Chapter 4 – Alliances
Back in the sunshine, there were two things that Jake noticed straight away. First, it was no longer overcast and gloomy but rather the sun had decided to make itself seen, wan and washed-out, fighting for relevance against all that water with no green land in sight, but present nevertheless. The second thing to take him aback was the silence. It was as though he was alone on his boat. Katie and Tess downstairs in the cabin were understandably silent. But the rest of the mayhem that had so recently been fiercely on display, was conspicuously absent. The sounds of men screaming, dying for their master, the sounds of gunshot, power and smoke, splashes and rending of wood and canvas, all of that was gone. The simple sounds of water slapping against wooden hulls, of men working steadily at the never ending tasks on a living breathing ship of the sea, that was all that Jake heard when he stepped topside.
Looking to starboard where the other ship had been tied alongside, Jake noted that the ropes had been cut, but there were still hooks and gouges where the grappling lines had been secured.
Jake looked over the stern rail and far in the distance sitting dead in the water, was the mage’s ship, with no mage to be seen anywhere. Smoke trailed in wisps from the main mast as well as the aft deck by the wheelhouse. Men scrambled frantically around the ship, Jake thought that at that distance, they looked more like insects scrambling over the carcass of a dead beast floating on the surface of an increasingly troubled ocean. The artificial storm pulled in by the mages to confound Halia had subsided we, but the real deal was about to hit them, coming down out of the North.
Jake could see the cloud banks, dark and heavy, ominous and sparking with lightening visible even at that distance, coming on steadily and menacingly, threatening to overrun the ships.
Bringing himself back to the moment however, he noted with some surprise that the pirate ship looked nothing like he’d imagined, it was relatively clean, tidy and well-ordered. The men, upon second notice, were engaged, well put together and organized, as well as being polite and civil.
Shifting his weight as the two tethered ships rolled over the top of another oncoming swell, Jake stepped up to the rail and took the offered hand as he moved from one ship to the other.
Standing on the deck of the pirate ship, he looked around for where he was supposed to be going, or who he was to be talking to.
“This way.” One of the crew indicated that he was to head aft, up the steps to the deck behind the wheel.
Jake followed the man who spoke, and noted idly that although they were behaving well, and civil, the pirates didn’t leave him any space, following closely and with excessive attention to all aspects of Jake’s person and behavior.
He rather felt like he was on display, but for what purpose were they studying him?
Stepping up to the top deck with the wheel and a set of benches to stern, Jake was invited to sit with the same unassuming man who handed him across from his own ship.
“You surprised us.” The man opened with a statement, no questions.
Jake merely waited, unsure if this was the captain, or if he was being asked something. He could feel his heart start to beat a little harder, and his palms started to sweat, just a little.
“Forgive me, please sit. You will not be harmed on my ship.”
“Your ship.” Jake looked at this unassuming man again.
“Yes, my ship. I am the captain of this vessel, only one of many in service to the Princess of the Azure Oceans, rather than the Queen of the Blasted Isles.”
The pirate captain stopped, looked to the North himself and nodded in decision. “We will need to take shelter if we can make it there in time. Can your wind mage get you there or do we need to work together to bring you in from the storm?”
There were a few things that Jake had issues with, first, he could see no land in sight from which to shelter from the storm, second, why would they need to shelter, it was safest in open water rather than hard up against the shore in turbulent waters and dangerous winds, and third, why did this man think Jake had a weather-mage aboard his boat? All he could say was “Umm.”
“Oh, forgive me. Niceties first of course. My name is Captain Cork. This beauty of a ship is mine, and I call her Sylvia. Who might you be my good man? Defender of the weak, and Captain of the Halia?”
“Jake.” Jake was still trying to piece all these things together, but they weren’t making much sense, he didn’t have all the information. Wait! His mind tripped him up for a moment, this man knew the sailboat already, Halia wasn’t unknown here.
“Ah. Jake. A solid name. Good, I like a man with a solid name. It seems you have for the moment allied yourself with us, or at the very least against the reigning crown. That was their ship you just escaped being captured by.”
Jake thought this was an odd turn of phrase, since they hadn’t escaped, but rather, they were merely captured by another party instead, in this case pirates.
“Well Jake. I can see you’re a man of few words, so let’s away shall we? My mage can handle two ships easily enough, just leave the driving to us will you?”
Jake nodded agreeably without commenting. He was still trying to make it all make sense, but it seemed to be an irrelevant point, given that both ships were moving.
Jake did sit then, bracing himself against the rail while both ships picked up speed, soon almost hydroplaning across the surface of the water, heading south and east to the unknown destination.
