Captain’s report: We have been dispatched to Hollowmound, a virgin culture without any worship of gods. The Pantheon ship ‘Wyvern’ has stopped sending reports after being dispatched to prepare the culture for a missionary expedition. Our instructions are to investigate, recover the ship, and save her crew or determine what happened to them.
Sailing into the harbor that the Wyvern had set course for, Captain Baxtor grunted as he looked through his farscope and passed it to Third Captain Reeves. “Looks like we’ve found our missing ship,” Joseph Baxtor said. The two men stood in contrast with one another: Captain Baxtor, stout and solid, with long, brown, curly hair and a bushy beard, while Albert Reeves had an athletic build, a cropped, military haircut, and a well-groomed, black goatee.
“It looks like the locals have moved in,” observed Reeves, passing the farscope back to his captain. On the deck of the Wyvern, a number of decidedly non-Pantheon sailors were performing maintenance tasks aboard her.
Cutting through the natural harbor, the Phoenix glided to rest one hundred feet away from the other ship. The foreign sailors working her deck smiled and waved at the newly arrived ship. Dropping anchor, deckhands prepared a dinghy to take Reeves, engineer Henry Cook, and Radiance ashore with a contingent of six marines. The youthful engineer and the large, orange elementalist each sat reading a book while the deckhands and marines prepared to launch.
Pulling the younger third captain close, Baxtor quietly said, “Watch yourself out there Albert. Something smells off about this and they might not be happy about returning that ship.”
With a nod, Reeves boarded the dinghy and cast off from the larger ship. Rowing ashore, they had time to admire the lush, tropical foliage surrounding the bay. Huts and fields teemed with locals, who seemed unconcerned about the Phoenix’s arrival. Construction had begun on a stone and wood pier, which looked as though it would easily allow large ships to dock once it was complete. Its design clashed with the natives’ buildings.
Pulling their boat ashore, Reeves ordered two of the marines to remain and guard it. “Everyone else, stay together. I don’t want anyone wandering off.”
A large crowd of natives approached the group, welcoming smiles on their faces. Breaking through the natives, three men in ragged Pantheon clothing walked forward.
“Welcome to paradise, gentleman!” one of them said.
* * *
“Who are you, where’s your Captain, and why have you stopped sending status reports?” asked Reeves, carefully studying the jovial man who had greeted them. The two other Pantheon men behind him exchange a look.
With a laugh, the leader replied, “A welcome feast in your honor first, then we’ll answer all your questions. I’m Jones and my companions here are Smith and Johnson.”
“There weren’t any officers named Jones, Smith, or Johnson on ‘The Wyvern’. Who are you really?” Reeves answered.
Chortling in response, Jones replied, “First we dine.” Gesturing for the men to follow him, the group led them back the way it came. Radiance noticed that a group of natives remained with their dinghy and its guard.
* * *
Having eaten their fill, repeatedly cajoled to have more of everything, the boarding party sipped a hot, alcoholic local drink called orenda that had been brought out to them. Through the meal, other individuals who were clearly from the Pantheon drifted in, examined the new arrivals, and left without introducing themselves.
Beautiful, bare-breasted local woman served the gathered men. Henry Cook alternated between surreptitiously eyeing the woman and blushing, then averting his eyes. Noticing Radiance’s appreciative glances, Jones said, “You wouldn’t find many like them back in Mytertown, would you?”
“No,” answered Radiance, then shrugged apologetically at the third captain.
“Now Jones,” began Third Captain Reeves “or whatever your bloody name is. We’ve had your feast, you flashed some skin at us. What the devil do you want?”
“What the devil do we want?” said Jones, mulling over the question. “At its heart, what we want, is to be done with the devil we already have. We’re through with Mytar, his teachings, his rules, and his oppression. We’re free, gentleman. And it’s your lucky day because we’re prepared to share our freedom with you!”
“Blasphemy!” one of the marines gasped involuntarily. Glancing at Reeves he said, “Begging your pardon, Third Captain.”
“No pardon needed, this is blasphemy,” said Reeves. “What are you fools thinking? Do you think you’re the first group of sailors to decide that they can run off and live a life free from civilization? It’s two months later and we’re already here. More ships will follow us. You can’t possibly believe this is going to work out for you, do you?”
