New Beginnings Written by Harry 'Mac' MacKenzie, copyright 2005.
Lord Captain Seamus Stonehelm was in an ill temper as he stalked through the streets of Gridolyn. He had been pulled away from his current quest by his superior, Lord Prat. Whatever it was about, it had to be urgent and serious for Prat to order him to temporarily abandon his quest and friends like this. People cleared his path like magic as he walked through the heart of the business district with his peculiar gait. Seamus walked with a strange mingling of grace and stubbornness that set him apart from any other Elf on the planet. He was Elven by birth but raised by a Dwarven clan that had found him, to say that he was unique was a bit of an understatement.
Seamus had few friends, but the ones he had were like family to him, and now, now he had been pulled away from them when the quest they had been on for nearly two years was showing signs of completion. He didn't engage in idle speculation as to what could be so ugent as to pull him away from it, Prat wouldn't do so unless it were a dire situation indeed. It wasn't ego that caused Seamus to think this way, it was knowledge of fact, the Quest to find Al Mudin was the highest priority in the land right now, even higher than fighting the Ogarian forces that had recently invaded Rakore. Seamus wanted badly to be on the frontlines to help stop the hated Ogres and their Orc allies, but the Quest took priority. Until now.
“I swear by the Lady, if they've gone and mucked something up and misread the bloody prophecy or something, I'll knock someone's bloody skull in meself.” Seamus muttered to himself in Dwarven. He had no patience for any sort of unneccesary delays, this prophecy had already cost several lives, and he wanted to find the blasted artifact before it cost more.
Seamus had, by now, arrived at the small castle that served as Lord Prat's home. The guards didn't stop him, they merely presented arms with their halberds and allowed him to pass. He stomped his way into the great hall where Prat was busy dealing with several other people at the moment. He veered slightly off course to grab a tankard of ale from a side counter before he resumed his course toward Prat. Prat caught sight of him and immediately broke off his current conversation and made his way over to Seamus, meeting him halfway across the room. “You made good time Captain, I trust the voyage went well?”
“As well as could be expected.” Seamus allowed as he took a sip of the ale, “What's the bloody flap that pulled me back here, then?”
“Another prophecy…” Prat said tiredly, “And it involves a location that only you have been to…the Halls of the Pixie Queen.”
“Bloody Hell!” Seamus muttered before taking a long gulp of the ale, “You know I was only there in a dream or a vision or whatever it was…I don't fancy meself ever going there for real….a fella could get killed there.” Seamus knew this for a fact, in his vision of an alternate history, he had, in fact, died there, along with Xzax, his best friend.
“I don't need you to go inside, just guide some people to the place.” Prat said evenly, “Can you recall the way well enough to do that?”
Seamus was quiet for a few moments as he pondered the request, he could easily recall the way to the place, the problem was that to get there, one had to cross the Ogre Nations and then a vast desert full of Srik that would like nothing better than to make a meal of anything they came in contact with, “Aye…I can recall well enough…the route isn't the problem, it's the things along the route.”
“The Ogre Nations are a bit preoccupied right now Seamus, a small party should be able to slip through with no problems.” Prat pointed out, “Especially if your pet Demon is still with you.”
“I wouldn't recomend you ever let Cleo hear you call her that…” Seamus said with a slight grin, “She's a bit touchy about her condition. And the Ogarians aren't what have me worried, you know that…it's the bloody Srik…we've still never found a way to fox them so we can sneak past them.” He shook his head resignedly, “I've no desire to end up as fungus fertilizer in one of their gardens.”
“We may have something.” Prat said carefully, “It has been sugessted that the Srik are vulnerable to cold…and we have found a Frost Mage to go test out the theory…actually…you found him.”
“I found a Frost Mage? When did I do that? And why don't I recall it?” Seamus asked with a raised eyebrow.
“He was one of the Vidarian mages you and your merry band of misfits rescued from the pirates a while back.” Prat replied as he led Seamus over to the sideboard and drew himself a tankard.
