The following morning, Smeeth woke, rose and walked into the water closet. Sometime later he reentered the hall and noticed N’than’s door was open.
“Hmmm, he’s not there. He was to wake me.” The storekeeper pulled the bedroom door closed. Smeeth felt a rising panic. He ran to the kitchen and then into the sitting room.
“The fire is out. I must get to the docks. Why did he not wake me?”
Pulling on his boots and coat, Smeeth locked his door and ran to the wharf. The sun was high when he arrived.
Wellium Jonns, Master of the Harbour, was known to Smeeth. “Wellium, The Wonder?”
“Smeeth, good day. What is your need of The Wonder?”
“Did it sail, where is it?”
“It is on its way to the other side of the world, over the Mother then she sails to The Deep.”
Smeeth hung his head. “How long?”
“They sailed an hour early today; the weather was fair and the winds perfect. They were fully crewed and ready. So I let them go. They’ve been gone this three hours.” Jonns stared at his friend. “Is everything all right?”
“Aye.” There is no use in telling him now. Smeeth gazed out over the water. “I’d just hoped to see off a friend. I am too late it seems.”
Wellium Jonns nodded. “Aye. I’m sorry. Come with me to the office, Smeeth. Let’s have glass and toast to missed opportunities.”
“Thank ye. I’d like that.”
Smeeth sat on the comfortable leather-bound chair in the Harbour Master’s office.
“I’ll get our drinks in a moment. First, I need to put this into the safe. Looks to be made of gold.” Jonns held up the amulet. “Well, outside it did … now it appears to silv—”
The storekeeper jumped out of his seat. “THAT … where did you get it?” Smeeth reached out for it.
Wellium Jonns, pulled it away out of his friend’s reach. “Not far from where The Wonder was berthed. Do you know it?”
“Aye, I do. It belongs to my friend.” Smeeth stared at the Harbour Master. “Wellium, N’than, my friend, he would not have sailed willingly. He would not have left that behind. Not by choice.”
With the amulet in his pocket and the name of a passenger ship which left the next morning, Smeeth went in search of the good ship, Bright Light. He found it, noting men worked aboard. He found the ticketing office.
The shopkeeper glanced at the itinerary. There was only one port where The Wonder would also dock. The Bright Light would pass The Wonder for they would not dock at all the ports of call The Wonder would.
“With luck, I will get there before them.” Smeeth whispered to himself, “I will bring N’than home again.”
“Yes, sir? Do you wish passage on Bright Light?”
“Will you be returning?”
“Aye, but I’ll book the passage from there.”
“Very good, sir. There be only inner cabins remaining, and they are small.”
“That’s fine. It is only a few days.”
“She sails in the morning. You should make Pensivia Bay in four days.” The man wrote up the ticket, stamped with the date of travel and handed it to Smeeth.
“Thank you.” Smeeth pocketed his ticket. I must go home and pack. Tell Father I need to be away for a few days.
N’than’s eyes opened slowly. It was dark and the room moved.
My head … oh my stomach! N’than twisted his head to one side and retched onto the floor. He lay panting and tugged weakly at his restraints.
My thirst is great. He tried to speak but his words were a rasp, “Water.”
After several minutes, he let his eyes close once more.
“Wake up. Can you hear me?”
N’than groaned. “Leave me to die.” My head.
“You will die if you don’t wake and drink.” The man sat on the bed and raised N’than up. “Come now. Drink. Small sips only.”
The small young man did sip when he felt the cool beaker at his lips. After several he croaked, “Thanks to you.”
“I’m here to let you free, help you clean up and see if we can get you to your feet. You’ve been quite ill. Raving from fever, and so, the restraints.” The doctor unlocked the manacles.
N’than rubbed his wrists. “Have I? Where am I?” The small male reached up to touch his head. Bandages?
“Don’t you know?” The man held N’than while he put pillows behind his back. “There, let’s sit you up a bit.”
“No, where am I?”
“You’re on The Wonder. We’ve been at sea for four days now. You came aboard with a fever. The Captain himself has been in to see how you are.”
“Has he? I’m sorry I have been unable to speak to him.” Fever? I wasn’t ill that morning. N’than closed his eyes. “Who are you? Why is my head bandaged?”
“I am Amel Perikwinkle, ship’s barber, doctor and cook.” The dark-skinned man smiled. “You were ill, you slipped on the deck, cutting your head.”
“Funny I don’t remember that.” N’than blinked at the cook-cum-doctor. “All those?”
“Aye, well, they are not usually required all at once. Cook is the biggest job.”
