Shaun Kilgore

  • As though the mere thought conjured him, Roderick came up beside her

    The Quandary

    by Shaun Kilgore

    2

    Venik guided the Fairweather into the harbor, changing course several times to squeeze between various merchant vessels anchored here and there. The port city of Theras rose up on a series of hills from the water’s edge. The whitewashed buildings gleamed in the bright sunlight. Mariah stood near the rail, arms crossed beneath her breasts, teeth gritted, as they sailed closer. Ordinarily, she would be taking in the breathtaking sight of the city. But she was distracted and knew it was a bad idea to be so when they were about to enter the crazed atmosphere of commerce that made Theras the crown jewel of the Caprian Sea.

     Mariah left the top deck and wandered among the crew, catching snatches of excited conversations about what the members of her crew planned to do when they went ashore. Theras was their major stop in that region and she had intended to stay in the city for a few days while they resupplied. Everyone needed the break from the ship’s clockwork routine. Mariah realized she did too.

    Besides there are a few things I need to deal with, she thought. Roderick, chief among them.

    As though the mere thought conjured him, Roderick came up beside her as she walked the deck. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

    Mariah glanced out the corner of her eye. Roderick kept pace with his arms clasped behind his back. “Now’s not the time. We’ll be finding berth soon.”

    Roderick put his hand on her arm. “Mariah. Please. I think I know….”

    Mariah felt her face warm and her gaze darted around at the others working around them. She pitched her voice low. “Don’t. Not here. It’s not proper. I’m the captain first. The crew do not need to know my personal business.”

    Roderick sighed, removing his hand. “Fine. Mariah, I don’t see the need for this dancing about, but fine.”

    “Roderick, I will need you to help with offloading the cargo. I will also need you to speak with the dockmaster about some cargo we will be securing.”

    “As you say, Captain Hand.” Roderick’s tone was faintly brittle. He gave a hasty salute then stalked off towards the bow’s cargo access hatch.

    Mariah stifled a curse and spund around, heading back to the top deck. Venik was still there at the helm, his gazed fixed on the docks ahead, his brow furrowed in concentration. She came up and took a position next to him, but kept silent while her thoughts churned in her head. There she remained until the ship was readying to moor in one of the numbered berths. Mariah returned to her cabin to collect the manifest and her coin pouch. After a some hesitation, she slipped the slender, curved dagger into her belt.

    Once the Fairweather was secure, Roderick and the others opened the cargo hatch and began to draw up the crates and casks that were to be delivered to clients in Theras. Everything became routine and Mariah felt more at ease. The gangplank was descended to the pier below. The whole wharf was bustling with crews from various ships loading and unloading cargo from their vessels. Mariah noted the smattering of locals who bore all the marks of those seeking passage aboard those ships willing to take on passengers. She took them on from time to time herself—or she at least she hand until Alric Chamberlin and his niece Atalia.

    “I hate sorcery,” muttered Mariah.

    Once the cargo was removed from the Fairweather, Roderick came back aboard. He came up to Mariah, but held back a pace. He was still annoyed. She could tell that much. The sour twist of mouth was enough to kindle her own anger. Mariah battered the feelings away and handed Roderick the writ he would need to provide to the dockmaster.

    “Remember to get all of the paperwork for the new cargo. I’d prefer to secure it aboard the Fairweather before we release the crew for shore leave.”

    Roderick looked at her a moment, his face suddenly softening. “I’m sorry, Mariah. You do know I appreciate you taking me on… despite what happened.”

    She was caught off guard, a lumping swelling in her throat. “Yes, I know.”

    With that, he bowed slightly and set off down the gangplank and disappeared into the crowd. Mariah took a breath and tried to concentrate on delivering the cargo to her customers and getting paid. But her thoughts kept circling back to those blue eyes peering into her soul.

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • It was no longer a distant threat. This was creeping close

    Going the Social Distance

    by Shaun Kilgore

    It was a small, distant thing at first. There was barely a whisper on my Facebook feed. A few people talking about a sickness—no, a virus—spreading through China. A place that might as well have been another world. Beyond the typical social media, I saw a few articles making appearances on the online and television news media outlets.

    The illness, caused by a bug in the coronavirus family, became know simply as the ‘Coronavirus’ by most of those same news sources. At first, it wasn’t taken very seriously here in the United States. People made light of the fact that it shared a name with the popular brand of Mexican beer and the jokes and the memes abounded in all the social media threads. I chuckled along with my friends at this while still keeping an eye on the developments.

