Silabrek to Ælim (4/5)

Twilight came, and the mood grew more somber.  A faceless yellow flag now flapping from the highest mast, the captain and crew engaged their critical plan.  Sails were unfurled, the anchor heaved from the shallows, and the Bonnie Heather pointed back out to deeper water.  When under way, as the light faded, I chanced stealing a spot on the bridge, to listen in on conversation.

This was the stretch of the journey that was most perilous, and in which all members of the crew, myself included, played a part.  South-east of Ivis, for what would be a full day’s running, lay before us the territorial waters of Grison.

Angus had stayed close to land for the entire trip.  As a sailing ship, the Heather was not built for rough, open seas, even the worst of those that might happen in late spring, which was seldom a hazardous time of season.  And there was also a dread of venturing too far from land.  Nautical charts marked the jagged contours where regular depth measures of eight, twenty, even thirty-five fathoms suddenly dropped to effectively bottomless as the shallow coastal sea-floor gave way to abyss at a distance of between ten and thirty miles off-shore.

Most seafarers will not sail over this yawning void, and the Great Beast is the reason.  Part legend, part myth, and unfortunately part entirely based on scary true stories of vanished ships, the Great Beast haunted maps and nightmares.  Speaking with certainty, Flask would tell me that the Great Beast was real.  It was some kind of aberration of the deep whose kingdom was the black depths and whose anger was raised by the sight of tiny hulls far above it, on the surface of its realm.  Smart men did not venture straight across the Bulgar Sea, not unless they wishes to be dragged down to the crushing black deep, with the splinters of their ship and the bubbles of their screams.

The captain and sea-artist’s map showed few possible routes past Grison.  These were not waters to be travelled carelessly.  Pirates plied these waters, as did the Grison Navy, and neither was any different an encounter than the other.  If they were not in open partnership, Grison’s official marine fleet was just as likely to raid shipping at will or burn a ship whose flag displeased them, as were the pirates.

Therefore, to shoot the straits between Muddy Hold and the Grison coast was complete madness; either from the island itself or from inlets in the Grison estuaries and mangroves, corsairs could spring and intercept shipping.  And considering the width of the island-fortress of Muddy Hold, and barring a wide sweep out into open seas and over forbidden depths, that left a risky dash close by Muddy Hold’s western shores and along a south/south-west sweep of the broken islands before cutting back toward the east and dashing for Ælim territory.

Angus and his officers were not new to this route, but every time it posed a terrifying challenge.  Pirates, Grison’s navy, even sea conditions and hazards might have changed sharply since the last successful tactics were used.  Using me to skirt rules of nautical law, Angus had up the yellow flag of Quarantine to ward off interlopers; and were he to be boarded and challenged for the assertion of plague, my presence would see him not be executed for violation of respected maritime treaty.  I had wondered at the logic of so ham-fisted a ruse; but the Code of the Sea is taken deadly, deadly seriously.

He had left Silabrek according to a specific timing that would see the Heather arrive at the Grison transit both at the onset of night, and during a dark moon phase of the month.  And employing Elves, which Grison was not known to (and Dwarfs, while common near Grison and occasionally allied with the dark kingdom, are not keen on seafaring), Angus would use their night-vision, and the sea-artist’s skill, to navigate an overnight passage.  With all lights extinguished and all shiny surfaces covered or greased by the crew to dull the ship against the water, Angus planned to dash through Grison waters on favorable winds and tides.

If all went well.

{…more to come…}




About d20horizons

D&D player.
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