Ounta

ounta_card_2_pngAen crouched in the brush, surveying the path that curved between massive redwood trunks and lesser conifers. The young hunter, no longer a child but still absent a beard, concealed himself beside a rotten and shattered pine. Having been there since dawn, dusk now deepened the shadows that filtered down from the towering forest canopy above.

Green eyes still focused on the path, Aen’s finger touched the knapped flint head of his best throwing spear. He left the weapon on the ground beside his knee to glance at the ash wood shaft of his second javelin. It leaned upright against the stump, beside a stout fighting spear.

Aen heard a shift in the birdsongs around him, and turned a keen ear to listen as the calls fell silent one-by-one. His gaze returning to path and forest, the growing hush was interrupted by a chittering treetop squirrel. He saw it drop a pinecone to the ground before skittering branch to branch.

His tanned limbs and back moved with a controlled, lean strength. Shifting his squat in a buckskin loincloth, Aen licked a finger and tested the air. Confirming he was still downwind of the path, he crouched deeper in the leaves and took hold of the spear on the forest floor beside him.

Slow, padded footfalls barely disturbed the carpet of orange pine needles upon the animal path. Yet Aen heard their approach, and eyed the bend that disappeared around a great redwood trunk.

She rounded past the tree, and Aen drew a breath of awe and fear at the entrance of the great cat.

Tartara strode fully into view, the broken neck of a deer carcass clamped in her teeth. The buck would have taken two men to carry, and she held it aloft like a toy. As massive as a bear, the thick shouldered tigress stalked up the path with a smooth grace no ursid could match.

She was as grand and terrible as in any fireside story ever told of her. All the tribe could recount the tale of Tartara —of how the old chief and his five best hunters had dared to rescue an infant at the mercy the demon tigress. And how all but the one hunter escaping with the baby had paid with their lives.

Coming from such bloodshed, the child was named Aen, ‘ill omen’. Never fully accepted, he now scrutinized the approaching saber-toothed fangs that had haunted and shaped his life.

Even safely hidden, the young hunter fought back a tremble and the urge to run. Adjusting his grip on the spear, he watched Tartara’s sinew and muscle slide beneath a tawny hide. Her every step bringing her closer, Aen studied the dark spots and lines of the tigress’s fur. Catching a partial glimpse of the bone collar that adorned her, he even dared a glance at her jade green eyes.

She stopped.

With a flick of her short tail, Tartara surveyed the brush while Aen’s heartbeat raced in his ears. Her bestial glare narrowed, training to where he crouched beneath the leaves. Eyes shining through veiled shadow, a long, low growl rolled forth from her throat while snarled fangs remained clamped on the dead buck’s neck.

Aen sprang to his feet, spear in hand. Pulling back his arm with a furious cry, he hurled the weapon at her.

It sailed through the air. With a lightning twist of her neck, Tartara swung the carcass in her teeth and the javelin pierced the buck halfway through.

There was a second bone-snapping thrash, and the great cat flung the skewered whitetail into the brush paces away from Aen. He reached over to the old trunk beside him as Tartara’s roar echoed like thunder through the trees. Snatching his second throwing spear, Aen threw it in a blur of motion.

She bounded towards him, rearing up on her haunches. Swatting the javelin mid-air, Tartara struck its shaft with a forepaw. The weapon careened into the forest behind her, and the great cat resumed her charge.

“Nay gheer!” she shouted thick-voiced before leaping at him.

He dodged a swipe from her splayed claws, and Tartara rended a chunk the size his narrowly missed head out of the rotten pine beside him. The impact of her blow knocked the last spear over, but Aen grabbed it, jumping backwards. Tartara dashed after him, and the young hunter avoided an eviscerating lunge of her paired fangs by bounding to the side.

Aen tucked and rolled through the undergrowth, bursting onto the path and springing to his feet with spear at the ready. The tigress pounced in, then paused as he leveled the weapon’s glossy tip of black obsidian at her.

He held her at bay with the stout fighting spear’s broad point. “She-demon!”

Tartara growled, the hairs of her massive shoulders and back bristling. She watched him brace his footing and weapon. In return, Aen eyed the loose collar of sun-bleached ribs and vertebrae swaying on her neck.

The great beast began to circle him, tactically outside the reach of his spear. “Nay gheer!”

Aen pivoted where he stood, his gaze never leaving the pacing tigress. “Do you speak proper words, demon?”