    As the days stretched into weeks, the coverage began to change. The tone abroad certainly changed as the news reports tried to convey the seriousness of how the virus was spreading in China and how it had began to spread beyond that country and to others all over Asia and beyond. The local governments struggled to control the spread of the virus, taking various measures. Quarantines were implemented, restrictions in gatherings, then the closing of public spaces, including restaurants and shops, were reported in countries in Europe—especially Italy.

    Still, being in North America, I felt somewhat removed from the dangers. Life continued to operate as it always had. I traveled as I liked. I got groceries at the grocery store, shopped elsewhere, ate at my favorite restaurants, and visited my local bar to spend time with my friends. Still, no one was taking it that seriously. But a few were becoming mildly concerned. Then the first cases appeared in the western states like Washington.

    I felt a little more concern myself, but still. There weren’t any cases where I lived, in the Midwest. But that reprieve didn’t last very long. The city of Chicago and the counties of northern Illinois declared confirmed cases of the coronavirus—which the media was now calling COVID-19.

    It was no longer a distant threat. This was creeping closer and closer to where I lived and to where my children lived. The discussions about measures to contain the outbreak were being discussed by pundits and reporters on U.S. media networks and in the op-eds and articles of their online counterparts. The medical experts were chiming in and the Presidential administration was rolling out a rather confusing if not incompetent response to the looming threat. It became clear to me that things were going to get worse, but I didn’t want to admit it.

    I guess my friends were the same. We tried to talk lightly about what were just rumors at the time. There were all sorts from the reasoned to the ridiculous. As has been the case, social media provided a place for genuine and legitimate discussion of the issues of public health and safety, economics, and societal response to the progress of the coronavirus. But it just as easily devolved into all manner of conspiracy theorizing, fear-mongering, ugliness, and dangerous half-truths.

    My world was changing around me. It was changing for us all.

    The cases of the virus spread from state to state across the nation. Measures that once seemed unbelievable or something that happened in other, distant places were now beginning to happen here in my home. More and more individuals were quarantined. Whole communities followed. I became familiar with a new term, social distancing just as it was beginning to impact my personal life and those of my friends.

    Given the rate of the virus’s transmission, federal and state governments were forced to enforce more measures to limit exposure and, hopefully, slow the spread. Even as I write this from my home, my entire state is under a ‘stay-at-home’ order. Many businesses have shuttered. Restaurants are closed to dine-ins, but are eeking by through carry out and delivery services. ‘Essential services’ like hospitals, grocers, fuel stations, and law enforcement are still in operation to make sure society doesn’t totally unravel. My favorite bar has closed like all the rest and I realize how important that social interaction had become. I’d made new friends along the way and they were suffering as I was from the simple act of not sharing a drink in the friendly surroundings.

    We humans being the social animals that we are have tried to combat the alienness of social distancing by reaching out more through social media and sharing new and old experiences alike. We’re trying to get by, all of us. I know that, fundamentally, the very thing that saves us might also kill us. We have to stay away from one another when we’d rather embrace one another. The isolation and the loneliness that result can be devastating.

    It can truly feel like we are all alone, like solitary islands in an endless, turbulent sea. But, John Donne’s poem rings true to day even as it has for the last four centuries:

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man

    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

    because I am involved in mankind.

    And therefore never send to know for whom

    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    All of us, we need each other, you know. We are a part of each other, effecting and influences each other in every way. Though we often ignore this deep truth, it remains true regardless. Our love for each other must work more powerfully and more freely when the simple act of touch can give that awful virus a foothold in our lives—or worse harm those we care about. I try and I do what I can to remember you. Do try to remember me. We are in this together.

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • “And he did save your life,” Venik added.

    The Quandary

    by Shaun Kilgore

    1

    Bright open skies and fair winds drew the merchant sloop, the Fairweather, across the Caprian Sea, towards the the second of three stops among the Melari Islands. At the helm, Captain Mariah Hand luriated in the balmy breeze of the south, a contented smile playing on her lips.

    “Venik, what is the newest member of our crew doing at the moment?”

    A burly man with close-shaven hair but a unruly beard grunted then stepped up beside her. “He’s helping Marlen and Elayna to separate the cargo that we’ll offload in Theras.”

    Mariah nodded. “Good. Any complaints?”

    Venik stroked his beard a moment. “I suppose not, Captain. He’s an adequate sailor and we both know he has a head for numbers.” He stopped short of saying something.

    Mariah caught his hesitation. “Something more?”

