I met with Blake and he pointed me to first mate Donaldson’s cabin. The first mate had open stats, and a wealth of seagoing experience as well as skills in naval warfare. That made me feel warm and cozy, I was truly glad to see someone with his abilities as first mate. He looked more like a professional gentleman than naval tactician. Compared to the motley crew down below he could have passed for the head of the national bank.
He riffled through a stack of papers, then not finding mine scanned the crew list. “Working as a seaman?” he asked.
He put that stack away and pulled out a different sheet that had the names of all the seamen on it. No sense wasting lots of paper on repetitive words, now was there? “Verify that you understand the ships’ code, that those are the terms of your service and put your mark by your name.”
I read over the terms quickly and said, “These are not the terms.” The rest of the men were getting the wage Blake had first offered me, without any bonus.
“Oh?” Donaldson said, with a tone that said he expected me to lie.
“I negotiated my price with petty officer Blake. There’s also an asterisk by my name here.”
The first mate looked and saw there was indeed an asterisk by my name. “Please go inform petty officer Blake I would like to speak with him immediately. That will be all.”
Blake didn’t have any trepidation about going to the first mate’s cabin because he wasn’t a seaman. He just dropped what he was doing – which was a good imitation of supervising nothing in particular – and left. I decided to peek under the tarps on deck and found what I’d expected to.
There weren’t munitions on the deck for these weapons. Those’d be carted up from below if they were needed. The onager was a catapult small enough to be useful on a ship. Scorpions were useful to launch bolts against enemies or flaming bolts at the ship, but onagers were useful for crippling ships – destroying sails, rigging, and even the masts. Not that they couldn’t land a globe of something flammable that an alchemist had cooked up but crippling a ships ability to move instantly gave you the advantage. There were four onagers on deck, and each was on a circular platform that could rotate to aim them.
I tried loitering until Blake returned, but it didn’t suit me. I saw a red-headed cabin boy looking lost and approached him.
“Looking for someone?”
He turned baleful eyes on me. “The ladder to the gun deck.”
I blinked several times before I could respond. “Do you know where the main stairwell is?”
He nodded. “But the captain said I was getting in the way and I should find the ladder to the gun deck.”
So he was the captain’s cabin boy. He was young, eight years old. Was this his first time on board a ship? “Can you point out the mizzen mast for me?” He hesitantly pointed to the main mast. “Point me starboard.” He pointed to his right, the port side. I groaned. “What’s your name, kid?”
“I ain’t a sir. You call the captain sir. You call the first mate, second mate, and boatswain sir. Got that?”
“Who’s … Bos’n?”
Looking back, I’d chuckle at how he’d probably called it ‘boats – wane’. Right then I set to correcting him. If he was going to be any use – if he was to avoid causing mishaps – he needed a lot of knowledge right now.
“Alright, Redmund. From now on when the captain or other officers don’t have you doing anything, you find me. You can’t find me, you find someone else and you ask them to teach you about seamanship, the Wind Runner, or anything else they can think of. Got it?”
“Yes, uh … first question! What am I supposed to call you if not ‘sir’?”
“You learn my name. It’s Domenic.”
He looked aghast. “I’m supposed to learn everybody’s name?”
I laughed. “Kid, you’ll have to learn a lot more than people’s names. For now, read their name from their stats.”
“But I only have level 1 analyze. I can’t see through anybody’s stats when they hide them!”
I nodded. “They are keeping them up. It becomes a habit when you’re in an unfamiliar place. Don’t worry, we’ll get them to drop it.”
Blake returned. “Just a clerical error. You can go sign in a few hours after they’ve drawn up the correct sum.”
I nodded. He’d been gone too long just to clear up a clerical error, but I doubted Blake had tried to gyp me of my pay. The circumstances didn’t line up for that.
“You’ll report to me,” He continued. “You’ll be working with the sails.”
I nodded like Blake knew what he was saying. I’d be working topside, handling rigging and lines, sure. I’d also be doing the hundred other jobs that came up in a day, from attending the sounding line to manning the helm. “When are we casting off?”
“We leave with the tide.” He was parroting what he knew the schedule was.
“Aye, aye. I’ll see to it stores are stowed.”
Redmund – bless the little bugger’s eight-year-old heart – popped off a salute to Blake and said, “Permission to join him, sir?”
“Blake’s not a sir,” I corrected. “He’s a petty officer.” I got a bit of savage joy at the look Blake gave me. I’d wager a gold piece he was some sort of military officer, but if he was going to play the part of a naval petty officer he was going to have to live with a demotion. I wondered if he’d been having the others call him ‘sir’ …
“Granted,” Blake said before turning on his heel.
