Chapter no 14 – The Dougs

Tress of the Emerald Sea

THE CROW’S SONG WAS a much larger ship than Tress’s previous one. Oot’s Dream had been a two-masted vessel, similar to what you might call a brigantine. The Crow’s Song was instead a full four-masted vessel, built for speed but with a spacious cargo hold and multiple decks. It was the equivalent of what you’d call a small galleon—and it had a rather large crew for Tress’s world, consisting of sixty people.

I’m not going to ask you to remember them all. Mostly because don’t remember them all.

Therefore, for ease of both narrative and our collective sanity, I’m going to name only the more important members of the Crow’s Song. The rest, regardless of gender, I’ll call “Doug.”

You’d be surprised how common the name is across worlds. Oh, some spell it “Dug” or “Duhg,” but it’s always around. Regardless of local

linguistics, parents eventually start naming their kids Doug. I once spent ten years on a planet where the only sapient life was a group of pancakelike beings that expressed themselves through flatulence. And I kid you not—one was named Doug. Though admittedly it had a very distinctive smell attached when the word was “spoken.”

“Doug” is the naming equivalent to convergent evolution. And once it arrives, it stays. A linguistic Great Filter; a wakeup call. Once a society reaches peak Doug, it’s time for it to go sit in the corner and think about what it has done.

Anyway, there was at least one woman actually named Doug on the

Crow’s Song, but I can’t remember which one she was—so for the purposes of this story, they’re all Dougs.

Tress approached one and asked—hesitantly—where the toilet was. The Doug pointed her toward the stairs down, explaining that the “middle deck head” was for low-ranking crew.

With Huck on her shoulder, she began to explore. The ship had four levels. The Dougs called the top one—which was exposed to the sky—the “upper deck.” The “middle deck” contained places like the mess and the

armory, and small rooms for officers. The “lower deck” was a cramped place where most of the sailors made their bunks.

Beneath that was the hold, a cavernous space for the copious loot the pirates would surely acquire once they figured out how to stop sinking it all to the bottom of the ocean.

There were several toilet rooms, with working plumbing, thank the moons. She peeked into an unoccupied one and saw a toilet, but no bath. How did the crew bathe? She desperately wished she could, as she kept finding dead spores in the folds of her clothing. It made her skin writhe to think how much of it must have gotten on her.

She did her business in the cramped chamber with only a tiny porthole in the wall for light. Huck politely waited outside without being prompted, proving quite gentlemanly for a rat. Feeling a little better, Tress slipped out

and let him hop back onto her shoulder. What did they do with human waste, out here on the ocean? Save it all up for composting on islands? What about on long voyages? Dumping it overboard seemed dangerous, not to mention gross. Dangergross?

On her way back to the upper deck, she heard a voice coming from a room near the head. She lingered, peeking in to see a man behind a counter—the large man with dreadlocks who had hauled her onto the deck. Now, when I

say “large,” you might have imagined him as heavyset, or perhaps beefy. He was both, yes, but neither word did justice to Fort, the ship’s quartermaster.

Fort wasn’t large like, “Hey, eat a salad” or even large like, “Hey, do you play sports?” He was large like, “Hey, how did you get through the door?” It

wasn’t that he was fat, though he did carry a few extra pounds. More, he looked like a person built using a different scale from the rest of humanity. One could imagine that the Shards, after creating him, had said, “Maybe we went a little far in places,” and decided to cut ten percent off all other humans to conserve resources.

Fort was holding up a ceramic cannonball that was small in his hands. His fingers on both hands were gnarled, either from some old injury or a

congenital disease. The condition had to affect his dexterity.

He was with a gangly woman in a vest and trousers, her hair cut very

short. Ann (the ship’s carpenter) had a nose like a dart and carried not one, not two, but three pistols strapped to various places on her person.

Fort handed Ann the cannonball, and although it looked light in his grip, the way she hefted it indicated otherwise. Then he picked up what appeared to be a wooden sign with a black front. Maybe two feet across and somewhat less tall.

“You examined each one in the armory?” Ann asked.

Fort glanced at the back of his wooden board and nodded.

“You didn’t find any others that were defective?” Ann asked.

