An Atikan Interlude: Part VII

Released on August 18, 2019, The Seafaring Guild is a briskly-paced adventure slash love tale that picks up the thread of Timothy Charon’s story from Clovir: An Overture. I hope you enjoy!

The Seafaring Guild

It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight’s sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.
— Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

 “Not another one, Zacharias.”

“What do you mean, ‘another one?’”

“Exactly what I said! Another one of your poor and unfortunates! Have you ever thought about how unfortunate and poor we are?”

“Come now,” said Zacharias, marching the woman up the gangplank and onto the ship. She was wearing scarcely more than a black shift and was holding bundle against her chest. “We are most certainly not poor. We can afford to give some of your stew to the needy, Glover.”

“The Sea God preserve us,” said Glover, who was leaning against the railing of the boat.

It was not the largest ship in port, nor was it the smallest. Somewhere in the middle, with a mainmast that poked into the heavens with some measure of pluckiness. Glover, the man who had designed it, who also happened to be the man who had made the stew and chided Zacharias for his zeal in bringing strays aboard, named the boat ‘The Narwhal.’ He even had uniforms made. Simple black with a yellow narwhal horn stitched into the chest, they were the work Parvati, the Kashyan Weaver living in Isha.

The Narhal had been constructed in Glover’s hometown, Kulch, and was then delivered to the capital. When they had first arrived in Isha Harbour, the men of the other Fortune Runner crews made fun of Zacharias and Glover for their obvious fondness for one another. Before long, owing to the duo’s swift advancement within the Seafaring Guild, these fellow privateers shut up about the ‘unicorn’s cock’ that was plastered everywhere on the ship and its crew.

Glover hated spending too much time in Isha – or any Thrain port. He knew that the King’s moralistic painted men like himself and Zacharias as criminals, and they had to pretend like they were not lovers when they dropped anchor in the country. Erifracia was just as bad. Not Liseria nor Kashya – the rulers in their countries knew to keep their noses out of the business of ‘buggers,’ as they were called by all and sundry.

Their business - the business of a Fortune Runner in service to the Seafaring Guild - was to seek fortune, certainly, but also exploration. Cartography was Glover’s specialty. A love of drawing and illustration, a pastime that his father had told him would never see him amount to anything, was now paying him a wage that would have made the elder Mr. Glover, with his meagre wages from the husbandry of goats and pigs and cattle, blush with envy.

Whenever Glover was saddened by how his father had disowned him after he discovered his true nature, he found much succour in reflecting on the fact of his pecuniary success. He also took comfort in using the names of the Old Gods, the forbidden ones that the Priests of the Christ-man had tried to stamp out. That same Church which had convinced the King to create the crime of ‘Buggery’ not too long ago in the past. What’s more: in all its hypocrisy, the Church probably played home to more buggers than any other organization in Thrain. How many times had Glover been propositioned by a drunk Priest or Monk at one of the taverns that littered the Thrain coast?

Mannannan’s Sword, how this place bored him. He could not wait to get back onto the open sea or drop anchor near a land that did not see him as fundamentally flawed for preferring masculine energy and the male form. But first he would have to deliver their latest haul to the man who paid him. And Umberto, Master of the Seafaring Guild, was as oily as melted ambergris. Which, as it so happened, was exactly what he had to deliver up to him, given the Julian Month heat beating down on the deck of the Narwhal. The thought of the upcoming interaction nauseated Glover.

“It’ll all be over soon,” said Glover to a pair of gulls that were circling the quay. “Before the day is out, we shall be back on the water and on our way to Kashya. And you’ll still be here, eating filthy shite hauled in by these fishermen, you dirty fuckin’ birds.”

With that, Glover took a long pull on a tin flask, lifted up the hatch, and proceeded down after Zacharias and his latest charity project.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“That’ll be ten gold pieces n’ a pair o’ silver coins fer yer trouble.” The old pirate pushed a small leather sack towards Glover. When Glover and Zacharias did not immediately react, he added, “Sorry lads, dere’s nowt I can do about da prices dese days. No one wants ambergris anymore – dis sandalwood shite ‘as all da Perfumers in a tizzy. Like I said, ye can use yer coin ta pick up a load from Kashya and ye’ll make ten times – or more – back.”

