By Dana DeVries and Vicki Kirchhoff-Martin
Cossette leaned back against the rigging and smiled up at the topman working the lines above her. “You’ll like Gus, Maggie. He’s worked a dozen different sites and manages to find the most incredible things. Then he just…moves on. Can’t stand the ‘crowds’ of people who show up when the interesting stuff starts coming out of the ground. But he’s always happy to have a few guests come by for some of his broiled herring. Says only Vestenmanjavenar can really cook it right.”
Maggie nodded as she leapt amidst the ropes and slowly let out the line. The sails shifted with the wind and the ship tacked about. She lightly danced across the beam, dropped off and caught herself to hang upside down face to face with the Explorer’s captain. Despite the heat and her exertions not a drop of sweat marred her forehead as Maggie asked, “You’re sure he won’t mind having us stop by so suddenly?”
“I just told you, he likes guests. He probably hasn’t seen anyone in weeks.”
“Even guests who…” Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
“Gus is a man who believes in a woman’s worth, not about her past. He claims that his ancestors were bloodthirsty warriors who could barely find the pointy end of a sword. That’s why he changed his name to honor his son instead of his father. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop the warriors from invading his village and killing his son. That’s why he left the Vestenmanjavenar isles. Couldn’t stand the memories anymore and decided to devote himself to a past that didn’t involve warriors. Anyway, you need to get beyond this whole Lightbringer business and focus on living.”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t have strange sigils tattooed to the bottoms of your feet that proclaim you to be a religious icon or something.” “Would it make you feel better if I got a tattoo? Maybe a big one right on my forehead.”
The topman chuckled, “Thanks, Cossette. But I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” Then she cocked her head and said, “Cannon fire.”
The lookout overhead called out, “Smoke on the horizon.”
Cossette stood and strode over to a chest next to the mast. She pulled out a tube of brass capped with strange amber colored lenses. Putting it to her eye, she peered towards the small tropical island dead ahead. A stream of smoke rose into the air from the far side of point that jutted out from the island. She called out sharply. “Brennen!”
The quartermaster came onto deck. He had been asleep just a few minutes ago, but was he was bright eyed and ready for action.
Cossette gestured with the odd spyglass and handed it to him. As Brennen examined the smoke, she asked quietly. “That’s Gus’s site isn’t it?”
“Could be. Or it could be from the harbor. He’s not defenseless you know.” “I know he can usually handle himself, but if they’re firing off cannons, it’s bad. Unless you think he’s the one firing the cannon.”
Brennen muttered, “Close enough,” as Cossette called out, “Jelena, bring us in as close to the island as you can, we’ll sweep around the point and take them by surprise.”
Brennen pointed out, “We could just leave now. They don’t even know we’re here.”
“Gus Heimfather is an Explorer, one of us. And that is one of our sites. I am not about to abandon one of our own.”
“I know. Just pointing out the path of prudence. By the way, I distributed some of the special ammunition to the gunners last watch.”
Cossette nodded. As the island came closer and the smoke grew in volume, the entire crew gathered at the bow, watching for any sign of what was happening before them. The sounds of cannon fire came clearly across the water, but the other ship was still hidden by the spur of land. Cossette spoke to the pilot and the large vessel came in close enough to the island for two crewmen and Korintine Nocolovich to leap overboard and scramble ashore. Within moments, they had disappeared into the dense vegetation. The ship swept along until it reached the small peninsula. A gust of wind caught the sails as the Redeemer came around the point. She leapt into the spray.
Ahead, a Vodacce galleon fired ragged volleys into the dense jungle while men gathered timidly upon her deck, preparing to launch the ship’s longboats. She flew a scarlet flag bearing a skull with a forked tongue above a flag bearing Bernoulli’s colours. Smoke rose from the large sections of the hull that were blackened and smashed as if they had been struck with gouts of flame. The sails were in tatters and the rigging was destroyed.