“Ah….well, I was a bit occupied while we were doing that…I didn't take the time to get introductions from everyone that night.” Seamus shrugged as he drew himself a refill, “Still…if you're right, and the Srik are vulnerable to cold, perhaps…” He paused and stroked the thin white moustache he was begining to let grow out as he thought about it. “I can get them there, sure enough, we'll let your Frost Mage try out your theory, but if it gets bad…or the Srik turn out to not be vulnerable, I'll pull back faster than one of Xzax's arrows…I'll not lead them there and let them end up as fertilizer…agreed?”
“Agreed, I don't want them dead either Seamus, there's too much at stake right now.” Prat said tiredly. He looked terrible, Seamus noted, his face was drawn and haggard, the strain of too much to do and too little sleep clearly showed. Seamus was a good man, he would get them there, and he would do his best to bring them out as well, Prat couldn't ask for more. He changed the subject, “So IS your girl with you? Or has she finally wised up and moved on?”
“She's back on the Rattler.” Seamus replied, “We're not really together anymore, but when you sent for me, she came with…says someone needs to keep me out of trouble cause of your schemes….I'm starting ta think she's right.”
Prat laughed aloud, if Seamus really thought Cleo was letting go of him, he was a fool, Prat had seen the fierce possessiveness the girl showed toward him, and though he would never admit it, Seamus was equally possessive of her. The problem was, they were both so damned hard headed that they could neither of them see that they were perfectly suited to each other. “Well…just shows which of you is the brains.” He said as he swayed slightly on his feet, Prat was damned tired. “Anyway, I need you to pick them up in Rilan can you be there in the next day or so?”
“Aye…that I can…we're still whipping the crew into shape…they're coming along, but there's still a ways to go before the Rattler's ready to go on another Pirate hunt.” Seamus said happily, “A cruise down to Rilan might be just the ticket to settle them down a bit more.”
Prat nodded in ageement, Seamus had nearly blown it on his first Pirate hunt, only luck and some serious magical firepower had salvaged the situation. But the young Elf had learned, and was a better ship captain for it. Prat had plans for his favorite sea captain, all that was needed was for the Elf to finish maturing a bit, and then he could begin to nudge him in a certain direction. But that would be some time from now, for the moment, he needed him on this mission, “Well…don't drive them too hard, remember, iron when hardened too much becomes brittle.”
“Aye…sound Dwarven advice.” Seamus agreed with a wink, “I'll be off then…wouldn't want to keep ye from all the important business or such.” He drained his tankard and set it down. Prat waved him off with a gruff smile and he made his way back out of the castle. He retraced his steps back down to the harbor and to the docks. He made his way to a particular dock, where a galleon rode her moorings.
He made his way up the gangplank of this vessel, the Rattler. As he set foot on the deck itself, a bosun's pipe shrilled and the officer on duty announced, “Captain on deck!” Seamus replied with an absent wave of his hand and a quick shout, “We sail with the morning tide! Round up all the crew and make ready to slip at first light!”. He continued on to his cabin in the sterncastle, nodding acknowledgement to the crisp reply his First Officer gave him.
Once inside, he closed the door behind him. He removed his cloak and unbuckled his sword belt, draping both over the back of one of two chairs pulled up to a small table. He sighed and ran a hand over his face, and for a brief moment, if you were watching closely, you could see the fatigue and worry in his face. He looked at the small human woman who was perched in the other chair, “No joy here, Cleo.” he told her, “Prat wants us to lead a small party to the Halls of the Pixie Queen.”
The woman, who was small, dark haired, young and attractive, shook her head, “You're kidding me, right?” she replied, “Is he insane? Does he have any idea what happened in the other time? You DIED there!”
“Aye…but we have an idea on how ta beat the Srik this time…” he replied, “Seems they're vulnerable to cold…and one of the folks we're bringing along is a bloody Frost Mage.”
“Wonderful. Have they tried this idea out on a Srik before we all go traipsing off to the desert to face thousands of them?” She asked acidly.
