“Come again?” Ari asks.
“As captain of this ship and future pirate lord of the east, it wouldn’t speak well of the reputation of Captain Almuran Kostia if I simply let you and your little group there go without some form of payment.”
“I’m assuming that’s you, then?”
“Aye and for your freedom, as well as the freedom of all your comrades, I’ll be needing you to pay a…well, let’s call it a toll, shall we?” the pirate Kostia says, looking to his men for confirmation. They eagerly agree, laughing or whistling at Ari and her comrades.
“We don’t have any money. There’s nothing valuable in that bag your man stole.” Ari moves closer to Crofton, Indra, Kelis, and Tal.
The man holding the bag in question appears next to his captain. “Feels heavy to me. And word on the docks says they’re looking to hire a ship.”
Taking Ari’s bag, Kostia smiles at her. “Now how do you plan on doing that with no money?”
“Offering to work. Some folks value muscle over gold.”
“You’ll find very few in Marpidium who agree with you. But I’m curious what’s in this bag. You seem awful keen to get it back so there must be something valuable to you in here. I like valuable in all sense of the word.” He opens the bag and digs through the contents. He pulls out Ime’s journal and Ari stifles a quiet gasp. He turns it over in his hand, judging its weight. “Interesting. That explains the weight.”
He holds the book out to his right and a man wearing metal gauntlets takes it. Continuing to dig through the bag, he pulls out a small object wrapped in cloth. His eyebrows rise out of curiosity and he hands the bag back to the man who originally stole it. He unties the cloth revealing a blank medallion on a white gold chain, black paper, and a black ribbon. Grabbing the medallion, he holds it up revealing a symbol sewn into the cloth.
“See, they’re worthless to you. Everything else in that bag is worthless, too.”
“Interesting.” Looking at her, his eyes fully take in her face. “If that’s true then you wouldn’t care if I had Thache throw it into the sea.”
The man holding her bag, Thache, eyes the captain clearly confused. But he walks towards the edge of the ship and holds the bag over the railing.
Fear overpowering her, Ari rushes towards Thache. Kostia grabs her by the arm, twisting it behind her easily.
Ari’s companions try to move to help her, but the men surrounding them block their path. Crofton’s hand rests on the hilt of the dagger on his belt, but he’s able to resist drawing it, barely.
Kostia motions towards Thache and the confused man quickly pulls Ari’s bag away from the edge.
Leaning over her shoulder, Kostia laughs softly in her ear. “Doesn’t seem worthless anymore. Interesting.”
“Stop saying that,” she snaps at him, wincing in pain.
“You’re wrong.” Holding the blank medallion in front of her, he moves it back and forth. “This necklace is very valuable. Where did you get it?”
Her eyes watch the motion of the medallion. She tries to grab it with her free hand, but he twists her other arm, stopping her.
“Where did you get this necklace?”
“Why do you want to know?” Ari angles her head to meet his eyes.
“We were given it in Kellahn,” Crofton yells, drawing the captain’s attention from her.
“Kellahn?” the man with metal gauntlets says in surprise. “You’re from the legendary city?”
“Quiet, Maris,” Kostia says. He smiles at Crofton, but looks back at Ari. “Do you know what this is?”
“We were told it would show us allies where there may not be any. Are you allies? Or enemies?” she asks.
Releasing her arm, he steps back from her. “That depends…why are you looking for a ship?”
“We need to reach Deirak.” She rubs her sore arm, facing the young captain.
“Deirak? No sane sailor will take you there right now. What’s so important there?”
“Ime Gurek is there.”
“Indeed, the rumors say the same here.” He places the necklace around Ari’s neck. “Interesting. We’ll take you to Deirak.”
“What?” Tal gasps, shocked at the ease the captain agrees.
“On one condition,” he adds. “You and your companions are going to help me win the title of pirate lord of the east.”
“Captain, do you really think that’s a good idea? We don’t know if we can trust them,” Maris says, the forgotten book in his gauntleted hand.
“What do you say to my conditions?”
“If we help you become pirate lord of the east, you’ll take us to Deirak. What does that entail?” Ari asks.
“Offering work. Muscle will be more valuable than gold in this instance,” Kostia says, smiling knowingly at her.
“You mean helping you start a war in Marpidium,” Tal says. “In two days, if I’m not mistaken.”
“What are you talking about?” Ari asks.
“Those vying for the pirate lord title are going to fight in two days. That huge ship at the center of the city is preparing to shelter everyone while these pirates destroy everything.”
“Was that what you were trying to tell us before these guys nabbed you?” Crofton asks.
Indra nods his head. “The panic at the center apparently hasn’t reached the rest of the city, but they’re preparing for an all out war.”
Glaring at Kostia, Ari takes a step back from him. “You’re going to put an entire city in danger to decide who should be in charge?”
“Where else would we do it?” he says.
“The open sea, like normal pirates.”
“Normal pirates?” he eyes his men and chuckles spread through them. “What do you know about pirates? Our business and our laws are very specific.”
“Laws? Didn’t know pirates had laws,” Crofton says.
“We do and part of those laws require us to give notice to any city chosen to be the grounds for any major conflict between fellow pirates. The last thing we want is for innocents to be harmed during one of our spats. There’re plenty of other times for us to cause damage for fun.” Kostia takes Ari’s bag from the pirate still holding it and throws it to her. “Do you agree to my terms?”
Eyeing her father’s journal in the gauntleted hands of Maris, Ari squeezes the bag close to her chest. “I need to discuss it with the rest of our group.”
“Time is a factor. The fight may be in two days, but tomorrow will be a day of preparation.”
“All we need is some privacy.”
Kostia hesitates, but nods his head and waves his hand for them to follow. Maris follows his captain closely and the others of the ship make way. Ari waits until her group is beside her before following.
They walk to the back of the deck towards a set of double doors with colorful glass windows. Opening the doors, the group is surprised to see couches, tables, chairs, and a large desk. Dark rugs cover the wooden floors and every open surface is covered with maps, strange trinkets, and other items ranging from paper to food.
Kostia sits on the edge of the desk as Maris closes the doors behind them. “All right. Privacy.”
They stare at him in silence until Tal steps forward. “Not true privacy with you and metal hands there.” She jerks her thumb towards Maris.
“You can trust him to keep quiet concerning your discussion.”
“That’s not what she means. When I asked for privacy, it included you as well,” Ari says.
Laughing, Kostia grabs an orange from a bowl of fruit and peels it. “You haven’t officially accepted my condition. That means you’re still my captives until you convince me otherwise.” He eats a slice of the fruit.
“That medallion you’re wearing has a very precise meaning and only one person may ever imbue it to non pirates.”
“A pirate lord,” Maris adds.
Pointing a slice of orange at the medallion around Ari’s neck, Kostia smiles. “And that particular medallion could only be given by the pirate lord of the east.”
“Audra Sellin,” Ari says. “She brought pirates to help fight in the Blood War.”
“She did. Defied all the lands of Deirak and the other pirate lords to do it. She truly gave no second thought to how others viewed her and greatly resented being told what she could or couldn’t do.”
“You speak of her so fondly,” Indra says, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Finishing his orange, Kostia throws the peel away. “I’d better. She raised me.”