Lord-Captain Anise’s smile gave way to a look of suspicion watching the disheveled and bare-chested man before him flip an overturned table upright. “I am still seeking Hakbutt Bryne.”
The tattooist squatted down with his back to the four men and started collecting the scattered barbs, needles and pigments that were his trade lying on the floor. “Well, ye ain’t found him.”
With a haughty upturn of his nose, the Lord-Captain beckoned the others closer with a curl of his fingers. “Oh really? Then I suspect he is very close…”
Hollomon clattered his way forward, mace in hand, and took a place beside the Lord-Captain with Borkgutto’s corpse between them and the tattooist. Held aloft and pinned by the Boatswain’s arm, Eevin was brought along as he and Seaman Twitch walked around the other side of the body.
“Look, I know wot yer thinkin’,” the tattooist said as the pair of cutthroats approached his back. “I get that a lot ‘cause I was with the pirate when we broke the prison walls and swam the Shark Shoals last year. But I ain’t him.”
The Lord-Captain grabbed the map-case on his belt. “Fair enough. Then who are you?”
Although his face was still turned away, Eevin could see the man more clearly now from where he was held fast to the Boatswain’s chest. The top of his head was bald save for a few hairs, but greying, long dirty hair fell from its back and sides to well past his neck. His shoulders and back bore numerous tattoos, but many were defaced by the heavy, long whipping scars lacing his back all the way down to the start of his brown breeches.
He rose and Eevin heard the roll of wooden needle and stylus handles dropped on the tabletop. “Me name is Squid… An’ the last I saw o’ Hakbutt, he was bein’ eaten alive by the biggest shark I ever seen.”
Squid turned and winked at the gagged boy with an eye as blue as the sea. But it was his left pupil, the one that lolled white and wall-eyed, that drew Eevin’s gaze as the bearded man grinned gap toothed. “He was a tough bastard too! ‘Cause whilst the monster was chewin’ on him… I had enough time to escape!”
The Lord-Captain removed the rolled vellum map from its tube “Well, Marn Squid, either you are a liar… or I have fallen victim to a misplaced rumor about this boy’s parentage. Regardless, I believe this urchin is yours.”
The man gave a laugh that shook his scraggly full beard of grey, then plucked a tattoo pick from the table at his side before twirling it nimbly through his fingers. “Nay-nay! The boy don’t look anythin’ like me atoll!”
“Well, at least he can count that in his favor…” the aristocrat said unrolling the map.
“Oh, Hardy-har… Ye must be the new young Baron o’ the Red Hills, eh? Come lookin’ for the treasure Hakbutt plundered from yer pappy’s privateerin’ plunderin’ plunder, have ye?”
Eevin watched the bare-chested man turn and face them. His front bore more tattoos than the back, and less scarring, but of these the most impressive by far was a full-sized skull in emerald green. Centered over his sternum and heart, its laughing grimace and empty sockets stared back at the child from Squid’s sweat glistened skin.
The blond looked up from his map and cast a circumspect gaze towards the illustrated man. “You are more perceptive than you look… I am indeed Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of the Red Hills, and wizard-collegiate of The Hightower.”
“Well, that’s a mouthful,” Squid said tossing the spinning tattoo pick into the air and then catching it with the same hand. “Hakbutt told the tale o’ The Stormcrow’s sinking but once to me ears, and he never said more to ‘em than he did to any king’s scourger o’ the fate o’ her treasure.”
“He was notoriously tight lipped about it,” Absyn said ruffling the vellum flat as he looked back to the dried red markings upon it.
“Aye. An’ if I knew where a hoard like that was hidin’, do ye really think I’d be livin’ on a leaky wreck scratchin’ out tattoos on sailors’ asses for rum and bread!?”
“Show me Eevin’s father,” the Lord-Captain commanded of the map.
The tattooist snorted and then spit a glob of phlegm onto the rotten boards between Seaman Twitch and the Boatswain holding the boy. “You should be trying to find Sargassa. If any would have a clue it’d be the pirate queen that betrayed him…”
The Lord-Captain watched the lines on the map rework themselves. “The map needs the blood of a parent, child or full sibling. Hers are all either dead, non-existent or just as elusive as she is.”
Squid caught sight of the boy’s mismatched eyes following his tattoo pick as he tossed it up and down. “Aye, aye… True that. Hakbutt said most o’ her kin was slain before she ever saw a ship, come to think o’ it.”
