The morning sun burned Bas’ eyes as he left the Prism Keep. He straightened his tunic and waistcoat and pushed the smirk from his face. With a bit of struggle, he suppressed his strut as he stepped onto the cobblestone street. The day before had been a good day. He won their case, allowing them to lay claim on most of the prizes they took on their last voyage.
He spent hours in Admiralty Court being called Sebastian Woodhull or Mr. Woodhull. The formality tired him. He deserved a night out. A little frivolous fun away from the pressures and responsibilities of the ship refilled his soul. The others weren’t complete screwups. Because he studied the law, they expected him to keep them on the straight and narrow. Sometimes it was good not to have to worry about everyone else.
When he and Maeve founded the Ocean’s Shadow, he dreamed of a life of adventure and excitement. Since he had the best handwriting, he wrote their salvage request, then their petition for recognition. Over time, he handled all the paperwork for the crew. One pleasure-filled night balanced out a day of mind-numbing boredom.
His only regret as he walked through the streets of Duskmere was that he hadn’t won them more money. None of the cargo carried a bounty. The court ruled that the Daskensian flag he presented was circumstantial. Maintaining a sailing vessel equipped for the voyages they undertook was expensive. It was barely enough, but it was better than nothing.
His blood boiled as they reduced their value down to the cezri they brought back with them. Coin counters only cared about one thing after all.
All too often, the responsibilities fell on his shoulders, but since he had not only won their case, and got their Letter of Marque and Reprisal renewed and expanded, he deserved a treat. He also needed a distraction from the work their extended letter and authority granted them. Their prominence would increase, and that brought with it its own risks and rewards.
Revelry escaped from the bars and pubs along the street and called him away from the ship. Their sweet song tempted him from his duty, but he walked past them. It wasn’t because he didn't enjoy the sailor’s life, but because he preferred not to play father to the crew.
In his absence, Maeve would have gone out to drum up work for them. When he returned, they would have already schemed their way into a trap to talk him into the mission. They would lie in wait to convince him to agree to whatever scheme they had concocted, and it was his duty to weigh it against the charter.
The Buttercup’s mast loomed high over the dock as one of the few sloops in the harbor. Most of the Duskmere fleet sought their fortunes elsewhere.
His stomach dropped. He didn’t know what they planned to do to talk him into their latest scheme, but his elation was about to end.
Crane’s tiny shadow ran across the deck to alert the others of his approach. Since they set a lookout, they definitely had something up their sleeve.
Bas blew the boarding song on his whistle, and Jade lowered the gangway.
As he bounded up the springy walkway, he allowed the swagger he so poorly suppressed to take over his demeanor. He nodded and winked at Jade as he stepped past him.
The others waited in the wardroom for him to report in. He wasn't ready to let go of the delirious feeling of victory, so after he walked below deck, he turned toward the private quarters and went to his room.
Maeve exited her cabin as his footsteps creaked down the hall to his door. She smiled at him, and he sneered back.
“How was your night?” she asked.
Bas twisted his face into an impish grin and responded, “it was alright. I just need a moment to get myself together.”
Maeve shook her head. The twinkle in her eye told him she had landed them a lucrative, but dangerous charter she believed she would have to twist his arm into. She probably wasn’t wrong.
He loved the back and forth between them. She was the dreamer, and he was the responsible one.
Bas entered his room and shut the door behind him. Responsibility weighed on him. His shoulders sagged.
He glanced at his face in the mirror. His mother’s blue eyes and his father’s small nose attracted his attention. He missed them so much. It was his job to ensure nothing bad happened to the ship or the crew. Sorrow reddened the skin around his eyes, almost to the same color as his short hair. He would not break down. The sadness had its time to control him, and that had passed.
After calming himself down, he tapped the water stone over the basin and washed his face. He emptied his pockets of everything but the letter of marque and the small bag of cezri the admiralty court awarded them.
He changed out of his heavy waistcoat into something more appropriate for the meeting with the crew, a canvas frock coat.
Outside his room, Maeve waited for him. She accompanied him down to the wardroom with only the slightest amount of chitchat between them. She rationed her words and used them with such tender care.
Bas swaggered into the room and tossed the bounty and the revised letter of marque and reprisal onto the table.
"The Mancai Admiralty Court has granted our petition to keep the spoils of our last voyage and assigned us the right to recruit two more ships to the fleet," Bas said.
The others hooted and hollered. Jade and Crane pounded on the table, and Harley shook her head disapprovingly at their exuberance.
Crane added, “that will come in handy with our next commission.”
Bas interrupted him and explained in excruciating detail the procedures before the court. He started talking about the additional clauses they included in the Letter of Marque and how their past exploits justified each line and clause.
Jade rolled his small black eyes. “We are Corsairs, not Pirates. We don’t fight for the Mancai. We stand up for the archipelago.”
Crane nodded his head. “Yeah, the Daskensians exploit the islands too often. We need to show they will not mess with us anymore.”
