Chapter 222 – 96 Gaw (Franky): Misunderstandings
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“Land Ho!” [Storm Captain] Windstrom roars to the heavens from the highest yard. He stares into the distance, at the shadow on the horizon that becomes a cloud, that becomes a mountain, that becomes Land. With another yell, he commands his crew to set the staysails and point closer to the wind, towards the lighthouse glinting from the mountain’s shadow.

Below, he hears the Adventurer’s Guild waking up and rushing onto the deck. He hears their excited chatter and yelling. At the same time, his crew moves quickly, preparing to safely maneuver the ship into port.

“Captain Windstrom!” he hears the guild leader call out to him. With a flick of his handlebar mustache, he turns towards the young man braced beside him on the topsail.

“Morning, Franky!” he enthusiastically greets his passenger. “I hope you slept well.”

Franky nods, but it's clear that he would have enjoyed another hour or two of sleep. But, as Everlet knows, adventure waits for no man. Sleep included.

“We’re finally there?”

The [Captain] nods. “Yes, and we’ve even got a port available to us.”

“Port?” Franky ruffles his eyebrows. He turns and looks into the distance. He squints. “[Lightform: Telescope],” he mutters and raises his hand. The daylight refracts across two discs of light, the far one showing a fuzzy image of the world inverted but the near one showing a crisp, clear, right-side-up image of the town, but much enlarged. Everlet whistles as the spell zooms in on the port.

“They look like they’re panicking,” Franky says after a moment.

Everlet nods slowly. “It's a small port-town that probably deals with much smaller trade-ships. A ship like the Tempestas is more commonly used for trading between cities and major port towns.”

“Then why would they panic?”

“Trade, of course!” Everlet replies. “A big ship like mine can afford to buy a large stock of whatever trade goods they provide! It’s clear that they’re preparing for our arrival and are hoping for a windfall profit.”

He leans forward towards the image with a more bloodthirsty grin. “And I’m going to fleece these small-fries for all they’re worth."

Franky gives Everlet a complicated look. “But we’re not here to trade?”

Windstrom leans back and shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. Since I’ve got to stick around until you leave, my men will keep the taverns and whorehouses full, while using up their paychecks. They’ll also make a pretty penny supplying your expedition, unless you’re planning to sleep on rocks the whole time you’re here. You are planning to sample the local hospitality, ain’t you lad?”

“Good point. We’ll probably rent out an inn, but I’ll leave the brothel to your sailors,” Franky answers with a nod.

“What’s the matter, boy? Aren’t you out here for some adventure?” challenges Everlet with a leery grin. He slaps Franky on the back. “Always drink the local drink!”

Franky blushes. “I’ve been strongly advised to keep wandering eyes in check.”

The [Captain] laughs. “Aye lad! Having a wife in every port didn’t mean you should bring her with you!”

___________________________________________________________

[Lord] Russel peers through his spyglass. Bile rises in the back of his throat. Too soon, a ship is here. Too soon, too soon.

May the dephs take them,” Russel mutters the old curse.

In defiance of his wishes, the well-armed galleon stays afloat as it sails closer to port. It doesn’t take an expert to know the ship’s flying fake flags, already a worrying sign. Yet truer than any ensign, Russel spies the distinctive gaff rigged spanker on the mizzen and full jibs, characteristic of [Pirate Admiral] Ferrum’s fleet, driving the ship hard into the wind.

There should have been another month until the next tithe!

“My [Lord]?” his [Bailiff] calls after a minute of silence.

Russel breathes and lowers his spyglass. “Prepare whatever we can spare. Hide all the young women and open the barrels of beer, rum, and anything else that has alcohol in it. Water down what they won’t notice. Hopefully they won't get violent.”

“Yes sir,” he hears his [Bailiff] depart and start shouting orders. The town behind him springs to life as everyone prepares for the [Pirates]’ arrival.

An hour later, his [Bailiff] returns as the ship nears port. “My [Lord], we only have seventeen tons of iron ready. The [Smiths] are working as fast as they can on the last three tons. He says it will take a week.”

Russel grimaces. Twenty tons is the tithe. Hopefully, the [Pirate Captain] will be understanding… well, as understanding as a [Pirate Captain] can be.

Wearing a thick mariner’s coat, [Lord] Jeremy Russel arrives at the docks to await the ship’s arrival, but there he finds his men in a panic.

