The sky was grey and cold in the early light of dawn as Drezi began his morning hunt. His golden eyes darted from rock to rock; he had to be careful to retain his footing. The recent storms that had spun from the Eye of Abendego had been fierce and heaps of slippery black kelp lay strewn about the shore, ready to snare his ankles. But, these same storms had also produced his prey – an influx of crippled ships – and the prevailing winds had forced large chunks of debris further inland than was normal.
Perhaps this will be my lucky day? thought the young Bonuwati, deftly picking his way along the rocky crevices, as he eyed several hulking remains impaled on the distant crags. Usually, sizable wrecks would have been long picked over by salvage vessels before they ever came within sight of land, however the continuing gusts and large waves made sailing dangerous. Only a desperate fool would try to navigate the shoals in this weather.
A desperate fool or a goblin, Drezi smirked, correcting himself. Then he sighed deeply, reminded of his two most daunting problems these days: covetous goblins and worthwhile loot. He scanned the dim horizon looking for signs of either as the wind pelted sprays of sea brine against his dark skin. Not many days went by that he did not encounter the one in his pursuit of the other. The biggest problem was that goblins didn’t like to share. Several times this month he’d had to walk away from a site with nothing more to show for a day’s work than a torn and empty net bag, and some scrapes or bruises. “But such is the capricious life of a salvager,” as Mibengu says. “Gozreh provides.” And it was true; the Wind and the Waves had brought him to Tempest Cay, in both the mundane and divine senses of the words. The least he could do was attempt to harvest the bounty that she brought forth, goblins or no. This morning was the best chance he’d had in weeks; he was up early, with no challengers in sight and at least two good derelicts from which to take spoils. He would just have to be cautious, but that was nothing new. Growing up in Drenchport, Drezi learned early that you had to be quick and resourceful to make a living. “Otherwise someone else will beat you to the prize, or kill you for it.” Mibengu said that too; the man was like a father to him.
As captain of Snapperhoard, Mibengu had rescued four-year-old Drezi from the eddies of the Arcadian Ocean when his Varisian mother’s and Mwangi father’s merchant sloop ran violently aground on a reef between the Cay and Widowmaker Isle. The crew adopted the boy and the salvage vessel quickly became Drezi’s home until one too many close calls with the ship’s namesake dragon turtles caused Mibengu to retire from life at sea ten years later. He and Drezi now ran The Tengu’s Nest, one of the many weathered salvage ventures that lined Drenchport’s ravaged shores. It was there that Drezi brought the products of his hunts each day. And it was there that the young man had first heard the stories of the countless treasures lost to the depths of the ocean and the fury of the Eye. It was every salvager’s dream to find one of these venerated relics, though the old, bitter sea hands, peddlers and pawnbrokers that trawled The Nest had only stories to tell and no wealth to show for them. Drezi was determined that he not end up like them. As he closed in on the shipwrecks, he took a deep breath. If it was possible to make this dream come true today, then it was time to concentrate.
Drezi paused for a moment and closed his eyes, listening to the rush of the surf and the timbre of the waves as they hit the jagged rocks, the wrecks, and the shore. It was a deep thrumming; powerful but not too fast. He felt the wind on his face from the northwest, and heard it whistling through the heaving vessels, amid periodic groans and cracks from the rending wood, as the debris was pummeled relentlessly against the stones. Like putting a pestle to a mortar… It would not be long before these sections would be reduced to splinters. If he wanted to avoid a similar fate, this hunt would require his full attention and considerable dexterity. It was dangerous he conceded, but he was a skilled climber and a powerful swimmer, and the excitement had sharpened his senses. He opened his eyes again, and assessed his quarry. Oh yes, the risks should be worth it.
He was close enough now to see details through the dim light and mist. The first wreck was the forecastle of a small sloop-of-war. The bowsprit was broken near where it joined the front of the prow and it dangled limply like a maimed arm. Might be some interesting loot in the crew quarters or even the forward hold, but probably nothing too valuable. Then he assessed the other vessel. The second ship was a salvage frigate, considerably larger and more intact. It pitched against the coast on its starboard side, split open across the bow and along its length with its contents spilling out into the roiling waters. Only one mast remained and the tatters of its sail and loose rigging caught the wind and snapped back and forth like a torturer’s lash. Drezi noticed that plenty of timbers already littered the surf around it and they were being sent careening onto the beach with each powerful wave. A particularly large pile of flotsam also lay pooled between the two craft further offshore. Now this, this is more like it! He hefted his net bag over his shoulder, and made his way down to the promontory where the larger of the two targets was pinned. He paused a moment, muttering a prayer to Gozreh. Then, when the next surge of water heaved the mass of wood inland, he launched himself toward a thick mooring cable on the hull and began to climb.
