In the skies above, dark wings flapped silently. Apainia had assumed that they were storks, perhaps pelicans from the surrounding islands of Partha. The crew whispered that they were demons or griffins, come to feast from the bodies left when they starved to death.
Ahead she could see dark clouds forming along the water. Another gale or simply a rainstorm she could not tell. Either way, fresh water would be welcome and could hold them out another day or several days.
“I fear we may never find out whether Bulwer plans to double cross us or not.” Hert smiled, watching her gaze.
“Don’t worry.” She smiled, “He’s definitely going to double cross us.”
Hert chuckled, “What’s your counter offer for this queen?”
“Immunity from the coming war, a promise to keep her land hidden, protected travel to Talan should it interest her. Who knows? I’ll have to meet her first to find out what motivates her. Hopefully she isn’t a psychopath.”
“Let’s assume she’s a psychopath. What then?” Hert said.
“We stay alive in Partha for a few hours,” she answered, “With Martan’s help I break into her palace or library or wherever these maps are kept and take them. We run.”
“Of the two plans,” Hert nodded, “I gather that the latter is the more likely to occur. And it is contingent on our retaining the ship, provisioning the ship for the return, and staying alive in Partha for a few hours.”
“And knowing where the maps are kept.” She added.
“Do you think Bulwer knows?” Hert asked.
“I think he knows where she would keep them.” She nodded.
The dark clouds had turned an ominous black and nestled in near them, though the water hadn’t started to churn as yet.
She spoke without looking at him at first, “When the storm kicks in I’ll suggest we go below decks to ride it out. I want you to get Bulwer dead drunk. Challenge him as a man, tell him this might be our last night living, that you made a bet, I don’t care. We need to know where those maps are being kept.”
Hert made a quick nod and signaled to the crew to pull down what remained of the sails. “It’s going to be another wild night boys, let’s detach the main sail and pull in the oars. Let those boys rest while they can before the lightening starts.”
Martan rose, “There’s no movement.”
“I know,” Apainia agreed, “it’s odd but look, the clouds are coming. We’d better get below decks for the night.”
Martan peered over the ship’s edge and froze. “Those aren’t storm clouds. That’s poisonous gas coming from the coral outside the islands.”
Hert peered out after him, “He’s right, look at the spread. It doesn’t even look like clouds from here. Everyone below deck! Grab any cloth you can find and start jamming doors and windows!”
Apainia looked and she could see it now, instead of clusters of moisture, black dust had settled just above the water directly in front of them, and she couldn’t see where it ended.
Bulwer stood up too fast and knocked over a cask of wine, Hert yanked off tablecloths and sails and the rest of the crew began pulling off shirts and socks. Martan was pulling men out of the hull and into the captain’s quarters. Apainia scooped up what was left of her dress from under the captain’s workbench and followed after them. With each step toward the door, she could see the gas creeping over the ship’s edge. She was the last to enter and Martan closed the door behind her. Men were stuffing any crack they could find, but most were useless as the captain’s quarters sat below sea level so any gas that could have come in would have first let water in. Instead, Apainia, Hert, and Martan focused on the door. Apainia motioned and the men behind her began to light more candles. When they had run out of fabric, they began pouring those candles that had been lit against the fabric to create a seal. It worked in some places and they were able to catch the others as they saw a faint black mist begin to creep into the small room. Martan dipped two cloths in wine and he and Apainia continued to pour wax until Hert stopped them and they stepped away from the door. The room was dark enough that it was hard to tell if they’d stoppered the leaks completely. Silence followed as not a one of them trusted a new breath. The room contained ten men and three candles and to Apainia’s relief, five casks of red wine.