Isaak stood naked in front of the window and felt the cool sea breeze tingle his hung over body. Nothing felt better than fresh air when his head pounded away and the floor swayed underneath him. As the captain of a Wanderer caravel, he was used to the floor moving, but there was something unnatural about this swaying. Almost as though he no longer had any sense of balance or the entire world was pitching and yawing just to fuck with his senses. He took a deep breath of air to stabilize himself.
The hustle and bustle of Syrenthal’s harbor had barely started today, but traders and servants were already out in the streets. Isaak had requested this room because of this view. You could never be too cautious in a Sorian city, especially these days, so even just the view of his ship reassured him. No soldiers stood posted around its gangway and none of his crew had hoisted the flag signaling trouble. It may have been a small ship by Wrenian, Sorian or Wanderer standard, but The Redemption was his and no one was going to take that away from him.
A groan from the bed in his room made him turn around. One of the two serving girls stirred in his bed. Isaak grinned as he remembered the night that had passed. He had bragged all night about his crew’s latest salvage. An Imperial Sorian ship had simply been abandoned by its crew of fifty sailors and left all its cargo for The Redemption outside of The Black Marshes. He was sure his use of horns to imitate the leviathans had nothing to do with it. It was simply a stroke of luck he happened upon this abandoned ship. That was at least what he had told the merchants who had gladly paid him for the cargo. The red headed girl let an arm fold around the blonde girl in bed with her. Isaak tried to remember their names, but the drink had drowned that as well as what version he had told them of his venture. The blonde had an Ismarkian name, but he could not for the life of him recall what it was. All he could remember was how her hips had swayed when walking towards him.
A knock at the door made the red head look up. “Isaak!” The voice of his quartermaster Dina cut through the peace like a knife and he knew his peaceful morning was over. “I know you are in there, you Wrenian mongrel. We all saw you leave with Sarah and Gunrud last night.” Those were their names. He had to remember to thank his second later. “Get your pants on and meet me downstairs, you bloodless whoremonger.” The Wanderer had a sharp tongue. Being raised on an all male ship had done that to her. She swore worse than any man in his crew and she loved the drink even more.
The Wrenian pulled his pants on while the girls stirred in his bed. Their matron, Maja, did not mind who they spent their night with as long as they were on time to start serving the first meal of the day. He winked at them and they both giggled as he rushed out while grabbing his belt with his sword hanging from it. The blonde threw his shirt after him. “Thank you, captain Isaak,” they both said as he shut the door.
The top floor of The Red Bird Tavern was filled with small living quarters, mostly for rent by Wanderer captains and their crews. Captains often got to hire single quarters while the crew would bunk together. This made a welcome change from the cutter where the crew and captain shared the cargo hold as sleeping quarters. Isaak stretched and yawned as he descended down the stairs only to be greeted by the somber face of his quartermaster. She was quite striking with light brown skin and beautiful green eyes, but right now her eyes were cold and calculating. He knew that look. She suspected that their funds were drying up from a week ashore and she was getting restless. “There you are!” She turned to the ship’s first mate, Loth, a squat Dwarf who grinned from ear to ear as he saw his captain. “Behold our glorious captain. The tamer of wild women and spender of money.” The Dwarf laughed. Dina scowled at him. “I am glad you find this amusing, Loth.” Loth stopped laughing. “What is not to find amusing? Our captain has returned from a night of wrestling with his vices.” The Dwarf grinned at his friend. “I want to hear about. Every little nasty part.” The man was as loyal as his race loved gold and minerals. Isaak smiled at him. “Do not worry, my friend. Once the holder of my purse has been pleased, I will regale you with stories of the struggle with the sirens of the night.” He winked at the young man sitting beside Loth, their carpenter Kirben. The freed man seldom spoke, but Isaak could tell he enjoyed the conversation.
A fist slammed into the counter. Dina was not pleased. “Where is our money?” Isaak suddenly remembered his condition and swayed a bit from the shock. A tankard was left on the counter next to him and he picked it up and smelt the contents. The smell of sour beer hit him like a punch to the gut and his stomach rebelled, but he managed to control it. “You are the quartermaster, Dina. It is your duty to keep accounts and distribute the coin among the crew.” The Wanderer woman seemed to breathe fire as she spoke. “And it is the captain’s job to get us coin for me to distribute.” Isaak walked over to the table where Kirben and Loth were seated. “I have something in mind.” Dina put her fists on her hips. “The last time you had something in mind Loth and his twins spent the night in the brig of a Sorian frigate.” The Dwarf shrugged as he spoke. “My boys did not mind. It gave them a chance to practice their skills with fire powder.” Isaak smiled and pointed at the Dwarf. “See? Every cloud does have a silver lining, my dear.” The woman stomped her foot before she turned around and walked out of the inn.
