The Scarab and the Sea: Part Four
It didn't take very long before Tomos had lost all track of time. The only light was from the cracks in the door – Tomos shut his eyes and tried to sleep. He might have actually slept at one point or another – he wasn't sure. It only served to make him more confused.
Origen asked at one point, "So, do we have a plan?"
Tomos was pleasantly surprised at the lack of scorn in the Grarrl's voice. "There's not much we can do until we get to wherever they're sailing to. Then we'll try to free ourselves and get those jewels and the treaty back. Those are the important things. If we can truss up Kipras and deliver him to Sakhmet justice like a Grackle-Stuffed Turkey, that'll just be the icing on the cake."
Saiban said, "It is important to keep our strength up. Here." He passed Tomos, Origen, and Jaryth little hard, sticky lumps. "Palm gum. I made it myself, after the recipes of my people. It helps keep strength in the heart and mind."
Tomos sniffed it – it smelled like unwashed sandals – and stuck it in his pocket. He certainly wasn't going to chew it. And then they all fell silent again. This time, Tomos was certain he drifted off to sleep, because he remembered odd snippets of a dream involving Raq and Yari – the two youngest Scarabs – and a bunch of Meepits.
He was awoken when the ship shuddered. Jaryth cried, "Sweet Fyora, what's going on?"
Origen growled, "What's going on is that I'll clobber you if you go into hysterics! Shut your silly blue beak!"
Jaryth mumbled, "I'm a Desert Eyrie. My blue beak looks dignified."
Saiban said, "Careful. The pirates may be in trouble, but we won't fare well if we just run off with a lifeboat without any food or notion of where land is."
Tomos nodded. "We can cause a little trouble if we like, but not enough that they decide it's not worth it to keep us alive. Remember, we can't get those gems back and keep the treaty going if we get ourselves killed making some foolish noble stand."
Origen snorted. "And the thief knows about noble."
Tomos had a feeling that Origen was just being nasty to make himself feel better. He replied, "Of course – I have to know enough to avoid it, don't I?"
Saiban said, "Enough. We must listen – see if we can hear any signs of what's going on."
But it didn't need to be all that quiet – soon the ruckus on deck was loud enough to hear clearly even down in the dark depths. Origen frowned. "It's a fight."
Saiban mused, "A brawl among thieves, or could there be rescuers?"
And then there were footsteps outside the door, and their prison was opened. The nasty Quiggle called Thier, Kipras, and Captain Galliard were there, along with several other guards. Galliard said, "We're heading for the longboats. If you all value your skins, you're coming with us and you won't make a fuss. Mage, do you have the spell ready?"
A wizened Ruki nodded, and Tomos gave a quick thumbs-up to his three companions. All of the soldiers bore packs, so Tomos had no way of knowing who held the jewels. There was no point in trying to do something daring and ultimately useless now. Obeying would keep them alive.
Tomos recognized the feel of an illusion spell as it settled over them – magic made his tail itch and the fur along his spine stand on end. He wondered what those on the outside would see. Behind him, poor nervous Jaryth shivered. As they walked quickly through the ship's foul-smelling underbelly, the temptation to accidentally tread on Kipras's tail, waving carelessly before Tomos's feet, was strong, but he reminded himself that he knew better.
Up on deck, all was chaos. Another pirate ship with a black birdlike skull on the sail was pulled close to the Krawken's Eye, and pirates fought all across the deck. Tomos shuddered – he'd occasionally been involved in disagreements with other thief gangs, but they'd never escalated beyond throwing rotten Ptolymelons. More and more, Tomos was convinced that the pirates of the seas made the desert thieves he knew and loved look as virtuous as Light Faeries.
The magic was making him slightly woozy – before he could correct himself, he accidentally did tread on Kipras's tail. Kipras immediately turned around and punched him – Tomos was taken unawares and knocked backward, hitting his head against one of the masts.
Everything seemed dim and disoriented, but Tomos couldn't feel the magic around him anymore, and he heard a shout of, "Where'd he come from?"
Another person yelled, "Someone's under a spell over there! Get them!"
He thought he heard Captain Galliard say, "We can't carry him – we need to move! Leave him for the Pawkeet!"
And then the world swirled around him once more and went dark.
Tomos awoke with the feeling of rope pressing against his back, and he was dimly aware that he was swinging back and forth slightly. He tried to roll, to see if he could, and the next thing he knew he was dumped on the ground, straight onto his already-aching head. "Oh, ow..."
