An hour before sunset on 24th February, 2478, Richard Manchester, Duke of Plantinak, returns with his frigate, the Surprise. He embarks with two officers and ten oarsmen and lands upon the beach. Bragash and Sacha greet him and tell him of his friend Clodine's death at the hands of the assassin. His face ashen, the Duke asks their leave to return to his ship, which they grant him.
"My condolences to you, Sacha," Rick says.
"And mine to you, Rick."
The next day, Rick returns and embarks upon his own, to spend the morning walking and talking with Sacha. In the late afternoon, Rick returns to the beach and hails the Surprise. The longboat embarks with two officers, who join Rick on the beach, and together they go to Bragash's hall to hold council with him, the officers of Global Mediation Incorporated, Jack, Quahiri, Sandalack, and Ugluk.
"It was my hope that I could offer Clodine sanctuary in Plantinak," he says, "But it is clear to me now that I could not have protected him there. If he was not safe here, then it is hard for me to imagine where he could have been safe, except for a place so far away that he would be unknown."
Bragash nods and grunts.
"My offer to you and your clan remains. I offer you land in the hills of my principality. I will employ you as soldiers, and pay you well. Your children will be safe. You will have privacy and space. If some of you wish to return into the mountains and go back to your people there, you may do so at any time."
In the discussion that follows, Jack and Wicklow question Rick closely about the arrangements he proposes for the orcs. Rick's answers are short but appear genuine. Bragash says he will consider Rick's proposal again, and meet with him in the morning. Rick and his officers eat supper with the orcs, but there is little merriment, because Rick is clearly mourning his friend, and the orcs remain subdued.
Outside Bragash's hall, Wicklow and Jack speak to Rick again. He frowns at them. "Who are you, that you expect me to answer to you? I am here to deal with Bragash, the chief of these people, not with you."
The next morning, Bragash tells Rick that Global Mediation Incorporated are his advisors when dealing with sapiens, by order of the Lord Dreadmanifold. Rick declares that he would very much like to meet Dreadmanifold directly, and asks that GMI relay this invitation as soon as they are able. In the meantime, however, he agrees to answer GMI's questions.
All parties agree that two orcs should go with the Surprise to see Plantinak for themselves, and two officers of GMI should accompany them. Bragash picks Quahiri, his heir, to go on the ship, and permits her to pick her own companion. She picks her friend Jezel. For its part, GMI assigns Wicklow and Jack the duty of accompanying Quahiri. To this, Rick agrees, and promises a cabin with two beds for the orcs, and another cabin for Wicklow and Jack.
"We sail in the morning. I shall expect you an hour after dawn on the beach."
"Good," Bragash says.
Rick and his officers return to their boat, leaving GMI to talk with Bragash. They agree that GMI's responsibility is to bring Quahiri and Jezel home safely. They will also inform Quahiri of sapien customs, and translate Weilandic into Latin. Bragash warns them that orcs do not like to travel by ship, so the quicker the journey the better.
Hocus provides bridges to Jack and Wicklow, as usual. Jack will take his AAA Summoning Agency bridge also.
Quahiri's friend Jezel is a cheerful young woman, big-boned, rosy-skinned and plump. Despite her size, she is quick in a short sprint, and known among the orc men for her ability to beat some of them at wrestling. Her nickname among them is pumpkins. Quahiri, meanwhile, is slender, graceful, and reserved.
On the morning of 27th February, Quahiri, Jezel, Wicklow, and Scythe board the Surprise. The first thing that Wicklow and Jack notice about the ship is the rigging. The rigging is not made from normal rope. Instead, the rope is featureless, gray, and sparkling. The second thing they notice is the sails. These are almost white, like canvass sails, but they do not hang like canvass.
Rick shows the passengers to their two cabins on the port side of the ship, down the hall from the captain's cabin, and opposite Rick's own cabin. The ship is crowded with sailors and soldiers. "Two hundred armed sailors," Rick says, "And one hundred marines. We have three hundred souls on board."
The Surprise sets sail on a brisk westerly breeze and heads north. The passangers stand with Rick and captain John Williams. Wicklow reaches up and touches the corner of one of the lower sails at the back of the ship. It is slippery smooth, and sparkles in the sun. He says nothing. Rick smiles at them.
The ship must go slowly through the narrow channels of the Diablo Islands, but her captain handles her expertly. At times, they see rocks a meter under the waves, slipping by only a few meters from the hull. The water is clear, and the sun shines down to the sandy bottom in places, where the shadow of the ship glides along silently.
For the first few hours of their journey, Quahiri and Jezel lean over the edge of the deck, laugh together, stare up at the sails, point and giggle at the sailors climbing in the rigging, and eat a healthy lunch. But by afternoon, they are more subdued, and evening finds them lying in their bunks. Jezel vomits on the floor. Wicklow cleans up the mess and tells them both to go on deck and get some fresh air. This they do, and Quahiri vomits over the rail.
The orcs decline the captain's invitation to dinner, but Jack and Wicklow accept gladly, and sit down to a fine meal with pleasant conversation. Rick and the captain politely decline to answer questions about politics or the build of the ship. Nevertheless, they sing songs over port, and seem welcoming enough.
The ship must anchor over-night, which allows Quahiri and Jezel time to sleep and drink some soup at around midnight. Wicklow brings the soup to them himself. They are both grateful, but too proud and ashamed to thank him.
The next morning is clear and the sea is choppy. The Surprise clears the Diablo Islands by mid-day and sails north across the wind, rushing through the water at a breath-taking speed described by Rick as twelve knots. Spray from the port side and bow splashed over the deck, and the wind whistles through the rigging.
Jack and Wicklow spend most of the day on deck, watching the sailors work, helping out whenever they can, and enjoying the weather and the wind. Quahiri and Jezel stay nearby, leaning over the rail, sitting on a bench, and holding their heads in their hands in an effort to lessen their discomfort.
