I name you Empire, which is what you will achieve in my name when you complete this task, and I shall hold you all as treasured children when I send you forth to bring order to the unworthy. To this end, I grant you three boons: this land of sanctuary in which you will grow strong, the secret of soul forged steel to build your industry as you undermine your foes development, and two of my pet Wyrms for protection and guidance.
Never forget that these are not gifts but tools you are to use in a purpose of my devising. Fail me not, or you and your descendants will suffer eternally for my pleasure.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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At voyages end.
Sitting on a large canvas bag in the waist of the merchant ship Silver Tides, A weather-worn and bearded sailor leans back against the capstan. Closing his eyes, he turns his face to the early morning sun and draws in a deep breath through his nose. The wind, coming from seaward, almost hides the smell of land. With the tide going out, the ship is no longer driven against the bundles of hemp rope used as bumpers between it and dockside so the soothing sound of creaking rope and timber is no longer disturbed by the unnatural thump-and-lurch of the hull hitting the quay. The sound of hammers on wood and screeching pulleys is a familiar comfort and even the voices of the Carters and Longshoreman were salty enough to be mistaken for sailors at work if you didn't listen too closely.
It was the animal noises that ruined the fragile illusion. Chickens and goats are common enough aboard ships and are necessary for a proper galley. Having previously served aboard ships that kept dairy cows, he could even ignore the occasional 'Moo'. However, the braying of a mule or the whinny of a horse is too far outside a blue water ship's normal range of sounds to ignore. But the worst offenders of the auditory assault by far were the birds. The constant caws, chirps, twitters, and whistles were a steady reminder to the unconscious mind of a deep water sailor that he is either on land or too damn close to it.
The smile fades from the sailor as he exhales. 'Land' he thinks. Land always complicates things. Land is unpredictable. Land is full of random strangers, with many of them ready to do you harm for the slightest of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. Land is a place of chaos, where things often happen for no discernable reason and people run about not knowing their place, because for many there is no place for them. This is not so on a ship, or at least the good ones. With its ratings, watches, divisions, and bells, a man knows his place and where he fits in on the larger scheme of things.
'I could stay and let things just be.' He thinks until reality kicks in. 'No, you can't and you damn well know why. Besides, it's not just the base reason anymore. You've set it up so that after tonight, you could never again be a part of this ship.' He tells himself.
'I could call it off, I don't have to do it, I could lie and just turn it into a party where no one gets hurt and everyone has a good time.' His warm and happy fantasy is pierced and withered by his own cold logic and the truth that he cannot ignore. 'Sure, lie. That's always worked out for you. Turn it all into something warm and tender. That way, those happy little lies can burn away your soul when the truth you KNOW catches up to all of you. Then everyone can be devoured as a surprised and ignorant little family, except you. Ignorance may be bliss, but lying to yourself is like swimming with chains. Besides, this isn't the best of ships to be on.' He frowns, knowing the truth of this reflection. 'I have a point there.' He reflects. 'Besides, if I stay here much longer I might go crazy and start talking to myself.' This thought being funny enough for a personal chuckle.
As if to drive home the thought of this being the wrong ship, his dark reverie is broken by a kick to his outstretched feet, causing him to slip sideways off his bag.
Without thought he goes with the motion, curling his upper body and turning the fall into a roll, which ends with him standing ready and facing his attacker from a distance of several feet.
His assailant, the ship's Boatswain, stands there looking irritated and a bit befuddled that his ambush resulted in no harm. The disappointment fades and his irritation turns to outrage as he looks at his intended prey standing ready and not floundering in fear on the deck as he intended.
"Put your damn hands down you nimble little freak." Shouts the man, known only to the sailors by rank and position; The Bosun. "The Captain will see you now. Paid off and gone you'll be, and none too soon for my own liking. You're a weird little bugger and no mistake. Never seen anyone like you before and hope to keep that run of luck once you're gone. And what kind of grown man has, or would keep, the name of Mouse anyway? Stupidest name I ever heard. I ought to find a Giant named Rat-Catcher and put him on to you. You fucking rodent."
