcane words and the crew settled back to their tasks.
Ratline called out regular updates on the approaching galleons. Every time the crew would look my way, see my grin, then look away. The tide started to turn, four hours early, about time; even I was starting to doubt. It quickened going out to sea at a pace I had never seen before.
‘Batten down ye scurvy mugs’ I called ‘Full storm rig. Jump to it or you’ll be swimming to hell within the hour’. They looked at me like I was mad; the day was calm, gentle breeze, no storm in the offing. The tide quickened, the water went down like a pirates pants in a brothel. We hit bottom, they were all glancing at me, nervous like. The Wench lurched over to one side. Bugger me, the water was all gone, just like that. The Galleons were being sucked away on that mad tide. The crew gave a ragged uncertain cheer.
‘Not yet lads’ I laughed, they’ll be coming back fast.
Ratline did not call when he saw the wave. He just swung down from the crows nest like a drunken monkey and started tying himself to the mast. Good idea that.
‘Haul that anchor in’ I yelled ‘and every man make fast, storm lines all.’
They heard it in my voice. No laughter, no jokes, for the first time they looked genuinely scared. Then we saw the wave. A monster. A tidal wave to beat them all, looming like a mountain range and coming fast. Two of the Galleons were surfing on her, out of control. As we watched one started to roll, then tumble like an acrobat that’s been fired from a catapult. In the next moment she was gone. Fuck.
The water started to rise, I called Shiny and Ratpeg over to the wheel, I needed all the strength we had to spin her once she started. This was going to be fun.