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Heroes of Mystara - Chapter 8

by Jesper Andersen

Scourge of the seas

Moldain 4th, Felmont, the Year 1000 after Crowning

They had been sailing for three days and were now clear of the Sulescu Peninsula on their way across the Sea of Dread to Ierendi. The voyage was tedious and only Wulfgar seemed to enjoy it. The young minstrel Thomas was determined to impress Eveil who seemed to enjoy having his attention but never more than that. Thaminor was his usual quiet self and kept alone except at dinnertime. Signore Luigi continued to talk to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen but as his stomach problems continued and there was practically nowhere to run on the small ship, most people found it best to keep him downwind during conversation. It turned out he was a successful businessman on his way to one of his summer residences in Ierendi City.

Madame Sorelli spent her time in her cabin or conversing with captain Yakov and her bodyguards prevented Petja from taking a closer look at her collection of jewels. Instead, he turned his attention to the last passenger, the anonymous merchant Belmer.

'Good afternoon my good man!' Petja said cheerfully when he found him on deck near the stern. 'Eh? Oh! Ah... good afternoon' Belmer replied carefully. 'And how are you feeling today?' Petja continued. 'Oh, fine fine thank you very much. And yourself?' Belmer replied. 'Absolutely toppings! Couldn't be better!' Petja said in an overly cheerful tone. 'You know, I never did ask you what you do for a living?' he continued. 'What?' Belmer answered distractedly. 'What_you_do?' Petja repeated, putting an emphasis on each word. 'Well... I... I am a merchant, yes... clay pottery and things like that...' he replied. 'I see' Petja said, pausing to think for a moment. 'Funny, because I would have sworn you look much more like you were in the PAPER business'. 'WHAT?' Belmer almost bolted from his seat at the stern, a frightened look on his face. 'Well, you know', Petja continued with a smile, 'parchments and scrolls and documents. That sort of thing'. Belmer was looking very nervous now but Petja just patted him on the shoulder - 'my mistake' - and walked back aft, a broad grin on his face...

It was no more than an hour later that afternoon that the sailor in the crow's nest announced the sighting of a large, black sail on the northern horizon. It was sailing directly south as if to cut them off on their way to Safari Island. Captain Yakov stood in the aft castle with a set of primitive binoculars and the party and Thomas gathered on the deck.

'Looks like a pirate ship, cursed slavers operating out of the Gulf of Halag' he said finally and ordered all sails set for maximum speed. 'We'll see if we cannot outrun her'.

But as the sands of the hourglass on the bridge slowly poured down it became clear that the black ship was steadily gaining on them. Within an hour, maybe two, it would be within range to fire its forward catapults.

'You there, unless you can fight go below!' Yakov bellowed at Signor Luigi, Belmer and Thomas, who quickly did as they were told. 'And what about you?' he asked the party. 'Oh we can fight all right' Whitemane replied. 'Ain't no stinking slaver who is going to put chains on THIS dwarf, no sir!' 'By Thor, we will be ready for them!' Wulfgar agreed.

Neither Ikaros nor Petja shared their enthusiasm for the coming battle. Petja knew the stories of the Iron Ring; its captives were taken to faraway lands as slaves never to be seen or heard from again. Thaminor had strung his bow and laid out two quivers of arrows on the bridge. He was now trying to measure the wind speed.

As it gradually came closer, they could see the large pirate ship was a war galley driven by both wind and oars. It was quickly gaining on them and on top of the stern castle they could see sailors busy loading catapults and ballistae. The first large boulders missed by some ten yards to either side but they quickly zeroed in on the deck and the bridge. Captain Yakov's sailors fought valiantly to put out the fires in the rigging when a large stone smashed the Goodhope's rudder. Moments later, another large boulder splintered on of her masts and sent sails and rigging falling to the deck.

Feeling the violent shaking of the ship, below deck, Eveil was busy preparing her own last defences when a knock came on her door. As she opened it she saw a pale and determined Belmer outside. 'I need to speak with you' he said. Eveil nodded and they stepped into the corridor as the ship shook violently again from yet another catapult hit.

'You are a citizen of Ierendi and I need your assistance in a matter of outmost importance to both our nations' Belmer continued as he drew forth a sealed scrollcase from his coat. 'This case contains a proposal for a new treaty between the Kingdom of Ierendi and the Grand Duchy of Karameikos; a joint naval operation that will once and for all put an end to the slavery and piracy of the Gulf of Halag. It is signed by both his Grace the duke and Lord Gunther Schonberg, the Ierendian ambassador. I need you to bring it to the Tribune Talados Thundersword that he may present the matter before your king'.

Everything was in chaos when Eveil emerged on deck a few moments later. Half of Yakov's crew were desperately trying to put out the fires and set sail again while the other half had taken to firing their crossbows from the bridge at the approaching vessel. Right on her heels came Signor Luigi, Thomas, Belmer and Madame Sorelli and her two bodyguards.

Petja, looking somewhat confused at the other passengers, asked Eveil: 'what are THEY doing up here? This is dangerous!' 'I know', Eveil replied, 'help me get this lifeboat in the water!'

Belmer ran to the bridge and talked for a moment with captain Yakov, who then ordered five of his men to help Eveil and Petja. The Goodhope had lost all speed now and was just sitting in the water waiting for the pirates to board her. But the steady fire of crossbow bolts from Yakov's crew made them wait a little longer and that bought the party some time.

When the lifeboat hit the water, the first to enter were Thomas, Signor Luigi and Ikaros, Thaminor, Wulfgar and Whitemane. 'We have to get these diplomatic dispatches to Ierendi City' Eveil cried to Petja. 'What about him?' Petja shouted and pointed to Belmer, who was standing with captain Yakov on the bridge. 'He stays!' Eveil shouted. 'He figures if the pirates capture him alive, he can convince them that the message is oral and they will think they managed to intercept it!' 'Damn!' Petja muttered to himself as he climbed into the lifeboat. 'I knew he was a fool when I saw the ring of the heralds on his finger but I didn't know he was such a heroic fool'.

Then followed Madame Sorelli and Eveil with her parrot on her shoulder.

Left standing on the deck were the two bodyguards - and only one seat remained in the lifeboat.

'Come on, let's go!' Whitemane shouted to them. 'Get down here! Hurry up!' 'NO!' Wulfgar shouted. 'We can only take one. Otherwise the boat will be too heavy and it will sink!' 'You have got to be kidding me! We can't just leave one!' Petja shouted. 'We have to' Wulfgar said grimly. '****!' Petja shouted as he punched his fist into the side of the lifeboat.

There was a moment when time stood still and the two men looked each other in the eyes. Then, without saying a word, one of them took a step back and drew his sword while the other climbed over the railing into the lifeboat, which immediately pushed off.

Eveil sat in the bow and as she quietly began chanting misty vapour rose from the sea and surrounded them in a thick blanket of fog. As they rowed away into the mists, the last thing they saw was captain Yakov, standing at the helm of the Goodhope, donning his helmet and shield.

'All right', he said grimly, 'let's show these devils how proper Traladaran sailors fight!'

Next episode: Stranded