The sun was peaking out over the horizon of a clear dawn. I was standing of the aft castle of our ship, the Dashing Stag, looking out over the outskirts of the grand city of Bartertown. I heard footsteps approach but I did not tear my gaze from the dawn. I recognized them as Kerick’s, the ship’s first mate and my top man from Konigsberg. Always reliable, always faithful, like Draiden and I, he was almost always up at first light. He took a place to my right along the rail of the ship.
“It looks like a good day for sailing.” He stated, his voice flat, making a statement more to break the silence than to make conversation. In his hands he had a mug of steaming tea, from which he took a sip. Kerick was a tall man, with long hair, a clean shaven face and stern, chisiled features. He wore his suit of chain mail immaculately polished , and his blue cloak, with the hood up, casting shadows over his features.
“Where are Eldwulf and Draiden?” I asked, still not taking my eyes off of the red rays of the rising sun piercing the darker skies like a thousand lances.
Kerick took a sip of his tea. "Below. Draiden had a broken link in his mail that Eldwulf thought he could fix yet this morning."
The four of us, all men of Konigsburg, had been up at dawn together almost every day since our harrowing arrival at The Reach. That day, I was hoping for one more peaceful morning together as a group before our trip to Haven.
We stood in silence for a few minutes, just looking at the morning skyline. Draiden and Eldwulf then came tramping up from Eldwulf’s workshop below decks. Apparently having already fixed the links in Draiden’s mail. Kerick and I turned, and faced them, each of us with a slight smile on our faces… for this was always our few moments of the day to shake off our looming responsibilities and act like the friends that we were.
Eldwulf’s smile almost immediately faded, and turned into his usual serious look, as though he were perpetually irritated about something. His gruff voice pierced the relative morning quiet. "Good morning’ lads."
“Yes it is.” Kerick replied. I said nothing, but nodded with a smile.
Draiden, with his usual sly grin, took his place along the rail. He was also sipping tea. I could smell the spice in it, and I recognized it as Cloat tea, a plant native to the Konigsberg area that we harvest and export in great quantity. It has a unique, almost spicy flavor and the leaves only grow in certain areas of Barsaive. Our soldiers are practically born into the stuff, though for whatever reason I never acquired a taste for it.
We sat there for a few moments, chatting about the training regimen for the crew. Here we could share opinions without regard for rank. Draiden was just commenting on the four new crewmen we had rescued from slavery on Thera’s Pride, when a pair of the night watch walked up. It was the Orc Sky Raider from the Reach, Osrack, who I knew well, and Veranda, one of the new recruits Draiden was just talking about.
We turned to address them as they approached. Osrack nodded and spoke in his gravelly voice. "Lord, pardon the interruption. The morning watch is here so I’m sending the night watch off-duty." He paused, Osrack was a hardened Sky Raider who’s eyes never left mine as he spoke. I’m sure he did not want to call me lord, he was born and raised in The Reach, a troll community where such ranks had no meaning. But he knew it was necessary and something that Tago wanted, so he did. "Nothing to report other than some drunks tried to board the vessel in the night. They didnt cause any trouble. We think they were from a merchant ship on the neighboring dock. Otherwise all was quiet."
Kerick and I glanced at each other, thinking the same thing. Strange for something like that to happen just before we leave for Haven, especially after weeks here in Bartertown without any kind of issue.
I looked back to Osrack and met his unflinching gaze. "Are you certain they are from another ship?"
He nodded. “We beleive so, lord.” Then he looked to the new crewmen, the woman Veranda. She was a tall woman, nearly my height, which is substantial for a woman considering I was a head and a half taller than most men. She was extremely well muscled as well, too much so for any woman, which could only be the result of years of hard work. Her brown hair was tied back in a pony tail, as it always had been since the day we pulled her out of the clutches of Theran slavery and safely across to our vessel. She might have been pretty but she had a hard look that overshadowed whatever feminine beauty she once may have had. Slavery will do that I suppose.