“Nay gheer…” she snarled.

His hard face scowled. “Why did you curse me? They cast me out!”

Tartara continued to pace, eyes narrowing. “Kursa…”

“Why, you monster? Did you devour my parents and think a salvation from that fate was too kind for me?”

“Nay, kursa…”

Aen’s stance lowered. “They said I can only return holding your head.”

Tartara’s whiskers bristled, rising to his challenge. “Nay gheer!”

I hate you! You made me the ill omen! And then your curse took what little else I had fought to earn!”

Aen lunged forward with his spear, Tartara dodging with a leap to avoid a double-handed thrust. The black spearhead grazed her furred brow and cheek with a stinging slash.

Tartara roared, blood from the superficial wound stinging her eye. Seeing an opening as she reeled, Aen charged again. The tigress barely evaded a thrust that would have pierced her throat.

Aen advanced, swinging the obsidian blade horizontally as she ducked and backed away with hissing growls. Both looking for openings to a kill, Tartara struck first after a third swipe of the weapon whizzed past her muzzle. Pouncing at Aen, she slipped past the spearhead to crash a forepaw into the wooden shaft just below it.

Her blow wrenched the spear from his grip, smacking it against the towering trunk of a redwood beside them. The sturdy shaft of ash snapped under the brutal impact, flinging its spearhead onto the path behind them. Claws and fangs bared, Tartara flew at Aen.

With a yell that was equal parts terror and bravado, Aen bounded up from where he stood. Leaping above a swipe from the roaring tigress, he crashed onto her back and gained a handhold on her bone collar.

Tartara thrashed and bucked as he flipped himself around. Holding on tenaciously, he threw a punch into the back of her skull before she dropped and rolled to knock him loose.

Aen emerged from snapping undergrowth scratched and bloody, but with his grip intact on the rein of her collar. He pulled and twisted it like a garrote, straining and grunting as Tartara reared and slammed him painfully into a tree. Jolted, he continued his attempt to strangle her.

Then his body betrayed him.

With an agonized scream, his fingers collapsed and receded. Bone and flesh flowing like water, Aen’s hands became thick, furred paws.

The collar fell slack. Ears perked and bristling at the sound of the distorting cries above her, Tartara reared to smash him against the tree again. Aen’s weight increased three-fold before she could, and pulled off-balance they both hit the ground.

Claws gripping the spots and stripes of the tigress’s back, she let out a pained roar that was joined by another as she twisted free of the grapple. Bucking off her attacker, Tartara spun to face him in a spray of dirt and pine needles.

Aen’s great fangs finished their descent as she beheld the end of his transformation. The juvenile tiger he had become snarled, enraged.

“Cursed!” he bellowed.

Tartara’s ears pinned back at the sight of him, and she shouted back wide-eyed. “Ounta!”

He rose, muscled and formidable on all fours. With a shake he fought off the lingering pain of his change, and the remains of his snapped loincloth fell away. Tartara crouched and circled him as she had before, now bloodied and panting.

With a growl, Aen began to circle her as well. “Your curse makes me a demon!”

Her nose flared, breathing in his altered scent. “Nay kursa! Ne ni Ounta!”

Aen leapt, crashing into Tartara. Maw to maw, he sank claws into her with savage blows. They grappled and snarled, roars echoing through the forest. Bashing heads, Tartara blocked several fang swipes from Aen as they wheeled on the ground.

Tartara’s hind-paws threw a raking kick into his underbelly, drawing blood and tufts of hair. Provoked, Aen lunged to drop his saber-toothed fangs into her like daggers. Instead he was sent flying… Tartara having curled back and used his own strength and momentum against him.

Aen rolled into the brush. Regaining his footing, he rose disoriented for a mere moment. It was all the time Tartara needed to launch herself forward. Her shoulder slammed him into the rotten old pine and it splintered into shards. Knocked through and uprooting the tall stump, Aen hit the forest floor in a cloud of wood dust and termites.

“Ounta!” Tartara shouted.

He pulled himself up on unsteady legs, panting and winded. Aen eyed Tartara as she too breathed heavily, then surged forward with his last reserves of stamina.

She reared up and swung a paw that crashed into the side of his head.

Staggered by the blow, his charge stumbled past her and onto the path. Aen’s run faltered, and numb and reeling he collapsed into a sprawled heap. Tartara pounced as he fell, the grip of her claws flipping him onto his back in an instant.

