Dayne leaned against the wharf piling, watching the hoist as it lifted the last of the war horses upward carrying it over to the caravel Alkalarops, the ship rocking gently against the rising tide, its woven rope bumpers thumping against the dock. He watched as the large white horse, probably 1100 pounds in all, struggled against the sling, uncomfortable with its unfamiliar pressure on his chest and belly, as he swung over the rail of the ship and was lowered slowly into the bowels of the ship. The horse had always been herded before. It was his first time aboard ship and he was nervous in the dark confines of the ship's belly,the other horse packed into the hold fidgeting and stamping about. 'Rissa, the druid moved among the mares and the stallion warhorses, her soothing voice murmuring spells to calm the beasts nervousness. It would be a four or five day journey to the capital if the weather spells that Dayne cast worked favorably and longer if they failed, which she knew was entirely possible. But she had confidence in the mage. He didn't fail that often.
The captain, Fordham, watched with a critical eye on the weather as the final animal was lowered into the hold and the sling was slipped of the beast. The hoist was then pulled away and made fast on the dock. Gobo,the first mate, waved his shorts arms about, giving commands to the crew as he instructed them in the laying of the hatch covers and the tightening of deck lines for the evening. The sun was just descending in the western sky and the ship was finally loaded for the voyage to Asselin, the capital of the island-nation with its shipment of new horseflesh. Gobo paused for a moment, wiping his hands on his knee length trousers. He would be glad when this voyage with the horses was over.
The beasts had been stirring and kicking for the two days it had taken to load them and he was glad that the loading process was finished.Now if they could just get the voyage over and get the animals off, he would be happy. When he heard that the Captain had agreed to take a shipment of the Queen's horses to the capital, he had been reluctant to sign on for the voyage until he heard how much they stood to make for the trip. Twice their normal wages would be great but they had been a bugbear and a half to load. The roan mare had kicked him hard. He still carried the mark and if it hadn't been for his rock-hard skin from his Earth Elemental lineage that naturally protected him, he would have been lain up for weeks. As it was, two of his crewmen were disabled with broken bones and one of them looked like he wouldn't be back anytime soon. What with the new owners and the bad luck that this supposedly brought,he couldn't hardly blame them.
The Alkalarops had been purchased as a package deal along with the cogs Garnet Star and Kornephoros from Captain Nigel, the old owner and captain, who was getting a little long in the tooth for sailing over the seas and had been thinking about seeking a buyer for about a year. When he heard of the band of adventurers that had received the land holding of Castle Gliston up river with its overdue taxes and that they were looking for a ship or ships to start making a little side income to pay them, he was just waiting to get word that they had come to Falcon's Hollow and were snooping around for a fresh peach to pluck. Hamon, the shipping agent in town, had mentioned his name as possibly having something they might be interested in and after the group of men and the girl had met with Christian and seen his shoddy old Draken, a viking-type longship that had truly seen better days, he was happy to show them his caravel, the Alkalarops.
He'd sent word ahead to Captain Fordham to have him bend on the new foresail and slap some paint onto her port side where he had recently made a rough arrival with an overladen load of wheat, leaving some raw wood scars on her side. A little tar on the main stay had helped and he'd had the crew holy-stone the decks until they shone in the sunlight. The mage Dayne had done the majority of the negotiations and had driven a hard bargain. Captain Nigel almost felt that Dayne was going to walk away from the deal but his interest was heightened when he mentioned the second cog, the Garnet Star and how fast she sailed,with her newly cleaned bottom and her fresh canvas sails. The cogs only carried one mast but they were quick and maneuverable and could get into the small ports and harbors along the coast where the money could be made.
When the group said they wanted to pay cash, the Captain wasn't quite so surprised, for sales on ships were sometimes made in cash,rather than letters of credit, with the influx of gems and treasure from the newer crops of adventurers on the island. But the old captain nearly popped his eyes out of his head and he quickly covered the beautifully cut gemstone, a fine white diamond in a red velvet bag, with his hand on the tavern table where negotiations had been going on, shielding the view of the other tavern occupants.
Dayne said quietly, "We have had it appraised at 60,000 gold. We figured it would cover 50,000 of the Alkalarops, Kornephoros, Garnet Star, their crew, any existing contracts or future contracts, standing orders, liens and such? A standard contract and we will use coin and trappings for the balance, if you'll accept that." The Captain lifted the edge of his hand off the stone a bit and stared at the clarity of the rock, the light from the window catching and flashing on the facets of the stone,casting rainbows momentarily across the table and upon the wall before Nigel dropped his hand back on the stone. He felt the sharp edges of the stone against his skin as Dayne pushed his hand down on the Captain's hand, and asked, "Well, is the deal final?
All Captain Nigel could see at the moment in his mind's eye was the gleam of the stone and Dayne looked to Ash and Rissa, the new ranger Testtelo and down to see where Olo the Hobbit had gotten off to. He knew the deal had been sealed by the stone. He stood at the table, reached across and shook the hand of the Captain. "I'll be down at the dock in the morning to have the documents of transfer made and examine the voyage rutters of each of the ships."