“Do not worry, my friend.” The Dwarf looked at Isaak as he got out of his chair and signaled to Kirben to follow him. “You always manage to find something for us to do.” Loth and the carpenter walked out of the room. Maja walked towards the captain as he leaned back in his chair. She smiled her usual radiant smile and her wide hips swayed in a maternal way. Isaak wondered how many men she had lured into devious acts as a young woman, but he quickly swatted that idea from his mind.
“Would you like something to break the fast with?” Her voice had a soothing tone. “Yes, eggs and sausages would probably reinvigorate me.” She arched an eyebrow. “Do you need reinvigoration? I thought the amazing captain Isaak never needed a second wind.” He laughed. “I think age is catching up to me.” The matron headed for her kitchen, but she turned around to him. “I would appreciate that you next time not take both of my serving girls with you. I probably will not see them until the next bell.” Isaak grinned as she headed into the kitchen.
He felt in his pocket for some coins and pulled out one single silver mark. His last silver mark. Isaak put the coin on its edge and spun it on its axis. He watched it hypnotized as it spun around. A gloved hand slammed down on it and the captain looked up at the person connected to the hand. Isaak knew that face too well. Rhun, the Wrenian diplomat and sometimes agent of Prince Dhaniel, grinned at him as he sat down opposite him. He was dressed in the typical Wrenian long coat with high collars. The coat was dark red with golden embroidery on its sleeves. Rhun had always known how to make an entrance. It would not surprise Isaak if the man had waited for him be alone.
“Your last coin?” He flipped it in the air and seemed to enjoy this far too much. “Yes.” Isaak was in no mood for the man’s games and no one played games like the Mystics of Wrenian. Appearantly he had been thrown out of the order, but you never left the Golden Order. Isaak knew that far too well. He had tried to leave, but they always seemed to find him like a blood hound would found a slave in the Barkoth Wasteland. The diplomat flipped the coin towards Isaak and he caught it easily before he slid it into his pouch. “What do you want, Rhun?” The Wrenian grinned. “No hello? No ‘How have you been’ for your old pal?” Isaak huffed. “We were never friends. Our fathers might have been, but you made your allegiance pretty clear when the Prince and his brothers killed off most of the ruling council.” Rhun’s grin widened. “A good Wrenian always steers with the wind. Besides your father should have never demanded justice for the cripple’s family. The First Council did not look kindly upon that.” The First Council. Isaak had always thought that sounded far more ominous than his fellow Wrenians, as if Prince Dhaniel had torn down the old order of things in the chaos of civil war and placed himself as supreme leader. “And you managed to survive us all. In a matter of speaking.” Rhun leaned forward. “The Prince has always valued my loyalty.” Rhun backed away from him. “Which leads me back to my original question. What do you want with an outcast like me?” The diplomat leaned back and brought out a pouch. “Word of your exploits have reached the Prince’s ear.” Maja entered the room again with two plates. Rhun remained silent as she put the plates on the table, but he gave her his best smile and took out two Wrenian gold marks. “Thank you, Maja.” She curtsied to him. Isaak was baffled. Maja never curtsied for anyone. “You are welcome, Master Rhun.” Isaak stared at Rhun as the matron left the room. “You do get around.” Rhun simply grinned.
The diplomat pulled out a small book out of his pocket. It had Dwarven runes marking the cover and the back. Isaak was mesmerized by the book. No one had seen a Dwarven book for ages. Apart from a small colony in the Free Isles, most Dwarves had left the area around the Sorian continent when the Imperials drove them out of Barkoth.
