I woke up the next morning and stopped by a bakery for some food. My hungover debuff wasn’t too bad and should go away after I’d got myself fixed up. I checked my purse and had enough coppers to cover a bath and laundry, so I made that my next priority. They’d taken a durability point off my clothes scrubbing them, but they hadn’t been so clean in a long while.
I enquired with the harbormaster and he told me the Wind Runner was anchored offshore, pointed, and directed me to the dock they were using to ferry supplies. I met Blake at the dock and saw the first indications that things were going wrong.
“There you are! We’ve got most of the crew on board already. Get into that boat.”
I looked at the pair of rowboats. One had two teens without the rowing ability and most of the foodstuffs. The other had two sailors with low-level rowing abilities and what looked like luggage. That was the boat he wanted me in. I growled under my breath. Did he have a reason for his decision?
Well, if things were going to go pear-shaped with Blake I might as well do it here on the dock. “You and you,” I said, pointing to one man in each boat. “Switch places. You with the foodstuffs, hand over that crate.”
They glanced at each other but didn’t ignore me. I was hauling the crate of food to the second boat when Blake intercepted me. “What do you think you’re doing?” he said under his breath.
“Saving you a lot of hassle. You can thank me later.”
He wasn’t happy – oh no, he wasn’t happy – but we both knew he wasn’t a real sailor and he let me fix things. The first problem was the weight distribution. The boats weren’t really overloaded so that was fixed easily enough. The second was the rowers. A discrepancy in rowing skills was fine, the more experienced led and the others followed. Having someone without rowing skills was fine, so long as there was an experienced rower to keep them in check. You didn’t put two non-rowers in a boat. That was asking for trouble. Sure, I could have hopped in with the non-rowers, but that would have been ignoring his instruction to get in the other boat. Instead I took charge, pissed Blake off and still got in the other boat … wait, wasn’t I trying to improve things?
I asked Blake if there was anything else being loaded or if I could take the rowboats to the ship. He felt like flexing his authority and said we’d wait. We waited for half an hour, during which time I got to know both the guys in my boat – Harmon and Sam. They had their stats hidden, but my analyze skill peered through their low levels easily enough. I was disappointed. The rower had some basic seamanship skills, the kind you’d get by growing up in port. The other had no seamanship skills whatsoever. I thought Blake had said they didn’t want riffraff? After working with Coe’s crew, I felt like a veteran faced with babies.
I didn’t voice my grumbling with Harmon or Sam, instead striking up conversation and leaving my stats wide open. Harmon was instantly given the moniker ‘Harm’ and I promised Sam I’d come up with something interesting when I’d seen him shave – something that wasn’t likely to happen for a few days.
If I’d known what would have happened at the end of that half-hour, I still couldn’t have prepared myself. A pair of ladies walked down the dock, flanked by two guardsmen and surreptitiously followed by more. That wasn’t surprising, the galleon could house them and the luggage had belonged to some guest. No, what was surprising was that I knew one of them.
Ms. Jennifer Marston, youngest daughter of the Marston family that held my mother’s service.
The row to the boat was quiet since I was caught up in my thoughts. I had the new boy take the second oar and automatically directed him in how to move. Internally I was thinking of Jennifer. Was she why I’d gotten a quest aboard this ship? What bearing did it have on my life what her business was?
The Wind Runner was about a half mile out. We didn’t flag behind the other rowboat much, but they did reach it ahead of us. We piled our goods into a cargo net that was lifted to the deck and scampered up a rope ladder. They, however, craned a seat over the side so that the ladies could sit instead of having to climb any sort of ladder, so I was there on deck to take the ladies’ hand when they came up.
“Hello Ms. Jennifer.”
She hadn’t seen me on the dock, and I gave her a greater fright than I’d received. She blanched and I swear she was about to go back over the side. She recovered her composure much faster than I had, I’d give her that.
“Mr. Domenic,” she acknowledged me. Then turned to wait for the other lady. I ignored the others offloading luggage and waited for the other lady too. When she came up, I was there to take her hand, say ‘watch your step, miss’ and make sure I’d remember her face if I had to. I wanted to know who it was Jennifer was accompanying, because Jennifer was definitely acting as a companion to this woman.
The captain had come out and greeted the ladies. “It is good to have you aboard, my dear miss’s.” Then he whisked them away.
I started to pick up some of their luggage and follow, but a soldier directed me and the other sailors who followed to put them back on the deck and stay put. Confused, we obliged. I took the time to look over the other sailors about. I’d remembered that ships this size had cabin boys, ships pages and apprentice sailors, so I’d considered that I was too harsh in my critique of Harm and Sam. Now I saw that I hadn’t been all wrong. There were experienced sailors here. There were a lot more inexperienced or minimally qualified people. That may not be ideal, but it would be fine … as long as Blake wasn’t indicative of who was in charge.
Speaking of the devil, he was climbing over the gunwale now. He spoke to some of the soldiers and sent them below decks. More of the crew flooded the upper deck – I placed the number at just over a hundred.
“Men,” Blake shouted to be heard. “You are now aboard the Wind Runner. Per your contracts, you will remain with the ship until we reach our destination. Anybody who attempts to leave will stand accused of desertion. There is a contingent of forty soldiers being transported with our cargo. The soldiers are not sailors and will not assist or interfere with your duties, but if a soldier gives you a command for any reason you are to take their word as law.
“You should also know that no one will be permitted in the lower hold. We are absolute on this matter, and infringement will be punished. If there is any reason you believe it necessary to enter that hold, alert a soldier to the matter.
“Responsibilities and duties will be assigned, and you shall complete them according to the ship’s code. Anyone who hasn’t signed their contract yet will do so before we set sail. Now return to your duties.”
