Chapter 13 – Signals

Sialin sat with the twins on deck in her favourite position behind the figurehead. Tiffaniel was strangely quiet and reserved as they ate. She was casting glances at her brother, trying her best to be polite. Her apprentice and charge, Groyven would intermittently touch the mark behind his ear, conscious of the fresh emblem’s slight burn. She smiled a little between bites. She caught herself doing the same. He was different, last night through to this morning Groyven had transitioned from a thoughtful boy trying desperately to please others, to an introspective young man who had taken his own fate in hand. She watched him proudly, sudden heat building within her chest, she winced. Pressing her hand over her heart, the heat resided. She looked to the distant coast, biting her upper lip. Noticing that Groyven was watching her she smiled reassuringly.


‘All is well, Little Prince. There is no need to concern yourself.’


He nodded, as Tiffaniel observed their exchange quietly.


‘Sialin?’ Tiffaniel asked.


‘Yes, Tiffaniel?’ she watched as Groyven’s twin faced her.


‘Selera told me that you.’ Tiffaniel’s face started to redden as she noticed Groyven watching her as well.


‘That I used to play and mind the two of you at home? Or did she mention my flowers, to try and jog that memory of yours? My singing? Or that our parents adopted me as part of the family?’


Tiffaniel’s face turned a rosy shade of crimson, ‘All of those.’


Sialin nodded slowly, ‘Memory is a strange thing, Tiffaniel. Sometimes the most important details are lost and the insignificant things remain. I know that you can’t remember me clearly, but you respond to my singing.’


‘I remember the flowers too.’ said Tiffaniel.


Sialin nodded, smiling slightly, ‘There will be time enough on the trip back home to start making new memories. If we are lucky, when we spend time in Mother and Father’s house, some more memories may return to you.’


Tiffaniel looked at Sialin, her brows coming together, ‘I am sorry, Sialin. I was so, I just…’


‘Stop right there, Tiffaniel.’ said Sialin, gesturing with her hand, ‘I do not need to hear the reasons. I accept you as you are. Now it is time for healing. The further we get away from this place, the better.’


Tiffaniel nodded as Sialin gestured to her to come closer before hugging her briefly. As she looked over Tiffaniel’s shoulder something caught her eye from the cliffs of the coast. A flash.


‘Little Prince?’ she said with concern.


‘I saw it, Sialin.’ Groyven said, his eyes watching the distant cliffs.


‘Both of you, keep watching.’ she said, her voice growing serious as she saw a second small flash further along the coast.


‘Sialin?’ asked Tiffaniel, suddenly aware and concerned with the sudden serious change of mood.


Groyven looked to Sialin, gesturing with a small movement and continued to eat, moving to the side, obscuring himself from view of the coastline before handing her a flask of water. Returning back to his obscured position. Tiffaniel looked at him curiously, his actions unusual to her eyes.


Groyven spoke urgently, ‘Sialin, we are being watched. That was a signal. I counted a single flash, a double further along and a triple in the distance.’


Sialin nodded, ‘It would seem so. Though I did not see the triple.’


Groyven smiled, ‘Humidity.’


Sialin laughed involuntarily, immediately understanding what he had done, ‘You will have to teach Tiffaniel that trick, though I think hers will be more effective.’


Groyven nodded, noticing Tiffaniel’s confusion, ‘I compressed the humidity for a short moment, creating a lens effect in the air in front of the ship, making everything magnified.’


He looked back to Sialin, ‘We are being watched, if they are using the bigger spyglass they can even see us on the deck.’


She nodded, ‘Quite possibly. Can you get to the helm without being seen from the coast?’


Groyven thought for a moment then shook his head, ‘Not the whole way.’


A sharp clacking sound came from behind them, up on the forecastle, then ratcheting.


Sialin shifted a little, continuing to eat, ‘Don’t react to any sudden noises. That is the sound of the ballista being unlocked so they can pivot.’ she looked to Groyven, ‘Can you see, have they dropped the lower sails?’


Groyven nodded, being mindful of his position, he moved behind the sprit mast, keeping out of view, looking along the ship. He quickly returned.


‘All sails are being unfurled with few hands.’ he said.


Sialin nodded, unsurprised, ‘Let us finish eating, then we will make our way back to the mid-deck and meet up with Selera. They saw the signals.’


Groyven looked at her and pointed back to the open sea on the port side of the ship. She nodded. Tiffaniel watched him curiously.


‘What is he doing?’ Tiffaniel asked.


‘He is checking the horizon for sails.’ explained Sialin.


‘Do you think we will be attacked?’ Tiffaniel asked.


Sialin glanced at the coastline, ‘If we are being watched, I think there is a strong possibility. The Captain thinks so too, enough to start battle preparations.’


Tiffaniel frowned, ‘Sialin, are you not surprised, or worried?’


Sialin looked at her, ‘I am concerned, but not surprised. Every time we leave port, there is a risk. The Lychen’s Fiddle and her crew have built a reputation over many years, to the point we are respected and largely left alone. But in this part of the world, we are unknown and foreign. Those that feel they have strength and guile see us as easy foreign prey, a lone and an easy target in unfamiliar waters.’


