Posted by Jennifer
“His Kingliness, Kerdak Bonefist, has consented to an audience tomorrow night, Captain Sir,” Conchobar declaimed, posing next to their table at the Riptide Alehouse in Port Peril. The gnome had to raise his voice to be heard over the exuberant crowd. “Since we don’t have the sponsorship of a recognized Free Captain, we’re likely to undergo ‘Testing’.”
“Bring it on,” was Chopper’s response. Reiko shrugged.
“It would be convenient if Captain Bloodmourn were in port.”
“Would she sponsor us?” Feruzi asked.
“Probably, although I would have to talk to her first. And she would want to meet Captain Chopper and the rest of you.”
Feruzi eyed Chopper for a moment. “Well . . . perhaps it’s better she is not here.” Reiko smirked.
“I’m sure she’d appreciate his unique personality.”
“That would be a first, then,” Ezikial growled. Chopper replied with a friendly grin.
“You’re lucky I’m not convinced you won’t shoot me, Mister Hands.”
“Are you convinced I won’t shoot you, then?” Feruzi demanded.
“Mostly. Pretty sure it annoys you every time I am obstinate enough to get myself shot.”
“Well I wouldn’t want you to think I was getting soft. One of these days I’ll have a chance to pay back that debt and you can go get yourself shot with my blessing.”
“Well, I already have plans to re-up muh policy with your honor, should it ever come t’that.”
“We’ll see. So is there anything special we should do to get ready for this meeting tomorrow?
“Don’t go dying beforehand?” Reiko offered. “Or getting yourself killed, as it were. That might look unprofessional.”
Feruzi shrugged. “In my nation, formally meeting a King has more . . . significance. Or so I hear. My own meeting was not so formal.”
“I shouldn’t worry overmuch. A king’s just a man, same as any other. A might more prickly about respect, mayhap, but I can mind m’manners if and when the occasion calls for it,” Chopper informed them.
“Pirates ne’er stood much on formailty,” Sandara said. “E’en the ones in charge.”
Chopper nodded. “I’m counting on it. Who’s this now?” he added as a tall, lean man with tousled blond hair and an eyepatch muscled up to their table. His clothes were simple but fine, and he carried himself like a fencer.
“Captain Pierce Jerrell of the Salty Flagon,” the newcomer announced, smiling expansively. “Meeting the Hurricane King already! I congratulate you on your success, my friends.” He had a lilting accent that hailed from nowhere in the Shackles.
“Captain Chopper of Crisis,” Chopper replied, offering his hand and moving over to make space at their table. Jerrell sat without needing further invitation.
“Captain Jerrell, where about are you from originally, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I don’t mind at all, milady. Druma, originally, the port of Detmer. Came to the Shackles courtesy of dissident priests of Cayden Cailean.”
“Oh? I like Cayden Cailean, me. Or like what I’ve heard of him, anyway,” Chopper told him.
“Then you MUST have a drink with me,” Jerrell told him. “I’ve had a series of successes on the Fever Sea, and it only seems fitting to share.”
“We ain’t done half bad our own selves. Lemme buy the next round,” Chopper told him, taking a deep swallow from the mug that appeared.
“I have a good feeling about you lot,” Jerrell told them. “And I try to respect such things. The King’s not so bad. Not as popular as he was in the day, but he HAS been keeping things running for almost forty years. I’ll have to make my way up there and see how it goes for you.” Jerrell’s eyes roved over the party while he talked, taking in each of the officers in turn. Ezikial gave him the stink-eye—assuming that wasn’t just his normal expression. Feruzi shrugged, but Reiko seemed distracted by something in the crowd. She glanced at Sandara, then stood up and quickly moved off into the crowd. Ezikial’s face tightened and he ducked his head to whisper.
“Caulky Tarroon is here.” Reiko was too short to be visible in the crowd, but a disturbance of sorts began as several drinks were upset. A woman stared into her mug, then shouted loudly if indistinctly and hurled the mug over her shoulder—straight into the face of a rough-looking buccaneer.
