The Fourth Story Rial glanced across his desk at Daniel “Fourth” a'Namree. Fourth was younger man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, that preffered to stand over sitting. He grew no facial hair, and his waist-length pony-tail was clean and cut stylishly. His skin was bronzed from a lifetime at sea, and his hair had a faint golden touch to it, as though in just the right light it would transform from brown to blonde. A silver earring dangled from Fourth's left ear, and his brown eyes had the same sparkle of life and zest that the well-kept earring did.
Gideon Enterprise's manager eyed the man critically. Fourth was dressed in simple leathers, well-oiled against the ravages of the storms and rains, and frayed in places from hard use. The leathers included calf-high boots, trousers, and a loin-drape to his knees. Above the waist he wore only a light vest that had no buttons. Fourth had several utilitarian knives in his belt, including one wickedly cerrated blade. Dangling just off his hip was a long sabre that that had seen its share of fights.
Rial subconciously calculated his weight, height, strength, and speed, at the same time he analyzed the calluses and scars on the man. Fourth's Sholin background was touched with Toomaran, and perhaps something else.
Fourth crossed his arms, and cleared his throat. “You wanted to see me, Rial?”
The rogue shook off his poker face, and smiled. “Yes. You've served as Tankth's first mate for some time, now. I wanted you to know that, based off of his reccomendations, and your record, I'm promoting you to Captain.”
a'Namree's face lit up, and his dark eyes flashed. “About time. What ship? What crew?” The newly promoted captain put one hand to his chin, absently rubbing it while he considered the ships that were in at Teras, and Thayer's Rock.
Rial said, “The Skate is due in this evening. Tankth is willing to let you take a few of his crew – some of them would like to follow with you. The Skate has a good crew… Something wrong with the Skate? Perhaps you'd like another vessel?”
Fourth's eyes were wide with shock. “The Skate? She's on her shake-down voyage! She's…”
“She's the perfect ship for a captain on a shake-down cruise of his own. Will you take her?”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, and then looked hard at Gideon Enterprise's general manager. The Skate was a brand new galleon with a new type of keel design. Her form was longer and sleeker than most other galleons, and she rode lower to the water. Her designer, Golt, had promised that she would also have more speed, seaworthiness, and cargo than any other ship afloat. The five-foot ten sailor had figured on getting a small sloop for a year or two, before graduating to the larger carracks. By placing him in command of a galleon, larger than even a carrack, so quickly, meant something unusual was sailing.
“The wild mage?”
Rial arched one eyebrow, and nodded slowly. “Very good.”
Fourth dropped his hand, idly fingering the hilt of his sabre. Talking almost to himself, he began to work things out. “It's going to be the fastest ship we've ever made, but it needs to be tested. The wild mage has to get somewhere, then, in a hurry. Another, more experienced captain could take her and the mage, but…” He squinted one eye, and looked at Rial askance with his head turned to one side. He shook his head, and looked Rial dead in the eyes. “I don't see it. Why me?”
The rogue looked down at a parchment on his desk, and began to read. “ 'It has been noted that the sailor known as Fourth has participated in nearly every service Gideon Enterprises has rendered to Firestorm. By apparent luck, he served aboard the Black Holly during the baron and the bishop Fistforger's retrieval of the Karansenth bracers of Galgiran from Kur Maeth. He served aboard the Sapphire during her transport of the stone golems of Thayer's Rock to the battle of Thulmarduk during the War of the Undead. He served aboard the clipper Heiro's Fist during the Jump from the Tower at Mad Dog Island, to the Sea of Kiriath; and after that Jump, fought against the undead lord Duke Tsarith on Rhythis Island. Fourth served aboard the Warthog during the near disasterous attempt to transport the Gate Key to Vikerma, and subsequently survived the sinking of that cog off the coast of the Eed Peninsula. Careful research indicates that no other sailor in Rakore, outside of the members of Firestorm, has seen so much magic in his lifetime. It is the decision of this Circle that Daniel a'Namree may be an Inquisitor or a Seeker in disguise.' ”
Fourth had moved not a muscle, but his jaw was clinched very tightly. Rial glanced up from the document, and looked at the sailor very critically. The two men stared at one another for the longest time. Fourth was the first to speak, and it was barely above a whisper.
“I am not an Inquisitor.”
Rial said nothing, merely raising his eyebrow.
a'Namree said with clenched teeth, “I've not the talent for magic.” He closed his eyes. “But my father had it.”
The rogue nodded. His statement was believable, but Rial had an ability that was nearly beyond human. His hyper-sensitivity to color let him detect the meerest flush to the sailor's skin, and the slight rise in blood pressure that made the veins in his hands expand just the tiniest bit.
