[SOW] Interlude Three: The Seafarer’s Secret

There were few things Findlay cherished. Even fewer she loved, but the scant opportunity to recline at a lounge table in the Ratscrew Tavern with a fresh roll of Greenleaf was among the best times she could recount in recent history. On this day in particular, she was lucky to find Griffon, the bard, telling his stories and reciting poetry from his stage. The thin and flowery man had a keen imagination which helped to ease her mind after a haul. Stories told of far away lands with five moons, where spirits lived on eternally and of places where magical flowers grew. His lofty and expansive imagination brought her, even on the worst days, to a strange sort of peace.

No matter that the content of his poems and songs were lunacy, his fantasy kingdoms on the other side of the far seas a wistful bout of make believe. It didn’t matter how far the bard actually could sail, because she’d seen it all. From the edges of the break all the way to the bay of Dorathell, there was nothing more to Amsukar than the three continents who fought to deny the growing superpower of their right to tread on land which they didn’t own. As much as she loved the music, she knew, deep down, it was a fantasy. Wherever any of them went, they would always end up back at the Ratscrew sipping on yeasty ale and singing about places which never existed.

A life on the Ilden Sea taught her one thing above all else, a notion she’d manifested beneath the steel grasp of the Pirate Lord Krissan, one of three who keeps a tight leash around the Sandcrook and didn’t take kindly to the threat of invasion from the technologically adept in Barothell. Employment with Krissan was not as frightful as the stories she’d heard in her youth. It helped, of course, that Krissan was the one to pull Findlay from the smoldering wreckage of her childhood home in Thombardin.

She downed a gulp of ale and let the bitterness spread through her cheeks. Those days were behind her, and no longer served her. Her parents hadn’t lived long enough to dictate the nature of her life, and from childhood, the Ratscrew was her home away from home. Until she was given the helm of her own ship and crew, she lived beneath the strict rules of Lord Krissan’s Work House.

She’d been on Krissan’s crew running skiffs from the time she could read, and it wasn’t long before she’d made her way to becoming a captain in her own right. After she was promoted to the rank of Captain and tasked with capturing her own vessel, she became one of the Pirate Lord’s star apprentices.

Years of interrupting and sinking supply ships meant to deliver weapons or raw materials to Athella wore hard on her over the years, but the payout in scales far outweighed the risk, or the weight of what she’d been asked to do. No matter how she justified it, each ship she sank dragged at her, deep down.

It wasn’t until her last run that she’d acknowledged the feeling. Disrupting the Athellan war machine was one thing, she could justify dismantling them bit by bit. Anyone who signed up to work for the kingdom which spread across Amsukar like a disease deserved, in some way, their cold, deep punishment. Even then, her last run wasn’t another fleet of weapons or steel. It wasn’t bargained Greyiron, nor was it another host of war weapons she’d seen so often.

It was a medical barge, carrying supplies to Thombardin.

Every previous order she carried out without hesitation. To do what was required of her meant in most cases she needed to silence the part of herself that called out with the cries of the sinking crews. On her last run, as soon as she and her crew boarded the vessel and began tearing apart their commodities, she realized immediately it was not like any of her other assignments. Her crew, in expert fashion, imprisoned the barge behind the barracks while she and her First Mate Vinka, called by man “The Troublemaker,” poured through the supplies, hoping, initially, to peel some of it for themselves.

When it was discovered that they were shipping bandages and healing tonics, she called off the siege immediately. On her command to return to their own ship, some of her men objected likely in fear of what would come when Lord Krissan discovered their failure. She understood the fear well.

She gave them a choice. Either they return to her, or they be cast overboard. Most of them chose the latter. Without hesitation, she allowed the barge to return to its path. The Desert Sick people of Thombardin would not suffer from another season like the one which had stolen her from her own family.

When she returned, Krissan was out on business, so she made her way to the Ratscrew and found her place in the tavern, just at the edge of Griffon’s stage. Through the thick cloud of smoke she let herself fall into deep, spiraling thoughts.

“You know, Captain, it is going to do you little good to quell your peace with worries about the nature of our work.”

Her first mate, Vinka, a massive man who hailed from the Isle of Magi, one of the bark covered folk of the woods there nursed his own mug of mead.

“Isn’t it strange, though, that we’ve never had to target someone like that? It’s always been Athella. Their warriors, their soldiers and infantry. Their supply lines and merchant ships. Then, as if it were normal, she sends us out to intercept a Hilioden Healer’s Barge?” She took a long sip.

Behind them, Griffon stepped away from the stage to a wave of sloppy applause.

“It is not our duty to question her reasoning, my friend.”

Vinka was, on his worst day, an obedient First Mate. On his best, her only voice of reason against the pale backdrop of the rest of her life.

“Perhaps she is of different mind now? Blossoming into something new?”

“Not all flowers are safe.”

The mountain of a man spoke in strange ways. A reflection of his adolescent years on the Isle of Magi where, if the rumors were to be believed, the people were as connected to the earth as the trees which grew from it. To Vinka, they were products of the very nature that surrounded them.

“What would it benefit her?” Findlay continued, taking another gulp of the bitter ale.

“You know what happened to the last Captain who brought to her attention his doubts.” Vinka reminded her. “You replaced him.”

