The dilapidated Ozmanan pier hadn’t seen a proper ship, or a moment’s repair, since before Eevin was born. Although the occasional midnight smuggler might have drawn a dock beside it, mostly it was a roost for the flocks of seagulls whose excrement had stained its poles and planking a splotchy white. Now those same birds gave raucous calls both on and above the rotten pier while Eevin stood sandwiched between the Lord-Captain and the silent Hollomon.
There was a wet splat and metallic ding on the armored man’s shoulder as another gull flew past and strafed him with runny feces. Eevin looked up and gave an annoyed look to Hollomon, who continued standing like a statue with no reaction whatsoever. The steel grip of his gauntlet around the boy’s wrist hadn’t slacked in the two hours since grabbing him. Cocking his head to the right, Eevin saw Lord-Captain Anise, unstained by excrement, fanning himself with his tricorne. He stood watching Twitch and the Boatswain row the dory towards the dock after spying them a thousand yards away.
“Well, it is about time,” the young aristocrat said sliding the hat back over his towhead locks. He then dipped a hand underneath the breast of his longcoat and searched for an inner pocket.
Eevin coughed, then looked up at the Lord-Captain. “Permission to speak, Your Lordship.”
“Granted,” the nobleman said pulling a clear vial containing green fluid out of his coat.
“Are you hunting me pappy for revenge, or for his treasure?”
The young man glanced away from the vial in his hand. “I hunt him for both, and as a matter of honor.”
“Either reason makes sense, Your Lordship, but why both?”
The Lord-Captain scowled. “Because your black-hearted sire gained his treasure over the slain body of Lord-Admiral Anise on the eve of my thirteenth winter! My family has had to bear that dishonor since about the time you were born.”
“I see,” Eevin said looking down into the lapping water below the old pier, “Me pappy killed your pappy like he did so many others. I’m sorry.”
The young man looked back to the vial he held, then yanked out its cork stopper with a pop. “I will confess that I hardly knew my father, and I do not recollect displaying any such weakness as crying upon his death. My life at your age was all books and wizards, Lad… Until I graduated from my apprenticeship and came of age to claim my title last year, it had remained that way.”
The Lord-Captain narrowed his eyes on the uncorked container, then ran a finger down its side bearing a look of concentration. Eevin heard half-spoken whispers of arcana from the aristocrat as he watched the green contents within the vial begin to softly bubble and spew-forth a thick white mist that cascaded down to the seawater under their feet. The gulls that had remained gawking and wobbling about on the pier shrieked at the sight and sudden presence of the unnatural. Taking flight in a swarm of ruffled grey feathers they retreated from the filthy planking amid a cacophonous, squawking chorus.
The mist continued to spread across shallow waves as the Lord Captain spoke again. “It is the stain of dishonor that my father left on my family name that I wish to wash away. Should I reclaim the Ozmanan treasure hoard he lost to such unworthy scum as your whoring sire, I will surely regain the King’s good graces upon my house. From there, restoring my blood-right to be the Grand Chamberlain of the Albine Fleet will only be a matter of time.”
Eevin stared at the sea as it churned and frothed an ever thickening fog amid the lapping waves. He squirmed against Hollomon’s unmoving grip to escape the unnatural fog that was rising past his knees and quickly spilling out to fill the harbor. “Y-you’re mage-touched!?”
“I am indeed, just as my father was before me,” Lord-Captain Anise said waving his hand to part a bubble free of brume out of the vapors before him.
Within the growing bubble, a formless cloud drifted at the center. With series of pointed gestures, the Lord-Captain sculpted the milky mist into a skull-like simulacrum before beckoning the monstrosity closer. Eevin watched the vaporous, man-sized head float towards the pier dragging hazy tendrils along the rolling fog and water beneath it.
The boy could no longer see the shore through the fog, or the dory that he could still hear rowing closer across the water. He could barely see the Lord-Captain through the mist as he leaned in and whispered something black and arcane to the giant skull now directly before the aristocrat. Anise then spoke a command in a plain tongue Eevin understood.
“Guide the dory to this pier, then await a new command.”
Eevin pulled futilely against Hollomon’s unmoving arm. “What is it?!”
“It is harmless,” the Lord-Captain said hurling the glass vial into the fog. It disappeared into the mists then made an unseen splash in the water. “I can sculpt the spirit into whatever shape I desire, but in the end it is merely a mask for something faceless and intangible.”
The boy watched the vaporous phantom turn on drifting tendrils before it floated into the churning fog and disappeared. Eevin stood wide-eyed on the pier, knowing that just minutes prior an overcast summer’s afternoon had been above him. Now the brume became so thick at the spirit’s departure that all had become a grey twilight.