“You may choose your crew, Fourth, but I choose your First Mate.”
The sailor opened his eyes, and gave Rial a hard look that was slightly confused. “Wh… Who?”
Fourth stared hard and intently at Rial, wondering if his ears had deceived him. “The priestess of Olorin?”
“Yes, 'the priestess of Olorin'. She's served aboard several vessels, and has recently indicated an intent to take on the additional duty of command.”
“But Nathamra hates magic!”
Rial chuckled softly, reading the sailor as he might read a book. “Nathamra was there, when they evacuated the Vault of Olorin on the Eed Peninsula, before most of it fell into the sea. Among the items stored in the holy vault was a spellbook – and Nathamra has been studying it dutifully since. She's an accomplished water elementalist mage, as well as a priestess of Olorin.”
Daniel a'Namree blinked just once. “I… I didn't know.”
“Now. The Skate is due in later this evening, just a mark before sunset. The change of command will be then. If Golt says she's ready for sea, then you and Nathamra will take it and her crew to Mad Dog Island.”
Fourth nodded. “We're to Jump?”
“Yes. You're to Jump.” The rogue stood up slowly, like a snake uncoiling. Eye level to the other man, Rial said quietly, “Make no mistake, Fourth. This is an important mission for Rakore, and for Firestorm. Nathamra will be there to check you, if you decide to take the Inquisition into your own hands. And don't be fooled by the wild mage; his talent may be wild, but his defenses are quite strong.”
The captain swallowed nervously.
Rial continued. “I don't know who you report to. I don't care. You're not an evil man – or the corridors leading to the vault within the Rock would have destroyed you. You're familiar with magic, and not likely to panic at the first sign of magical trouble. You're an accomplished liar, and you believe in your cause.”
Daniel's eyes hooded over in a steely gaze.
“As much a danger as you pose, Fourth, other mages pose more of a threat. There are forces out there that would move to destroy all that is Rakoran, for any number of reasons. This is your test of loyalty. And this is your chance for penitance.”
The last sentance had been a gamble, but Rial was a gambling man. Only one church believed in using those that served penitance as Inquisitors – the Church of Yatindar. The gamble paid off, as Fourth sighed, crumbling in on himself in acquiesence.
The captain muttered, “I'll go get my belongings from off of the Garnet.” He turned, and walked out of the office with the step of one who bore many burdens.
A voice from nowhere asked, “Will he get that damned chip off his shoulder in time to be of use?” The soft feminine peal of the voice was marred by a harsh saltiness that bespoke someone who knew how to yell.
Rial nodded. “He'll recover, and probably by the time he reaches the Garnet. You were right. He is an Inquisitor. Or was. It's difficult to tell if he still is one.”
Nathamra removed a ring from her finger, suddenly becoming visible, and handed the ring very carefully to the rogue. “One thing the stupid report didn't say… He was there at Aboris, when Banoc's butt turned up – both cheeks.”
Morbad Banoc had been one of the original members of Firestorm. A powerful warrior and mage, his favorite tactic was to fly up above his enemies, and then hurl his battle-axe down upon his enemies. No one knew exactly what had befallen Morbad; he simply flew off one calm morning, and his body parts were found later that evening.
Rial said, “He's had plenty of opportunity to kill other mages since.”
Nathamra was a short woman in her early thirties. She was tiny, barely five feet tall, and weighing no more than one-hundred pounds soaking wet. Her hair was cut off at her shoulders, and spread about in a wind-blown fashion, highlighting the dirty-blonde color to it. Her brown eyes sparkled with flecks of green and blue in a nearly hypnotic fashion. Her blue and green robes bespoke her position as a priestess of Olorin, though she wore a light pack of heavy leather across her back.
The priestess said, “Mebbe. He'll pick a crew loyal to him. Me an the wild mage won't be enough, if Fourth wants to turn us in to the Inquisitors – or worse.”
Rial shook his head, and sat down, reaching for his quill. “The wild mage has friends of his own. The tomanth and the dwarf that go with him would follow him into hell. And then there are the animals.” He inked the quill, and began to write.
Nathamra asked, “Animals? I've heard stories of his knife spider – supposedly, it's his cursed familiar. What of the other beasts?”
The rogue shook his head. “I'm not entirely sure. The panther that follows him around used to belong to Kaztith, the night ranger. He's had the Vridaran sheepdog for longer than he's had the familiar.”
The priestess snorted, and said, “Two people and three animals, against an entire crew, and an Inquisitor?”
Rial said absently, “Three people.”
“Three?” Nathamra asked, “Who's the idiot third?”
Gideon Enterprise's general manager chuckled. “He comes highly reccomended, and a good friend of mine assures me, that he will protect the wild mage with his life.”