She did, and she was glad to do so. It didn’t change the fear in the eyes of the bargemen as she and her crew swung from their sails onto the deck. It didn’t change how some of them ran, for fear, over the edge of the ship and to a certain doom.

“As if I’d be arrogant enough to do the same.” She spat. Speaking to Krissan about the situation would be deadly, for her. She knew how it would end, and she wasn’t keen on giving up her ship for anything. Even the betterment of the people back home.

“The home that tried to burn you apart.”

She silenced her mind.

“Thombardin’s people don’t deserve to suffer because of one Lord. No one does. Isn’t that why we are fighting Athella with our fleet? To prevent someone from making those kind of decisions about a people? They are mowing down anyone in opposition. Is it that different for us to rob them of medical supplies instead?”

Her First Mate failed to suppress a laugh.

“You do not sound like any other pirate I know.”

She flicked a bundle of ash from her greenleaf and met his gaze with a sneer. 

“That is precisely why you work for me.”

Her fondness for the man was another puzzle, one of many it seemed, she’d not been able to rightly discern. Between his gentleness, or his devotion to her and the crew. She considered on more than one occasion, that she cherished him for being a moral compass unlike any she’d ever known. The man knew her inside and out and with barely a word could strike her in the place she needed most.

“I’ve never been much like the rest.”

He took another long swig of his mead and set the cup before him while Griffon returned to stage and kicked off on another song about another land, this one a kingdom where the sun never sets.

“So then, my Captain. What will you have us do?”

The tavern bustled with the sound of gamblers, song and other crews on leave. She fought through the chaos of noise to straighten her thought. Krissan’s call for her bothered her, somewhat. Yet it wasn’t the root of her frustration. There was more, buried under the noise and the smell of smoke.

“Let’s go for a walk?”

She slammed back the rest of her ale and tossed a pair of silver scales on the tabletop. Not one to miss out on a drink, Vinka followed suit and hid three more silver beneath the base of his own mug. A treat for the barkeep.

They reunited outside the Ratscrew and breathed in the salty night air.

Findlay clapped her hands together, the copper shell of her prosthetic left arm rang into the street. “You know, Krissan is out of town for an unknown amount of time, right?”

Vinka’s eyes widened when he noticed her grin.

“You surely aren’t suggesting what I think you are suggesting.”

She couldn’t be surprised, ever since he joined her, he could read her like a book.

“Let’s go pay the old lord a visit tonight, before she gets home.”

To his credit, he didn’t complain as she took off toward the other side of the bay with fire on her heels.

Lord Krissan’s chateau was less than she’d expected. From the stories about the Pirate’s love for regalia and the gilded decorations adorning her ship, Findlay assumed the woman would have kept just as gaudy of a home. As they made their way to the docks where Krissan was rumored to live, she found a series of small dilapidated homes, held together with twine and planks to prop up the windows and frayed awnings that outfitted each of them.

The lord’s shack was easy to recognize from among them. The symbol of her crew sloppily painted in violet ink on the doorway, two fish leaping out of the sea together. Findlay made quick work of the lock and led Vinka inside before the neighbors could have a chance to notice them.

“What are we doing here, Findlay?” Vinka’s voice crawled across the walls of the empty house.

“We are looking,” She immediately began her search in a stack of scrolls and books sloppily strewn across a stained chaise couch. “On the barge we attacked, if you remember, there were more than just obvious medical supplies. There were crates full of smooth, glittering gray stones. Do you remember?”

He muttered an agreement, plucking delicately through more scrolls in another room.

“It’s the reason I was so suspicious in the first place. Most assume it’s just a precious stone, but it isn’t merely a rock. It’s a mineral that is found naturally in few places. The largest reserves come from Dorathell and it carries a slew of healing properties. Something about it becomes medicinal, strengthening ones robustness against disease. Something about the Dorathellan soil gives the mineral the property as it hasn’t been found elsewhere.”

Vinka moved to the kitchen while she spoke and plucked a piece of long rotten fruit from a wooden bowl.

“It’s used most commonly by my people as a way to treat the Desert Sickness. Ground up and mixed with oils or creams and applied to the skin to ease the pain which comes from the boils. That barge held more crates of those stones than I’d ever seen in my life.”

Her companion appeared distracted, half listening as he dropped the fruit and made his way to the cabinets, still unsure what her objective was.

“If Krissan is disrupting the trade of that mineral to the people of Thombardin, and I can assume we were not the first to raid one of those barges, I want to know why. Without a steady supply of those vitamins it will be extremely difficult for them to live.”

Desert Sickness, she remembered clear as day. Whatever else her childhood self experienced was locked away, but she clearly remembered the need for nightly washes with the mineral to cure her own bout of Desert Sickness. The boils were only the beginning, growing from her skin like bubbles on soapy water they’d burst with pus, further spreading. After a certain point without treatment the cramping started. Often in the stomach, but it spread to the muscle. Not long before the house fire, her bout of the sickness had almost progressed to the third symptom, vomiting blood.

“I won’t let her keep it from those people. Even if they aren’t my own anymore, I can’t just let the cities die. The Dorathellan mines can’t harvest enough of it to keep up with the demand. A single missed delivery could amount in hundreds of deaths, or, at the least, large quantities of the populous unable to move from the severity of the cramps.”