There was a brisk knock on the door. The captain peered in. “Ah, you’re awake. How is he?”
Perikwinkle nodded at the senior officer. “He is doing very well. He will be ready for some light duty as of tomorrow.”
“Excellent.” Lex Bugard nodded toward N’than. “Report to me as soon as the Doctor here passes you out.”
The doctor smiled. “I’ll bring him along, Captain.”
“Very good, thank you, Doctor.” Bugard spun on his heels.
Just like Junias used to do. N’than watched the Captain leave. Feeling afraid, he reached for his amulet. Not finding it, N’than scrambled off the bed and fell to his knees.
“Ohrus save us! You shouldn’t be … What is it?” Amel bent forward from his chair, following N’than’s line of sight under the cot. “What is wrong?”
“My amulet. Where is it? Who took it from me?” N’than got to his feet and clenched his fists. “Who stole it?”
The doctor led a less wobbly, but still angry N’than to the Captain’s quarters the next morning. He rapped smartly on the door.
“Come.” Came the reply.
“Listen now, you be good and do as the Captain asks. You’ll be fine.” Perikwinkle put his hand on the door. “I’ll be seeing you when you collect his meals.”
N’than nodded slowly as he still felt a bit dizzy. “Okay, and thank you for your comfort.”
The doctor smiled as he pushed open the door. “Go on in now.”
The Captain’s cabin was comfortable. There was a large wooden desk, a worn leather reading chair, a wall of books and opposite, a wide comfortable-looking bed.
Lex Bugard stood beside the imposing desk, both hands rested on it as he poured over charts. He glanced up as N’than entered and closed the door behind him.
“Ah, good morning. How are you feeling?” The Captain straightened.
“I’m all right, sir.”
Bugard considered the slim younger man. “Are you? You certainly don’t sound it.” He pointed to the leather chair. “Sit there.”
N’than was grateful and sat. “Thank you, sir.”
The Captain faced his newest crew member. He leaned against the desk. “Perikwinkle tells me something of yours is missing. He also tells me you came to quit the crew, yet here you be.”
N’than closed his eyes. “That’s the truth of it, sir. I did come to leave, but after following a man who was to bring me to you … well, I don’t remember more until I woke. My amulet was gone from my neck and a broken head in its place.”
“Damnit, who was bringing you?” Bugard paced between the desk and chair. “Do you know his name?”
N’than rubbed his thighs. “Barrakinder, something like that. A tall man.”
“I’ll take care of this.” Bugard stared at the small man in the chair. He’s not much older than my own son. “We are a day out of Pensiva Bay. You can get off there and return to Deegan’s Port, or remain and work. See something of the world.”
“And the rest.”
The Captain smiled. “What does that mean?”
“I’ll get off, sir. I fear I do not want to be your cabin boy.”
“Have I done something to offend you? Listen, I am sorry if—”
“I just cannot do what is expected.”
Lex Bugard stopped, and sucked in a deep breath. “And what do you fear is expected of you? I’ve an idea. You’ve been listening to the scuttlebutt about me.”
Bugard paced and his voice went up a decibel. “I’m a married man, and have one son who works on this boat. Yes, I’m a man. However, I can live without … without the need for … physical pleasuring for a week! What you heard; they say about all Captains. We are not all that way.”
N’than watched and listened with mouth agape; his colour rising to crimson. “Sir, I am … please accept my apology.”
The Captain leaned against his desk once more. “Ah, no need. Forgive me the outburst. And I understand. It is not my way. So, it is up to you N’than. Stay or go when we dock in Pensiva Bay. Let me know before we sail.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.” N’than got to his feet.
“And the crewman who you mentioned … I will be looking into that also.” Bugard clenched his fists briefly. “Tis not how we do things on my boat. Now … you should make your way to the galley and see Master Perikwinkle for you do not appear to be at your best.”
“Thank you again.” N’than open the door. “I will go to see him …”
After stepping out and pulling the door closed, N’than stopped and closed his eyes for a moment before carrying on to the galley.
Smeeth left the Bright Light as soon as he was able. He made his way to the Harbour Master’s office.
“May I help you?” A woman seated at the desk asked when he entered.
“Aye, thank you. Can you tell me if The Wonder has arrived?”
The woman pulled open a ledger. She ran her finger over a couple of columns. “I’m sorry not yet. They are a trade ship, possibly they left their last call late. They are expected today however.”
Nodding, Smeeth thanked the woman. “I appreciate it. Do you know of a good place for food?”