    Venik sighed. “Are you sure about him, Captain. Given what he did—what he almost did—I was surprised you welcomed him to the crew.”

    “Well, there weren’t many options at the time. His ship and fellow crewmen were killed. He was alone in the middle of the ocean.”

    “And he did save your life,” Venik added.

    Mariah’s eyes flashed and she gave the man a sharp look. “Yes. That too.” After a moment, she said, “Venik, take the helm.”

    “Aye, Captain.”

    Mariah flexed her fingers, brushed at her wavy red locks, then descended from the top deck. She walked across the Fairweather’s main deck until she came to the hatch and took the rungs below decks. In the hall, she encountered members of the crew busy about their duties. They knuckled their foreheads and she spared a word or two to each, while making way towards the bow and the ship’s cargo hold. Though she was several paces away, she could hear a distinctive laugh. When she came to the door, she found Marlen and Elayna doubled over trying to catch their breaths.

    Roderick was smiling broadly, his eyes glistening in the lantern light. He nodded in Mariah’s direction. “Ah, Captain Hand. Did you come to check up on me?”

    The other crewmen gaped and choked off their laughter. They stood up straight and saluted her. “Captain,” they spoke in unison.

    “Is all ready for our arrival in Theras?” Mariah asked. Her face was smooth.

    “Uh, aye, Captain,” blurted out Marlen.

    “Good,” said Mariah. “You and Elayna can go above now. I’m sure you’ll find something to do.” The crewmen jumped into motion and left Mariah alone with Roderick. For a moment the two of them just stood there, not talking, not moving.

    “So? I do something wrong?” Roderick tried to keep his face straight but the infernal grin appeared more than once.

    Mariah rolled her eyes and unclenched her hands. “Apparently, you’re doing well with your new duties aboard the Fairweather. If you’ve gotten Venik’s grudging approval, that means something to me.”

    Roderick bowed his head then looked up at Mariah. “I’ll certainly consider that high praise indeed, Captain Hand. But there is something else.” He pointed at her. “I know it.”

    Mariah frowned. Her stomach was twisting. Ever since their paths had crossed again three weeks ago, she had struggled with her feelings fror Roderick. Having him in such close quarters complicated matters considerably.

    “Yes… there is.” Mariah pursed her lips.

    Roderick took a step closer. His blue eyes searched hers. “What?”

    At that moment, a cry raised from the hall behind her. “Captain! Theras has been sighted on the horizon.”

    Mariah cleared her throat. “Thank you, Daris.”

    The young woman knuckled her forehead. “Aye, Captain Hand.”

    When she was gone, Mariah gave Roderick a last look then said, “We’ll have to talk about this later.” She left the cargo hold.


    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • “You… you saved me,” said Mariah slowly.

    Tempest Tossed

    by Shaun Kilgore

    5

    Mariah awoke with a start. Her blurry vision took a moment to resolve itself. She realized where she was: her cabin aboard the Fairweather. She looked down at herself. All seemed sound and intact. No broken bones. She was a mass of bruises and sore muscles but otherwise fine.

    “Ah, you’re awake.”

    Mariah blinked. There, sitting on a bench next to her bunk, was Roderick. His brown hair was partially covered with a hasty bandage but he brandished that infuriating smile of his.

    “I’m glad. I was worried when I pulled you out of the water.”

    “You… you saved me,” said Mariah slowly.

    Roderick bowed his head, not meeting her gaze. He let out a long sigh.

    “Yes.” He stood up and came to kneel beside her. His eyes were red and watery. “I was terrified, Mariah. The thought that I might lose you forever was unbearable.” He reached out and took her hand. She didn’t shove it away. Roderick was shaking his head. “I am so sorry. Sorry for everything. Sorry for the past and for the present too. I was such a fool to leave. I didn’t trust you, Mariah. I didn’t trust anyone. Please forgive me for that.”

    The words were like a strike to the face. But, Mariah, really believed him. All of the pain of their parting, the betrayal, it came rushing back to her—and she was angry all over again. Yet fate had brought them back to one another. It was once more chance to set things right.

    Mariah’s eyes flooded with tears. She reached out and clutched Roderick’s hand. “I… I… forgive you.”

    Roderick smiled and slumped a little in relief. He looked at her again, his blue eyes flashing. “I’m so glad you do.”

    Mariah’s attention shifted. “What about your ship?”

    “It’s gone. The storm took her and all aboard.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    Roderick shrugged.

    There was a knock at the door.

    “Come,” said Mariah.

    Venik stepped inside. “Captain?”

