The Scarab and the Sea: Part Two
Tomos walked along the wharf in Port Ailaka, looking at the ships with a deeply skeptical eye. He was a desert-dweller to the bones, and he didn't like the idea of that much water underneath his feet. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide – those things were deathtraps.
The four of them had split up – Saiban had said that he had some contacts in Port Ailaka that he would talk to, while Tomos was going to meet the captain of the Saribanda and see how long he could wait.
He knew where it was supposed to be on the dock. But as he walked up to the mooring, with a sinking heart he realized that there was no boat. He looked around and asked, "Where'd the Saribanda go?"
A green Bori selling some sort of fizzy drink from a covered cart said, "Captain Thoron left just at dawn. In quite a hurry, he was. I saw it all. A shadow Wocky came running up all a mess, shouting that they'd been betrayed and that he had the key to their mission and they needed to leave because he was being followed."
If Kipras had been in front of Tomos right now, the Lupe would not have allowed himself to be held accountable for his actions. The brazen traitor – not only had he stolen the jewels, but he'd stolen the ship!
Was he going to take them to Meridell? He couldn't. There wasn't enough glory to be had in this mission for one man to claim it all, and it would be far too easy for his former fellows to denounce him. No, he had some other goal. But the Saribanda was headed toward Brightvale. Was his contact in Brightvale? What was Kipras's game?
Tomos knew that they had to keep following Kipras, and that meant that they'd have to arrange passage on another ship. But they'd arranged to meet up at an inn that Saiban knew at noon – Tomos was fairly sure that the old Kyrii knew the ins and outs of every city in the desert. He'd only joined the guards later in life – he'd been a desert trader before.
Tomos thought about trying to find a captain who was willing to head that way before he returned back, to have something better to show for his morning. But he didn't know anything about hiring a ship – that had been Jaryth's job. He'd have to wait until noon when everyone else arrived at their meeting place, even though it chafed to let Kipras get any farther ahead. So he walked back to the inn, wishing he could run, climb, chase, and not stop until he'd caught that Wocky by the tail. He had one big chance to prove that he could be more than just a scruffy street thief, and he wasn't going to allow Kipras to destroy it for him.
That thought unnerved him. He'd never thought of himself as more than a scruffy street thief before, even now that he was a captain. But as it was, he hadn't stolen so much as a crumb of bread since he'd saved the princess's life. He wasn't a thief anymore, even though he was still a Scarab – he would always be a Scarab, and the tattoo on his arm confirmed that.
He sighed, shook his head to clear it, and turned to walk back to the inn, hoping that the others planned to get there early.
Jaryth hit his head against the table repeatedly. "He convinced the captain to leave without us? How in Nuria's name..."
Tomos said, "The Bori vender saw it – said that Kipras was going crazy and saying that he was being followed."
Origen growled, "He's going to be followed, all right – by my fist!"
Saiban soothed, "Violence will solve nothing, Origen. The matter is simple. We must follow Kipras and reclaim the treasures he stole. If they are not given to the Three Kingdoms, King Skarl, King Hagan, and Lord Darigan may see our failure as a sign of hostility – they may believe that Sakhmet and Qasala purposefully withheld the jewels in order to lessen the cost of the alliance, and a cheap alliance is often one that the allies intend to betray. Thus, instead of a greater strength, we may face mistrust and war."
Tomos said, "The Saribanda is headed for Brightvale. We need to find another ship going that way."
Jaryth said, "We have access to the royal treasury for this mission – we could also find a small ship and charter it."
Saiban suggested, "We'll do whichever comes to hand the most quickly."
By midafternoon, Jaryth had found a small ship dubbed the Sea Queen whose captain wasn't currently on a job. Tomos paid Captain Friedrich, a tall green Tonu, out of the purse they'd been given for the mission. All of the men Princess Amira had sent to deliver the gems were used to living rough, and they could do without.