At noon, Jack and Wicklow go below decks for a while to describe the rope and sails to Hocus through Wicklow's space bridge. Hocus says they must be spirit matter. If so, they are immune to the Slice, resistant to Lightening Ball, and immune to fire. "It's as if the ship has been designed to contend with a wizard."
The ship sails steadily all day and all night. Jack and Wicklow enjoy another supper with the captain and the duke, but the orcs are again absent.
The next day, the 1st of March, the first mate measures the wind to be thirty-six kilometers per hour out of the west. The swells are up to three meters high. The ship rocks and dives through the water. Quahiri and Jezel are now so sick and exhausted that they cannot move from their beds without throwing up. Wicklow and Jack attend to the two women as best they can. Wicklow is afraid they will become dehydrated, because neither of them can hold down either fluids or solids. He has never seen sea sickness as severe as this. At one point he asks Rick if they could slow down to ease the tossing of the boat. He shakes his head and gives the idea no further consideration.
In the mid-morning, the lookout in the crow's nest spies a sail on the horizon to the west. The captain and Rick climb up into the rigging and look for themselves. They remain aloft for ten minutes and then descend. The captain orders the ship to stear towards the other ship and set all sails. The sailors spring up the ropes and unfurl the top sails and royals. The ship, which seemed to be sailing fast before-hand, now leans into the wind and surges forward. Slowly the sail of another ship comes into view from the deck. It is thirty kilometers away and sailing north like them.
"What ship is it?" Wicklow says.
"It's the Shark," Rick says, "We have been looking for it for the past two months, and now we have caught her. I mean to catch her today, before dark, if we can."
"Is she a pirate?" Jack says.
Rick peers through his binoculars. "Yes."
The Shark sets more sails as the Surprise approaches, but does not change course. As the sun goes down, the pirate ship is still two or three kilometers away. The Surprise continues sailing towards her, hoping to find her in the fading light, but darkness descends quickly, and is absolute. Clouds have moved in, the wind is slowing down, and the moon is new tonight.
Over supper, Rick admits to Jack and Wicklow that the Shark carries a wizard, and that the Surprise has been fitted by the Duke's court wizard with special sails and ropes to counteract the wizard's spells. The Shark has been defying Plantinak's control of the straights leading out of the Satian Sea, and Rick is quietly and fiercely determined to capture her and her wizard.
Wicklow and Jack don't waste their time trying to persuade Rick to avoid combat out of concern for their orc passangers. These passangers, meanwhile, have revived enough to drink soup in the late evening. As the wind drops, so do the motions of the ship subside. When Jack leaves the orcs for the night, Jezel has enough spirit to reach out and smack him on the bottom.
The next morning, the second of March, the wind is eight kilometers per hour out of the west. As the sun comes up, Rick is delighted to see that the Shark is still in sight, seven kilometers into the wind. The Surprise proceeds at seven knots (twelve kilometers per hour), and closes the gap between itself and the Shark at about one kilometer per hour.
After lunch, their quarry is only one kilometer distant. Rick lowers his binoculars. He has been leaning with both arms on the rail. He looks up at the sun. "We have them now."
"Aye, your honor, I believe we do," Captain Williams says.
Rick turns to Wicklow and Jack. "Go tell the ladies that there is going to be some excitement on deck, and some thunderous noises."
"Yes sir," Wicklow says.
"Captain Williams," Rick says, "Beat to battle stations."
The captain says to the first mate. "Beat to battle stations."
The first mate raises his hands to his mouth and bellows. "Beat to battle stations!"
Jack and Wicklow look across the deck. All the sailors and marines have been staring up at the rear deck, as if they knew that the moment was coming. Three marines stand up with drums and beat them loudly. Rat-tat-tat go the drums, and the sailor's bare feet pound across the deck. Those below rouse themselves and start shouting to one another.
Rick smiles at Wicklow. "Arm yourselves, why don't you? You may be of use."
Wicklow nods. He and Jack head down to talk to Quahiri and Jezel.
They find both the orcs standing in their cabin. Quahiri opens the door when they knock. Her eyes are wide and clear. "Will there be battle?"
"Yes," Wicklow says, "I think you should stay down here, because−"
Jezel laughs. Jack looks past Quahiri and sees Jezel dragging her armor out of the clothes chest. She is wearing a green silk under shirt and loose cotton trousers. She stands up and puts a chain mail shirt over her head.
Quahiri frowns at Wicklow. "We will fight with the ship's soldiers." She turns around and reaches into the clothes chest.
Jack watches Jezel reach around her own back and buckle her armor. She looks up and sees him staring at her. She smiles, turns around, and looks over her shoulder. "You do it," she says, and he does. Soldiers and sailors are pounding up and down the ship's corridors, shouting, opening and closing hatches, and handing out weapons. The sound of the drums on the deck above comes loud and clear through the boards above them.
The four of them follow the last of the armed sailors onto the main deck. The one hundred marines are standing at attention on deck in leather armor. Each has a longsword on his belt and a bow and quiver on his back. In each man's hands is a coil of rope and a grapnel. The ship's two hundred sailors are on deck also. Each has a short sword in a scabbard slung on a strap over his back. Half of them carry large wooden shields.
All the sailors and marines are men. Quahiri and Jezel are the only women on board. Most of the sailors turn to watch the women climbing in front of Wicklow and Jack up the steps to the aft deck. The women's armor is cut to accomodate their hips, and tightens above their waist. From behind, they could be sapiens. Only when Jezel turns to smile at the sailors and wave, is it obvious that they are not. Her chin juts from her face, and her tusks arc upwards towards her cheeks. Her smile is a baring of teeth.