    Mariah’s face split in a happy grin. “You made it through, Venik. Thank the gods.”

    “Aye, Captain.” Venik knuckled his forehead.

    Another thing occurred to Mariah. “What of Chamberlin and his niece?”

    “They are resting in their cabin.”

    Mariah let out a shaky breath. “The sooner we get those two off my ship, the better. How bad is the damage to the Fairweather?”

    “Surprisingly enough, it’s minimal,” said Venik. “We need about a day to make repairs to the rigging and we’ll be ready to depart.”

    “Good. Thank you, Venik.”

    The crewman left and Mariah looked at Roderick. “Want to join my crew?”

    Roderick smirked. “Yes, I think I might.”

    Mariah nodded. “Good. Let’s talk about that… and maybe a few other things.”

    “Aye, Captain,” said Roderick.

    Mariah burst out laughing.

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by: Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • After a time—how long Mariah did not know

    Tempest Tossed

    by Shaun Kilgore

    4

    The winds grew stronger and both ships were pounded by the now turbulent sea. The wave battered them and shoved them against each other with a sickening crunch. Mariah fought to keep her footing. Roderick was there to steady her, his fingers lingering a moment. Then he took a step back.

    The winds wailed and frothing waters flooded the Fairweather’s deck. The sails flapped as lines snapped and the rigging groaned under the onslaught. The larger pirate ship fared far worse. The wind and waves seemed to be dragging its onto its side as a great whirlpool took shape around them both. The Fairweather was pulled in, but remained on the edge as the seas roiled. The helm was spinning freely and everyone was struggling not to get swept overboard. They were at the mercy of this unnatural storm.

    After a time—how long Mariah did not know—she felt someone touch her. Over the keening roar of the storm she could barely make out what Roderick was saying. Mariah strained, trying to catch a glimpse of Atalia but the water stung her eyes terribly. For some minutes she just clung to the rail. Roderick was not far away straining hold on too. Up and down the ship pitched as it was hurled around the whirlpool in the midst of the tempest. All thoughts but one were ripped away: survive.

    Debris was crashing down around her. She looked up just as a large piece of rigging came right at her. She had no time to react. It struck her hard, tossing her into the air as it swung out away from the ship. She screamed but her voice was lost in the storm. Seconds later, she flew free and hit the water. The impact stunned Mariah and she slipped beneath the waves. Her body rolled and plunged into the depths as the storm continued above her. She tried to claw her way to the surface but the current was too strong and she was weakening by the moment. Her heart was thundering with panic even as her lungs burned with need to breathe.

    Suddenly she broke the surface, gasping for breathe while she tried to get her bearings. She could see nothing in the darkened seas. She tread water just trying to stay above the water, but she was soon struggling. Mariah realized it wouldn’t be long now before she slipped away.

    A bolt of lightning lit up the sky above her, revealing a dark shape towering over her. It took Mariah a moment to realize it was a ship. The thunder rumbled above her and another flash showed her it was the Fairweather. She extended her arm.

    “Help! I’m here!” Her throat was hoarse from salt water. She couldn’t tell if her voice carried. Her strength was failing, her head throbbing and mind buzzing.

    “Mariah!”

    It was Roderick’s voice, Mariah realized. The next moment, she slipped below the water again, and sank into the deep where the darkness and close closed in around her.

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by: Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • “You betrayed me then… and you betray me again.”

    Tempest Tossed

    3

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Chamberlin reached out and grabbed Mariah’s arm. She frowned but then looked closer at the man. He was skaking and his eyes were wide with unmistakable fear. “Please, Captain Hand. You cannot let these pirates have what I’ve brought aboard. It is of inestimable value and, in truth it may be dangerous if it should fall into wrong hands.”

    “What are you talking about, Master Chamberlin. You brought no cargo aboard. Only passage for yourself and your niece, if I’m not mistaken. Surely, your fancy baubles can be replaced. You’re certainly not short on funds to purchase them. And the only danger I can see if you refuse to give these men what they want.”

    Chamberline shook his head. “No, no. It is dangerous. She is dangerous! What I mean to say is—” His words were cut off by Roderick’s arrival. The man had climbed down a ladder to reach the Fairweather’s deck.

    He smiled as he approached, sparing a moment’s attention for Alric Chamberlin who retreated from the top deck, pleading silently as he fled.  Four more pirates accompanied Roderick to the Fairweather, each armed with swords and pistols, their grim expressions bearing assurances that they were more than willing to use them.