“Oh, bugger me,” Chopper muttered. The buccaneer roared and lurched to his feet, throwing a punch in the woman’s direction but missing and pasting a bystander instead. Reiko jumped back from the rapidly-growing brawl and Caulky erupted from the crowd, heading for the back stairs that led to the balcony. Ezikial took off after her, jumping from table to table, and fired at her retreating back, the bullet punching a hole in the studded leather she wore. She staggered but did not stop; at the top of the stairs she smashed into a stack of barrels that shifted ominously. Caulky kicked at them viciously until they began to move, thundering down the stairs and knocking Ezikial off his feet. A nearby brawler kicked at the pistol in his hand. Reiko charged up behind him, jumped the barrels, and sprinted up the stairs.
“If you stop now, you won’t die by our hands!”
Feruzi watched the chase, then stepped onto their table and executed an impressive standing jump to grab a chandelier. She swarmed rapidly up the chain and then ran across the ceiling, her new footwear providing magical purchase and letting her jump to the balcony ahead of Caulky, cutting off the cabin girl’s escape.
“Get ’er, Feruzi!” Chopper bellowed. He elbowed Pierce, who was fending off brawlers with bursts of light and color. “That’s muh platonic life partner!” Chopper took another drink and reached over to acquire Feruzi’s full mug, using his own to bludgeon away at the brawlers.
Caulky hissed and rushed Feruzi, drawing a knife, but Feruzi dodged neatly aside and grabbed Caulky around the waist, bearing her to the floor.
“Lemme go lemme go!” Caulky shrieked as the rest of the officers leisurely approached, Ezikial having freed himself from the barrels. He shoved his pistol into Caulky’s face.
“No. Give up or I will shoot you again.” With a wail of despair, she stopped struggling.
“I’m thinking we should get out of here before the militia arrives,” Captain Jerrell said to Chopper. “Let me show you the back way.”
Chopper whistled to get Feruzi’s attention and gestured after Jerrell. She hauled Caulky along as they slipped behind the bar and out an unobtrusive door to the street.
“So, why did we do that, exactly?” Feruzi asked, putting Caulky down and dusting herself off. Caulky started to scramble to her feet and Feruzi planted a foot on her rump, ending that idea.
“The Wormwood’s in port,” Ezikial snarled.
“We shouldn’t let Harrigan know we’re in port just yet,” Chopper explained.
“We’ve been spreading our tales and coin around. It would be hard for him to avoid knowing at this point.”
“That’s fact. But I somehow doubt we’re his primary concern at this moment. I suspect he was lacking in some crew,” Reiko explained.
“So that’s what you were about,” Chopper said. He turned to Pierce, “So, aye. We’re not friends o’ Barnabus Harrigan, as ye might know already.”
“I haven’t crossed paths with him, but from what I’ve heard, that makes me a fortunate man, indeed.”
“I got no loyalty ta Harrigan,” Caulky muttered under Feruzi’s foot. “An’ I’m dead if I go back there wi’out some presses.”
“Oh, is that a fact, missy?” Chopper asked. “Lookin’ ta defect, perchance? Mister Hands is far less likely to shoot a crewmate. Well. Less likely, anyway. An’ I’ve got a bit of a hobby of employing former Wormwood-ers.”
Feruzi sighed. “We’ve already poached most of Harrigan’s crew, what’s one more.”
“Yeah, things went south fer me after half th’ crew left on that Rahadoomy ship. I weren’t the cabin girl no more, had t’ work like a common swab…” Caulky grumbled. “I got pretty good wif a knife! Not good enough, I guess.” She finished, glancing up at Feruzi.
“Well, then. Swear yer loyalty, accept my protection, an’ be welcome to the crew,” Chopper told her.
‘I swear m’self t’ you, Chopper. CAP’N Chopper."
“Done and done. Turn ‘er loose, an’ let her walk alongside us like the crew she now is.”
“Should take a look at that gunshot wound,” Feruzi said. Sandara emerged from behind Pierce, who was talking to her in low tones.
“I can take care of that!” she burst out and leaned over Caulky to conceal her blush. Pierce clapped his hands together and grinned.
“Well! Good show all around. See you up at Fort Hazard tomorrow evening?”
“Aye, Cap’n. I reckon we will at that. Good night!”
“Well, he seemed pleasant enough,” Feruzi offered.
Chopper nodded. “I like him. One o’ you lot oughtta bed him and secure us a more formal alliance there.”
“I nominate Ezikial,” Feruzi responded instantly.