Richard Manchester, Duke of Plantinak, stands on the aft deck rail in front of the helm, holding on to the rigging with one hand. He looks down at his crew and marines. "Good afternoon gentlemen," he says, in a voice that is loud and clear. "For two months we have hunted the Shark. We have ridden through two gales in the hope of catching her mid-sea. We have towed our ship along shallow river courses. We lost our dear comrade John Jackson to a crocodile. But now we have them." He points to the north-west, where the Shark is only nine hundred meters distant. "The wind is steady. She has all her sails set, but she cannot out-run us. The captain reckons we will close upon her within the hour."
The men on deck cheer heartily.
"Some of you have faced the Shark before. You have seen the work of Amahte, the Shark's wizard captain. All of you have seen the same magic performed by our own wizard back home. In the past, the Shark has driven us away. But not this time. He cannot cut our rigging." The Duke points to the sparkling gray ropes that stretch in every direction above the deck. "Our own wizard made this rope. It does not burn, and the wizard cannot cut it." He points to the sails. "Our sails are the same. They do not burn. The wizard cannot cut them. We will see flashes of light. We will endure explosions of fire. But our ship will keep sailing."
The men cheer.
"The most dangerous place to be from now until we get within grappling range will be on deck. The wizard will blast the deck with spells. He will try to cut and burn our rigging and sails. They won't cut or burn, but you will. I know all of you want to be on deck to see what happens, but I'm not going to allow it. I'm going to send most of you below decks, and while you're down there, I want you to spread out. That means no clustering around the port holes. If the wizard puts a blast below decks, I don't want him to get any more of you than can be avoided. To keep abreast of the fight, your seargents will post criers on the stairs."
The crew mumble among themselves. Up above, half a dozen seagulls and two albatrosses circle just beyond the masts.
"We will keep fifty sailors on deck to man the ship, and another fifty with shields will stay near them and cover them from blasts you can expect to appear. Keep crouched low whenever you can, and don't walk around unless you have to. Sailor Company I man the deck, Company J shield them. All the rest of you, go below decks. Fight hard when the time comes, and be steadfast. You will all get to fight when we board her. Good luck to you all."
The sailors cheer. The drums beat and they run to their stations. Most of them line up in front of the two staircases that lead below and rush down and out of site.
Jack is looking up at the seagulls and the albatrosses. "What about those birds?"
"Do you think they might be spies?" Wicklow says.
"I do. Hocus warned us of such things. And there is a dolphin at the front, by the bow."
"Let's keep an eye on them."
"I'll go forward and take a look at the dolphins," Jack says, "You watch the birds."
Jack descends the steps to the main deck and walks to the fore deck. He leans over the side and stares at the dolphin. It leaps from the water every thirty seconds or so, but otherwise looks innocent.
Wicklow takes out his binoculars and examines the birds. One of the albatrosses turns aside and glides towards the Shark. He loses sight of it behind the other boat's sails. Quahiri and Jezel grip the rail firmly, breathing deeply and speaking to one another occasionally in their own language. The distance between the two boats closes slowly, by perhaps ten meters per minute. The captain and the Duke stare through their telescopes and mutter to one another.
Ten minutes later, Jack leaves the fore deck, thinking there can be no harm in the dolphin. The Shark is six hundred meters away. He is half way across the main deck when there is a bright flash of light above the aft deck, and a loud bang. Some of the sailors cry out in alarm.
"As expected!" the Duke shouts.
Wicklow spots the wayward albatross returning from the Shark. Through his binoculars, he sees it is carrying something in its claws. "Plantinak," he says, and the Duke turns to face him, "the albatross approaching us, do you see it?"
The Duke looks up for a moment. "Yes, I see it."
"It's carrying something, possibly a thunder-egg."
The Duke looks at the albatross again. "Very good. Thank you Mr. Wicklow."
Wicklow gestures at Jack to turn around and return to the fore deck. Jack nods and turns. His bow, quiver, and grapnel bounce upon his back as he jogs to the bow. Wicklow speaks to Quahiri and Jezel. They look at him and take their crossbows from their back and load them. Wicklow takes his bow from his back, leaving a grapnel hanging from a strap just like Jack's.
The albatross glides around behind the boat and dives suddenly towards the aft deck. Wicklow fires an arrow. His aim is true, but a sudden updraft saves the bird. Quahiri and Jezel fire also, but their aim is wide. The albatross drops an egg-sized object. Wicklow and the orcs crouch down by the rail. The sailors duck behind their shields. The Duke takes a step forwards, as if trying to get to the stone before it hits the deck. But he changes his mind and crouches with the captain. The egg strikes the deck towards the stern. There is an immediate hissing noise, followed by an explosion of white fire and a blast of hot air. A white, searing ball of heat engulfs the aft deck, splashes up the sails, and rushes about the helm. When the flame vanishes, there is a deafening clap of thunder.
Wicklow looks around him. He cannot hear for a few seconds. The wood of the deck is blackened. The helm is charred in places. The Duke stands up and puts his arms on his hips. The captain stands a moment later. Two sailors near the center of the blast are scorched and twitching. They are not dead, but their burns are severe. As his hearing returns, Wicklow hears one of them whimpering. He looks up. The birds are gone. The seagulls are scattered a few hundred meters from the boat along with the other albatross. He cannot see the first albatross.
"Two stretchers on the aft deck!" the Duke shouts.
Wicklow hurries to the wounded sailors and tends to them as best he can until the stretchers arrive. He returns to the orcs. "We're going to the fore deck. We'll be able to fire on the boat sooner." To himself, he is thinking that the fore deck will be safer. Quahiri and Jezel are weakened from sea-sickness. He wants to keep them away from danger.