“You said they’d join us,” Smith said, looking angrily at Jones.
“They will, they will,” Jones replied. “They just need some time to open their minds to the new possibilities in front of them. You’re locked into your delusions, Reeves, maybe a stint in the brig will help you see your options more clearly.” Speaking in the native’s language, three large Hollowmound men moved forward, surrounding Reeves at the table.
The marines began to reach for their weapons and Reeves held up his hand. “We’re still talking here. If putting me in the brig is what you need to figure this out, then so be it. At ease men.” Standing, the Third Captain departed with his captors.
“Mr. Cook, as an engineer I think you might appreciate the dock we’re building. They’re engineers, too,” Smith said, gesturing at three of the serving women. Johnson and Jones laughed. “Maybe they can take you for a tour.” Giving commands in the Hollowmound language again, the women tugged at Henry Cook, until he got up and left with them.
“Perhaps you can take these marines and see if they can find some interesting company.” Jones and Johnson led the fighting men out of the hut, leaving Smith and Radiance at the large table.
Looking at the seven-foot, orange giant, Smith said, “So, Radiance. What’s your view of Mytar? You’re obviously not from Mytertown.”
“I actually am, born, and bred. My feelings towards Mytar are complicated. On the one hand, I share your contempt for his authoritarian, oppressive, self-indulgent regime.” Smith began smiling more broadly and nodding his head as the elementalist talked. “On the other hand, he *IS* my father.”
Smith’s face fell. “Surely you jest,” he said flatly.
“Actually, I don’t. My feelings aren’t particularly warm, however. I’ve only met him once and, as I said, I didn’t care much for him. I have all the constraints you and his other disciples have. As his offspring, I have some additional ‘constraints’.”
“Such as?” asked Smith, leaning forward with interest.
“I was required to enter governmental service. Getting a posting as an elementalist was… challenging. Most of my half-siblings are in the clergy. Whatever I did, my life wasn’t my own the day I was born,” answered Radiance.
“And what else?” Smith asked, following what Radiance was saying carefully.
“I’m prohibited from producing offspring. Any issue would be quite…” holding up his orange hand, he finished, “identifiable.”
“So there you go!” said Smith triumphantly. “This is your way out. And a child of Mytar! This could be just the break we were hoping for.”
“As much as I sympathize with your desires,” Radiance continued, “this can’t work. Third Captain Reeves was right about everything he said. A report has already been sent back to the Pantheon. Even if we did betray our god, country, and duty to join you, all that would happen is an armada would park itself in the harbor in front of your pretty new pier, knock down anything you’d built here, then continue with converting the Hollowmounders like you were supposed to be preparing them for. In fact…”
“No, you don’t understand,” Smith said, cutting him off. “They’ll send more ships and they’ll join us as they come! We’ll have Radiance, son of Mytar to greet them. They’ll see that it’s their chance to escape and get away like all of us want to!” Spittle flew from the man’s mouth as he worked himself into a fervor.
“What happened to your captain?” asked Radiance.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said and stood abruptly. “Please enjoy our hospitality, I need to talk to the others.” Calling in the Hollowmound language, two of the serving women approach Radiance seductively. Holding a carafe of orenda, one slid into his lap and tried to put the vessel to his lips as the giant kept gently pushing it away.
* * *
Walking along the shore, Henry Cook observed the dock. Glancing periodically at the Phoenix anchored in the harbor, he would occasionally make a series of broad gestures at the ship. A middle-aged man in weathered Pantheon clothes approached him and introduced himself. “I’m Matthew Roberts, the head of the pier construction project. I probably should stop you from signaling your ship,” said the older man with a grin, “but do what you have to do.”
With a blush, Henry Cook asked, “Have you always done construction?”
“Yes, that’s what I was sent here to do,” answered Mr. Roberts. “We were supposed to learn the Hollowmound language, make friends with them, then start building structures like the pier to make things more comfortable for the missionary team that would have followed in six months or so. It’s good work, and I’ve enjoyed the projects where I’ve previously been stationed. Even though things seem to have gone off the rails here, when they wanted a pier built, I figured I’d do what was originally planned.”
