“Just stay on the main and the tops’l, Mage Zie.” Hennel put an encouraging hand on Zie’s shoulder. “That’s it. Ease down. Let the Cap’n do all the steering.”
While he prided himself on his wind control, Zie needed all his concentration to pull back on the magic when he’d been pushing so hard and in so many directions. This sail, now that, now the other. No wonder the captains offered passage for a sail impeller. Wind work on a ship this size was bloody hard. He’d still caught the captain’s strange order for anyone even part selak to gather at the stern, Essenin included. Not something he could worry about yet.
Except I am worried. What is she doing? Is this some strange human belief that selak are better fighters?
A quick glance over showed Davitts running in the opposite direction, toward their cabin, which confused Zie even more. Though that was cleared up quickly when Davitts returned a moment later, heavily armed, with Essenin’s bow and quiver tucked under one arm. Davs at least made sense when no one else did, though he kept his distance from the gathered selak-blooded at the rail, his jaw clenched. Ready for a fight if not eager for one, it seemed to Zie.
His focus trembled under the weight of distractions, but he could help turning his head for quick looks at the stern every few moments.
Their pursuers drew closer, each scarlet sail painted with darker red designs like blood running over river clay. The non-selak sailors, mostly human and one taur woman with hands that could crush Zie’s head, had armed themselves as well. Even Hennel had produced a wickedly curved knife from somewhere on his person. Tension vibrated through the deck and Zie resolved to do his best for them. There were parts of his arsenal he was still willing to use for defense.
And after such a long while, I have people to defend again. Don’t deny it. Even if they leave you when you reach shore, you want them both safe.
Oddly, none of the selak crew had drawn weapons yet, and Essenin waved Davitts off when he tried to hand over their bow. Perhaps the selak planned a collective water attack? Could they combine their magic into a whirlpool or a waterspout? He knew little of selak magic, but it felt possible.
The selak stood, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm in some cases, peering toward the oncoming pirate ship, leaning toward it, their nearest companions keeping some of them from falling over the rail. Then they did a curious thing. Sharp, high-pitched whistled notes began to issue from each selak, though none of them had pursed their lips. It took Zie a moment to puzzle out what he was seeing, and he had to keep his gaze fastened on Essenin to spot it.
They were whistling through their gills. As Zie slowed the summoned wind, he began to pick out individual notes, calls as varied as birdsong. Some trilled, some rose and fell, some repeated the same note in complex sequences. No two were the same, as far as he could determine. Essenin’s was a long, relatively low note followed by three sharp trills an octave higher. The resulting chaos of notes was both alarming and wildly beautiful.
It was also quite loud.
Because of this, it took Zie several minutes to discern that there were notes coming from two directions. There were selak on the pirate ship who were whistling back. Figures in the rigging and along the rail of the scarlet-sailed ship were waving now. Some of them jumped up and down excitedly.
“This is rather...odd.” He looked up at Hennel, whose expression was quickly turning from concern to amusement. “Isn’t it?”
“Isn’t what, Wind Mage?”
Hennel patted his shoulder. “Keep watching.”
The young officer, Rence, was the first of their crew to begin waving back, her enthusiasm bolstered by her bright smile. It seemed a signal, and now several more joined her, Essenin included. The whistling died down, replaced by calls of cousin and auntie and gran. The human crew sheathed weapons and even Davitts returned his impressive broadaxe to the holster on his back.
“That’s settled then. Better than I’d hoped.”
Zie startled, and turned to find the captain beside him. Her steps had been concealed under all the noise. “Ma’am?”
“Clan relatives. Quite a few of them. That ship can’t attack us now since we’ve family on board. Always best to check first with a selak ship.” Captain Unav shouted up to the crow’s nest. “Signal that we’re dropping anchor. Invite them aboard.”
A complicated exchange of flag signals passed between the ships and they slowed in tandem until the pirate ship could come alongside. The crew from both ships ran planks between and the invasion was a joyous rather than murderous one with squeals of recognition and enthusiastic hugs. Since he wasn’t needed any longer, Zie wove through the crowd to Davitts, partly to be near him and partly since there were far too many tall people rushing about. Being trampled was not on his itinerary for the day.
Davitts must have seen the alarm on Zie’s face since he slung an arm around him and pulled him close. That was better with Davs strong heart beating under his ear.
“Do you know any of them?”
“Not that I’d remember on sight.” Davitts let out a speculative rumble. “I think that’s an auntie of Ess’s, but I don’t recall her name.”
Zie patted the heavily muscled chest he was using as a support. “I’m not complaining that we’re safe, but why would the captain invite them onto the ship? They are pirates, yes?”
“Yes. Definitely still pirates.” Davitts gave him a squeeze. “Sea gossip. You have no idea how even captains crave sea gossip.”
“Ah. I suppose intelligence gathering is important out here.” Zie wrapped both arms around Davs and nestled closer. “We’ll just stay out of their way then?”
“Probably for the best.”
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.