Thrice The Brinded Cat

Bon Voyage

Sunday, the 9th of Coldeven in the CY 594


Kate watched the backs of her mother and father as they retreated from the dock, never looking back. She watched and watched, waiting…hoping she would see them turn to look at her one last time. There was a crack as the ship’s running jib flipped around to the leeward side of the mainstay and they caught the powerful gusts that were common just beyond the breakwater. She could feel the craft pick up speed and it was at once exhilarating and terribly sad, all at the same time.

She had never left Sasserine before.

She could still see her parents on the Sunrise District’s main dock. They looked like tiny insects from this distance, but just as they left the harbor Kate felt sure she saw her mother glance back over her shoulder.

They had been cross with her. “A fool’s errand,” her father had scolded. “Just as like to get yourself killed before you get yourself paid!”

“I know those friends of yours would finally get you in trouble, Katt,” her mother had said between tears. “You must find a way to get out of this. You must! You’re no bodyguard! You’ve never been in a fight in your life. Ehryl, please! Go find this Moenthal princling and tell him your daughter will not be accompanying him!”

But Kate had refused to let either of her parents change her plans. She was determined to take this job and she was determined to make some honest money for a change. Besides, perhaps this was her calling. How difficult could it be to keep some rich noble’s son out of trouble, anyway? And she would be with both Gorbi and Galdar the whole time. Those two knew how to take care of themselves. She could leave any scuffles or fights up to them, but she didn’t expect there to be any fights. They were just sailing across the bay for a few days and then they would be back in Sasserine before anyone really missed them.

“And besides,” thought Kate, “I am bound to run into a dragon out there. I sure am not going to find one sitting around here all my life.”

And so she had met Gorbi and Galdar at the Sunrise District just before the actual sunrise. Neither of them had family to say goodbye to, but her parents were kind enough to give them each a hug and handshake. Her mother actually made sandwiches and packed them in a sack for each of the boys. She would find out later that the sacks also contained hard tack, cheese and several bottles of ale – clearly a secret gift from her father.

When they had finally said their final goodbyes, Kate’s father had asked her one last time if she would change her mind. When she said she wouldn’t, he calmly took her mother by the shoulders, turned her around and left, the anger clearly present in his eyes.

Her parents had barely walked ten feet when they heard Derg Moenthal from the ship’s deck shouting at them to hurry aboard. And it was a good thing, too, a scrawny boy with a black and white tattooed face hauled up the gangplank the moment they got on board. Within a minute the ship’s crew had cast off from the docks and they slowly made their way out of the harbor.

Kate knew quite a bit about boats from her father. She discovered they had boarded a short and squat mahogany cargo caravel named The Dragonsprit. Kate’s heart raced when she heard the name and she took it for a good omen.

She noticed that her choice of dress seemed to have been a good one. A loose-fitting blouse and light trousers with a leather vest, wide leather belt and soft knee-high doeskin rounded out her ensemble. The crew of the Dragonsprit were dressed in similar fashion, so she blended right in.

She also saw that Gorbi and Galdar took her advice to heart and were wearing similar clothes, but she clearly saw the glint of mail under Galdar’s shirt!

“Where in the name of Elysium did you get that!” she said in his ear so as not to attract attention to her friend’s suicidal attire.

“It was a gift from the High Priest!” he said, beaming. “Don’t you like it?”

Before she could reply, one of the largest specimen’s of human being she had ever encountered dropped from the mid-boom onto the deck so close that she could smell sweat and rum wafting off the brute.

“If she don’t like it, I know the lobsters will. You’ll have your very own lobster fan-club at the bottom of the sea first time you slip off the deck.”

Galdar glared at the man as he swung back up into the rigging to help hoist the mainsail.

“He’s right, Dar!” Kate hissed. “That armor may look pretty but its going to get you drowned!”

Kate’s admonishment was cut short by a gruff voice. “Gov’nor, glad to see you could make it. But I heard you was just bringing two men aboard. You said nothing about a girl!”

The ship’s captain had emerged from below decks and addressed Derg Moenthal as if he were not at all pleased to see him. The captain was about as gruff of a man as Kate had ever seen. His face was pocked and scarred and one eye looked to be swollen shut. The man was short and muscular and looked to be of an age anywhere between his twenties to his early sixties. Two thick golden rings adorned his ears and Kate could see tattoos peeking out from any bit of exposed skin.

“Don’t you worry about the passenger fares, Captain. I’ve paid up round-trip for myself and two men. There’s one man,” he said, pointing at Gladar, “and the gnome and girl make another.”

Kate frowned and then heard Gorbi suck in his breath. She knew the gnome’s quick temper and put her hand on his shoulder to calm him. The booming laughter that followed from the captain didn’t help matters much.