“And then you’ll be telling us that the prices of sandalwood are in the shitehouse, you fuckin’ knave.”

“Erm, I believe that what Glover is trying to say is… one moment.” Zacharias fumbled with a scroll case for a moment before removing a bundle of parchment. He unfurled one piece and began to read. “According to the Fortune Board, you opened a contract for two gold pieces per ten-pound of ‘gris. We accepted that contract when we weighed anchor on behalf of the Guild. We paid the licensing fees to the Erifracians for hunting off their waters – put nearly our entire savings into this job. Easy money, you said. And now you are trying to pay us merely twelve percent of what was agreed upon per the contract.”

“Yeah, so what? Ye ain’t new, lads. The Goddess of Luck will fuck a Fortune Runner just as soon as smile upon ‘im, ye knows dat. Dem’s da prices. I can’t change ‘em.” Umberto sat back in his chair. “It’s take it or leave it.”

“Tyche’s got nothin’ to do with this, Umberto.” Glover said icily. “We’ll take it up with the Trade Magistrate’s Office. Zach is right – we’ve got a properly formulated contract here and you’re in breach.”

“Try it, Glover,” replied Umberto flatly. “As soon as ye does dat, I’ll go to da City Guard and inform them dat a pair o’ buggers been seen molestin’ each udder on da docks. Dere’s Fortune Runners dat would love ta see da Golden Poofters gone – witnesses’d be no problem. Ye’ll be swingin’ by dawn tomorrow.”

Glover got to his feet and reached for the cutlass that was hanging from his belt. Zacharias caught his hand and stood up with him. The cooler head of the duo then collected up the purse and inclined his head to the Guild Master.

“You owe us one, Umberto. Make sure that the sandalwood prices don’t tank while we are a-sea.”

“No promises, lad, but ye knows me ta be a fair man. Dis was indeed unexpected and I am truly sorry about it. Poofters or not, never let it be said dat da Seafarin’ Guild don’t take care of its own.”

“You cunt ya,” muttered Glover under his breath as he turned to leave.

“What was dat?”

“Nothin’, yer Majesty,” said Glover, making a sweeping bow to the Guild Master before finally going.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“What the fuck are we goin’ to do now, Zach?

“Go on to Kashya, as planned.”

“Mannannan’s Green fucking Beard, how? We don’t have enough money to replenish our supplies!”

“We’ve gotten by with much less, in the early days. We still have… options.” Zacharias looked at the cutlass on Glover’s belt.

“You can’t be serious,” replied Glover. He stood up and crossed to the porthole. The men had been seated in the little cubby that served as their office on the lower deck of their ship. It consisted of a desk, two chairs, and a few trunks filled with business parchment, along with various logs and diaries. Glover used the sleeve of his uniform to wipe at the dirty glass.

“I promised myself I would never go back to bein’ a Corsair, Zacharias.”

“Well, do you have any other ideas about where we might get the money?” Zacharias stood and crossed to Glover. He rubbed his back and added, “You know I wouldn’t ask you to do this unless we had another option. Well, in all Honesty, I suppose we do – borrowing from the Thieves’ Guild. But that would put us in Mad Derrick’s pocket, and that is the last place we want to be.”

Glover grasped the hilt of his sword, letting his fingers run across the grain of the leather wrapping on the handle. The handguard and pommel were made out of simple unpainted steel. It appeared so plain, and yet, it was one of the most well-forged weapons on Clovir. Glover had a Liserian Blacksmith to thank for the true masterwork of a blade. A blade that Glover had though retired forever. Sighing, he turned and took Zacharias in his arms.

“If I get gutted by one of these Merchants, you know you’ll be alone, right?”

“I made my bet on you a long time ago, Cuthbert.”

“You know I hate that name.”

“Guess you better punish me, then.”

With that, the men shared a fierce kiss.

