“Not on your life,” said the Captain. He had a face like cracked masonry, weathered by many a blast of ocean spray, and a heavily salted beard so matted it looked like he’d stuck his chin in an albatross nest several decades ago. So it was difficult for Midengar to take him entirely seriously, but he folded his arms and stood fast despite the see-sawing deck. “Not on mine either.”
Seabirds circled ominously overhead, as though looking to recover their lost nesting material.
“Why, my dear Captain,” argued Midengar, summoning forth all the charm of his Elven ancestors, “it is a little late for reticence. You have taken me this far and I made no secret of our destination.”
“Yes, well, you paid a handsome sum. Up front, I might add. And I, for my part, neglected to mention I had it in mind to drop you off at this point and let you swim the rest of the way.” To his credit, he seasoned this confession with a look of apology.
Midengar Thrope eyed the chop and churn of the waves over the side, a swollen mass of angrier and lonelier greys than any to be found in the Captain’s beard. He patted his chainmail shirt. “But, my dear Captain, I could not possibly swim in my armour. And it would be foolhardy indeed to venture into that place without weapons or equipment.”
He gestured past the lurching bowsprit, but the Captain refused to even glance in that direction. But everyone on board had already seen the gloomy edifices transforming a stretch of the horizon into a saw’s edge. They all knew what awaited them there.
“Tis madness with or without. And I am not mad, sir. I am sane enough to turn this ship about afore we go another yard towards that accursed place.”
He cupped a hand to his mouth, ready to shout the order to his crew. Most were scattered about the deck and rigging, waiting in silence and very likely praying for this very decision.
“But,” protested Midengar with all the serenity for which his Elven ancestors were famous, “we had a gentlemen’s agreement.”
“True,” admitted the Captain gruffly. “But I aint no gentleman. And I’m not sure as how you’d qualify neither, with them pointed ears and all.”
“I wouldn’t stand for that,” said Midengar’s sword.
“Eh?” The Captain blinked and searched the immediate vicinity. Midengar merely sighed and rolled his eyes at the clouds. His not-so-trusty blade had been mercifully quiet for the voyage, possibly owing more to a spot of seasickness than the fact that Midengar had asked it nicely before they had left port to ‘keep it zipped’. Now that it had piped up, Midengar was feeling faintly queasy, but that had nothing to do with the heaving seas.
He had a niggling suspicion that the weapon, bored with long days cooped up in its sheath, was spoiling for a fight. Still, he could not deny that the sword – pun unintended – had a point.
Midengar sighed and drew the weapon. It flashed eagerly at the Captain’s throat.
“Careful! You’ll get me tangled up in that thicket!”
Midengar sighed again and inched the tip away from the mass of beard. The crew were still frozen in mid-gasp and the Captain hadn’t even had time to properly unfold his arms. He stood there now, all awkward and flummoxed, not knowing where to put them.
“Allow me to introduce,” said Midengar, “the Whispering Blade of Alchemis.”
The Captain blanched a shade that suggested he had heard something of the longsword’s reputation. That was just the sort of fame – or infamy – that would go straight to the sword’s pommel. The pommel being the part of the weapon that Midengar tended to think of as its head. Its makers had, thank the ancestral gods, neglected to give it a face but, in their finite wisdom, had carved the semblance of a mouth in the pommel. If one watched as it spoke, it could even be observed flexing those metallic lips. But Midengar never did, because whether speaking or resting, the mouth’s repertoire of expressions was limited to a range of condescending smirks, every one of them as grating as its interminably snooty – and never once whispering – tone.
It was a feature somehow always less widely known than its fighting prowess. The Captain’s initial fear was giving way to irritability, but that was exclusively down to having the tip of the blade waved in his face.
“What then?” he demanded, all red-faced and glowery. “D’ you plan on killing us all?”
“If necessary,” said the sword.
“That won’t be necessary,” insisted Midengar. He gestured at the bowsprit which, like a compass point, still aimed resolutely north – despite all its lunging up and down. “We need only sail a little further and we shall all be within reach of the isle’s sorcerous influence. Your crew will have no choice but to succumb.”
“All the more reason to get out of here! Now!” He shot furious looks at the nearest sailors. They were a rum lot – the kind of crew for whom the word ‘motley’ had been devised – and their mood was making them a darn sight uglier.
“None of you move!” warned the blade, which quivered menacingly despite Midengar’s steady hand.
He really wished his blade wouldn’t take the lead in these situations. What was needed was some demonstrative action, to confirm the change of management and give these idle deckhands something to do. “It really would be best if you did what my sword says. In fact, better than that, two of you come forward and tie your Captain to the main mast. I am taking temporary command of your vessel. Only until we get to shore – and then you’ll all be free to go.”
In truth, he might have need of their help to facilitate his own getaway, but it was important to sweeten the current deal with a decent severance package. Even if only a few of them believed they might leave the island so easily, they might be persuaded to co-operate for the time being.
Slowly, grudgingly, two of the men moved forward to seize their (ex) captain by the arms, while another fetched a coil of rope. The Captain bruised the air cruelly with curses and even some of the hardiest sailors visibly flinched, but he elected to forego the indignity of a physical struggle. At least his men, rather than Midengar, were the targets for the murderous looks he threw liberally about the deck.
When the fellow was securely lashed to the mast, Midengar relaxed. He put up his sword and favoured the obliging shipmates with a smile.
“Thank you. I’m glad we could come to a peaceful – ”
“You’re all damned fools!” the Captain growled at his crew. “Once we reach that shore, you’ll all be under the curse and this fair ship’ll be broken! There’ll be no going free!”
“You idiot. You didn’t think to gag the man?” The Whispering Blade of Alchemis sounded more disparaging than usual. What was worse, Midengar had to berate himself for overlooking such a simple detail.
A surly mob of sailors surged forward, with more behind them, pouring up from the main deck and swarming down from the rigging. Those that weren’t wielding cutlasses grabbed mops, boathooks and even one or two buckets. Roaring, they didn’t look like they’d stop at throwing him overboard.
Midengar whipped out the sword again and braced himself for battle – and a lecture.
[To Be Continued…]