Make sure to read Chapter III of The Lost Prince before reading The Good Captain’s Men, so you don’t spoil the story for yourself!
The Lost Prince, Part Four
The Good Captain’s Men
Captain Locksley ran his long, pink tongue over his blackened gums. He barked out a slew of mangled sentences to Dromlinson, who dipped his head like an obedient dog before turning to face the three of us.
“Captain Locksley believes, now that we have introduced ourselves, it’s only fair for you to do the same,” said Dromlinson, “of course, the good captain expects nothing but honesty, otherwise he’ll not hesitate to throw you overboard.”
The ‘good captain’ grinned and knelt directly in front of Una, pressing his face as close to hers as possible. His nostrils flared as he inhaled sharply, gazing deep into her eyes, even as the young Priestess did her best to avoid meeting the captain’s loathsome stare. Dromlinson smiled, like a parent indulging a naughty child, before politely coughing, indicating that it was up to one of us to continue the conversation. I tried to exchange a look with Lazrilus, desperate for support. He was too busy staring at Una and Locksley in horror to notice my distress. Locksley grabbed Una by the chin, his thick, dirty fingers squeezing her smooth, dark cheeks. His hideous grin stretched even wider. One of the other Lariptian sailors guffawed with approval, gesturing for two other men to come and have a look at their ‘good captain’. As all this was going on, I could hear the faint noise of the Lariptians tearing apart our little ship, roaring and hollering with joy as they dug their way through our supplies.
Dromlinson coughed, clearly irked by our silence. One of the Lariptian sailors bent down and slapped me with the back of his hand. It wasn’t a hard slap, but the humiliation of having a thin strip of a man rap his knuckles against my cheek like that made my face burn. Dromlinson coughed again and flashed me an apologetic smile, fiddling with his handkerchief.
“I can only apologise for all this,” said Dromlinson, “we’ve been adrift in the Thaltian channel for so long now. Our supplies are running dangerously low. The good captain and our crew are… understandably exasperated and… easily excited. It was not the decision of the good captain to open fire on your vessel. No, Captain Locksley is a good man, with a charitable soul and gentle nature. The shots were fired by some of our more… excitable shipmates. You must understand. We are simple merchants. We were supposed to drop off some supplies to the Thalton Islands, but they turned us away, refusing to let us anywhere near the shore. The Queen of Thalton had apparently received word of some awful plague that had been carried to Ashenmore from Diamox. Of course, we were mortified! We Lariptians have always had great respect for the people of Ashenmore. We have always considered you to be a beacon of civility and order in the Forsaken Islands. Of course, it only got worse from there. We sent a message to Lariptus along the Wire, requesting to return. The Governor’s High Admirals have refused our request. They fear that we have been contaminated by this plague – even though we have been nowhere near Ashenmore since we started our journey! They have shut off communications with us, and left us to drift back and forth, across the Thaltian channel. We cannot go to Ashenmore, we cannot go to Thalton, and we cannot go home,” Dromlinson sighed, sadly, “so, regrettable though it is to have degenerated into piracy, but starvation is a far worse thing to contemplate than criminality-”
Captain Locksley leapt to his feet and barked out another order. Dromlinson winced and nodded to one of his lackeys. A burly Lariptian sailor lashed out with his foot, catching Lazrilus in the back and throwing him onto his face, moaning in pain. Una leaned forward, only to be yanked back by another sailor, grabbing her hair and screeching at her in Lariptian. Dromlinson recoiled from the violence in disgust and offered me yet another apologetic smile.
“Please, sir,” said Dromlinson, “the good captain is growing quite impatient.”
“To Vomora with you,” spat Lazrilus, only to be silenced by a heavy Lariptian boot in the small of his back. My mind raced. I knew that I couldn’t tell them the truth. If the Lariptians knew that the man largely responsible for the outbreak of Ashenmore’s plague was lying sprawled on their own deck, only Ahasathoth could predict how they might react. Most likely, they would follow through on the captain’s threat and toss the Necromancer overboard – and it wouldn’t take long for Una and me to go the same way.
Lazrilus, still pinned against the deck, swatted at Locksley, desperately trying to pull the brute away from Una. Dromlinson sighed.
“Your Vomoran is quite protective of this woman, isn’t he?”
Something flashed in the back of my mind. Before I knew what, I was doing, words tumbled from my lips.
“Of course, he is,” I scoffed, “I told him before we set off that nothing was to happen to my bride. He’s just doing his master’s bidding.”
Locksley glared at me, keen to know what I was saying. Dromlinson frowned.
“You’re telling me you’re the Kazorean woman’s husband?” pressed Dromlinson. I nodded.
“I married her during the New Dawn holiday. Thankfully, we were able to flee Ashenmore before the plague reached my native city. I decided it that the safest course of action would be to return her home, until the plague was brought back under control.”
Dromlinson scanned all three of us with his watery eyes. I held my breath. Locksley barked out something and the plump man raised a hand for silence. Locksley might have been the ‘good captain’ of the Tears of Eveline, but it was becoming more apparent that Dromlinson wielded the real power.
“It’s curious,” murmured Dromlinson, “for a moment there…I thought that the Vomoran might have been…partnered with the woman.”
I laughed, doing my best to hide the thundering of my heart with a scornful laugh.
“I don’t think Vomorans are all that interested in romance,” I chuckled, “it certainly wouldn’t do me much good to have a love-sick Vomoran for a servant, would it? I’d never be able to show my face in the court of Ashenmore again. Could you imagine it? A savage Vomoran! In love!?”
I laughed and Dromlinson joined in. I did my best to avoid looking at the wounded, furious expression of Lazrilus’ face.
