Jaws Of Death
Luna played a few tentative bars on her flute before she shook her head. Playing them again, she smiled in satisfaction and wrote several notes on the page of sheet music in front of her. When she was done, she looked back at the ceiling of her cabin, wondering where to take the music next. Although Luna was not a bard, she enjoyed composing and playing her own music on the pan flute she always carried. For almost a month, it was one of the main ways she'd coped with the boredom of being stuck on a sailing ship.
Luna and her friends had bought passage on the Sea Unicorn, a merchant ship headed for Irongate. The ship left Greyhawk sailing south on the Selintan River where it emptied into Woolly Bay, before continuing southeast into the Sea of Gearnat. The Sea Unicorn stopped in Scant, the capital of the Free State of Onnwal, for several days to resupply and give its crew some shore leave. Finally, the ship sailed to the south of Onnwal and the Headlands. In a couple of days, the companions would put in at Irongate before continuing to South Province overland.
The companions all had their own ways to keep busy during such a long sea voyage. One of Luna's favorites was to work with her music. When Amyalla walked into the cabin she shared with Luna she picked up the knitting that was one of her own favored activities. Amyalla worked her needles faster than usual, a signal that she'd just finished one of the other things she did to keep busy on a ship.
"Who was it this time?" Luna asked, hiding the wry grin on her face behind her cup of the tea she raised to her lips.
"The first mate," Amyalla said without looking up, intent on the kerchief she was working on. "You saw the rest of the crew-did you think I'd settle for anything less?"
"No, I suppose not," Luna said, pouring a second cup of tea and walking it over to Amyalla before she returned to her seat. "I hope you had fun, at least?"
"Not as much as Weimar did with that magic flagon of his," Luna said, reminding Amyalla of how they'd celebrated Weimar's twenty-fourth birthday when the Sea Unicorn was in Scant. The companions were fortunate that Revafour didn't drink. Out of the entire group, he was the only one capable hauling the still-unconscious Weimar back aboard the Sea Unicorn the next morning.
"Yondalla's grace, I don't think I ever heard so much complaining," Amyalla said, recalling how sick and hungover Weimar was when he finally woke up. "Serves him right, I think."
"Serves all of us except Revafour right," Luna said, shaking her head. "That's why I usually stick to tea."
"I can see why-ack!" Amyalla said as she choked on the tea she sipped. "How spicy did you make this?" she demanded, smacking her lips several times to try and rid her tongue of the aftertaste.
"It's a peppermint mix," Luna said. "I thought I'd try a new recipe."
"And that's another one I bet Seline's delicate palate could never stand," Amyalla said, before she burst into a chuckle.
Luna joined in Amyalla's laughter, but only for a second. She quickly glanced back into her own cup and took a drink-too quickly, Amyalla realized.
"You've spent a lot of time working on your music," Amyalla noted, glancing at the pile of sheet music on the table in front of Luna. "How many of those songs have you written, anyway?"
"Enough of them," Luna said, sipping her tea again.
"You enjoy playing the flute that much?" Amyalla said as she resumed her knitting. "Did you ever think of becoming a bard?"
"Not really, no," Luna said, shaking her head. "I never considered music a calling. It was more a way to relax from all the social functions I had to attend as a maiden of House Cranden. They were so exhausting-Seline always dealt better with them than I did."
"Did you ever perform in front of anyone?" Amyalla asked.
"That was the other benefit," Luna said. "Performing at the parties and balls was a good excuse not to have to spend so much time speaking to everyone."
"So music helps you cope with stress," Amyalla observed. "Like it's doing now?"
Luna visibly flinched as Amyalla said that. She didn't answer, instead raising her flute to her lips.
"I've seen it on both your and your sister's faces for weeks now," Amyalla persisted. "You're really that afraid of the Garasteths?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Luna said, looking away from Amyalla.
"So that's not it," Amyalla realized. "You're thinking about something else, aren't you?"
Luna didn't answer, continuing to stare at the far wall.
"Are you still grieving for Lord Roas?" Amyalla said. "Still worried about your mother? Was she alright after…"
"My mother had her own protections," Luna said, "and I don't think I'll ever fully get over my father's loss. I was thinking more about what happened after Seline and I escaped with Ma'non'go to Sunndi. My parents never saw me take my vows to Pelor-I had to do it in Pitchfield," she continued, referring to the County of Sunndi's capital.
"I can see why-" Amyalla started to say, before Luna resumed speaking.
"I initially tried ministering to some of the locals in Sunndi, but they didn't take kindly to having Aerdi like me or Seline in their midst. You might not have heard about how suspicious Sunndians can be towards outsiders."
"Were you-" Amyalla started to say.
"Not with violence," Luna said, "but just with the way they looked at us, that made us realize we weren't exactly welcome, or that they were glad to see us leaving. It was strange, how often we'd be charged higher prices than other patrons, told there was no room at inns we tried to stay at, or how often people would insult the Aerdi when we were in earshot."
"And that's why you turned to adventuring?" Amyalla said.
