Uungluk. He was starting to hate the name, but now that everyone was calling him that, he had to live with it. After the flogging, Uungluk returned to work in the galley, staying careful not to make any more mistakes. Hurn kept the other sailors from bothering him as he adjusted to life on the Fasara Ru, and the doctor continued to care for his healing wounds.
As the days went by, he began to learn the names of the other members of the crew. Otek was the first mate. He was the one responsible for maintaining order on the ship and gave the punishments when it was not. The doctor’s name was Parven. His knowledge of medicine was quite extensive and made him an invaluable member of the crew as long as he stayed out of a fight. Eltab and Tarag were brothers. Eltab was a carpenter and Tarag worked with metals. Together they maintained the ship and its equipment. Then there were the spotters, Jenare, Pusk, and a comical older man named Zet, although everyone called him Wet Zet and Uungluk could not figure out why. They spent their shifts up in the rigging, keeping watch for land, ships, and sea monsters. A number of others were also on the ship, Nipton, Avakan, Melron, Kushtu, two more brothers named Himom and Hidad, Ting, and quite a few others that Uungluk rarely saw. They performed many other jobs and were the ones that would be rowers when they needed to maneuver in shallow waters and fighters in battles.
After sailing northeast for almost five weeks, land was finally spotted in the distance and Uungluk was escorted into the Captain’s office. The Captain was sitting in a chair, leaning back with his feet on one side of his desk. He held a round stone with detailed designs carved in it in his right hand and appeared to be examining it. He looked up as Uungluk entered the room. “Have you learned from the consequences of your disrespect?” he quietly asked.
“Yes, Captain,” Uungluk replied. “I will not do it again.”
“Good, because I’d hate to have a useless able-bodied man,” the Captain said. He set down the round stone on the desk. “I don’t know where you came from, but the way things work out here is you help me and I’ll help you. Now that you’ve had some time to observe the way things run on my ship, I wanted to give you a second chance. In return for your service, I won’t have you shot. As you continue to prove your loyalty, I’ll begin to give you more freedom, and you can work your way up in rank. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes,” Uungluk replied, “What is it you want me to do?”
“You’re a fighter, Uungluk,” the Captain answered. “You’re also a man of eloquence and a man of conviction. You know what you want to do and you do it in an inspiring manner without turning away. Fight for me, Uungluk. Fight for me, and your deeds will not go unnoticed.”
“And who will I be fighting?” Uungluk asked.
The Captain laughed. “One makes a lot of enemies in this profession.” He paused and looked at Uungluk more seriously. “Who you fight is of little importance. What matters most is that you do not make enemies of those who are your friends.”
Uungluk glanced at the two crewmembers that had escorted him. They were armed and standing on either side of him. “I understand what you mean,” he slowly replied.
The Captain picked up his stone and leaned back in his chair. “Tomorrow we will beach the Fasara Ru in a secluded area,” he said. “Tarag will set up a small forge and will craft you any armor or weapons that you require to your specifications. A few others will go in search of fresh water and other supplies, but I want you to stay by the ship. If you attempt to flee, Wet Zet will not hesitate to shoot you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Captain,” Uungluk nodded.
“Good. Now get out,” the Captain growled.
The next morning, Uungluk was very relieved to step onto land once again. The sand of the wide beach was white, and a forest was growing beyond that. After they beached the ship, Uungluk helped Tarag set up his forge. As some of the other crewmen scraped the scum and algae off the bottom and sides of the ship, Eltab began to cut and shape lumber. Uungluk did not know what he was doing, but considering the number of trees that were felled, it seemed he was planning to do more than just make the repairs that were actually necessary. Wet Zet stayed up in the rigging with his bow. From there he could see further down the beach and raise the alarm if anyone was coming. Uungluk also knew that Wet Zet was keeping a close watch on him. After informing Tarag of the armor and weapons that he wanted, and while the Captain and a few others were away looking for water, Uungluk and several other crewmembers began a sparring contest. It was not long before Uungluk had bested all of them and they were praising his abilities. Uungluk the Strong, they called him. That night, they slept on the beach.
Uungluk awoke partway through the night and walked around to the other side of the ship and down to the waterline. It was a clear night and the stars were bright. He stretched in the cool breeze and then started to walk back to where the others were sleeping. As he walked around the bow of the ship, he stopped. He could see the silhouette of a man creeping among the sleeping men toward the Captain. Realizing that it was only another member of the crew, Uungluk continued walking. The other man pulled out a sword and began to raise it. Uungluk’s eyes widened. Someone was going to kill the Captain!