“What in the five hells is-” his words peter out as he stares at the prow of the oncoming ship, its ram growing ever larger in his sight. His [Sailors] and [Stevedores], realizing the terrible momentum of the large ship, flee the docks. Even the [Harbor Master], convinced of the impending disaster, runs by.

But, just as Russel is about to mimic the dock workers, the ship's mainsails furl and the port anchor drops. The ship slews to starboard and a gust of wind from a mountain squall fills the luffing staysails. The ship heels over at a terrifying angle then rights itself as it slows. Finally, the anchor hits bottom, and for a second, Russel thinks he may see the ship capsize after all as its timbers groan and strain till, against all expectation, the vessel bumps, soft as a kitten, against the pier.

Russel gulps as he watches the synchronized movements of the [Pirates] as they hop off the vessel and tie their ship to the wharf. Usually, his [Stevedores] would do it, had they not all run away. He swallows the lump of dread growing in his throat. This [Pirate Captain] is clearly high level. Even his ship, the Tempestas, as is written in gilded letters on its hull, is of the finest workmanship. This is not a person he can risk insulting.

The ship’s plank drops on the pier and the [Pirate Captain] steps forth. The man alights on the dock with a confident smile followed by a young man who looks like a [Mercenary].

The [Pirate Captain] lightly strokes his long mustache. “Well, I was expecting a few more people,” he comments and Russel quickly bows.

“Apologies [Captain],” Russel smoothly recovers, “my dock workers were afraid that your ship was going to crash into the pier. They should return soon to load up your ship with the levy.”

“Levy? What levy?” the [Captain] asks.

Russel is taken aback. Did they not come for the tithe?

“The twenty tons of iron ingots… we have seventeen, but if you wait a week, we can have three more tons ready.”

The [Pirate Captain] looks even more confused.

“What in Thor’s arse are you talking about? Who are you, anyways?”

“I am Jeremy Russel, the [Lord] of Lieking.” He spreads his arms to emphasize the town they are in.

The [Pirate Captain] and the [Mercenary] share a confused look. After a moment, the [Mercenary] speaks up. “Um, why are you offering him Iron ingots? Shouldn't you give him a price first?”

Russel frowns. “Price? [Pirates] don't ask for a price.”

The [Captain] stops stroking his mustache and steps forward, his expression thunderous. “I am [Storm Captain] Everlet! Call me a [Pirate] again and I will rip out your hair and shove it up your ass.”

Russel steps back and trips on a board. Everlet steps forward but the young [Mercenary] places his hand on Everlet's chest and stops him.

“Why do you think [Captain] Everlet is a [Pirate]?” he asks.

“He looks like one,” Russel squeals.

“Are you trying to get keelhauled?” Everlet growls, but the [Mercenary] holds up a hand to keep the [Storm Captain] back.

Frowning, the [Mercenary] reaches up and removes Everlet's hat. He lowers it and turns it around to show Everlet the skull and crossbones on it. It’s the same one that a certain late [Pirate Captain] and his crew wore…

_________________________________________________________________

“Thank you,” Everlet accepts the drink from [Lord] Russel with a dejected face, “and sorry, again,” he adds for the tenth time.

Russel waves the [Storm Captain] off. “It’s fine, [Captain]. Mistakes do happen,” he leans on the living room table of his home, “but I am curious as to why you and your entire crew dresses like [Pirates].”

Franky smiles cheekily as he sits at one side of the table, content to allow the two to talk first.

Everlet blushes while stroking his magnificent handlebar mustache. “That… is a bit of a story. But, to keep it short, we lost our clothes in a bit of gambling.”

Russel points at the [Pirate Captain]’s hat on the table. “So you bought pirate clothes?”

“‘Happened while we were at sea. Damn fleeced us good,” Everlet grumbles. “So there we were aboard ship, at the mercy of wind and rain, dressed in naught but our skivvies and some of us not even that. At length did cross a burning ship flying this Jolly Roger. We boarded them and, so grateful were they for our assistance, they gave us their clothes. Why, the captain even gifted me this charming hat!”

Russel can't help but snort before howling with laughter. His wife enters with snacks; cheese and meat cuts.

“You seem to be hitting it off,” she comments, placing the plate on the table. “Please, help yourselves.”