Her mind flashed with the memory, lying in a cot drenched in her own sweat. Afraid to move for fear of tearing a boil, suffering from the cramping. It was two months or more into her bout with the illness and her father was gone to plead with the Forge-Priests for something, anything that could help her. He returned with ground powder in a clay urn that evening and by the following morning, the boils were gone from her.

“What could be her purpose for interrupting the shipment?” Vinka questioned, leaving the kitchen for a small office in the back of the chateau.

She’d poured through the stacks of scrolls which contained notes on the histories of Amsukar, the original texts which had mostly been destroyed by the conquering Athellan Nation. Removing from the annals of history the stories of the Ilden Empire for reasons she’d not cared to understand.

“The easiest way to cripple a kingdom is to handicap its workforce. With no one capable of producing commodities, the royalty lose their power. The King of Kharakazhund would have to call for aid from an ally.” She crept through the dark into what looked to have been Krissan’s bedroom.

“Does it bother you that she doesn’t seem to have used this chateau in months?” She swiped a finger across a desk laden with a blanket of dust.

Vinka read a piece of parchment, struggling to read in the dim moonlight.

“She does spend much time on her ship. I would think it possible that she sleeps there as well.”

Findlay knew that, but something about the chateau didn’t feel right to her regardless. Most of them used their ships as homes. The Captains, anyway. There was no need to have a permanent resting place in Sandcrook when she could be called at any time to make way toward a new target, and if any of them did, the amount of time they spent on the seas would leave their homes defenseless. Unwise given the nature of the populous in the pirate infested islands.

The chateaus decoration did little to stand out from the mess of the house elsewhere. It was impossible to discern what was useless junk versus what was collected and crammed into the house like it was a storage bunker. Stained furniture laid across the apartment between mangled curtains of beads hanging haphazardly in the halls. The more they searched, the less it seemed like Krissan actually used the hut.

“I must admit, Captain. This seems dangerous. I would follow you anywhere, but are you certain this is even Krissan’s home?” Vinka whispered, alarm in his voice.

She rotated to see him at the end of the hall, scouring a small writing desk for any sign of something valuable to them. Her heart fluttered for a moment, looking at the man. Without question he followed her, despite knowing it would mean execution if they were discovered by the lord. Even clueless to what she was looking for as he searched, his aimlessness a strange comfort. She couldn’t help but give in to the way his support made her feel. After all she’d experienced and lost to become “Findlay Copper Arm, Second Captain of Lord Krissan’s Night Fleet” she’d found Vinka, who, despite his apprehension still assisted her without dispute.

She couldn’t show him that she was unsure, couldn’t let him know that what they were doing would be considered treason. He knew, of course, he’d been working for Krissan far longer than she, but despite it he remained by her side.

“There is no way it isn’t. Who else would plaster their own iconography in every part of their home?” She gestured to the symbols of Krissan’s fleet standing all over the rooms in different forms. Golden statues, more paintings, tapestries and etchings all displaying the “Twinfish Mark” as she called it.

With the bedroom searched, she made her way toward the far office where Vinka still scoured shelves and drawers with a furrowed brow. Atop the desk, he pushed a small red leather bound journal toward her.

“Perhaps this is something of value?”

She plucked it and opened to a random page.

“It has been two hundred years since the Fall of Ilden. His son’s arrogance a pock mark on the otherwise pristine history of our people. Those land-enamored betrayers who’ve crawled to the grass and soil abandoned us in the delicate arms of the Second King, unfit to be our ruler. I’ve been speaking with some of the Court attendants. Folk who, like myself, are displeased with the Second’s rule. It is becoming increasingly clear that none of us are willing to remain beneath the thumb of the Boy King. Notably, Lady Amal, a jewel to the nation, who has suggested the unthinkable…”

She snapped the journal closed and pocketed it.

“Did you read this?”

Vinka shook his head, scowling at a worn scroll.

“Krissan was talking like she was there when the Kingdom of Ilden fell.”

Her First Mate cocked an eyebrow.

“The Kingdom of Ilden? You mean the people who lived under the sea?”

She nodded and continued her search while her companion let out a short bellow.

“Yes, Findlay, the people who lived at the bottom of the sea became our pirate lords and our kings. Krissan most assuredly was there, have you not seen her gills?”

She knew his tone was sarcastic, but the words were there as plain as day. It wasn’t like Krissan to speak in riddles or deceit. She couldn’t discount the possibility that the journal didn’t belong to the Pirate Lord, but why would she have kept it if it did?

“You know, we could bring this to the Eight.”

Vinka dropped the map he’d found and stared at her, slack jawed.

“You have found yourself with quite the sense of humor, my Captain. To bring a request, or anything, to the Eight would embarrass you. Not help you.”

She knew that, of course, and swallowed the thought. The Eight wouldn’t help her. They didn’t help anyone.

“You’re right—“

The groan of the front door echoed through the house, followed by a woman’s creaking voice.

“If this isn’t the last time…”

Findlay stepped as quickly and quietly as she could to the bay window in the office and wrenched it open. The hinges screamed from the sudden force, likely the first time it had been opened in decades, and without waiting she leapt from the office.

Vinka followed, although with much more difficulty, and tumbled to the rocky ground behind the house. He paused beneath the eaves of the window, holding his breath tight in his chest while she scrambled to a nearby bundle of shrubs.

The woman, who she assumed was Krissan, crept slowly down the hall. She kept her eyes locked on the doorway inside until a tall, thin woman appeared in view. Her stomach knots eased when she saw it was not Krissan, and the woman groaned.

