(Illustrations by Stephen Fabian, from N4 Treasure Hunt)
The ship lurched in the storm for hours without end. The forward hold was devoid of all light, the noise deafening. Four desperate souls lay shackled to their bunks in that darkness, each in their own private agony.
All at once, the crashing sound of the waves was drowned out by a tremendous crash which caused the entire ship to shudder – she must have run aground.
Shortly came the sound of snapping spars and a great crash which could only have been the mast coming down. The prisoners were thrown forward, but were rooted to the spot by their shackles, bringing fresh agony to bruised and chafing wrists.
The impact shattered the ship’s bow, tearing it away entirely and allowing a sharp blast of cold air and rain into the hold. A great boulder ground against the port side of the ship, buckling one of the bunks as the ship ground to a halt.
Then there was only the sound of fierce wind and pounding surf, and the sight of rain-pounded beach outside of the open bow.
The prisoners – three women and one man, all human – took a few moments to catch their breath. One, a petite blond woman shackled to the buckled bunk, saw that the plate anchoring her in place had been loosened by the impact. She tried to work it free, but it was hard to gain leverage in this position.
“I don’t deserve this,” she announced. “My daddy will punish whoever’s responsible for this.”
“None of us deserve this,” replied the tall, dark-haired woman to her right. “And unless your father’s got a crystal ball, I don’t think he’s punishing anybody.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“No, I don’t even know who you are.”
“My name is Eilir Stormweather,” the fair-haired woman said, still struggling with her chains. “Ronan Stormweather is my father, Miss….?”
“Miss Alistina, I promise you, when my daddy finds out what’s happened to me, these slavers will wish they were never born.” The plate budged a bit, and Eilir gave an excited squeak, then went back to pouting.
“We’d be better off,” said Alistina, “if someone could reach those keys.”
The ring which held the keys to all the shackles hung from a hook near the hatch to the deck. The man, large and well-tanned, with a mat of unkempt, sun-bleached hair, was closest to the keys. Eilir favored him with a dirty look. “Don’t you know to help a damsel in distress?” Eilir demanded.
“Sorry, miss,” said the man, “but I cain’t reach, and I cain’t budge this here bunk.” He tried to damage the bunk with a kick, but the damage was minimal.
“You’re no help, sirrah.”
“Don’t know from sirrah, miss. Name’s Zeke.”
But Eilir was already complaining again and missed these words.
Alistina ignored them and concentrated until silvery radiance surrounded her. She aimed a bolt of energy at her shackles, but failed to put more than a scratch on them. Zeke turned from arguing with Eilir to watch this display with awe.
Furious with the interruption, Eilir yanked on the chains once more, and the plate tore free, causing her to fall over backwards with a shout. Within moments, she held the keyring in her hands; she freed herself, then released Zeke and Alistina.
The third woman, a tough-looking blond with an olive complexion, simply said “Thank you” when Eilir came to unlock her shackles. Before Eilir could say anything else, the woman stood up, scooped up a chunk of debris that might serve as a club, and moved to the broken bow of the ship for a peek at the beach.
“Careful, miss,” warned Zeke.
Alistina said “He’s right. We don’t know what’s out there.”
The woman’s blue eyes swept over the others. “That’s what I plan to find out, comrades.”
“Comrades?” Eilir blinked rapidly. “Who do you think you are, some kind of soldier?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Name’s Theronna.”
Theronna missed Eilir’s reply as she turned her attention back to the beach, seeing a dull gray sky, a cliff wall rising forty feet or more, and a figure staggering up and down the beach some thirty feet away.
“Hafkris,” she growled.
The half-orc slaver who had made their time in the hold such hell stumbled around the beach like a drunken soldier on parade, singing off-color chanteys. He was armed with a longsword and clad in studded leather armor; the prisoners wore only rags, with no cloaks or boots, and only improvised clubs for weapons.
