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Nightstone - Chapter 4

Nighstone

by Paul Bimler

(Shakespir Edition)

 

Copyright 2015 Paul Bimler

 

 

Chapter 4

 

It was mid-morning and already the sun hammered down. Kartakos watched as a legion of men and boys sweated up the gangway of Ta’mak’s Bane, ferrying all manner of goods onto the ship that was to bear him to Far Shore.

Mantok’s efficiency was impressive. Perhaps he can organize a war. Others have done so with much less.

Crate after crate of provisions: fresh fruit and vegetables that might last two or three weeks, and after that dried meat, dried fruit, and hardbread. Cages full of poultry. Endless barrels of fresh water, stored in the hold, which also acted as ballast.

The crew themselves were fairly well presented, with the odd ragged-looking creature thrown in. Bruntok, the nuggety captain, was giving Kartakos a rundown of every crew member and their history.

“That dark boy there, the finest crow’s eye and timekeeper I’ve ever had. Faraahni is his name. He’s from Tila Varsha, we’ll probably pick up a few of his cousins when we pass through there. Seafarers born and bred. There’s my first mate Vatak. The short one with the headscarf, he’s my cooper, as well as a deckhand. You never know when you might have need of a spare barrel or two. That tall lad there, that’s my boatswain Ragaan, simple lad…”

Kartakos half-listened to Bruntok’s drone, watching as a dozen pigs were brought on board along with various fowl and other creatures. Several barrels of grain were being lugged up the gangway by deckhands, no doubt the animal feed, possibly crew feed at a pinch. Flour, sugar, salt, lemons to ward off scurvy, soap. Mantok had it all covered.

And there is the man himself.

Mantok and Garathok stood a little way off, talking with the quartermaster. Kartakos assessed the pair, noting the difference in height and appearance. He had worked for such men before. It was strange, how money bequeathed power. Mantok was a tall, elegant man, resplendent in his plush red velvet robe, worn even on a sweltering day like this. Garathok was attired in a similarly opulent fashion, although his clothes were not much bigger than a boy’s. But that smile; that heartless smile. Garathok wore it too, but with the sheen of the sycophant.

“And you will be staying in your own cabin for most of the voyage, sir?”

Kartakos turned, woken from his reverie, and looked Bruntok square in the face. The captain seemed guileless, an honest seafarer through and through.

Not receiving an answer, Bruntok went on, “Only, it might be quite hard going at times, sir. And the crew, they get awfully pent up on such a long voyage. Might be best if you kept to yourself, sir. I mean that in the best possible way. Sir.”

“Tell me, Bruntok, what has Mantok told you of me?”

“Sir?”

“What do you know of me, your passenger? What has Mantok said about me?”

Bruntok looked down, scratching his head. “The Assei? Well, sir, he has said that you are to act as an ambassador of sorts, when we reach the Far Shore… He says you are a great soldier, Sir. And that we shouldn’t bother you.”

“Hmm. You are wiser than you seem, captain,” Kartakos mused. Bruntok returned a happy, uncomprehending gaze. “And where will I be quartered? Has he mentioned anything about that?”

Bruntok smiled. “Why, you’ll take my cabin sir. Mantok Assei, he’s said that you’ll have need of the strongbox there.”

“I see,” Kartakos said, nodding. “But I might want to come out of my cabin from time to time. I trust that won’t be a problem?”

Bruntok raised his eyebrows. “I suppose not, sir. Just that… as I said, some of the crew are a bit… rough, sir. I don’t want you getting into trouble, noble khatra and all, sir.”

“Well, Bruntok, if I do have trouble, I will come straight to you. How does that sound?”

Bruntok was pleased at this. “That’s probably best, sir. They might be a bit rugged, but they’ll answer to their captain.”

As if to confirm this, at that moment a scuffle broke out on the gangway between two large oarsmen. Neither Bruntok nor Kartakos had seen what had started the fight, but they did see the vicious hook that the shorter one delivered to his massive opponent. The brute’s eyes rolled back into his head, and he careened backwards, his head cracking down hard on the ridged wood of the gangplank. Tumbling limply off the narrow walkway, the big man splashed into the green water between ship and wharf.

“Hoy there, Haja!” Bruntok yelled, running and waving to a well-built, olive-skinned deckhand. “Get in the water, boy! He’ll drown!”

The young man named Haja dropped the crate he was carrying and dove in, clothes and all, vanishing beneath the jade green surface. All stopped to watch the spectacle. Even the two vishas craned cautiously over the wharf’s edge to see the outcome. After an age, Garathok broke the silence.

“That’s got to be the end of both of them, surely?”

Bruntok raised a hand. “No no. Wait, you’ll see.”

They waited. Another interminably long period passed, and several of the crew drifted back to their work, shaking their heads.

A blurry shape appeared from the depths, getting steadily larger.