"The Garnet Star will have to be checked another time," said Nigel. "She at sea right now with a shipment of olive oil and spices for Lower Kinnerton. She'll be in port in about three days if the storms didn't delay her. Captain Rokilda, she's a good captain but if you believe in the superstitions about a woman on board,you can get a new one. But you’d be hard put to find a better captain than Rotti, I'll tell you."
"She'll do fine, I'm sure," Dayne said, as he swept the diamond they had taken back into the sack. The party had not discussed using the stone to cover the costs of the ships but he felt, based on his nautical experience, that this was too good of a deal to pass on. He wanted to grab it while he had the chance and only hesitated for a moment before sealing the deal with a handshake. Ash nodded to Dayne in agreement at the deal. 'Rissa, seated against the wall, really wasn't even interested in boats and the sea and the like. She was watching a wasp that was drinking from a drop of juice she had dripped from her goblet onto the window sill. It was sipping and she spoke softly to the wasp, gentle druidic words in a waspish dialect that neither of the mages understood. The ranger looked out the tavern door at the traffic passing by, aware of the foot traffic of peasant, sailors, the occasional cut-purse and the rarer city guardsman who passed the door. Olo drifted toward the kitchen, the cook in him wondering about the odors and smells wafting out of the doorway and how he might improve upon the fare. Too much pepper, he thought, as he slipped his pack off and tossed it under the bar. He'd have to talk to the cook about that.
The freshening breeze blew from the northwest and the captain, Fordham, leaned against the rail, his legs and feet compensating for the sway of the ship as it pushed forward against the waves, sliding up to the crest of a wave and then sliding down the backside as it settled into the trough. He heard the horses in the hold shuffling, their shod hooves scrapping against the bottom floor as they shifted against the movement of the ship and its natural motion on the sea. Gobo had been performing a good job of keeping the animals secure in their temporary stalls below decks and although he had reservations about a woman aboard ship, the druid 'Rissa was doing great service, moving among the beasts, soothing them with her spells of calm and her melodic horse chanting. Captain Fordham didn't understand a single word of what she was saying when he went into the hold but the horses were calm, no longer kicking against the sides of the caravel, threatening to tear the guts out of the old girl.
The captain nodded to the quartermaster, who took his pipe out of his toothless mouth and smiled as he pointed the stem at him and said,"Steady as she goes, Cap'n. Fair wind and steady seas. The weather mage has performed well this trip." The QM pointed to the helmsman and said,"Let her fall off a point or so." The helmsman smile and held the wheel just where it was and the QM, after a moment, sighed and said, "Aye,there she be. That’s good. Steady as she goes."
Dayne, across the quarterdeck of the caravel, was watching the building clouds behind him. If the storm growing back there built any more strength, he would need to cast another spell soon to stabilize the breeze to get them into the bay safe and sound. The breeze was beginning to freshen slightly and the captain had just had the sails trimmed to take advantage of the additional wind and he felt the caravel had picked up a little speed. Ash leaned against the rail amid ship in the shade of the mainsail, his fingers working in intricate patterns as he tried to develop better and quicker ways to throw a spell. The ranger Testtolo perched upon the mainsail yard, the right hand drawing and replacing an arrow into his quiver, practicing his drawing,improving his ability to ready an arrow for firing in action. Dayne smiled. The ranger wasn't sensitive but Dayne could see that the ranger had taken the friendly ribbing to heart after the last encounter with Orcs, when the ranger had difficulty getting arrows out quickly. Practice would refine the skill,thought Dayne.
Testtolo watched as 'Rissa came up the ladder from tending the horses below for a little sunshine. She spent a lot of time in the last three days below with the animals and was starting to smell ... well, a little horsey. The fresh air would do her some good. He looked out toward the horizon,fixing his gaze upon the bay ahead and reached for an arrow in his quiver. The hand dropped to the horn nock and he smoothly placed the arrow upon the string,the nock of the arrow settled onto the nock point and he went through the motions of drawing the arrow up to his chin, the hollow of his hand between his thumb and forefinger settling into the back point of his jaw and the tip settled onto the imaginary target, lined up with the string onto the water-bugs that swept across the water.
Water-bugs? His left arm dropped, his eyes narrowed to sharpen his vision and he eased the string, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun. The Bugs, dancing across the water, their thin legs rising and falling as they dipped into the water, propelled their fat bodies forward, their hairy backs bristling. Except it wasn’t hair, thought Testtolo, and those aren't legs. And they aren't bodies of bugs. The ranger called below to the mage, who was talking to the captain and didn't hear him. He perched on the yard, his buttocks pressed firmly against the mast, and he fired the ready arrow downward toward the mage. The arrow buried itself into the deck just inches from the mage's booted foot, nearly cutting the captain's hand as he was waving it in front of him making a nautical point.