While the ships were moving as fast as it seemed possible to Jake, each one of them individually was being tossed and bounced like they were some Ocean God’s play toy. The storm were moving in even faster than the ships were heading away, and eventually, despite the wind mage’s best efforts, the storm-front caught up to the pair of fleeing ships.
As the first drops splattered onto the deck, Captain Cork looked over at Jake and inquired if he’d be more comfortable on his own boat.
Gracefully, Jake agreed, anxious to get away from the velvet clutches of his captor, and back to check on Katie. He stood, took a step and stumbled briefly before regaining his footing and grasping the hand rail as he nimbly hopped down to main deck where he was handed across the rail and back onto Halia, were-upon the lines were pulled away. Just as he was about to steer Halia away from Sylvia, the heavier set darker skinned man who’d been shadowing Jake since he stepped onto the other boat hopped lightly to Halia’s deck, and snagged a handful of the staysail mizzen mast rigging to keep himself right side up and on the boat.
Jake was started, but only for a moment, until the need to keep Halia from crashing back into the other boat became more pressing than anything else. He slammed the diesel’s controls to the stops and spun the wheel, surfing the big wooden ship down the side of the swell, aiming for distance and speed to escape the vicinity of the larger and very dangerous Sylvia.
Jake took only a moment to nod to the wheel, indicating the other man should hold it steady to course for a moment, then he ducked down into the main salon, calling out to Katie as he stepped down the ladder.
Katie answered from the Aft Cabin, stepping into view a moment later, with hands braced to each side of the wall. Jake noted that she, like he, was constantly holding onto something to keep from crashing around inside the violently tossing boat.
“Your back.” The glee in the young girls voice was offset by the cat’s total indifference to anything as he strolled along the shelf, shifting in time to the boat’s rolls, and adjusting automatically. In that moment Jake felt both guilt at forgetting that Tess was even aboard, and intense dislike for the feline whose indifference to the turbulent nature of their situation was insulting to the point of madness.
“Tess.” Jake started, by way of gathering his thoughts, then he realized two things, one he wasn’t sure where Tess stood with their captors, and two, that he needed to be back topside with the unknown hand at the wheel.
Katie caught the look Jake leveled at the cat, then at Tess, and finally at the hatch leading back topside. “Go.” She shooed him, “We’ll talk later, take care of what’s needed first. Keep us alive.”
Jake looked at her gratefully, then lunged for the hatch, disappearing up and out, the storm’s brief appearance through the open port being sliced off clean with a click as Jake closed the hatch behind him.
Jake took one look at the man at the wheel and was satisfied he wasn’t going to kill them all with inexperience. Then he surveyed the waters and his compass to take his bearings. He noted absently that he couldn’t see the other ship, Sylvia, at all at this point.
Satisfying himself that he had the lay of the ocean’s as well as the break of the storm over his ship, Jake stepped to the side of the man behind the wheel.
“I can understand why Captain Cork want’s one of his men to keep an eye on me, but aren’t you worried we will overpower you and dump you overboard or something?”
“Jake,” the swarthy man looked askance at him, “I can call you Jake can’t I?” Receiving a nod, he continued, “Jake, our mage scanned your ship, there’s three people on it as of this moment, you me and your lady friend in the cabin below. I am quite an effective brawler myself, or I wouldn’t have made it to first mate on that madman’s boat, and of course there’s always the fall-back part where you’re not actually going to try to get away, since we did save you from his royal pompousness himself, the Queen’s own Fire Mage.”
Jake tried to keep up, but got stuck on a couple things, first that the mage from the other ship hadn’t been able to scan both girls below, just one of them. Second, Jake had to admit that his escape feelings were ambivalent at best, but they were back under their own power, so it was tempting to lose the extra body and make a run for it, but to where?
“You have the wheel for a while then? Can I assume you know a safe harbour we might be able to get into and weather this storm out?”
“Yeah Cap, I know a place.” The swarthy man grinned, jocular, the humour evident in his twinkling eyes and lopsided grin. He understood what had just flashed through Jake’s head without a word being exchanged.
Jake made to head back inside to confer with Katie, but as his head was about to drop below the level of the deck, he turned back, “You got a name?”
“Strafe.” The big man looked away at that moment, “Ash!” He swore, the crest of the approaching wave was looking to swamp Halia if not completely capsize her.
Jake’s face paled, and he dropped through the hatch, the words “Lock yourself in, make sure that hatch won’t open for anything!” were flung from the wheel as Strafe braced himself around anything he could reach safely while still steering the ship.
Jake did as Strafe had hollered, and locked down the hatch before even hitting the deck. “Brace yourself, this is going to get rolly.” He called out to Katie and Tess.
