“Bartemis Quin?” He placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Pardon?” I asked.
The swarthy young man stood confidently, his grip strong, yet controlled. He smiled as he sized me up from barstool to curly top. “Bartemis Quin.” He said again, this time not a question. Seating himself next to me at the bar, he carefully avoided my personal puddle created from my sopping clothes, and showed me a bounty poster. “This is you. Is it not?”
Stars and damnation. I wished the lad could be quiet and unobservant like the rest of the tavern. I glanced at the poster. It showed the rendition of, in my opinion, a very dashing male halfling. His nose had been broken, his jaw was sturdy, and his hair was dark and short with full sideburns. The bounty on his head was astounding, and for good reason. “Sorry, can’t help you. That’s not me.” I turned back to my drink, briny water trickling from my sleeves. I needed to swim farther next time.
The lad looked at the poster briefly then tucked it away. “Shame, the man is worth a lot of money.”
“You don’t say?”
He chuckled, “But I do! The man found the rage of the Hurricane King himself! What folly led to that I wonder?”
“Sounds like a dangerous fool to me.”
Grimly he chuckled, “No question about it.” From my peripheral I noticed him shouldering his cape aside, revealing the hilt of a falcata from which hung a wooden buckler. “I don’t think you are being honest with me.”
I nodded my head, knocking back the last of the amber liquid in my glass, and coughing as it descended, spreading warm tendrils throughout my body. I slid from my barstool, “We are all, unfortunately, entitled to our opinions.” I reached into my drowned purse and rolled a coin to the bartender, “Get this lad whatever that will get him.”
The young man stood as I started toward the tavern door, “Where are you going?”
“Away. I find Quent has left a bad taste in my mouth. No offense barkeep.” I heard a grunt of acknowledgement.
I took a few steps before a steely hand grasped my shoulder once more. “I don’t think you understand the trouble you’re in, Bartemis.”
I shrugged my shoulder sharply, grabbed the meat of his thumb, broke his grip, and twisted, swiftly pulling him off-balance and down to one knee. He stared at me, shock and pain parading in his grimace as I held his wrist on the verge of breaking. He squirmed as I looked him in the eye, and I twisted his hand forward, causing his wrist to creak dangerously. “I don’t believe you understand the danger you are in, lad.”
A gruff voice spoke up, “I don’t believe either of you know the danger you are in.”
The lad and I snapped our glances to the rest of the common room. A dozen scallywags stood from their tables, mid meal, grog and grease rolling from their chins, hands filled with weapons, and eyes glowing greedily. The speaker stood apart from the rest, his calf-high boots thumping solidly on wooden planks as he strode toward us. He wore a large wide-brimmed hat, a long coat, had worn leathery olive skin, and his yellow smile was barely obscured by a food flecked, graying beard.
I released the young man, who still kneeled, grasping his wrist and glaring at the striding buccaneer captain. Said captain kicked the lad across the face, sending him to his back. “Thank you, boy.” The lad glared, his expression caustic, filled with rage, blood covering his nose and mouth.
The captain disregarded his impotent rage, and turned his yellow-toothed grimace upon me. “Bartemis Quin?”
I stood before him, saltwater dampening my demeanor slightly. I may be only four feet tall, but I’m a tall, four feet tall. “Yes. What do you want?”
The captain cackled. “Why? Just you, get him!”
His men descended upon me as a malevolent wave of unwashed bodies, blades, and predatory glee.
Stars and damnation.
“What’s this?” It took me a moment to recognize the words. I have been beaten in a variety of ways, but nothing compares to the basics. A dozen kicking fools can put a single halfling down. I looked up from the puddle of red oozing from my nose; it took me a moment to focus my eyes on what the captain was showing me. He and one of his toadies saw fit to search my pouch after they trussed me up in his ship’s brig. In his hand was a green-copper disk that was slightly bigger than a coin.
“Compass. Gift.” I managed.
“Gift? Who from?” He opened and smiled at the inscription on the inside. One I knew by heart. It read: To my darling son, Bartemis, so that you may find your way home. Love, Mother. The captain read aloud, he and his grunt chuckling. “You’re a sad man, Bartemis. You know that? You come to The Shackles with nothing but a bag of change and a worn compass, and expect to leave with my king’s enmity? You are either very brave, or a complete fool.”