“Someone has already been, Dominic. We are too late.”

The woman snapped the windows closed and turned back toward the hall, and Vinka released his pent up breath in one long stream.

She motioned for him to follow, and he obeyed as they crept their way out of the small village and back to the Ratscrew to finish their night.

Before they pushed their way into the tavern, Vinka put a hand on her shoulder.

“Captain, know that I will do whatever you order of me, but I cannot do it without telling you that I think this is foolish.”

She nodded.

“Everything we do is foolish, Vinka. But I appreciate your honestly.”

“As if fortune herself holds a grudge against me, I write these words with shock and surprise as to the changing of Lady Amal’s mind. Who was once a valiant patron of our cause, is now allied with those sick of mind who believe we should move to the dry land. Was the falling of the Sun not a sign enough? Were we not maligned by existence from the time we were born? Why must she continue to harass and detain our people beneath the rule of the Boy King. Does she not know that together, we could depose him? His father has long since passed and there is no opposition. NoN son of his own to take the throne. Why would Amal, or the rest of the court decide so suddenly that life atop the sands or mountains would serve them?

They must wish for death, so, I will deliver.”

The pages of Krissan’s journal told a story that Findlay could hardly believe. Recounting events from a perspective which she believed, though Vinka did not, were from the perspective of Lord Krissan. The Fall of Ilden, what was taught in primary school when she was a girl, before Athella showed their hand in the destruction of the recorded histories, was the first known evidence of mortal life on Amsukar. What should have been a hallmark of their cultural development was being erased slowly, with each march of the Athellan Warband. The journal recorded the events that transpired in the court of King Byrin, the son of the original ruler, who named the kingdom after himself. Beyond that, she couldn’t make heads or tails of what it meant. From all appearances it was simply a personal record of events.

The gentle rocking of the ship threatened her consciousness. Her head dipped for a moment before she woke with a start as her First Mate barged into the cabin.

“You are still reading your new history book?” Vinka sauntered in with a bottle of mead wrapped tight in his palm.

She snapped the journal closed and tossed it to her bed. “It is not necessarily a history book, Vinka.”

He took a seat beside her and plucked two glasses from a small cabinet. The pop of the mead cork echoed through the cabin and he chuckled.

“It is a testament to you, I think, my Captain.”

She took the half filled glass and sipped the berry tasting alcohol. It was sharp against her tongue, and threateningly sweet. A vintage they’d raided from an Aenham vineyard some months back which she elected not to share with the other Captains. Or Krissan.

“It doesn’t make sense.”

“What doesn’t make sense,” Vinka replied, taking his own glass, much more full, to his lips. “Is your decision to dock in Thombardin for the next step of your suicide mission.”

He seldom voiced dissent to her, so little that when he did she scrutinized her own decisions closely. When she suggested they visit her home he did not hesitate to let her know it was among the worst ideas she’d had that season, and they’d broken into the home of their employer two months prior.

She couldn’t argue, the path she’d started on would end in severe punishment by Krissan. Even if the woman didn’t find out about the journal.

“I think it would be nice to show up and see the place I grew up.” She shrugged, talking herself into thinking it was anything other than a death sentence. “Besides, I’d rather be here than in Sandcrook when Krissan returns. She’s been on leave for weeks.”

They discovered, after some investigation, that the pair who broke into Krissan’s home after they did were in fact, not thieves, but Krissan’s sister Ghira, and her hired help, Dominic. Likely just as dangerous, she was grateful regardless.

After the theft they’d spent a month bartering for supplies in town, most of which they traded the other Twinfish crews for, and built themselves a small stockpile. She hadn’t yet shared with Vinka, but she had little intention of returning to Sandcrook. Not until she was able to bring something back which could justify her long absence, which she hoped to find in Thombardin. When she did return, she knew Krissan would know she chose not to sink the medical barge and would be punished.

She’d like to put that off for as long as possible.

“What have you discovered about your precious journal?” Vinka took a swig of mead.

“It’s a bundle of mysterious passages, disconnected. Almost as if they were put together from other writings and re-written in the journal.”

He grinned. “So it is not Krissan? This is good news, our employer is not an immortal sea-dwelling royal.”

“She is a royal frustration.” Findlay replied, reclining onto her bed.

“What is our plan for when we arrive? It will be a day or so yet, but the crew is concerned.” Vinka grinned.

She was worried they might ask.

“I’m aware we will be interrogated for arriving on a pirate vessel, so we will be making our way to a separate docking location to the west of the city proper. There is a small collection of islands there which will allow the crew to secure the ship while we are away. If we are detained for more than ten days, I want the crew to haul anchor and leave, back to Sandcrook. They are to call for aid and bring anyone they can to assist us.”

Vinka nodded.

“You are sure that will work? If Krissan knows you disobeyed orders, would she not just ignore your request and let you rot in prison? It would be foolish of her to threaten any of the other Captains, or their crews.”

“That’s a risk I am willing to take, my friend.” She released a long sigh. “Krissan has always been a thousand steps ahead of anyone else. I am operating under the assumption that she already knows and is awaiting my return. If I’m locked up in a cell, it will give me some more time to figure out what I will say to her when she does inevitably find me for questioning.”