He opened his eyes – still on a boat. He was in a little room with one of the strange round windows that sailors called portholes. He could see the sky and the sea outside. From the smell of herbs and clean linens, he could tell that he was in a healer's care. He tried to disentangle himself from the blanket as he glared at the hammock that had betrayed him. Where was he? Galliard wouldn't have treated him half this well.
He tried to make sense of those last confused moments after he'd hit his head. Had they said to leave him? Did that mean that the others were still prisoners? Had he not only lost the treaty and the three jewels, but his men, too?
Oh, this was bad. Tomos struggled to his feet, looking down at his much-abused tunic with the crest of Sakhmet on the front. At least he had the markings of an officer, if not the demeanor. He looked around and grabbed a broom with his free hand – a pole made a halfway-decent weapon.
Then the door opened, and a slender Island Ixi with brown hair flying every which way out of her braid said, "You ought to still be lying down, after that knock to the head you had."
Tomos kept his death-grip on the hammock – since the floor seemed even more unsteady than even the worst ship warranted, she was probably right. But he pointed his broom straight at her. "Don't come closer. Where am I, and what's going on?"
Then the Ixi girl drew a sword. "Try to hit me with that, and you'll have a lot worse than a bump between the ears."
Tomos informed her, "I don't want to hit you. I just want to know where I am and why I'm not still on the Krawken's Eye, since the last I knew I was on there in the middle of some sort of fight, and Galliard was trying to sneak away."
She frowned. "So you aren't one of his crew? Your clothes are desert-make, and the other pirates said you weren't, but one can't be too careful."
"No! I'm just a guy in over his head who wants to know where he is and
what in Fyora's name is happening!"
She leaned against the door. "You're aboard the Black Pawkeet under Captain Garin. We got in a fight with the Krawken's Eye... just why is a longer story than your head can stand right now. Galliard got away, so we cleaned out their hold and let the rest of the pirates go – they won't dare to go back to their master without treasure, and without that Draik to lead them the rest of them barely have enough brains to keep the ship afloat. But we found you on the deck and the pirates said that you were a prisoner."
Tomos nodded, and she continued, "I'm Lura, the medic aboard the Pawkeet. You?"
He took a second to remember his full title. "Captain Tomos of the Sakhmeti Special Forces." It sounded far more impressive than "Princess Amira's errand boy." Then a thought struck him. "Cleaned them out? Did you find three white gems that glow a little, or a treaty?"
Lura frowned. "No, why?"
Tomos hadn't expected that Galliard would leave the gems behind. He sighed. "Because it's my job to recover them." And since no one had been able to tell Lura his name, he didn't even have to ask about Saiban, Jaryth, and Origen – he knew that they were still captives.
The ship rocked, and Tomos's head lurched. Then he remembered seeing the other ship – the ship with sails as black as those of the Krawken's Eye. "Are you pirates, too?"
Lura grinned widely. "Of course! Sailing where the wind and the adventure take us."
Oh, this was just wondrous. He was on another pirate ship. Now he noticed all of Lura's earrings, and the beaded bangles on her wrists – pirates tended to be fonder of ornamentation than other sailors.
She set her hands on her hips. "Not Galliard and Scarblade's type of pirate, though. In fact, we aren't even pirating at the moment. King Kelpbeard of Maraqua asked us to find out what Scarblade's up to. We're getting paid and everything. We're practically legitimate these days." She said the word with a trace of disgust, and for a second the look on her face reminded him of Bokan.
The ship rocked again, and this time Tomos dropped his broom so he could grip the hammock with both hands. Lura said, "Back to bed, you. You shouldn't be up. Galliard will go to Scarblade, and since we're trying to find Scarblade as well, we'll get you where you need to go."
Tomos climbed gingerly back into the hammock, waiting for the woven ropes to betray him again, but this time they behaved. His head was pounding – the Ixi was right. He couldn't deal with this right now. She said, "When you're up again, then you can talk to Captain Garin and Jacques and you can all do the planning. I'm not one for planning. I just fix people up after they get hurt carrying out the plans."
Tomos knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep in the bright midday sun. He stared up at the ceiling. Perhaps the sailors of this Black Pawkeet were allies, and perhaps they weren't. He might have had a stroke of luck, or he might be in even worse trouble than he was before. He almost wished he had the Scarabs at his back, but then he realized that he wouldn't want to subject them to this nonsense. He was extremely glad that Nabile was safe in Qasala, and that Bokan, Horace, Zina, Raq, and Yari were out of danger in Sakhmet.
However, he was alone, in the middle of the ocean, potentially in more danger than he'd ever been in before, with a knot between his ears to complicate matters.
What was he going to do?
To be continued...