“If you fancy some of the ocean’s bounty, The Orca’s Rest offers good food at reasonable cost.”
“Wonderful, thank you.” Smeeth bowed slightly to the woman.
For the next couple of hours Smeeth browsed shops, walked briskly up and down the high street, stopped at the small hotel and took a room for the night. After a brief nap and a wash, he made his way back out.
I’ll get a cup of tea and a bite while I wait for this damned ship!
The Overlook Tea House was close enough for him to watch which ships came and went. He’d ordered some rich sweet chai and scones when The Wonder sailed slowly in.
There’s time enough while they dock for me to finish. Smeeth, though, watched carefully.
He’d popped in the last portion of the tender scone, when he watched a rope ladder be lowered and a man clamber off TheWonder and onto the dockside. He ran off in the direction of the Harbour Master’s office.
Odd, what be going on there? Smeeth sipped the last of his tea.
Moments later his question was answered. The Guard? Something’s afoot! No wonder the gangplank hasn’t been lowered. Smeeth’s eyes widened as he watched. That man! Is he going to jump?
Other patrons had joined the shopkeeper at the window.
“What is going on there?”
“That tall man … he has a … boy in his arms.”
Together they watched as the angry man hauled the boy up and appeared to be ready to throw him off the boat.
Smeeth gawped and horror found its way to his heart. Boy! That’s no boy, that’s N’than! Pushing through the gathered crowd, he threw money on his table and ran from the shop. “N’than! N’than!”
N’than struggled against Barrukinda, who was three times his weight and strength. Even at one point biting his captor in an effort to escape. They were backed against the starboard side gunwale, up near the bow. Barrukinda held the others at bay by threatening to kill his prisoner.
“You little shitting spoutworm! You’ve caused me nowt but trouble.” Barrukinda lifted N’than off his feet and held him high. He faced the armed men that were close and said, “I’ll fucking toss him over. Just let me off.”
Bugard stepped forward. “Listen to me, there is no way out. Put the lad down and it will go easier for you. Hurt him more or worse and that’s the end of your life. Don’t be more of a fool than you’ve been.”
Below on the wharf, the Guard arrived. With their appearance the gangplank was lowered, and several boarded the ship with the Captain’s authorization. Others took up positions below, where Barrukinda stood. Their rifles were readied, and the officers took aim.
Barrukinda cast around wildly. He pulled N’than to his chest. “GO AHEAD, shoot me and kill this bastard too!” The sailor backed farther up the bow until he was against the gunwale. He peered over the side and calculated his chances.
Deciding it was worth the risk, Barrukinda easily tossed N’than away into the group of sailors and members of the Guard that were pressing forward. Then he jumped from the bow of TheWonder.
Smeeth watched as the tall sailor threw N’than into the crowd of men on the deck and then leap over the side.
“N’than!” The shopkeeper ran to the gangplank. “Please let me aboard.”
A broad officer of the Guard stood in the way. “No, sir. No one is allowed up.”
“But he is my friend, the lad … please.”
“No, sir. I’ll ask that you wait over there. It’s madness aboard now. Let’s let them sort it out and we can see about reuniting you with your friend.”
It won’t help N’than if I get myself arrested by these brutes. Smeeth nodded. “Thank you. I’ll stay over there out of the way.” Smeeth moved closer to the small crowd that had gathered.
The officer nodded.
It was about fifteen minutes later when the officer stepped aside and let his fellow members of the Guard off The Wonder. They were followed by sailors.
Smeeth watched in silence, craning his neck to see if he could see N’than. Ah, damn, where is he?
After several minutes, Smeeth watched the Captain walk down the gangplank, followed by N’than’s slight form. He was being held by the arm by another man.
The Guardsman joined the small group, and they began to walk away.
“N’than! Wait lad.” Smeeth broke through the crowd. “N’than!”
Hearing his name, N’than stopped and spun around. “Smeeth … how?”
Amel Perikwinkle gripped his young charge’s arm. “Lad come away. We need to get on to the Guard’s Station house.”
“I know him, please let me see him.” N’than waved. “Smeeth!”
“Oh, N’than. I’ve been so worried. I’m so glad I’ve found you.” Smeeth halted beside the Hydorcivis. “Are you all right? Can you come home? I’ve come all this way to bring you back home.”
Lex Bugard, hearing the commotion behind him, walked to the small group of men. “Let us get to the Station. There is much to sort out before we can be free this day.” The Captain noticed Smeeth. “Pray, who are you?”