“How did it go off the rails?” asked Cook. “Smith wouldn’t say.”
“Smith he’s calling himself?” chuckled Matthew Roberts. “That’s Hank Hughes, the Wyvern’s second captain and the leader of this mutiny you and I seem to have been swept up into.”
* * *
Looking at one another through the farcaster Radiance had conjured, the elementalist quietly said, “Please don’t talk, or at least keep quiet if you do, Captain. I don’t want them to know we can communicate.” Behind the orange giant, two women were splayed unconscious. Empty vessels that had previously held orenda lay around them.
In a hushed voice, Captain Baxtor said, “Mr. Cook has determined that your captor is Hank Hughes, the Wyvern’s second captain. He apparently has quite an aptitude for learning languages and generally has a reputation as a solid, if opinionated, officer.”
“That makes sense,” said Radiance with a nod. “He seems set on seceding from the Pantheon, but I keep telling him his plan doesn’t make any sense. He seems to be hoping for some miracle that will leave them here alone. He’s still trying to win me over, but Third Captain Reeves pushed back a little too hard and has been put in their brig.”
“Keep it up, and encourage him to continue talking to you and trying to win you over. No one is in immediate danger?” Joseph Baxtor asked.
“No Captain,” said Radiance. “I’ll report in again when I get the chance.” The farcaster winked out of existence.
* * *
“I’m just saying,” said Reeves, leaning back on his cot and smirking at his captor outside his cell, “that you’ve drawn a pretty cushy job. Sitting around and watching someone locked behind bars beats doing an honest day’s work.”
With a chuckle, the jailor said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Prisoners can try to escape. If someone mounts a rescue I might get attacked. I have to deliver meals and empty chamber pots. Lots of duties.” With a theatrical raise of his eyebrows, he said, “Maybe even torture unruly prisoners.”
“Have you tortured anyone yet?” asked Reeves, grin falling slightly.
“Not yet, but there’s a whip around here somewhere,” the jailor said with an offhand air. “Another game of ‘matches’?”
“You’ve already won all my money,” Reeves said sadly.
“I’ll spot you,” the jailor said as he pulled over a stool and brought out the dice.
“Do they really make you empty the chamber pots?” asked Reeves.
“Yeah, it’s part of the job,” replied the jailor.
“I wonder why they don’t get one of those Hollowmounders to do it? Seems like that’s a bit beneath you. Doing that sort of clean up…” Reeves said.
The jailor nodded thoughtfully as he put a handful of bronze assarii on each side of the stool.
* * *
Hughes gestured to the lavish breakfast spread on the table in the same hut where they had eaten dinner the previous night. “I bet you don’t eat this well out at sea, Radiance?”
Joining the man at the table, Radiance nodded his agreement. “Officers eat better than the men, of course, but nothing like this. We even went without eggs for a week recently.”
“No eggs?” asked Hughes, “What happened to your chickens?”
“There was a whole infestation issue,” replied Radiance, waving off the question. One of the serving women brought a ceramic cup and placed it in front of Radiance, while another did the same with Hughes.
“We’ve just recently taught them how to make ceramics,” said Hughes, explaining the women’s careful delivery. “They’re still getting used to them.” With a chuckle, as the women poured a steaming black liquid into each cup, he said, “This is a little bit of an acquired taste.”
Taking a sip, Radiance made a face and put down his cup. “Is this some sort of medicine? I don’t need a hangover remedy.”
Laughing good-naturedly, Hughes spoke to the serving women in their language. They began adding sugar and cream to his beverage. “Try it a little sweeter and I’m sure you’ll develop a taste for it. It has a mild energizing effect that grows on you quickly. We all have gotten used to starting our day with a cup of it. The locals call it ‘coffee’,” he said, carefully pronouncing the Hollowmound native’s term for the beverage.
“Listen,” said Radiance. “You’re a likable fellow. I can understand that your shipmates would have rallied around you and that you talked them into this. Life here seems idyllic, but your plan just won’t work. No culture can stand against the great powers. One or another will sweep you up, and as far as the options go, ‘The Pantheon’ is the best choice out there. Do you want to join the Zith and supervise the wholesale blood sacrifice of the population here?”
