Chasing Treasure: Part Three
They made sail under the last fringes of darkness, the rosy hue of dawn leeching into the sky above them. Bannok gripped the helm with white knuckled fingers and focussed on staying awake and vertical. Sam could handle the rest of the ship himself, and Niettah - so long as she wasn't getting in the way, that was all Bannok needed.
He spared her a glance once they were far enough out of the harbour that he could relax a bit. She was perched on a corner of the deck, her legs crossed at the ankles and her tail sitting neatly curled beneath her. She watched Sam checking the sails with an expression of polite disinterest, but Bannok would put money on her studying everything the lutari did with great care.
Sam thought she was going to sell them out the first chance she got.
Sam also thought that Fyora was biding her time before revealing her plan for world domination and that fish pops were one of the core five food groups that made up a balanced diet.
Bannok shook his head; she'd given them her piece of the map as promised, and she'd told them what she knew of where the other pieces were hiding. He might not trust her as a person, but he trusted that she wanted her one piece of treasure and would work with them to get it. That was enough.
That had to be enough; they didn't have much of a chance to take down the Comte by themselves.
"Cap'n?" Sam asked, swinging himself down to land next to Bannok with a soft thump. "We're sticking mighty close to the coast if we're headed for the Teeth."
With a shudder, Bannok jolted himself back into reality. "Villarica first," he said. Said, not slurred - he was tired, but he wasn't that tired. "There're some things I wanted to pick up before we go into the Teeth."
"Yeah, like a brain?" Sam mumbled.
"Sam what? It's the Teeth, Bannok. The ship sinkers. The graveyard at sea."
Bannok counted to ten for patience and pressed a hand against his ribs to quell the aching. "Yes," he said, once he was sure he wasn't going to shout it. "And one of those ships was carrying a piece of our map. So unless you've found another way of retrieving sunken treasure, we'll be going to the Teeth."
Sam's tail lashed in frustration. "But it's the Teeth," he repeated, as though the added emphasis would make Bannok finally see sense.
"So you've said," Bannok snapped. "Several times. But we don't have another lead, so we're following this one."
Sam subsided, his face falling into a hurt expression. Bannok sighed, regretting his outburst.
"Look," he said, voice dropping lower. "I'm not going into this blindly. There's a guy in Villarica - call him an old friend. He's been through the Teeth before."
Sam darted his gaze over to Niettah conspiratorially and hunched his shoulders. The effect was about as unsubtle as that screaming techo at the Altador cup. "Will he help?"
Bannok nodded. "But not," he added with relish, "until the evening. Harry doesn't believe in mornings." Which gave them most of the day once they'd reached Villarica to drop anchor and sleep. Bannok already felt remarkably well disposed towards the man.---
Harry, it turned out, was a woman - a tall, broad shouldered kougra with half an ear left and a permanent kink in her tail from one too many breaks badly set.
"You're Bannok?" she greeted, looming over the table he'd claimed. He nodded, hiding his surprise, and pushed forwards the tankard of grog he'd taken the liberty of ordering for her.
"Don't trouble yourself," she said, sinking into the seat opposite him. "I don't drink."
"Ah," Bannok stuttered, wishing he had Sam with him. He was never very good at the whole talking thing. "My, uh, my apologies ma'am - "
She cut him off with a frown. "None of that. I ain't never been no ma'am and I ain't never start. Now. Word is you're sailing the Teeth. Yes?"
"Yes." Bannok swallowed the ma'am that would have followed through sheer force of will.
"Ok." Harry leaned back in her seat, arms crossed. "Bannok." She stared at him for a long moment. Bannok resisted the urge to squirm in his seat like a guilty child. "I knew your ma, you know."
His heart skipped. "You did?"
"Mmm. I don't know you, but I know your ma ain't raised no fools. So." She rested her elbows on the table and fixed Bannok with a milky-eyed glare. "Whatever you're after, I want no part in it. If it goes south, I ain't responsible. Better folk than you have fallen to the Teeth. Yes?"
He wanted to ask about his mum, ask how Harry knew her. Something told him though that this wasn't the time. Somehow it never was the time. "Yes," he said instead.
Harry smiled, though it came across as more of a grimace. Then: "Delfins."
Bannok blinked. "Delfins?" he asked.
"Aye. Critters see with their ears. Echo-something. They get you through the Teeth, easy. Only things that can navigate that wretched hole."
Bannok nodded, a single slow tilt of his head. "Delfins," he repeated. "Ok, delfins. We can do that."
Harry snorted. "Sure," she said doubtfully.---
The Teeth. A patch of shallow sea in the shadow of an unremarkable stretch of coastline some way south of Altador. At high tide, it looked calm, safe - almost inviting, sheltered from the wind as it was by the headland. It was only when the tide was low that the jagged rocks and twisted, grasping dangers of the Teeth became visible. The rock field was littered with shipwrecks. They lay in fallen, rotting mounds, hulls torn open and masts shattered as the shifting tides ground them to pieces against the rocks. Rich picking for scavengers, if any dared to go looking. Few did.