“Well, grather your men, or whatever you call them, and we’ll find out where you can and cannot go on my ship.”

Kate would later discover the captain’s name was Arganat, and the dobule-masted, lateen-rigged vessel was his pride and joy. He certainly seemed to care more about his ship than he did his passengers, crew, or just about anyone else alive and kicking. The Dragonsprit ran nearly twenty paces from bowsprit to stern and seven full paces at its widest breadth. Kate didn’t think it would be breaking any speed records any time soon, but she had never been on a sturdier vessel. She imagined the thing could weather a storm better than any ship she’d seen.

A high captain’s forecastle dominated the ship’s design and three short wooden doors gave main-deck access to its interior, the ’tween decking and the main cargo holds, below. The captain’s quarters sat just under the forecastle and was accessed by the center door while the two outer doors led down to the ship’s galley, the first-mate’s cabin, guest cabin and the two largest cargo holds. The fore of the ship’s interior held eight small open holds that contained spare sheets, tackle, sails and other necessities.

“The aft-deck is home to me and Mr. Tully,” the captain said while pointing toward the rear of the ship. A gruff looking brawler stood behind the ship’s wheel, looking bored. Kate assumed that was the first mate. “No one, and I mean no one is to be on the aft-deck except me or Mr. Tully unless you have been personally invited by either me or Mr. Tully? Is that clear? Anyone not following this rule, or any of the other rules of this ship, will find themselves shark bait inasmuch time as it takes for one of my crew to toss you over the rails.”

Kate got to meet the rest of the crew during the captain’s little tour. At the top of the mast in the crow’s nest was the black and white faced kid that had stowed the gangplank when they had first come aboard.

“That’s Dogboy,” said the captain, “he’s our cabin boy and crow. There’s not much going on in his head, but he’s got the eyes of an eagle.”

“Why is his face like that?” asked Kate.

The captain grimaced, “Had some no-good parents who belonged to some greasy gang in the city of Cauldron. Called themselves the Jester’s Laugh, or something like that. All of ‘em in the gang put on facepaint before making a hit, ya see? When they had the kid they decided it would be great fun to have his face permanently tattooed black and white like that. Mean thing to do to a kid. But I suppose they got what was coming to them. Some big floating eye-monster thing attacked the city last year – you might of heard ’bout that. Well, his parents got in the way and got dis-in-grated. Heard the whole gang got did for, too. The kid here ended up in an orphanage so I took him on. Me and the crew’s got a soft spot in our hearts for that kid. He don’t have to worry ’bout getting picked on for his looks long as he stays with us. And we keep him well-fed, too.”

Kate also met the ship’s three riggers. The huge man that had laughed at Galdar’s armor was named Zokar. He was six and a half feet of pure muscle. Kate figured he must easily weight three times her own weight, and yet he swung through the ship’s rigging, high above decks, as if he were a monkey. His yellow shirt was drenched in sweat and his grey-brown hair was soaked as if he had just been in a rainstorm, the bandanna tied to his head did little to ebb the flow.

Never far from his side was Zokar’s fiancee, the Lady Min. She was one of the more muscular of women Kate had ever seen, and she was equally agile amongst the rigging.

“Oh she’s a peach, that one,” said the captain. “her Rhennee blood runs deep. She may look like a princess, but cross her and you’ll soon learn the error of your ways, to be sure, and she can use a rapier like the devil uses souls.”

Kate spied a young man with very dark skin swinging alongside Min. “Rhemi,” said the captain. “I wasn’t sure about taking on an Olman. The jungle-people don’t take too kindly to us pir…uh, sailors. But, Rhemi there soon proved to be twice the worth of any other able bodied sailor. Quick learner, that one, and priceless in an negotiation. Me and Tully advanced him to Boatswain couple months back, but he still prefers to spend most of his time in the rigging with Zokar and Min.”

Tonsil, the portly cook and Bilge, the ship’s swabby rounded out the crew.

Eventually, Derg was shown his cabin below the foredeck. There was an uncomfortable moment when the dandy made it clear that his bodyguards would not be sharing the cabin with him, but expected one of the three to be posted at his door at all times and the other two were to be at his side whenever he was not in his cabin.

“Suit yerself, Guv’nor. They’re your men. You can do what you want to with ’em,” growled Captain Arganat, “I’ll have Dogboy fetch a couple of hammocks from the hold and you can sleep above deck with the riggers.”

So, for the rest of the day Kate and Gorbi followed Derg about the ship, always standing or walking two steps behind him, while Galdar sat in the tiny hallway belowdecks outside Derg’s cabin and tried not to get too seasick.