When Wicklow and the orcs join Jack, who is waiting on the fore deck, the Shark is four hundred meters way. "Hello soldier," Jezel says to Jack. She puts her arm around him and stares towards the enemy ship.
"You sound like you are feeling better," Jack says. He keeps both hands on the rail and his eyes ahead.
"The magic woke me up," she says.
At three hundred meters, there is a bright flash of light twenty meters off the fore deck. It is bright enough and loud enough to be shocking, but not to blind them or deafen them.
"Is he targeting us?" Jack says.
Wicklow shakes his head. "I don't know."
On the Shark Wicklow and Jack see pirates crowding the rail. The pirates are shaking their fists at the Surprise, and laughing and jeering. Every now and then, one of them pulls down his trowsers and shows his bare bottom to the persuers.
"I like these pirates," Jezel says. By now she is once again holding the rail with both hands.
Wicklow looks up at the sky and points. "There's the albatross!" He raises his binoculars to his eyes. "It's carrying another thunder-egg." He and Jack string their bows, but the albatross stays well out of range to the port side, gliding fourty meters above the water.
At two hundred meters, there is another flash of light ten meters to port.
"I think he's having trouble aiming at such long range," Wicklow says. "He might be trying to put a flash below decks."
The Duke bellows from the aft deck, fifty behind them. "Marine Company A to the main deck!"
Seconds later, twenty-five marines run up onto the main deck. They spread out along the port rail. "Down grapnels! String bows! Prepare to fire a volley!"
At one hundred meters, the Duke gives the order to fire. The twenty-five marines fire all at once, with a musical twang of bowstrings. The arrows shoot into the air, arcing high above the water, and descend upon the pirate boat. Some land in the sea. Others over-shoot the boat. Most appear to land on the Shark's deck. But the pirates are hiding behind their railing. A moment later, the pirates fire their own volley, with what appears to be twice as many arrows. Three land on the fore deck, and a dozen on the main deck. No-one is hurt.
At fifty meters, the Duke calls out, "Helm has been attacked!"
Looking back through his binoculars, Wicklow sees that the helm is indeed. The helmsman is struggling with some invisible bond. "It's some kind of conjured sponge."
The captain shouts, "Steady as she goes! Keep the sails trim! We cannot steer!"
The Duke calls, "Ten marines to the aft deck with swords!"
"The albatross!" Jack says.
The albatross dives towards the aft deck. "Oh no," Wicklow says.
"Thunder-egg on the aft deck!" Jack shouts.
The Duke looks up and behind him. The ten marines he ordered are just arriving on the deck beside him. He gives them an order. They sheath their swords, unsling their bows, cock arrows, take aim at the albatross and fire immediately. Through his binoculars, Wicklow sees the arrows fly wide, just before the albatross disappears from his view behind the sails.
"Damn!" Wicklow says.
A ball of white, crackling light engulfs the aft deck. In the initial blast, the helm and helmsman stand alone for a moment in an bubble of safety, with the Duke beside them. The Duke rushes to one side and crouches behind a barrel. The bubble of safety around the helm transforms into a ball of white fire of its own. A second later and the white light is gone, replaced by a deafening clap of thunder. A gust of hot air pushes along the length of the ship and into Jack's face. As the smoke from burning boards and rails is swept away by the wind, he is aghast to see the blackened remains of the helmsman crumple to the deck. The helm itself is on fire in places, and the steering rope is smoking. It must be one of the few ropes on the boat that is not made of spirit matter. Spirit rope is slippery.
Without hesitation, the Duke steps forward and takes the helm in his mailed hands, standing amid the remains of the helmsman. "I have the helm! The ship can steer! Two stretchers to aft deck!"
Jack counts four sailors and two marines lying prostrate and scorched on the aft deck. Other sailors are standing and staring at their comrades. One is throwing up on the deck. A marine is weeping openly. The captain shouts orders to the sailors on the main deck. Half a dozen of them grab buckets of water that have been standing by, and rush up to extinguish the fires on the aft deck. One bucket of water splashes over the helm and the helm's brass handles raise clouds of steam.
"Marines on main deck prepare to fire a volley!" the Duke says, "Take aim! Fire!"
Even as the marines fire their fifteen arrows, fourty are descending from the Shark. The marines duck Arrows thud into the deck and pierce the sails. Several marines take hits to their armor, but none appear to be injured.
The Shark's stern is now only fourty meters from the bow of the Surprise. The distance closes at about ten meters per minute. Only one albatross is in sight, and it is circling out of bow range off the port side. The Duke calls, "Marine Company A pick up grapnels! Move to fore deck! Volley at will!" When Wicklow looks back towards the Duke, he sees sailors carrying one of their comrades off the aft deck on stretcher.
The twenty-three surviving marines of Company A join Jack, Wicklow, Quahiri, and Jezel on the fore deck. They fire two volleys of arrows in the space of half a minute. The pirates fire two volleys in return, aiming for the fore deck. When the volleys land, the air is thick with arrows, and the deck begins to bristle with them. One marine takes an arrow through the leg, and sits gritting his teeth a few meters from Wicklow.
"Helm has been attacked!" the Duke calls.
The Duke is standing two meters to one side of the helm. He draws his sword and begins chopping quickly and vigorously at an invisible barrier.
The captain shouts, "Steady as she goes! Keep the sails trim! We cannot steer!"
The Shark turns to port, heading into the wind. She slows down, coming level with the Surprise even as she pulls away to port.
"Drop sail!" the captain shouts.
The Duke stops chopping for a moment. "Marine Company A to main deck! String bows! Prepare to fire a volley!"
The marines run down the steps from the fore deck to the main deck, distribute themselves at the rail, drop their grapnels at their feet and draw their bows.
"Marine Company A Fire!" The marines fire a volley at the pirates. Ten seconds later, another volley comes back.