“Do you know any Dwarven history?” Rhun opened the book as he spoke. Isaak shrugged. “Apart from their exodus and the stories Loth has told me, not very much.” Rhun looked up at him. “Your Dwarven first mate?” Isaak nodded. “Yes, but a lot has been lost in the last few hundred years. They have a library on the Free Isles, but all of that is translated copies. No Dwarf even speaks the ancient tongue, much less read or write it.” Rhun smiled again. “Good thing the Wrenian libraries are quite extensive.” The mystics’ library you mean, Isaak thought. He knew better to speak of the secrets of that order and especially in the company of a former member. “When the Dwarves were driven from Barkoth and its twin city, they fled to the isle of Gathor and the fortress there.” The Wrenian turned the pages of his book. “They brought with them all the gold, obsidian and crimson steel that they managed, but the most important thing was the Heart of Barkoth. Their royal crown jewel.” Isaak’s ears perked up at the mention of the gold and jewel. “I thought the island sank a few years after the Exodus. That is at least what Loth told me.” Rhun took out another book. “It did and it did not.” Isaak got a headache. He always hated the mystics’ way of talking. Always in riddles. “What do you mean?” Rhun opened the book and showed the passage to Isaak. It was written in Ismarkian runes. Isaak looked at the Wrenian diplomat. “I do not read Ismarkian either.” Rhun shook his head. “The state of education of nobility these days.” Isaak hushed him. “The last thing I want is for the people in these parts to know I used to be a lazy nobleman.” Rhun smiled. “This passage speaks of the journey of Magnus of Ismark, one of the sons of the last king to be seated on the throne in Magnarborg.” Rhun let one finger run across the passage. “They sailed for two weeks along the Icy Waste in search of a strange light they thought marked the return of Erik the first. What they found instead was a ruined citadel half covered in molten stone. No one had lived there for years, but they recognized the buildings as Dwarven.” Isaak rubbed his chin. “It seems like a stretch that this would be this city. I mean the Dwarven Empire stretched across oceans and continents at some point.” Rhun smiled. “But not of them sank in the ocean surrounded by fire and brimstone.” Isaak leaned back. “What do you need from me then?” Rhun pulled out a purse and threw it on the table. Isaak leaned forward and took a look at it. It was filled to the brim with Sorian gold coins, at least two hundred if not more. “That is an advance of a tenth. Return to me the Heart of Barkoth and I will make you and your crew very rich.” Isaak let one coin slide out of his hand and into the purse again. It made a very tempting and satisfying clink as it hit the others. “I need to talk it over with my crew. We make all such decisions together.” Isaak was still staring into the gold.
“So that is about it.” Isaak looked at his crew after relaying the offer from Rhun. He had of course not mentioned who was behind the offer. Very few of his crew trusted Wrenians, apart from him of course. His people had a reputation of being a scheming folk, not completely undeserved in Isaak’s eyes. It was had kept them safe from invasion by the Sorian Empire. The Wrenians would rather fight in a cloak and dagger kind of way, instead of facing them in an open field. They would strike from the sea at strategic points and use the weather to mask their numbers. The diplomatic corps of Wrenian was a hotbed of spies and Mystics, which meant you never knew if you were meeting an emissary of the Prince, his brother Morth or some other interest in the Consortium.
“And this benefactor? Does he have a name?” Dina looked at him with scowling eyes. She was wearing her regular Wanderer garb with britches that seemed hold up by a simple sash, a bright red shirt and knee high boots. Her dark hair covered half of her tanned face. “I would rather not say as this person trusts me to not spread his identity. His money is good though.” Isaak understood his quartermaster’s hesitations. She was always the careful and methodical one. It was what made her the perfect first mate. “I do like money.” The twins answered at the same time. Loth’s boys, Ragath and Rinthar, were both starting to grow their own beards and very often of the same mind. Loth had often told Isaak of their childhood and how they had been as peas in a pod, but as of late Isaak had started to see differences in the two drops of water. Rin was calmer and thought longer before he acted, while Rag was the one who jumped into things with both feet, but they were fiercely loyal to each other.
“We all like money.” Dina stood beside the quiet Kirben who was working on some miner trinket with his knife. Kirben was wearing his Ismarkian vest over a light grey shirt. His britches were black and leather boots went halfway up his calves. He seldom was without tool in hand or in his belt. “I am simply asking if this is someone who can be trusted and if this island exists.” Dina looked at Loth. “Oh, it is real. My grandmother often told me stories from her grandmother who had lived there.” The older Dwarf turned to Isaak. “But she told me it sank into the ocean. Lost for all time.” Dina shook her head. “We might not even find it!” She pointed at Loth. “He does not even believe it exist anymore.” Loth held up his hands in protest. “Now I never said I do not believe it exists.” Dina ignored him. “And for a voyage like that we need a larger crew and supplies.” Isaak smiled at her. “My contact will pay for all of that.” Isaak leaned forward. “There is no reason to say no to this.” Dina started to count on his fingers. “Voyage to an unknown location, leviathans… I can make a list if you want it.” Isaak held his hands up. “What voyage does not have a little peril?” Loth’s laugh boomed across the room. “If optimism could kill, you would have the longest kill list, my friend.”
Ragath and Rinthar got up in unison. “We will do what our father wants.” Loth grinned and Isaak felt a little boosted by the two young Dwarves. “It would be an adventure. I could use one more adventure.” The older Dwarf was still grinning. “I am going to regret this and I may not like this whole scheme, but I know when I am beat.” The quartermaster seemed defeated, but smiling ever so slightly. “It seems we are all in agreement.” Isaak felt relieved.