The merchant Remington shifted his feet. He tried to keep his eyes on the ship’s course, but he found his gaze pulled towards the straits.
He didn’t know why he was here. He had no business along this stretch of coastline, no dealings with the things that sailed these parts.
He was no coward to run from danger, but right now he wanted nothing more than to return to the island. To see his son safely back with the boy’s wife and daughter.
But his esteemed passenger had other ideas.
“Steady, captain,” the councilor said. “You can sail those cliffs, can’t you?”
“The cliffs aren’t the trouble,” Remington replied. “Sir,” he added after a moment. The merchant captain outranked all but a very few of Ierne’s political leaders, but their tradition of going about masked and shrouded in public made it difficult to identify his passenger. Even the councilor’s gender could only be guessed at.
Always best to treat the office with respect, Remington’s father had often lectured, no matter who held it or whether that respect was deserved. Be as tactful as they professed to be; hide his contempt where he felt it better than they hid theirs.
“Pirates infest this region,” Remington continued. And not all of them sail under the black flag. He shuddered at the memory of another of his father’s frequent lectures. Some even wear masks and shrouds in public.
The councilor gave a quick nod. An acknowledgement, nothing more. “We can leave once I’m rid of my cargo.” He put his hand out. “The spyglass, captain?”
Remington handed it over without a word. He didn’t need the spyglass. He could see the other ship just fine, waiting in the shadows of those cliffs.
The merchant ship sailed closer, perilously close to the cliffs, before the councilor spoke again.
“I see no reason to move closer,” the man finally said. He gestured to his soldiers.
Remington eyed the other ship, and wondered if he could afford to feel relief just yet.
Then he heard the struggle.
Remington turned to see two of the councilor’s hired muscle leave the brig, dragging a younger man between them.
Their prisoner looked beaten, half-starved, and three-quarters dead. But despite the damage marring his face, he looked oddly familiar.
Remington frowned, and watched the struggle out of the corner of his eye. The prisoner was young, perhaps half his own age. Like enough to Jericho’s age as to nearly make the captain’s heart stop; he caught himself checking the crew to ensure that his son was safe among them.
The prisoner’s face, where it was visible beneath the bruising, gave him the look of one of those wanderers the council had been in long discussions with. And those tattoos marked him for a mage…
The details clicked together, and Remington recalled reports he had seen over the last few months. He drew his rapier and yelled out a battle cry, startling the mercenaries into dropping the ambassador.
But the young man was far too weak to use the distraction. A blow to the side of Remington’s head sent him tumbling to the deck before he could offer more direct aid.
“Do not interfere with me,” the councilor said. “Captain.” He smiled as he returned his own rapier to its scabbard. “You are not in command here, you or your crew. You are in my employ. The soldiers fight on my orders.”
“The ship sails under mine–” Remington growled. He slowly climbed to his feet, ready to launch himself at the councilor at the least opportunity.
“I suppose it does,” the councilor mused. “And it was your ship that brought the ambassador out here. How will you make your trade when the council finds out? Skulk about like some pirate?” He sneered. “Or perhaps you and your son would rather join my guests?”
Remington shot another look at the ambassador, then clamped his mouth shut.
“I didn’t think so.” The councilor gestured to his mercenaries again, and they picked up the young ambassador and threw him over the side of the ship.
The councilor disappeared into the brig, while his mercenaries remained above deck to intimidate the merchant crew.
None of them watched for the shapes swimming below, and one of the mercenaries was cut down before they even knew they were under attack.
An enormous man, black as a shadow in a midnight storm, launched himself over the side of the ship. The other mercenaries turned to face this new enemy before he could free his blade from the corpse.
The pirate gave up on the blade and lifted his arms, one to block the mercenaries’ attacks and the other to strike at anyone foolish enough to get close. The light glittered off of his scales, long and jagged weapons as sharp as any blade, and three more mercenaries were dead even before the other pirates joined him.
Denizen! Remington realized with a shock just who was attacking his ship, and he turned and ran. He was no coward to leave his crew, or his son, to a pirate’s dubious mercy, but he’d need every fighter he could gather against this creature. He fled to the brig where the councilor had disappeared.
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