Mizu swam past us, and I took up the oars and followed behind him. The air grew colder the closer we came to the Shroud, and I heard an odd creaking noise, like wood and rope swaying in the wind. I caught Luca’s eyes, but he pressed a finger to his lips and shook his head. That confirmed my suspicions. We were nearing a vessel, and it was likely to be the pirate one we sought.
I slowed my rowing efforts and we drifted on the tide. We glided into the mist and I felt a slight rocking. I leaned to one side and glimpsed Mizu’s wet, clawed hand clasping the side of the vessel and dragging the boat forward. All was quiet for the longest time until the mist began to part. My body tensed, expecting an impact with the cliffs, but the only impact came upon my ears.
The sounds of soft voices floated to my ears and Mizu stopped the boat. I squinted into the white shadows and glimpsed the outline of a massive vessel. Three masts towered above the deck, and that itself was some forty feet above the water. The sails were tied to their booms, but they slightly flapped in the light breeze that glided past us. Shadows walked the deck, and more than one of them stood watch at the three-foot tall wooden wall that surrounded the deck.
Mizu swam close between Luca and me, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “They appear to be expecting you.”
Luca nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they left this ship at the dock for our use.”
I whipped my head to him and frowned. “Then what are we doing taking the bait?”
“We needed a way to the ship,” he reminded me as he studied the giant hull of the vessel. He nodded at something brown that leaned against the boards. “That doesn’t mean we have to accept their invitation aboard, at least not via the rope ladder they’ve conveniently set down for us.”
I examined where he indicated and noticed the aforementioned ladder. “So how do we get aboard without them noticing us?”
Luca furrowed his brow as he continued his perusal of the deck and the many shadow shapes of men. “I have no idea.”
“Might I suggest a way?” Mizu spoke up as he pointed to the stern. “There appears to be a-what do you call them? Window? Open at the rear.”
I wrinkled my nose. “That sounds like a trap.”
Luca lifted his eyes to me and smiled. “A woman’s intuition?”
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. “No, the temperature. It’s freezing out here.” The damp air did indeed leave a cold chill on my bones.
Luca nodded. “Yes, but it appears we have no choice.
I sighed as I took up the oars. “Well, at least a trap in the captain’s quarters will be warmer than one on deck.”
“I will take you there,” Mizu offered as he drew the boat onward.
We followed the tall hull and soon Mizu drew us close to the stern. The captain’s quarters some thirty feet above our heads sported a long row of ornate paned windows, one of which stood open.
Luca grabbed a rope that lay in the bottom of our boat and tied one end to a square rock which acted as an anchor. He held out the setup to me while keeping the untied end of the rope to himself. “Right now you have greater strength than I do. You need to throw the rock through the window and pin it against the interior portion of the wall so we can climb the rope.
I eyed the setup and winced. “I might have your strength, but probably not your aim.”
He smiled. “I have faith that you can do it.”
I pursed my lips, but took the anchor and rope in hand. The rock was as light as a baseball and the heavy twined rope a mere feather. I rose to my unsteady feet and focused my attention on the open window. The open pane gave me about two feet through which to throw the rock.
I took a deep breath and tossed the rock. It flew straight up into the air, missing the window completely, and careened back toward us. Luca caught the rock in his arms before the stone plunged through the bottom of the boat, and plunged us to the bottom of the port. He looked at me with a raised brow and a teasing smile.
I sheepishly grinned at him and shrugged. “No aim.”
“Try again,” he insisted as he handed me back the rock.
I sighed, but steadied myself and focused all my attention on the open window. The weight of the stone was more familiar to me now, so I stiffened my jaw and gave another toss. The rope and rock flew up and arched into the window.
Luca grabbed the rope and pulled it to prevent a hard knock of the stone against the floor. I heard a soft thump as the stone struck the wall. Luca tugged on the rope and the strands failed to come down.
He looked to me and his good humor fell away. “Would it be any use to tell you to stay here?”
I grabbed part of the rope and shook my head. “Nope.”
“Then at least allow me to go first.”
Mizu floated close beside our boat. “This is quite reckless, even for you.”
Luca flashed him a sly grin. “No reward without risk, but if we don’t come out by an hour before sunset then try to alert the castle of our disappearance.”
Mizu nodded. “Very well. Good fortune, my friends, and stay safe.” He bowed his head to us before he disappeared beneath the water.
Luca gave another tug on the ropes before he leapt up. He planted his feet firmly against the boards that made up the stern and stared at me at a ninety degree angle. “Follow my lead, and don’t look down.”
“Why does someone always have to say that?” I muttered to myself as I joined him on the rope.
The going wasn’t easy, but in a few minutes Luca slipped through the window and popped his head back out. He took my hand and pulled me inside. The cabin was covered in shadows, but I could make out heavy furniture and the doors on the opposite side from where we’d entered.
A booming voice broke the silence. “What have we hear?”
Lamps were lit and the room illuminated to reveal a half dozen pirates positioned throughout the room. One of them was seated at a high-back chair behind a large oak desk. The man was about forty with a short black beard and dark hair. He wore a baggy shirt and pants, and a sash was draped over one shoulder and looped back around at his waist.
He leaned back and twined his fingers together as he studied us with dark eyes and a bemused smile. “You must be commended. You’re the first stowaways I’ve had in a decade.”
I winced. “And you let the last ones go, right?”
His attention fell on me and he lifted an eyebrow. “You are rather bold, but I wouldn’t expect any less from the new queen of Amnisis.”
I shrugged. “I’m just being me, but who are you?”
He stood and crossed his arm over his chest as he bowed low to us. “My apologies for not introducing myself. I am Raziel Trulio, owner of this fine vessel and merchant of the seas.”
“We were wondering about your other trade,” Luca spoke up.
Trulio straightened and gave Luca a sharp look, but didn’t lose his smile. “Whatever do you mean?”
Luca studied him with his own penetrating gaze. “I’m sure you’ve heard the key to the gate has been stolen.”
He chuckled. “And let me guess, you believe I have something to do with the theft?”
Luca’s eyes darted over the room. “We have witnesses that will swear they saw your men being at the museum prior to the theft.”
Trulio folded his arms and furrowed his brow in faux thought. “My men? I don’t recall my ordering them to be near that illustrious place.”
Luca shook his head. “Your half-truths won’t work this time, Trulio. Draven and Reshma were spotted there.”
The man lifted an eyebrow. “Were they? By whom?”
“Then you don’t deny they were there?”
Trulio sat back down and crossed his legs one over the other. He set a hand on his knee and sighed. “Why do you always suspect me, Luca? We are such old and dear friends.”
A smile slipped onto Luca’s lips. “It’s because we’re such old acquaintances that I believe you’re the only one willing to take on such a job as this. Who paid you and where is the key?”
Trulio shook his head. “I’m afraid your commands mean nothing on this ship. This is the sea where your rules don’t apply.”
Luca’s eyebrows crashed down. “The port of Castellia is under the jurisdiction of Amnisis.”
“That I do not contest. However-” Trulio gestured to the window behind us, “-look for yourself.”
Luca and I spun around to face the open window. The last of the mist floated past as the ship broke free of the white air. The edge of the cliff came into view.
The ship was leaving port, and it taking us with it.