“No,” said Hughes with a smile. “I don’t have the slightest interest in joining the Zith. You’re underestimating our resolve. The cultures that get swept up by the great powers would resist if they knew the life that awaited them. We’re the spark that’s going to start a fire of revolution. We’ll show others the way, and together we’ll be able to stand up to them.”
“So you’ll be the king of a new power?” asked Radiance, cocking an eyebrow.
“And why not?” demanded Hughes, turning serious. “Look what I’ve already accomplished here? Look at the support I’ve gotten, melding two wildly different groups into a stronger whole?”
“And instead of a god, they’ll worship you?” asked Radiance. “A new tyrant may not be as appealing to the masses as you predict.”
“Tyrant I may be, but once we’ve taught the people of Hollowmound to make ceramics and hand cannons, breeding cattle, and shipbuilding, I shall be hailed as the most beloved tyrant in history. Once refugees from the Pantheon get to live in paradise, with vast wealth from trade, you’ll sing songs in praise of my foresight. Following my instructions is a small price to pay for everything I’m providing!” By the end of his diatribe, Hughes was ranting and gesturing wildly. The Hollowmound women serving them looked uncomfortably at one another.
“Where is Captain Brown?” asked Radiance suddenly.
“I killed him,” admitted Hank Huges softly. “His blood waters the soil liberty grows in.”
“It isn’t too late to bring this to an end,” suggested Radiance. “If you took responsibility, your men could probably get off with a loss of rank and a short period of indentured servitude. Less than five years I’m sure. We could make sure that your execution was quick and painless.”
“Never,” hissed Huges, knocking his cup off of the table. With a thud it bounced off the wall, fell to the ground and broke into two. A pool of coffee spread from the broken pieces.
* * *
Holding a lantern over the side of the ship, Captain Baxtor saw the blonde, well-toned Frank Ward push off his dinghy and extinguish his lantern. “Mytarspeed,” said the Captain, as the Second Captain and his dozen marines slipped into the darkness.
Behind him, William Nickerson and Adam Hudson stood ready for any instructions from the captain. “Do you think Second Captain Ward will be able to rescue them?” asked Hudson.
“If anyone can, he’s the man,” answered Joseph Baxtor. “If we could get our people back, it would simplify things. Has there been any response to our report from Mytertown Mr. Hudson?”
“Nothing yet, sir,” answered Adam Hudson, the thin-framed apprentice elementalist.
* * *
Snorting awake, his jailer looked across at Albert Reeves, who was reading by the light of a lantern in his cell. Looking around him in surprise, the jailer said, “We’re going to get in trouble if they catch me sleeping and you with a book and a candle.”
“They’ll have to catch us first,” said Reeves with a wink. “I’ll make sure to wake you up if I hear anyone coming, and I’ll stow the candle and book under the cot. Boredom is the real torture.”
With a grunt, the jailer settled back into his chair to return to sleep.
* * *
Looking over his diagrams by the light of a lantern, Henry Cook and Matthew Roberts finished their discussion of the material choices for the dock.
“If you had some cast iron, rebars could be added to your design,” Cook suggested.
“Yeah, unfortunately, that wasn’t part of our supplies,” agreed Roberts. “The pier wasn’t our top priority construction project originally. Any time I ask for anything like that, Hughes tells me I’ll get everything I want… eventually.”
“Do you mind if I double-check some of these calculations?” asked the young engineer.
“Please do!” agreed the mutineer.
* * *
“You. Happy. Hughes?” asked Radiance, haltingly expressing himself in the Hollowmound language to the three women in the hut with him.
Unconcerned by his poor grasp of their language, both women began drunkenly babbling, first to him, then to one another. Trying his best to follow their conversation, Radiance picked out words for ceramics, cows, angry, piers, hand cannons, and cruel.
Sharing orenda with them, he prepared himself for another communication with Captain Baxtor as one of the women passed out.
* * *
Pulling their dinghy onto shore, Frank Ward and his dozen, darkly dressed marines made their way stealthily through the port town. Late-night Hollowmounders moved around town; heading home, celebrating personal victories, or visiting friends and family. Avoiding the torchlight that these locals traveled with, Ward’s group made its way to the jail holding Albert Reeves.