I turned to Redmund. “I’m going to point out port and starboard to you now, then take you down the ladder to the gun deck. Every deck we go down I’m going to ask you to point port and starboard. You get it wrong and so help me I’ll have you scraping barnacles off the keel! Understood?”
“Yes sir, I mean Domenic!”
I smiled in my heart.
Someone who knew what they were doing had taken charge of stowing the stores. I glanced over them, rattling off information to Redmund the whole while. What was the last compartment we were in? How can you get there from the captains’ cabin? What’s stowed here and why? What’s the name of this? Wrong! It’s a line, not a rope. Name the parts of a line. Alright, I’ll tell you the parts once …
I took him to the stair to the lower hold, pointed at the two soldiers on guard duty and said, “Don’t even think about it. Captain’s got defenses and a magical alert around the hold.” Then I saluted the two guards. “Keep up the good work, men!” Their shared looks of bafflement would amuse me for a good long while.
We hoisted sails before the tide bottomed out when Callis – the larger of our two moons – set. Callis and Uropa dictated the tides, and when they said it was low tide it was low tide. Uropa would change her mind first and give you a slight mid-tide, but high tide didn’t return until Callis said so.
I explained all this to Redmund, who’d watched us work in fascination. We were departing just before last light. We were able to navigate around an inconveniently placed shoal before we had to start lighting lanterns. By that time, I’d run Redmund ragged and said he should check with the captain and make sure he wasn’t needed for anything. I expected he’d be sent straight to bed, but a minute later he was dashing by me with wide eyes. I’d learn later that the captain didn’t want to reinforce having him “gawk at the sailors all afternoon” and made him run errands for another hour. I didn’t feel a bit sorry for him – that was a tame introduction to sea life.
Because we got underway so late most of us were up until 7 bells on the mid watch. Then we were up before we’d scarce had time to close our eyes. The men grumbled, naturally, but this was all par for the course. I was in high spirits, despite my tired eyes. I was at sea again! Sure I’d only spent a single day in port, but I had an administrator verify that my compulsion was perfectly rational.
I found myself teaching often. This was easiest when I was showing Redmund the ropes, because I could speak loudly enough for all to hear. Everyone knew exactly what I was doing, but the ones in the know were glad I didn’t ask them if they knew their knots and the ones who didn’t know appreciated not being talked down to. (Not that I wouldn’t talk down to them if it came to it. Every sailor needed to be put in their place now and then, myself included.)
When I wasn’t about my duties or showing others theirs, I was running around with Virgam trying to stop problems before they started. He had more leeway and could say ‘this is how I want it done’ and the soldier ‘petty officers’ nodded because they’d put him in the chain of command for exactly that reason. Me … well, the soldiers mostly looked the other way and pretended I hadn’t changed what they’d told their men to do. At least they didn’t often question whether I was right.
Still, we were slow those first days as orders got mixed up, lines and sails got twisted, and people talked back. That was a no-no, on the Wind Runner or any other vessel. Every sailor knew at the end of the first day who were the real sailors and who were the soldiers in disguise. They mouthed off, the first mate administered the canings, and Virgam had a chat with the crew about maintaining the status quo. After that they obeyed the fake sailors until someone with experience and the pretense of authority told them otherwise, then listened to the seaman. The soldiers didn’t protest, they seemed to acknowledge it was all a charade.
After a few days at sea with this routine, I had a word with the cook when I wasn’t on duty. After he heard what I had planned, he readily outfitted me. The cook was an interesting man; he had unlocked his profession at level five and hadn’t advanced beyond that, sinking every bit of XP gained into his craft. It paid off; he had the highest cooking level I’d ever seen at 42. Yet for all his experience, he seemed out of place on a ship. He was like a gourmet chef for the king who’d found his way here. His stats had been hidden but I’d easily peered through and noted that he didn’t even have the sea legs skill yet. Maybe he was Captain Michaels personal cook brought on from his estate? Did the captain have an estate?
I made my way up to the quarterdeck and aft to the stern of the ship. There I carefully laid out and prepared my tools. Redmund met me there at three bells of the first watch, when we were fully reliant on the ship’s lanterns and the light of the moons.
“Am I going to learn it?”
“Yes. Tonight? We’ll see.”
He was tired after running about all day every day since we set sail, but he looked at the fishing lines with glee. “I’m going to catch a shark!”
“And pull it all the way up here? Better hope it’s a small one!”