    He stopped a few paces away, his gaze direct. “Mariah. If you could retrieve a copy of the manifest, and assure me that your crew and passengers will cooperate, this should be a simple matter and we’ll be on our way before you know it.” There was a slight catch in his voice as his eyes locked with hers. Mariah felt her throat tighten, but ground her teeth and hardened her face.

    “If you insist. Venik. Go to my cabin and retrieve the manifest for our guests.”

    Venik saluted. “Aye, Captain.”

    Mariah watched him go then turned all of her anger on Roderick. “How dare you do this! After what happened… after what we had.” Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. “You betrayed me then… and you betray me again. I hope it’s worth it Roderick.”

    The man’s earlier bravado faded for a moment. “I… I… it’s more complicated than that and you know it. Mariah, this is what I must do to survive.”

    “No, Roderick. It is what you choose to do. You could have stayed… with me.”

    Roderick grinned, but spoke softer. “It’s a wonderful dream, Mariah.” His voice grew louder again. “But, this is the reality now. He beckoned the pirates. “Quickly. I want three of you to start gathering up the other valuables while we wait for the manifest. Don’t do any harm unless you’re forced.”

    The men nodded and set off across the deck.

    Venik soon returned, the rolled patchment that contained the ship’s manifest gripped in his hand. He came up next to Mariah and handed her the document. “Thank you, Venik.”

    Venik nodded, giving Roderick a dark frown before stepping back. Mariah unfurled the parchment and glanced over the neat columns of precise handwriting. The cargo was small but still costly. It would be a terrible loss. She would be lucky if her trade business recovered at all. She brushed angry tears from her cheeks and handed the manifest to Roderick.

    “Damn you, Roderick.”

    Just as he was about to reply, a shrill scream rose.

    “What the devil…?”

    Mariah came to the railing just as a figure burst from the door that led below decks. It was the other passenger, Chamberlin’s niece, Atalia. The dark-haired girl was followed by one of the pirates. She was clutching something protectively in her hands. Chamberlin himself appeared next, heaving for breath.

    “Stop! Don’t try to take it from her! Please, stop!”

    Roderick came up beside Mariah. “What’s happening? Didn’t I say no problems?”

    Below them, Atalia screamed again as she reached the railing. She spun around and faced the pirate, who was advancing with his sword drawn. Chamberlin tried to squeeze past, but other man waved him back. As Mariah watched something happened.

    Atalia looked up so her face caught the sunlight. Slowly she lifted her hands and the light caught the flicker of something shiny. The next moment, the deck of the Fairweather trembled.

    Roderick and Mariah exchanged looks.

    “What was that?”

    Mariah looked again at the girl. Her face grew slack—and the wind began to blow, and the skies filled with dark storm clouds that churned round and round.

    “This isn’t good,” Mariah said.

    “What do you mean,” asked Roderick.

    She pointed to the clouds and to the winds that buffeted the sails.

    “Sorcery!”

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • Mariah dropped her head. “It’s too late for that. They’ve got us.”

    Tempest Tossed

    by Shaun Kilgore

    2

    The pirate vessel was surging at full sail, aiming to intercept the Fairweather before it could alter course or flee. Mariah cursed. “They must have sighted us farther out and waited to ambush.”

    “Do we flee?”

    Mariah dropped her head. “It’s too late for that. They’ve got us. There’s no way we can outrun them at this point. Besides if we tried, they would blast us out of the water with those cannons.”

    As the ship came closer, she could make out the figures moving about on deck. It was twice the size of the Fairweather. As she looked on, sounds of loud indignant voices rose from the deck below.

    “What is the meaning of this? Pirates! I cannot believe it.”

    Mariah gritted her teeth. The source of the commotion, her passenger—a rich merchant named Alric Chamberlin clambered up to the top deck and planted himself a few feet from Mariah. She caught the angry look Venik threw at the pompous merchant but Chamberlin didn’t seem to notice.

    “Is it true Captain Hand. There are pirates about?”

    Annoyed, Mariah jabbed her finger towards the other ship now coming alongside the Fairweather. “See for yourself Master Chamberlin!”

    The fool gasped as his eyes widened. He seemed to notice the hulking pirate vessel for the first time. “Oh my good heavens. What do we do Captain? You do plan to repel, don’t you? My cargo cannot fall into the hands of such devils.”

    Mariah started laughing. “Are you mad? Repel them? We barely have the men to fend them off let alone the weapons. No, Master Chamberlin. We surrender and pray that they just take our money and cargo and leave our skins intact.”