The Surprise slows down, but continues in a straight line. The Shark pulls away to port and aft. She heads straight into the wind. Her sails slacken. Pirates scramble in her rigging. Her sails rotate on her masts, and her aft boom swings rapidly over her aft deck. Then her sails tighten, and she is heading south-west.
Quahiri and Jezel are crouched behind the fore deck rail, pulling back the strings of their crossbows and talking rapidly to one another in their own language. They are both smiling. Jack and Wicklow are on their knees, peering over the rail at the Shark through their binoculars. Something lifts off the Shark's deck. It is a man, apparantly sitting in mid-air, as if upon an invisible chair, with some kind of contraption over his head. He rises quickly and cruises towards them. Above him, the albatross circles with another egg-sized object in its talons. The man in the chair pulls on ropes that hang down from the contraption to his sides, and pumps a lever above him. His face is tanned and wide as seen through the binoculars. His nose is long and straight. His mouth is set in a line over his square chin. He wears a brown sheepskin jacket and leather trousers. There is a long dagger at his side and a shoulder bag on his lap.
"Helm is free!" the Duke calls. He sheaths his sword, grabs the helm with one hand, and continues to cut off odd remnands of conjured sponge with a dagger.
"Raise all sail!" the captain shouts. "Hard to port! Prepare to tack!"
The Duke spins the wheel and the ship to turns into the wind. The Shark is seventy-five meters to the south-west.
Jack cups his hands around his mouth and shouts at the top of his voice. "Albatross!"
The Duke looks up. He sees the wizard approaching through the air.
Jack shouts again. "Wizard flying!"
The Duke calls out, "Four marines to the crow's nest with bows! Fire at will upon the flying man!"
Four marines leap into the rigging, their bows on their backs, their grapnels hanging from their belts, and climb as fast as they can. With their kit and their leather armour, they ascend at about half a meter per second. The crow's nest is thirty-five meters above the deck.
Jack turns to Wicklow, "Let's move to the main deck."
Wicklow nods, "Quahiri, Jezel, we're going down."
The orcs have cocked their crossbows. Crouching low, they follow Wicklow and Jack down the steps. As they join the marines on the main deck, the Duke shouts, "Marine Company A, cock arrows! Take aim at flying wizard! Fire!"
Twenty marines fire up at the wizard, who is flying around towards the stern of the ship, but is at the moment sixty meters above and to port of the main deck. Wicklow, Jack, and the orcs fire too. A dozen arrows, and the orcs' bolts, stop suddenly in mid-air just below their target. The wizard, still in a sitting position, rises a little as the missiles come to a stop, but other than that, appears unaffected by them. Instead, the missiles remain hovering beneath him, following him through the air.
"Lord and Lady James," a marine says, and traces a circle on his forehead. The other marines mumble to themselves, and look towards the Duke. He stands holding the helm, looking from the wizard to the four marines climbing in the rigging. They are ten meters up.
Amahte the Wizard, Captain of the Shark dives upon the aft deck of the Surprise on his invisible flying seat. Wicklow, Jack, and the orcs run up the steps to the aft deck, hoping to shoot at the wizard before he launches his attack.
Amahte slows down and hovers twenty meters above the helm. Wicklow and Jack fire up at him, but their arrows stop and hover in mid-air. As they draw their bows again, Wicklow says, "He has some kind of conjured wood shield beneath him."
Amahte drops something small and shiny. It falls through the air towards the helm. The Duke looks up and swats it aside with his hand. There is a hiss, and several sailors on the other side of the deck freeze where they are crouching, and begin to struggle. They shout, but their voices are silenced.
Wicklow, Jack, Quahiri, and Jezel fire at the wizard. Their arrows join the others that bristle in the air as if stuck in an invisible pin cushion.
Jack says, "There must be a hole in the shield. He dropped something through it." He strings another arrow in his bow and takes aim. "We might get lucky."
"One marine up on the aft deck!" the Duke calls, "Sailor Jackson! Take a plank from the store chest there!"
A marine runs up to the aft deck. "Sir!"
"Take that board from Sailor Jackson," the Duke says, "When the wizard drops anything, bat it overboard with the plank."
"It'll be like cricket, marine!"
A few seconds later, there is another hissing sound, this time centered upon the helm. The Duke jumps back. "Helm has been attacked!" He pushes towards the helm, but something holds him away from it. "We cannot steer!"
The wizard pumps the lever on the metallic mechanism above his head, and rises straight up above them at about a meter per second. He stares at the spirit cloth sails, and the spirit rope rigging. They have suffered no damge from his Lightening Balls, and they would be immune to Slice. He shakes his head and prepares to cast another spell.
"Trim sails!" the captain shouts, "Hold the turn!"
The Duke looks up at the wizard, and at the albatross, which circles nearby, holding something in its claws. "Sailor Jackson!" he calls, "Catch up with those marines and tell them to fire upon the albatross."
"Yes, sir," the sailor says, runs down the steps to the main deck, and jumps into the rigging. The marines climbing to the crow's nest, meanwhile, have nearly reached it. The Duke draws his sword and starts chopping at the conjured sponge around the helm. A few sailors on the aft deck have drawn their swords and are trying to cut their way through the sphere of conjured sponge that binds their comrades.
There is a flash of light upon the aft deck. It blinds two sailors. They sit down on the deck, not knowing what to do. The captain opens his eyes and shakes his head. The Duke continues chopping at the conjured sponge around the helm. Wicklow, Jack, and the orcs prepare to fire another volley.
Amahte rises above the aft mast. As he crests the top sail, he comes into view of the crow's nest on the main mast. The four marines, panting from their climb, have strung their bows. Before Amahte can get out of the way, they fire a volley of four arrows. Two strike his conjured wood shield, but two fly over the lip and pass close by his body. At the same time, three missiles strike his shield from below, and one penetrates the hole through which he dropped his bridge ring. A crossbow bolt passes within a few centimeters of his right leg [Quahiri, to-hit roll 20].