After some discussion, the prisoners came up with a plan to get past the slaver. Eilir summoned an obscuring mist, which Hafkris dismissed as a trick of the miserable weather. The four then tried to sneak past him, losing all sight in the fog, only to hear the rasp of a sword being drawn.
“Who goes there!” demanded Hafkris.
Alistina scorched the slaver with another burst of heavenly light. Zeke tried to pin him to the ground, but misjudged the slaver’s position and gave his own away in the process, resulting in a vicious slash to Zeke’s side. Eilir struck the half-orc with a magic missile, and Alistina broke his shoulder with her club moments before Zeke brought his weapon crashing down on Hafkris’s skull. After a dull crunch, the half-orc’s body fell to the sand, dead.
Zeke’s body shook as he stared down at Hafkris’s corpse. Suddenly he crumpled to the ground and retched what little his belly held onto the beach, only barely aware of Alistina casting a healing spell upon him. The women stripped Hafkris of his armor and started putting it on Alistina; Theronna claimed his longsword.
He looked up to see Eilir holding the slaver’s dagger and sneering at him, saying “Guess not all men can be manly as my daddy.”
“It ain’t that,” Zeke replied. “I know he deserved it. He had devil in ‘im. But I ain’t never killed nobody.”
“Killing’s part of life out here,” Alistina said, pulling on Hafkris’s boots although they were far too big for her feet. “It ain’t pretty, but it was him or us. You’ll be all right.”
Zeke eventually picked himself up and looked toward the ship. Scourge read the ship’s name plate, sticking out of the remains of the bow. The mast lay across the deck, blocking the hatch to the forward hold, but the hatch to the aft hold looked free, even though that section of the ship still lay half in the water. There was no sign of anyone else.
It was clear to all that the ship would provide no shelter from the weather. After some discussion, Zeke and Eilir climbed aboard the ship to investigate the aft hold, while Alistina and Theronna explored the beach.
The bottom of the hold was swamped with seawater, and there was no sign of the dress Eilir wanted to find so badly, but they found a crossbow and a small floating chest which contained two books and a stack of papers.
“My spellbook!” Eilir exclaimed, snatching it from Zeke’s hands. “Now I can prepare some spells to help us in case you can’t. Daddy’d make a man out of ya, though you do look pretty strong…”
She looked away when Zeke glanced up at her. “Just my luck,” he grumbled as they climbed out of the hold, “to git marooned on a deserted island with three hardened, bloodthirsty women.”
The four of them – once prisoners, now castaways – regrouped on the beach and followed the cliff wall to its lowest point, climbed up, and got their first good look at the island.
They saw hills in every direction, roughest to the west, a bit flatter in the east, and no sign of shelter or settlements in any direction. There was little green to be found; the island looked lifeless except for some common, practically indestructible growth.
They headed west.
- – - – -
Some time later, they were passing between two hills when Theronna (who had taken the lead) held up a hand, stopping the others. She led them to the top of the hill on the left, where they peered over some boulders to see a battle going on in the ravine below.
Six orcs fought a dozen goblins; they also saw a scrawny old human tied up behind the orc line, craning to see the fight for himself. Agreeing to help the old man, the castaways climbed down and around the hill, reaching him without drawing the attention of the combatants.
“Help me!” the old man whispered. “Get me out of here!”
Eilir used her dagger to slice through his ropes, and the old man jumped up and led them away from the battle in a flash of bony knees and elbows. In a few moments, they were well out of sight of the battle. Once sure they were clear, the old man said “Yer the first human faces I’ve seen in more years’n I can remember, it’s true. What’re ye doin’ here?”
“We were captured by pirates, then we were shipwrecked. I’m Zeke.” Zeke found that shaking the old man’s hand was like holding a bundle of twigs.
“Do you have a name?” asked Alistina.
“Name’s Osric. Haven’t needed it in a long time; least I can still remember it.”
“And where are we going?” asked Theronna. “Is there somewhere we can hide, or get out of the rain?”
“Sure, sure. Follow me, I’ll take ya t’a safe place and tell ya all about himself, Viledel the Sea-King.”