“Lord,” she nodded to me, then to the others, making eye contact with the lot of us. "Their ship arrived about a week ago. It’s that Galleon over yonder." she nodded toward the dock one away from ours, to the starboard side. There sat a tubby galleon that was clearly some merchant vessel, the kind of slow moving Throalic ship that the troll of the Twilight Peaks loved to prey upon. She continued. “I recognized a couple of them. After Tekil and I told them they had the wrong ship, I watched them stumble over to their own dock and board that ship to a lot of laughter from the watchmen over there.” Her eyes looked at me as if daring me to challenge that truth.
I glanced at Osrack and noticed his nearly inpercepable nod. "Very well." I said. "It was wise of you to observe them boarding their own vessel, Veranda."
“Not much else to see at night lord.”. She replied flatly.
I nodded. "Get some rack time, both of you. Next time you come out on deck, Passions willing, we’ll be halfway to Haven."
Osrak nodded in agreement. "Yes lord.“. Then the two of them turned around and headed below decks, both clearly tired and eager to get some sleep.
Eldwulf, Draiden, Kerick and I turned back to the railing. Our moment of daily comradery was nearly at an end. The rest of the crew was coming up on deck. Many of them still finishing up one last task, such devouring the last of their breakfast or strapping on their weapons. The quiet which once prevailed was fading to noise.
Kerick watched Osrack and Veranda slip below deck. ”That is one tough woman." He muttered. It’s what we were all thinking. She was certainly a brauny woman, without a doubt and she had an aggressive quality to her that was unusual for a woman.
“Aye.” Eldwulf muttered.
Draiden, always the humorist, grinned. "Yeah, I’ll bet that woman has broken more than one lucky bastard in the sack."
All of us chuckled at that. He was undoubtedly right.
The next hour we spent prepping the ship and preparing for the voyage. We had everything pretty much done the night before, but there was never a shortage of work to do before taking off. Roinak, my trainer and the Hand Leader, lead his men aboard our ship and addressed me as lord, as I requested before we agreed on the trip. We would be hauling them to Paralinth, and hopefully, back to Bartertown. I met with him briefly, and then we were off. The ship pulled away from the dock and we smoothly ascended into the sky. Dremnin was at the helm, his keen eyes peering ahead as he smoothly guided the ship through the skies. The crew was in good spirits, the fresh wind in our faces was a stark contrast to the stink of the city. It was good to be out in the skies again, free, in the open air. We flew over the peaks of the Throal Mountains and followed the Alidar River through the peaks. The day was uneventful and the skies were clear. We passed over a few T’Skrang vessels fishing in the river, but other than that, the day was calm and and resulted in smooth sailing. We spent the first night as planned near the city of Tansiarda.
We took off the next morning and followed the Old Theran Road through what is known as the Onman pass. The skies were cloudy, and at first, there was very little wind. Dremnin was once again at the helm, guiding the ship through the pass. He was a natural at navigation, and was gritting his teeth in concentration, trying to keep the ship safely in the middle of the canyon and as far away from the rough, rocky sides as possible. Thus far, he had been doing a wonderful job. I kept glancing above us at the sky. The clouds were low and it appeared to be gusty above of the canyon we were in, but in it’s confines we were safe. I did not trust this weather, but I had little choice now, as we were too far into the pass to turn back. I could see some of our veteran airmen, men like Arrius and Korack, sneaking peeks at the strange sky. I kept looking for some kind of protected cove we could shelter the ship in, but there was nothing, just long bare rocky canyon as far as I could see. Suddenly, without any sort of warning, a gale blasted it’s way through the canyon and buffeted the ship with sheets of rain and dangerously high winds.
Everyone on board was taken aback by the sudden turn of the weather. I could see several of the lesser skilled crewmen struggling to do even simple tasks against the howl of the wind and stinging rain. I had never seen such a storm come on so suddenly before. I began looking in earnest for any kind of twist or alcove in the canyon we could gain at least some protection from the storm in, but the fates decreed there would be nothing, just relatively straight canyon walls and a storm seemingly determined to crush us.