Amahte reaches up and presses a button on the mechanism above his head. Air rushes through a valve, and he drops down behind the aft top-sail, out of view of the marines. He reaches into his pack and takes out another bridge ring. He lets go of his steering ropes, grasps something in front of his head, puts it in the bridge ring, and looks down. He is descending.
The sailor sent up by the Duke into the rigging calls to the marines in the crow's nest. They draw their bows and fire at the albatross. It is a long shot: sixty meters. But they are at the same height as the bird, and it is gliding at the same speed as the boat. The albatross crumples suddenly, and plummets towards the water, releasing its egg-sized burden as it falls, an arrow through its chest [a marine, to-hit roll 20]. The bird splashes into the sea, along with the egg.
The marines on the main deck give a cheer.
Amahte is thirty meters above the aft deck. There are two dozen arrows bristling beneath him. He is aware immediately of the fate of his albatross, and scowls. But he has no time to dwell on the matter. He will find another albatrosses. The egg it was carrying was just a rock, anyway. His scowl turns into a smile.
Jack puts down his bow, takes out his rope and grapnel, swings it in a circle beside him, and throws it upwards. The grapnel ascends quickly through the thirty meters that separate him from the wizard, stops suddenly amid the bristling arrows, and falls back to the deck.
Wicklow takes out his grapnel also.
Amahte leans over and drops his bridge ring through the hole in his conjured wood shield. The bridge ring falls towards the deck. The Duke looks up from chopping at the conjured sponge around the helm. He sees the ring dropping. The marine with the board swings at the ring, but misses. The Duke steps forward and puts his boot out. The bridge ring hisses. Everyone jumps back, except for the Duke. The air fills with silent, invisible matter. But the conjured sponge spreads out around the Duke's boot, keeping the helm free of the stuff [Duke took 2 dp to save himself, and 4 dp to save the helm]. As soon as the hissing stops, the Duke turns and continues working on the helm, now with his dagger instead of his sword.
The stern of the boat rises on a swell. The wizard drops on a momentary down-draft. He is only twenty meters form the deck. Jack throws his grapnel. It arcs upwards and wide of the wizard and descends to land upon mounds of conjured sponge. There are eight sailors trapped in the mounds of sponge filling the aft deck. Some are frozen with their swords held aloft. Others are moving within it, cutting their way out with their short swords.
Amahte leans over. He is about to drop another bridge ring. Wicklow throws his own grapnel. It arcs up, stops, and drops near Amahte's feet [to-hit roll 20]. Amahte drops the ring through the hole in the bottom of his shield. Wicklow pulls down, and the wizard lurches forwards. The grapnel is stuck in the conjured wood that holds up the arrows.
The bridge ring falls towards the deck. The Duke is operating the helm in an island amid the mounds of conjured sponge. The captain stands beside him. Wicklow, Jack and the orcs stand off to the side by the port rail. As the ring falls, Jack secures the loose end of Wicklow's rope to a cleat on the rail. Wicklow pulls down, and keeps pulling.
The falling ring bounces off a mass of conjured sponge four meters above the deck. It crackles and sparks. A white light flashes across the surface of the conjured sponge where the ring touched it, and within a second, the deck is ablaze with a familiar crackling white light and heat. Wicklow jumps up on the rail and hangs over the edge of the ship from the rigging. Even as the ball of white flame bursts out towards him, he holds his rope up and away from the main force of the blast, saving it from destruction [Wicklow took 3 dp to save himself, and 2 dp to save the rope].
The white ball of fire vanishes as quickly as it appeared, and is followed by a deafening clap and a rush of air. The aft deck and rails are in flames. The Duke stands and takes the helm. The wheel is smouldering, but still intact. "Helm is free! We can steer!"
The captain stands up. He had thrown himself to the deck by the port railing, next to Jezel. He puts his hands to his mouth and shouts. "All sail! Hard to starboard!"
The charred bodies of six sailors and a marine lie amid the flames. Two other sailors stand speechless and staring into space. One has an arm burned to a stump. The other is naked, his clothes burned off. His skin is red and black.
"Four stretchers on the aft deck!" the captain shouts. "Ten men with buckets on the aft deck!"
Wicklow pulls on his rope. Amahte looks down. He is fifteen meters up, and struggling to stay seated. His feet slip in the air. His arms grasp for parts of whatever invisible structure surrounds him. The bristling arrows move to one side as Wicklow's grapnel pulls down the lip of the wizard's bowl-shaped shield. For a moment, the eyes of the two men meet. Wicklow yanks the rope with all his weight and strength. The wizard almost falls forwards into space, but manages to hang on. His bowl and thruster start downwards with the force of the pull. The rope slackens. Wicklow grasps it and prepares to pull down again, hoping to keep the it taught. Amahte hanging with one arm from something invisible behind him, braces himself with one foot, and looks at the grapnel.
The Duke looks up at the wizard. "Five marines with grapnels to the aft deck!"
Jack's grapnel rope lies upon the deck, blackened and smoking, but still intact. He jerks the grapnel across the deck to his feet. He picks it up on the end of an arm's length of rope. His heart is pounding and his hands are shaking. Quahiri and Jezel are kneeling nearby, cocking their crossbows. He steps away from them and starts to swing the grapnel. "Slow down," he says to himself, "You get one shot."
Twelve meters above the deck, Amahte reaches with his free arm for the grapnel lodged in the conjured wood of his shield. His flying contraption tilts over. His body is horizontal. He braces his knees upon something invisible. His fingers close around one of the grapnel's two upraised hooks. He pulls it upwards. It comes free of the shield with a jolt. His contraption moves downwards until he tosses the grapnel towards the deck and leans back. The shield, with its bristling arrows, rights itself suddenly, brining him upright again. The rectangle of metal that supports his weight jumps upwards and then stops. The shields sways from side to side, with him in the center.