Dayne started at the arrow's impact and jerked his head up,his gaze under the brim of his black hat to the top of the mast where the ranger stood. Braced there, the ranger pointed toward the bay and cocked his arm and pointed again, his shout carried away by the rising wind. Dayne turned to sea, following the ranger's direction and had to stare for a moment before he saw the rowed craft. He didn't have the advantage of the height of the ranger but as the boats drew closer, he could see them, pulling against the oars, their backs bent, sweat glistening. Turning back to Fordham, Dayne said,"This could be bad. Reef and slow us down. 'Rissa. Stay here and getready." He looked up at the ranger, held his palm up motioning him to stay where he was, and made a motion of shooting a bow. The ranger signaled understanding and readied an arrow in his bow and putting two more in his bow hand, an arrow held ready under his ring and little finger.
The boats separated, evenly going to the larboard and starboard side, the creatures in the boat quickening their pace as they closed.A ballista from amidships, carefully pointed by Ash, bucked as it hurled a large stone. Ash's aim proved unerringly true as the huge stone flashed through the air, slammed into two Goblins in the middle of the first ship and forcing them into the sea, and slammed into the bottom of the long boat. The oars,shattered like matchwood and splintered into the air, the keel of the boat broken, its bow and stern flipping toward each other, carrying the Goblins it held into each other, shrieking as the seas boiled and foamed and the creatures settled into the deep dark water, plunging downward as they sank beneath the waves.
Dayne had conjured a rising tide under the boat and the water beneath the ship rose several feet underneath it, riding as if on the peak of a wave without sliding off, sliding neither forward nor backward, the Goblins struggling against the slope of the watery hill. Dayne turned toward 'Rissa as the first of the Goblins began to approach the ship's side and yelled, "Grease the side!" and he hoped she understood.
One of the passengers of the voyage, a duelist by nature, Hansbrect Gundrun of Earlgard leaped past Dayne as a Goblin leaped over the railing and swung a sword at the mage. Hans' saber slid through the air and the Goblin's swing was interrupted as the saber slipped through the Goblin's hide armor and pierced the armpit of the Goblin. A loud grunt came from the green-grey lips and the Goblin reassessed the danger. The mage stepped back and began a conjuration as the duelist danced across the mage's field of view,stabbing, slashing, cutting, piercing, never stopping even for a moment as his blade continually met the Goblins, now piercing one Goblin in the back through the gap between the hide back plate and the belt, then slashing across the throat of one coming over the side and sending that one to the fishes as food,striking the rail of the boat on the way down, carrying a second Goblin with him.
A sailor called Geoffrey cheered as he slashed in from the right, a cutlass in each hand, motioning for the cabin boy Upyio to move back.He stabbed at the one opponent, slashing to his right at the other, a gout of blood splashing as he opened a nasty gash in that Goblin's arm. The first Goblin cheered and laughed , "O Druuc Gaar!" which is Goblin for"You Dog Meat!" and sliced viciously at Geoffery's neck. Upyio blink momentarily and in a smoking flash, the Goblin’s sword vanished, reappearing out over the sea, its momentum carrying it further away and disappearing in a splash. Upyio darted his glance about for more targets. Geoffrey thanked his good luck,not realizing the intervention of Upyio and taking a deep breath, turned his attention to other targets.
Meanwhile Dayne continued with the Goblins screaming as they churned over the side, casting a lightning stare here and there as needed.He had cast a flaming ball of fire toward the prow of one of the boats and it bloomed into a gout of red and yellow flame, searing the Goblins in the bow of the boat and evaporating the wood, causing the stern to slide under the wave from the weight of the Goblins remaining aboard. He was smiling, watching Hans and Geoffrey finishing the remaining opponents on this side, arrows blossoming in their heads and shoulders as Testtolo continued to make his contributions from above. Goblin swords and axes winked out of sight, reappearing over the sea, Upyio's high pitched laugh ringing through the afternoon air.
Dayne heard the clash of arms behind him and he realized the other Goblin boats had come around to the starboard side. The crew of the ship had been doing an admirable job, considering they outnumbered the Goblins,The mage selected a Goblin in the center and gazed at him, an electric blue bolt of energy lancing forth and striking the Goblin square in the head. The gray-green creature paused for a moment, momentarily stunned, but then choked up on his sword and made to run forward toward the mage, just as a crewman with a boarding axe swung from the side and smote the creature in the side in the face, knocking him backward over the rail and into the sea. As he plummeted over the side and splashed noisily, the other Goblins, seeing him landing and sinking, looked at each other and began to leap back into the boats. They pulled at the oars, first haphazardly, and then as they got coordinated they gathered momentum and Dayne, feeling a little weary and peaked, let the Goblin boats veer off and flee. The crew laughed, pleased to have avoided serious injury in the attack and pleased at their new owners performances, slapped each other on the back and shook hands all around.
Dayne saw the last Goblin sinking, slowly disappearing into the dark sea, and turning to the crew, he grinned and said "They should have taken swimming lessons."