Far out to sea, a pirate ship, the Fasara Ru, chanced upon an unconscious man floating face down on some wreckage. “Haul him aboard,” the Captain ordered, watching from his pedestal at the stern. “If that bedraggled mess is still alive, we’ve found us a fresh hand.”
The pirates sprang into action and soon he was being hoisted to the deck. “He’s wounded, Captain,” one of the pirates shouted. “Two arrows are stuck in his body, but he’s still alive.”
“Good,” the Captain decided. “Somebody doesn’t like him; probably tried to take another man’s wife or some other pitiful crime.” He gave a few hearty laughs. “But those are the kind of men that make up my crew. Take him below and have the doctor care for his wounds. Either this man will join our crew, or he’ll wish his friend had used a few more arrows.”
The unconscious man was taken down into the ship and placed face down on a table. The doctor stepped into the room with his medicines and tools. He set them on the floor and began to examine the wounds. The wounds were both bad, but the shoulder would need much more time to care for. He would get to that after quickly taking care of the thigh.
The doctor rolled the man onto his side and pulled out a knife. The doctor, in a manner more like that of a butcher than of a doctor, inserted his knife into the wound. It would hold open the wound, allowing him to remove the arrow without tearing more flesh than necessary. As soon as the knife entered the wound, the man began to mumble. “...back to the sun,” he groaned. “Keep your back to the sun.”
Once the arrow was out of the thigh, the doctor cleaned the wound and stitched it up. He rolled the man onto his stomach. “I don’t know who you are,” the doctor said, “but there’s no sun down here.”
The man grunted in pain as the doctor plunged the knife into his shoulder wound. The arrow had been lodged in the bone for days and the wound was putrid. “This will hurt, but it’s for your own good,” the doctor said as he pulled out what was left of the arrow.
“I did not kill...” the man groaned as the doctor began to scrape out the rotting flesh. “NO!” He let out a scream as the knife scraped against the bone. The doctor barely flinched and continued to operate, only pausing to listen as the man talked in his delirium. “Death over there...no other witnesses...evidence fabricated...to defend myself...I warned you...” As the doctor began to stitch up the wound, the man suddenly flailed his arms, but stopped when his hand found the leg of the table and gripped it tightly. “Zhethou,” he murmured, and slowly relaxed his body. The doctor’s eyes briefly widened when he heard the name, but did not speak until he was done stitching the wound.
“Rest while you still can,” the doctor said softly. “You are going to be a very welcome addition to this worn and battletested crew.” He sprinkled some medicinal herbs on the shoulder wound and carefully tied on a bandage. He then rolled the man onto his back and tied a smaller bandage over the wound on the leg.
The doctor picked up the arrow he had removed from the thigh and the partial arrow from the shoulder. Their craftsmanship, along with the few spoken phrases and the name would be of interest to the Captain. He turned and climbed up the ladder to the deck, slamming the hatch shut behind him.
When Turos came to, he found himself on the deck of a ship somewhere far out to sea. A rope was tied around his waist and the other end was tied around the mast, against which, he was sitting. It was night and he could not see anyone around. Somewhere behind him, several people were having a whispered discussion.
“...not wise to have a high profile crewman,” the first said.
“We’re all wanted men, doctor” a gruff voice replied. “I don’t know what poor excuse of a pirate you worked for before, but the questionable background of one crewman makes no difference on my ship. We will not be engaged by the Great King’s fleet any more often than we already are.”
“Very well, Captain, but I still think we should throw him back or set him ashore the first chance we get.”
“Perhaps at a later time,” the Captain replied. “Right now we’re a little shorthanded and need all the...”
“Hello?” Turos called out, pretending he had not heard anyone.
The two men walked around from the other side of the mast and stood looking down at him. One was a dirty looking man, poorly dressed with sparse hair, but had the look of intelligence and scholarly training. The other stood more proudly, was much better dressed, and gave Turos a look of contempt. He was bald, but wore a number of coins strung on a chain around his neck.
“You were right,” the bald man said to the other, “he is young, and barely a man, but he can work just as well as any other.”
“His shoulder will need to heal before he can be of any use, Captain” the other man said.
Turos moved his right hand and reached to feel his wounded shoulder. It was bandaged, but it still stung badly at the slightest pressure.
“What’s your name, boy?” the Captain asked.
Turos looked up at the Captain and knew he could not reveal his real name to these men. “Call me Uungluk,” he said, recalling the fake name his father had mentioned at the ceremony. “How did I get here?”