While the crew milled about the deck discussing things or went below to discuss things, I picked up the ladies’ luggage and went to find some real answers.
My ‘real answers’ ended with a soldier taking the luggage for me and turning me away.
With hands empty, I took advantage of the unorganized affair to acquaint myself with the ship. I’d served on two galleons before, but there could be a good bit of variation between them. I was satisfied that the layout was intuitive and familiar. I was not satisfied that they were quite serious about no one entering the lower hold. They even had a pair of guards posted.
“Don’t even think about it,” one of them said. “Captain’s got defenses and a magical alert around the hold.”
“Then if I can’t find the leak, I know exactly where it is!” I joked. Guard two actually had a sense of humor and chuckled.
There were four decks on the Wind Runner, including the main deck but not including the quarterdeck or forecastle up top. With the lower hold off limits there were essentially three. Ships stores and fresh water were normally found in the lower hold, but those things had found their way to the cargo deck after they’d put whatever they were guarding down there. Crew quarters were mostly in the bow, forward of the cargo area, but there were hammocks for the rest. When I looked into the crew berthing, a large number of sailors were crammed together in there.
“This isn’t normal!” said one. “This ship is all set to be a military transport, not a merchant ship!”
“They haven’t the firepower of a warship, didn’t you see their artillery? It’s all been fixed up and patched together.”
“And 40 soldiers? Does your average merchant expedition have a contingent like that on board? I don’t think so!”
“Lads!” an older man interrupted. “We know this isn’t a simple transit, but they wouldn’t hire a brand-new crew under pretenses if they were taking the ship to war! No, we’re ferrying something important to Andros and it’s supposed to be hush-hush. Now the way they run things may be unusual, but it’s not that bad. Whatever shenanigans the powers that be are up to won’t stop us from climbing the rigging!”
“They changed the terms on us soon as we got aboard!” said the seaman who’d claimed we were a warship. “I don’t trust a captain that’ll do that!”
“I haven’t signed a contract yet!” Yelled someone from the crowd. “I’m getting off!”
“You think they’ll let you of now?” Someone else responded. “They’ll say it’s desertion.”
The buzz of conversation had grown to a dull roar and now many were yelling. I slapped the entry hard three times. Eyes turned on me and arguments ceased as people assumed the person at the back of the crowd was someone with authority. I strolled through the crowd as it parted for me, the men packing together even tighter.
I identified the main three, they were centered and had their stats bared – likely to show their credentials for their arguments. All were experienced sailors, but the old man was impressive even to me. I read his name as Virgam and ignored the other two.
“I came down to find a place for my things,” I said loudly as I pulled my tote from my shoulder. “But I heard the town hall rally from the artillery deck, so thought I’d drop in.”
Most of the men shifted as they remembered how loud they’d been in their dissent.
I turned to Virgam. “It’s Virgam, right? I’m Domenic.”
“A pleasure,” he replied. “I’ve heard of you.”
That leaned towards my suspicions that he’d been a first officer or quartermaster at least. I’d heard a lot in the past day from people how they knew my name, but only among those circles that kept track of people looking for work and their reputations. It wasn’t like I was known to the average sailor.
I nodded to one of the racks beside him. “This one taken?”
“Nope. Matter of fact people seem to be right cagey about settling in.”
I moved to the rack and unpacked like I hadn’t interrupted the whole proceedings. I pulled out my spare set of clothes, folded them, arranged them as a pillow. My deck of cards … well look at that, not much left in my tote, now was there? I travelled light.
“You’re not at all worried about what they’re doing on here?” Warship man asked (I’d get to remembering names later but could only absorb so many at a time and didn’t want to reanalyze him whenever I thought of his name.)
“Nope,” I lied. I pulled out my cards and started shuffling. “I don’t know about you lot, but I was hired for a lot of gold to ask no questions. They’re not asking for things to be much different. They can keep their secrets; I’ll do my job all the way to Andros. They decide to screw the crew over, we’ll do what dissatisfied crews do – go to every tavern, inn and job office and name names. I might not get my fat purse of gold, but good luck to the Wind Runner on hiring another crew. Captain Michaels knows all that. You don’t get to be commanding a ship like this without knowing it. You’re not getting press-ganged; you’re just getting the runaround!”
I started a game of one-handed solitaire and pretended the crowd had disappeared. “So Virgam, you the one they hired to run this show?”
“Lead petty officer,” he replied. He seemed amused at my show of nonchalance, but then I guess it was kind of a power move, strolling in and acting like I had. “You hired under me?”
I smiled with lots of teeth showing and shook my head. “Just a seaman, this trip.”
“You signed the contract already?”
“No,” I replied.
“Well, seaman, put those cards down and get topside!”
“Aye, aye!” I said, immediately stowing the cards and threading my way out. I wasn’t going to hesitate on Virgam’s first order – he was establishing his own authority. Now he was addressing the rest of the crew, assuaging any more hesitations. Between us, we’d stopped the seeds of mutiny before they’d started – or at least I think we had. We’d see in a few weeks if it wouldn’t have been better to have things out now.
On my way up to the main deck, I analyzed the artillery on the gun deck.
Scorpion Ballista …
I didn’t analyze every one, but all seemed to be above 2/3 durability. They were all well outfitted in bolts, with stacks of new normal bolts and chests containing either fire or split-shot enchanted bolts. I’d picked up the artillery ability the last time I was on a galleon. They’d divided the seamen into those who’d keep the boat sailing and those who’d return fire, and I’d landed in the latter group. So it was easy for me to see that while the scorpions had been repaired, they were all in fine working order. This galleon wasn’t outfitted for fighting deep sea creatures, but she wasn’t slapped together.
My doubts relieved, I continued topside. This voyage was becoming far too interesting to have shoddy weapons on hand.