Her friend refilled his emptied glass and raised it to her. “Cheers to your terrible ideas.” He took a long swig. “Have you considered, perhaps, planting roots somewhere and working a steady trade instead of imprisoning yourself to make a point?”

She couldn’t help but laugh. She wouldn’t admit that, no, she hadn’t considered that possibility.

“Isn’t it much better to make the point?”

Findlay stood from her bed and stretched. With only a day left, she wanted to make sure the crew was prepared. “Go let the men know of our plan. Give them specific instruction to seek out our allies, and Vinka,”

He met her gaze and her heart skipped again. Another day he obeyed her orders to serve her for the sake of doing something they might not make it out of.

“You don’t have to come.”

She fought to say the words. She didn’t want to go it alone, but couldn’t ask more of him than she already had.

He softened his gaze and took a long, slow breath.

“Captain, I would walk through fire for you.”

He didn’t give her a chance to speak before he left the cabin to give the plan to the crew, and she was thankful for that. The last two months had been a whirlwind of strategy, gathering supplies and information and more, and he’d been with her every step of the way.

As the door of her cabin closed behind him, his booming voice echoed back into the room with the orders while she laid back on her bed, a stinging pain in her chest, just above her heart. It developed a day before they set sail for Thombardin.

She chose not to tell him how her plan ended, and she was alright with that. Not knowing was better, anyway.

“They left today. The whole court, except for myself and my sister. Ghira and I remained in service of the nation, not of the Boy King. It has been three years since he took power, and has elected not to give a single declaration of what we should do. All he does is sit on his throne and wallow in his pity. Meanwhile, our people are tearing ourselves apart. This boy will lead us to our ultimate ruin. I will promise that much.”

They arrived in the islands to the west of Thombardin the following morning. The golden dunes of the Karakas Desert stretched northward as far as they could see, interrupted only by the jutting bronze teeth of the Greyiron Mountains. As the crew prepared to send them off, Findlay took a moment to herself in the cabin. The pain on her chest was growing worse by the day, spreading across her collar bones. She kept her tunic loose, and refused to don the vest which allowed her to conceal her pistols. This trip was not a siege. It was not a trick of the Twinfish crews. She wanted to be sure the people knew she was not there as a pirate, but as a daughter of the desert, finally coming home.

Krissan’s journal entries all but confirmed her suspicions. The mad Pirate Lord was connected, however deeply, with the Court of Ilden. Which, if it was to be believed, the woman was many hundreds of years old and capable of catastrophe if she dared. The legends of the Ancients told of their command over the storms and the seas. Their power nigh infinite. Perhaps they were true, but she knew after her betrayal she didn’t want to find out.

She pulled her confidence in through a shaky breath and stepped out of her cabin to the sunny daylight. Outside, Vinka and her crew waited for her in a solemn salute.

“Captain,” Vinka addressed her. “We are prepared to lay down our lives for you.”

She paused. “What do you mean?”

“The crew,” he continued. “Have agreed to reject your orders.”

She hadn’t expected this.

“What do you mean?”

One of the crewman, Harrin, stepped forward.

“Captain, after Vinka explained what we will be asked to do, we want to offer an alternative solution.”

“I’m listening.”

“We have decided to stow the ship with a skeleton crew in a cove near here, and then in groups, make our way to to the city in case you are captured. We will be more than capable to break you out.”

She nodded, surprised. She was by no means a cruel captain, but she’d never expected such a showing from her crew.

“I accept your proposition, as long as you each understand two things. First, there is no guarantee you will be safe here. There are dangers beyond the guardghip or the Forge-Priests. Second, there is a red leather-bound journal in my quarters. Protect it with your lives.”

Vinka laughed aloud. “Not your keepsakes or your scales? You want them to save the book?”

She nodded. “The book is, after all, why we are here.” She wanted to tell Vinka everything, but there were too many variables. Too much that could go awry if he knew.

“Very well.” He nodded. “We will be sure to care for it.”

Her heart fluttered again. What would come would not change how she felt about the man, but she couldn’t speak it into life. She couldn’t allow it to be real. If she did, he would lose more than a captain and she, far more than a First Mate, should things not go as planned.

The crew agreed in unison and after they organized themselves, she took Vinka with her and descended the catwalk toward the city. It would be a brisk walk.

“So, Captain,” Vinka began. His voice low, nearly growling. “Do you know what you are looking for here?”

She nodded. “I am looking for answers, and, hopefully, to remember.”

They walked for a while in silence, and she began to shiver. The cold sweats came in a wave of sweat. She didn’t want to break the moment they shared as her First Mate wrapped his arm around her. And sheltered her from the sun with his massive frame. She blushed, more from embarrassment than anything else, as he protected her from the sun.

He didn’t know that she was sick.

She patted his chest with her metal arm, silently thanking him as the gates of Thombardin came into view on the horizon, hidden behind the mirage of the desert surface.

The nearer they drew, the worse her shakes became, until she pulled away from Vinka, worried he would notice her trembling. He said nothing, and in silence they approached the gated clay wall.

“Go no further, pirate.” One of the guards coughed the warning, his frail arms wobbled uneasily. Sweat caked the cloth covering his puss filled boils.

“We aren’t here to rob you,” She began, lifting her hands above her to show she meant no harm. “I’m looking for some help.”