The blood drawn markings on the aged vellum finished moving, and the Lord-Captain’s tricorne nodded behind it. He then turned the map so Squid could see the drawing. It was a perfect bird’s eye diagram of the cabin they stood in, complete with Borkgutto’s headless corpse in the center. The details were accurate down to the normal-sized cutlass the ogre kept on the back of his belt as a knife, and the top-down representations of all the men in the room were positioned exactly where they stood at that very moment.
Squinting curiously with his good blue eye, the bearded man looked at the ornate ‘X’ marking him on the map. “Huh. Must’ve been a whorin’ night I was too drunk to remember… Let me get a better look at the snotty lad.”
The Lord-Captain shook his head and began to roll up the map. “I will let you confirm the condition of the goods before we enter into negotiations.”
Squid tossed the pick another time and caught it before taking a step forward with a laugh. “Negotiatin’? See? That there is bad plannin’… Hakbutt’s killed a hundred men in cold blood! Do ye think danglin’ some little bastard he never knew he had from the mizzenmast will move that black heart?”
“For the boy’s sake then, let us hope you are who you claim.”
Eevin watched the green skull bob closer with each step of the barefoot seaman’s swagger.
“I be who I be.”
“Of course you are,” the aristocrat nodded before looking to Twitch. With a spastic clench of his cheek, the squat and girthy brute took a step forward. He lifted the serrated blade of his cutlass threateningly as Squid came closer.
The Lord-Captain flashed a handsome, smug smile. “An inspection of the goods may well jog your memory. If that proves insufficient, I have more unpleasant means both arcane and otherwise to aid you.”
“Aye sir, I be sure o’ that… Now wot be this bastard’s name?”
“Eevin, the most polite whore-spawn I have ever had the displeasure of knowing.”
The boy watched the tattooist nod and approach alongside Borkgutto’s body, calmly rolling the tattoo pick between his fingers. As Squid came closer, the boy could make out that the handle was wrapped in black sharkskin with three pearls set in a row on the side. Four empty recesses sat aligned behind the pearls where others once had been set.
Finally, he stopped a step away from the child. Leaning forward, he wrinkled his tanned brow as the boy smelled the odor of spiced rum and sweat emanating from his beard. The man’s glazed white eye looked mindlessly off to the side as the other took in Eevin’s features. He peered up into the Boatswain’s beady, hard gaze above Eevin when he was done, and the boy felt the blade at his throat press a little tighter. Then Squid backed off with a gravelly chuckle.
“I don’t care for his queer eyes,” Eevin heard him say as he felt the sting of the tattooist’s pick over his heart. Obscured by Squid’s beard and a pickpocket’s skill, the nimble move was so swift and discrete that quick glances from the boy’s mismatched irises confirmed it had been missed by the others.
Squid backed away from the Boatswain and Eevin, slowly twirling the pick from finger to finger as the Lord-Captain slid the map into the case on his belt.
“He is your son, Hakbutt Bryne.”
Eevin watched a wry smile form on the tattooist lips as he tossed his pick upwards with a flick of the wrist. “Aye.”
The boy’s heart pounded at the admission, but his eyes were locked on the pick while it cartwheeled straight up. It had just missed the ceiling and started its return fall when one of the three pearls remaining in the black sharkskin handle popped loose and fell free. His gaze lost sight of the white pearl, but he did see the tattooist catch the pick deftly, then fumble it.
The tool hit the floor with a dull clatter, and Hakbutt watched it roll to the side of Borkgutto’s corpse. He shook his head as the sound of the pearl rolling around somewhere in the background met Eevin’s ears. “Aye, aye… You caught me. ‘Twas Squid that got eaten by the shark, not I.”
The Lord-Captain nodded. “I will admit that it was a convincing cover, Captain Bryne. It was aided in no small part by the fact that you are far less impressive than the stories told about you.”
Hakbutt took a few steps to the side and Eevin watched him look down at the pick before an intense irritation began to prickle across the boy’s chest. “Yer pappy said somethin’ like that too, ‘fore I killed him.”
The young man scowled and grabbed the basket hilt of his cutlass. “I will say this only once: Tell me where you have hidden my father’s treasure and I will let you live.”
The pirate titled a look at the aristocrat with his sea-blue eye, then met Eevin’s gaze for a moment before he turned his back on all of them. He squatted down beside the dead ogre’s belted waist and reached for his pick. “Nay-nay, I won’t be tellin’ anythin’ today.”
The itching had spread from the tiny point where Hakbutt had pricked him and wormed across Eevin’s bare chest in a dozen directions. The Boatswain’s arm and knife kept the boy from seeing the lines of blue ink marking the outline of a roped anchor on his young skin, and with their focus locked on Hakbutt neither the Lord-Captain nor his men had noticed it either.
