The Scarab and the Sea: Part Six
Tomos hefted the cutlass he'd been given experimentally – it was a little different than the scimitar he'd learned how to use in the desert, but similar enough that he shouldn't have an issue with it. He'd also been lent some spare clothes by various crewmembers, since his Sakhmet military-issue tunic was destroyed even by thief standards, and he had to admit that he looked every inch the pirate. At least he adamantly refused to get an earring. That was something to keep him from looking like a lawless ocean hoodlum, as opposed to a lawless street thief.
Lura asked, "What are you thinking?"
He sighed. He was wishing Nabile or Horace were here to bounce ideas off, or Bokan, Zina, Raq, and Yari to lend their support. But he wasn't going to admit that to Lura – the crew of the Black Pawkeet had been kind to him, and they reminded him enough of the cheerful criminality of his childhood to make him feel a little homesick. And while he didn't have the Scarabs, Lura definitely had a brain in her head. "I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to get through all this with my tail still attached."
Garin sidled up, flicking his own Usul tail. "Something about tails?"
Tomos snorted. "Never mind, yours is probably far more at risk than my own."
Garin caught Tomos with a sideswipe of the aforementioned tail, catching him off-balance. Lura teased, "Dignified, O Honored Captain."
Garin said, "I'm a pirate. I don't need to be dignified."
Tomos laughed. Then he asked, "Do we have any idea of how many Scarblade has on his side?"
Jacques strolled over to join them. As he took out his sword and began to polish it, he said, "Too many. We'll never win this by force – we've called for Maraquan reinforcements, but we'll still need to pave a way for them with our wits."
Tomos nodded. "Sneaking, then." He was looking forward to the opportunity to do some honest, on-land sneaking – he'd gotten pretty good at clambering around the rigging, but he still preferred stone. "I can handle sneaking."
Lura grinned. "You'll have to teach us all how to sneak, then." Tomos had told them all about the Desert Scarabs, and his own upbringing living by his wits. He'd been right that in this place it would serve him far better to emphasize the thief he had been rather than the newly-made officer of the law.
Not that he was all that comfortable with being the officer of the law himself. It was nice being among the pirates – even though they were a tawdry pack of thieves, they still seemed more honest to Tomos than the nobles and the officials of Sakhmet, who acted like they had nothing better to do with their time than scheming and sneering and politicking. Nabile said that the nobles in Qasala, while irritating, still weren't as bad as their Sakhmeti counterparts – but, of course, it was far less dangerous to irritate Princess Amira than it was to attempt the same with King Jazan.
He shook his head to clear it. Origen, Jaryth, and Saiban weren't among cheery plunderers like the sailors of the Pawkeet – the pirates that fought for Scarblade were brutes to their heartless cores. They weren't learning how to raise sails or do other sea-chores or trading songs and stories over dinner. They were prisoners, fearing for their lives, and Tomos and this motley band were the only ones around to rescue them. Garin said, "Gregoire and Bill are in flight, looking for sign of land. I was coming over to tell you that Liassak says we'll be there before nightfall."
Tomos suggested, "Should we send scouts ashore first, to figure out how we can mount an attack? I'll volunteer." If he got caught, he'd be with his fellow Sakhmeti again. They wouldn't know any of the sailors of the Pawkeet from Lady Nuria, and wouldn't trust them farther than they could throw them, but if Tomos was with them they might be able to cause some trouble.
Garin nodded. "Sound idea. Best not to ask for more trouble than we know how to fight."
Lura asked, "Can I come? Please? Please?"
Jacques said, "We need the medic here on the ship."
Lura protested, "But Jim knows medicine, too, and if you get hurt on the island Scarblade's not going to patch you up. You'll need me with you if it goes south."
Garin nodded slowly. "You may have a point there. And you're good with a sword. But I also think that either you or I ought to go, Jacques. We'll need someone there who can give orders, and we're pretty good at guessing each other's plans. I'll go."
Jacques frowned. "Scarblade hates you."
"Scarblade hates both of us and anyone who's ever associated with either of us. That doesn't mean we ought to hang back and leave the danger to the others. I trust you to keep the ship running, and I think if I'm there, I'll make a better distraction."
Jacques protested, "But..."
Garin sighed. "Jacques, I think this is the best way to handle this. Please, please, please don't make me give you an order as captain. Lura, Tomos, and I will do fine."
So that afternoon, after Bill had come back to tell them how far away land was, Tomos got into a lifeboat with Lura and Garin. The two pirates each took an oar, and Tomos sat in the middle, since he was more likely to get in the way than anything else. The rowing was hard work, and his companions soon were breathing too heavily to talk or sing.
He was technically the lookout, so he looked over the ocean, trying not to imagine how deep it was, and what monsters might only be separated from them by this pathetic little dinghy. He wouldn't trust this thing on the slow-moving River Sakh, let alone the open sea.
