This will be the last concept chapter, unless I aim to pull out a chapter 2 or 3 on any of these guys.
I could feel the heat of the sun beating down on my face. A moment later there was the cawing of a large bird. I heard wood rattling, and the feeling of my body being rocked up and down in a rhythmic fashion. There was pain, thirst, hunger, and a throbbing headache that showed no signs of going away. Still, I refused to open my eyes. The second I opened my eyes, I felt like I needed to deal with reality. For just a little longer, I wanted to sleep.
“Man adrift on the starboard!” There was a shout.
At the same time, I felt a large wave of water splash me in the face. My eyes opened as I spit salty water from my mouth. With my eyes open, the heated sun blinded me. A dark shadow cut across it, taking on my focus. It took a moment to realize the shadow as being cast by a massive ship. A moment later a large rope was thrown out from the top of that ship. It landed somewhere nearby. I stared at it dumbly.
“Well, grab it, man, unless you want to feed the sharks.”
As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I looked around me. I was slumped over a fragment of wood, which gently floated in the water. The sea had a blue tinge, stretching out for as far as the eye could see. I was half inside, half outside the ocean. My lower half had been drenched in salt water for the lords knew how long. My mind was muggy, but I could reason out a bad situation when I saw one. I decided to take the rope handed to me, wrapping it sloppily around my waist.
“Alright…” My voice croaked out, sounding as painful as it felt.
“Heave!” Men called out on the deck, pilling me up.
I seemed to be quite light, as they pulled me up with no trouble at all. When I landed on the deck, I found my legs not quite working right. I collapsed on the ground like a fish, dripping seawater onto the deck as I struggled to sit up. There were at least three dozen men on the boat. My arrival had caught the attention of about only a dozen of them. They looked down at me questioningly. Each one of them looked grizzled and sunburnt. To a man, their skin was rough like leather, having taken the brunt force of countless days in the sun and sprays of salty mist.
It was only when I looked down on my hands that I realized I was much paler. My skin was shockingly smooth and pale, like that of governess or untouched young maiden. However, they had been above the water. My face felt sunburned and likely was red. My legs felt like raisins. It was only then I began to find my own surprise strange. Shouldn’t I know what I looked like? Shouldn’t I know anything?
However, as I searched back through my memories, I realized I was a complete empty book. I had no clue who I was or where I had come from. I had no clue where I was, for that matter. This ship, at least I recognized it was a ship, was completely unfamiliar to me. I finally managed to get myself into a sitting position, looking up at the dark-skinned men around me.
The men around me were very different, but also very similar. Many of them had bad teeth. Some had hair, others did not. Some were tall, some were fat. It was a hodgepodge of different people. The ship we were on was large, with three massive sales that had completely caught the wind. It looked very clean and new as if this might even be the ships first voyage. The smell of wood and sap was so palpable I could practically taste it. It seemed like this world didn’t have steel ships yet.
That was a curious thought. Steel? I knew steel to be an iron metal. I had no clue why I thought ships could be built from steel. I scratched my head again, only realize that the drifting silence was because the six men were waiting for me to say something.
“Um… thank you… for saving me.” I spoke.
As if that was what they wanted, the men immediately nodded. One of them handed me a water skin and I drank from it without reserve. The water burned going down, but it tasted better than anything I could remember. Actually, since I couldn’t remember anything, that wasn’t saying particularly much. When I finally pulled the skin away, only to realize I had polished it off, I looked back at the men.
“Where are we?” I asked, my voice coming out a bit clearer.
“Ello, lad.” One man tipped his hat. “You’re on the Good Queen Tungsten. She’s on her maiden voyage from Rockwell to Davenport. We be transporting the new Governor who will be overseeing port for the foreseeable future.”
“Davenport…” I worked the name through my mind, but it came up as a complete blank.
“You must have floated far, lad.” Another man nodded. “We see no other traces of your wreck. It must have sunk deep and fast. You have my condolences.”
I shook my head. Even if I had lost someone I cared about, I seemed to struggle to remember even the smallest details of it. Did I have loved ones who perished in some storm? Perhaps it was better if I didn’t remember.
One of the men held out his hand, and I took it. He helped me get back on my feet.
“Come, lad, let’s get you fed. It’s customary among sailors to treat rescues proper. Even most pirates honor the code, just in case it’s them the next time. We’ll feed you and get you back on dry land. What you do there, that’s on yours.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had been concerned that I was accumulating some kind of debt with these men. It seemed like there was an unwritten rule among sailors to pay it forward for those that are shipwrecked. They figured if your ship was lost and you were adrift at sea, you had already had a bad enough time. Having lost everything, the least other sailors could do was not put you in any kind of further debt. The implication would be to pay it forward if you ever found yourself rescuing a shipwrecked crew.