"Eloquent and charming as always my dearest Bosun." says the sailor known as Mouse. "I apologize for my feet being in your path. Had I known about your particular blindness to those that actually do their duty and wash with regularity, I would have kept an ear out for the sound of your mouth breathing and simian gait, or paid more attention to my olfactory sense and used it for detecting the fug that not only surrounds you, but can actually defeat the wind in announcing your odiferous presence." Mouse smiles as the shocked expression on the Bosun's face turns to dim understanding and anger. Then lowering his arms, Mouse continues. "As for your rat catcher, he'd have to look no farther than that face weasel you call a beard. I'd suggest a few braids and beads like mine, but on you, it'd be like pearls in a pig's ass." Watching the rage build in the large Bosun was only half as satisfying as seeing the ship's First Lieutenant, watching from above the rail on the poop deck, cover his mouth and turn away in an attempt not to laugh out loud.
Walking over and retrieving his bag, Mouse looks into the eyes of the Bosun. "If not for the Captain's summons, I'd gladly explain the larger words to you in detail. I'd offer a later class, but alas, your wish to never see me again makes that impossible. Shame really, I hoped to see you at my little get together later tonight. Perhaps the good Lieutenant would be kind enough to enlighten you in your vocabulary deficiencies." Mouse then walks toward the door leading to the Captain's quarters as the Bosun turns to find out who just laughed at him, only to see the Lieutenant walking away with his shoulders shaking.
Spinning back and seeing Mouse already half way to the door, the Bosun yells out. "Oh, I'll be there alright you fucking little shit stain, and if not for the law and the Captain's summons, you'd be bleeding at my feet."
Mouse stops inside the open door and turns. "So you will see me later? Interesting. So you're a vulgarian and a liar, who'd have guessed it? ... As for the law, there are ways not only around that, but also ways within it as well. You're a lack-wit and a bully, Bosun, and I wish you all that you deserve." Shutting the door, he leaves the incoherent burbling of obscenities behind him.
As his eyes adjust to the dim hallway, Mouse sees the Captain's Steward standing outside the door leading to the Captain's stateroom.
"He'll not thank you for that, you know." says the Steward. "Captain counts on the Bosun to maintain order. Undermining the Bosun is tantamount to undermining the whole chain-of-command."
"Horseshit." replies Mouse. "Officers maintain order. The Bosun is there to be a sadistic bastard, capable of openly taking pleasure in any opportunity to deliver harsh punishment to those even thinking about breaking the rules. This does two things. It maintains discipline through fear, by having that brutish thug in charge of dealing out punishments. It also endears the Captain to the crew as a benevolent leader by restraining the Bosun's more exuberant expressions of his murderous stupidity. The Captain knows this and has chosen that hulking brute of a half man, for that exact purpose. The only improvement I would suggest would be to cut out that blithering idiot's tongue. Screaming and gurgling is half his vocal range as it is, full time would suit him best. The overwhelming verbal ignorance of that man detracts from his ability to menace properly. I truly ..."
Their conversation is interrupted by an indecipherable outcry along with a crash of crockery from the other side of the Captain's door, followed by the shout of 'Steward!'CHAPTER 2
Oh Captain my Captain.
Several minutes later, the Steward opens the door and gestures for Mouse to enter. While doing so, the Steward makes his exit with a wicker basket of broken crockery and shuts the door behind him. The Captain, a clean shaven, broad shouldered man with a visage worn by sun and sea, but with facial lines more suited to laughing than scowling, stands easy behind his desk wearing a new coat as evidenced by the one draped over his sea chest and still wet from whatever was in the broken crockery just removed.