“In case you missed it…there aren't any Srik around to try it on.” Seamus replied with a slight shake of his head, “But don't worry…before we go too far in…we'll find a single Srik and try it out…if it don't work, we'll hightail it out of there.”
Cleo nodded but spoke no further. She was far from the boisterous teenager she had been when the two of them had met, had it really been almost two years ago? Cleo let her mind wander back to a simpler time, before she had become something not-quite human, when she hadn't had a real destiny, and hadn't been one of Firestorms best spies. Back when she had been a brash sixteen year old rogue out to find adventure and fun. She had found adventure, but little fun, more heartbreak than anything else. She closed her eyes and recalled the faces of the others she had come to love as family.
She snapped back to the present as Seamus moved away to the bed and flopped down onto it. After a moment, she walked over and laid down with him, his arm went around her and she tucked in against him, “Are you sure you want to do this? You did die there once…sort of…I know I would never want to return to that cavern I died in the first time.” she whispered to him.
“I hope so.” he whispered back. “Lord Prat has sent for me specifically because I know how to get there. Xzax can't be spared from the quest, and since I'm the only other one who knows the way…and it's bloody important…another flipping prophecy of some sort.” He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her softly, she responded in kind, her lips opening and allowing his tongue access. They held the kiss for some time before she broke it and sat up slightly, “I hate prophecies, you know.”
He nodded and smiled slightly as she pulled the laces on her form fiting black leather armor loose and began to shrug out of it, “I know.” he told her, “I've got to where I hate them too.”
“You did remember to lock the cabin door this time, right?” She asked as she finished removing the armor.
Dawn the next morning…
Seamus paced the quarterdeck lost in thought as the Rattler made way out of the harbor under quarter-sail. Actually, it was more like eigth-sail, the Rattler had a few magical improvements that made her faster than most ships of half her tonnage. As it was, she was leaving harbor a great deal faster than most ships would dream of trying in close waters like these. Seamus wasn't the least bit concerned, his crew was used to the Rattler's peculiarities, and they handled her well and easily.
His pacing was interupted by a young Dwarf in full armor, who got his attention by the simple expediant of stepping up and swatting Seamus on the backside with the flat of the huge axe he was carrying. “Ye know…I like Visik as much as the next lad…but he's a bit dim in the tactics department.” the young Dwarf said as if swatting someones backside with an axe was a common way to launch a conversation, “I was wonderin' if ye'd noticed that or if ye were jest planning on seeing how long it took him ta get your boarding party inta a bad way.”
Seamus merely gave the Dwarf an irritated look, “I had noticed it, now that you mention it, Angus…but things have been so hectic since we started outfitting the ship that I haven't had time to find a Marine Commander to replace him…you want the job?” Seamus hid a grin, his adopted cousin Angus would jump at the chance if offered. One just had to offer it in the right way.
Angus blusted and sputtered for a moment before replying coherantly, “Well, of course I do…it wouldn't do tae have poor Visik muck things up for ye…after all, yer Ma would be mighty cross with me if I let ye down ye know.”
The mention of his adopted mother took Seamus a bit off guard, he was quite concerned for her at the moment, his adopted clan, the Stonehelms, had not been heard from since the Ogarian forces had rolled through. He was fairly certain that they were safe in their underground fortress, but with no way to find out for sure if they were alright, he worried a bit. He knew from personal experience that it would take a lot of time, effort, and caualties for any attacking force to root them out of their stronghold. Still, he worried, as any son would.
“You're right, as usual Cousin.” He replied, “Ma would be quite cross…you go and let Visik know that you're taking the Marine Detachment…if he has any questions, send him to see me.” He clapped his Cousin on the shoulder and smiled, “High time I found you some gainful employment to keep you out of mischief and knee deep in blood anyway.”
“Damn Right!” Angus replied gruffly before turning and tromping off. Seamus was still smiling when Vladimir, his First Officer strod up behind him and coughed to get his attention.
“Yes, Vladimir, what is it?” Seamus asked politely.