Maeve stood up and with abject seriousness said, “if we can retrieve something that has been stolen, we should take it.”
Bas smirked at their heavy-handed hints about their commission. “In theory, but all of this is moot if we don’t have the supplies to set sail.” Everyone lost loved ones and treasure to the invaders. Unwanted memories arose, and he forced them down. “Since I assume none of you have taken stock or used the sign-out sheets so we’d know what we have left, I need to do the inventory so we can even talk about what we do next.”
Bas stood up and ignored their protestations as he walked out of the room. It was time for him to be the responsible one again. It distracted him from memories haunting the corners of his mind. He didn’t close the door behind him to not seem angry.
The steps darkened as Bas went down into the ship’s hold. Light crystals cast a golden orange hue among the shelves and crates. Shadows loomed over the corridors and the nautilus crabs scattered at the sound of his footsteps.
He popped the manifest off the hook and flipped through the usage log. After a quick scan of the page, he sighed. His handwriting covered the sheet with the occasional lines from Maeve. Harley scribbled some sarcastic limericks and rude riddles as well. He ensured the attached pencil was sharp before walking into the stacks to count what they had left.
Footsteps skittered in the shadows outside his field of view. While heavier than a nautilus crab, they were lighter than any of his fellow crewmates, except for Crane.
Above his head, behind a crate on the shelf, a triangular shadow rose and dipped back out of sight.
The dorsal fin of Dreamclaw, Jade’s sharkhound familiar peaked out from behind another box.
Bas pretended he saw nothing. He marked the count on the sheet.
The sharkhound stalked him through the stacks. Boards creaked as the creature, who resembled a cute four-legged sand shark, rocked back and forth on his feet, preparing to strike.
Bas turned away from the sound. In the wild, he would never do such a thing, but the familiar was playing. He longed to distract himself from the monotony of the count.
With a gritty roar, the sharkhound leaped from behind a crate of Ebria Rosado and pounced on Bas, knocking him on his back and licking his face.
Bas laughed, spun around, and tickled the sharkhound’s sides.
Dream panted a husky chortle.
Heavy footsteps pounded down the stairs, followed by a deep laugh. "I didn't know that this was inventory. I guess that means I do inventory a lot more than you give me credit for." Jade chuckled.
Bas rolled his eyes and pushed Dream off.
The sharkhound scuttled off into the shadows.
“Did you come to coerce me into whatever you all are planning?” Bas asked.
Jade shook his head. “No. I already know you’ve agreed to the commission.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You stopped arguing with us and walked away. If you doubted Maeve in the slightest, you would have fought more. You have faith in her. We all do.”
“We need to be careful.” Bas stood and picked up the manifest. “The more prominent we become, the more attention we bring to ourselves. We aren’t ready to deal with some interests out there that wish to take advantage of cultivators who aren’t on their toes.”
“Who would want to take advantage of us? We don’t even have a full crew complement.”
“But we have skills others will choose to twist to their own profit.”
Jade clicked his tongue. “Then we need to be careful. Here, let me help you count.”
While they finished the inventory, Bas and Jade talked about establishing a fleet and securing a future for themselves and the archipelago.
“Why didn’t you join a more established Sect?” Bas asked.
“Where is the fun in that?” Jade said. “I need my name to mean something. I don’t want to just be a tool in the hands of some remote grandmaster building their own legend. I prefer my own story to be told. Why didn’t you and Maeve join the sect you were born into?”
“We discussed it, but in the end, we wanted to have something of our own.”
“No master, no kings,” Jade said solemnly.
“Never to bend a knee or pretend someone is our better.”
“That's why we have to go on this raid,” Jade said.
Bas rolled his eyes.
Garland should have given them more information about the target. Nothing in the Letter of Marque sanctioned or prevented them from such an assault, and since they weren't keeping the cargo, but repatriating it to its rightful owners, they wouldn't have to take the case before the admiralty court.
That simplified things. Such an incursion would bring them more notoriety than they were ready for.
The Daskensians stole so much. They killed so many. They forced so many more into slavery. If they helped one group, others would expect their help too.
They didn’t have the power to take care of everyone and everything. Perhaps they could save enough.
What did that even mean? How could he amortize the cost of a life? Treasure had a value assigned to it, but it never counted the emotional trauma. It wasn’t their place to decide who lived and who died, much less who suffered forever in bonds of slavery.
If they were unable to help someone, did it make it their fault they continued to suffer? Logically, the answer was no, but his heart wasn’t as rational as he led people to believe.
His spirit wouldn’t grow cold to the suffering of his fellows. He watched his parents change over time to where they cared more about cultivating their crafts and garnering the funds to continue their work. What was the point of the arts if they didn’t help others?
“You’ve been oddly quiet,” Jade said after reporting his next set of numbers.
“Just thinking too much about the future, I suppose.” He knew the question hidden in Jade’s words. “I need to stop worrying so much.” Bas said, “don’t worry. I won’t stand in the way. If you all think we should go on the raid, you have my vote.”
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