“Hold on,” said Zacharias, grinning and turning, “let me get the parchments off the desk.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

The Narwhal did require a trio of men beyond Zacharias and Glover to crew the vessel. Born Sailors, none of them had ever been a member of a Corsair ship, and so there were a few things to iron out before the boat left port.

“Look, you can get off here, now,” said Glover to the assembled men. “You’ll get your wages, as agreed upon. But those that stay will get what is owed, plus a cut of the booty from the target and from the sale of the sandalwood. We’ll be doing our work off the coast of Liseria. They have patrols running now and then, so it’s not without risk. Chances are, though, we will be fine. I’ve done this before. Our biggest risk is going to be losing our advantage of surprise. If you’re stayin’, know that you might be called upon to end someone’s life.” Glover paused to gesture up at the flag on the mast. “We’re not unacquainted with Tyche’s Grace on this vessel, lads. The Narwhal has the favour of the Goddess.”

“Sure, b’y, Glover. Look at how lucky ye’s been up ta ‘ere an’ now. Forced into corsairin’ cause ye got fucked by Umberto.”

“I take it you won’t be joining us, then, Adrian?”

“Nah, shag it, b’y,” said the Sailor. “Sounds like a bit o’ fun. But yer cracked if ye think the Goddess o’ Fortune has ‘er eye on Da Narwhal.”

The other men muttered their assent.

Over the days that followed, Glover showed the men on the boat the basics of swordplay. Enough so that they seemed confident enough not to gut themselves. But Adrian’s words, about how luck was not with them, stayed with Glover for days afterwards. In spite of his practicality, Glover was somewhat superstitious. He caught himself praying to the Goddess, silently, to himself, during quiet moments when no one was watching. And then they finally spied a proper quarry on the Liserian waves.

A Merchantman. Unaccompanied. It would be like lifting a confection from a babe.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

The sound of crunching cartilage and the slapping of meat echoed within the cabin. The other crew members, quietly standing on the edges of the room, looked to one another, eyes wide. On one of the chairs, a Liserian man whose face had become a mess of red and purple, hung limply forward, his hands pulled taut against his bonds.

“Antidote,” said Glover in the man’s alien tongue, through gritted teeth. “Where antidote?”

“No antidote,” breathed the Liserian through the dripping blood. “Dokueki, the creator, never wanted one. Empress thought that if Liserian struck by poison, it would be his own fault and he deserved death.”

Glover took his sword up again and bashed the man in the face with the pommel. And then again.

“Erm, Captain, p’raps ‘e’s tellin’ da truth.” Adrian was the sole other man on board who understood Liserian. He looked to the two other crew members. They simply kept their eyes to the floor.

“Oh, I believe he is, Adrian,” muttered Glover in Thrain. “Give me one of those bolts. Fletching first, if you please.”

Adrian complied, handling the crossbow ammunition with extreme care. Glover took it, then brought it down hard into the man’s calf. The Liserian shrieked with pain.

“Look here, men,” said Glover. “Another of the Empress’ failures. One ‘deserving of death.’” He paused to relish the man’s pain. “Lock him in the brig and let him sweat it out.” Teeth gritted, Glover kicked the chair over and walked out the door of the cabin.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Dying from the poison known as Master Dokueki’s Gift is a horrific thing. Physically, it involves wheezing, convulsing, blistering, retching blood, and soiling one’s self. Mentally, it involves pain, hallucinations, screeching, and terror. What it does not offer is loss of consciousness, or any succour or respite from the relentless suffering. Which can last for days.

Zacharias was the sole person injured during the attack on the Liserian Merchantman. He had been grazed on his hand by a crossbow bolt, enough to draw blood. The beginnings of his affliction fit the description of a normal progression of the Liserian toxin’s attack on a body. The foreign sadists envenomed their weapons with the stuff known as Dokueki’s Gift, to strike terror into their enemies. It was the most inhumane way to go, aside from perhaps the stuff cooked up by that alien country’s Torturemancers. Most Thrainfolk who lived on the border with Liseria and suffered from the simmering war of attrition would rather end the misery early when one of their family members was afflicted by the poison. A cut throat was plenty merciful.