Fort tapped the back of the wooden sign, and words appeared on the front.

Not a single one, the sign said. Each one I inspected has a proper fuse, timed to explode before it sinks a ship, so it can be captured and looted.

Ann thumped the ball onto the counter. “Well, if none of the others are defective, we shouldn’t have to worry about sinking someone else by


Fort again tapped something on the rear of the board using his index knuckle. As he did, the words changed.

I don’t like this, Ann. We were supposed to launch cannonballs that only incapacitated the ship, not sank it. I hate that we ended up killing those people, and I really don’t like how the captain acted afterward. It doesn’t make sense.

“What are you saying?” Ann asked.

I’m saying I don’t like this at all. It’s not the kind of piracy we signed up for.

“I don’t like it either,” Ann said. “But it’s too late to change our minds.

This is better than getting conscripted, at least.”

Is it though? Is it really? I didn’t want those people’s deaths on my shoulders, Ann.

Ann didn’t respond. Finally, she stood up straight and walked toward the door. Tress felt a moment of panic, not wanting to be discovered

eavesdropping, and scurried back into the head.

Tress listened to Ann leave up the steps outside. “What do you make of that, Huck?” she whispered.

“Don’t know,” he said. “Sounds like they didn’t intend to sink the Oot’s Dream, which makes sense. But after the first cannonball broke through the

hull and started the ship going down, the pirates must have decided to finish the job.”

Tress nodded, although she didn’t know what to think about all of this.

“They’re still culpable though,” Huck added. “What did they think would happen, turning pirate and attacking? They can’t simply decide to be sad for killing someone after trying to rob them. These pirates are outlaws now, Tress.”

“Doesn’t sound fair,” she said. “The king would hang the quartermaster even if he didn’t fire the cannon?”

“The law is clear. Felony murder rule, to be precise. Commit a crime and someone dies? That’s murder. Even if you weren’t intending it. The royal navy will be hunting this lot—and we’d best not be on board when they get caught. Just in case the officials don’t believe you’re a captive.”

It was a wise suggestion. This ship was a death trap—either the captain would eventually tire of her, or she’d end up dead in the inevitable fighting. She had a job to do in saving Charlie, and couldn’t waste time.

But how to escape? She couldn’t exactly jump overboard. Plus, her dry throat warned her that she had other more immediate concerns. If the captain wouldn’t let her eat, she wouldn’t live long enough to escape.

She snuck over to the quartermaster’s room again and glanced in to see that the large man had turned his back toward the door. He was arranging things in his many trunks and boxes behind the counter. Could she steal

something to eat? Or perhaps Huck could do it for her? She glanced at him. “What?” he asked loudly.

Tress glared at him, making a shushing motion.

“I think he’s deaf,” Huck said. “When I was prowling earlier, I heard someone mention that the quartermaster couldn’t hear.”

Indeed, Fort continued his work, still facing away from them. He didn’t notice them talking.

“I met a deaf human once,” Huck said. “She was a dancer, and one of the best under the moons—best I’d seen, anyway. I was enjoying the time with her, but it ended up getting interrupted in a rather abrupt way. Which is a

shame, but things happen. I also couldn’t afford to talk to her, since—you know, things relating to who and what I am. Didn’t want to reveal myself.”

“Maybe,” Tress suggested, “this would be another good time to not talk. Unless you want one of the pirates to realize they have a potentially sellable loquacious rat on board.”

“Yeah, good point,” he said. “It’s just, I spent all those weeks hiding on the smuggler ship before they grabbed me. Got kind of lonely. It’s good to have someone to chat with…”

She glanced at him.

“…which I’ll stop doing now.”

Tress moved to leave—but as she did so, one of the boards creaked underfoot. Fort spun immediately in her direction, then narrowed his eyes as he saw her. He might not have been able to hear, but every quartermaster I’ve ever known has a kind of sixth sense for when people are sneaking

around near their goods.

Beneath the enormous man’s glare, Tress felt like bolting. But he had been the one who’d pulled her up onto the deck. She stood in place instead, until he raised his strange board from the counter.

Come here, girl, it read.

It wouldn’t do any good to run. So, feeling like she was entering the dragon’s den, Tress entered the room.

You'll Also Like