The guard shared a look with his companions. It was no surprise he called her pirate. The southern gate of Thombardin was seldom used by travelers. The islands a well known hiding spot for incoming attacks, or a place for pirates to hide their ships and approach from an unseemly angle.

“Turn back, you don’t want to be here.”

She restrained a cough, and Vinka glanced at her.

“Yes, I think I am.” She pulled on the snaps of her loose vest, pulling the buttons open to reveal her loose tunic. With a gentle, shaky hand she slid the edge of her underclothes to the side to reveal her exposed chest, covered in boils, the same as the guards.

“Forge-Law demands you assist me. I am a daughter of the Greypeaks.”

The guard lowered his spear, his weak arms barely able to lift it any longer.

“There is not help for you here, we are out of mineral. Our own people are suffering enough as is, we can’t assist an outsider.”

The words hit her ears like arrows.

“We are out of mineral.”

“That can’t be.” She repeated. “There was a barge arriving two months ago, no? I’ve heard from a friend in the city.”

“Your friend lied to you, woman. The barge never made it. Our scouts reported it overturned off the Southern tip of Stram.”

Her heart froze.

“What do you mean?” Vinka answered for her, his kind thankfully immune to the Desert Sickness.

“There is no more medicine, bark-skin. We are out until the mines can send a shipment.”

Findlay had a sinking feeling the second shipment wouldn’t arrive either.

“What information do you have about the barge which sunk?”

From behind the gate, a voice crooned. It was a familiar, spiteful voice.

“It was saved by a crew of pirates working with Lord Krissan, a surprising turn of events, to be truthful.”

From between the open gate, Lord Krissan waltzed toward them with a look of fury about her wrinkled, ancient face.

“Shame, really, that there was another fleet prepared to pick up the pieces. My dear Daughter of the Greypeaks… Did you think you would escape me so easily?”

Findlay didn’t run. She knew she couldn’t. Her crew would come, so there was nothing Krissan could do to her.

“My, Vinka, it’s a shame you refused to give up information on your Captain when you were summoned. I did quite like you.”

The Pirate lord waved her hands. “Arrest them and throw them in the darkest cell you have. I’m busy attending to my duties.”

“What could you possibly want with my people?” Findlay spat, and the guards paused.

Your people?” Krissan cackled. “Child you don’t have anyone.”

“She has me.” Vinka interrupted. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Vinka what are you doing?”

“No,” Another voice called from behind. Harrin, leading her crew with weapons in hand, “She has all of us.”

Findlay barely had time to duck before to gunfire erupted, hailing into Krissan’s body, the Pirate Lord fell backward onto the sand, bleeding as the guards scattered to the winds. Vinka met the fallen woman on the sand and placed a firm grip over her mouth, still alive if only barely.

“You will listen, carefully, old woman.” He growled at her, whatever trace of the gentle spirit within him gone. “You will tell us where to find your stockpile of mineral, to cure Findlay. Neither of you, it seems, are good at keeping secrets. I found your plans in your home before your sister arrived months ago. I’ve been planning this ever since.” He clenched his grip around the woman’s jaw.

Findlay fell to her knees, a fit of coughing swelled from within her, scattering flecks of blood onto the sand.

“Now, witch.” Vinka threatened.

“Blue… Cove…” Krissan growled through blood filled lungs.

“Are you lying?” Vinka shoved her deeper into the sand, his powerful arms rippling with fury.

Harrin and others surrounded Findlay.

“Captain, we will help you, please let us.”

She nodded, bloody drool dripping from her jaw as they hoisted her up, toward the interior of the city. The guards didn’t make an attempt to stop them.

“If you are lying to me, witch, I’ll torment you in the afterlife.” Vinka spat, and twisted his wrist in a single, violent motion.

Krissan, the Pirate Lord of Sandcrook, the Twinfish Banner Bearer, exhaled her final breath.

Findlay fell in and out of consciousness while her crew carried her to the local Forge-Temple and laid her in the center. Parishioners scattered as the swarm of tattooed, dirty men and women barged into the service shouting for assistance and pointing their weapons at anyone who dared get close. Through her flickering consciousness, she wanted to laugh.

Another fit of bloody coughing came before she couldn’t hold on, her body aching from the boils she’d kept hidden for so many months, the nature of her birth, the curse she carried. She hoped, in the final moments before she slipped into the darkness that she could one day, tell Vinka why she was so adamant about Krissan, but there would be no time for that.

“Not that it matters.”

Her mind jumped from memory to memory, the sweltering heat of the Forge-Temple threatened to take her before the Sickness did, and her mind illuminated the life she was allowed to share with Vinka, even if it was for a few years. In the final moment, she remembered their last night at the Ratscrew before they came to Thombardin. The taste of the ale on her lips came back as if she’d had it over again, like he’d brought a flask of it with them and brought it to her in those final, burning moments.

She admitted to herself, right then, that she loved him. She knew she’d carry that to her grave and hoped he knew it too, somewhere inside.

Vinka slammed into the door of the city tavern. He didn’t bother finding the name.

“Two hundred scales to the first person who tells me what Blue Cove means to your people.”

The guests, shocked by the sudden appearance of the man, shared confused looks.

“Blue Cove?” The barkeep asked. “Never heard of it.”

Vinka slammed a fist on the doorframe, splintering it beneath his desperation. “Does anyone know anything it could mean?”