Her young opponent spent, the tigress roared pinning him down with her forepaws. Jaws and fangs rushed to his exposed throat, and Aen looked to the darkening green canopy above him.

Yet, pain and death did not come.

Feeling only panted hot breaths on his thick neck, Aen’s eyes gave an exhausted loll to find Tartara’s teeth hovering just above his throat. She saw his bewildered glance, then lifted her head to his face. Their bristled whiskers brushed as her nose hovered just beyond his.

She released her claws, still pinning him under paws. Then Aen witnessed Tartara shift and change, her features redrawing. The weight of her body pressing down upon him reduced, matching the woman’s form she gained in passing moments.

Still panting, Aen felt his own flesh flowing like water. He looked to Tartara’s hands, now tan and human on his chest that would soon be likewise. Her touch held a guiding warmth, and unlike any other time his curse had changed him, it now did so without a torturous agony.

The transformations ended, and he found a fit woman of early middle age holding him down. Her human face still bore the gash his spear had given the tigress, and she was as bare as Aen save for the large bone necklace hanging from her neck.

Tartara slid her knees off of Aen and knelt beside him. Still huffing and exhausted, he weakly tried to wave away her shaking fingers that touched his bloodied face. Tartara’s hands found their way under his arms next, pulling him up to limply sit.

Her chin slipped over his shoulder, and her hold became an embrace. “Ounta…”

Stunned, Aen felt Tartara press against him. His eyes narrowed in the long silence that followed, staring at the ground just beyond her backside. There, lying flat in the dirt, was the obsidian spearhead.

His hand grabbed the short wooden remnant of the weapon’s shaft. Lifting it stone-faced, he turned its deadly point towards her back.

Tartara spoke unaware of his actions. “Ounta… Son…

The blade’s thrust was stayed by Aen’s hand, a finger width from her walnut colored skin.

She struggled voicing a tongue she had long abandoned. “My son, the cub stolen from my breast… Is returned to me!”

The knapped spearhead fell back into the dirt.

She held him with a strength and warmth none had ever given Aen before. Pulling back, his green eyes widened with dawning revelation as they met Tartara’s irises of the same shade.

He touched her tearful, bloodied cheeks. His lips tried to speak the stories that had been told him all his life. Of the babe at the mercy of the demon tigress. Of his horror, despair and shame when he changed into a monster like the one vilified by a generation of tribal retellings. Of how they stoned and cast him out.

His lips quivered mute.

He tried to voice a new story as Tartara smiled at him in silence: A story of a shapeshifting mother and child separated by the misguided actions of men.

Instead, his tongue asked only what was important. “Forgive me.”

Aen offered his arms, and Tartara pulled him into a renewed embrace without hesitation. “Yee, ni ounta.”

 

Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.

The Brynesmark, Chapter Six: Sons o’ the Bryne

Eevin looked up at Hakbut who now seemed like a giant to the bird. “Why did you curse me?!”

The pirate waved his palms and stood up from the rail. “Nay-nay, Squab… Ye hast it all wrong an—”

“—I don’t want to be a dirty old bird!” Eevin squawked with the small shrill voice that was all his new form could muster.

Hakbutt began to waggle a pointed finger at the gull beside him, then caught himself and stopped with a spreading gap-toothed grin. Leaning back, his head and scraggly grey beard shook as he laughed.

“A mark o’ Oceanana is nary a curse, me Son! O’ course that be excludin’ if ye get greedy ‘bout em!”

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The Brynesmark, Chapter Six: Sons o’ the Bryne. Link to All Chapters…

The pirate offered a calloused palm out to the seagull. Lowering and resting it beside the bird on the railing, Eevin looked at the hand with his dissimilar eyes and then to Hakbutt before he waddled onto it.

The man lifted the young bird to the level of his beard and turned from the fog-shrouded waters. Pressing a hairy cheek to Eevin’s brown spotted plumage, he smoothed the bird’s ruffled feathers. “Cursed? Nay. Now, aye it be strange… an ‘twas a gamble to save ye that I gave ye a mark so young. But ‘tis a gift I gave, Boy! Ye birthright!”

“Will I change back to me proper self?!” the gull asked as the pirate gently touched him.

“Aye, to be sure. It just a matter o’ learnin’ the knack o’ it.”

“Can you cast spells and become a bird?” Eevin asked closing his eyes as Hakbutt ran a hand over his back again.

“Nay. We ain’t wizards.”

“Can I throw… screaming skulls? ” the bird asked with a ring of hope.

“Nay, nay… I doubt it.” Bryne said beginning to walk towards the smashed cabin door.

Eevin sighed and looked up to Hakbutt dour-eyed. “I think me gift is stupid!”

Chuckling, the pirate continued petting the bird. “I’ll admit, it be nay screamin’ skulls, but I think it be a fine gift from the Goddess o’ the sea!”

“It’s a daft gift just short o’ a curse!”

“Belay yer squawking tongue, Squab!” Hakbutt scolded. “Flyin’! Are ye goin’ to tell me ringin’ ears that flyin’s not a boon? Or swimmin’? Or floatin’ on the waves with nary a care o’ drownin’? Har! Why ye’ll be able to strut yer webby feet over any dock or seaside street, an’ none’ll pay ye any attention atoll!”

Hakbutt lifted the gull high above his head and Eevin flapped his wings not knowing what to expect from the man who smelled of rum and burned whiskers. “Aye! Me son will be the finest pair o’ eyes an’ ears that any captain hast ever had!”

The bird looked down at the gap-toothed smile of the bearded man below him. “But how do I change me self back?”

Hakbutt returned Eevin to his cheek and entered the cabin. “There just be a knack to it, Squab. I claimed me own mark only months ago, an’ ‘tis more o’ a feelin’ and imaginin’ kind o’ thing than a knowin’ one. So how ‘bout ye start by imaginin’ yer self as ye was before?”

The juvenile gull closed his eyes and nestled down beside Hakbutt’s grey beard. The pirate continued to smile as he sensed the child tap into his power. Shifting his hands and grip as the gull rapidly grew and shifted shape, he laughed as the weight of an eight-year-old boy filled his arms. Wings grew into naked arms that the boy clasped tightly around the neck of the man holding him.

Hakbut jostled Eevin in his arms and shook a smile onto his dirty face. “Har! See? Yer a natural!”

The unclothed boy found himself lowered down towards the floor. “I did it!”

Still amazed at his feat, Eevin’s toes reached the planking. His face then ruffled into a curious expression as he stood on the floor and Hakbutt joined him in looking down. The pair were united in staring at the large pair of webbed gull’s feet attached to boy’s ankles for several moments.

“Huh. Well, like I said lad, there be a knack to it.”

Bryne tousled the hair on the boy’s head and gave a gentle slap to an exposed backside. “Do some more imaginin’ an’ get ye feet back to normal… Otherwise, ye’ll have a devil o’ a time getting’ yer breeches back on over there!”

Eevin shambled away on his flipper-feet after the slap. Walking carefully and awkwardly, he kept his head down to watch his steps and avoid the gore that puddled in patches on the floor. He eyed his clawed seabird toes, and focusing on his footsteps watched as their splayed webbing slowly reduced and reconfigured. The odd sensation of his transformation stopped by the time he reached his rumpled black breeches.

Hakbutt turned from the boy pulling up his threadbare pants and examining his once-more human feet to look around the wrecked cabin. Closing his good eye, the flicker of green flame flashed on the surface of his blind white one. His searching gaze became drawn to the body of the Boatswain and he squatted down beside the corpse.

“Alright, me Son. Ye hast lots to learn o’ bein’ a pirate, an’ lootin’ corpses is as good a place as any to start!”

Eevin stood poking his bare chest in the dark room. With the distraction of his feet removed he had finally discovered the wide blue image of a seagull with wings splayed atop the cross of an anchor that now adorned his skin. He turned in puzzled shock and looked to Hakbutt.

“I have a… tattoo?” the child said pointing at his chest.

The bearded pirate rummaged though the Boatswain’s pockets and snatched the canvas purse on his belt. “O’ course ye hast a tattoo! ‘Tis yer Brynesmark like the one over me own heart!”

Eevin looked to the emerald skull that hung on Hakbutt’s sternum. “Me mark don’t look anything like yours…”

“O’ the four pearls used by the Bryne in good faith, ain’t none given marks or gifts that hast been alike yet!”

The boy nodded and walked back to the pirate’s side, still glancing down at the illustration upon him. “They hint at our gifts?”

“Aye,” Hakbutt said removing the knife sheath from the Boatswain’s belt. “Me squaby son is a clever one. Now mind ye, were it up to me I would’ve placed yer mark when ye were more o’ a man… We’ll be needin’ to cover that up in public, least it raise flags o’ suspicion.”

Eevin nodded, and the pirate handed the empty knife sheath to the boy without looking at him. Taking it, the child gulped and spoke. “Pappy, you ain’t like the stories say. Not quite anyways.”

“Stories is stories, Squab. Some truth and a lot o’ grog in-between!”

“I heard stories all me life that you were me pappy… didn’t you hear o’ me?”

“Nay, I hadn’t… A man o’ me proclivities and adventures could have dozens o’ sons and hundreds more stories of em’ runnin’ around! But truth told, I found a pair o’ enchanted rings for preventin’ such complications, an’ used the handy trinkets. After I met Sargassa we shared em’, an’ I didn’t give thought to it all me years in prison…”

“Then how did you know I was your son?”

Hakbutt grinned slipping a thin belt off the dead man’s waist. “Yer eyes, for one. ‘Fore me last battle with Lord-Admiral Anise, I had an eye o’ green as well ye know! The thing that puzzles me is how ye came to be… Ye know, given magic rings in all—”

The pirate paused in his looting to scratch his chin and ponder. “Come to think o’ it… there was that last night where we cut that virility potion with rum…”

“But me dead mammy’s name was Buteinia, not Sargassa!” Eevin protested slightly pale.

The pirate tapped his forehead and began to search the floor. “Ah, it be makin’ sense now, Lad! Buteinia was a fine girl, a fence an’ friend o’ Sargassa’s that ran a brothel for cover! But she wasn’t yer mammy… That be Sargassa for sure!”

There was a long silence as Bryne collected a few stray Kopin coins off the floor. Finally he looked to Eevin and found the boy’s eyes wet with tears.

“Then… why did she leave? You didn’t know I was born… But… Why didn’t me mammy want me!?”

In an instant, the child was swept-up and held fast in his father’s arms. “Nay! We both wanted whelps runnin’ about amidships! Just on safer shores than amid bloody cutthroats! Sargassa must’ve hid you for protectin’, ‘cause the moment I heard yer name I knew yer mammy wanted you moored to our hearts forever!

Awkwardly held, Eevin squirmed and looked up under Hakbutt’s beard. “How?”

“Eevin was her twin brother’s name. He was me best friend an’ first mate! A lucky charm if ever there was one… An’ he traded his life for hers.”

The boy could find no words as he looked at his father and felt the weight of his revelation sink in. Instead, he buried his face into the pirate’s grey beard that smelled of sweat and stale rum, and held the man as tightly as he could.

Hackbutt sniffed and squinted away a tear before patting Eevin on the back. “I’ll teach ye all I know, me Son! O’ sailin’ an’ o’ ropes an’ knots! O’ piratin’ an’ fightin’ an’ how to bite off a man’s ear!”

Eevin nodded still holding his father tight. “I’ll try, Pappy… But me hast never been much good at anythin’…”

The pirate stood and lifted his son up by the armpits before spinning the child around. “Wot!? Belay that talk, Squab! ‘Fore ye is me son, an’ there ain’t never been a child o’ the Bryne that hasn’t loved the sea… or been loved by Her in return!”

Hakbutt put the child down and tweaked his button nose playfully. Then he grabbed the Boatswain’s thin brown belt and pressed it into Eevin’s hands along with the knife sheath he had given the boy earlier. “Here, put these on. We be needin’ to jump ship an’ get movin’ soon, so make some haste!”

“Aye-aye Pappy-Captain-Sir!” Eevin saluted watching his father scour the cabin floor. He quickly wrapped and fastened the belt around his waist. “Are we going to claim your treasure?”

The flickering green pupil returned to Hakbutt’s glazed white eye. “We’re going to give it a shot! —Ah! There it be!”

Bryne snatched the Boatswain’s rigging knife off the planking and gave it a nimble twirl before wiping the the blade off on his trousers. He presented it to Eevin handle first, and the boy took hold of it timidly.

“From me throat to me hand, Pappy?”

The pirate grinned. “Aye, I can’t have any mates runnin’ about deck without tools an’ arms, can I? Now be a good lad an’ scoot to the aft o’ the cabin an’ open me broken chest back there… Inside’s a scrawny old shirt about yer size, paddin’ a bottle o’ rum. Bring me the rum!”

Eevin eagerly nodded and carefully slid the rigging knife into its place on his belt. His bare feet ran past Borkgutto’s corpse and into the back of the room as his proud father looked on.

“Me blind eye sees an enchantment or two on that old knife, so treat her well! There be somethin’ arcane about the marlinspike ye overlooked in yer sheath, too.”

The boy’s mismatched eyes looked alight as he searched for the chest. “Enchanted! How so?”

“Nary an idea atoll!” Hakbutt boomed before laughing with fists on hips. “I ain’t learned how to tell yet!”

Eevin shrugged and playfully rolled his eyes before returning to a ransacking hunt for a bottle of rum. “Where is the treasure hidden, Pappy? I’ve heard so many stories!”

The pirate turned to search the rest of the of the cabin. “Aye. Me too, Squab. But the thing is —Ew.”

“Ew? Where’s that?”

“On me foot. Don’t tarry a look if ye don’t hast to, Son. The fat twitchy bastard’s gone all…chummy fish bait.

Eevin didn’t rise from behind the barrels he searched. “Ew.”

“Aye,” Hakbutt concurred stepping over the remains of Seaman Twitch. The pirate shook his head, deciding to forgo searching the bloody mess for valuables… until he spied the man’s untouched legs.

“Ooh! Boots!”

The pirate stripped off the leather footwear and was measuring its sole against his bare foot in moments. After hearing a victorious and happy shout, Eevin caught glimpses of his father hopping on one leg and then another pulling on the cuffed, knee-high boots.

“So where is the treasure, Pappy?” the boy asked again from the back.

“Wot? Oh yeah, that again…” Hakbutt tucked the legs of his brown trousers into the boot’s cuffs. Then with the stomp of a hard heel he strutted over and scooped up the Lord-Captains discarded red longcoat.

“Me Son, the truth is… I haven’t a clue.”

Eevin’s head popped up from behind an overturned table. “What?! How can you not know where your treasure be?”

Hakbutt pointed to his glazed white eye and the long scar that crossed it. “See that, me Son? After the sinking o’ The Stormcrow, I was nearly dyin’ from this partin’ gift from the Lord-Admiral here. I was told afterwards that Morbia would’ve surely claimed me if not for Sargassa’s fine ship’s surgeon…”

The pirate silently collected coins, spell components, and other spilt paraphernalia from the floor as he haphazardly shoved them back into the leather longcoat in his arms. “O’ corse, she probably would’ve run Blackettle through had he failed… But maybe not! He was always a good sort for a dwarf, ye see.”

Eevin shook his head in disbelief. “So if you didn’t bury it, who did?”

Bryne stood and slipped the red captain’s longcoat over his bare chest and shoulders. “It wasn’t Sargassa, I’ll tell ye that. All I found hidden in the spot yer Mammy an’ I agreed upon was the Brynesmark Pick… Speaking o’ which…”

The pirate strutted over to the side of Borkgutto’s corpse and retrieved his black tattooist’s pick. Twirling it deftly, he then pointed-out the remaining two pearls on the sharkskin handle to Eevin.

“ ‘Twas the one dammed thing I wanted most o’ all in Lord-Admiral Anise’s hoard… An’ probably ‘twas the one dammed thing he valued least ‘cause he didn’t know what it was!”

Eevin shifted his foot and a toe struck something. Ducking down he found Hakbutt’s small broken strongbox behind the overturned tabletop. “So ye don’t have any idea where it is, Pappy?”

“Nay-nay, Squab… I’ve got plentiful ideas! The trick is figurin’ out which is right!”

The boy opened the small chest and removed a half-filled rum bottle wrapped in a red- striped shirt. He stood up and ran around the broken table to rejoin his father. “So if you don’t know where it is, where are we going?”

Hakbutt took ahold of the bottle the child offered him. He unwrapped the shirt and tossed it to Eevin before pulling out the container’s cork stopper with his teeth and spitting it out.

“Anywhere but here, lad!” he said before leaning back and chugging the contents of the bottle down in one go and belching when he was done.

The pirate wiped his lips on a coat sleeve. “The young Lord-Captain will be sailin’ here with his whole crew an’ anyone he can hire as soon as the fog lifts… So we’ll need to jump ship soon, Son. But now me cover’s blown an’ word will travel faster than the wind that the bounties on me head still be around for the takin’!”

