Part 3 of a fantasy pirate novel-in-progress. Parts 1 and 2 can be found on Remington‘s and Denizen‘s pages.
“All hands!” Fahd called. “Storm brewing! All hands on deck. You, too, rookie,” he said to Jericho, son of the late merchant captain Remington. “Go help with the rigging.”
“Yes, sir,” the youth replied. He ran to do as ordered.
Denizen climbed out of the hold. “How are the skies?”
“Blacker than the bottom of the devil’s heart, Captain,” Fahd replied. “I’ve only seen the skies like this in the desert storms.”
Fahd gripped the railing and peered out, trying to see with his night-born eyes what the rest of the crew could not. “The storm is between us and port! Might be we could sail around it in four days–”
“We may not have four days,” Denizen snapped. “Bilge! Get that rookie! Ask him if he knows anything about birthing!”
“Aye, captain,” the rat-like woman replied. She scurried up the ropes to find Jericho.
“Foul time for foul weather,” Denizen muttered. “If that mage would wake, might be we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“You would trust our lives to a half-dead mage?” Fahd replied. “An unknown mage?
“Maybe not.” Denizen shook his head. The wind picked up, and he raised his voice to hear himself over the howl. “I need you down below!”
“My eyes are needed out here!”
“Even if that rookie knows anything of use, he won’t have the eyes to see in this muck. I need you to be sure nothing goes wrong!”
A wave crashed over them, threatening to roll the ship. The clouds dropped down, even as the water rose to meet them, and the wind threw the ship into the darkness.
Fahd blinked at Denizen. “It’s the crew or the child, captain.”
Bilge climbed out of the ropes long enough to shake her head at Denizen before she returned to the rigging.
“Stay to your post, then,” Denizen replied. He growled. “Demons take it!”
Fahd smiled. “That may be what they want,” he said, peering into the clouds. “Why else try to keep us from port?”
“I suppose you think it’s demon spawn?” Denizen growled.
“If it were demon spawn,” Fahd slowly replied, “I’d think they’d want it to live.”
Denizen blinked, then nodded again and returned to the hold.
Fahd did not bellow his orders. The wind had started to roar, too loud now for even Denizen’s voice to carry. But the crew knew its job; even the merchant’s boy did well enough at the ropes.
Fahd simply took over the captain’s place at the helm, stared into the storm, and prayed to whatever gods were listening that they would make it out.
It was impossible to tell how far, or for how long, they sailed in that darkness. There were no stars to judge their position, and the wind blew at odd intervals that even the most skilled could not count.
Their hearts filled with the icy chill of the depths, and the crew began to count, instead, by the waves that threatened to tear the ship apart.
Only Jericho, the lone survivor of his father’s crew, refused to despair. And so it was he who saw the pinprick of light, even before Fahd’s eyes.
“Fahd!” He climbed down out of the ropes to get the desert man’s attention. “First Lieutenant, sir! Look there!”
Fahd looked in the direction the man pointed. The pinprick transformed into a sunburst, forcing itself into the storm. “The Desert Flower–” Fahd whispered. He rubbed at his shoulder, where an old scar reminded him of the last time he’d seen that sign. “Rookie, get the men back to their posts. Beat them if you have to. But tell them to make for that Flower!”
“Yes, sir,” Jericho muttered.
But such threats were unnecessary. Once the sunburst appeared, the chill vanished from the hearts of the crew. They were wary of the sudden light, but eager enough for anything that could lead them from the storm.
Fahd beckoned the large Taur over to the helm to replace him, then ran down to the hold to find Denizen. “Captain!” he called. “The Desert Flower, she comes! She has brought us the sun!”
It was a little after midnight when they saw the first lights of the port town, and the few stragglers foolish enough to be out in the weather.
Fahd called out to the people on shore. “We need a healer!”
A few of the stragglers scattered and ran off in different directions. The rest pushed off in rowboats and struggled towards the ship.
The storm still pushed them around, enough to cause damage and threaten their rescuers if the ship docked too close. Fahd dropped the anchor a little distance away and waited for help to reach them.
Whatever fortune had carried them to port was still with the crew, for Kaly herself met them at the shore.
“Kalyptos,” Denizen breathed, bowing to the healer.
She inclined her head. “I’m told you need my services?”
“Yes, my lady.” Denizen turned back to help Fahd, the mage and the woman towed on planks between them.