"Please have a seat Seaman Mouse." says the Captain, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. "I was going to offer you tea, only I had the misfortune of overhearing your remarks to the Steward. Seems dropping a teacup onto the teapot can have negative implications for ones plans, not to mention jackets." He then gestures in the direction of his sea chest. "I freely admit my surprise. By all accounts as well as my own observations, you have always been a quiet man and conscious of your place as well as your duty. To my knowledge, you've never exhibited that stinging wit or command of language before. It came as a semi-amusing, yet messy revelation."
With Mouse seated, the Captain places his hands on the desk and leans forward. "However, as entertaining, and accurate I might add, your new found talents may be. I'm afraid I am going to have to insist that you apologize to the Bosun and order you not to provoke him further or undermine his authority with any of the ship's complement. The chain-of-command exists for a reason and he is senior to you in that regard. I'm sure that a sailor of your experience and perception can see the truth in that."
Waves hitting a rocky shore had less effect than the Captain's words washing over Mouse, who leans forward while staring into the eyes of the Captain. "Well Captain, as for all that. I do apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused to your Steward. Tea stains can be hell to get out." Then dropping his smile, he continues. "None the less, I will stand for any statement I've made concerning that imbecile, the Bosun. It is by your own design that he remains in his position. I cast no damning judgment, mind you. In fact, I applaud your choice. To find someone as vicious as he is and so dim witted as not to grasp the implications of his position, is a credit to your management skills."
"But, to cry that the water is cold after throwing ice in it is beyond unjust, it's shameful. As for myself, I have chosen to speak out over the unnecessary blood spilt by that man than to shed a tear and cower over the tea spilt by the natural extension of your own hiring practices." Leaning back and crossing his legs, Mouse inspects his fingernails.
"As for chains, command or otherwise, I was paid off yesterday and have signed out of the Ship's book that is by your left hand there. As a result, by law and custom, I am no longer in the ship's company and free to speak my mind and call things as I see them. Just as any free man may do. Therefore, I consider the orders and insistences you have made to me as someone no longer in your employ to be invalid. As for the Bosun, I will say that he and anything concerning him ... can bugger straight off, and let the fires take them all."
As the Captain's shock and disbelief over the verbal bludgeoning he just received subsides, indignation is quick to fill the void. He stands straight and reaches for the sword on his side only to find it's not there.
In that moment of confusion and hesitation, Mouse stands up and tosses a dagger onto the Captain's desk. "Here ..." He says calmly. "... Take that one. Its good steel and I have two others just like it on my person. Your sword is on the bench by your sea chest. Go for it and blood flows, call out and blood flows, pick up that dagger and blood flows. In fact, anything other than sitting down and telling me the real reason you wanted to talk to me and, you guessed it, blood flows." Seeing the poleaxed expression on the Captain's face, Mouse retrieves his dagger and slips it into the sheath on his forearm beneath his sleeve. He sits back down and waits until the Captain seats himself in his own chair.
With the ashen faced Captain now seated, Mouse continues. "You didn't call me here to give me that letter of recommendation you lured me here with. You know, the one which is sitting there on your desk. At least that's not the reason entirely. I can see that the document is not signed which means you intended to use it as leverage of some sort." He leans forward, picks up the letter and reads it while keeping one eye on the Captain. When he finishes, he smiles. "A glowing report, and as good as I am, this is slightly better than I deserve." Mouse then slowly tears it down the middle, folds the pieces and tears it again. He then carefully arranges the pieces and puts them in his vest pocket.
"One doesn't travel months on a ship without learning a thing or twelve about its Captain. For instance, when your authority is challenged, or your ego even bruised, you are capable of some rather rash, brutal and stupid actions. Therefore, I've taken certain precautions. There are two off duty Justicars somewhere dockside watching your ship. I paid them to alert their on duty friends if I didn't get off this ship after two hours, or if anything ... unpleasant ... happens while I'm on board. That was a little over an hour and a half ago."
This bit of news brings the Captain out of shock and confusion, and concern makes its way onto his face.