“We are clear of the harbor now, Captain. What course should I set?” The First Officer asked in his heavily accented voice.
“Make for Rilan, best speed, If you please.” Seamus replied. Vladimir gave a formal sort of salute and moved off to comply. Seamus wasn't sure, but he assumed the salute was left over from Vladimir's days in the navy. He was never quite sure how to return it, so he usually ended up giving a sort of half wave, half salute.
Seamus shook his head in mild amusement as he gave up his pacing and settled into the wooden chair that was bolted to the quarterdeck. As Captain, he actually had little to do once they were under way and out of harbor. Most Captains would retire to their cabins, content to stay below deck in comfort for the majority of the voyage, Seamus prefered to be on deck most of the time. He had the chair installed so that he wouldn't drive whoever was on watch crazy with his pacing. Seamus tended to pace if he didn't watch himself. It had the added benefit of his being at hand should anything need his attention, and it allowed him to revel in the cool sea air he loved. He wasn't sure which was the better reason to stay on deck.
A full day had passed and they were well on their way when they spotted the first hint of trouble the following morning, a sail on the horizon. The lookout called out “Ship to sarboard!” and Seamus got up from his chair and produced a spyglass which he trained over the starboard rail. After a few seconds searching, he spotted the topsails and the thin sticks of masts on the horizon. At this range, he could only tell that it was moving in roughly the same direction they were. He lowered the spyglass and called out a compliment to the lookout.
He returned to his chair and sat back down, returning the spyglass to a pocket within his cloak. It was not uncommon to meet another ship at sea, especially in these waters, but pirate activity had been on the rise recently, and Seamus was not one to take unneccesary chances. “Let me know if she closes with us.” He shouted to the lookouts before he leaned back and closed his eyes. If the other ship were some sort of trouble, he would be rested if it came to a fight. Truth be told, he missed his companions most at times like this.
There was no one he would rather have at his back than Xzax, Jena, Brother Aust, N'Kara, and even the quiet Gunju. All of them had proven their worth time and time again. Cleo and Angus were no slouches either, but it felt like a part of his life was empty without the others here. His introspective came to a halt as he heard iron booted feet crossing the deck toward him. He opened his eyes to see Angus coming over.
“Trouble of some sort?” Angus asked gruffly.
“I doubt it, Cousin…” Seamus replied, “Still…it pays to err on the side of caution. How many men can you assemble into a half-decent boarding party?”
“About twenty…not counting Visik and meself.” Angus replied as he stroked his beard while thinking.
“Add Cleo to your count as well.” Seamus directed, “That girl can raise seven bloody kinds of Hell when we need her too. If it turns out to be trouble…I want your team to get aboard and take the ship quickly. We can fool them into letting us get close enough to grapple with no problem.”
“Aye. Where is she? Your cabin?” Angus agreed with Seamus about Cleo, he couldn't name too many human girls who were as scary she could be when she was properly riled up.
“Either there or somewhere below decks.” Seamus replied with a shrug, “Goddess knows where that girl goes off to during the day…damned if I see much of her until after sunset.” One of the lasting after effects of Cleo's partial merge with a demon was her aversion to daylight. She rarely let herself be seen until after dark, Seamus thought that a bit of a pity, she was really quite attractive.
Angus laughed and moved away to go find Cleo and round up his boarding party, if the other ship was looking for trouble, he meant to ensure they found it in spades. Seamus, for his part, went back to catnapping in his chair, though if you watched carefully, you would see his eyes open every few minutes and scan the sea to starboard.
Later that afternoon…
Seamus scanned the approaching ship through his spyglass for what seemed the hundreth time to him. As the day had passed, the other ship had closed on them. Not rapidly, or with sudden course changes, but slowly, and cautiously. The other ship was a barque, smaller by about half than his own light galleon, but a bit faster than his ship should have been. Seamus smiled to himself, if he wished, he could activate the enchantments laid on his own vessel and leave them far behind. At the moment, he was curious as to what the other vessel intended. She flew no colors, and her crew seemed to be going about their usual duties with little concern for the fact that they were slowly closing with his ship.