But the pirate’s good eye had seen. Seen the ink finishing the image of a seagull with wings splayed atop the cross of an anchor. Hunched and shielded from the gaze of the quartet, the jade-green skull tattoo on Hakbutt’s chest began to glow as he clenched a fist.
The Lord-Captain drew his sword and leveled it at Bryne. “Very well. Hollomon, would you kindly break this degenerate’s legs then hold him?”
Eevin had fought to remain still as the ink burned across his skin, but finally a squirm or two escaped as Hollomon hefted his mace and stepped forward. The Boatswain pressed the cold, sharp steel of his rigging knife to the child’s neck that drew a drop of hot blood. The old sailor then felt the boy somehow slipping from his grip. He squeezed his arms tighter to hold Eevin fast, but more rapidly than the Boatswain could react the weight of the boy in his arms virtually disappeared as he literally shrank out of his grapple.
“Seven devils!?” the Boatswain yelled as his arms scissored awkwardly and he nearly fell over. Under his crossed elbows, a gull with the spotted brown plumage of a juvenile screamed out a shrill cry frantically kicking away from the sailor. Its webbed feet fell onto the floor at the same time as Eevin’s empty black breeches, and every eye except Hakbutt’s watched the squawking, graceless bird scamper and hop about for a stunned second.
With a growl, the one-eyed pirate seized the moment. Reaching across to the cutlass that lay sheathed over Borkgutto’s backside, he grabbed its basketless hilt and drew the weapon springing to his feet. Only paces away, the lumbering Hollomon charged towards Hakbutt and prepared to sprawl the bearded man flat with his mace. The Lord-Captain turned back just in time to see the pirate’s open, outstretched palm unleash a flaming green skull that screamed as it left a tail of hurtling fire.
The skull of burning energy rocketed into Hollomon’s sallet visor and exploded with a green flash. Showered with steel fragments, Seaman Twitch and his Captain wavered as Hakbutt sprang forward in the now smoke-filled room. His bare foot hit Hollomon’s breastplate with an empty clang as the henchman’s armored body was kicked backwards. The tall man clattered headless into the planking at Twitch’s feet near the broken cabin door.
“S-sorcery!” the young Lord-Captain shouted thrusting a free hand under his longcoat and into an inner pocket. “Never have I heard that you were capable of half-witted arcana!”
“I be full of surprises!” Hakbutt snarled as he lunged over the young seagull that leapt out of the way as Bryne grabbed the off-balance Boatswain. The pirate locked his fingers around the sailor’s wrist and jerked it hard and fast under the old man’s chin. The rigging knife snapped loose and fell from Boatswain’s hand with the crack of his dislocating shoulder, but it was only as the sinewy old man tried to cry out in pain and only gurgled that he realized his throat had been cut from ear-to-ear by his own blade.
Enraged, Twitch yelled at the sight of the Boatswain buckling over to grab and gasp at the bloody torrent of his mortal wound. The neckbearded young man rushed like a bull and swung with the serrated blade of his cutlass, and would have cleaved Hakbutt in two if Bryne hadn’t slapped the blow aside with his less impressive weapon.
The Lord-Captain produced a shark’s tooth dipped in worn, black wax from his coat and began the incantation of an arcana as Twitch and Hakbutt traded a quick series of parries. Forced back by the strength of the sailor’s blows, the pirate glanced to the Boatswain choking on his own blood and grabbed him by the hair. With a boarding cry that had chilled the blood of countless men across the ocean, Hakbutt thrust the dying man into the seaman.
Unwilling to strike at his friend, the Boatswain’s skull cracked against Twitch’s face. The brute staggered backwards as the old man fell to the planking, dead. Spitting out broken teeth, the thick man drooled bloody spittle onto his beard and contorted his face murderously at a winded Bryne.
Scampering up and onto the back of Borkgutto’s corpse, Eevin still flapped his wings in a panic as he watched the unfolding fight with the clarity of a bird’s vision. Twitch rushed Hakbutt enraged, and the pair locked cutlasses as the big man pushed the far slimmer Bryne into the cabin walls. The seaman twisted the serrated blade of his sword, catching and pinning the pirate’s weapon as Twitch reduced the contest to one of pure strength that he would surely win.
There was the sound of grinding steel as Bryne grimaced trying to maintain a grip on the cutlass slowly being pried out of his hand. He leveraged his back against the wall, and with a push he staggered the bullish man backwards just enough to pummel an explosion of punches into Twitch’s kidney. Unfazed, the brute looked into Hakbutt’s good eye and spit with a vengeful smile.
Copyright © 2016 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.