*They get to the island, last scene where they’re totally in the dark about what’s happening, it’s all rough and ready there. 21 days left in book.**
Jake flinched as another curse floated through the wooden hull from the wheel where Strafe was holding steady.
“Are we going to be alright, will he be ok up there?” Katie asked, her eyes big and a slight tinge to her face indicating that only sheer willpower was keeping her panic in check and the contents of her stomach inside her. She followed up with the question “Are we going to be alright in here? Are we in danger from him?”
Tess, by contrast, seemed perfectly content to sit and meditate. She had wedged herself into the corner of the bench behind the table, and the cat was in her lap purring of all things.
Jake, unsure where to start, simply looked at Katie for a moment. As the boat rolled almost horizontal, it felt like he was falling off the face of a wave. Tess merely shifted herself as the boat rolled and then righted itself. Katie and Jake weren’t quite so lucky and ended up hung from counters and shelves on one side, then dropped to the floor as the boat corrected.
Katie looked at Jake, “We’re not in Kansas anymore dearie.”
“Where did that come from?” Jake was only marginally able to make sense of what was going on anymore, Katie being obtuse and truthfully not helping much at this point. Her coping mechanisms weren’t useful sometimes. The humour would have cracked him up if he wasn’t in the process of shaking off the residual pain from a cracked shin that had connected with the edge of a seat rather recently.
“We’re not in any danger from Strafe, as he calls himself. He’s only here to keep us from running away. Since we don’t really know where we are, or where we’re going, running away wouldn’t be too much use to us now would it?” Jake realized as he finished, that his sharp words weren’t meant for Katie, but it was merely his own insecurities that were pushing him to be short tempered.
Katie was about to snap back at him, but Tess interrupted, “Actually, I have a very good idea of where we are and what’s happening, but it was in your best interests to have no idea what was happening in case you, and by extension myself, were captured by Mage Pyridon (Jack Pyridon) then there was a good chance that you would be able to convince Commander Nowiki (Jack’s second in command) that you had nothing to do with me, merely that you had hauled a bedraggled wet child and her cat out of the vast ocean.”
Jake looked like he was about to burst with rage, he was still stuck on the fact that Tess seemed to know much more than she initially let on.
* * *
“Bear with me Jake,” Tess had picked up on his emotion, but held up a hand to forestall the obvious outburst. “We haven’t had much of a chance before this to talk, it’s been run, rush and mayhem, and then we’re up to now. So yes, we need to talk.” Tess ended with a sigh, then shifted the cat off her lap as Halia rolled again.
Jake nodded, and felt Katie shift herself, placing her hand on his shoulder, and then they both settled in, bracing themselves against the rolling of the Halia, and waited somewhat impatiently for Tess to start.
Katie had expected Jake to blow up, he was never the patient type, more of a hellfire and explosion type, never was silent stoicism his strength. But these were unusual times, and they called for unusual responses.
It was a dark and stormy night, but the time was wrong for all the right reasons, Tess launched into her story as the storm washed over the Halia, slamming into the old wooden skeleton of the ship time after time.
“I had to leave, I was stationed at the courts with their royal highnesses, infiltrating and informing on the goings on there. I acted as the eyes and ears of the resistance while I was there, but the rumour started to spread that there was a spy at court, and the witch hunt started. I had plans to be out of the public eye for a week or two initially, plans that had been in place for three moons, so I was beyond suspicion when I disappeared, but somehow, somewhere, someone put two and two together and decided that the ship I was on was carrying the spy to safety.” Tess stopped at that moment, tears threatened to spill from here eyes, and she choked back a sob.
“It was terrifying, horrific really. I saw men and women devoted to me die in the name of our defiance, trying to make a needed change to the screwed up top-heavy power hungry order that rules our world. The Head Priest doesn’t see the true effect of his rule on the people he professes to care about, that he has pledged his life and blood to protect, his very soul to defend them to our maker the great Queen of the ocean herself.”
The cat jumped back up on Tess’ lap at this point and started purring like a diesel engine. Katie, sensitive to such things, could feel the cat’s attempts and rumblings from four feet away.
Tess took an offered sports drink bottle with a small grimacing smile of thanks before she continued, “Enough of that,” she visibly shook off the memories of her friends dying on that ship, “you were asking what’s happening, who is after us and why, and where we are going.”
Jake nodded, Katie did likewise, both watching the young girl but not pressing. Overall they were confused, scared and looking to a young teenaged girl for clarity and salvation as it were. Tess seemed to understand and appreciate the support as she shuddered through another big breath and patted the cat on it’s head, her hands sleeking the cats fur back with measured calming strokes.