Was that why she'd picked this group? Tomos had wondered about them, since none of them looked like well-turned-out diplomatic types. They seemed an odd band to choose for an important international mission. But had someone had a feeling that this would all go south? Had they been picked for their ability to keep going even when everything was dissolving into sand?
Friedrich was willing to leave quickly, and so they had set out with his crew before the sun set. Tomos watched warily as the docks disappeared behind them. He didn't like being on the open water, and he liked what it did to his stomach even less. He shut his eyes at the rail and thought about sand, Scamanders, and all the sanity of dry land.
One of the crew members laughed. "Look at you! We aren't even out of harbor yet!"
Origen snorted. "Real dignified, O Captain."
Tomos was in no mood to hold his tongue. "Shut up, you dumb thug."
He realized a second too late that that had been a mistake, when the short-tempered Grarrl hauled him away from the rail by his shirtfront. "Call me that again, will you? Try it."
Tomos knew how to break a hold like that – he twisted away. "If you try any nonsense like that again, I'll be calling you insubordinate. Mutinous if you like, since we're out in the water. And then everyone'll be calling you prisoner."
He hated to threaten like that, but sweet Fyora, Origen wasn't giving him any other choice! Tomos was the one in charge here, and he couldn't let it look as though he was cowed by him.
Origen sneered, "Those are some big words, Captain."
Tomos turned around – he didn't want to look at Origen, or he'd say something that he'd regret. "Captain Friedrich, is there any way to know if a ship leaves this route?"
Jaryth said, "Captain Thoron is a loyal man. He'd be more likely to have Kipras locked up than turn on his orders."
"But what if he were forced to?"
Captain Friedrich shook his head. "Takes far more than one man to take over a ship. Your Kipras would only get hurt trying a trick like that."
Tomos wandered back to the rail, watching the sun begin to sink over the rapidly receding desert shore. It seemed likely that Kipras was still taking the gems to Brightvale – whatever he meant to do with them there. Captain Friedrich assured them that the Sea Queen was faster than the Saribanda, and they might even catch up to her before she made landfall.
Why did they call ships "she"? Ships didn't look like girls. Ships looked like elaborate buckets.
Tomos sighed as he looked at the rolling sea – if he wasn't mistaken, the waves were only getting bigger. He hoped fervently for good weather. This was bad enough, and in a storm at sea there would be nowhere to run or hide.
That was the thing about the sea – the lack of space. Tomos was used to running – even when he wasn't running for his life from angry shopkeepers, he'd sometimes jog down streets just to burn off energy. Here, he felt like he was trapped in a bowl.
So was Kipras. That was the thing. If they could catch up with the Saribanda, Kipras would have nowhere to go. He had to remind himself of that.
Two mornings later, Tomos went to the front of the ship – he couldn't remember whether it was the bow or the stern or the port or whatever the nautical term was supposed to be – in order to get away from Origen. He wished he had Nabile here. She'd be able to make him laugh at Origen instead of getting angry. But she was too important to send on an early diplomatic mission, or to risk on a sea voyage. One of the main purposes of the gems, besides giving powerful gifts to potential allies, was to allow King Jazan to anchor a transportation spell so he could bring all the royalty to Brightvale by magic.
That was when he noticed the mark on the horizon. "What's that?"
One of the crewmen, a starry Eyrie, narrowed his eyes. "No islands around here – it's a ship." He took out a spyglass and held it up. "Looks like she's sailing toward us – oh, sweet Fyora!"
Tomos asked, heart sinking into his sandals, "What does 'oh, sweet Fyora' mean?"
The Eyrie said, "It's the Krawken's Eye, headed by Captain Galliard – one of Scarblade's lieutenants."
Tomos's heart was now so low it was on the ocean floor. Tales of Scarblade and his brutality had reached even as far as Sakhmet.
The sailor shouted, "Krawken's Eye!Krawken's Eye! Prepare to be boarded! The Krawken's Eye is sailing right toward us!"
Tomos asked, "What do we do?"
The Eyrie pulled out a short sword. "We fight."
Tomos nodded grimly, and drew his own scimitar. "We fight."
To be continued...