The water elementalist's eyes flashed a dangerous sea-green, and she said, “I've seen you work, Mhenace. Who's the third?”
Rial stopped writing long enough to look deep into her eyes. There was mischief and dead seriousness in his own eyes, as he said, “Davist, a Shedar of Yatindar.”
Nathamra's eyes went wide, and she swallowed. “A paladin of Yatindar?! Are you out of your mind?!”
The rogue's voice was deadly serious. “Winter, that protector of Whalin, is causing a schism within the Churches. A splinter group of Yatindar believes that justice was over-wrought, and they seek to make ammends for the centuries of suffering the magic-wielders have endured at the hands of the Church. Davist is merely the first of many of Yatindar's holy warriors from Kur Maeth to come, asking for service to defend the mages.”
The priestess' voice dripped acid, “So naive! This 'schism' is another plot by the Churches to get a toehold in Rakore, to pick up on the Inquisition! They ain't forgotten the War of the Undead, caused by a necromancer.”
Rial's lips hinted at the barest hint of a smile. “Perhaps.” He placed his signature upon the document, and proof-read it quickly. “Winter vouches for Davist, and I'm inclined to take Winter's word.”
“Winter? All that paladin's done since he got here was write letters! He hasn't gotten off his ass to protect one of us, as he claims to be doing, since he got here!” Nathamra's voice was climbing in volume, and the harsh tone to it was grating to anyone who heard it.
The rogue said very quietly, “Silence.”
There was some quality to the command that brought the priestess up short. It was the command of a man who let nothing stand in his way, and always got what he wanted. It was the voice of a man whom had built a nation, and won a war.
Nathamra opened her mouth to speak several times, but some subconscious portion of her mind closed her lips each time before she could speak – warning her to say nothing.
Rial said, “You leave in two days, at dawn. Move your things aboard the Skate tonight, once she's moored up at the docks.”
The priestess moved to leave, turned back to Rial, curtsied with ill grace, and left.
The general manager steepled his hands, and leaned his forehead against his thumbs, thinking. He heard Fourth coming up the stairs sometime later. The sailor greeted the guard outside the door, and then stepped into the room with stuffed saddlebags thrown over his shoulders. Rial looked up, for following the sailor was Davist.
Fourth said, “This is Davist, a Shedar of Yatindar. He's just in from Kur Maeth, aboard the Ash. I choose him to be my man-at-arms, aboard the Skate.”
Rial and Davist exchanged a hard, knowing look. The rogue had his doubts, but only for a moment. As though they had never met, Davist moved forward, and shook Rial's hand with an iron grip.
Davist was perhaps six-foot four, with broud shoulders barely contained beneath heavy scale mail made of steel coins from Old Kur Maeth, when the city was as evil as the darkest pits of the Abyss. The shedar had a closely trimmed beard of soft brown hair, and a shoulder-length mane of hair. His blue eyes bespoke calmness and confidence, with a hint of mirth in them. His left forearm ended at the wrist in a mere stump. Davist's longsword was slung across his back, and Rial had seen the massive shield that Davist could bolt to his left forearm.
Rial smiled, and said, “It's a pleasure to meet you, Shedar of Yatindar. Welcome to Thayer's Rock.”
Davist chuckled, and said, “Glad to be here.”
Fourth said, “I think Davist would be a good addition to the Skate's crew. He knows his artillery, and his righteous soul would be an anchor in the storms we might face.”
The carefully worded statement was like a barb that stuck under Rial's skin. He had already pieced together that the paladin and the sailor knew one another from somewhere else. It was a three-way wonder, either way.
Which is why I write this, to you now, Jandor. Be watchful. Be wary. In Nathamra, you can trust your life. She will safe-guard you because of Olorin's sacred laws, and the laws of Rakore. But she will also safe-guard you against Inquisitors and Seekers, for she is also an elementalist of water magic. Perhaps you can trust Davist, for he does come reccomended by Winter, whom I know you have not met. Of Fourth, I can only say wait, and watch. His crew and his ship are among the best we have, and yet…
Be careful, wild mage. Just in case things turn from bad to worse, I have sent several special items along. They are in the locked chest in the cargo hold that is ensorceled with moon runes; you will know the chest, when you see it. Enclosed is the key. The lock is my own design, and it is very doubtful anyone but the master of the key may open it. Good luck to you and yours, Jandor.
Rial frowned ever-so-much. It might be that Fourth was the best captain he could make available to Jandor, but there was that doubt. And it might be that Davist was the best paladin he could protect Jandor with, but there was that same doubt. His instincts said that he could trust the sailor. But his gut was fuzzy on whether he could trust the sailor with mages.