Bannok kept his eyes trained on the delfins. The pair were tied to the bow on loose harnesses, their chattering and whistling the only sound in the eerily still waters other than the quiet splash of their paddles. The Arkmite was anchored as far from the Teeth as Bannok could reasonably justify; the canoe they were using now had been hired from one of Harry's contacts. She'd assured them that the light-weight craft was more stable than it looked and easy enough to right if they capsized it. It hadn't actually been that reassuring.
"Steady on the port side," he murmured as the delfins veered around a hidden obstacle.
"This would be so much easier if you'd let me swim the whole way," Sam groused as he adjusted his strokes.
Bannok ignored him. The Teeth had Sam on edge, and his insistence that they were walking blindly into a trap had him several strides beyond the edge. The sooner they found the map piece and leave this place the better for all of them.
"Captain." Niettah tilted a gestured with her head to one side. Bannok followed her gaze, taking a moment to pick out what she'd spotted. A shadowed mass, too smooth and rounded to be one of the rocks, and a stump of sea-weed covered wood, standing proud of the water - maybe part of a mast?
"I see it," he confirmed. "Sam?"
"Way ahead of you." He laid his paddle down with a soft thump and stripped off his jacket in the same motion. With an almost silent splash he slid into the water, surfacing almost immediately after with a grimace. "Nothing," he said. "I may as well be swimming through mud here. It's pitch black."
"Here." Bannok untied one the delfin's leashes and passed it down. Sam looped it around his wrist and snorted.
"Do you know how embarrassing this is? A lutari needing a petpet's help to swim. Never let this story get out, I'll be a laughing stock."
"We'll be sure not to laugh too loudly," Niettah said dryly. Sam shot her a glare and, with one last look at the mast to orientate himself, ducked under the water to follow the delfin.
"Any chance of you two actually getting along?" Bannok asked. He didn't really expect a positive answer.
"I-" Niettah cut herself off. Paused, swallowed, started again. "I can try," she finally said, though she sounded frustrated.
Bannok sighed. "Don't worry too much about it. He's... difficult to get along with."
Niettah turned to him, her mouth tugged down in an unhappy frown. "He seemed to make friends easily enough at Baeyren's," she said.
"They weren't invading his ship. And they were friends with Sam the royal trombone player, not Sam the pirate - it's different."
She nodded, a spark of understanding lighting up her features. "I apologise," she said simply. "It was not my intention to make him feel threatened."
Bannok paused. For all his charms and easy rapport, Sam liked to keep people at a distance. It had been just the two of them for so long, them against the world. Bannok had half forgotten what it was like to be friendly and open without a hidden agenda, a con to pull off, a secret to hide; Sam had never known it.
It pained Bannok, sometimes, that Sam viewed everyone they met as a potential enemy in waiting. But on the other hand, his brother's wary suspicion and cynical distrust had saved them from more than one sticky situation - and in the end, Sam had him. As long as they stayed together, what more did either of them need?
"Threatened?" he asked, keeping his voice intentionally light. "An odd conclusion for a noble woman to come to, isn't it?"
Niettah snorted inelegantly. "Hardly noble," she corrected, the slightest sneer of disgust slipping into her tone. "You can't have thought the Lady Antionette was real, did you?"
"The Lady Antionette?" Bannok repeated with a grin. "Is that what you've been calling yourself? It suits you, your pink floofiness."
She stuck her nose in the air with an exaggerated sniff. "I should have you in chains for such an insult."
"Please," Bannok scoffed. "Like you could find a lock that would hold me."
The delfin still tied to the bow of the canoe started whistling, spinning in a series of tight circles. Bannok sat forwards, ears perked up as he scanned the water for Sam's return. He tabled the questions he still had for Niettah - there would be time later to find out how she'd seen through Sam so easily.
A small fountain of bubbles, and Sam broke the surface. He shook his head to clear the water from his ears and passed up the second delfin's leash.
"Any luck?" Bannok asked hopefully.
"Not sure. It's big - three masts, I think. I'd say it was one of them square riggers the navy favours, but I couldn't find any cannons. It's been there a while though. Whole sections have rotted away - the cannons could easily have sunk deeper and we'd never know."
Bannok glanced at Niettah. They were running on her description of the ship they were looking for, she'd best be able to tell if this was it.
"Was there a bow sprit?" she asked, brow furrowed as she thought.
Sam shrugged. "If there was, it's long gone. There's something there though, might be a figurehead. Something with a tail, maybe."
Niettah nodded. "A fountain faerie," she said, and Bannok's heart leapt.
"Yeah," Sam grinned. "Yeah, could be. Easy. We finally got the right one?"
She returned his grin with a smaller but no less excited smile of her own. "It seems likely."
Sam's grin faltered suddenly, as though he'd just realised who it was he was sharing his victory with. He shot Niettah an uneasy glance and turned to Bannok instead.
"What do you say, Captain?" he asked. "Shall we go for it?"
Bannok shifted forwards, already readying the delfins to go. "Lead the way," he said, and Sam whooped as he turned to do just that.
To be continued…