Glover had heard about it and knew that killing Zacharias would indeed be a kindness. But, in his travels through all the port in the known worlds, he had also heard another tale. A rumour about an order of strange Priests living in the shadow of the Crooked Spears, wearing red robes and who had command of magic, of all things. Glover was a realist, and knew that stories of magic were for children, not for grown men. But these Priests, it had been said, lay claim to an antidote for the Liserian poison. Unlike magical fairy tales, Herbalism was not the stuff of childish fancy, and for every toxin there had to be an antidote. Or, so Glover prayed.

“I’ve got to try, Zach,” said Glover through his tears. He was holding Zacharias’ other hand, the one that had not been injured, between two of his own. Zacharias had only a slight fever at this point and was smiling at Glover. “If we head back to the Thrain coast and drop anchor in Rhymore, we should be able to ride to their fortress in a two-day.”

“You know that I trust you, Cuthbert. Really, it’s not that bad.”

Not yet, thought Glover, though he kept his musings to himself.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

By the time they arrived in Rhymore, the only evidence that the poison had started to take effect, aside from the fever and sweating, was a shortness of breath. Zacharias could speak, but it took him time and he strained to form sentences. As soon as they could disembark, Glover took him to the local Physiker’s office, a little hole in the wall that they would not have found so quickly if the healer had not put up a sign with a black mortar and pestle on a white field, the sigil of the Physiker’s Guild.

“We are not far from the border, Sailor,” whispered Physiker Eckhart Indigo to Glover, after Zacharias was made comfortable. “He is not the first man who has come to this place with Dokueki’s Gift in his body.” The Physiker produced a phial with an opaque white fluid inside from the folds of his brilliantly white robe. It did not slosh as he passed it to Glover.

“Blessing of Morpheus,” said Glover.

“Indeed. It will not do anything to prevent the pain that is coming. What it can do is prevent it from progressing to what is next.”

“How is that?” Glover looked up from the bottle to the Physiker, who was staring gravely at him. “Oh. No! Most certainly not.”

“There is nothing you can do for him,” said the Physiker. “I have watched scores of people die from this. None survive.” The Physiker paused. “That bottle in your hands. I sample it every night, just so that I might close my eyes and not see them. Those who have come under my care, I mean. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

“Yes,” replied Glover. “But this one is not dying. Do what you can for him. I ride south.”

“The Red Keep,” assessed the Physiker. Glover looked at the man as if he had been stung. “Yes, I have heard of the place. It is one of the worst-kept secrets in Thrairn. Only that it exists, of course. I have no idea what those Cultists do in there, but they have the King’s protection and I am not interested in poking my nose into their business. Be warned: bowmen on the walls will shoot you dead if you approach without cause.”

Glover blanched for a moment, before catching himself and replacing the stern mask on his face.

“Look, Glover, was it?” continued Physiker Indigo. “This is a fool’s errand. Those people love their secrecy and are willing to kill for it. Who is this man to you, anyway? A fellow Sailor? Whoever he is, it’s not worth dying for.”

“That is where you are wrong, potion man,” replied Glover. “He’s the only thing worth dying over.”

Physiker Indigo raised an eyebrow, took in Glover once more, then nodded slowly. “I think I understand. Alright, friend, go then. I will do what I can for him. It won’t be much more than keeping him warm on a cot.”

“I won’t forget your kindness.” Glover returned the phial to the Physiker and grabbed his arm. “Not many are as open-minded as you in this country.”

“Yes, well, you see enough people die under your watch and you quickly come to understand what is important in this life. And what is not. It is seldom what those Priests say. Now go!”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Glover pushed the mare that he had hired in Rhymore to its limit. From morning to dusk on the day he set off, the man barely gave the horse a break. She refused to go on just before the rosy summer gloaming descended upon the land, causing Glover to curse and slap her a few times, before finally accepting the reality of his situation.

Signposts that he passed on the back roads some distance before where he stopped for the night told him that he was on the right track. The Pirate who had told him about the red-robed cult informed him that it was a morning’s ride from Bloomsdale, one of the towns on the southern part of the border with Liseria.