That dose of realism didn’t damper his enthusiasm to pick up the fishing ability. I showed him every inch of the line, the hooks, and placement of the bait. I threw my line over and showed how to keep the line feeding out, then explained just how much line had to be played out to reach the right depths – which was a lot. After he’d thrown his line over I showed him fisherman’s knots while we waited for a bite. Eventually I ran out of things to say and admired the play of moonlight on the water.
“Domenic,” Redmund asked. “Why don’t you have the deck scrubbing ability?”
“Me and the other boys, we all got the deck scrubbing ability. But I ain’t seen a single sailor with the skill!”
I chuckled. “I had it. We all did. It went away along with a dozen others when I got my seamanship ability. See, some abilities encompass a bunch of others. Sometimes that even results in sub-specialties. You don’t think that a person’s stat sheets show everything they’ve ever learned, do you? That would be ridiculous! No one would ever have the time to read their own, much less anyone else’s. Now, the more you analyze yourself the more of those little things you can see and understand, even if they don’t pop up on your main stats.”
“Not analyze analyze, I mean not with your skill. It’s called introspection. You see inside your own head and heart. The sea is a great place for it.”
“But what determines the skills that show up in your stats?”
I shrugged. “The things you develop, the things that matter to you, the things you’re good at … heard there’s a field of study into stats and quests and all that. Some magicians can’t accept things without a deeper explanation and have to know the why of everything. You one of those people?”
“Too bad. You could have made good money. Are you going to pull that fish in?”
“Pay attention to what your arms are doing, you’ve been pulling harder and harder on the line without paying attention. You’ve got a fish on! It’s time to pull him in.”
Redmund excitedly set to pulling the line hand over hand, but I showed him a less intensive way to do it that also saved the quarterdeck’s gunwale from the chaffing. He quickly realized that while casting out all that line had been easy, pulling it back was work! I tied off my line and spelled him for a bit. He’d get a greater skill progression if he was more involved, but the fish needed to come up. I started singing a shanty while I pulled.
“Oh, we'd be alright if the wind was in our sails
We'd be alright if the wind was in our sails
We'd be alright if the wind was in our sails
And we'll all hang on behind...”
When I started the other sailors on deck listened, saw what I was doing, and joined in while they did whatever they were doing. That was the great thing about shanties – every sailor knew them, and we sang often. My two levels of singing had been hard won, as my voice had taken some work to tune.
“And we'll ro-o-oll the old chariot along!
We'll ro-o-oll the old chariot along!
We'll ro-o-oll the old chariot along!
And we'll all hang on behind!”
I winked at Redmund as I started the next verse and handed the line back to him. He pulled in rhythm, which was why most shanties had been written in the first place.
“Oh, we'd be alright if the fish is on our line
We'd be alright if the fish is on our line
We'd be alright if the fish is on our line
And we'll all hang on behind...”
“There it is!” Redmund yelled in a falsetto that would embarrass him in a few years.
“Don’t stop, or it’ll fall off the hook and that pulling will have been for nothing!”
He scrambled to pull the fish through the space up to the quarterdeck and the fish was hooked deeply enough that all its struggles didn’t save it. Guessing that Redmund hadn’t held a fish before, I pulled it the last few feet onto the deck. I congratulated him, then had him pick up the fish and showed him the ways he could hold it. Then I told him to remove the hook, and after a bit of finagling and prying at the poor fish he’d done it without me showing him.
“What do I do with it now?”
“Set it aside where it’s out of the way but you won’t lose it. After we’re done, we take everything down to Cook.”
“Cool!” he said.
“You know what’s next?” I grinned devilishly. “You get to do the work this time.”
I supervised while he got his line ready to go, but I had a fish of my own to pull up. I did so and had my line out again before him, but he’d paid attention to me resetting it and doggedly persisted. By six bells we had five fish between us and I’d taught him a few shanties – quieter now so that I could repeat the words for him and the crew wouldn’t accuse me of singing all night come the morning. During one of my choruses a female voice joined in and I nearly jumped when I thought it was Jennifer. Of course, she didn’t know any shanties, and I hadn’t seen sign of either lady since they’d boarded. This was a female sailor – one I’d noticed because women sailors were rare. I hadn’t worked with her as she always seemed to be working on something elsewhere. Her skills were like mine, if at different levels. She was a level 8, like me.
“Don’t stop your singing on my account,” she said. “Though you could stand to invest a bit more in it.”
I snorted. “You on watch?”
“No, I just couldn’t sleep yet and heard some tomcat screeching and decided to see what it was about. Now I’m curious why you’re dangling fish outside the captain’s window.”
“We’re catching them for Cook!” Redmund volunteered. I’d noticed that he’d picked up on my habit of calling the man Cook, not the cook. What can I say? The position is a title.