The townsmen were always ready for a tale, and the sight gained their interest as well as any visitor could. Most returned to the tavern to wait, but for a foolish few, their curiosity overcame their fear of the strange healer, and under the pretense of helping, they followed the pirates into her hut.
Fahd swiftly drove them back out into the weather, where they waited him out. None were curious enough to fight him. Only those few that provided any real help were allowed to remain inside.
Kaly had just finished her first inspection when Fahd stepped back inside. “Now you will tell me,” she said, “how these two came into your keeping?”
By unspoken agreement, Fahd and Denizen began to tell the healer a carefully edited tale about the event.
“And when the mercenaries saw that they were losing, they turned on their own crew,” Fahd finished the story. He did not mention Jericho, the only one who had evaded the mercenaries long enough to surrender.
“My goodness!” one of the strangers, a woman who had called herself Adheera, exclaimed. “Did anyone survive?”
Denizen shook his head. “None but these two.”
Fahd peered at Adheera. “You have a similar look to you,” he said to her, nodding at the mage. “Is he your kinsman?”
She shook her head. “I am of his people’s blood, yes, but I’ve been away from the clans since I was a child. I don’t know him.” She continued to stare hard at the mage.
“Can you restore them?” Denizen asked the healer.
“Difficult to say,” Kaly replied. “Adheera may have brought me too late. Their hearts beat, but their spirits want to flee.”
“But you can call them back,” Denizen insisted. “You can tell us why he was so desperate to murder them.”
“I am a healer,” Kaly snapped, “not a necromancer. I cannot call the ghosts of the dead.”
Adheera tore her gaze from the mage. She watched Kaly with a thoughtful look. “But is it necromancy,” she mused, “if their hearts still beat?”
Kaly opened her mouth to reply, but no sound came out. Finally she shrugged. “I might be able to do something. But not with you lot stinking up the place.”
The pirates and townsmen alike took that as the dismissal that it was and made a swift retreat. Fahd hesitated for only a moment before following his captain out.
The healer continued at her work for a few hours before a voice intruded.
Kaly looked up to see Adheera at the door. “I thought everyone would be at the tavern,” she said, “to hear the story.”
Adheera chuckled. “They’ll be telling the same tale for weeks, now.” She shrugged. “They’re…they think they’re making it sound more exciting, but they haven’t said anything new.”
Kaly grunted and returned to her patients.
The mage’s heart rate spiked. Kaly frowned, but when she tried to set a spell on him, she found her magic blocked.
“Miss Kalyptos?” Adheera tried again to get the healer’s attention. “I know a little magic of my own. I was thinking, I might be able to help?”
Kaly snorted. “And if I learn anything new, you’d be the first to hear it?” she snapped.
Adheera wilted. “I…was curious…. ”
Kaly shook her head. “I don’t need more magic, girl. With a mage for a patient, I’d as soon use less.” She blinked. “But I should not be quick to refuse an extra pair of hands. Especially not if those hands are attached to a head more sensible than the men, hah?”
“Of course not, miss.”
“So. Adheera. What do you know about healing?”
Adheera hurried through the muck to reach the tavern. “Captain Denizen!” she called out, once inside. “Captain Denizen, it’s time!”
Denizen nodded, chugged down the rest of his grog, and followed the woman back to Kaly’s hut.
Inside, the healer held a knife over the pregnant woman’s belly. Nearby, a still figure was covered by a sheet.
Denizen stopped cold. “The mage?” he gasped, staring at the sheet.
Kaly shook her head. “They passed only minutes ago.” She nodded towards the sheet. “I feel him fighting to awaken, but…my skills are not enough. I cannot reach him.”
Adheera’s gaze sharpened. “Ominous time for a birth,” she muttered. She ignored the glare Kaly gave her.
“Birth?” Denizen repeated. He frowned. “But if the mother is dead–”
“The baby lives,” Kaly interrupted. “But only for a short while. I must act quickly to cut it from her; I will need help.”
With Kaly’s instruction and Adheera’s magic, the three of them began the messy business. Kaly made delicate passes with the blade, probing as she went. Adheera wiped away the blood, and supported the healer’s efforts with occasional streams of power. Denizen fetched the two women any supplies they called out for, and lent his strength when their magics required it.
And in a time that Denizen could not decide was too short or too long, Kaly had taken the infant to wash him, and Denizen laid the dead woman with the mage and covered her with another sheet.
Kaly’s yell startled him from his gloom.
“He’s marked by the night demons!” the healer hissed, and drew her dagger.
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