I walked north around the island, climbing to a point overlooking the burning Hand ship. Not directly overhead, for sure, but I had a better vantage point than those on the other ships had. I was just thinking that this would be a great place for a catapult. From here I could totally control the entire lagoon. Not that we were staying here. We needed to get on with our quest.
Our ships swung around and began to drag people out of the water as fast as they could. If they lived, and did not fight them, they were brought on board. If they fought, they were thrown back to the sharks. Not many fought back at that point.
The captain of the Hand ship ran up the white flag when it became apparent that the fire raged between him and his stores of pitch. By the time they got that put out, his ship would be a total loss. Whatever other faults he had, he was not suicidal.
Borcus, bless his heart, took a crew onto the burning ship and forced the surviving Hand people out into their long boats, while he sent his people below to free the slaves and prisoners that were always there.
I stood on the overlook, watching this all unfold, wondering how fragile these great ships of war actually were. Faith is the mainstay of anyone willing to sail the uncharted seas, I can tell you.
“Hey,” I called out to no one in particular. “That ship is burning. Likely a lot of innocents are going to burn to death if things aren’t brought under control.”
No one responded, so I rolled my eyes. “That water fountain thing was pretty cool,” I said. Again, the gods had all wandered off in different directions, and none of the seemed to be paying any attention to me. So, I took matters into my own hand. Again.
Pulling cool threads from the furthest end of my reach, I wove a patch that reminded me of a rainy day. Usually I used this to insure we had potable water for drinking, but in this case, I deluged the ship with as much water as I could muster.
The captain of the Hand ship began shouting and calling from the lifeboat he and a dozen of his men now floated in. With the fire knocked back on his ship, he sounded like he wanted to rally his troops.
Borcus shot him with a crossbow, and the raging man fell over the side of his boat, where he was set upon by a swarm of smaller sharks. I gauged their true size based on the fins. I’m sure their teeth were sharp enough.
It took another two hours to beat out the fire, corral the prisoners, and free those from below decks. Boarding ships was second nature to the pirating crews I associated with. Better to capture a ship and increase the compliment, rather than scuttling a worthy vessel. I won’t pretend they didn’t scuttle a ship now and again. The general theme held, however.
Seven longboats made their way over the reef to the shore. None of these individuals had weapons, but there were seventy or so men and women among those survivors. There were another twelve that had been picked up out of the water. The three ships sent troops ashore to help keep the prisoners under control.
I walked among them, triaging the wounded into groups. Those that could wait, I sent with the general prisoners. Minor cuts and abrasions could wait. There were a few who died before I could get to them, but the first several I healed had been on the cusp themselves.
The more I healed them, the angrier I got. These were kids, most of them. My age or younger. Oh, there were some grizzled veterans mixed in, but for the most part, I was thinking conscripts from outlying villages, or the poor and desolate who had no other choices.
One of the older veterans, weaponless and hobbled by a shark bite that I’d managed to staunch, began to order his troops around, getting those who were not too wounded to help the others. I let him. He reminded me of the old hob sergeant I knew from the Night Wing Legion.
Angelo took one of the boats with Emad and a handful of others to go out and inspect the galleon. He was agitated for some reason, so I didn’t stop him. I had my hand full as it was.
Adeline took the Rasa out to scout, making sure this ship was alone. The Battle Toad had dropped anchor while the crew there began to replace the rigging as best they could. The Leaping Tadpole had run alongside the galleon and was ferrying off prisoners, and cargo, unless my quick glances were incorrect. Looting was part of the game.
Not that any of this was child’s play.
As the sun moved across the sky, we began to get the prisoners organized into groups and moved to various spots along the beach. No more than ten to a group. We couldn’t tie them all up, didn’t have enough rope, and to be honest, most of them were just happy to be alive.
Several of them tried to escape early on, but they were brought down by crossbows. This put the fear into the rest of them. Before we were all settled, two of our crew had been shanked, with one dying. The attacker there died at Dorn’s hand. The old navigator was wicked with a boning knife.
I began to interview the veterans as I found them, each giving me quotes from scripture, admonishment of my pending damnation, or sullen silences. It wasn’t until I got back to that first sergeant that I got some cooperation. Not all who serve in an army buy into the politics of those who pull the strings. Sometimes you just keep your head down and follow orders. If things get too uncomfortable, there was always wine and women to dull the guilt.
At least, that’s how Jorge Dunwater explained it as I examined the shark bite on his left leg later that afternoon. Guilt I understood. Serving people who kept slaves, raped and pillaged, that I will never understand.