The tavern remained silent, save for the barkeep. “You could ask around. Only cove we have in these parts is over by the archipelago. Out where your kind like to hide out.

“Do any of you have the stones, the silver stones?” He shouted, realizing Findlay never shared the name of the rocks with him.

The barkeep struggled to remain straight faced, pushing his fear deeper into himself. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You grind them,” Vinka rumbled, his chest hot with fear. “They treat the boils.”

“We gave those up years ago, barkskin. What use do you have for them, anyway?”

“My friend.” He began, but stopped. It was no use. They wouldn’t find information from asking around.

He ran as quickly as he could to the guards at the gate, coming to a stop in front of the small shack where all four of them had collected after picking up the remains of Krissan.

“Do any of you recognize the Blue Cove? Those words she said.”

They shrugged. “Never heard of it before.”

Vinka growled, snapping the handle of the door as he turned away toward the Forge-Temple. A massive smokestack erupted from the top, signaling to him that someone was being blessed. 


He rushed to the door and burst through to find the crew scattered about the massive stone building. The room decorated floor to ceiling in banners and collections of various golden offerings. Scales, candelabras and weapons hung in large iron baskets affixed to the walls. Sacrifices to “good luck” as they called it. Findlay spoke all the time of the Forge-Priest’s strange rituals.

Strange as they were, if they could give her a little more time, he promised he would convert immediately.

In the back room, behind a thick stone door, he could hear the sound of chanting.

“Where is the Captain?”

The crew gestured, as if in unison, to the door. “The Priest took her in there to offer a prayer for her.”

Vinka scowled.

He rushed to the door and shoved it open, sliding it with alarming speed as the stone door slammed into the wall behind it, cracking.

“Where is the woman?”

The Forge Priests stood, six of them in a ring around a large stone table in the shape of an anvil. Findlay was stretched across the top of it, her breathing shuttered and skipped. Blood dripped from the edge of her mouth, which Vinka swiped away.

“My Captain, I am sorry.”

“We are praying for a miracle, for some kind of luck to come and save her.” One of the priests mentioned. Vinka raised a hand.

“I care not for your well wishes. I want results.”

The priest nodded, biting his lower lip.

“You are from the Sandcrook, no?”

He nodded, staring at the woman, dying in quiet suffering before him.

“I know your lot deal in rumor and superstition, perhaps it would do you well to call upon something you believe.”

“What is there, besides the Eight?” He muttered. The thought of calling upon the Eight of Ilden to save a pirate was laughable. They were legends, impossible to find, but as real as any of the Lords.

“What is this, Eight?” The priest asked, gently misting Findlay’s face with water while she trembled.

“They are to us, like the Kindlers are to you. Eight spirits of the Ilden Sea. We make wishes to them for safe travel, protection, that sort of thing.”

The priest nodded. “Perhaps, then, they are not unlike our Kindlers. You know, there were eight of them as well. Perhaps our beliefs are not so unalike that we could not share them for the sake of your friend.”

Vinka’s lip quivered. He didn’t want to believe. He could hardly accept what he was seeing, let alone appealing to a spirit for aid. Still, he found himself spurned by a feeling he’d long possessed, but often ignored. After all, this was Findlay. His Captain, the woman who led him. The woman he loved.

So, he found himself praying.

“To the Eight, wherever you are. Send me aid for my Captain. I don’t know how to help her, and I am afraid. Afraid she is going to die.”

He closed his eyes, muttering the prayers while the Forge-Priest to his side spoke low, a similar prayer.

“Lady Amal, I plead with you to bestow your gifts of chance unto this pair. To spare them, in return for my own luck.”

The priest opened his eyes and winked.

Vinka wanted to roll his eyes, pretend as if the prayer bothered him, but he knew better. The people of Karakhazund valued their Kindlers above all else, chiefly among them was Lady Amal, from Findlay’s silly book. The “Lady of Luck” who stepped from the depths of the sea. Another legend, like the Eight of Ilden. Foolish things they trick themselves into believing so they can have something to blame when the world crumbles to dust around them.

Vinka wasn’t a spiritual man. This dust he watched form around Findlay, around her crew, around himself, was not a matter of luck, or a missed prayer. This was planned. A trick of the Pirate Lord.

He gritted his teeth, and left the prayer chamber without another word.

Outside the temple he let the roots take hold inside him. The anger and fear from the last season had been swelling to a substantial weight, and in one singular scream, he released it all. Forcing out every ounce of pain for Findlay into the air above Thombardin. The sick, lying in the streets, broken by the same ailment which was killing his Captain, Vinka collapsed onto the sand.

“Any of you Eight. Come to me. The Kindlers. Anyone. Come to my aid.” He sobbed into the sand, still stained with Findlay’s blood.

He wept, unconcerned for those onlookers, and remained there until he felt a shadow above him. A figure of a slender woman stretched over him, blocking the sun.

“Get up.”

She snapped her fingers.

“Who are you to command me?” He asked, remaining where he was, crouched on the earth, weeping.

“I am Rioghan, Three of Eight and I am here to answer your call.”

Vinka raised his head to meet the gaze of the woman, and his tears returned anew.

The woman called Rioghan was thin, dressed head to toe in pitch dark leather, her vest adorned with violet-black feathers. Her eyes were shrouded in darkness, solid black and beady, darting from he to the gates of the Forge-Temple behind him. High cheekbones accented a sharp jawline, which held her words rigid on her tongue.