Angus had his score of boarders armed and ready below decks, a shout from Seamus would set them loose to board the other vessel, if it came down to a fight. He had another score of archers in the fighting tops of his ship, ready to rain a hail of arrows across the deck of the smaller ship as well. If it came to a fight, they were ready for it. For his part, Seamus had a small number of spells at his disposal, few were devastating offensive spells of the mage, most were defensive in nature, but many could be used to aid his crew in a fight. In addition, he had twelve light catapults ready and loaded. His ship and crew were far from a helpless target.
As he examined the other ship through his spyglass, he noted that many of the crew on it's deck, were armed with cutlasses and daggers, not an unusual sight on any ship, but most didn't wear weaponry unless they were expecting a fight. It just plain got in the way of most shipboard duties. He examined the other craft's aft deck for a moment, he noted that the helmsman was being directed by a rather large human who was wearing a bright red velvet coat. The man had to be well over six feet and heavily muscled. He was also downright ugly, even by Seamus's dwarven standards. Seamus lowered his spyglass and called out to Vladimir, “I think we're about to come under attack…they're all armed and still closing on us.”
“Do you wish me to open fire on them Captain?” Vladimir asked in his usual calm tone.
“Not just yet…” Seamus replied as he stroked his moustache thoughtfully, “Let's see just what they have in mind.” He turned to his helmsman, “Steer three points to port, if you please.” The helm went over and the Rattler began to edge away from the other ship slowly. A minute later, the other vessel changed course to continue to close. Seamus crossed his arms over his chest and gave a grim smile, “Looks like they want to come a bit closer.” Vladimir grunted in agreement.
The next several minutes passed in tense silence as the other ship continued to close with them, they were now withing catapult range of each other, though Seamus noted none on the other vessel. “I think they mean to board us…” He said to Vladimir as he pulled out his spyglass and examined the other vessel yet again, “They don't have any catapults…not more than twenty men on deck…the rest must be waiting below.”
“Da Captain…it is a common tactic for pirates who haven't acquired catapults yet.” Vladimir agreed, “It is how they captured my last vessel.” He didn't seem ashamed or emabarrased by this admission, he was a professional and he was stating the facts.
“I'm betting they think they out number us then.” Seamus thought aloud. He knew he had just over a hundred personel on board, a barque could carry about that many and still have a bit of space for the supplies to feed them. In an even fight, Seamus was confident his crew would prevail. The only unknown right now, was how much, if any, magical firepower the other ship had. “Let's see if we can rattle them a bit then…run up the Rakoran flag…and hand me the loudhailer.”
Vladimir nodded and signaled to a crewman in the fighting tops, and a moment later, the Rakoran flag was flapping in the breeze atop the main mast. Seamus accepted the oversized megaphone that Vladimir passed to him and went over to the rail. He raised the cone to his mouth and shouted into it, “Ahoy there…what ship are you?”
There was a bit of comotion on the other deck for a minute as several people scrambled about, then, almost anticlimatically, a black flag fluttered into view from atop it's mast, a white skull and crossbones clearly visible against the black background. Seamus merely shrugged, “Guess that confirms that.” He muttered, then he raised his voice, “Vladimir! Open fire!”
A mere few seconds later, six catapults creaked and thumped as they flung fifty pound iron balls at the other vessel. Four of the massive balls struck home, one snapping a mast in half, sending rigging and sailcloth tumbling to the deck below. The other three smashed through the sides of the hull, sending clouds of splinters flying through the lower deck, a lethal spray of wood for anyone unfortunate enough to be in it's path. Seamus gave a grim smile as the other vessel began to slow, the loss of one mast was already making itself felt. “Archers! Open Fire!”, he shouted above the cheering of the catapult crews.