Stealthily slipping up to the building, Frank Ward looked in the window to see Radiance helping Albert Reeves equip himself with his seized gold hand cannon and rapier. Morosely, the jailer looked at the two men from inside Reeves’ former cell.
“You know I’m going to get in trouble for you escaping,” said the former jailer, who was tied up and on the cot.
Putting a gag in his mouth, Reeves replied, “I’m letting you keep your Matches winnings and we’re not even roughing you up before we leave. You can’t ask for much more than that. Now be a good lad, lay back, and have a rest. You could choke yourself if you start struggling.” The third captain closed the cell door and locked it.
Opening the door, Frank Ward motioned to the two men to follow him into the night.
* * *
Frank Ward and Albert Reeves entered Matthew Roberts’ hut after peeking in the window and seeing the two men engrossed in work. Noticing them, the two engineers blinked repeatedly, trying to understand what was happening.
“We’re here to rescue you,” said Second Captain Ward to Henry Cook, eyeing Roberts. “Is this guy going to cause us any problems?”
Looking between the men, engineer Roberts said, “No problems. Actually, if I may, I’d like to come with you. I never wanted any part in this mutiny, but by the time I was forced to pick a side, it looked like I was just volunteering to be executed if I spoke up for the captain. Maybe all of you could speak on my behalf if there’s a trial?”
Looking irritated, Ward replied, “Stay with us and keep quiet. Radiance, lead the way to where our marines are being held.”
“Housed may be more appropriate than held, but come this way.” Radiance said.
* * *
Moving along through the darkness, the bigger party got to the large, long hut where the captured marines were being housed. Looking through the windows, the hut had rows of rough beds lining both sides. The marines occupied about half the beds, and were in a variety of states of recreation; reading, cleaning their uniforms, drinking orenda, and interacting with Hollowmound women.
Moving into the hut, Ward spoke at a regular volume but had to repeat himself to get everyone’s attention. “Marines, quickly gather your belongings. We’re headed back to the rowboats to return to the Phoenix.
One of the marines, lounging on his bed with a woman in his arms, said, “Come on, Second Captain, why would we want to leave here?”
Becoming firm with the man, Ward harshly said, “On your feet, Wilson. You have 20 seconds to be packed and ready to leave. Five lashes when we’re back on board for insubordination.”
Rediscovering their discipline, the men quickly made preparations to leave. The women watched the frantic men prepare in confusion. Forming up, these marines joined those that Ward had brought with him.
As they began to move towards the door, Hank Hughes appeared in the doorway on the other side of the large, communal hut. “Are you tired of our hospitality already, gentlemen?”
Ward, Reeves, and the men began scrambling for their weapons. Hughes quietly watched them do so. Behind the group and outside the windows, shutters were removed from lanterns, revealing a large crowd of armed men surrounding the hut.
“I have hundreds of armed men with me and there are thousands more between us and the shore. We’ve pulled up your dinghies, yes, both of them, and put them in storage. Let’s chalk this up to a misunderstanding and let us continue to entertain you.” Looking at Ward, he said, “I always enjoy someone new to talk to. Perhaps you could join Radiance and I for a late-night drink? After my men have confiscated your weapons, of course.”
* * *
Looking over the water, Captain Baxtor, William Nickerson, and Adam Hudson saw the enemy vessel moving towards them and the harbor. “Mr. Hudson, sound the warning for approaching hostile vessel, send off a report detailing the arrival of an Onell Warship, then make sure cannons are ready. Mr. Nickerson, ready the marines.” The Phoenix raised her anchor and adopted a holding pattern as the ship got closer.
“We’re evenly matched,” observed the captain after Mr. Nickerson returned to his side. Joseph Baxtor gave a small sigh at the blank expression on the quartermaster’s face.
“Keep your distance from them,” the captain ordered the helmsman.
The enemy ship was now close enough that its name could be seen on its hull. The Phoenix’s flagman, who could read Onell, read it to the Captain as “The Corvinium.” The opposing ship’s flagman began signaling and the ship kept its distance.