The day was beautiful. A bright sun sailed across the bluest of skies and the tropical shores of the Amedio Jungle passed to starboard while the sea-to-sky horizon cut a straight line to port. The wind was fair and blew from the northwest, so the ship was able to keep a beam reach without tacking for most of the day. Kate had never been outside the city and she knew there was nothing but tropical jungle for miles and miles outside the city limits, but she never would have guessed there could be so much jungle with no sign of any civilization at all.

While there were no other inhabitants Kate could see on land, the same could not be said for life on the water. There were tons of boats out of the Bay. Fishing boats made up the bulk of the vessels that Kate could see, but there were also a fair number of merchant ships, trawlers and a few giant schooners plying the waves further out.

An hour before sunset, the captain called Derg to his quarters to discuss the details of the trip. Kate and Gorbi followed dutifully behind as they made their way belowdecks. A small compass room, full of charts and maps and weird nautical instruments sat just outside the captain’s main cabin room. Gorbi climbed on a stool to get a better view of one of the maps that was laid out upon a tall table.

“Hey, is this a map of Jeklea Bay?” he shouted.

The captain halted just before entering his cabin and turned to the little gnome. Kate could see clear signs of agitation on the captain’s face as he did so.

“Gorbi!” she hissed softly at him in hopes Derg and Arganat couldn’t hear her, “get down from there!”

Gorbi replied in a loud voice that clearly meant he didn’t care who hear him or not.

“No! It’s just a simple question. I should be able to ask it and the Captain should be able to answer it.”

Captain Arganat cursed under his breath and pushed past Derg, bearing down on the gnome standing on the stool.

“You heard your mommy, gnome. Now get down off that stool and do the job you were hired to do.”

Gorbi didn’t seem to notice the captain looming over him like a death-knight from the deep seas.

“So, if this is Jeklea Bay, then this is where we should be, right here,” he squeaked while pointing at a spot of coastline in the far southwest corner of the Bay. “i don’t get it. If we’re here, where’s Sasserine? Why isn’t it on the map?”

“You ask too many questions for a bodyguard, elfling. No get down off that stool and be silent!”

“No!” shouted Gorbi, “what is this? Can’t a guy ask ques..” The little gnome never finished his sentence before the captain grabbed Gorbi around his collar with both hands, yanked him off the stool and began to shake him like a dog worrying at a bone.

“You good for nothing, barnacle! Don’t you ever talk back to me on my ship! When I give an order to you, my crew and even the Gov’nor over there, it WILL be obeyed! Do you hear me! I’m going to throw you overboard, now. No, that’s too good a fate for you. You ever heard of keelhauling? Well, that’s what…”

“Captain, please!” Kate said and she stepped up to the captain and gently placed a restraining hand on his arm. “My friend didn’t mean disrespect. He’s just very curious and his curiosity just got the better of him. I’ll talk with him and I promise it’ll never happen again.”

The captain stared daggers at Kate, but he stopped shaking the life out of Gorbi. For a moment, Kate thought her plea wasn’t going to work and she even feared she might have just volunteered to be the next target of Arganat’s wrath. The captain slowly looked down at Kate’s hand where it rested on his arm, the look of fury still present. He squinted his eyes and looked back at Kate.

Slowly, the captain lowered Gorbi to the floor of the compass room. Kate let out her breath.

“Well, okay,” said Arganat. “Just be sure this one knows how to obey orders next time. Understood?”

Kate nodded.

“Gov’nor,” the captain said, turning to Derg, “I expect you can find your own way out of my cabins. My business with you and your….hirelings, is done for now. Perhaps we can talk later.” He pushed past Derg, entered his personal cabin and slammed the door.

Derg regarded Kate and Gorbi, sniffed, then walked past them, waving his hand over his shoulder indicating they should fall in step behind him again. Gorbi stormed past her, following in Derg’s wake. The scowl on the gnome’s face was a look unfamiliar to Kate.

“He’s going to pay for that,” Kate heard him say as he passed her. She suddenly felt very nervous about what was in store for them.

The three got used to life on deck, as they were quartered there along with the rest of the crew while the captain, first mate and Derg all had rooms below decks. During the warm evenings, the ship anchored just offshore and away from the pounding surf. That night, Kate took first watch outside Derg’s door, making sure he was safe while he slept inside. Gorbi took second watch, taking over for Kate somewhere around midnight and Galdar took third watch just as the eastern horizons began to lighten.

As Kate lay in her hammock in the early morning hours, she stared up at the night sky. She had never seen so many stars before. She had a hard time falling to sleep as she thought about where she was and about the exciting journey she and her friends had embarked upon.

As her eyes finally got heavy and began to close she wondered if dragons flew at night.

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