“How did you come by this Vomoran slave?” asked Dromlinson, “did you pick him up from that war you people fought a while back…what do they call it in this region?”
“The Siege of Valos,” I replied, “and yes that’s right. His family were killed during that dreadful war, when he was scarcely more than an infant. I took pity on him and brought him back to Ashenmore, to raise him to be a dutiful servant. And he is dutiful, sometimes to a fault.”
Dromlinson nodded, smiling.
“Well, that’s alright,” said Dromlinson, “so long as he’s kept under control, we shouldn’t have any problems, should we?”
Dromlinson let that threat linger in the air a tad longer than was necessary, before muttering a couple of instructions to the Lariptian sailor that was crushing Lazrilus beneath his boot. The sailor swore and removed the boot. Lazrilus heaved himself up into an animalistic crouch. I gave him a warning look. He nodded, once, still glaring at me. Dromlinson crept over to Locksley and launched into a long conversation with the captain. Una crawled over to me.
“Why did you tell him that?” she whispered.
“I had to tell them something,” I replied, eyes flickering between Dromlinson and Una, “the way Locksley was looking at you… Hopefully, if he thinks you’re the wife of an important nobleman from Ashenmore, he won’t touch you. And I had to protect Lazrilus, didn’t I-?”
“By turning me into your servant,” hissed the Vomoran, “how thoughtful of you!”
“Well, next time you think of something!” I spat back. Una brushed the two of us aside before we risked coming to blows. Over Una’s shoulder, I noticed that Locksley and Dromlinson were becoming more and more animated. Locksley kept licking his gums and Dromlinson was shaking his head, hissing into the captain’s ear with bizarre ferocity. Suddenly, captain shoved Dromlinson aside and lurched towards us, howling orders at his minions. The sailors leapt into action, seizing Lazrilus and I by our arms before dragging us over to the side of the ship. Lariptians returning from our own battered fishing vessel locked eyes with us as they clambered over Eveline’s flank, smirking. Locksley yanked Una into an oppressive embrace, cackling. Dromlinson shook his head, sighing.
“Dromlinson!” I yelled, “what is this? You dare assault the nobility of Ashenmore?”
“The good captain really is quite besotted with your bride,” cried Dromlinson, “I’m afraid it’s out of my hands. I think it would be best of you stopped struggling now. Let’s make this nice and clean.”
Dromlinson muttered something to a sailor, who flashed him a salute and picked up one of the long, slender rifles.
“What do we do, Demetrius!?” bellowed Lazrilus. I had no answer. I searched my thoughts, flicking through one idea after another with rapid succession, as the golden-haired devil slowly loaded three cylindrical cartridges into his weapon. Locksley planted a wet, slavering kiss on Una’s cheek. Una screamed something in Kazorean and threw her head forward. There was a faint cracking sound, and Locksley snarled, as twin rivulets of crimson gushed from his broad, hairy nostrils. Grinning and growling with pain and excitement, Locksley tightened his grip on Una. Dromlinson dabbed at his eyes, the one gentleman on a ship of savages. Another idea, even more absurd than the previous one, darted to the forefront of my mind.
“Fine,” I yelled, “throw us overboard, you Lariptian dogs. It’s your loss. I was willing to negotiate, but if you’d rather remain pirates, that’s your-”
I was cut off as two Lariptian brutes gave a a giant shove, launching me backwards until my shoulders slammed against the metal wall of the ship’s flank, sending a bolt of pain coursing down my back. Lazrilus was already half over the side of Eveline, and it was only thanks to his fearsome strength and the sailor’s incompetence that he hadn’t been tossed into the depths already. Then, without warning, a deafening shot rang out. At once, the sailors loosened their grips. Lazrilus heaved himself back onto the deck, gasping and spluttering in terror. A thin trail of blue smoke trickled from the tip of a tiny bronze pistol that Dromlinson had raised towards the sky. The entire crew stared at Dromlinson, awestruck. Even Locksley was so surprised that he released Una, who darted to Lazrilus. Dromlinson marched through the thick mass of startled, dumbstruck bodies and fixed me with a cold stare. All pretence at seeming apologetic had dissipated from his flabby face. The man’s eyes were like pinpricks of ice and his handkerchief had been rammed deep into his breast pocket.
“What do you mean?” said Dromlinson. I disguised my fear with a smirk.
“You seem like an intelligent man,” I said, “I’m surprised you haven’t realised what good fortune it was that you stumbled across our humble ship, for yourself, as well as ourselves. Don’t you realise how grateful the Priestesses of Kazore would be, if you were to deliver one of their sisters and her husband, unharmed to their shores?”
Dromlinson’s mouth twitched. I pressed on, sensing my advantage.
“You told me that you’ve had to resort to piracy in order to survive. Fine. I can accept that, speaking as your most recent victim but, if you take us to Kazore, I promise you, I can guarantee that you’ll be provided with enough supplies to ensure your survival, even if it takes ten years for Lariptus to permit your return. More than that, I’m sure the Priestesses would be keen to reward the good captain,” I kept my eyes firmly locked on Dromlinson, making it clear that, whilst I might have been referring to Locksley, I was ultimately speaking to his intellectual superior, “for undertaking such a noble quest. If you kill us now, you’ll be stuck roaming these waters for Ahasathoth knows how long.”
Dromlinson slowly nodded. He licked his lips and smiled, before waving the captain over. Locksley stormed to his companion’s shoulder, opened his mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by a quick spurt of excited whispers from Dromlinson. The captain’s eyes bulged. He grinned, gums twinkling in the faint light. Dromlinson beamed at me.
“My good sir,” he said, “the good captain would like to formally welcome you aboard The Tears of Eveline. Let’s discuss your lodgings for the journey. Don’t worry. We’ll get you home. You have my word…”