The Scarab and the Sea: Part Five
Lura finally pronounced Tomos fit to get up and move around the next morning. Tomos was glad – he had slept fitfully in that Fyora-forsaken hammock. He stepped out onto the deck of the Black Pawkeet, looking around with a thief's eyes, trying to judge the people around him. This was a smaller ship than the Krawken's Eye, but still far bigger than the old Sea Queen. The deck was crowded with people as well, but most didn't bear the sullen air of hostility that the last pirates Tomos had met possessed.
However, he could see the bright ragbags of clothes, the overabundance of jewelry – even to Tomos's desert-dwelling eyes – and the well-worn weapons they all bore. These were definitely pirates. He put a hand to his belt before he remembered that Captain Galliard had taken all his weapons. Oh, this wasn't good.
All of the eyes turned toward him. He tried to think of something to say. "Uh... thanks for not leaving me on the Krawken's Eye." He really was thankful for that. Though at least on the Krawken's Eye he'd known where he was and what was going on.
Then a voice barked, "I see a deck that hasn't been swabbed! Since none of you seem to have business, could I have a volunteer?"
All of a sudden, everyone seemed to have business again. Cutting through the throng was a tall yellow Usul with an impish look in his blue eyes, with a clever-faced red Kyrii right behind him. "I'm Captain Garin of the Black Pawkeet, and this is my first mate, Jacques. Lura says you're a soldier from the desert?"
Tomos had to hide his surprise – Garin and Jacques were only a few years older than he was himself. He also realized that his newfound identity as a soldier wasn't likely to get him any further with these sea-thieves than it had with the street urchins back home. "Soldier of a sort. My name's Tomos, by the way." Tomos then decided that it was worth the explanation to not get thrown overboard. "I used to be a pickpocket, until I saved the princess's life, half by accident. So I work for her now. And the first mission she gave me, I've managed to lose the treasure we were transporting and the others sent with me."
Garin looked around. "If there's a story to be told here, let's go back to my cabin. It's a bit more private."
It was also quite a lot smaller – none of the three were small men, and space was a little tight. Jacques sighed. "Is this really necessary?"
Garin sighed as well. "It's easier this way – otherwise we'd distract the crew. I think we can help each other, Tomos."
Jacques started, "We're currently sailing for King Kelpbeard of Maraqua. We're trying to find out what Scarblade's up to."
Garin interrupted, "He was wounded when he tried to take over Maraqua a few years back. He's not sailing anymore. But his fleet has only grown, and we don't know what he's been promising them. Kelpbeard wants us to find out. And, of course, any treasures we get back from that scum, whose owners can't be found, we get to keep."
Tomos had stopped listening, though. He muttered, remembering, "Gems for their master's crown."
Jacques was looking at Tomos as though he were out of his mind. "Say what?" Garin's expression was identical. Tomos's heart pulled for a second, missing Nabile – he could tell that these two were thief partners every bit as close to each other as he was to his pink Ixi friend.
Then he explained, "That's what Galliard said. The gems he stole from us – the gems we were supposed to take to the Three Kingdoms as part of a treaty – he called them 'gems for his master's crown.' What does Scarblade want with a crown?"
Jacques said grimly, "Nothing good, that's for sure."
Garin sighed as he leaned against the door. "And we'll need to find out what nothing good is. He's probably holed up somewhere – some little nameless island. If only we had something we could use to find it!"
Tomos asked, "Do you have a mage?"
Garin shrugged. "Sure. Liassak is on loan from Maraqua. He's behind the ship – we've rigged a chair for him to sit in when he gets tired, and a tub of water on deck for when he wants to come aboard. He's not the type of mage that they have in the desert, but he can do a finding spell – if he has something to anchor it. Which we don't have."
Tomos shifted – all his things had been taken. What did he have that they could use? And then he noticed the hard lump in his pocket, and pulled out the palm gum that Saiban had given him. It looked no better in the daylight than it had smelled in the dark – in addition to the dirty-sandal smell, it was a nasty brownish color – but it had been made by Saiban, and Nabile had told Tomos enough about magecraft for him to know that that gave it power. "This was made by one of my squad – the other pirates were talking about ransoming us, so they should still have Saiban with them."
Garin's eyes lit up. "You think they'll be taking your mates to Scarblade's lair? Brilliant! It was almost worth the trouble dragging you on board!"
Jacques grinned. "Mostly joking."