Working out the message, The Phoenix’s flagman began to convey the message to Captain Baxtor. “They say that our mothers…”
“Are whores and they’ll send us to meet our disgraced ancestors,” completed Joseph Baxtor, having watched the message himself. “Signal back to them that they’re dog rapists and we’re ending their villainy today.”
“What about pig rapists, sir?” suggested Nickerson, eyeing the other ship across the water. At the Captain’s inquiring glance, the quartermaster explained his thought. “Lots of people like dogs. No one likes pigs. Unless they’re eating them…”
“Good suggestion, Mr. Nickerson. Make that ‘pig rapists’,” Captain Baxtor clarified to the flagman.
* * *
Below deck, Adam Hudson moved between the deckhands working to prepare the ship’s cannons. The gun captains gathered around him and one asked, “Any special orders from the captain, Mr. Hudson?”
“Uh. Nothing special. Just to prepare the guns. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to be fighting, but…you know. Be ready, just in case that changes,” Hudson said.
Looking uncertainly between themselves, another of the gun captains asked, “He didn’t want any special shot? Cannister shot, grapeshot, or anything like that?”
“No, no. He didn’t ask for anything like that. Just normal cannonballs, I think. The cast-iron spherical shot… I think,” the elementalist’s assistant responded.
“Right away,” the men called and broke to their individual crews.
Wandering through the gun deck, Adam Hudson was glad no one had any other questions for him. He made his way to the infirmary and greeted Sinclair Foran, the ship’s healer.
“I just wanted to let you know that there’s a Onell ship that arrived. It doesn’t seem to want to fight us, but things can change. Right? You know? So I guess you should be ready for injuries if that happens.” Hudson looked at the healer uncertainly, nodded, and started to leave.
“A word of advice, lad?” asked Healer Foran. The well-dressed redhead looked kindly at the younger man.
“Gladly,” the apprentice elementalist said, turning eagerly to the healer.
“You’re passing along the captain’s orders, so make them orders. Keep your messages economical. Any extra words might cause mistakes during a crisis. Be precise,” said Sinclair Foran, taking any sting out of his words with a smile.
“Enemy ship sighted, be ready for casualties,” said Hudson and turned to leave.
“Good lad,” said the healer quietly.
* * *
Adam Hudson, having returned from preparing the cannons, looked inquiringly at the two men. Joseph Baxtor gestured to Mr. Nickerson, inviting him to explain.
“If they wanted a fight, they wouldn’t have sailed up and started chatting to us. They’d have come in, cannons blazing, and hoped to have caught us unprepared. By threatening us, their captain is saying, ‘I’m not looking for trouble, but if you force my hand I’ll fight you.’ Our response, in kind, lets them know that we accept their position and that we’re in a standoff.”
The marines on the Corvinium were at the side of the ship, waving their weapons and shouting across the harbor. Although the Phoenix crew couldn’t make out their words, the meaning was clearly aggressive. William Nickerson had cajoled the marines to respond in kind and Adam Hudson was hearing more colorful language than he was used to. One Pantheon marine dropped his trousers and mooned the other ship.
“Why are they raising the stakes by yelling at us?” the young engineer asked Captain Baxtor.
Thoughtfully, the Captain answered, “They’re encouraging us to leave. This is them telling us that they don’t want a fight, but they won’t back down from one either.”
* * *
“Gather round men,” ordered Nickerson, as he approached the rowdy marines.
“Hey Will, are we going to have a cockfight while we wait for those cowards to find their guts?” asked one of the marines.
“You stow that chatter, or I’ll hang you from the mainsail by your guts, you godless son of a stray dog,” said William Nickerson, in a rage.
“Sorry, quartermaster,” said the marine sulkily.
“That’s Mr. Nickerson or acting third captain to you bud. I can assign you lashes once this is all over, so keep your mouths shut unless you have something useful to say. Which none of you have, in your entire worthless lives,” the quartermaster glared around at the marines. “You did a fine job acting like hooligans, that clearly comes naturally to you. Now I need you all to pay attention and stay under control. We’ve got a tense situation here, and I don’t need one of you bastards making a mess of it by getting excited and fucking the dog. Do what I tell you, when I tell you to do it, and otherwise stand down and don’t cause me trouble. If any of you do, I’m putting my boot up your ass. Understood?”