"Yes, but even that was eventually too much for anyone in Sunndi or Idee," Luna said. "That's why we sailed for the Principality of Ulek. Then we met Weimar, traveled to Greyhawk, met the Listells when we were looking for shelter, and…well, you know the rest of the story from there."
"Ah yes, the supposed lands of good and freedom, living up to their principles as usual by harassing people just for the so-called crime of being Aerdi," Amyalla said with a disapproving scowl. "The Duchy of Urnst could learn a thing or two from them!"
"…I don't really blame them," Luna said after a moment, "not with the way the Great Kingdom oppressed them and still attacks them. It wasn't all bad, either. The independent Flan showed us kindness few others did. They taught us the Flan language and we traded various stories with them. Shawnakark Little Moon and I spent endless hours discussing how our different peoples revered Pelor. She planned to become a great matriarch among her people-I've no doubt she'll succeed."
"I never realized," Amyalla said, patting Luna's arm sympathetically. "I had almost the opposite problem. My husband-"
Amyalla never finished her sentence, as both women started at the shouts they suddenly heard from the ship's hallway. Looking at one another in alarm, they quickly left the cabin and ran out on deck to see what was happening, pausing only to take their weapons with them.
Amyalla and Luna saw the rest of their companions standing among the crowd of sailors staring off the starboard side of the ship. The sailors were pointing at another ship that was swiftly approaching, murmuring to one another nervously.
"What's going on?" Luna asked one of the sailors standing next to Weimar, who was looking through his spyglass at the oncoming ship. Luna noticed that Weimar's battle axe and his bronzewood shield, decorated with a boar's head in profile, were at his feet. His longbow and arrows were already on his back, strung and ready to be fired.
"Pirates, most likely," the sailor said, before muttering a prayer to Osprem. "Do you recognize them, lad?"
"No, I don't," Weimar said, shaking his head.
"Can I see?" Luna asked, before Weimar handed her his spyglass. Setting down her mace and her shield, decorated with the emblem of a sunburst in honor of Pelor, Luna took a look at the approaching ship's colors.
The first flag Luna saw was of a large dragon-like fish on a dark blue field. The fish was swimming to the left, gazing malevolently at the viewer. The second flag, flying above the first, was of a large pitch-black shark on an entirely white field, charging head-on at the viewer with blood dripping from its fangs.
"One of them's the flag of the Sea Barons," Luna said, referring to the island nation of pirates that dwelled off the eastern coast of the Great Kingdom and often fought for the Aerdi overkings. "I don't recognize the other one, though. It's some kind of blood-drenched shark-"
"A blood-drenched shark?" the sailor standing next to Weimar and Luna said, his face suddenly turning ashen pale. "Could-"
"Bloody Roger, captain, and no one else!" the sailor manning the crow's nest suddenly shouted down to Captain Gregor, master of the Sea Unicorn. Turning to look at Captain Gregor, Luna was surprised to see him issuing orders to his lieutenants, a grim expression on his face. The lieutenants dispersed and began giving commands to the sailors, many of whom took up battle positions.
"We're going to fight them?" Luna asked the sailor standing next to her before he could run off. "Who's this Bloody Roger?"
"You've not been on these seas long, have you miss?" the sailor said, his face still pale. "Captain Roger Thimhal is skipper of the Tiger Shark, and he more than lives up to his ship's namesake. He leads one of the nastier pirate gangs out of the Sea Barons, and trust me when I say he's earned his nickname of Bloody Roger. There's a reason Captain Gregor agreed to take you and your friends on, you know!"
"Why don't we just outrun him?" Weimar asked as he came up to join them, his axe and shield now in hand. "That pirate's got far more men than-"
"Landlubbers," the sailor said, shaking his head in frustration. "The Sea Unicorn's a good, solid vessel, but the Tiger Shark's something else altogether. The Sea Barons are some of the finest shipbuilders in the whole Flanaess, and they've got nigh on the best-quality timber for their vessels too. We can't hope to escape-our only chance is to fight. Now let me go before-"
Luna and Weimar nearly stumbled as the Sea Unicorn suddenly cut a tight turn to port to evade the mass of flaming pitch the Tiger Shark fired at it. The pitch hissed and boiled as it struck the water. Luna and Weimar both tried to put the image of what the pitch would have done to the Sea Unicorn out of their minds.
"Landlubbers," the sailor repeated himself as he looked at both of them. "They won't try to sink us that way-the shots are just to force us into the position best suited for their archers. The Sea Unicorn has a trick or two for-"
"Captain!" the helmsman shouted from the quarter deck above them, interrupting the sailor before he could finish. "The wheel's not movin'!"
"The devils do you mean, it's not movin'?" Captain Gregor said with an ugly scowl as he ran up to the helm. Setting down his cutlass, he jerked the wheel several times, but had no more luck than his crewman.
"Why would the wheel be stuck?" Luna asked the sailor, who looked from the Sea Unicorn's quarter deck to the rapidly approaching Tiger Shark.
The sailor was about to answer, but he was interrupted again, this time by the cries of dying men coming from belowdecks.