“Your Lordship, why—”
“—I revoke your permission to speak,” the Lord-Captain said without looking at the boy. “I tire of your low-born banter.”
“—Do not tempt me, whore spawn! With a word I could have Hollomon drown out your prattle at the bottom of the harbor… the entertainment would be worth the inconvenience!” The young Lord-Captain turned and loomed down and met Eevin’s mismatched eyes with his own amber gaze. Touching a forefinger to the boy’s lips he flashed a smile that guaranteed that his was no idle threat.
The child bit his lip shut and looked away from the nobleman. He could barely see the pier under his dirty toes, and if he hadn’t had his eyes cast downwards he would have screamed as the seagull bumbled across his bare foot half-blind in the mist. Too sick or old to have taken flight with the others, it gave a shrill complaint to the boy for being in its way as it hopped one-legged along the pier’s edge.
Eevin watched the bird dodge a swift kick from the Lord-Captain’s boot before disappearing again with a caw. “Get to your friends, you dirty old bird…” the orphan muttered.
The next few minutes were spent in uncomfortable silence as the trio stood fogbound on the pier. Only the sound of lapping waves and oars drawing closer on the water passed between them. Finally, the boy saw a narrow band of the mist part as the phantasmal skull drifted nearer with the dory lurching close behind with every sweaty oar stroke from the neckbearded seaman.
The Boatswain kneeled on the bow of the boat in his striped shirt, ready to steady and moor the dory as it came alongside the pier. “Ahoy, Lord-Captain! I’m seein’ that ye has uncorked the bottle… May I assume ye’ll want a hasty embark and no rest for Twitch’s fat arms as well?”
The handsome aristocrat bore a confident smile stepping sure-footedly into the boat before it glided to a stop. “You assume correctly, Boatswain. We will have cover until sunset, and I want us back aboard the Storm-Eagle with the ship ready to sail as soon as it lifts.”
“Aye, Lord-Captain. Ye hear those orders, Twitch?”
The panting, girthy seaman nodded as he dipped a hand into the foggy seawater alongside the boat and splashed cool water across his brow.
The Boatswain pulled and steadied the dory alongside the pier while the Lord-Captain settled himself onto a planked seat. The beady-eyed old sailor then looked up at Eevin as he gripped a mooring pole.
“Well? What are ye waitin’ for? An invitation from the King?”
“Don’t ask me, ask him!” the boy said pointing to the unmoving figure of Hollomon that held his wrist like a shackle.
“Boatswain, allow me,” the Lord-Captain said curling his fingers and motioning to the armored man. “Hollomon, would you kindly seat yourself and the boy in the boat?”
Eevin gave a cry of surprise as the dirty soles of his naked feet were hoisted up into the air with a yanking pull on his wrist. Hollomon held the boy aloft with an outstretched arm like one would present a feasting goose, then stepped off the pier with a stiff step. Eevin yelped as they fell into the dory in a graceless clatter that could have capsized the boat if not for the quick work of the two experienced sailors within it. While the Boatswain cursed and Twitch rolled his eyes, Hollomon jerked himself up off the floor of the stern holding Eevin aloft without even a grunt.
The child was swung about as Hollomon turned on his heels and slammed his armored backside down onto the aft bench beside the Lord-Captain. Dazed, Eevin was jerked backwards and rudely parked on his captor’s cold steel lap.
Shaking his head, the Lord-Captain brought a hand over his face and sighed. “Poor form, Hollomon. Very poor form indeed…”
The Boatswain wasted no time in kicking off from the mooring post and using that momentum to point the dory away from the rotten pier. The fog-skull drifted along with the boat just beyond and over its bow, extruding a bubble around itself and the dory so they were free of mist as the Lord-Captain addressed it.
“Guide us to the wreck of Kora’s Blessing that rests atop Keel Cleaver Rock.”
The phantasmal death’s head turned on it skimming tendrils slack-jawed at the command and awaited the dory to follow. While Twitch watched for the boat to come about with his oars raised above the water, the young nobleman spoke to the sailor from where he sat opposite of his henchman.
“I trust that you and the Boatswain have tied-up the loose end?”
Twitch said nothing, but cocked his thick neck hard to the right to make an audible crunch that made Eevin wince. He then lifted up a semi-flaccid purse and jangled the copper and silver pennies inside it before his face contorted into a quick spasm.
The Lord-Captain smirked. “Very good. You may keep that as a bonus.”
Eevin hid his concern by looking back to the pier as it began to slip into the thick fog around them. With its planks abandoned once more, he saw the one-legged seagull hop onto the mooring post and tilt its head before the enveloping mist obscured it completely. The boy heard the bird cry a wailing goodbye as the oars slapped water, and carried him from the shore with the murderous quartet.
Copyright © 2016 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.