The ship rises upon a wave. A ghust of wind pushes the wizard downwards. He is only nine meters above the deck. Jack throws his grapnel. It arcs up, turns, and strikes the side of the wizard's shield, but bounces off.
"Damn it!" he says.
Quahiri and Jezel fire their crossbows. Their aim is true, but their bolts join the dozens of others embedded in the base of the shield. Without hesitating, they kneel to reload. Jack looks down at them. They move quickly, but they are smiling. Quahiri cocks her string, reaches behind her back, and takes a short, heavy bolt from a leather belt slung around her shoulders. She says something to Jezel. Jezel laughs, and reaches for her own bolt.
Ahmate sits down. He reaches up with one hand and starts pumping the lever on the metal rectangle as quickly as he can, while looking around him and back at the Shark. His contraption stops its downward motion and begins to rise.
Wicklow and Jack drop their grapnel ropes and take out their bows. Five marines arrive on the deck with their own grapnels, but Amahte is now twenty meters up. The Duke shakes his head and shouts, "All hands to bows! Fire at will upon the wizard!".
Amahte rises above the top sail on the rear mast, and comes into view of the four marines in the crow's nest. They take aim and fire upon him. One arrow strikes the shield, but the other three fly through the air above it, passing close to Ahmahte's body. He grasps the left side off the metal rectangle and pulls it downwards.
Immediately, the wizard and his contraption begin to fall sideways. As he crosses over the port rail, many of the marines fire. He gains speed as he drops towards the water. When he is fourty meters from the ship, he is level with the rear deck. Jack, Wicklow, Quahiri and Jezel fire upon him, along with a dozen marines, and the four in the crow's nest. Amahte lets go of the metal rectangle and ducks down below the lip of his shield. Some arrows pass over him. Others strike the opposite, inner side of the shield, and some strike the underside. The impact of the arrows drives him away from the ship.
As soon as Amahte releases the metal rectangle, he begins to rise. Two score more arrows and bolts arc towards him, but few come close, and none strike his body. He and his flying contraption rise above the waves and out of range.
Wicklow shakes his head. "He got away."
Sailors are carrying the wounded and dead below decks on stretchers. The sailor with severe burns upon his body is shouting at two others who are trying to help him down the stairs. "Don't touch me. Don't touch me you idiots!"
Captain Williams stands beside the sailor sitting upon the deck. The sailor is crying and wailing. "Samual Black!" he says, "Go below decks and help the doctor! Tell him what happened."
The sailor looks up, gets to his feet and walks away. The captain moves to stand beside the Duke. A moment later he shouts, "Set all sail! Hard to port! Perpare to tack!"
The Duke spins the wheel. "Marines on main deck, bring a spirit mainsail to the aft deck! Bring six wood framing studs to the aft deck!"
Wicklow and Jack coil their grapnel ropes and stow them upon their backs. Quahiri and Jezel lean upon the rail, watching the sailors clambering in the rigging, nodding to one another, whispering, and showing their teeth.
The ship's mates shout orders to the sailors. Some are balanced on the spars, unfurling sails. Others are standing on deck, pulling ropes that rise up through the profusion of rigging and sails to the tips of the horizontal spars. The ship turns into the wind. The sails fill with it, and press against the masts for a moment, but seconds later the spars are turned towards the port side of the boat, the ship heads south-west into the westerly wind, and the sails fill and billow out in graceful curves. More sails drop from the topmost spars of each mast. As they fill with the wind, the masts creak and bend. The ship leans over. The Duke holds the wheel with both hands.
"Four marines to the fore and aft mast crows nests with bows!"
Wicklow watches Amahte through his binoculars. The wizard is a hundred meters away across the water, and a hundred meters up. Wicklow sees him looking back at the Surprise through a short telescope. The Shark is a thousand meters away. The wind is steady and the sky is clear. Wicklow lowers his binoculars. "We'll catch them again," he says loudly, so as to be heard above the hiss of the wind in the sails, and the constant shouting of orders upon the main deck.
The Duke must have overheard him, because he looks at the adventurers and says, "Yes, we will catch them, and sooner or later, the wizard will run out of spells. He can't keep playing this game for ever."
"I think you're right," Wicklow says.
The Duke down at the deck for a moment. "You nearly had him. That was well cone."
"Thank you, sir," Wicklow says.
Marines bring timbers and sparkling gray sailcloth to the aft deck. The Duke orders a sailor to replace him at the helm, and instructs the marines in the erection of a spirit sailcloth cover for the helm and helmsman.
Through his binoculars, Wicklow watches Ahmahte looking straight back at him, or perhaps at the aft deck and the marines with their sailcloth and timbers. "He sees what we're doing."
The wizard turns away from the Surprise and heads towards the Shark.
"What's he going to do now?" Jack says.
"If I were him, I would be thinking about saving myself," Wicklow says.
"Why doesn't he just fly away?"
The two men look at the Shark through their binoculars. A square-rigged ship like their own, she has all her sails set, and leans to port as they do.
"Maybe he has more thunder-eggs on the ship," Wicklow says.
"I don't see why he would leave them behind if he had them."
"Maybe he needs to re-charge his flying spell."
"But they last all day," Jack says.
Behind them, the Duke shouts, "Marine company A below decks, bring up company B. Sailors, exchange crews as you can!"
Wicklow lowers his binoculars. "Well, I expect we'll find out."
Five minutes later, the Shark is noticeably closer. The wizard's flying contraption lifts off the deck and comes towards them. "Here he comes." Wicklow says.
