Sails filled with a solid south easterly wind, heeling Le Cheval to starboard. The strong breeze off her port quarter drove the ship quickly through the Hoppe Channel, throwing out spray to either side of her bow.
To the north, the city of Vendel, on the southernmost point of Vestenmennavenjar, slowly slid past. Normally Jan was mesmerized by the sight of the bustling activity of the ships coming and going at the busy seaport. But today, his gaze stayed locked on the western horizon.
Somewhere out there was Bera and the Windrider, but tracking a ship on the open sea wasn’t easy. He knew they were heading for Deschaine, but if it was true that the Montaigne city was under quarantine, it was impossible to predict what detours or distractions Captain Graulik would have had to react to, or what decisions he would make avoid those obstacles.
“Sail ho!” came a cry from the crow’s nest. Obviously there were a number of ships near the city to the north, so a surprised warning would obviously be a ship coming from the open ocean.
“Where away?” Jan yelled back.
“Off the starboard bow, tacking against the wind,” the lookout called back. Which meant that the ship was heading their way. It was improbable that a pirate would be hunting this close to a busy harbor. Even if it was, Le Cheval had the weather gauge, giving it a significant advantage. It was most likely a trading vessel making its way to Vendel from Avalon, or somewhere south. It took almost an hour to recognize that the ship did indeed fly a Vesten flag, allowing the crew to finally breathe a sigh of relief.
As they neared, both ships dipped their flags in a friendly salute. After identifying themselves with signal flags, Le Cheval closed to hailing distance. In return the other ship flew it’s identification as the Snelheid.
“Ahoy Snelheid,” Jan yelled through a speaking trumpet once they neared each other. “What’s your origin?”
“Port Borequen,” came the reply, “Off Colina Verde in the Atabean.” That meant that the Snelheid had had a long voyage.
“Have you spotted any other ships heading through the Trade Sea?” Jan asked. “Another Vesten trader, by the name of Windrider? I’m trying to track it!”
Jan watched as an older man in native garb stepped up to talk to the captain of the Snelheid. They conversed for a moment before the captain finally raised his own speaking trumpet again.
“Le Cheval, are you willing to come alongside?”
“Yes!” Jan snapped simply before turning his attention to his own crew.
Relatively quickly both ships turned into the wind. Their sails just began to luff before the topmen raced up the lines to take them in. Within minutes, both ships came along side each other. The smaller Le Cheval drifted with the current until it nudged gently against Snelheid. Lines were secured and planks were lowered over the railings to allow for easy access back and forth. Not waiting for the accommodations to be placed, Jan quickly used a halyard to swing across the expanse and catch one of the other ship’s staylines, stopping just short of stepping onto the opposite deck.
“Permission to come aboard?” he said to the Snelheid’s captain.
“Thanks for stopping. I’m Captain Karlsson.” said the man, offering his hand to Jan. The captain looked like a sturdy but slightly disheveled Vesten officer. Jan could tell that he had been a bit too long at sea by his missing buttons and the disorganized state of the deck, but mostly by the regrettable stench surrounding the fellow.
“Captain Jan Daarlsen. The pleasure is all mine.” Jan was normally polite to a fault, but in this case he was a little annoyed by the delay and anxious to get back on his way as soon as possible.
Captain Karlsson was savvy enough to pick up on Jan’s impatience. “I don’t mean to keep you captain, but you seemed to be on a heading to Montaigne. Might I ask if you are bound for Deschaine?”
Jan was a bit surprised by the question but saw no compelling reason to deny it. Besides, maybe he could gain some information. “Indeed. Although hoping to avoid any entanglements. Have you heard any news?”
“Oh no no no, captain. We’ve been in the Atebean for far too long. Just looking to get back to civilization. But you might be able to help me with a bit of a problem.” He guided Jan over to the side of the deck to be out of earshot of the crew. “You see that Atebean native over there?” He nodded towards Liren. “His names Liren. Good fella. I took him on as a deck hand back at Port Borequen and he’s made the voyage rather… interesting.” Jan glanced over at Liren. He was obviously too old to be a deck hand but he seemed the sort who must have been born on the sea. Captain Karlsson continued, “This guy claims he’s never been on a ship with more than one mast his whole life, but pretty soon I realizes this guy can do anything. He’s up and down the rigging like a monkey, he keeps pointing our helmsman to faster currents and he’s straight up replaced our chef. The best bit is he keeps throwing these long lines baited with god-knows-what off the stern. Really long lines. And he pulls up these… things. Creatures like I’ve never seen before. He cooks ‘em up at night and I’ll be damned if they don’t taste just like steak. The problem is, he’s spooked some of the crew. He makes the Castellians nervous and the Vodacce working below deck think he’s “touched” or some nonsense. So half the crew is terrified of him and the other half wants to go back for seconds.”
Jan sighted a bit and said, “Fascinating captain but I’m not sure how I can help with your problem here.”
“Well for a quiet guy he’s real friendly like and keeps the crew up all hours telling stories about some ship he is chasing after named the Resolution. Quartermaster spent some time throwing dice with a bosun from the Resolution and it turns out her official destination was listed as Deschaine. Now I’ve tried telling him that a ship off to no good like a slaver vessel isn’t very likely to file correct paperwork, if you get my meaning. But this little guy, he ain’t having any of it. He sees your ship heading toward Montaigne and he asks me all polite like if he can put on with your ship. Now I tells him that’s not how this works and he won’t get paid if he doesn’t stick with us to port. He says I can keep his share and he’s only interested in getting to Deschaine. So I figure if I can send him off with you, I don’t have to pay him. And with him being so keen on this quest of his, if you play your cards right you won’t have to pay him either.”
Upon realizing that the point of this entire delay was so Captain Karlsson could save a few guilders, Jan’s annoyance finally broke through his polite veneer. “Look, we are really in a rush here and I’m afraid I don’t have the time or inclination to take on any additional passengers. Your crewman will just have to…” Jan noticed that the old Atebean native was no longer on standing on the deck. A quick scan found him leaning on the railing back on Le Cheval.
Jan let out a much more profound sigh and quickly evaluated his options. He could have him detained and removed easily enough, but it would end up taking even more time than he had already wasted. This man represented no obvious impediment to his mission so it might be best to just get back under sail as soon as possible.
“Excuse me sir. Liren was it?” Jan yelled across the gap.
“Aye Sir.” called the steely mariner.
“Permission to come aboard, “Captain” Liren?” Jan quipped as he grabbed a line to swing himself back over.
“Granted sir.” Liren said with a deferential bow. “But be quick about it. We have no time to waste.”
Jan dropped softly back on La Cheval with a practiced ease and replied, “I’m glad we agree on that. Once we are underway, maybe you can tell me all about this quest of yours.”