The Captain’s cabin in the Main was very, very crowded. Filarias sat at his tiny desk, tucked out of the way, elbows propped against the relentless twisting wallow of the Hound in a heavy sea. The carpenter had left and the medic was tucked into the corner by the slung hammock that now held the Niah woman, in dry blankets, drinking water and remedies in careful sips.
Alfalaria and Irikaias sat to one side, the young sailor trying to look diligent and competent instead of wildly reckless. There were two midshipmen both trying to find enough space for their elbows, crowded next to the Captain’s desk, notebooks clamped to the deck with their free hands.
Kaylebuh, sitting next to Alfalaria on her other side kept hitting his head on the ceiling balk where the wall met it, jammed as close to the wall as he could get. He wasn’t nearly as green as when this had all started, accepting remedies from the medic.
“First of all,” Captain Filarias said. “Sailor Moriren, as commendable as your heroic act of leaping into the sea to save Ayree Maekun was, I trust that you will come up with less foolhardy way of affecting her rescue.”
“Aye, Ser! Should I ever be confronted with a lone swimmer in open sea in a storm, I shall consider my options carefully, Ser.”
There wasn’t a trace of a smile on Irikaias’s face and the Captain put his gloved fingers over his mouth for a moment, glared at the boy, then nodded abruptly. “Cheeky, lad. And I am aware that you had the presence of mind to use two safety lines, given that the one buckle broke. I commend you for your quick thinking an action.” He turned to the Niah woman who swung upright in the hammock, drank her cup of water dry. “Sera Maekun, please tell us all the whole story.”
Alfalaria had been trading Arkan with Kaylebuh around her ‘High-Town Fehinnan’ lessons and didn’t translate. He was still Fehinnan and though he’d begun offering things he knew about Fehinna – which was why he was here – he wasn’t sworn to anyone. He’d been round eyed at getting his first regular pay. He hadn’t believed it up until the moment he slung the money chain around his neck.
“They caught us in the Miatara… we were trading along the Goat Coast.” She gestured at the map pinned over the desk, curved against the wall. The Captain reached up and tapped at the wall just off the edge of his map and she nodded. “Yes. Just inside the Rock and they came into the transient village; a mix of us traders coming and going.” She looked around at them. “We got unlucky and the Fehinnans came in and grabbed people as if we were nuts being picked from the trees. They sank the bookship and grabbed the family. One of those ship carron’s made a big bloody hole in the middle of the gathering, knocked us stupid and dazed, thrown around like whirlwind and they didn’t listen to anyone and if someone grabbed a weapon, they shot them… more like killed with those hand carron things. They can shoot a lead pellet into someone’s chest and stop his heart fast as an arrow, reloads slower than a crossbow or seeshur… but has two shots in.”
“We understand,” the Captain said quietly. “And once they’d showed what the big carron could do, they’d just have to grab some children, or oldsters, or anybody—“
“—and threaten them. Yes.” The Niah woman rubbed her hands over her face. “We never thought, ‘slaver’. People have gotten used to the idea that people aren’t goods. Once you Arkans quite doing it, it went fast.”
The midshipmen grimaced but it didn’t stop them taking notes.
“I was in the southmost barracoon—“ “—Jinnan,” Kailebuas broke in, in his rudimentary Arkan. “Called, Jinnan. Made by…” he waved his hands in frustration trying to explain and turned to Alfalaria. “Please tell um, Jinnan’s built by a high-nosed Fehinnan clan… not the God-King… they’ll not fight, not military. ‘Nother clan owns Basser bar’coon. They’ll probably run tah military. Y’all have smashed the bar’coons set up by High Priest and his faction. ‘N the one set up by the coalition ‘o captains. I’d bet y’all have two tah smash not four.”
Alfalaria had started translating not three words in and Ayree was nodding. “I was south. I was lucky that they sent us to build ship-traps in the two ports they’re going to try and hold onto.”
“Lucky, Sera?” The Captain interjected. The Niah looked grim.
“As far as I know they gathered up everyone they could, nearly two thousand people in those pits and they sent seven hundred of us to the military, the others they crammed onto their barques and schooners and took them off across the sea.” One of the midshipman made a strangled noise and tried to cover it with a cough.
“I was on the crew at the seawall,” she gestured at the map again. “That one that’s marked in blue. They have mined the whole port with ship killers. I can tell you where the ones are that I worked on, and others I could see. One of the Gilly’s… that’s what they call their slave keepers and trainers… laid a whip across my back trying to turn me away from the edge. When I was out on the seawall, so I said ‘fik the chains’ and went into the water. They shot at me, carrons, arrows but the weather was already bad enough.”
“Sera, we’ve found that our ship is very stable in storm weather, so you’ve come to safety, but we have no way of contacting the fleet, nor warn them of this.”
She sniffed. “Once the weather clears, you have a launch deck. Get me a moyawa and I’ll find them, get word to them.”
“We have a courier… yes, that would work. Thank you.”
“Now there’s one more thing I know that might help you,” she said, eyes half-closed, fighting exhaustion. She lay back and the medic began to check her pulses. “They’ve set up a trap for some magical ship that can almost fly. I only heard rumours that they’ve armed two, or three ships to try and sink it. It wouldn’t be this ship, would it?”
“Entirely possible, Sera. We can’t ‘nearly fly’ in this weather.”
“I’ve heard that there could be four, or eight, or even sixteen carrons on the ships they’re sending after you but those numbers were the whispers of slaves.”
Kaylebuh pursed his lips as if to whistle, but knew better on board a ship, especially in bad weather.
“Y’all could be facing forty-eight carron barrages.”
The Captain stared at the freedman, then up at the map. “That—“ He coughed. “That would be our worst-case scenario. Sers, Serins, Serinas… if they intend to sink us, we’ll be able to out-run them, even if we only have the one captured. We do not have a crew trained for this terror weapon, and limited ammunition. We will let them waste their shots, we shall be more nimble.”
The Hound seemed to hear and the heavy wallow she gave made the Niah, who had never seen the ship on her sea-legs, close her eyes, disbelieving but unwilling to contradict the Captain.
Irikaias grinned, unfazed. Kaylebuh moaned as if he wanted to be sick.