Cossete’s voice called out “FIRE!” and the Redeemer’s guns echoed with their own thunder. The Vodacce crew turned at the sound and caught the barrage in their teeth. Several of the cannonballs punched a hole through the ship and into the jungle beyond. Another exploded in green flames. Another smashed into the mainmast and stopped. After hanging in mid air for a heartbeat, it plunged straight down through the decking, the hull and into the briny depths.
Cossette turned with a frown. “I don’t mind using some of the special ammunition but we don’t need to use all of it! Continue firing with regular shot.” She turned back towards the pirates and stroked her chin to cover the big grin. A few of the fastest gunners fired another volley off behind her. As it crashed into the pirates, they were already dropping their colours and searching for a white flag. Over her shoulder she called out, “Cease fire.” and a cheer broke out amongst her men.
Now that the enemy was dealt with, she turned her attention to the shoreline. The sight erased the smile from her face. Craters amongst the trees showed where cannonballs had blasted back the foliage. A few fires burnt feebly in the wet jungle. The small house that the Explorers had built for Gus was nothing more than a smoldering pile of timber. The rock outcropping where the Vestenmanjavenar had worked so hard had shattered. Cossette’s face was cold as she ordered the Redeemer brought alongside the Vodacce vessel.
A burst of orange light lit up the jungle for a moment. Then another flash of the strange light that lasted a heartbeat. Cossette let out a deep breath as the lookout confirmed, “They’ve found Gus. He’s alright!” Then the Explorers captain turned her attention back to the Vodacce ship. Cut into her side was the name Marauding Tongue. “Just lovely,” she remarked as she called out her orders to the crew.
“Samuel, Jelena, Joseph. Take three men each. We’re going across to visit our guests. Have the rest of your men out of sight, but standing ready with muskets. Those pirates give us any trouble, I want them to clear the decks over there.”
Brennen asked from beside her, “Do you want to wait for Gus to get here before you board them?”
“No. They’re going to start sinking soon. Best to deal with them now and get them repaired.” Cossette gestured to Samuel Sanderson who pulled out a silverish metal rod six inches in diameter. He rapped it sharply onto the railing and then held in onto the deck. It uncoiled faster than the eye could follow and a plank of the silverish metal stretched out between the two ships. Jelena smiled and said with a wicked grin, “Ladies first.” She pushed past him and lightly ran across the plank.
Sam followed, calling after her, “Then why are you in the lead?” Cossette let a few more crewman go and then crossed herself. The plank was rock solid despite the slight movement of the two boats. Partway across she noticed Korontine and his men emerge from the jungle along with Gus. She waved them in. Gus moved to a pile of brush and uncovered a small longboat that had miraculously survived the attack.
She stepped lightly down onto Marauding Tongue and she glanced around. Close up, the Vodacce ship was hurt, but not crippled. Most of the damage was to the sails, rigging and crew. The vital timbers were solid around the holes where the Redeemer’s cannons had blasted them. Striding up to the knot of men gathered at the aft of the ship, Cossette noticed a pile of weaponry in the center of the main deck. She asked loudly, “What’s the meaning of attacking an Explorer site?”
Several of the crew turned towards a tall man with a hawk-like nose. He stepped forward with a grimace, “My apologies, captain. We had no idea he was one of yours. We had been told that a Vendel treasure seeker had set up a camp here. Our orders are to seek out the Vendel and destroy them.”
“I see. Your name and the name of the man who gave you this faulty information.”
“Captain Linguetta. A respectable source, captain. I’m afraid I cannot reveal more than that.”
“Meaning, you won’t tell me unless I make it worth your while?”
The man smiled slightly. “Precisely. So good to deal with someone who understands how things are done.”
“Well, I’ll tell you how things will be done. I’m taking you and your men back to the nearest Mondavi port in chains to stand trail as pirates. Your boat I’m keeping as salvage rights.”
The Vodacce captain sputtered, “You can’t do that!”