As one, the twenty archers in his fighting tops stood, drew and loosed. Almost half their arrows found targets on the other vessel's deck. Several men were killed outright, and the shrieking of wounded men was heard. About a dozen archers on the pirate vessel loosed arrows in reply, several of them found marks as well, there were no fatalities, but several men were heard to groan and two sank to the deck in pain. Seamus' archers shifted targets and within a minute, all the pirate archers were dead or wounded.
The catapult crews were working feverishly to reset the weapons and reload them, but Seamus had other ideas, “Let's take the fight to them, Lads!” He bellowed, “Grapple and board her!” Instantly, two ballistae, fired, their lance-sized missiles trailing sturdy cable. As soon as the missiles struck, seamus' crewmen began cranking furiously on winches, drawing the two ships together. A few munutes later, the two vessels came together with a crash of timbers.
With a shouted Dwarven war cry, Angus and his boarders surged across to the pirate vessel. They met remarkably little resistance, as anyone fool enough to expose themselves promptly drew the fire of archers above. The sight of Angus cutting down two pirates with one swing of his axe, further demoralized the pirates. Cleo stalked behind Angus, guarding his back, her face hidden by the hood of her cloak, her blade flashing out whenever a pirate got within range. She lacked the brute force of the Dwarf, but she more than made up for it with an almost surgical precision to her strikes. The fight was over within mere minutes, the Captain of the pirate vessel emerging from behind the helm where he had sought cover, with his hands raised.
The few surviving crewmen on deck quickly followed suite. Angus and his boarders quickly rounded them up and had them sit in the center of the main deck. Seamus appeared a few minutes later, he strod over to stand before the pirate captain, a look of annoyance upon his face, “Who are you and what in the name of The Lady did you think you were doing?” he asked angrily.
The pirate flinched back a bit from the angry elf, “My name is Johnnie Warburton…and we was figurin' on takin' yer vessel…wasn't figurin' you ta be such a tough nut.”
“Your last mistake…I'm sure.” Seamus assured him icily, “As the penalty for Piracy is hanging.” The man visibly paled at that remark. “What happened to the original crew of this vessel?” Seamus asked.
The Pirate refused to meet Seamus' eyes as he stammered out a reply, “We…ah…set the captain and his officers adrift in a small boat a few days back…along with the ones what didn't want to go along with us.” Seamus glared hard at the man before he turned away. Cleo was standing almost behind him and he hadn't seen or heard her, no surprise there, really.
“Take a few men and search the ship…” he said to her quietly, “Let me know if you find anything…interesting.”
She merely nodded a reply and with a wave of her hand, signaled two men to come to her. A quick whispered set of instructions, and they vanished below decks. Seamus returned his attention to his captives, a quick count showed that there were only a dozen of them. “Chain them all to the mast.” he told Angus as he headed back over to the Rattler's deck. He nimbly lept across the small gap between the twos ships and barked out a series of orders to his First Officer, “Send over a ten man prize crew, Vladimir. You are in charge of the prize, we'll sail her into Rilan and turn over the pirates to the Magistrates there. Once Lady Cleo is finished with her search, we'll cut free and you can get her under way.”
“As ordered Captain.” Vladimir replied with one of his crisp salutes.
Seamus merely waved in return before crossing to the rail overlooking the main deck, he stood there for a moment, looking down at his crew who were now tidying up afyer the fight, “Well done one and all.” he said raising his voice to them, “I am very pleased by everyone's actions today. Bring the wounded to the quarterdeck and I'll tend to them.” As a Cleric of Habrem, he had access to several healing spells, and he had no hesitation about using them now.
Aboard the captured Barque…
Cleo was a bit annoyed as she glided silently through the small ships holds. She was practically invisible as shre moved from shadow to shadow, stopping now and then to inspect the odd crate or barrel that caught her interest. So far all she had found was that the ships cargo had consisted of rum and some sort of wine. A lot of it had been opened by the crew, from what she could tell. Of the ships original officers, she had found no clue. Though the pirates had said they had set them adrift, Cleo had noted that both lifeboats were still present, not a good sign that they were telling the truth, she thought.