“I am N’than’s friend. He was not supposed to sail.” Smeeth’s gaze moved from the Captain to the younger man. “As it seems to me, he has been abused at your hand, sir.”
Bugard sucked in air. “Sir, I assure you, while he was abused, it was not at my hand. What has happened is wrong altogether and we go now to the Station to put in our statements. The Guard are out looking now for the man who did this. Please, let us go on so we may finish our duty to your friend.”
Smeeth nodded. “I see. Tis your ship, sir.”
“Aye and I will see it all comes right.” Bugard whirled away and walked briskly after the Guard.
N’than smiled at Smeeth. “He is a good and kind man. He only tried to help me.”
“Please, can we get on to the station,” said Perikwinkle with a sigh. “Tis been trying. Let us go.”
“Yes, let’s. Come with me, Smeeth?” N’than began to walk.
“Aye. Yes, I’ll come and then we can leave together.”
Once finished at the Guard Station, Smeeth and N’than walked out together.
“Let us go home.” Smeeth reached out to N’than. “I’m sorry, I presume.”
N’than smiled. “It’s all right, Smeeth.”
“I should not presume to know your heart. Instead, I should ask. Do you wish to come to Deegan’s Port with me?” Smeeth stopped and gently laid a hand on N’than’s slim shoulder. “You owe me nothing. You are welcome to stay with me as you wish.”
N’than smiled at the good man before him. Emotion made his voice a low whisper. “I should like to stay. I should like the chance to get to know you.”
Hope grew in Smeeth’s heart. He nodded, and they walked along the dockside to the ticket office.
Four days later, Major Luwrince Coteral watched from his new office on Deegan’s Port’s busy wharf. He sat watching as tradesmen, soldiers and others with business there walked to and fro. However, this time he blinked at the two figures who strolled by his window. In fact, he rose quickly to his feet as he recognized one of the two. Junias will want to know about this immediately.
“Are you sure it was he?” Junias’ face was as red as his buttons.
Coteral stood before his commanding officer. “Aye, sir. He’s hard to miss, being his size.”
“Indeed.” The General walked to his office window and stared out of it. What is N’than doing here? That damn Daryaneeg! He was supposed to keep the Hydorcivis away! I should have never trusted Qavrind. He turned from his silent vigil and said, “Thank you, Luwrince. You may go.”
“Sir.” The Major offered a small bow and left the room.
Jeptha slowly sank onto his chair. He picked up a writing stick and doodled on a piece of paper before him. “There is no choice in the matter now.” The decision made, the General left his office, telling his aide he would be gone for the afternoon.
“May I ask where we can find you, sir?” The aide asked, as he held the General’s greatcoat.
“No, whatever the emergency, it will have to wait, or go to Major Coteral.”
Jeptha spun on his heel and strode out of the office. He made his way to the stable.
“Stableman! My horse, now!”
The young groom jumped up from the hay bale he’d been seated on. “Yes, sir.”
Junias paced as he waited for the boy to bring his animal. While he did, he pulled on his riding gloves and talked to himself. “That damned Daryaneeg was to take care of N’than. He cannot be here. Dineeta cannot hear of my past.”
After several minutes, the lad led the horse from the barn. “Your horse, sir.”
“Thank you.” General Jeptha mounted and kicked the animal. It shot forward at a gallop.
He rode full tilt out of the stronghold and took the main road north. Finally, he slowed the animal to a sustainable trot. Jeptha went over and over in his mind as he rode, why he’d ever entertained or trusted the Daryaneeg. “It’s too damn late now. But I need to fix the problem.”
After some time, the General slowed the horse to a walk and finally stopped. Dismounting, he led the animal into a copse of trees and there they waited for a quarter of an hour. Then satisfied he’d not been followed, he remounted and walked the horse for a few minutes before leaving the main road and taking a narrow track. He rode on for a couple of miles before approaching a small house sitting in the forest.
A man rose from a seat on the small porch. He walked out to take the reins, while Jeptha jumped down.
“Where is he?”
The man nodded toward the house.
“Thank you.” After giving his horse a pat on the neck, he walked up the porch steps, rapped on the door twice and entered.
Blackthorn Trewhella sat in the oak chair, his booted feet crossed on the table. In his right hand was a knife and in the left, an apple. He focused on the door when it opened.
His left eyebrow raised as he saw who the visitor was. Slicing more from his apple he chewed. He waved the blade at the seat opposite. “General. What brings you all the way out here?”
“Your services.” Junias sat and said, “I have a little problem.”
Trewhella lifted his legs off the table and sat forward. “Do tell.”