The Scarab and the Sea: Part Three
Tomos looked around the deck of the Sea Queen at the sailors preparing for a battle with pirates, wishing that any second he would wake up and it would have all turned out to be a nightmare. He looked around – Saiban, Jaryth, and Origen were all standing stock-still in the middle of the deck, trying not to get in anyone's way, so he walked over to them.
Saiban asked, "Captain, are we going to join the fight?"
Origen and Jaryth looked at the Kyrii askance. Tomos said, "Of course. They wouldn't be in this patch of ocean now if it weren't for us. And I know you're all good fighters. I've seen you practicing." It was true. Even though Origen was a colossal pain in the tail, Tomos was glad to have the big Grarrl and his spear on their side.
Saiban said, "Good."
Tomos was slightly irritated that the Kyrii had been testing him, but at least he'd passed. He practiced a few simple blocks with his sword – with his own limited experience, the best he could do was hold off a villain until someone else came to aid him. While staying on the ship. Staying on the ship would be good.
The Krawken's Eye was looming ever closer – now Tomos could see the nightmarish tentacle-bedecked beast emblazoned on the sail. It was far, far bigger than the Sea Queen, and the oars out the sides made it look like some massive insect. Tomos shuddered. This wasn't going to end well.
Captain Friedrich sighed. "I've had pirates coming at me before. Never gets easier, I can tell you."
Jaryth offered lightly, "Well, I had a giant flaming demon coming at my platoon once, and I still think that ship looks creepier than a mutant Meepit howling at the moon."
Then Tomos could see a pirate with a megaphone – a nasty-looking Quiggle – climb onto the front of the Krawken's Eye. He shouted, "Captain Galliard claims victory through superior force of arms! However, your ship and your crew will be allowed to depart these waters unharmed if you turn over the persons of Tomos, Origen, Jaryth, and Saiban!"
Origen growled, "Why, that yellow-bellied, scraggly-tailed little nuisance – he knew he couldn't take us by himself, so he found a few hundred buddies to back him up!"
Tomos looked down at his feet. The cabin boy scurried up to Captain Friedrich with his own megaphone, and their captain shouted back, "I am Captain Friedrich of the Sea Queen! If you speak to me only through a lackey, I must say I don't think much of you!"
The Quiggle was pulled back, and a pirate Draik in a long coat took the megaphone. "Here I am, then, Captain. And your choices are very simple. Turn over the desert footpads, or we fight, your ship will be sunk, your crew will be imprisoned, and we'll have the desert footpads anyway."
Tomos looked at the others – Jaryth looked sick, Origen looked furious, and Saiban merely watched impassively.
Friedrich said, "I'm not cowed by pirates. We aren't going to just hand you over without a fight."
But Tomos noticed several of the crew members looking at them doubtfully. Friedrich only had ten sailors besides his passengers, and there were probably over a hundred pirates on the Krawken's Eye.
He looked around at his three fellow soldiers – he wouldn't have dared make a decision for all of the Scarabs by himself, and he wouldn't do it for them, either. "What do you think we should do?"
Saiban sighed. "It would be a farce. A ridiculous effort."
Tomos nodded. "I know. We're in trouble anyway, and I think there's no use in dragging the Sea Queen down with us. But I'm not going to hand over anyone who doesn't want to be handed over."
Origen crossed his arms. "I'm not having anyone say a thief outdid me."
Jaryth nodded. "It's going to end the same way anyway, and this way Captain Friedrich can at least let the people back in Sakhmet know what happened to us."
Tomos tried to be brave. None of the Scarabs would have wanted him to be a coward. "We'll figure out something. We'll live through this. By surrendering, we're buying ourselves some time. They're pirates. If they just wanted us gone, they'd have started fighting already. While we're alive, we've got some hope."
Captain Friedrich looked at him oddly. "You really see it that way, Captain Tomos?"
Tomos shrugged. "As Origen so frequently points out, I've spent most of my life as a street thief. You learn that as long as you're still breathing, you can work out the rest." That was how Nabile and Zina talked – they had always been the voices of reason when the boys were downcast.
Saiban nodded. "It's as the desert traders say. The palm tree bends in the sandstorm, and continues to flourish, while the stone stands firm and is scoured away."
Jaryth sighed. "Well, looks like we're about to get a close-up of a pirate ship. Captain Friedrich, make sure someone tells my parents I love them."