Then Garin asked, "But if they kept the rest of your mates, why did they leave you?"
Tomos sighed. "Origen, Jaryth, Saiban, and I were betrayed by the fifth man in our group – a skinny shadow Wocky, name of Kipras. He's working with the pirates. Accidentally stepped on his tail as we were trying to leave, and he knocked me out for it." But his heart was lighter than it had been since they woke to find Kipras gone – between the mage travelling with the Pawkeet and the gum that Saiban had given him, they might actually have a chance of salvaging this!
They went back out onto the deck together, and Tomos took a deep breath of the salty air. He was used to the hot, dry desert air – this cool, moist air with its' tang of sea salt and ship's tar still felt strange to him, even after a few days at sea. Garin shouted, "Bring Liassak aboard!"
Tomos saw the tub of seawater being made ready, and a sling being lifted over the side – soon, a strange Hissi with blue-green scales and bright pink fins was being helped overboard and into his refuge. Tomos bowed as the Maraquan mage's yellow eyes scrutinized him – he knew enough about magecraft to recognize someone with the power. It was in the way they carried themselves, and this Liassak held his serpentine form with every bit as much icy dignity as King Jazan at his scariest. "Sir, I'm Captain Tomos of the Sakhmeti Special Forces."
The mage nodded. "An officer, then. And yet a look in your eye every bit as lawless as our honored companions."
Tomos bowed low, but he snuck a look at Garin and Jacques – they were grinning wryly at each other. He said, "I've got a full pardon – it's hanging on my wall at home. Got a gold wax seal and everything." Then he reached into his pocket. "Three of my fellows – who were placed under my command – are still in the hands of the pirates. This was made by one of them."
He handed the gum to the mage, who gripped it gingerly. "Tell me about the one who made this, Captain Tomos."
"His name's Saiban. He's a silver Kyrii – an older man. He's a desert trader by birth. I don't think I've ever seen his hair, since he always wears a turban. He's prone to talking like one of those Shenkuu fortune cookies. I've never seen him riled up. Not like Origen, who's got a temper like a Meepit with a sore tail, or Jaryth, who's twitchier than a stuck Grackle Bug."
He waited, hoping like anything that this crazy idea would actually work. If it worked, they would have a way to track the Krawken's Eye, even across the barren, featureless water. Tomos missed the sand and the dirt of Sakhmet, and the eyewitnesses everywhere who might be willing to tell you which direction whoever you were chasing had gone. It was far too barren out here on the water, far too insecure – how did these sailors, law-abiding and piratical alike, manage it?
He shuddered. The sooner he had dry land under his feet and this accursed sea-chase over with, the happier he would be.
Finally, Liassak nodded. "I can do it – this will provide an admirable anchor for the spell. Thank you, Captain Tomos."
The relief actually made his knees shaky – he shook his head. He was getting soft from not having to live on his wits. That was his problem. When they actually got to sneak into a pirate stronghold to foil Scarblade's plans and steal back the treasure meant for the Three Kingdoms, that would be when Tomos found his element.
Someone tweaked his ear. Tomos turned to glare at Lura, who asked, "Can you climb?"
Tomos scoffed, "You ask a street thief that?"
She laughed. "Follow me!" She ran to the mast of the ship and began to climb before she looked back at Tomos. "Aren't you coming? Do you not like heights?"
He protested, "I'm fine with heights over land! I just don't like heights over water!" But she had him. He couldn't look scared in front of all these pirates, so he gritted his teeth and followed.
But as he climbed, he enjoyed the feeling of using his muscles in this familiar way. He hadn't climbed anything since he left Sakhmet to begin this venture, and he could persuade himself to ignore the rocking of the ship. And when he reached the top, he found a platform with handholds, where the Ixi awaited him. She said, "Look!"
He'd never known how little he could feel until that moment, on a clear morning with the sea stretching away forever. It reminded him of whenever he'd had to go out into the wild desert, away from Sakhmet – the feeling that he was the only person in all the worlds.
Maybe the sea had a little more in common with the desert than he had realized. He said, "It's kinda lonely."
Lura shrugged. "Mayhap if you're alone, it is. But that's why you sail with mates who'll stick with you. Keep your spirits up if the blue ever gets you down."
Tomos's mates were far away – back in the desert, where he ought to be.
But it was hard to feel too sad on this bright blue morning. He had allies, a way to follow the pirates, and a way to prove what he could accomplish once and for all.
To be continued...