Finally, she entered what had been the officer's cabins. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, the odor of stale unwashed bodies, and vomit was almost overpowering. The place looked like it had been the scene of a nonstop party for a week or so. There wasn't a single piece of unbroken furniture in the cabins, empty flasks and discarded cups littered the floors, along with cast aside clothing and partially eaten food that was rotting away. She also smelled something else, something she recognized under all the other smells, she smelled blood. It was old and faint, but it was there.
She entered the Captain's cabin and she knew that the officers had been murdered. The scent of blood was strong here. She used the toe of her boot to move aside some of the debris on the floor and then knelt down and examined the boards. There were faint rust colored stains on the floor here, it confirmed what her demonically enhanced sense of smell had told her already. She stood and turned to leave, but something in the corner of the room caught her eye. She moved over and delicately fished the object from the pile of debris that partially covered it. She gently brushed away the rotting food and other debris, revealing a child's doll.
She carefully put the small doll in a pocket of her cloak and then she left the cabin, the only trace of her having been there being two slightly disturbed areas that blended into the greater mess.
Later that afternoon in Seamus' cabin…
“Of course I can't prove it!” Cleo snapped angrily as she stalked back and forth across the cabin, “But I know they killed them. And I know there was at least one child among them.”
Seamus sat on the edge of his bunk watching her pace, that she was correct, he had no doubt. The pirates had more than likely murdered the ships officers and whatever passengers or family on board, but proving it was going to be almost impossible. “They're all going to hang once we get them to Rilan anyway.” He pointed out.
“And that's what? Two days away? Two more days of life they stole from others.” She hissed angrily, “Why don't you hang them now? You've done it before…or is it more convienient for you to let someone else do the dirty work?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She was angry, and it was unfair to make a comment like that, Seamus was far from afraid to do dirty work himself, and the incident to which she refered had cost him a friendship. She saw the hurt and anger in his eyes as he started to stand, she rushed over to him, “I'm sorry Seamus, I didn't mean that.”
He held open his arms for her and she stepped into his enbrace, “I know ye didn't mean it, Lass…“He whispered to her, “But you're right…I set a precidence that my crew is going to expect me to follow…as much as I hate to do it…if I don't hang them myself…it could be seen as a sign that I've lost my nerve.”
“Jena isn't here to act as judge…” Cleo said quietly, “Will it be legal if you do it without her?”
“Yes…by the law of the sea a Captain can hang mutineers without trial…” Seamus replied tiredly, “The same applies to pirates.”
She felt him sag slightly as she held him, once again, she wondered just how much of the merry bard she had fallen in love with was dying with the hard deciscions he was being called on to make almost daily, it seemed. “You don't have to do this, Seamus.” She whispered.
“Yes I do.” He whispered back. She felt his hand run through her hair before he gently broke the embrace, “I'm the Master of this vessel and a Knight of Rakore…it's my duty.”
She blinked back the tears that threatened to fall as she realized just how much the responsibilitis of his position weighed on him. Strange how she never had given that much thought until now. “I'm a Knight as well.” She whispered, “Does it mean it is my duty as well?”
He looked at her suddenly, comprehension dawning in his eyes as he realized that she never knew what her title really meant until this moment, “Yes Cleo…it does. It means that you and I are sworn protectors of the citizens…and that we do what is neccesary and right to make them safe.”
The room seemed to spin as Cleo sat down on the bed and closed her eyes, “I couldn't…I didn't…“Tears began to flow as she tried to speak, “It…was my fault…that little girl…” She began to sob as she tried to speak.
Seamus was beside her then, holding her tightly and rocking her gently, “It wasn't your fault…shhh…you did your best…that's all anyone can do.” He knew then, that she still blamed herself for the child's death in that cellar. He suspected that she did, but she never spoke of it until now, so now he knew.
“But…but how can…I protect…anyone?” She sobbed miserably, “I…I couldn't…protect her.”