“Ok, if I may, let’s start with last qestion first.” She waited until she got an acknowledgement from Jake before continuing. “The ship I was on, the one I was scheduled to be on, was originally chartered to take me to the Black Isles in the Chelsean Sea, a round about trip to be sure, but not too unusual for a diplomat. However, when we were supposed to be turning into the channels to make the trip through the lower reaches to get to the Chelsean Sea, we turned out instead, seeking the shelters and sanctuary of the hidden isles, aptly named Sanctuary Island. So yes I know of where we are headed. The attacks on my ship, drifting for a full day, and the infernal storm in the region, I think we’re about a day’s hard sailing off of where I was originally, if the wind holds and these storm don’t do more harm than good. Ultimately we will be there within two days at the outside.”
Jake had a question at this point, and Katie moved to stop him from interrupting, but he wouldn’t be deterred. “How, without compasses or other navigation, can you tell where you’re at. let alone where you’re going to be?”
Tess smiled a small reserved smile, like she was wondering when that would come up. “I noticed you scowling at your little gadgets, I assume that they don’t work like you expected them to?”
“That’s right, the GPS is out of service, the standby scanners that pick up our Geo-locations don’t even have any signals, and even the old fashioned compass is spinning uncontrollably. Useless.” Jake looked over at Katie, having not expected her to burst out like that, it was a true indicator of her insecurity and fear in teh situation. Katie didn’t liek to be out of control o, or if she was, then she needed to know that somebody like Jake had it all under control. It was unnerving to say the least. He moved and wrapped his arms around his wife, squeezing all the broken parts of her emotions back into a single cohesive whole.
Tess gave them a moment, and went on but from a different point. “Sanctuary Island is known as a vicious pirate hangout, murder and mayhem are the order of the day there, and for every honest lady there are a dozen brutal murderous men to avoid. All in all the epitome of Hell on Earth.” She shuddered at the though, “The truth is both more terrifying and less horrific at the same time. Sanctuary Island is indeed the refuge for smugglers and pirates, both of who are outside the social structures of this planet, but both are needed, and in fact they are a sign of what’s wrong with this world as it stands. Sanctuary Island is the home of the movement that aims to bring about peaceful change and revolution to the existing order. the brightest minds who are arrayed against the current powers that be are all centered at Sancturay Island, almost none of them are there at the same time, but they all cycle back through here, communicating through scripts, ledgers and other less straight-froward means of communication.” Tess let all that sink in for a moment, just waiting until she saw understanding on the couple’s face. Then she asked, “That all makes sense so far right?”
Jake nodded, Katie, always more verbal, said “of course it does, unexpected but understandable, you have a secret rebel base, that doesn’t exist, where the leaders can never be found, who communicate by secret means and codes, all of which is protected by the nastiest scariest scum of the world.” Katie looked over at Jake, “Deja Vu much? Star Wars anyone?” Jake had no idea how to come back to that so he didn’t even try.
Tess sighed and smiled, then she moved herself incrementally, repositioning the cat so it’s lap was in her lap with the feline stretched up her torso, it’s nose and whiskers were just touching her chin.
After a few more rolls through the waves, Tess started speaking again, and Katie, ever resourceful, pulled out some iced tea they had stored for just such inclement weather (I.e. not able to brew coffee or tea on stove due to it being more vertical than horizontal most times.)
Tess’ soft voice came out, hesitant this time, less matter of fact than revealing of secrets that were still raw and painful. “Like I said, I was scheduled to go visiting for a few weeks, to the Chelsean sea, but it was only a chance encounter with an undercover trader spy of the Pontificate that had the Mages alerted that we werent’ headed to where we were supposed to be going. Mages being who and what they are, wouldn’t even blink about furningup two or three of their in pursuit of dissenters. Mages will recover if they’re not ground too far down, and given enough time and rest to recover correcttly. I hope that Teh senioru Firemage Jack did so and allowed his minions enough ttime to recuperate.”
Tess took a sip of her iced tea and continued, “Once they figured out which vessel it was and the mages caught us it was a choice of surrender or sink. It was only sheer luck that I was able to climb onto the broken mast and that you rescued me after they destroyed the vessel. I can’t be captured, I know too much about the resistance, too many secrets, to much valuable information . At least I thought it was luck until I learned that your vessel is named Halia, and has special magical powers that none in our world can detect or maniplulate. Teh mages are after me becauuse I am in fact going to report on them, and our original destination was Sancturay. I was to meet with a conclave there. Such conclaves only come together rarely and only in times of greatest need.”