“Well, a pirate might do the bare minimum and leave you on a deserted island.” One of the other men chuckled. “That’s if they don’t just sale on by and ignore you.”
The first man nodded. “True… pirates stretch the code but even they honor it. Mostly…”
“Let’s not speak of pirates any longer. It’s a bad omen.” A third man shook his head.
“What is with the detour? I felt our course deviate by two degrees!” A man shouted, emerging from the lower deck.
Unlike the men on top who looked rough and grizzled, the man who emerged from below looked anything but. He wore a large powdered wig, and he had a bunch of makeup on his face. His clothing looked showy, using fine silks and jewelry. However, it was all a little haphazard, and to me, he looked absolutely ridiculous. Compared to the men here, who wore simple sashes and pants, this guy looked flamboyant like a peacock.
“Damn, he would…” One of the men murmured, but a moment later every person on deck put on a reverent expression, bowing and scraping. “Good day, Governor Reynalds, what brings you on deck?”
The pompous man pulled out a watch look, looking up at the sky and back down. “I have carefully planned this entire trip to ensure the easiest time. I’m a man who believes in following the plan. There is no point to having a plan if you choose to disregard it at the earliest convenience!”
“What is this jibby jabbering? Governor? Are you berating my crew again?” A fat man with a large beard followed out the entrance Governor Reynalds came from.
If Reynalds was the epitome of pompousness and the crew represented the blue-collar worker, this captain seemed to sit somewhere in the middle. He had the ruggedness of a man from the sea, while still feeling more cultured and steady than his brethren.
“We have discussed this charter a dozen times, Captain. “Reynalds sighed. “Your crew has been allowing the ship to drift. Continuing on like this, our journey will take an extra two hours to complete. Instead of arriving in the morning, we will arrive some time just before noon. This is unacceptable!”
The captain scratched his beard, putting on a face as if he had heard this time and time again. “I’ve told you before, Governor, the sea is not a mistress you can predict. She’s moody and temperamental. There are a thousand reasons I can think of to deviate our trip. Right navigator?”
Those last words were aimed towards the man at the helm. “Ai… sir… there was a drifter.”
The navigator didn’t hesitate to gesture towards my direction. A moment later, all eyes were on me. I gulped, my dry throat suddenly wishing I had another waterskin. Forget that, a stiff drink would have been better. I had the eyes of a Governor and a ship captain on me now, and I barely had my feet under me.
“You!” The captain squinted one eye, walking over to me. “Where do you hail?”
“Captain!” I gave a polite bow. “I was on a small merchant vessel hailing out of Rockwell! We hit some rocks and that’s the last thing I remember until a moment ago.”
I had been working on the lie since they brought me on board. I could have made up a name of a place, but I worried it’d sound too foreign. I knew no places except the two mentioned. It was a gamble, but if I kept a straight face, I hoped to sell it.
“Rockwell, is it? What ship would that be?” He asked.
“The Waverunner, sir,” I said without a pause.
Most people would be willing to accept a lie if it was said with enough confidence. At least, some part of whatever was left of my tattered mind seemed to believe this much. After a moment, the Captain seemed to nod, accepting my words. He reached up and patted my shoulder.
“Fair enough, lad. In that case, just hole up in the crew quarters. There are no baths, but we’ll feed you and get you some clothing. I might even be able to get you a couple of copper to set you on your way. A strong looking lad like you shouldn’t struggle to get hired on a new ship.”
“Thank you, Captain!” I nodded again, remaining completely respectful.
The Captain nodded back in acceptance. “Good lad.”
He turned, thinking no more of it. I felt like a rest was in good order. I still needed to collect my thoughts and try to figure out what was going on.
“Excuse me…” Governor Reynalds spoke. “The Waverunner, is it? I don’t believe I’ve heard of your ship.”
“Ah… I wouldn’t know…” I looked down, “I wasn’t exactly in charge.”
A few of the men chuckled and laugh approvingly. Likely, they too had been questioned about the detail of their ship that only a Captain or first mate might now. They may work on a ship, but that didn’t mean they had any hand on the details. Even if the ship was called Waverunner by the crew didn’t necessarily mean that this was the name the ship was registered under. It could just be a nickname.