Chopper snorted. “Seconded.” Ezikial eyed him for a long moment, then Chopper charged him, grabbed Ezikial in a headlock, and scraped his knuckles viciously across Ezikial’s scalp several times. Chopper then let out a whoop and lit off toward the Crisis, Ezikial shooting at his heels.
“Well, I should turn in,” Sandara said abruptly, not really to anyone. The women exchanged a look and slowly followed, turning Caulky over to Tolitha. Feruzi heard drumming and terrible fiddle music late that night and grinned happily to herself.
The next morning a retinue of pirates arrived at the docks, stopping alongside Crisis and hailing the ship. “Ahoy!” Chopper called back. A very large, scarred half-orc stepped forward, seemingly unconcerned with the rapidly-gathering crowd of spectators.
“Tsadok Goldtooth asks for permission to come aboard.”
“Granted, and welcome,” Chopper told him. “What can we do fer ye this fine mornin’?” Tsadok regarded Chopper’s hand for a long moment before shaking it. He half-orc was punishingly strong, but refrained from crushing Chopper’s hand.
“I am here,” he called, projecting so the crowd could hear, “to see if you and your crew are passable sailors, and not just fancy jackets who found yourselves in command of a pirate ship.”
“Fair enough. I can understand not wantin’ riffraff amongst the ranks of the Free Pirates.”
“I am glad you understand my position.” If Tsadok was glad, he had a mighty strange way of showing it. “There will be three tests. I won’t waste time explaining all the rules right now, but you’ll choose one of your number to compete in each, without help or hindrance from any others. Casting spells is… unsporting.”
“Heh. No worry on that account.”
“Two piers over is a brig called the Stingray. Meet me there in fifteen minutes.”
The Stingray was easy enough to locate, a brig with two tall square-rigged masts with a sizeable crowd assembled around it. Tsadok jumped up on a handy box and addressed the crowd.
“One of these fancy jackets will climb the mast’s rigging to the top spar and untie the sail before Mr. Boyne here can do the same.” The half-orc pointed out a wiry human with nut-brown skin sitting nearby.
“Well, hell,” Chopper said, and began to wriggle out of his armor, handing it off to Feruzi. Tsadok directed each of them to the masts, then produced a gleaming pepperbox pistol, pointed it at the air, and fired. Boyle immediately sprang for the rigging, going up with practiced ease. Chopper cursed mildly and began scrambling as well, keeping pace with the nimble rigger. Boyne slowed to be careful of the awkward upper rigging, giving Chopper the opportunity to pull ahead and find his balance on the massive crossbar. Making his way to an outside end, Chopper began untying the knots holding the sail. Boyne did the same, but seemed to have a different method, untying the opposing knots; the reason for this became apparent when an entire side of Chopper’s sail abruptly flapped loose, nearly knocking Chopper off the crossbar. Chopper cursed and made his way back to the mast and began struggling with the other side of the sail. He reached the last tie, no longer even aware of where Boyne was, and looked down at a bald sailor loitering below him.
“Whoops!” the sailor said, letting loose the knot securing a boom, which swiveled and crashed into the rigging not far from Chopper, shaking him badly. He flung himself down on the crossbar, gripping it with his arms and legs, until the shaking passed. “Stormy weather over here Boyne!” he called out. “How’s it over there?!” Boyne looked up and nearly lost his own balance. He was across the mast from his last tie, while Chopper was already on top of it. The race was no contest—Chopper’s sail unfurled gracefully and Chopper slid down the rigging to the deck. Tsadok did not appear impressed, but the civilian crowd cheered anyway.
“Not bad, but one win doesn’t make you pirates.”
“Might see to those boom lines, Mister Goldtooth. Some of ’em seem ta be a little loose.”
“You don’t expect pirates to play fair, do you?” Tsadok actually grinned, exposing fearsome tusks.
“Ye’ve a beautiful smile, sir.” Chopper replied, flashing his teeth.
“I don’t think he’s going to award you extra points for flirting, Captain,” Feruzi told him. “So, what’s next?”
“We’ll test your luck and talent after lunch, back on your ship. One of you will play Bastard’s Fool against me. With an additional ‘Port Peril’ rule: the winner of each hand drinks a ration cup of Gutburn rum.”