“I am the one asking the questions,” the Captain reprimanded, “and you will learn to like it that way.” He gave Turos a cruel grin.
“Your ship must have sunk in a storm,” the doctor interrupted. “We found you floating on some wreckage over a hundred fifty nura from any land.”
“Uungluk,” the Captain said. “I doubt that’s your real name, but if you want to leave a bad life behind, I can call you Uungluk. Tell me, Uungluk, who is Zhethou?”
“I’ve never heard of her,” Turos said, shaking his head.
The Captain gave him a sharp kick in the leg. “I will not be lied to,” he growled. “I can understand if someone wishes to keep a secret, but blatant lies are more likely to get you fed to the fish. Now answer me, Uungluk, who is Zhethou?”
Turos looked up at the bald man and glared. “Captain, I think you would look better wearing a hat.”
There was a brief moment of silence, and then the Captain began to laugh. “Uungluk, you’re sleeping out here on the deck tonight, and tomorrow we’ll put you to work in the galley while your wounds heal.” He started to walk away toward the cabin at the stern of the ship and the doctor followed. “That’s the kind of answer I like. I think I just found my new cabin boy,” Turos heard the Captain say, just before they entered the cabin.
The night was cool and breezy, and Turos shivered as he tried to sleep. Early the next morning, he was roughly untied and pulled to his feet by a chubby man wearing a dirty apron. The man’s skin was greasy and he smelled offensive, but with an obvious scent of food. “The name’s Hurn,” the man said, introducing himself. “I hear you’re called Uungluk. I hope you know how to cook, because right now you’re going to be helping me in the galley.”
“I can learn what I don’t know,” Turos replied.
He followed Hurn below the deck, although it was difficult climbing down because of his shoulder. They then walked down a hallway toward the bow of the ship. Several other men were still sleeping in hammocks that lined the walls on the sides of the cramped hallway. Hurn showed him the storerooms and they collected what they needed for breakfast: dried meat, a few bruised vegetables, and a barrel of water.
The galley was in the bow of the ship. The ceiling was open with a few tattered sheets of cloth suspended to keep out the rain, and the wall separating it from the rest of the ship was thick and watertight. Hurn explained that the bow was the best place to have a cooking fire on a ship. If galley was further back, there was a risk of losing the mast or rudder in a fire and crippling the ship, while if only the bow was lost, the ship had a better chance of eventually limping back to shore.
Hurn began to slice the dried meat. “Uungluk, make yourself useful and fill that kettle with water,” he ordered, pointing with his knife at a kettle by the wall. Turos took the kettle and placed it on the table. He then picked up a ladle and began to spoon water from the keg into the kettle.
“Not the drinking water,” Hurn roared. Turos hurriedly set down the ladle. Hurn stepped back and opened a small hatch on the side of the ship. “We cook with seawater and save the freshwater for drinking.” Turos hurried over and picked up a bucket with a rope tied to the handle. He dropped the bucket out the hatch and soon had a bucket full of seawater. “Using drinking water for cooking,” Hurn muttered, “the Captain is definitely going to hear about this.”
“Yes, he is,” an ominous voice in the doorway slowly said. Turos pulled in the bucket of seawater and closed the hatch. He turned around to see the Captain frowning at him.
The Captain stepped into the already crowded small room. “Uungluk, I’ve sailed the seas my entire life and have had more than my share of stupid men under my command, but never have I had anyone waste drinking water this far from land.”
“I will not do it again,” Turos said.
The Captain tore the bucket of seawater from Turos’s hands and emptied it into the kettle. “You are either completely incompetent or not a sailor, and I know you are not incompetent.” He tossed the bucket back against the wall with the hatch. “Tell me, Uungluk, what would you do if you were more than a month away from the nearest shore and you ran out of drinking water?”
Hurn stuffed the sliced meat into the kettle with the seawater and began to slice up some of the vegetables.
“I don’t know,” Turos answered. “I’ve never been on a ship more than a few days away from the nearest island.”
The Captain placed his hands on the table and leaned toward Turos. “Then how did we find you more than a month away from the nearest shore?”
Turos glanced at the doorway. Several other men were peering in with smirks on their faces. “I don’t know,” he replied through gritted teeth. “I was shot in the leg. I fell into the water. I woke up on your ship. I don’t know how long it’s been, or where we are.”
The Captain straightened up as Hurn put the sliced vegetables into the kettle. “Otek,” he called.
Another man soon peered down at them from the deck. “Yes, Captain?”
“Have we met our quota?” The Captain moved to allow the cook to carry the kettle around the table and place it over the fire.