Mouse gives him a slight nod before continuing. "I've never understood the tactic of making someone wait for no apparent reason. It seems a waste of time for both parties. In this case it's time you could have used to bargain or scheme once you learned of the existence of my other talents. Instead, it is time you no longer have and cannot make up ... Anyhow, back to business. You have answers to give me and I won't be leaving, at least not without a fuss that's sure to alert the watching Justicars, until I'm satisfied with the answers you give me."
The Captain could not have been more taken aback if his dear departed mother walked through the door and kicked him right in the fork. In fact, he would prefer that scenario to the one currently facing him in explaining the gut-wrenching sensation he currently felt. Attempting to push his distress aside, he tries to get a handle on the man sitting across from him.
It's obvious to the Captain that he's made a mistake. The man before him is no simple sailor. The question is, how big of a mistake and how to mitigate it? 'You don't get to be a Captain by being timid or stupid' he reminds himself. He fosters his calm as he reviews his options until one thought becomes paramount 'I need more information to regain the upper hand'. Straightening his jacket, he forces himself to relax, and dons that invisible, yet tangible, mantle of command that all successful captains are able to produce at need. "I find it peculiar that you went to the authorities. It's obvious you're not the sailor that you've represented yourself to be. Perhaps, they would ..."
The Captain's speech is cut off by the amused chuckle coming from the man opposite from him. Smiling, Mouse leans forward without a trace of humor in his eyes. "So its information you want, huh?" Seeing he's scored a direct hit by the way the Captain goes stone still with just a little widening of the eyes, he continues. "Fair enough, I will tell you all you need to know. Time is wasting ... Time you do not have." Mouse then leans back and assumes his previous relaxed position.
"Do you think that the authorities would be interested in the false bulkhead in the lower aft hold? That's something else you can thank your idiot Bosun for. He thought it was amusing to have me and few other new hands rearrange the stores in the hold during our off time to, how did he put it? Oh yes, improve the ship's trim and improve our knowledge as sailors. I must say, I did learn quite a bit that day. Probably not the knowledge he expected to impart, or that you are going appreciate, but a lesson it was. I doubt I was the only one that noticed the hiding place, because the craftsmanship is rather shoddy. Whoever you had install it didn't even use the same type of wood as the original panels. I'm telling you, hanging a tarp would have been less suspicious. Tell me, is there a reward for smugglers in this city?" Mouse smiles as he observes sweat bead on the Captain's face. "Just curious, I really don't care ... at the moment. However, you may want to offer some discreet bonuses to some of the newer Hands, it couldn't hurt." Having learned early in life that there's no such thing as a fair fight, Mouse puts the figurative boot in a few times for good measure.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Before the Storm"
Copyright © 2018 James Robert Brady.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: It isn't a party until ...,
Chapter 1 At voyages end., 1,
Chapter 2 Oh Captain my Captain., 5,
Chapter 3 A gathering of worthies., 12,
Chapter 4 Bouncers? We don't need no stinking Bouncers., 23,
Chapter 5 Let the games begin., 31,
Chapter 6 Now, a word from our host., 41,
Part 2: A day in the life of ...,
Chapter 7 I swear ... I just stopped in for one drink, 50,
Chapter 8 So what's in a name?, 65,
Chapter 9 The care and feeding of big cats., 80,
Chapter 10 So ... You think you've had a bad night?, 89,
Chapter 11 No shit ... There I was., 102,
Chapter 12 Hate and hard lessons., 113,
Chapter 13 Hell on earth., 127,
Chapter 14 A hard truth., 151,
Chapter 15 Two if by sea., 158,
Part 3: It's all fun and games until ...,
Chapter 16 Ask me no questions ..., 177,
Chapter 17 ... and I'll tell you no lies., 188,
Chapter 18 We fix what we can., 210,
Chapter 19 To the Victor, go the spoils., 226,
Chapter 20 For peace of mind., 249,
Chapter 21 With friends like this ..., 269,