She leaned forward, ‘The only thing that surprises me, is that even after our time here, and the amount of damage we have dealt. Word does not seem to travel. Rumours don’t spread, it is like every fool with a boat along this part of the coast is trying their luck against whatever passes. And to make matters worse, they are trying to fight a northern, elvish vessel. It is like they are all ignorant of the danger.’ said Sialin in mild exasperation.


‘What do the sailors in port think of the Fiddle?’ asked Tiffaniel.


‘They whisper. They fear us. Our crew is not made of unfortunates and those seeking coin out of desperation or those looking for easy opportunities. They are well paid professionals and disciplined.’ she said while watching the coast line.


Again, the flashes of light along the coast, relaying a message as Groyven came back around.


‘Nothing portside, no sails.’ he reported.


Sialin nodded, looking at the both of them, ‘You have not been on board during a fight before. When it is time, if it comes to it, you listen carefully to Selera. She will tell you to secure yourself in the Captain’s cabin. Do not question her. Do as you are told and you will be safe from harm.’


‘But what if…?’ said Tiffaniel worriedly, Sialin silencing her with a look.


‘Tiffaniel, there is no “What if” on board this vessel. No “maybe”, or anything else that casts doubt.’ she looked to Groyven, ‘Little Prince, you will accompany me, Tiffaniel you can too, but stay quiet, listen and learn. Over the next few hours you are about to witness a private war ship and her crew at work.’


Sialin led them up and onto the forecastle; the sails were set askew to create more cover from prying eyes. A couple of the dwarven crew members were readying the ballista on both sides, greasing cranks and loading winches. Another two were bringing up the ammunition from below deck and setting out the different bolts into their racks. One of the dwarven men called to her.


‘Sialin, the Captain has given the order to prepare for battle. You best get ready.’


‘Thank you, Kellin.’ she looked around the forecastle deck, ‘Where is the rest of your crew?’


‘Captain’s orders, we prepare without making a fuss, sly like.’ Kellin said, ‘The crew are below, getting the rest ready so that when we get the order, you know.’ he said with a wink and a twitch of the head.


She smiled at him, ‘Stay safe, Kellin.’


‘As always, dear Sialin, as always. Even so, if I do get knocked down, I know you are at my back.’ he said with a short bow before returning to adjusting the ballista.


Tiffaniel looked at Sialin during the exchange, noticing her little smile and nod. The twins followed her down the stairs to the main deck to see the mixed dwarven and elven crew going about their preparations, stowing loose gear and removing the oilcloths from the six dwarf-forged cannons a side on the main deck. Sialin looked around, her attention drawn towards the helm as she led the children along. Mounting the stairs, she reached the helm.


The Captain nodded to her, ‘Morning, Sialin.’


‘Captain.’ she responded in kind.


Selera looked at the children, smiling reassuringly at them as Darius pointed out the rapidly closing vessel to Sialin, conversing with her quietly. She handed the spyglass back to him and turned to the Captain.


‘I agree. But, the three of us have seen signals along the coast, we are being watched. We should push them. If we prepare now in full sight, they will have to decide now, instead of us falling into their trap fully prepared.’ suggested Sialin.


The Captain smiled at her, ‘We saw one signal, but not the others.’


He stood at the top of the stairs, and let out a piercing whistle, almost instantly the crew stopped, looking his way, the only sound was the wind in the sails and the creak of rigging.


In a strong and carrying voice, he spoke, ‘Prepare for war! Crew chiefs, to your stations and teams! Eyes, focus starboard, sight the coast and report! Riggers, full sail and assist! Crew, ready the Wolf!’


Both Groyven and Tiffaniel jumped as the crew let out a deafening, rousing cry in response to the Captain’s call to arms. They watched in awe as the main deck came alive, Groyven quickly looked over the starboard side to the aft mid-deck, set slightly below and in front of the helm. The starboard ballista was being prepared, its firing team now all out and efficiently readying the large bow.


Suddenly a sharp whistle was heard from above; the crew went silent but kept at their tasks. A call filtered down, ‘Sails Ho! Three points forward of the starboard beam. Two masts, low in the water.’


Another whistle came from the bow, ‘Sails Ho! Confirming sails, three points forward of the starboard beam.’


The Captain nodded to Sialin, ‘An astute observation as always, Sialin.’


She smiled in return as he looked back out to the two approaching vessels.


‘Selera, Sialin, make your preparations. Tiffaniel, remain with me.’ said the Captain, his voice taking on a hardened edge.


Sialin exchanged a look with Selera, nodded and gestured to Groyven, ‘Little Prince, you will help me with my preparations, watch carefully and think quickly.’


Groyven met his sister’s eyes before following Sialin as she descended the stair to the main deck. The immediate crew growing silent as she passed, some bowing to her as she walked purposefully to the stairs that lead below. With Groyven following closely, she reached the bottom of the stairs in the relative darkness of the lower deck where the crew were making everything secure in preparation for the fight.


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