“But you tried, Love.” He whispered as he stroked her back and squeezed her gently, “None of us tried harder that you…and that is what counts…you put yourself between that troll and a little girl you didn't even know…and it wasn't the first time you did something like that…you fought a mummy to save a friend when you could have ridden away and saved yourself…you tried to fight that medusa to protect another friend…that's what we do as Knights. You were a Knight long before anyone gave you the title.”
As he spoke to her, she realized the truth to his words, and somewhere within her heart, she let go of the blame she had been holding against herself for so long. The pain would always be there, but she would no longer torture herself over it. In these few moments, Lady Cleo accepted the responsibilities her title entailed, and her maturing, a process that had been on hold for some time now, began again. She looked up at him, the friend and lover she never expected to find, and gave him a half smile, “Sometimes I forget that you're so damn old and wise.”
“Well…relatively speaking, I'm not that much older than you.” He replied with a humorous twinkle in his eye, “Elves take a long time to mature.”
“The Gods know you're taking your time about it.” She popped back to him.
He laughed and pulled her close again, “I have to be able to relate to your childish ways.” She broke down giggling at that comment, she knew he was right in a way, she had always been the most child-like of the group. “I love that about you Cleo…one of a long list of things I love about you.”
“I love a lot of things about you Seamus…“She said hesitantly, “But we have so many differences…”
“I don't really give a tinker's damn about them anymore…“He said evenly, “The last year has taught me to hold on to me friends and family…ye never know when something will steal either of them away…and you bring me happiness like I've rarely known…I don't want tae let go of that…not now…not ever.”
She let out a breath she hadn't really known she was holding, and she felt tears roll down her cheeks, “I don't know what to say…I love you Seamus…but there are so many things that keep getting in the way…the Quest…my change after dying that last time…”
“Don't say anything…just think on it for a bit…” he told her as he gently wiped the tears away, “I don't expect you tae make up your mind about anything right now…you're a woman, after all…but if you decide that you'd like tae give me another chance…well…I'm open to trying to make things work for us.”
She didn't reply, instead she snuggled down into the warm comfort of his arms. They sat quietly together holding each other long past sunset.
On board the Rattler the next morning…
Seamus kept his facial expression blank as he watched the last of the mutineers bodies slip over the side. Earlier in the morning he had assembled the ships crew and convened a court. He had acted as judge as Vladimir had read aloud a list of charges against the mutineers. Foremost among them; mutiny, murder and piracy. He had allowed them to make their best effort to defend their actions, none of them had any kind of coherant defense. In the end, he had pronounced them all guilty as charged and had had them each hanged from the yardarm. As each man had been hoisted up, his fellows had gone from surly silence…to open weeping and pleading for mercy.
Seamus ignored it all, concentrating on putting up a stoic facade for his own crew. He had been right when he told Cleo that he had set a precident, his crew had expected him to render justice, and he had. They would never know just how distasteful he found it to be. Seamus held all life dear, to take it away like this went against his very nature, but he would not allow anyone to see. The catch here was that now he would be expected to deal this sort of justice whenever it was needed. He wondered if there was any ale left in his cabin.
He turned his gaze back to his crew, they were for the most part celebrating quietly, many of the crew had been slaves at the hands of pirates and they looked upon his dispensing of justice as a sort of crusade. He wondered how many of them would live to see next year. He had done a bit of research, pirate hunters rarley had much more than a year of success before some irritated pirate found a way to end their careers…something he devoutly wished to avoid. He indicated to Vladimir to take over and he moved over and sat down in his chair.
The crew quickly went back to their normal duties and Seamus was not bothered by anyone. Vladimir deftly steered all but the most important issues away, and if he wasn't pursuasive enough, one look at Angus standing nearby sharpening his axe, was usually more than enough. Seamus allowed a smile to crease his face, he might be able to fool the average sailors, but the others knew better than to buy into his act. His smile became a low chuckle, it was good to have friends who cared.
And somewhere distant, a God smiled as more of the pieces to his plans moved a bit closer to their final places.