There was another concern. The roads that Glover rode upon were dangerously close to said border. The Liserian Army was in the business of harrying the people who lived in the area. There was a risk that he might be accosted by hostile raiding parties. Tasked with its security on the Thrain side were the Red and Blue Orders – the Blue in the northern Hume Province and the Red Knights in the southern reaches of Ecta Province.

Glover had passed by a couple of Blue Knight encampments earlier in the day. The men were dressed in traditional knightly dress of leathers, chains, and a white tabard with a blue dragon painted on both front and back. They bore similarly-adorned kite shields. The men had nodded to him as he cantered on by.

Glover suddenly felt in full one of his forgotten considerations: he was still wearing his Narwhal uniform. It was most likely unrecognizable to anyone who did not frequent the ports of Thrairn. He might be picked up for a Liserian spy by the Knights, if any of them had a half-decently functioning brain on their shoulders. He was confident that, should he be arrested, he would eventually be cleared, but such a delay would mean the certain end of Zacharias.

Too late for that now, mused Glover, building a fire in a meadow just off the road. He would let himself and his horse rest for a few hours, then it was back on the road. He checked his storm lantern for the third time that day, to make sure it was in working order.

Dangerous and foolhardy as such a thing in a place like this would be, he and the horse were in for a night ride.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

It was just before dawn when Glover encountered trouble. His lantern did not fail him, nor did his horse. Rather, it was the bit of leather attached to the animal’s bridle. It frayed and snapped, leaving the Sailor to dismount and retie the harness with the broken bits.

He had just finished the makeshift repair when he heard a voice from behind him.

“Do not move a muscle, Knave.”

A sharp feeling which could have been naught but the tip of a sword dug into Glover’s back.

Glover’s world collapsed. This was it. Zacharias was going to die because he had been caught by a Knight. He was certain it was a Knight because of the posh manner of speech.

“Turn around,” said the Knight. “Slowly now.”

Glover complied. In the lantern light, Glover could see that the man had a red dragon on his chest. Christ-man, he thought to himself, Ecta Province. So Gods-damned close.

“What is that on your jerkin? A unicorn’s horn? Whose Sigil is that?”

“My own, my Lord,” said Glover. “At least, it is my ship’s symbol. I am captain of The Narwhal. A Fortune Runner.”

“Fortune Runner? You mean with the Seafaring Guild?”

“The one and the same, my Lord.”

“What are you doing so far from the coast, Sailor?” The Knight peered at him, keeping the sword between the pair. “What brings you to Ecta Province?”

“I am a citizen of the Realm, am I not permitted to travel freely through the King’s lands?”

“Indeed you are,” said the Knight. “But if you decide to ride through the night, this close to the Liserian border… surely you must have expected to be stopped? So, please, tell me: where are you going and why are you riding in the middle of the night like a Highwayman? Or, more likely, a Spy?”

Here it was then. Glover knew that what he said here could very well mean Zacharias’ survival. He could either entrust this Knight with his secret and hope for mercy, or he could try to deceive him.

Glover had spent a long time deceiving the world. When he was a boy, he had to hide who he was. Memories of feeble attempts at courtship with village girls in order to please his father came tumbling at him through time. Some of them had seen right through him, but most did not. He had run roughshod over a few hearts by lying to those girls.

So much deceit, both for himself and everyone else in his life. After he found Zacharias, Glover had made a vow to never lie again, and life seemed to have gotten better in the wake of that promise. But here, now, with Zacharias’ life on the line: this was the ultimate test of his Faith, of how far he would be prepared to hold true to his promise.

Besides, this Knight seemed like a decent sort, Glover mused. At least, he hoped he was.

“My friend has been poisoned,” admitted the Sailor. “By the Liserians. I have heard of a group-”

“At the Red Keep,” interrupted the Knight. He sighed. “You’re not the first one to seek them out, spurred by strange rumours of an antidote. I am sorry for your friend, but I will be frank: he is doomed. That cult keeps to itself. You will get to their gate and will be ignored.” The Knight sheathed his sword. “I have often wondered why the Bishop has never ordered a Pogrom against them. Clearly they are Heretics of one stripe or another. But they are largely ignored, both by the King and Church. I suppose the coin I earn is not gold enough to be privy to the reason why.”