“Show me this woman for whom you pray.”

Vinka stood, stumbling as he did so, the woman, adorned with feathers and weapons gestured for him to move. Her voluminous black hair tied in a tight braid that trailed down her back like a waterfall.

The First Mate did as he was commanded, and turned toward the Temple.

Inside, the crewman jumped upon his return, leading the woman with her twitching, jumpy footsteps toward the prayer room where the Forge-Priests continued their mercies chants over Findlay’s body. There, vine gestured.

“She is dying of Desert Sickness, Rioghan. We do not have any salve to heal her.”

The woman took two steps, her wide stride carrying her to the table side where she cocked her head and observed. Findlay still lived, trembling from the cold of sweat and the heat of fever.

The Three of Eight placed a thin, bony finger atop Findlay’s head and smiled, her throat resounded a chattering song, like a croaking bird call as the air in the room grew cold.

“This woman has no family, does she?”

Rioghan whispered, the bird call from her throat uninterrupted by her question.

Vinka nodded. “She was left an orphan in her youth and raised by Krissan the Pirate Lord.”

The strange woman nodded.

“In exchange for her life, the pair of you will serve me. Are these terms acceptable?”

Vinka paused. Findlay wouldn’t want him making decisions for her, he knew that, but, she was dying. What else should he do?

So, he nodded. It wasn’t the first time he’d lied to his Captain. It wouldn’t be the last.

“On behalf of Findlay Copper Arm, Once Captain of the Twinfish Fleet, and I her First Mate Vinka accept your terms, though I know not what they entail.”

Rioghan grinned, her thin lips stretched inhumanly behind the edge of her mouth.

“Then you shall have your wish, Vinka the First Mate.”

With a burst of wind, the fire of the forge was extinguished, immediately stressing the Priests as they dropped their prayers to re-ignite it. Vinka clamped his eyes shut, the force of the air burned them briefly. When he opened them, he saw the Forge-Priests tending to the forge, and on the table, Findlay shot upright, her eyes cleared and her breathing calmed.

“Vinka, what happened?”

He considered telling her, but chose to wait. There would be plenty of time for them to talk about it. It was not the time to tell her, that would come later, when he was sure she’d recovered.

“We managed to find a cure, just in time.” He whispered, and stepped toward her. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed, her strength evidently returned to her immediately.

“Thank you for saving me, First Mate.” She paused with tears in her eyes. “I love you, Vinka, the Troublemaker.”

“I love you too, Captain Findlay Copper Arm, Back from the Dead.”

Outside the temple, a group of ravens began squawking in the morning light.

Thank you for reading the final Interlude! (for now)

I had a ton of fun writing each of these, and I’ll be continuing their stories as we go along when I need a break from writing the main content. Sisters of Westwinter returns next Friday with the continuation of Emry’s plot, united with Sekhenna, Jundal and Kerrick in the facility beneath the ground outside of Godspine where they found Balshenai alive and as well as she could be.

Come see where they go next!

The Story Continues: May 5th!

Sisters of Westwinter is an episodic fantasy series taking place in a world torn apart by the greed of mortals. Dragons, which populate the world, are considered a pest to be exterminated and harvested for the valuable pearls within their bodies. These pearls power grand machines used by the Merchant Guilds to continue to build up their own empires. 

When a young woman named Emry discovers her valley was protected by a great silver dragon, she promises him on his deathbed she will flee from the valley to elude those who wish to seek her harm. She does not know how, or why she matters to the dragon, but she obeys. On her escape with another of the dragons, she is shot down and imprisoned, branded a "witch" for her bond with Balshenai, a fearsome golden scaled dragon.

Locked in prison, she can only think of her family, killed by mysterious men in the night, and Balshenai's final words to her.

"Seek Westwinter"


Big News: I’ve recently started a Ko-fi Shop!

If you would like to help support me as I continue to expand these universes, I would be deeply appreciative.

It is a work in progress, but I will be building a tier system where you will be available to get some neat rewards and more down the road, until then it’s just a little cup of coffee! If you feel inclined to drop me a dollar or two, I would be so grateful. Every cent donated goes directly back into this — Allowing me to pay for website fees and pay for artists for novel related work, etc.

Regardless of your decision, thank you for being here. 🔺

A.T. Baines Ko-Fi

Mental Health

Mental Health is a dear topic and I want to encourage support for anyone who is in the midst of trying to help in whatever capacity.

If you feel comfortable, consider taking a look at some of the following organizations who are doing work to provide support for those struggling with various mental health struggles.




More From Me:

Like Sparks

Creativity is sometimes like a spark. Once it lights, it can set fire to every soft thing within you until you are left with a smoldering pile of ash and jewelry made of earth & glass.

Like Vines

Creativity is sometimes like a vine. Once it has rooted it will grow forward, wrapped around whatever provides it stability. Occasionally, should it put its hopes upon a frail dowel or worn stretch of shiplap it may crumble and its course my veer.

[SOW] Interlude Two: The Shoemaker’s Rival

Masym Helmund was a crafty man, and he’d been in the game for a long, long time. Approaching his golden years, he was hellbent on reaching retirement age so that he might, finally, take his scales to a distant town. Perhaps Meekhill, where he could enjoy the seaside calm without the ceaseless drone of busybody…

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