Cossette smiled coldly. “Trust me. Explorers know all about Vodacce salvage rights.”
“You would be signing our death warrants. Mondavi courts are completely corrupt!”
“Or at least as corrupt as any other courts in Vodacce, just not corrupt in your favor. See, I do know a bit about how things are done here. Just be glad I don’t sell you to the Crescent slavers like Explorers caught by your thugs. Besides, you talk of our treatment when you’re already plotting to attack us in our sleep.”
“What?” The Vodacce seemed genuinely confused.
“Deny it if you like, but your men are going into our hold stripped of every possession, including clothing, unless you throw down the rest of your weapons right now.” Her voice was as cold as an Ussuran winter.
The Vodacce captain looked into her eyes for a long moment. Then he grinned and gestured to his men. Another fifty pounds of weaponry rained down upon the deck. Belaying pins, pistols, blades of every description formed a tidy stack. “Perhaps we could come to an arrangement?”
Cossette nodded with a smile. “Certainly. I am not bloodthirsty. We are keeping your ship. After all, you destroyed the house we had built here. Seems only fitting that your boat should house our men.”
“Alright. Perhaps if you could deliver my men and our cargo to a Bernoulli port…”
“I don’t think so. You are going to be turned over to the authorities and I don’t plan on being arrested for my trouble. As for the cargo, I’ll turn it over to the authorities as long as there’s nothing else stolen from the Explorers in it. Of course, if I find that, then I will turn you over to Mondavi.”
“Perhaps I have a few pieces we took from some other pirates a few days ago. I believe they’re from Explorer sites. You know certain Vodacce princes have authorized attacks against your sites. Even got it approved by the church.”
“Really. Which princes?”
“Well, Mondavi and Calagari.”
“Meaning I shouldn’t turn you over to them? Hmm. Any idea what happened to the other Explorers?”
“I heard that their sites were plundered, but they didn’t resist so they were left alone. Unlike the men here. Whoever’s on shore here wouldn’t even let us get on shore. He just started firing bolts of lightning at us as soon as we came into sight!”
Cossette chuckled. “You poor thing. It looks like he kept firing while you destroyed the cave, the house and cannoned the island at random. Just trying to defend yourself against him, I’m sure. How rude. I’ll tell you what. You tell me who provided the information about this site. I’ll turn you and your boat over to Falisci’s men. We keep your cargo. They can deal with you as they see fit. But I will spread the word to the other Explorers. You will not have any other dealings with us and you will not prey upon us again. Or we will hunt you down and deal with you. No matter what name you choose to use, Signor Tongue.”
The pirate captain sighed as several of his men laughed. “A moderately generous offer, I must confess. But I don’t know who gave us the information. It was passed to me through an acquaintance. One that I cannot expose.”
She nodded to him for a moment. “I see. Then we’ll keep the cargo and the boat, but we’ll hand you over to Falisci.” The pirate looked pained, but he nodded agreement as she called out orders to her men. “Alright. Search them. Then put them in our hold. Keep at least two armed men watching them at all times. Then get the carpenters over here and plug the leaks we made.”
Looking up she saw Gus coming toward her still holding an intricate musket in one hand. She called out. “What is that thing?”
He grinned ruefully at her. “Just a little something I picked up in Montaigne. Worked pretty good, but now it’s just a very old stick.” Gus grimaced at the pirates still standing in a huddle. “I hope you’re making them pay. They blew up everything. My house, the cave, everything. Except the three artifacts I had uncovered. Those I moved into a pit in the jungle for safe keeping.”
Cossette grinned at her friend. “Good thinking. But does this mean that you won’t have dinner ready for us?”
“Afraid not.” Looking over he shook his head. “It looks like this dig is over. Need another hand over here?”
“I think we could find you a berth.”
“I should be able to catch dinner before too long.”
Cossette replied. “We do have supplies, I could cook something for us.”
“I’d eat hard tack and cheese before I’d let you feed me any of that slop you call food.”