“I’m sure the captain and the officers will appreciate that, not that we’ll ever taste it.” She examined the fish we’d pulled up.
“The fishing skill is worth learning, as I’m sure you know.” I added with a meaningful nod. She had level 11 fishing.
She smiled and nodded. “Picked it up working on a leaky tub before I could get onto a merchant vessel. You?”
“Actually, never been on a fishing boat,” I replied truthfully. I was proud of my long list of experiences but had skipped over the basic fishing boat. “Picked up the skill on the docks as a boy, then progressed it bit by bit at sea. Some whales counted towards progression too, when I did that.” I extended my hand. “I’m Domenic.”
“Hali,” she replied. It was courtesy to introduce yourself, even if you could read their names on their stats. Her handshake was firm with all the callouses I’d expect from a sailor. I did not expect the next words that slipped quietly from her mouth. “I heard you stopped a mutiny.”
I’d like to say that my face portrayed the right amount of surprise at an unexpected question – that kind of innocent surprise and confusion people got when they really didn’t know what you’d just said. I probably looked as composed as a man when his wife brings up his mistress. She read me like a book.
Still, if she hadn’t been there then I saw no reason to rehash it – particularly on the quarterdeck like this. “There was never a threat of mutiny that I was aware of.” Smooth Domenic. Real smooth.
“Mmm-hmm. There’s also word that you’re angling for Blake’s position.”
That I could react naturally to, and I laughed outright. “I could have had Blake’s position and another gold per week if I’d set to haggling. Better yet, I could be first mate on another ship if I wanted to advance.”
“First mate?” she said. “Aren’t you a bit young for that?”
“You bet your pretty buttons I could be first mate,” I said with a smirk.
“So you’re a man with no ambition, then?” she said scornfully. My smirk disappeared. What game was she playing at? I didn’t see her at all in the past few days and now she approached me full of rumors and challenges?
“I’m a man of the sea,” I said firmly. “Always have been, always will be. The sea doesn’t care about my ambition.”
“There’s no room for another woman in your life?” she asked coyly.
“Go play your games with another sailor boy. Whatever you’re after, I know you didn’t get where you are by batting eyelashes.” And I’d have thought less of her if she had. There was also a slight buzzing in my mind when I looked at her. What was that about?
Even though I’d told her to drop her games, I was surprised by how efficiently she did so. In an instant the brusque gossiper was gone, as was the coy woman. Was that a real smile? A genuine one? “It was nice to meet you, Domenic.” She said simply. Then she left.
I was baffled, and Redmund wasn’t any help. “Do you like her?” he asked.
“Do you … admire her?”
I snorted. “Kid, that lady has got to be tougher than me. It takes a special kind of woman to make her way in a trade filled with men.”
He huffed, exasperated. “Do you want to spank her rump and make her squeal?”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “The captain hears you use that kind of language and you’ll be scrubbing decks the rest of your natural born life.”
“The men talk that way about the whores they meet in port!”
I started pulling my line up. “Sure they do. But there’s things they don’t talk about, too. Like how if you could get them to admit it, half of them are the sons of whores. Like me.” His eyes went wide. Yes, Redmund, this was the way of our world. “They don’t mention if they have sisters in the trade, just try to forget about them instead. They don’t count whether they’ve left babies behind. They don’t think about whether that kid … whether that kid needed them.” I sighed. “I don’t bash my shipmates for their talk, but try to have a little respect for people. If you do, chances are that sailor talk won’t feel quite right. Now pull up your line, you’ve got a fish on.”
With a start, Redmund pulled in his line, though with less excitement and vigor than before. Great, why did I feel like I’d spoiled the evening?
I’d finished stowing my line when Redmund pulled his fish over. Or rather, half his fish. I held it up and chuckled. “It looks like you nearly caught a shark after all!” Redmund wanted to hang onto it and show it off to the other boys later, but I dissuaded him. Keeping a fish head in your quarters was a good way to make enemies. Instead, I told him a story about Krakens wanting the fish that fishermen only caught half of, and how Davy Jones would sic sea monsters on him if he irked one of Jones’ pets.
Redmund scoffed at me with the confidence of a boy who knew I was making stories, but it was largely bravado. He’d heard and seen the superstitious among the sailors who kept a copper coin tied to their hair at the nape of their neck, thanked any dolphins whenever the appeared and hushed anyone who said Davy Jones’ name aloud. He really wanted to ask me if Jones was real. I didn’t believe Jones was the boogeyman, but I believed he was real. Redmund didn’t ask, though. Because I was incorrigible, I didn’t offer.