The others briefly whispered messages in Captain Friedrich's ear, but Tomos didn't. What could he say to Nabile and the other Scarabs? They'd know. They'd know that he'd tried to do his duty, that he hadn't given up, that he'd looked out for his comrades – they'd know, because that was how he'd always treated them. The words wouldn't mean the same thing coming from some messenger who may not even have known Tomos.
And Tomos still fully intended to say anything he wanted to say to the Scarabs in person. The Krawken's Eye loomed like a shadow from a nightmare, but Tomos steeled himself. He'd keep these people alive. He'd get them off that boat.
So he took the megaphone from Friedrich. "Thank you ever so much for the invitation, Captain Galliard. We're thrilled to come aboard."
Origen elbowed him as the soldiers climbed into the Queen's little lifeboat. "Making fun of the pirates. Good idea, thief."
Tomos retorted, "A little levity never hurt anyone."
"A pirate's sword did, though."
Jaryth hissed through his clenched beak, "Now is not the time for this!"
They untied the rope holding the lifeboat onto the ship, and immediately currents swirled around them, carrying them closer to the pirate ship. Saiban looked over the edge. "This isn't natural. They've got a mage."
Now Tomos did wish that Nabile was here. Because if she were here, she would probably have multiple ways to summon King Jazan, who could eat some pirate sorcerer for breakfast.
But Tomos had no way to summon a sorcerer – he'd just have to work with the other three and find something they could do.
There was a ladder thrown over the side of the Krawken's Eye – Tomos looked behind them and saw that the Sea Queen was drifting away already, probably moved by the same poxy mage dragging them in. Tomos took the lead, getting ready for something nasty to happen at the top.
There was a small clear space for them to climb over the rail, and then a large number of big, heavily muscled, tattooed, angry-looking pirates all bristling with weapons. Tomos knew the scimitar at his side wouldn't do him one bit of good. If he was going to get out of this, it was going to have to be by using his wits, and then keeping them all alive long enough to get to shore so they could jump ship.
And then the Pirate Draik, Galliard, pushed through the crowd, with Kipras at his tail.
Origen snarled, "Kipras, you scrawny little fleabait traitor, get rid of all these thieving scum and fight like a man!"
Galliard put his hands on his hips. "Down, boy! I don't wish to argue with dumb muscle. I want to speak to your leader." Tomos was certain he didn't imagine the sneer as the Draik's one good eye turned to him. Tomos drew himself up straight, remembering how Nabile got when people questioned her newfound queenliness. "We are ambassadors of Sakhmet. You have stolen from us and waylaid us. What do you want from us?"
Galliard informed them, "We have all we want. We have the gems for our master's crown. You four are merely... tidying up loose ends."
Jaryth murmured desperately, "I don't want to get tidied!"
Kipras suggested, "The master may want to hold them for ransom. For some bizarre reason, the Queen of Qasala is friends with the scraggly Lupe."
Tomos couldn't help but snap, "You want to see scraggly, look in a mirror."
The nasty Quiggle spokesman was short, but heavily muscled. He advanced on Jaryth. "Sweeten that tongue, or this one'll be taking a saltwater bath."
Jaryth said in a panicked stream, "I can't swim I can't swim I can't swim I can't swim!"
All of the pirates laughed, and Galliard pulled the Quiggle back. "Enough of that, Thier. Lock these four in the hold until we decide what's to be done with them."
As they were roughly escorted to the depths of the ship, Tomos went over what had been said. Galliard had referred to "gems for his master's crown." The sailor aboard the Sea Queen had said that he was one of Scarblade's lieutenants.
So maybe they were meant for the demon pirate. This wasn't good. And what was Scarblade doing with a crown? Oh, Tomos had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that this was not only not good, but that it wasn't finished getting bad.
But they were alive, and on a ship that was presumably headed for land. That was a start.
They were pushed without ceremony into what felt like a closet, and Tomos hit his head hard on the wood. "Ow! Sweet Fyora!"
The door was shut behind them as they grumbled and adjusted their positions. Jaryth said, "Well, we're alive. Do we have a plan?"
Tomos said, "Of course not. We figure those things out as we go along."
Origen asked, "Can the plan involve thrashing Kipras?"
Tomos admitted, "I'm torn between thrashing him ourselves and dragging him in front of King Jazan to see what he gets turned into."
Jaryth sighed. "What I wouldn't give for a sorcerer!"
Saiban counseled, "It's better to focus on what we do have."
Origen snorted. "Not much."
And as Tomos looked around the darkness of their little cell, he was inclined to side with the Grarrl on this one.
To be continued...