Jake watched as the young girl ran on and on, trying to defend herself and make her story make sense. But it boiled down to the fact that **good chance I’m head hopping here** He and Katie had inadvertently and totally innocently helped a young woman, kept her from drowning, and in the process they’d been dropped into the middle of a Civil War or a Revolution, which looked to get bloody and excessivly violent if the fate of Tess’ original ship was any indicator.
Overall Jake felt that things could be better, he could not have landed Katie and himself in the middle of a bloody revolution, they could have some idea of where they were or where they were going, come to think of it, Tess had mentioned something along that line as well, he looked over at her.
It was as though she could read his mind, Tess nodded a small and resigned nod and started speaking again. “So, now that you know something about me, and our world, may I confirm a suspicion that I have? Are you two in fact not from Terra-Sea?”
Jake twitched, but Katie actually let out a small gasp, hearing the name of the world spoken aloud. To Jake it seemed that having a name for the world made their plight even more real. She blanched, and reached out to steady herself even though she was already seated, but to be fair the Halia was rolling fairly well across the swells. It seems that Strafe had managed to stabilize their course across the waves, the storm fury mitigated if not abated.
Tess didn’t need them to verbally confirm what she has assumed, “Halia is the name of a mythical legend, a savior from the sea, who often appears when the very fabric of life is threatened on our world. All the stories concur that she is of the sea, and that she will not directly involve herself but rather that she will facilitate the solution. Are you our saviors?”
The earnest hope in Tess’ voice was like a knife to Jake’s heart. Here was this child, looking to he and Katie to be the saviors her world needed to bring about change and balance the wrongs her people had suffered at the hands of the ruling magic wielding elite.
The Halia seemed to stretch, groan and shiver underneath them, and Jake worried for a moment that what he first thought when they had seen the old wooden boat tied up at the wharf back in Nanimo was about to come true. He panicked that the skeleton of the old wooden boat was about to fail them and all three of them, right four of them, can’t forget Strafe battling for life topside he thought to himself.
Holding up a hand to Tess to forestall having to answer her, Jake looked over at Katie, who, ever practical, didn’t even bother to hide her worried look, but rather redirected back to their current plight. She asked the simple question that meant the most to her, “What is going on and how can we find our way to where we need to be? Our gear is broken and even the compass is useless.”
Tess took a moment to compose herself, all traces of the hopeful vulnerable child replaced by the hard focused young woman determined to face all odds and do what was needed. Then reaching out her hand to gather in the displaced cat in an absent manner, she drew in a big breath before stating baldly, “I don’t know why your ‘compass’ doesn’t work, I don’t understand your tracking or navigation systems, our wind mages do all of our navigation at sea, picking up the ley lines, and locus of forces that keep us all tracking true.”
Katie looked irate, “So, absent A wind mage we’re out of luck with no way to know where we’re going or how to get there?”
Tess flinched at the hard tones in the older woman’s voice, but came back with “Adepts are able to guide ships to some small degree, keeping them tracking true, and it is rumored that in days of old fishermen used the stars for navigation so they could return home.”
Jake, feeling the waves calm and settle wondered at what was happening outside the cabin, stood and carefully moved across to the hatch, unlocking it and moving to open it.
Tess shifted to make herself less visible as Jake pulled the hatch fully open and stuck his head and shoulders out through the opening.
Making eye contact with Strafe, Jake then scanned around, seeing that the waves had settled somewhat. The skies were still ominous and threatening, but the winds had died off, and there was a noticeable absence of thunder and lightning. “Are we out of the worst of it?”
Strafe thought for a moment, appearing to weigh if he was answering Jake or not, but then he blinked and his scowl cleared, “The wave’s have died off, aye, the storm settling somewhat, but it’s far from over. We’re about three or four hours out of Sanctuary at this point, and if you’d kindly stay out of my way I’ll get us there safe and sound.” The gravelly voice of the large man trailed off as he dismissed Jake with an apparent lack of courtesy.
Jake pulled back in and locked the hatch from the inside again. He turned to face Tess who seemed to materialize once again when the hatch was shut. Katie had moved over and was tidying up the galley, the small routines calming her so she could think.
The three stared at each other for a few minutes, and then Katie, always practical, and having calmed enough to regain her own sense of balance and control of the situation, suggested that she and Jake retreat the to aft cabin leaving Tess to the V-Berth in the bow, so they could all get some rest before getting to their destination in Sanctuary Island.
Jake and Tess both agreed with her and taking a drink and snack, Jake and Katie retreated to their bunk, since they had a volunteer to man the wheel, and they tried to get what rest they could. Katie seemed to be developing a tendency for a low grade permanent headache ever since that first crippling experience when they had been attacked by the Mage ship.