Governer Reynalds looked at the other chuckling men and then put a smile on his face that seemed a bit fake. “Of course, I didn’t mean to pry. Welcome aboard friend. It seems your fortunes have been good.”
He put his arm out, holding it with a smile that seemed slightly unnerving. However, I couldn’t offend a governor, so I reached out and clasped his arm. Shaking a Governor’s hand might be some kind of honor in this world. Just as I started to relax, the Governer’s eyes flashed. He pulled on my wrist, dragging me over to him. With a quick tug, he pulled up the sleeve of my tattered shirt, revealing my arm. Right there on the forearm was a black insignia. A few of the closest sailors saw this and immediately hissed.
“Pirate…” I heard several people whisper.
I didn’t even know this insignia was here, so I was just as surprised as the lot of them. Before I had a chance to even respond, the man held up my arm, a righteous expression on his face.
“A pirate brand!” He declared.
The Captain spun back, a surprised look on his face. When he looked over at me, rather than anger or disgust, he instead looked at me with pity. The expression was echoed in several of the men.
“He’s so young though…” One of the men who had helped me out of the ocean murmured.
Was I young? I had no clue what my age was. However, I guess being called boy and had made more sense if my age matched.
“What is his callsign?” The Captain asked, giving the gloating governor a stern look.
Reynalds brought my arm up to his eyes, close enough I could feel his sour breath on my skin, “He calls himself… how cocky… Storm Bringer.”
“Your name is Storm then?” The Captain looked at me.
I had no clue what my name was. However, if those markers said Storm Bringer, then that must be the name. I nodded dumbly.
“Who cares for his name!” Reynalds snorted, dropping my arm. “He’s got the pirate brand. That means he was caught performing piracy. Not only caught but somehow managed to escape. Tie a rock to his legs and toss him overboard. Let the ocean take him as it was meant to be.”
“Now… let’s not be so hasty.” The Captain put out his hand. “Perhaps, he has a bounty I can earn.”
“You have the most recent bounty list on board,” Reynald explained. “Tell me, is there any name like Storm Bringer on board.”
The Captain sighed, his eyed looking tired. “No.”
Reynald’s expression relaxed for a moment as he let go of my hand and patted the Captain. “I know he’s young. But a pirate is a pirate, no matter the age. The law is the law.”
“The law?” The Captain’s eyes flashed. “That’s right. The law… what does the law say about decisions on captured pirates.”
Reynald’s bit his lip, watching the Captain hesitantly. “The fate of said pirate is at the Captain’s discretion.”
“Exactly!” the Captain snapped his fingers before crossing his arms proudly while several of the men hooted in pride of their Captain’s insight.
“True… you can make the decision now.” Reynald sighed. “But a pirate is a pirate. Once you land in Davenport, you’re under my jurisdiction. You’ll be charged with knowingly harboring a pirate. If you try to set him free then, you and your entire crew will be hanged in his place!”
Those that were egging the captain on quickly turned away, muttering to themselves. However, the captain’s expression didn’t change at all.
“Who said anything about letting him go?” The Captain shrugged. “He’ll be properly punished and in his place.”
Reynald eyed him suspiciously. “What are you suggesting?”
“The forth deck.” The Captain shrugged.
“Slavery!” Reynald looked up.
“Most other criminals are put into slavery for their crimes, are they not?”
“That only speaks to the heinousness of pirates!”
“He’s young and fit, and I could serve to earn a profit by selling him.”
“As pirate branded, slavery will be eternal. Even the most corrupted slave can eventually work himself free, but a pirate never will!”
The Captain shrugged. “That’s none of my concern. I have to do something with this pirate, and I’d prefer to sell him.”
Reynald gave a snort and turned away. “Some would say a lifetime of slavery is a crueler fate. A rock to the bottom of the ocean would hurt but a second. Suit yourself, but know that I will see this slave sold, so no funny business. I know about you sailors and your codes, but a pirate is a pirate.”
The Captain gave a grin. “As you’ve so eloquently said.”
Reynald gave one more snort before walking away. The Captain shot the men around me a look and then nodded before turning and leaving himself. Several hands grabbed on to my arms. I was too weak at the moment to do much resisting.
“Sorry, lad. You have no luck!” One of the men said. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t like the idea of enslaving a shipwrecked pirate. If this kind of thing gets out, the pirates will only grow more vicious. The code has saved lives on both sides. A ship might be more willing to leave its cargo rather than fight to the bloody death if they believe they can leave with their lives. This is a bad omen.”