“Look, there he is,” someone cried. Haja surfaced, taking a huge gasping breath as he broke the water, his arm wrapped around the big man’s neck. He laid back in the water, keeping the deckhand’s head above the surface.

“A native of Barbos,” Bruntok said, turning to the ulkhatra with a proud grin. Men had fetched rope and the pair were hauled up onto the jetty using a looped harness. “The Barbos wildmen, they practically live in the ocean. They start training those boys as soon as they can walk, diving and collecting urchins from the sea floor. I’ve seen Haja go down for even longer than that.”

It took two men to heft the big deckhand up onto dry ground, then the still-drenched Haja turned the man on his side and proceeded to whack him hard on the back. Within minutes the man was coughing up seawater and shuddering back to life.

“All right, you lot, show’s over! Get back to it you idle wretches!” Bruntok wasted no time in whipping his men back into action, walking amongst them and delivering a solid slap to the back of the head of the short oarsman who had delivered the punch. Kartakos watched the proceedings, trying to get a feel for the captain. He seemed likeable enough.

Mantok and Garathok had finished briefing the quartermaster and were walking over towards Kartakos.

“That was quite a spectacle, no?” the Assei remarked with a satisfied smirk.

Kartakos nodded. “Impressive.”

“So, Kartakos. You have seen the crew, met our Captain Bruntok. Everything is to your satisfaction?”

“It all looks in order, visha. You are no stranger to seafaring, it seems.”

“The stocking of vessels, yes. I have much experience in the maritime industry. As to actually stepping on board one of the things… Let’s just say I like my bed to stay still at night. And the sailor’s diet does not really agree with me either.” Garathok smiled and nodded, ever the adulator.

Mantok reached inside his robe. “A small request, Kartakos. From the head of the Muutha-rishas.” The Assei produced a small book and a wooden case, and handed them to Kartakos. He opened the book, and found it was full of blank pages.

What is this?”

“Muuthandrika, the head Muutha-risha, has asked that you map your journey, especially in Far Shore. It is rare that someone from our realm travels so far, and rishas are ever seeking knowledge of the realms beyond the oceans. You will find charcoal in the case.”

Kartakos nodded. “Or, I could teach one of the ship’s boys to do it for me. And you have me in the captain’s quarters?”

Mantok gave a quick nod, then said quietly. “In the strongbox you will find a thousand gold Manush, as well as jewels, deeds to land and other tokens to show our would-be friends. Obviously, these are just tasters of what awaits, should they offer their help to our mission.” The tall visha produced a key on a neck-chain from his pocket. “Here is the strongbox key. Keep this on your person at all times. You have my permission to defend it by any means necessary.”

Kartakos returned a blank look. “I’m sure I can manage.”

“Good. Now, the ship is due to sail three vela hence. You have all you need?”

“Looks that way.”

Mantok smiled, straightened his stance and looked the ulkhatra up and down. “You are the man for the job, Kartakos, there is no doubt in my mind.” He thought for a moment, then continued. “I’m not sure you agree with our cause, but you will be richly rewarded, successful or no.” Mantok then added, “But I know that you will be successful. Muutha has shown me.”

“Is that so?” Kartakos asked. It was hard to take this visha at his word. He sensed many hidden strings.

“Yes, that is so.” Mantok reached forward and grasped Kartakos’ shoulder. “On that note, go with Muutha, friend. Safe travels, and we shall meet again when you return. I will say no more.” Mantok pressed a small pouch into his hand, then turned and strode towards the buildings that sided onto the docks, Garathok jogging behind on short legs. Kartakos watched the pair go, then looked down at the pouch. He opened it, and tipped the contents out into his hand. The ruby almost filled the whole of his palm, and was cut in an exquisite fashion, with the crescent moon of Muutha carved into the largest face. The blood moon. A good omen for seafarers. It seemed Mantok’s wealth truly wealth knew no bounds.

He turned back to face Ta’mak’s Bane. Bruntok was shouting hoarsely at his men who were loading the last of the supplies. A dozen or so crew moved-spider like amongst the riggings, securing lines and sails, readying the boat to be rowed out into open sea.

“Three vela,” Kartakos muttered to himself. He turned, spied a street carriage, and made towards it. It would be a while before he chanced upon wine and women again.

 


Nightstone - Chapter 4

We are back with the characters we met in Chapter One, the mercenary Kartakos and his employers, Mantok and Garathok. He has accepted their offer and the boat Ta'mak's Bane is being loaded with provisions for the long journey to Far Shore. There is a bit of scuffle on the docks, and Kartakos gets to see exactly what sort of crew he will be spending the next few weeks with. We also meet the captain, Bruntok, and get a little more of a peek into the dark mind of the mercenary.

  • Author: Paul Bimler
  • Published: 2015-10-22 23:50:06
  • Words: 1733
Nightstone - Chapter 4 Nightstone - Chapter 4