While the Knight droned on, Glover had been silently wilting inside. There had to be an antidote. It was not Zacharias’ time to go – they had many years ahead of them. How could he say goodbye?

“If you wish to proceed on your fool’s errand, I will not stop you. There is a fork at Bloomsdale, which is just a few hours down the road.” He paused and looked at the mare. “Your horse looks like it could use a rest. Please, leave her and take mine. It should only take you a day to get to the Keep and return to me. After you have confirmed what I have told you.”

“Why are you being so kind to me?”

“Why do dogs bark? Why do birds fly? I am what I am, even if my Commander thinks I am far too trusting to be a Coloured Knight. We are all in this world together, so we might as well act that way.”

“Strange philosophy for a man who puts Liserians to the sword every day.”

“What would any of us be without a paradox or two?” The Knight pointed to a bivouacked encampment off the road that was slowly becoming more visible with the approaching dawn. “Please, this way.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

The fresh stallion was welcome, though the amount of time Glover had spent in the stallion was really starting to bother him. Every single bounce was an agony. Thoughts of dismounting and resting for a while kept intruding on his mind. Abandonment of the quest played on his mind like an erratic drumbeat that was rising in intensity. When he finally arrived at the Keep, it was with a mixture of elation and relief. Almost cut out of the side of a red mountain that towered past the clouds below the noon-day sun, and made of similarly-coloured brick, it was quite the spectacular sight. Spires and towers climbed out from behind enormous walls.

Glover slowed the horse to a trot and directed the animal towards the barbican. He swallowed against the hot discomfort that was forming in his chest. Fear intensified as he drew closer and a lone man in a red robe appeared from one of the little guard houses on both sides of the portcullis.

“State your business,” said the man drearily. He was young, Glover could see. Very young. The man yawned as Glover prepared to say what he had been running over and over in his head since his encounter with the kind Red Knight.

“My name is Cuthbert Glover. I am the Captain of The Narwhal, a Fortune Runner in service to the Seafaring Guild. My First Mate was struck by a Liserian crossbow bolt and is now dying from Dokueki’s Gift. I understand that you have a remedy and do not share it with strangers.” Glover fought back the tears. “I am begging you, sir. You can save my friend and I implore you to do so.”

The man on the wall did not say anything for a few moments. Glover assumed that he was going to reject his request and was considering how he was going to let him down gently.

“If there had been anyone else with me right now, you would not get anything from me. I would be forced to tell you no and send you on your way, on pain of death. The thing is, though, I wish to leave this place. You say you are the Captain of a ship. I propose an exchange: you take me on as a Sailor, I get you the antidote.”

“Are you serious?”

“Of course, I am serious. Now, do we have a deal?”

“Yes! By the Green Beard of Mannannan, yes!”

“I don’t know who that is,” said the man on the wall, relaxing into a Merchant dialect that seemed to fit his tongue better. “But if your God ain’t the fucking Christ-man, I’m with you.”

“Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Timothy. Timothy Charon. But you can just call me Tim.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

The Knight who had lent Glover the horse was more than a little shocked to see Timothy with the Sailor, but he did not do much about it, except to exclaim his surprise when he took the stallion back and returned the mare to Glover. After the Knight was out of sight, Glover turned back to the man for whom Glover had plenty of unvoiced questions.

“Can you take over? My crotch is going to be fucked until the end of days if I don’t get off it. Sharpish.” Glover winced as the mare bounced.

“Sure, but what are you going to do?”

“I’ll lie across the back of the horse.”

“Christ-man, that sounds like an awful way to ride.”

“You just keep us going until we hit Rhymore,” said Glover, grimacing as he stepped down to the dirt of the road.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Glover did not see Rhymore approaching. It was night time again, but he had somehow managed to fall asleep in spite of the extremely uncomfortable travel arrangements.

“Cuthbert,” said Timothy, shaking him awake. “Cuthbert, we’re here.”