The other men nodded in agreement, but they followed orders all the same. I found myself being dragged down into the deck below. The place had a humid, rank scent to it likely coming from dozens of unwashed sailors sitting weeks on end.
I was brought even lower down, two, three, it is the fourth level where I was finally brought.
“The slave hold.” One of the men spoke. “At least you’ll have better company than on top.”
The men opened the door and pushed me in. There was a very small corridor and on either side were small alcoves each the size of a coffin. I was pushed into one of them feet first. The wood was slightly rotted and felt wet under me. The grabbed my feet from the other side and locked them into place. I was a human in a tube. A second chained item, a collar, was strapped around my neck. The men worked in silence, their entire attitude coming off as somber.
When they were done, they looked around for a moment before leaving, the door slamming shut and the chains to the door being reapplied. The room was hot and dark and smelled of many unimaginable things. A moment later, my stomach growled. I literally could not remember the last time I had eaten.
“It’s not every day we take on a new slave in the middle of the ocean. Are you a deserter?” A woman’s silky voice came from the alcove across from me.
My eyes shot up as I saw a dark-haired woman emerge from the darkness. Like me, she was lying on her stomach, a chain around her neck. She was in rags which barely covered her body. A larger chest threatened to burst out of her covers, looking quite provocative from his angel. In fact, she was an incredibly beautiful woman, completely out of place in this environment. Her skin was pale and flawless. She was an unnatural beauty. She was a diamond sitting in charcoal. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her, my blood suddenly redirecting itself to areas other than my brain.
“They found me overboard,” I said.
Her eyebrow lifted slightly, and she wore an imperceptible smile as if she wasn’t shoved into a honeycomb slave rack like a discarded piece of wine.
“Oh? Given the code of the sea, I’m surprised they would enslave you so.”
For whatever reason, this mysterious woman gave off a feeling like I could trust her. I didn’t know what it was, but she felt strangely familiar to me. I lifted my wrist after a moment, showing her the insignia on my wrist. I was a slave anyway. There didn’t seem to be anything more to it. What was the point of keeping secrets, not that I remembered enough to understand what secrets were worth keeping.
“A pirate?” She said. “Storm, is it? Davi, Storm, my name is Alliandre. You can call me Allia.”
“A pirate? Nya!” A person in a tube next to Allia grumbled, coming out of the shadow of their tube. “You’re really a pirate?”
“I guess so,” I responded stiffly as I squinted at the newcomer.
“You don’t know?” Alliandre asked.
Another head poked out, which was surprisingly another woman. She had a wirey frame and looked much smaller than Alliandre in just about every respect. She lacked the mysterious aura and the incredible beauty, but she was attractive in her own right. However, I could barely pay attention to these details, because my eyes fell on a part of her, I never had seen before. Her ears weren’t on the side of her head. Rather, she had two furry pointed ears on the top of her head that seemed to twitch as she talked.
“A c-catgirl?” I remembered nothing of my past, but for some reason, my brain felt a girl with catgirls was an abnormality.
The catgirl frowned at me, then noticing where I was looking, covered her ears. “D-don’t stare. Haven’t you ever seen a beastkin before?”
“No…” I shook my head and then sighed. “Actually, I don’t remember much of anything at the moment.”
“Oh… so you don’t remember all your thieving, and killing, and raping!” The girl’s voice twisted and she spoke spitefully.
I blinked. “No, why would I do that?”
The catgirl sniffed. “You’re a pirate, aren’t you? That’s what your kind do! How do you think I ended up here? Bastards like you attacked my village, killed everyone I loved, and then threw me in chains!”
I looked at her flatly. “That wasn’t me.”
She sneered. “How do you know? You can’t remember? How convenient you develop memory loss the second you’re caught by Britania.”
“Relax, Dizzy, look at his age. He would have been barely ten when your parent’s village was raided.” Allia sighed.
“Nya! Don’t tell me what to do, witch!” The other girl cursed. “Even if it wasn’t me, who knows what evils this man has done.”
With those words, she hid back into her crawlspace with what the chains would allow her to. Alliandre also gave a sigh and rolled over, looking like she was going to rest her eyes. Only I continued to stay in that position, seemingly staring at nothing. My mind raced at the words they had just stated. Britania? Had I ever heard of it? The name seemed to trigger my memory slightly, but only slightly. I wanted to ask more questions, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. After remaining in that position until my shoulders were sore, I rolled around and sighed, getting into a more comfortable position. Whatever world I had ended up in, I was going to be here a while.