When he finally reached the main deck, he uncoiled a length of rope from his waist and secured himself to an empty pair of bitts that jutted from the starboard rail so that he could begin to plan his course. The deck was quite barren, except for rigging and permanent fixtures like the binnacle and large ship’s wheel on the quarterdeck. Anything loose up here had long since been washed overboard. Including the crew, Drezi thought ominously. The only point of interest that remained was the captain’s cabin. He worked his way amidships to investigate, moving his tether from bitt to bitt. The aft portion of the ship was by far the most complete, and the door to the cabin had remained closed; it looked intact! He grinned broadly at his good fortune, then refocused, thinking of another of Mibengu’s sayings: “Tides are fickle; be quick to take what you can, before they come in and take you instead!” He longed to know what lay in the holds beneath, but looking across the ship at the missing port side, the ragged, gaping holes in the decking and the waves that surged in with each rhythmic pulse, he knew the reward was not worth the risk. He just had to hope the captain of the vessel was the kind of man to keep all the best things for himself. He smiled. Knowing the pirates of The Shackles, that was not asking too much.
Deftly, Drezi maneuvered himself into place, fastening his rope anchor tightly to the starboard rail and waiting for a gust of wind to calm before traversing the pitching ground to the cabin door. He anchored the rope around a thick peg in the decking, then lurched for the door handle as the vessel was rocked anew by a powerful burst of surf. The handle yielded when he pulled, and the door swung outward forcefully as several dislodged barrels rolled quickly past him, across the deck and into the ocean.
Drezi’s first look into the chamber caught him by surprise. This looks like Mibengu’s shop! Nautical equipment swung from hooks on either side of the door. Books and charts were scattered across the floor around a large desk to Drezi’s right, and an iron-hinged, black leather chest sat to his left at the foot of a plush four-poster bed. Near the bed, a toppled side table and two broken mugs lay below a wall-mounted rack filled with bottles of dark liquid. There were also stacks of crates restrained by rope nets along both port and starboard walls. Several of these crates bore the names of ships branded onto them, and some had tumbled out of the netting and smashed, strewing their contents across a worn Qadiran carpet. And that’s where the similarities to The Tengu’s Nest ended. Instead of chipped pottery and glass beads, gold and silver tableware glinted amid strings of pearls and jewelled amulets. Drezi’s amber eyes grew wide with amazement. His instincts had been right – it was his lucky day! He marvelled at what further wonders might be concealed among the sealed boxes, and then he saw her: half obscured by velvet drapery and leaning in the centre of the bank of aft windows, was a life-sized wooden carving of a woman. She was naked, her modesty only conserved by her flowing hair which was laced with intricate leaves and blossoms, and she reclined naturally with her willowy arms above her head. Drezi was transfixed. She looks like a figurehead… A dryad figurehead…
Then his breath caught in his chest as he remembered the legend. The tale of the Dryad’s Vow was well-known among the old crows at The Tengu’s Nest. The story told of a dryad who chose to perish within her tree rather than die alone when it was felled for ship’s lumber. As the axe blades rang out, the fading dryad vowed that she would remain bonded to the wood in death as she had been in life. Whomever used their entwined flesh to furnish a ship would be granted the dryad’s powers over it, commanding the timber with a thought, however when they died, they would also be mystically bound by the dryad’s fate.
Could it be that the crew of this ship had found this elusive vessel? The Dryad’s Vow had been presumed lost at sea since the Eye had opened over a hundred years ago! Drezi drew closer, reveling in the sharp detail of the wood-woman’s features. The sculpture looked impeccable; there weren’t even any chisel marks that he could see and it certainly hadn’t been rotting in the Arcadian all this time! If this truly was the enchanted figurehead of the fey-touched ship, there was only one way to know… Carefully he made his way across the debris-covered floor. With trembling hands, he stretched out his fingers to caress the woman’s delicate face. “Are you master of this vessel?” a gentle voice in Drezi’s head asked. “Do you wish to become one with its heart of oak and body of elm? To bond with the wood for eternity?” Drezi gasped as he removed his hand from the enchanted statue’s visage. His wildest dreams had come true: he had discovered his relic.