“Mannanan’s Sword, Zacharias, what the fuck- oh, it’s you. It’s you! Tim! We’re here!” Glover pushed himself down onto his feet and started towards the Physiker’s office. “Oh, and Tim. No one calls me Cuthbert, except Zacharias. I fuckin’ hate it. He gets a, whaddya call it, ‘special dispensation.’”

“Fair enough, Captain.”

“See,” said Glover, knocking on the door, “already learnin’ Respect for the chain of command. You’ll be a proper Sailor in no time.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

The antidote was in a small phial with a little leaf carved into the wooden stopper at the top. It was greenish and seemed to sparkle unnaturally in the candlelight.

Physiker Indigo administered it to Zacharias, who was in the worst throes of the poison’s advance. Screaming bloody murder, with boils all over his body, he looked like a caricature of a man dying of plague. When the Physiker finally got him to calm down sufficiently to open his mouth to drink of the draught, Glover felt a strong fear that he would spit it out or sent the potion tumbling in his delirium.

All was well in the end, and the antidote soon put a stop to Zacharias’ torment. Before long, he was snoring on the Physiker’s fauteuil. The men marveled at how the boils receded before their very eyes. Indigo ushered Glover and Timothy out into his office for a debrief.

“A Miracle,” said the Physiker. “A Gods-damned Miracle, is what that is.”

“Basic Herbology, actually,” said Timothy. “Like your trade, Physiker, except with a touch of magic. I will give you the recipe. It will probably shock you with its simplicity.”

“Who are you?” asked the Physiker. “I mean, who are you really? And what is this… magic? Is it a religion? At the Keep? Some kind of cult?”

“Ha,” said Timothy. “You’re not far off. I am a dead man, if they ever catch me. So, fuck it. I will tell you both everything I know about the Red Tradition. And then, Captain, we’d best weigh anchor and make for somewhere far, far away.”

“We were headed for Kashya, before all of this shite with the Liserians began.”

“Far enough,” replied Timothy.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

“That’s enough excitement for two lifetimes,” said Glover, when he and Zacharias were alone in their cabin, well on their way to their exotic destination. “Three, even.”

“My hero,” said Zacharias, nuzzling into Glover’s shoulder. “I knew you would save me. Even when the pain hit its crescendo and kept rising, I knew my Cuthbert would come to my rescue.”

“You’d have done the same for me.”

“I don’t know about that,” replied Zacharias. “You are much braver than I.” He took Glover’s jaw in his hand and kissed him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” said Glover. Silenced reigned for a time.

“What is it?” asked Zacharias, noting the discomfort evident on Glover’s face.

“I want to jump your bones, Zach, but my arse is so fucked from that saddle that I don’t think I’ll move for a fortnight.”

Zacharias tittered. “We have time, love,” he said. “All the time in the world.”

“It’s all over, you know that?”

“What, you mean with the Seafaring Guild?”

Glover nodded. “The way Tim tells it, these Mages mean business. That Red Knight saw Tim with me. It won’t take them much time to figure out what happened. I can never risk going back.”

“We won’t be the first Sailors to leave Thrairn forever. Nor the last, I wager.” Zacharias paused. “Think of it this way: we will never have to hide who we are again.”

Glover grunted and became quiet again. After a while, he spoke.

“We will need a new sigil. Right away. The Narwhal is no more. We’ll have to find a cove to tear down the flags and dump our jerkins.”

“How do you feel about seahorses?”

Glover took a moment to consider Zacharias’ words. “The regular kind is what wrecked my undercarriage, so I suppose it’s appropriate. The Seahorse. I do like it.”

“So do I,” said Zacharias, smiling.

“Mannannan’s Sword: Mages and magic and conspiracies. Like a story out of one of those shite books you’ve always got your nose buried in.”

“Hey, leave the illustrious Mr. Spence’s work out of this,” laughed Zacharias.

The men relaxed into one another as they lay on their bed.

“It’s a new chapter, that’s for sure,” said Zacharias. “But we still have our dreams, our ship, and each other.”

“That’s all that really matters, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is, my sweet. Indeed it is.”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

There are many who are errant,’ said Sancho.
Many,’ responded Don Quixote, ‘but few who deserve to be called knights.
— Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes