Eevin dunked his hand into the dirty water sloshing within the leather bucket beside him. Removing the worn bristle brush from the bucket with a splash of filthy droplets, he quickly leaned forward on his hands and knees to scrub the stone step. His weary eyes sought out every inch of dirt and tar left by a mariner’s boot upon the expansive stairs of the trading court of Maduc, assaulting them with his brush.
A fat man sat nearly bursting the lace holding his jerkin closed over a stained and russet colored tunic. Perched on the granite stairs several steps above the barefoot child working feverishly in ragged clothes below him, he bit the head off of the dried herring in his hand.
“I can’t believe what a lazy, worthless little rut you are, Eevin! Look at this!”
Several coveting seagulls nearby peered at the dried fish he shook at the boy. Eevin doubled his efforts at the scolding, scouring the steps with all the strength his red, calloused hands and eight years of age could afford him. “I’m sorry Marn Tafod! I’ll work harder!”
“We’ve been here since dawn and the morning’s almost over! You ain’t even half done yet!” The bald man yelled spitting bits of fish that the gulls watched fall with hungry gazes. His flabby chin jiggled snapping another bite off the herring, and then Tafod spoke with a mouth full of food. “You’ve already lost yourself any meal today, lad! If your orphaned bones can’t finish the job by noon, half my pay is forfeit and you’ll earn a beating!”
The child in threadbare black breeches and a yellowed linen shirt didn’t look up as he moved his brush even faster. “Me hands will make the courthouse steps shine, Marn Tafod! I promise!”
“They had better!” Tafod grumbled before snapping off another cheekful of fish. The fat man shifted where he sat on the stairs chewing the salty, dry herring before lifting his gaze off the boy to look down the uneven hillsides of Eastport Maduc.
It was an overcast, balmy day above the hilly bands of shanty houses and brick and timber dwellings that comprised the town beyond its busy piers. Winding its way up from the dockyard wharves, a promenade of calico cobblestones ended at the steps of the trading court that Eevin furiously scrubbed. With midday approaching, the thoroughfare was bustling with passing groups of sailors and whores, laborers and merchants.
Tafod scratched the stubble of his blubbery neck while he gnawed on the last bony mouthful of herring halfway up the stairs. Watching his movements intently, the seagulls yearned for the morsel he ground upon with rotten teeth before he swallowed. Wiping spittle on his sleeve, he spied the white sails of a square rigged Yaleish barque making a wide turn around the half sunken wreck of Kora’s Blessing in the harbor. The ship slowly slid past the rotten galleon and the rocks she had rested on for a dozen years.
Picking his teeth with a grimy thumbnail, Tafod looked back at Eevin diligently brushing the last bit of dirt from a now immaculately clean step of granite. The man flicked his finger and sent a bony lump of fish and spit rolling onto the stone step under the boy’s nose with a snicker.
Eevin stopped his work for the first time in hours, looking up at the grinning Tafod with his exhausted mismatched eyes of blue and green. He raised a fist at the child and Eevin lowered his gaze back to the stairs at the threat. Before the boy could swipe it away, a gull flew past his nose in a rush of white and grey feathers to gobble down the morsel and save him the trouble.
“Thank you, bird…” Eevin sighed watching the bird fly away with a shrill cry and wishing he could take wing with him.
“Get back to work!” Tafod shouted with a snarl.
The fat man settled back onto his perch on the steps watching Eevin lift the bucket onto the next slab of granite. The child had just started a new round of vigorous scrubbing when the distinctive tap of armored footsteps descending the stone stairs reached Tafod’s waxy ears, approaching from behind.
His bald head turned to see a group of four men making their way to where he corpulently lounged. In the lead was a man armored in plate, his face covered by a sallet helm and visor. He was flanked by a pair of men that were obviously sailors. One was old, beady-eyed and in a striped shirt. The other was a bullish young man with a neckbeard and girth that matched Tafod’s own. Behind those three was a figure unseen except for the bobbing black top of a tricorne hat.
Tafod rose with a gulp as he faced the quartet coming to a stop above him. “H-how can I help you fine men?’
The sailors gave him hard looks but said nothing, and the tall armored man stopped and stood coldly silent before Tafod. Finally, the crisp aristocratic voice of a man spoke from underneath the tricorne.
“You are Marn Tafod, are you not?”
“Aye, that I am… H-how may I help you, good sirs?”
“Hollomon, would you kindly let me pass?” The voice in the rear said before the armored figure stepped aside to reveal a young man in a red leather longcoat underneath the black hat. He leaned forward, a smile on the lips of his clean-shaven face, before a stride from his knee-high boots brought him face to face with Tafod’s wary expression.
His eyes were the color of amber as he brushed back the singular braid that bound back his long blond hair. “Is that the boy the orphanage lent you for the month?” He pointed at Eevin, unfurling an arm that had been crossed behind him. The boy remained scouring away several steps below.
“Aye, it is,” Tafod cautiously nodded, “… for a sum o’ six silver pennies.”
The smile on the unblemished face of the man in the tricorne became more pronounced. “Very good, Marn Tafod. I will be taking custody of the child from here.”
Eevin stopped scrubbing the stone slab at his knees and looked up at the men opposite of Tafod wide-eyed.
Tafod’s eyes darted between the young man and the child. “Uh, you’re what?! Who are —”
“—I am Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of Gwern.”
Tafod backed away, turning pale before he slipped down the step behind him. “Y-your Lordship! I beg your pardon…I was unaware…”
The young Lord-Captain waved away Tafod’s awkward apology then reached into an inner pocket of his longcoat. “No offence taken. I have procured the child’s guardianship through reasonable and legal means as you can see.”
The aristocrat produced an officially signed and stamped parchment from his coat and held it up to Tafod’s illiterate eyes. He quickly stuffed the document back into his pocket as Tafod stammered unintelligible words. The young man’s hand returned from the inner lining of his coat clutching a tight palmful of copper and silver pennies which he threw down at Tafod’s feet.
“For your trouble and cooperation,” the Lord-Captain smiled as he watched the fat man drop to his knees and scramble like a dog to collect all the coins.
“Your Lordship is very kind! Very kind indeed!”
As Tafod stuffed the pennies into the flaccid purse on his belt, the nobleman turned and nodded to the bearded sailor. “Seaman Twitch will escort you to take care of some, formalities and statements. We would attend to them here, but my haste requires that I outfit my new cabin boy properly before we set sail for Gwern on the afternoon’s tide…”
“O’ course Your Lordship,” Tafod said eyeing Eevin as the boy stood up straight for the first time all morning. The child chucked the brush into the bucket with a splash as Seaman Twitch put an arm around the fat man’s shoulder and led him down the stairs.
“You’re still a miserable whore’s mistake,” Tafod murmured with a wink to Eevin as he walked past counting his coins.
The boy turned and watched his former master exit down the stairs until he noticed Seaman Twitch look back to his Lord-Captain outside of Tafod’s smug gaze. The neckbearded man gave a wink of his own, one that convulsed for a second into a distorted squint. The sailor then turned back and disappeared with his charge onto the bustling thoroughfare.
“Well, my lad!” Lord-Captain Anise boomed over Eevin causing the child to spin around on his bare heels to face him. “Let’s get a good look at the latest addition to my crew and household!”
The aristocrat squatted down and the tail of his red leather longcoat gathered on the steps before Eevin stuck out a dirty, wet palm. “Pleased to meet you!”
“Such manners,” the young Lord-Captain said clasping the boy’s hand and shaking it while his free hand ruffled Eevin’s dirty brown hair. He then broke the handshake and pointed with splayed fingers to the child’s mismatched irises. “And such unusual eyes…”
The sailor in the striped shirt next to the motionless armored figure nodded in agreement. “Aye, Lord-Captain, those be a Bryne’s eyes for sure.”
Lord-Captain Anise rose up from his haunches and frowned with irritation as he discovered the grime left on his hands from the boys palm and hair. He wiped them clean on the brown breeches above his boots before grabbing at the short leather cylinder that was on his belt.
“An excellent observation, Boatswain,” he said removing a roll of aged vellum from the map case. “I am eager to start this venture! Hollomon, would you kindly hold the boy’s arm?”
The cold steel of Hollomon’s gauntlet grabbed Eevin’s arm before the child could react with a tug and yelp.
“Now, now lad,” the blond young man scolded at the boy’s cry while he unrolled the vellum. “Let us not spoil our good start, shall we? Struggle will only make it worse.”
“What… what are you going to do?” Eevin said lowering his voice and watching the tall armored man lift his arm by the wrist.
The nobleman smiled with teeth as white a pearls. “I am going to reunite you with your father… a grand and gracious thing for me to do, is it not?”
“Me father? Everyone says he was eaten by sharks!”
The Lord-Captain stretched the vellum flat between his hands. “You had best hope that is not the case, for your sake.” He then turned and nodded to the Boatswain who unsheathed the rigging knife on his belt.
Eevin struggled against Hollomon’s grip, but couldn’t budge his hand as he felt the sting of the beady-eyed Boatswain’s knife cutting a deep nick into his palm between the thumb and forefinger. The boy bit his lip, containing his desire to cry out as the rough grip of the sailor removed his blade and pressed Eevin’s bleeding hand onto the blank sheet of old calf-skin the Lord-Captain held beneath it.
The young man watched the growing blot of the child’s blood spread over the vellum. “There. That is enough Boatswain, give this stoic lad something to staunch his wound.”
The stripe-shirted seaman guided Eevin’s hand away while Hollomon still held his wrist tightly. The aristocrat remained transfixed on the bloody smear on the aged brown sheet, as was Eevin while the Boatswain wrapped a rag around his wound.
“Show me his father,” the Lord-Captain commanded of the vellum.
At first nothing happened as the Boatswain finished binding Eevin’s palm with an expert knot and the boy watched the sanguine stain. Then his blood on the page began to squirm and worm about.
“Oh yes,” the Lord-Captain smirked, “the old pirate is still alive…”
Eevin forced himself to continue looking as he felt a cold chill and a racing heart in his chest. His blood on the vellum ebbed and flowed, etching a map in red as if it were drawn by a dozen invisible quills spreading out in as many directions.
“… Sorcery and Demon Princes!” the child exclaimed in hushed shock as the self-drawing map completed its task with a large ‘X’ just off the edge of a coastline.
Lord Anise contentedly held the map aloft to inspect it, removing the illustrated side from Eevin’s sight. “It is most certainly the former, Lad. The latter may be true as well…”
“Well, damn my eyes!” the Boatswain said looking over his Lord-Captain’s shoulder and then up and out over the sprawling town before them.
The Lord-Captain lowered the map, then joined the Boatswain in glancing up from it several times while sighting landmarks. His eyes finally came to rest on the wreck of Kora’s Blessing rotting in the harbor before letting out a triumphant, nasally laugh. “I was certain that we would be sailing halfway to Ozmana and back! But this! This is truly a gift of Fate!”
Eevin’s unease intensified as the young nobleman hastily rolled up the map and slid it back into the case on his belt. Then Hollomon stiffly followed the Lord-Captain as he and the Boatswain made their way down the stairs. Eevin scrambled on tip-toes as he was dragged along by the iron strength locked around his wrist.
“Do keep up, Lad… And do not speak unless spoken to,” the Lord-Captain warned as they stepped onto the calico cobblestones of the promenade. “Hollomon is just a word away from snapping your arm, or your neck, if you are difficult.”
The boy nodded and hurried along the side of the armored man leading him in his bare feet.
Lord-Captain Anise then turned to his Boatswain. “Collect Twitch and help him wrap-up any loose ends. Then the pair of you will collect a dory from the Storm-Eagle and meet Hollomon and I at the old Ozmanan pier… No one else will be on that pile of rot-wood.”
Copyright © 2016 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.