Uungluk sprinted as fast as he could the rest of the way and tackled the man. He wrestled away the sword and tossed it out of reach while the other startled men woke up and tried to figure out what was happening.
The Captain rose to his feet and swords were drawn. “What is the meaning of this?” he roared.
Uungluk was pulled off the other man who turned out to be Otek. “He was going to kill you,” Uungluk warned.
Otek stood up. “No, Uungluk was going to kill you.” He pointed to the sword in the sand. “See, there is the sword he was carrying.”
The Captain’s eyes looked at them both and then fixated on Otek. “Otek, why would you try to save my life?” he asked.
“Because I happened to see Uungluk preparing to kill you,” the man answered. “He left the camp and I heard him plotting on his way back.”
The Captain faced Uungluk. “And you, why would you try to save me?”
“I was told not to make enemies of my friends,” Uungluk replied. “If you were killed, my future could die with you.”
The Captain frowned as he considered the responses and tried to figure out which of them was lying.
Wet Zet stepped forward. “Look at their eyes, Captain,” he said. “Otek’s filled with fear and Uungluk’s wondering why you wouldn’t believe him. I think we’ve found the culprit.”
The others grabbed Otek before he could run. “He was prudent enough to wait until we reached land, so that signifies that he prefers to choose his own sentence. Men, you know what to do.”
Otek began to struggle, but he was no match for the sailors that were dragging him toward the forest. When they reached the trees, they tightly tied a tourniquet around his lower right arm, and then tied a chain around his right wrist. They tossed the other end of the chain over a branch and pulled it tight until Otek was standing straight with his arm pulled above his head. They then fastened the chain to the branch, stuck a dagger in Otek’s belt, and walked away.
“What are they doing?” Uungluk asked.
“There is a custom among our kind,” Wet Zet explained. “If a man on a ship is caught attempting to gain something that does not belong to him, such as another man’s rank, he is thrown off the ship. However, if a man waits until he reaches land before committing the crime, we allow him to choose his own sentence. If Otek wishes to live, he needs only to take that dagger and cut off his hand so he can walk away, but then he will be useless and unable to find work. If he prefers to die, he can kill himself or stand there until he starves or dies of thirst or a hungry animal finds him.”
“None of those choices are very desirable,” Uungluk decided.
“No,” the Captain agreed, “but having that choice is still preferred to not having a choice. It may seem like a cruel custom, but it helps maintain order when we are far from land.”
“Captain, why would Otek want to kill you?” Uungluk wondered.
“He is afraid of my plans for the next few weeks,” the Captain replied. He put his hand on Uungluk’s shoulder. “Boy, if you live up to my expectations, you’ll be rising through the ranks faster than anyone I’ve known.”
“I’ll go along with that, Captain,” Wet Zet decided. “A few chances to prove himself in these next few weeks should be all it takes to convince the crew.”
“Uungluk, if you haven’t figured it out, the hardest part about this is that I have to find a replacement for Otek,” the Captain said. “Parven is technically next in line, but he’s a doctor and I need someone that can fight. He also knows that and does not expect or desire the position. Wet Zet comes next, and while completely loyal, he’s also his own man. Sure, he can fill the position from day to day, but he stays up in the rigging during a fight. Hurn’s a cook and would kill to protect his kitchen, but anywhere else and he’s as meek as a mouse. Eltab, Tarag, Jenare, Pusk, the others, well, they are all right where I need them and while some of them deserve promotions, I have no one that can replace their current positions. That leaves you, Uungluk, and while you’ve been with us for less than two months and are a lousy sailor, you’ve proven your abilities to fight and the way you carry yourself is inspiring to the crew. We lost a number of valuable men this year, so you’re the only one of the crew that doesn’t yet fill a vital role on the Fasara Ru, at least until we reach Tanikwa.”
“So I am taking Otek’s place?” Uungluk asked, thoroughly surprised.
“Don’t rush to promote yourself just yet,” Wet Zet growled. “I’m taking Otek’s place, at least until we reach Lorak.”
“Yes,” the Captain agreed. “Stick close to Wet Zet and myself and learn the job. There will be a fight at Lorak and that is when you will have to prove yourself to the rest of the crew.” He paused and frowned. “Otek complicates matters; we’ll have to move faster than planned.” He looked up at the sky. Morning was coming soon. “Uungluk, grab a spear. Wet Zet, take him hunting so he can practice his skills. I will stay here and make sure the ship is ready. We’re leaving in two days instead of five.”