    The color drained from Alric Chamberlin’s face. His voice was small and pinched. “I… I see.”

    As the pirate ship settled next to Fairweather, one of the men aboard came to railing and leaned over. Mariah glared up at him and cursed again. She knew him. Her anger rose and she had to stop from grabbing the dagger she wore at her hip. Despite her rage, the man’s insufferable grin did not waver.

    “Ah, I thought it was the Fairweather. How have you been Mariah?”

    “Damn you, Roderick! Damn you to the depths. How dare you come at me this way?”

    “It’s nice to see you too,” Roderick called back, hands up held up. “It’s not as though I did it on purpose my dear. We do have a business to run after all and, well, we cannot afford to let go of prize like a trade ship such as the Fairweather.”

    Mariah snorted. “Business you say? You’re just a bunch of mangy pirates; common thieves and nothing more.”

    Roderick pressed his hand against his chest just above his heart. “I’m hurt Mariah.”

    “Do you think it wise to antagonize him, Captain?”

    Mariah forgot Chamberlin was standing there. She closed her eyes to compose herself. She was letting her emotions get the best of her—her feelings for Roderick exposed like they were brand new.

    “Mariah, my Captain bids me to come aboard and settle our business,” Roderick called down.

    There were no other options. She slowly nodded. “Yes! Come aboard!”

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

  • The woman, Elayna, jabbed eastward just as the ship came around

    Tempest Tossed

    by Shaun Kilgore

    1

    The winds buffeted the ship as it plied the narrow spaces between the chain of islets. The rigging was close-hauled, wildly forcing the crew to make last minute adjustments to the sails just so they wouldn’t collide with the rocky specks of land. Just behind the helm, a tall imposing woman stood solidly while the deck gently tilted side to side. Arms crossed, she had a stern but shrewd look on her weathered face. She wore breeches like a man and a loose, flowing shirt that was cinched closed by a snug vest that pushed her chest up. The woman had a wild mane of reddish blonde hair that flowed in the breeze and eyes like sparkling emeralds.

    “Adjust the heading by twenty degrees, north by northeast, Venik.” She barked the order and the hulking sailer manning the helm obeyed.

    “Aye, Captain. North by northeast.

    The woman, Capitain Mariah Hand, nodded her approval.

    They had been skirting the archipelago for two days and she’d finally given way to the demands of her passengers to make better time. After all, there were appointments in the port of Rothchild that must be kept. Mariah decided the risks were worth the gain. Her passengers were the wealthy sort and the thought of full coffers was a pleasant one.

    She glanced from Venik to the crew, either at work across the Fairweather’s deck or aloft in the rigging. Mariah had faith in them. They been through tougher spots in the past. She craned her neck up. The skies were dotted with wispy clouds and the winds were steady. It was a fine day. Not a storm cloud to be seen.

    But, Mariah felt a familiar itch between her shoulder blades. It was a feeling—an intuition maybe—but something the seasoned captain had learned to pay heed to over the years. Mariah was on her guard.

    “Keep your eyes open, Venik.”

    The sailor knuckled his forehead, but gave her a searching look. “Think there’s trouble brewing, Captain?”

    Vigilance might make all the difference, she thought. Mariah shrugged. “Just be wary, Venik. Got a feeling. Might be nothing at all. But still…”

    “I follow,” said Venik.

    The Fairweather sailed on through the islets for a better part of the day. Mariah’s earlier concerns started to seem just over-precaution. They reached the last of the islets in the archipelago, the largest of the lot in fact. Some were almost proper islands with small pebbly sand beaches, but not much else besides tall crags that rose from sea.

    As the Fairweather neared one the larger islands, Mariah got a cold chill that prickled her skin. She stood up straighter. The ship’s course brought it up close to the landmass so that it’s jagged shadow fell across them. There was nothing noticably wrong. Nothing to explain her intuition’s cry.

    Venik piloted the Fairweather around the island, slowly rounding its coastline. Mariah waited with baited breath. Her hands were clenched. The cold prickling was beginning to burn her skin.

    “Look!”

    The cry of the crewman aloft jerked her head upward. The woman, Elayna, jabbed eastward just as the ship came around and entered a small harbor. Another ship was sailing straight at them, twice again the size of the Fairweather. On its main mast a black banner flapped in the wind. It was emblazoned with a white X.

    Venik gaped. “Pirates, Captain Hand. Bloody pirates!”

    “Damn,” said Mariah. “I knew it!”

    by Shaun Kilgore

    Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.


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