The Serpent’s Map (Part III)

Posted: June 20, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No Chuck Wendig challenge this week, so I decided I’d continue on with my swashbuckling tale. Comments, as always, are welcome, and yes, I promise not to leave you hanging here.

“I don’t like this,” Ramiro says, coming up alongside Viktoria and Graciano. They lean against the railing, the waves slicing against the ship as it cleaves through the water. They’ve been lucky so far, the wind is favorable and has been since they’ve left port.

“What’s wrong?” Graciano asks. He looks up at the sky. “We’ve clear weather, a nice wind, and no sign of any trouble on the horizon.” He smiles, the scar on his mouth twitching up. “Doesn’t get much better than this, does it?”

Ramiro’s frown deepens and he runs his fingers along the grip of the pistol thrust through his crimson sash. “I took a closer look at that map of yours. Compared it to some of the sea charts I have. Do you know where we’re headed?”

“The Serpent’s Archipelago.” Viktoria peers at Ramiro through her glasses, swaying slightly on her feet. This isn’t her first time on board a ship, but she lacks the easy grace of Graciano and Ramiro. “I thought we established that when we hired you.”

Ramiro snorts. “Sure. But the Archipelago is a big place. Hundreds of islands, some of them bigger than others. At least three main ports, plus a number of coves, beaches, and inlets where a ship captain might decide to make landfall.”

“So?” Graciano turns his attention from the horizon to Ramiro. “Are you telling me you’ve never taken advantage of some of those lesser known ports?” He smiles, but it doesn’t touch his eyes. “I thought we had a deal. I thought you took our coin.”

Ramiro nods, holds his hands up palms out. “We do have a deal. And yes, your coin is good.”

“But?”

Ramiro sighs and looks around to make sure none of the rest of the crew is too close to overhear. “There are parts of the Archipelago no self-respecting captain will take a ship. There are places where captains and crews go and are never seen again. Places where monsters are said to dwell.”

“A ships’ graveyard.” Graciano’s smile disappears. “I never took you for a superstitious man, Ramiro.”

“All sailors are a bit superstitious. We’re almost as bad as soldiers that way.”

“Good thing he brought his physician with him, then, isn’t it?” Viktoria interjects.

Ramiro sniffs. “I suppose it is. Though a woman doctor…”

“Think about what you are going to say.” Viktoria taps her hand against the hilt of her saber.

“Ah. Yes. Glad to have you aboard.”

Graciano pinches the bridge of his nose. “You know I respect your opinion of the sea, Ramiro. Do we have cause to be concerned beyond your vague sense of unease?”

Ramiro leans against the rail of the ship, his eyes drifting across the azure surface broken by snowy crests. “It’s a part of the archipelago I’ve never been to.”

“So-” Gracian folds his arms across his chest, wrinkling his nose.

Ramiro holds up his hand. “Let me finish, will you?”

“My apologies.”

“There’s nothing there to interest anyone. A few native tribes. Some old ruins. Some fish and wild boars, maybe. Nothing spectacular.”

“But?” Viktoria offered, stepping closer.

Ramiro shrugs. “Rumors. Old temples to gods best forgotten. Creatures that walk on two legs like men but are not men. Demons sleeping restless waiting for the unwary to wake them.” He tries to smile, but it is weak and unconvincing. “I know a lot of other captains, other sailors. I have a great collection of sea charts. None of the people I’ve talked to have ever been within one hundred miles of where that map leads. None of my maps show me what’s there.”

Graciano smiles. “It’s an adventure then. Going where no one has been before, isn’t that what every captain dreams of?”

Ramiro snorts. “Not me. I like a warm bed, a warm woman, and a cold ale. This is too much for me.”

Viktoria stares hard at Ramiro. “Are you suggesting we turn around then?”

The captain shakes his head. “No, not yet. We can get closer though, see if there is anything to see, all right?”

Graciano stares at Ramiro for a moment, fingers tapping against the railing. He looks at Viktoria who shrugs at him. “Very well. We’ll do as you say, see if there is anything there.”

The ship lurches, causing Graciano to stumble, Viktoria to clutch the rail and Ramiro to shift his balance.

“What?” The captain looks up, sees the sails have gone suddenly slack. “Where’d the wind go?”

“Ho, captain! Sail on the horizon.” A sailor in the rigging calls out.

“Heh, well it doesn’t matter who they are. No wind is no wind, so they’re stuck as much as we are.”

“Captain, they are getting closer.”

“What?” Ramiro sprints to the aftercastle. “Someone get me a glass.”

One of the mates tosses him a spyglass, and he catches it deftly from the air. He brings it up and curses under his breath.

“What is it?” Graciano asks, having followed after him.

“Whose shoes did you piss on this time, Graciano?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look for yourself.”

Taking the glass from the captain, Graciano brings it to his eye. There, on the horizon a distant shape grows closer. He can make out the shape of oars slicing through the water, the sails filled with the wind they are lacking, and the distinct image of a coiled serpent on the flag on top of their mast. He can make out the forms of men on deck, the glint of sunlight off of metal.

“Where are they getting the wind?”

Ramiro spits over the side. “Doesn’t matter, does it? And they’re coming up behind us.” He pulls an oilcloth off a bulky object on the aftcastle, revealing a swivel gun. “All right, my boys, to arms to arms. We’ve got pirates.”

Graciano looks at Viktoria. She shrugs, and gestures at the ship deck and the ocean surrounding them.

“You don’t think they want to talk?”

She draws her saber. “As much as the ones at Salamander Cove wanted to.”

Graciano sighs and draws his own rapier. He looks about as the sailors gather weapons, a handful of muskets, a few pistols, boarding axes and belaying pins. “I was getting bored anyway,” he says with a grin.

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