“And if we happen across anyone in the forest?” Wet Zet asked.
“Shoot them,” the Captain answered. “I will risk no word of us reaching Captain Gorg at Lorak.”
Wet Zet nodded. “Let’s go, Uungluk.”
Uungluk followed the man over to the ship where they picked up their weapons. They then headed south along the beach before entering the forest. That day, Uungluk speared three deer and a vicious reptile that was stalking behind them. Wet Zet shot two large birds with his bow. That night, they set up a small camp along a stream and ate one of the birds. Uungluk kept a few of the long feathers from its tail.
“Why are you keeping those?” Wet Zet asked.
“They’re for the Captain,” Uungluk answered. “I told him he’d look better wearing a big hat with a few feathers stuck in it. I know he doesn’t have a hat yet, but perhaps having a few feathers will convince him to get one the next time we’re at a port.”
Wet Zet grinned. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen him wear a hat. That would definitely be something to see.”
Uungluk leaned back against a log. “I was wondering, why does everyone call you Wet Zet?”
The older man laughed heartily. “During a fight, I prefer to stay in the rigging with my bow, lots of arrows, and a pail of water. Normally I’ll just shoot at the enemy on their own ship, but if the fight at Lorak comes onto the Fasara Ru, keep your eyes open and you may find out why they call me Wet Zet. I know how to startle the enemy long enough to give us the advantage.”
“That leaves a lot open to the imagination,” Uungluk decided. “What I don’t know, is what is so important about Lorak to require all the speed and secrecy?”
“The coast of this land has various small towns and villages, with a few larger cities here and there. The Overlord has subdued most of them and forces them to provide supplies and conscripts to whatever Captain the Overlord appoints to that region. If the region does not comply, they risk complete annihilation by the Overlord. Now every captain has to meet the Overlord’s quota, a portion of the merchandise we confiscate from other ships. However, the timeframe allotted to meet that quote is determined by the distance of that captain’s region to the Overlord’s stronghold. What makes Lorak so important to the Captain is that it used to be his a year ago. However, last year, the sleazy Captain Gorg was late in meeting his quota. He would have been thrown off his ship, but instead he bribed the Overlord to reassign him to Lorak, thus making his quota on time. Unfortunately, this left our Captain in charge of Tanikwa and less time to deliver our quota this year. We’ve managed to obtain enough goods to meet the quota, but circumstances have pushed us behind schedule and we will be late. The only way for the Captain to save himself and the crew would be to retake Lorak and arrive at the Overlord’s stronghold with our quota and Captain Gorg’s quota.”
“Could you fit twice the quota in one ship?” Uungluk asked.
“It’s possible,” Wet Zet said, “but the Overlord prefers to receive one quota per ship. It’s easier for accounting purposes, and in most cases, it’s only one ship per captain which keeps each captain from becoming too much of a threat to the Overlord. Ideally, we would prefer to capture Gorg’s ship, but if he’s ready for us, we’ll waste no time and ram him. Even if we lose his ship, every captain keeps a few ships anchored in reserve, so there will be plenty of fresh ships to choose from.”
“If I were the Captain, I’d fill all those extra ships with men and then go visit the Overlord,” Uungluk suggested. “He’d never have to meet a quota again!”
Wet Zet lay down. “Such talk is not to be made lightly,” he said. “Get some rest and tomorrow we will head back to the ship. I’ll mention what you said to the Captain, and he can decide if there is any merit to your words.”
The next day they returned to the ship. Rather than taking the time to make repairs on the beach, the men were loading the lumber into the ship so they could do the work while enroute to Lorak. Uungluk also noticed that Otek must have left during the night. A blackened bloody hand hanging at the end of the chain was all that remained.
“Won’t he warn Captain Gorg?” Uungluk asked the Captain.
“He’ll head that way,” the Captain replied, “but it’s a long way to go on foot with only one hand. He knows it’s his only option. If he warns Captain Gorg before we arrive and Gorg defeats us, then Otek will have all his needs provided and he can live the rest of his life without working.”
“Why couldn’t you have killed him when he left?” Uungluk wondered.
“Boy, I may be in a profession that leaves me branded as an outlaw by the rest of the world, but I do not go back on my word or break from custom. Now go help load the ship so we can leave and be on our way. Besides, Otek’s as good as dead walking through that forest.”
“Yes, Captain,” Uungluk said. He turned and walked toward the ship to collect the weapons and armor and stow them in the hold. By nightfall, they were underway with a strong wind at their back. Battle at Lorak was only days away.