Pirates’ Council Fort, Port of Tabriz
“Order, order! Please gentlemen will you hold your tongues?” was Wilfred Mostert’s desperate cry, but it could barely be heard above the din.
Umpteen captains and their closest men argued, laughed, bragged and cursed, and the whole interior of the fort (unusual in Tabriz in that it was mostly made of stone) rebounded with the resulting clamour. Few even knew that Wilfred had spoken, though considering they had only just elected him chairman of this meeting then had they put their minds to it they should have realised that he would probably attempt to address them at some point.
Wilfred once had a reputation as a fearsome captain, believed to have led a very bloody mutiny to capture his ship the Terrible Corsair. Since then, however, he had shown little evidence of his supposed ferocity. Many Tabrizians had begun to question the tales they had heard about him, with some even claiming he must merely have poisoned the crew to capture the ship then cut their bodies to make it look like the act of a dangerous fighter and so his standing had somewhat diminished over the months. The propagation of this particular rumour was fanned by the fact that none of the three fellow mutineers who had somehow sailed the Terrible Corsair into the harbour of Tabriz were currently around to speak against it, all apparently having gone off with other ships’ companies.
The horn had been blown an hour ago to call whichever captains with the honour of being members of the council – or at least those who could be bothered – to gather at the fort, and eight had come, which was sufficient to make the meeting official. There they learned that the gathering had been called by Grijalva of the Bent Cutlass Inn, backed apparently by Captain Bartholomeus. Of course, Grijalva was no council member, nor even one of their trusted crewmen, but considering that the council’s meetings nearly always involved a vote to shift the rest of the business from the fort to his inn and thus he, as their host, heard just about everything they said, no one objected to him calling them. Besides, they would object soon enough if they did not like what he had to say.
Unable to begin the meeting, Wilfred already wanted to move it to the inn, thwarted in his desire by the very reason for his frustration – his inability to get a word in. He stood at the head of the table dressed wholly in black, apart from a green waistcoat, his left hand resting upon the hilt of a peculiarly diminutive cutlass little more than a knife in length. Tucked into his belt was a pistol, the butt of which his other hand currently caressed as an idea flickered into his mind.
He happened to be the only captain there who had come alone – all the others had one or two of their crew with them, often a quartermaster (who in many ways had as much authority as a captain, at least when it came to a ship’s day-to-day affairs, if not in the council) and one or two of their ‘sea artists’ – their gunner, bosun, surgeon or some such. The Tilean Captain Claudio Sagrada was closest to Wilfred, slouched upon an old armchair so rotten and worm eaten it appeared to be fashioned from driftwood, whilst his brown booted feet rested upon the table itself. His huge, black, felt hat overshadowed his face leaving only the chin visible. It happened to be the most clean-shaven of all the chins at the meeting, for Claudio was a vain fellow and still in the prime of his youth, with black locks of thickly curled hair flowing onto a buff leather waistcoat, whilst his shirt was of a copious quantity of white silk so that the generous sleeves hung down almost a foot from his arms. Noticing the chairman’s hand on his pistol he watched Wilfred with amusement, realising even before the idea was fully settled in Wilfred’s own mind what he was about to do.
The thunderous crack of the pistol’s discharge silenced every man in the room. When all eyes turned upon him, Wilfred spoke quickly and loudly,
“As chairman I declare the meeting has begun. I now ask Grijalva what cause he has for calling it.”
Every head swung about to look at the innkeeper, who immediately fished a gold coin out of his pocket and tossed it onto the long oaken table before them. As it clattered to a halt, it became clear to all that it was not a coin but some sort of heavy, circular ornament attached to a leather cord. Then, one by one, they noticed the sun-image it bore.
There was silence for all of three seconds – a rarity indeed – as everyone stared at the golden artefact. Then Thodrin Hookhand, the white bearded Dwarfen Pirate spoke in his gruffer than gruff voice, employing as ever very few words,
“Where d’you find that?”
In answer Grijalva ordered his thugs to bring Webbe forward. This they did, with Goncalo Po almost dangling the poor man off the ground by the scruff of his neck. Grijalva pointed at him.
“He had it about his neck. Ask him.”
Webbe grimaced as his eyes darted about the room, attempting to take in all those he had been brought up before. He felt like he was on trial and knew he must choose his words carefully. These men were unlikely to take kindly to the fact that he had been keeping such a secret from them. Claudio Sagrada dragged his boots from the table and leaned forward in his seat,
“Speak man, and keep in mind it will go best for you if you do so both truthfully and immediately.”
“Erm, well you see, your honours, it were a long time ago and what with the passing of years and the drinking of hot liquors the details have become foggy in my mind, not that they were something I was over fond of recollecting in the first place…”
“Blathering fool,” interrupted Captain Erther Madric of the Earnest Trader, while one of his half-orcen crewmen growled throatily behind him and the little brown monkey upon his shoulder snarled to as if attempting to add to the menace. “You were asked where you found it, now get to answering and quick otherwise you shall find out the limit of my patience.”
“It is in the jungle, deep, d-deep in the dark jungle,” stammered Webbe, his words falling over each other. “In the great land to the east, a long way down the river, more swamp than river in places, farther than any northern man had ever gone afore. There was a city, the like o’ which I ain’t never seen since, great stones piled up into steps, making mountainous temples. It was a place of disease and death where men went mad just looking. That’s the place. I found it there.”
“You’ve never talked o’ this before,” said Grijalva. “Who did you serve? Which captain took you there?”
“It weren’t a pirate, no, but an Arabyan lord, brother to a caliph. They had me fettered to an oar upon one of their great baghlas, then took me an’ the other slaves into the jungle to make us carry for them. But I never ‘ad to carry, see, for I dreamt they all died an’ I crawled away on my belly an’ I never looked back to see what monstrous creature killed them. Then I found the gold, lying on the ground, and I thought to take it as recompense an’ for good luck, which it proved to be for I was the only one to escape.”
“If that is true,” asked Wilfred, “then how did you make your way back to coast? You said you were far inland.”
“I dreamt that too,” answered Webbe, inscrutably. “Lying in a boat I was, floating downstream for more nights than I could count. Sometimes I paddled, sometimes despaired, but by and by I came to the sea.” He looked down at the golden disc, now speaking so quietly that all present leaned forward to hear him. “Lucky it is, see? And my escape was proof of it.”
“It is lucky, I’ll grant you that,” said Captain Sagrada. “And now we can share in that luck, eh?”
Webbe blanched, for he knew full well what these men would want to do – it was that certain knowledge that made him keep his precious disc a secret for so long, sealing his lips until now, when his life was threatened.
“I ain’t never going back there, not never – it’s bad enough it’s still in my dreams. I ain’t going down that river again.”
“Is that so?” asked Captain Bartholomeus. “So sad. Then you’ll just have to take us to its mouth. That won’t be so bad, eh?”
Wilfred banged the butt of his pistol on the table to get Webbe’s attention.
“Where’s the river mouth?” he demanded.
“I know where it is, but you won’t like what I have to say, for it’s close by ‘Urry By Island.”
Once again silence fell. Never before had the council had reason to be so quiet so often. None needed to speak to explain their momentary silence, for all knew they were each thinking the same thing. The three-peaked Hurry By Island was rumoured to be the base of the bloodsucking vampire pirate known as Grand Admiral Galdabash, and considering he had an entire fleet of the dead serving him, it was a place very aptly named. Every man in the room lusted for that city of gold, but every one of them now wondered whether the rewards would be worth the risk.
The council had a decision to make!