“Understood, acting third captain,” said the marines in rough unison.
* * *
A loud boom sent the men on the Phoenix scrambling to hit the deck. A single cannon issued smoke on the the Corvinium. “Damage report,” yelled Joseph Baxtor as the men took to their feet again.
“Nothing,” reported one of the deckhands. “They seemed to have missed.”
Looking at Adam Hudson, Captain Baxtor ordered him to fire a single cannon from one of the carronades, but to make sure it went wide of the other ship. “Fire in its general direction, but I don’t want it to hit them.”
“Aye, Captain,” acknowledged Hudson as he rushed off to implement the order. Moments later a loud boom sounded. Adam Hudson rejoined the captain on the quarterdeck. Looking through his farscope, the captain grunted and handed it to the apprentice elementalist. “Have a look at that,” he said, pointing out a rowboat that had left the other ship and was moving to shore.
“What are they doing?” asked Hudson.
“I’m not sure, but they don’t want us to interfere,” said Joseph Baxtor.
* * *
Radiance, Frank Ward, Henry Cook, and Albert Reeves sat at the table, drinking and snacking with Hank Hughes and a number of the other mutineers. The debate had been kept light and everyone was still engaged in the conversation.
A party of Onell crew entered the dining hall, led by a trio of decorated officers. “Hank Hughes, I presume?” one of the officers asked. “I am Tribune Lucius. Under Pantheon command structure, you would consider me something close to a second captain. We are here to accept your oath of fealty and protect you from these invading barbarians,” he gestured at Reeves, Ward, and Radiance.
“Oath of fealty?” asked Hughes with an awkward chuckle. “I was told we would be discussing an alliance.”
“The Onell don’t make alliances,” said Third-Captain Reeves. “They conquer, militarily or diplomatically. Then assimilate. You’ve gotten yourself and your men into a bad situation here Hughes.” Looking at the Onell officer, he stood and continued, “I am Third Captain Reeves. Under Onell command structure you would consider me something close to a centurion.”
Tribune Lucius gave a thin-lipped smile. “We’ll start by putting these trouble makers in a jail cell until we can transfer them to our ship.” He gestured and five of his men moved around the table. “Perhaps one of your men would be good enough to show us the way to your brig.”
“We have plans for Radiance, but feel free to take the others,” said Hughes, visibly thrown off by what was happening.
“Those plans ended when our ship arrived,” said Lucius as his men led all of the Phoenix officers out of the hut. “We’re taking them all.”
* * *
Captain Baxtor, William Nickerson, and Adam Hudson looked across at the Onell ship. Hudson, the apprentice elementalist, stifled a yawn. “How is this going to end Captain?” he asked. “What are we all waiting for?”
Passing his farscope over to quartermaster Nickerson, Joseph Baxtor replied, “As soon as they showed up and we each reported the situation it was a race. The Onell and the Pantheon will have each dispatched reinforcements. Whoever gets here first will probably be the deciding factor, although numbers might make a difference.
“Is there anything we can do until then?” asked Hudson.
“Just wait, lad,” said Captain Baxtor. “And stay alert.”
* * *
“So, are you just going to let Lucius take over?” asked Third Captain Reeves, as Hank Hughes locked the cell he’d been returned to with Radiance, Ward, and Cook. His previous jailor gave Reeves a dirty look from inside another cell.
“It doesn’t look like I have many choices now, does it?” said Hughes, his good-natured humor gone.
“There’s always another choice,” said Reeves. “I’m a big believer in creating new options any time you run out.”
“They’re seizing all the hand cannons and rapiers we had,” admitted Hughes. “As soon as more ships arrive they’re going to be ferrying an occupation force onshore. It’s over.”
“It isn’t over,” said Reeves. “Hollowmound weapons aren’t up to our standards, but you have vast numbers here. You could easily overwhelm the Onell and having them as hostages will open up some new options for my captain.”
“That would be a bloody mess,” said Hughes, thinking it over. “The Hollowmounders wouldn’t like the casualties and the Onell would be after my head too.”