Eevin flinched as Hakbutt flung the bottle, shattering it in a far corner. Then he stomped off towards the serrated cutlass stuck in the cabin wall. Following on his father’s heels, the boy slipped the red and white shirt over his head.

“But you have a plan, right Pappy?”

“Aye,” he said yanking the sword out of the wall and looping it under his belt. Squatting down with his back still to the child, he claimed the black tricorn on the floor and gave it a shake before looking to Eevin with a growing, gap-toothed smile.

Bryne pointed with the hat before putting it on. “Be a good first mate an’ fetch yer Pappy the Lord-Captain’s pretty map-case over there will ye, Squab.”

Eevin did as asked, and as he waited for the boy’s return, Hakbutt looked down and picked up the severed palm by his boot. Finding it soft and uncalloused, he examined it with a squint before pulling out the semi-flaccid purse that he had found tucked in the fat seaman’s boot. His son returned with map-case in hand while the pirate poured the jangling copper and silver pennies within the purse into his coat pocket.

Bryne nodded to Eevin as he pushed the Lord-Captain’s cold fingers down into the bag and pulled its drawstrings tight. “This could be, handy.

Moments later Hakbutt held the unrolled vellum of the map before his face. Chuckling, he flipped it down and winked at Eevin with his one good blue eye. “Now THIS changes everythin’!”

Hakbutt lifted the yellow map and spoke. “Show me the whereabouts o’ me boy’s mammy!”

Eevin’s heart skipped a beat, then saw the lines of his blood on the aged vellum reconfigure and shift. Although the child couldn’t see any details in the poor light, he still felt a great sense of relief just knowing that his mother was still alive.

The map finished its reconfiguration, and Hakbutt stared at it for a good minute motionless and silent.

“Huh. Yup, I would’ve never guessed to be lookin’ for her there!” he finally said before hastily rolling the map up and stuffing it back into the case. The pirate shoved the leather cylinder under his belt next to his cutlass, then strode for the broken cabin door.

“Alright Squab! We’re jumpin’ ship and settin’ sail!”

“But, Captain-Pappy-Sir, we ain’t got no ship!” Eevin pointed out.

“We got a BOAT! It’s a START!” Hakbutt shouted stomping out the door and onto the foggy deck.

The child ran after him. “But we ain’t got no crew!”

“Nay! I got ye, me Son! An’ with an EEVIN at me side or coverin’ me back, there ain’t nothin’ I can’t accomplish!”

Eevin followed his father past the broken hole in the railing on the starboard side of Kora’s Blessing. They came to a stop at the rope ladder that led over her side, and with a glance the pirate confirmed a dory still lay moored below. He swung a leg over the rail and started climbing down.

“Pappy! Where are we headed?” The boy cried out scrambling to follow down the swaying ladder.

“To Borkgutto’s ship, Son! The Zacian Lion!”

“What?! Why?”

Bryne stepped off the rope ladder and into the leaky dory with Eevin shimmying down not far above him. “Cause half her crew is ashore on leave, an’ the other half be too drunk to care WHO’S in charge!”

“Alright! Yer the Captain!” the boy said dropping the last few feet to rock the boat as he landed.

Hakbutt steadied the dory, sitting down and taking up its oars as Eevin looked to the mooring post. Knowing that untying the knot on the bent, rusty spike would take too long for his untrained fingers, the boy withdrew his rigging knife and sliced the boat free.

His father lowered the oars he gripped into the fog-skimmed water and pulled the dory away from the wrecked galleon’s hull. His approving nod to Eevin spoke before his words.

“There! See? Now that’s the Bryne’s blood in ye, Squab!”

Eevin sat down and sheathed the knife. “Once we have a ship, are we sailing to find Mammy?”

“Nay!” Hakbutt boomed pulling another stroke of the oars. “Not yet, anyways! First we be findin’ the one man who most likely hid me treasure! A master ropesman an’ fellow to whom I owe a great many favors indeed!”

Eevin shook his head wide-eyed as Kora’s Blessing and the lapping waves upon Keel Cleaver Rock slipped away into the harbor fog. “Who?

“Arr! He be me Pappy! Yer Grand-Pappy, Eevin! … Kleese ‘Knotty’ Bryne! An’ we’ll be needin’ his help if we an’ ye Mammy are in half the trouble that I think we be in!”


 

The adventures of Eevin and Hakbutt Bryne will be continued by the author in his future novel, The Brynesmark!

 

Copyright © 2016 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.