And then, Garin's spyglass in hand, he noticed a black sail on the horizon. He peered at it, since he'd been told that different pirate ships flew different insignias. "What would a bundle of three daggers on a sail mean?"
Garin responded, "That would be Benny the Blade's ship... Oh, sweet Fyora, do you see that? Give me that!" He snatched the spyglass out of Tomos's hand. "Sweet Fyora, sweet Fyora, they're on course to run straight into the Pawkeet!"
Tomos's stomach sunk, remembering how the Krawken's Eye had loomed up over the poor Sea Queen. "How bad is that going to be?"
Lura cried, "It's Benny the Blade! He's Scarblade's right-hand man!"
That was all he needed to hear to know that this wouldn't be good at all. Tomos tried to think. He didn't know enough about Scarblade yet, so he had to ask, "Might he try to hold them captive? To lure you in?"
Garin took a deep breath. "We'll have to hope. We can't go back – the three of us won't make any difference. We'll only be captured alongside them. We need to keep going. But where is Scarblade getting all these ships, all these sailors? You'd think there wouldn't be that many people in the world who were that unprincipled."
Tomos looked down at his feet. He'd liked the sailors of the Pawkeet, and now they were in trouble. Did he attract disaster? Out of the three ships he'd sailed on, all had ended up attacked.
He didn't like the feeling creeping up on him – the feeling that there was something very big and very nasty going on, and that he was getting sucked straight into the middle of the whole mess. So he rested his hands on his knees and waited until they got to shore, trying to resist the urge to twitch. If only there were something he could do – he felt like he was being buffeted around like a grain of sand in the wind, powerless to do anything but try and make the best of whatever situation he found himself in.
Maybe when they reached the shore on Scarblade's island, and he had solid ground under his feet again, he'd finally be able to make his stand.
They heard cannon-fire in the distance – Lura whimpered once, then glared down at the oar, and Garin clenched his jaw. It didn't last long – they'd continued to row toward land, aided now by the tide, and now Tomos couldn't see any of the sails through his spyglass. Still, he knew what the others were thinking. Unless Queen Fyora herself had appeared on the deck of the ship and put a stop to the battle, the sailors of the Black Pawkeet were now prisoners.
Day was fading as they made landfall on a broad beach, beyond which was thick jungle underbrush. The three of them dragged the lifeboat into that underbrush to hide it. Lura asked, "So what do we do now?"
Tomos responded, realizing slightly too late that Garin was supposed to be the one in charge, "We figure out where Scarblade's hiding."
Garin added without any sign of offense, "We'll follow the coastline. He's got all these ships – he has to have someplace to put them when they bring him treasure."
Tomos looked at the dark, ominous jungle in front of them – it was almost worse than the ocean. Greenery had no business being squeezed that tightly together, and the scent of flowers and earth was so rich it made his eyes water. There were three of them. Three of them, against this dark, wild island that could be holding any number of pirates. He looked up at the low, cone-shaped mountain in the center of it. He knew what that/ was, at least – he'd seen pictures. Hopefully the volcano spirits were sleeping, or they were in trouble no one in Neopia would be able to rescue them from. He sighed, and pinched his arm. It hurt. He was awake. He'd known this was all too detailed to be a nightmare. He said, "Well, it's not going to get darker, less scary, or less likely to eat us, so we might as well start moving."
Garin laughed – Tomos could at least be glad of cheering him up. Lura said, "I'm with him – let's get moving."
Tomos froze, but not until he had his cutlass in hand.
Out of the jungle came three figures – one was a fairly young Bori, another a brown-haired Usul woman, and the third was swathed in a black cloak, but was clearly a Gelert by his ears. Both the Usul and Bori had bows with arrows ready, and the Gelert held a long knife like one who was clearly accustomed to using it.
The Usul said, "You should have known better than to leave your gang. Trying to sneak off with more than your fair share of your treasure?"
Tomos realized in horror that these three thought they were pirates. Well, Garin and Lura were pirates, but not Scarblade's type of pirate! These three were probably on their side, but unless they could be convinced of that quickly... He had to try and stall, to buy Garin and Lura time to think of something better. "We're not what you think we are! Benny the Blade just took our ship!"
The Gelert snorted. "Sure. I can smell pirate from a mile off, and cowardly pirate is even riper."
Lura squeaked, "Coward? Who're you calling a coward, you sneaking fool?"
Garin hissed, "Lura! Don't bait the folks who're pointing arrows at us!"
Tomos said, "If you'll just give us a little time, I'm certain we can work all of this out." It didn't matter how bad the stalling was – he'd said some really stupid stuff before when Nabile needed to get clear of people she'd just pickpocketed. The point was to buy some time in which no one was getting arrested.
And then a voice asked out of the undergrowth, "Tomos?"
To be continued...