I spat a gob of blood, “I’ve been told.”
The captain chuckled and flung the compass through the bars of my cell. It thumped against my chest hollowly, landing in my lap. “I’m not a cruel man,” he said, “to dead men at least. Enjoy your mother’s love while you have it.” With that he gathered his henchman, and my coins, and left.
I could feel the moving waves, hear the winds passing between the planks, and could smell the salt of the sea. The captain had set sail long ago. Not much time. I stretched my shoulders and arms. I was manacled with my hands behind my back and my ankles were similarly restrained to the wall. Sitting down, I used the wall for leverage and slowly started to bring my arms up. I could feel my shoulder blades stretching, the muscles between flexing. Beads of sweat covered my face as I heard a pop, and pain lanced across my shoulders as they dislocated. Twisting them around, my wrists landed in my lap, and with a wet satisfying snap, I popped them back into their sockets.
I waited for the soreness to recede then went to work. Grasping the compass, I pulled it apart, twisting the glass casing from the front and removing the steel point needle. I chuckled. Using the needle I twisted and picked my way through the manacles. Moments later, my restraints laid on the floor around me. After using similar methods on the brig lock, I placed the needle back in the compass, sealed it, and kissed it. Thanks, mother.
The night air was cool against my abused body as I ascended the wooden steps from the brig. It was a perfect night for some mischief.
Silently, I tiptoed down the deck, a trail of gun powder streaming behind from the barrel in my arms. With a flare, I finished with a small pile, laid aside the barrel, produced a tinder twig, and lit the powder. It sparked and raced off down the planks as I walked away. Then I found myself being lifted unceremoniously into the air. “What are you doing out here?” Whispered a familiar voice.
I turned in the air toward the swarthy lad who held me by my shirt, “I’m blowing up the ship. What are you doing?”
“No, I mean, why aren’t you in the bri- what?” At that point one of the first cannons went off. Funny thing about cannons, you can point them in almost any direction. For instance? Down. Perhaps the center of the ship.
The lad glanced up at the resulting crash of wood and fire. Reaching down I grabbed a knife from his belt and placed the point against his naval. That got his attention. “You have near ten seconds to get to a row boat. I suggest you move.” The boy started to run and I shifted the knife toward the groin, “Don’t do that, running will attract attention. Walk. It’s like what my mother said: ‘if you can’t walk away from your own explosion, then you’re doing it wrong.’” The lad nodded, eyes wide, and sweat racing his collar as he expediently walked to the dingy.
We descended on the small boat and the lad started rowing us away. I watched the ship. Cannon balls tore through its innards, first through the crew’s quarters, then the cabin, then the steering, and many other vulnerable bits and bobs ships happened to possess. The finale was something quite special. With a squeal of wood and a blossom of heat, the middle of the ship blew skyward in a cloud of fiery shrapnel. It broke down the middle, caving in, and slowly sank into the waves, steam hissing as the fires submerged.
The lad slowed his frantic rowing, starting to calm down from the fiery escape. I tossed his knife back to him. “What are you doing here, boy? You know, what’s your name? Would make things easier.”
He sheathed the blade, “Sol. I stowed away, was going to break you out and claim the bounty.”
I nodded. “And how is that working for you, Sol?”
“I got us off the ship didn’t I?”
“Correction, I got us off the ship. You’re just along for the ride.”
He glared, “Oh yeah? Well what’s to stop me from rowing your sorry skin back to Port Peril to be tried?”
“I don’t need nearly as much explosives to blow up the dingy.”
He looked taken aback. “You’re joking.”
I glanced at the wreckage of the sunken ship. “Do I look like I possess a sense of humor?”
We sat there in silence, the statement hanging in the air as he rowed. He finally spoke, resignation dripping from his words, “I’m not in control of this at all, am I?”
I leaned against the edge of the dingy. “Happens to all of us, Sol.” I sat up, spotting something over his shoulder. “Like right now.” Sol looked back and saw what I saw. His skin paled visibly and he began rowing faster. The good it will do him.
One thing that made The Shackles the place it is today is a something called the Eye of Abendego. A giant perpetual hurricane rooted to one spot. The Eye without warning spawns children to do as natural disasters are wont to do. Thunder rumbled, winds began picking up, and savage waves tore at our meager vessel. The hurricane quickly caught and devoured us.