“Here’s what you do,” said Reeves breaking out in a grin as he thought up a plan. “Go back to Lucius and start becoming his best friend. Talk enthusiastically about any Onell ideas he has and tell him you want to throw a big welcome party for them tonight, as a ‘final goodbye’ to Hollowmound singing and dancing. Tell him that you’ll use it, to announce for him, that Hollowmounders will begin learning and using the Onell language. Maybe have them perform an easy song in the Onell language for Lucius and his men.”
“Have your sexy serving women fill them up with food and orenda. Party hard into the night. As people start nodding off, have your warriors, and us if you’ll allow it, take them into custody. If enough of them are drunk, no casualties. We signal the ships that we have the Onell as prisoners and we bargain for a better deal for your men and the Hollowmounders.”
“Do you think you could get me a pardon as part of the deal?” asked Hughes, warming up to the idea.
“Hughes,” said Reeves, turning more serious. “You know that isn’t going to happen. The best we can do is push off the Onell. We can get you a fair trial back at Mytertown, and if you take responsibility, I’m sure you can get your men off with a lighter sentence. We both know what’s in store for you.”
Nodding glumly, the leader of the mutineers worked out the rest of the details with Albert Reeves.
* * *
Looking through the farcaster, Captain Baxtor saw the Onell landing party bound behind Albert Reeves and Frank Ward. “Honestly they were kind of lightweights, Captain,” reported Reeves. “We took them without a single serious injury on either side.”
“Excellent work, Third Captain,” replied Captain Baxtor. “Light some torches and signal the Corvinium that we’ve taken their landing party hostage and are prepared to negotiate their return.”
A few minutes after the message was sent, a farcaster appeared five feet in front of the flagman. An Onell man in a captain’s uniform said with a heavy accent, “I am Captain Tiberius of the ship Corvinium. I request parlay with the captain of the Phoenix.”
Moving in front of the farcaster, Captain Baxtor replied, “I am Captain Baxtor of the Phoenix. We’ve seized your landing party and are prepared to return all of them, except for your second captain. Or rather, your… tribune.”
“Hostage-taking isn’t the behavior of a gentleman,” observed Captain Tiberius. “I’m not sure we’re getting off on the best possible foot for our first meeting.”
“Frankly, I don’t give a damn whether or not I make a good impression,” responded Captain Baxtor. “We could have executed your landing party or kept them all. Instead, I’m offering the return of almost all of them. Provided you depart and don’t return to Hollowmound.”
“You realize that we both have reinforcements coming, of course, Captain?” asked the Onell captain.
“Of course,” agreed Joseph Baxtor. “So this is a pretty sweet deal for you to get your men back.”
“And what will become of my loyal Tribune Lucius?” asked Tiberius.
“He’ll be the Pantheon’s guest back in Mytertown. You’re welcome to pursue diplomatic channels for his return,” said Captain Baxtor.
“Your proposal is acceptable Captain Baxtor,” responded Captain Tiberius. “Perhaps your gamble won’t pay off and we will be the ones dictating one-sided deals to you in the near future.”
With a gesture from the enemy captain, the farcaster disappeared.
* * *
The Phoenix and the Wyvern sat anchored in the harbor while the three Onell ships patrolled a few miles out to sea. Frank Ward had taken command of the Wyvern, while Albert Reeves would relieve Captain Baxtor for short rests. Radiance and Adam Hudson were in regular contact with the approaching Pantheon ships and expected a group of seven ships to arrive in two hours.
Watching the Onell group, second captain Reeves announced that another two ships had arrived, bringing their total up to five ships.
“Raise anchor,” ordered Captain Baxtor, standing in front of the farcaster to the Wyvern that Radiance had created. “Load the cannons with chain shots and prepare for evasive action. We need to keep them busy for two hours.”
Moving out of the harbor, the Pantheon ships tried to put distance between themselves and the Onell ships.
* * *
With the seven newly arrived Pantheon ships bearing down on them, the three Onell ships with their rigging and sails intact began to submerge and flee.
The crews of the Panethon and the Wyvern cheered as the heavily damaged ships moved back towards the Hollowmound harbor.