She walks back into the kitchen while Everlet does exactly that. Russel eventually stops laughing, though a smile remains plastered on his face.

While Everlet stuffs his face, Franky speaks.

“[Lord] Russel, when we arrived, you mentioned something about giving us iron bars. What was that about?”

Russel’s jolly mood sours and his smile disappears. The [Lord] lowers his gaze to the wooden table.

“[Pirates],” he spits. “My town of Lieking is forced to pay tribute to a powerful [Pirate Admiral] every three months. In exchange, they leave us alone,” he rubs his neck, “for the most part.”

“That’s horrible,” Franky says. “Have you thought about fighting back or just leaving?”

“Fighting back?” Ruseel scoffs. “Nobody in Lieking has anything close to the levels required to fight a [Pirate Admiral]’s crew. And running? You think we can pack up town and leave?” Russel guffaws. “Lieking is locked between the southern coast, which your ship is docked in, and the mountains east, west, and north of us. We only have a dozen fishing boats, none of which could outrun a pirate fleet, let alone a single ship.”

“So why even come here?”

A glint of a smile makes its way on Russel’s face as he recalls a memory. “My grandfather was a [Noble Cartographer]. He made maps of large swathes of land and sold them to anyone that would buy. At some point, his ship was caught in a storm and was forced to make shore for emergency repairs. While his crew repaired the ship, he went out and surveyed the area. It was there that he found a cavern practically overflowing with iron ore. It was just waiting for somebody to come along and mine it.”

Russel pauses a moment, noting the [Storm Captain] happily stuffing his face with food.

“And that's what he did. When he got home, he took a mortgage, started up a company, and then started mining. Over several decades, the successful town of Lieking came into existence. It was a sprawling and rich town until the easy access to the iron ore dried up. After that, trade and profits decreased,” Russel smiles proudly, ”but the town still lives and still mines.”

“And the [Pirates]?”

Finally, Russels mood takes a swing. His expression darkens. Even Everlet slows down his food consumption to listen. “It was a few years back. The [Pirate Admiral] came in the dead of night. He slaughtered the [Guards] and took all of our combat capable ships. They disarmed us and now make us supply their war materiel.”

Everlet swallows his last bite. The plate sits empty in front of him. “So, who's the [Pirate Admiral]?”

“Ferrum Steelship.”

“Kraken’s tits,” Everlet curses. “Ferrum? That bastard has a fifty million Drachme bounty on his head! No wonder you can't escape.”

Russel grimaces and nods. Ferrum Steelship, the scourge of the high seas and most hated man in most seafaring kingdoms. Though the [Pirate Queen] has a price on her head, that is for entirely different reasons.

“Yes, which is why you should leave as soon as possible. Staying here will only put you and your crew in danger,” he says to Everlet.

“We’re not leaving,” Franky interjects. “We have business in the mountains, and your port will make a good staging point.”

Russel, confused, looks at Everlet. The [Storm Captain] just shrugs. “The kid hired me, so he dictates what I do so long as I don’t put my life or my crew in harm's way.”

“I’d think a [Pirate Admiral] would be considered harm's way,” Russel grumbles but Everlet laughs.

The [Captain] leans to his side and puts his arm around Franky. “This brat may not look like much, but he’s higher level than me and he’s the leader of the Adventurers Guild. A [Pirate Admiral] isn't going to scare him away.”

“Adventurer’s Guild?”

Franky nods. “Yes. We’re a new guild on our first expedition.”

The [Lord] raises an unimpressed eyebrow. Before he can comment, Everlet loudly snorts. “Really? Is that your opening statement?” he shakes his head and slaps Franky over the back. Hard. “The Adventurer’s Guild is a new guild, true, but it has over fifty veterans each above level one hundred, including two Named.”

“N-Named!?” Russel stammers.

Everlet smiles cheekily under Franky’s glare. Franky did not wish to mention those two.

Before Russel can say or think anything more, the ground rumbles as an explosion goes off in the distance. Both Franky and Everlet stand up and reach for their sheathed weapons. They look around in surprise.

“What's happening?” Russel asks, but the two don't answer. They move to the door and open it slowly. In the distance, smoke rises near the pier.

Russel follows them outside and notices the location.

“That's the local pub!”

The three share a look and rush to the pier. They stop when they see, through a large hole in the pub, Gun Widow aiming its barrel at a panicked man crawling on the floor.

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