“The quota’s met, Sir, as are the costs of repairs and resupply, but after that there isn’t much profit for the rest of us,” Otek replied. “It’s been a poor season with the increased presence of the Great King’s fleet along the main routes.”
The Captain looked up at the Otek. “Are you still counting shares for the men we lost?”
Otek performed a few quick mental calculations before answering. “It’s still less than usual, but we can make do.”
The Captain looked back at Turos. “There’s been a change of plans, Otek,” he announced. “Set a course to the northeast. With good winds we can reach Lorak in a month, and I am sure the locals will be easily convinced to help us obtain supplies or we can barter with Captain Gorg. From there we can head to Tanikwa and pick up fresh conscripts from your lands before we head to Irata and deliver the quota to the Overlord.”
“Yes, Captain,” Otek said with a slight nod and left to make the course changes.
The Captain’s eyes travelled up and down Turos’s body, examining his build. “Uungluk, you’re a poor sailor and probably a lousy cook, but you look like you can fight.”
“I know how to defend myself, if that’s what you mean” Turos answered, still reluctant to reveal more than necessary about who he was.
The Captain took the first bowl of stew from Hurn. “Get him fed, change his bandages, and bring him to the deck when you’re done,” he ordered the crewmembers. The others stepped to the side of the hallway and made room for him to pass as he stepped through the door and left the galley.
The other began to crowd into the room for their breakfast. Hurn handed a bowl to Turos. “It looks like the Captain may have a use for you after all,” he said.
After breakfast, the doctor changed Turos’s bandages and applied some fresh medicinal herbs on the shoulder wound before leading him back to the deck.
The Captain was waiting, standing on his pedestal near the stern, and gazing proudly out to sea. He noticed Turos step out onto the deck. “Uungluk, come closer,” he ordered. Turos did as ordered. “I’ve been thinking about what you said last night,” he began. “What type of hat do you think would suit me best?”
Turos grinned. “A big hat, Captain, with a feather or two,” he answered. “You need something that will distinguish you as a gentleman of fortune.”
“Uungluk, if you live up to my expectations, then perhaps I will take your advice.” The Captain stepped down from the pedestal with two wooden swords. He tossed one to the deck in front of Turos. “Boy, defend yourself,” he ordered.
Turos stooped and picked up the sword. “Wood swords?” he wondered. He stepped back and brandished the wooden sword in a defensive manner. “Are you afraid that a wounded man might kill you if he used something a bit sharper?”
The Captain confidently advanced, swinging his sword skillfully. “I would be more afraid of accidentally killing someone that may be more profitable alive.” His strong strokes caused Turos to retreat back to the mast. “What’s the matter, boy?” he taunted. “Don’t know how to fight either?”
Turos gritted his teeth and struck back furiously, throwing his entire body into his strokes and ignoring the pain from his wounds. Unwilling to just keep parrying the Captain’s attacks, he ducked and stepped past them, threw his arm around the man, and tossed him to the deck. He pointed the wooden sword at the Captain and glared down at the man. “I said you could call me Uungluk, but I never agreed to fight for another man’s profit.” He stepped back and threw the wooden sword to the deck beside the Captain.
The Captain rose to his feet as Turos walked away. “Uungluk, you will learn your place on my ship. Seize that man,” he roared. The other sailors on the deck sprang to action and Turos let them take him with very little resistance. He could not believe that this was the future that the Lunari had meant for him and knew that nothing he did could change his situation.
Moments later, Turos was once again tied to the mast, this time standing up and with his face to it, and his shirt was ripped off his back.
“Uungluk,” the Captain said, once again back at his pedestal, “as you are about to discover, there is a price to be paid for showing disrespect to those of higher rank. If this was a solitary incident, then I am sure you will never do it again, but if this is habitual, then changing your ways will save you a lot of future pain.”
There was a brief moment of silence and Turos could see the other members of the crew watching him with amusement.
“Otek,” the Captain said, “twenty lashes, and avoid the shoulder.”
Turos flinched at the first stinging lash, and then the second. By the fifth, tears were starting form in his eyes. By the time the twenty lashes were done with, Turos had no fight left in him and sagged against the ropes that held him to the mast.
The Captain walked up behind him. “Uungluk,” he said, “you can keep your secrets to yourself, but sometime, somehow, I will find out who you are. Until then, you are Uungluk, and you will have to earn our respect.” He stepped back. “Take him below,” he ordered. Several of the other crew members moved in and carefully untied him, making sure he didn’t fall to the deck and hurt himself more. He was then carried below the deck and left alone in the darkness.