I glanced back at Dremnin at the helm. His eyes were squinted nearly shut and his teeth were clenched as he fought against the sheets of rain as he directed the ship ever forward into the canyon. He was a good navigator, but even the best would struggle to maintain course in such conditions. I looked toward the ground to see if we could simply descend and anchor, but the canyon was acting as a funnel and I could see the win along the ground below was blowing with a greater fury than what we faced in the heights. All we could do was maintain course until this subsided and hope it would get no worse.
I began to peer ahead to see if I could help avoid any obstacles as Dremnin was calling for assistance seeing the canyon walls. Shortly thereafter, I recognized the shadow of a huge peak ahead of us in the rain. We were heading straight for it!
“Hard to port!” I screamed to Dremnin against the howling wind. Even as I opened my mouth to say it, I knew he would not have time to hear my words and act, so I simultaneously grabbed the wheel and spun it with vengence to port.
In spite of my quick reaction, I still braced for the impact of our hull against rock, I was fairly sure I was too late. The ship rocked hard to port. I saw a couple of the crewmen at midship stumble at the sudden lurch of the deck beneath their feet. I awaited the impact of the rocks on our hull and the horrible sound of wooden beams breaking apart on rock.
Nothing happened. Just as I was about to exhale with a sigh of relief, I felt what can only be described as a massive crunch as something heavy and moving fast crashed into my back sending me hurtling through the air like a drunken Wyndling. I had the horrible sensation, almost as if time had slowed down, of being carried a long ways, and then being dumped over the rail into open air.
Later I would learn that as a result of my sudden turn, combined with the strong gale blasting the sails, a boom broke free of it’s rigging, whipped across the deck and crashed into Suulin and I, who, at that point, were both standing just forward of the helm and in its path. I was staring so intently at the bow, and the wind was so loud, that I didn’t feel, hear or see it coming. Luckily I was wearing my plate armor and the impact was absorbed mostly by the heavy armor. This did nothing to comfort me from now being a hundreds of feet above the ground with no ship underneath me.
Instantly I just reacted, stretching my arms and legs out wide and feeling the energy of my Wind Catcher abilities take hold to slow what would otherwise be a deadly descent. I could only hope I was the only one who was hit by the boom. I looked to the rocky ground below, and my heart sank as I saw someone falling head over heals through the air, already far below me and hurtling through the rain swept air to the unforgiving rocks below. That person was as good as dead. Through the rain I could make out only the body of a woman! My heart sank, Suulin, I thought she had been standing next to the boom. Suddenly something crashed into me and I felt my descent come to a sudden halt. Startled I looked behind me at a grimacing Dremnin, who by some miracle had Suulin around the waist in one hand, and my tunic firmly grasped in his other hand! A rope was tight arond his waste, causing him to groan in pain at the pressure. I can only assume that Thystonius was smiling at Dremnin for his heroic efforts, for my friend was not built to handle a load such as a fully armored warrior of my size. Slowly, we were lowered onto the balcony below decks by someone above. Dremnin had strained himself and was in great pain from the crushing pressure of the rope. I looked at Suulin bewildered for I though I saw her fall. Suddenly I heard a name shouted by one of the crewmen, followed by a panicked, “went overboard!”
That name was Veranda.
While Dremnin recovered, Quinn navigated the ship safely to a cove where we waited out the storm through the night. In the morning, we went back and recovered Veranda’s broken body. She had, thankfully, been killed instantly by the impact. We buried her on the side of the mountain on the North side of the pass, with a marker placed upon her cairn. I had lost my first crewmen, one who I barely knew. Did my actions kill her? Could I have acted differently? I don’t know, and I never will, but these are the questions that haunt me at nights, about every good name-giver who died serving me.
My father always said leadership was hard. He was right… it tries a man’s soul.