"He's got someone with him," Jack says.
The wizard approaches quickly. The arrows are still bristling from the shield beneath him. There is another person seated next to him in the flying contraption.
"It's a woman!" Jack says, "He went back to get his girl!"
Amahte and the woman approach the ship.
"Steady as she goes, lads!" the captain calls.
There is a sudden flash of light off to the starboard side, and a loud crack.
The marines and sailors watch the wizard fly high over the sails, and away to the north-east. Jack looks at Wicklow and smiles, "He's escaping with the girl."
The wizards fades into the distance, dropping towards the surface of the water.
"So it would seem," Wicklow says.
The Surprise closes upon the Shark. When there are six hundred meters between them, a lonboat appears suddenly in the water, emerging from behind its starboard side. There are twenty or more pirates in the boat. Ten of them pull on the oars and drive the longboat straight into the wind. Another boat appears a few minutes later in the same way. Through their binoculars, Wicklow and Jack can see the pirates running around on deck. They appear to be in some confusion as they lower the remaining two longboats from the port side. The first one to strike the water does so violently, and pirates are jumping down into it, or diving into the water beside it. As six pirates try to pull themselves up over the side of one longboat, it tips over and capsizes. The Shark sails onwards, leaving the capsized boat in the water behind it. The fourth boat lands upon the water, fills with pirates, and begins to pull away to the west.
The Surprise closes rapidly upon the capsized longboat. The pirates manage to right it just as the frigate passes by, one hundred meters to the east. The remaining three longboats are now to the rear and starboard of the Surprise. The Duke examines the pirates in the water through his binoculars and then turns to the captain.
"Leave them, they'll be okay."
Half an hour later, the Surprise closes within grappling range of the Shark. There is nobody on deck. The helm is lashed in place with rope. The rigging is cleated off to the deck. Marines throw fourty grapnels onto her deck, and pull the two ships together. The Duke jumps onto the pirate ship, followed by fifty marines and fifty sailors. The sailors clamber up into the rigging. One carries a cloth bundle up to the crow's nest on the main mast. He pulls down Amahte's banner, a long, yellow rectangle with a heiroglyph in the center, and replaces it with the flag of Plantinak, a white flag with a green cross. The marines and sailors on both ships raise a loud cheer.
The Duke returns to the Surprise and stands upon the railing of the main deck, one hand on the rigging. "The Shark is ours!"
The sailors and marines cheer.
"She is a rich prize. First Mate Francis Cooke will captain her home. He will attempt to capture the pirates in the last of the longboats yonder." He points to the longboats to the north. "We will pursue the remainging three longboats. If the wind holds, I believe we will catch them."
Ten minutes later, the two ships are drifting apart even as they tack to the north-west. Wicklow, Jack, Jezel, and Quahiri move to the front of the Surprise. The longboats are just visible on the water several kilometers away, and only when waves do not hide them from sight. Three of the longboats have come together, and are moving west in a line. The fourth is a thousand meters behind, and four thousand to the north. As the two ships separate, the wind begins to change. It blows steadily from the south.
"That should help," Wicklow says.
They watch the longboats. With the wind in the south, the two ships surge forward. With five hours of daylight left, there seems no chance that the pirates will escape.
"Oh my," Jack says, "Look who's back." He points to the north-west.
Wicklow raises his binoculars. Across the water, from the north, he sees Amahte in his flying contraption, skimming the waves, with the woman sitting beside him. The wizard stops above the boats. They are still three kilometers distant, so our heroes cannot see exactly what is going on, but five minutes later, the three boats appear to be tied together in a line with ropes. Amahte sits alone in his flying contraption, tied to the leading boat, and pulling it.
The Surprise turns more to the west, heading across the wind. She picks up speed. The line of longboats is five kilometers due west of them. The Duke joins our heroes on the fore deck. He puts a telescope to his eyes and watches silently for several minutes. Our heroes remain silent, wondering what the Duke will say. But he says nothing. He folds up his telescope, turns, and walks back to the rear of the ship.
In the mid-afternoon, the Duke comes up on deck and says, "The Shark has captured the fourth longboat. The pirates surrendered without a fight. They were carrying a thousand guineas in jewelry and cash, so that's a little extra for all of us."
"He must have a bridge to the captain of the Shark," Wicklow says.
"I'm sure he does," Jack says, "if he has a court wizard."
"And," the Duke says, "Three pirates were hiding in the hold. They thought they could escape when we got home!"
The sailors laugh.
"Captain Cooke believes the Shark to be worth fifty thousand guineas, and her cargo to be worth another ten thousand. So we have done well today, all of us. Our months at sea have been worthwhile. Once again, Plantinak rules the waves!"
The marines and sailors cheer and throw things in the air.
The remaining three longboats, and the wizard himself, remain out of reach. Capatin Williams makes all effort to drive the Surprise after them. The ship leans to starboard. Sailors and marines line up upon the port side of the boat to help her along. Every sail is filled. The distance between the ship and the longboats closes, but not fast enough. When the sun goes down, three kilometers still separates them, and the longboats disappear into the darkness.
Throughout the night, the Surprise sails west, on the assumption that the longboats will go west also, heading for land. The wind turns to the south-west and drops to a light breeze. An hour after sunrise, the lookout sights the longboats four kilometers to the north. The Duke climbs up into the rigging to look for himself. Wicklow and Jack look through their binoculars. Quahiri and Jezel lie in their beds, sick again.
The wizard is still pulling the boats. Even as they watch, the longboats move away to the west. The Surprise cannot make more than a few kilometers per hour in this breeze, and so, at the last, the pirates and the wizard escape.
The Duke joins our heroes on the fore deck. He puts his hands upon the railing. "I wonder if he's loyal to his men, or to his treasure box."